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Sanguinary

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Sanguinary

The compress has disoriented him. For a brief moment, Tokoyami had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there. There had been a flash of light and a similarly stupefied Dark Shadow retreating back inside.

The grip of a cold hand wrapped around his neck. A scream – his name – burst from wild eyes and mass of green hair. A thick, foggy darkness resembling ink edged around his vision, a tangible thing that swallowed him whole.

Tokoyami hadn’t been able to do anything at all.

--------

 

The lights were a little painful, but all things considered, they were the least of his problems.

It had been a makeshift thing, Tokoyami realized; a haphazard collection of lamps, dimmer lights flipped to their maximum setting and a few flashlights turned on and aimed in his direction. The villains that had taken him from the campgrounds had not intended to contend with Dark Shadow; the chair he was restrained to was certainly built for a much stronger body. In hindsight, UA’s decision to televise their students’ weaknesses during the Sports Festival – particularly after being attacked by a group of villains – had probably not been the most intelligent of choices. It had not only publicly aired exactly how to take every one of them down, but may have led to… This.

The villains had intended this for Bakugou. At least there was that small bit. There were too many locks on this chair; around his ankles, upper thighs, an entire metal casing around his hands that he suspected had been heatproofed and an array of cabling keeping his back flat against the chair. Dark Shadow had made an attempt to pick the locks – something they had taught themselves using online tutorials as a strict ‘just in case’ ages ago – but these weren’t traditional locks. They were mechanical, all connected to a single panel on the side of the chair.

Most of the villains had left after he had been stuck to the chair. There had been a man waiting for them, a tall and lanky figure with a ghoulish disembodied hand on his face – was that the same man from the Hosu city attack? He seemed familiar but Tokoyami couldn’t immediately place him – that had complained immediately on their arrival. The wrong kid; the Compress villain had tried to explain the whys, but Tokoyami hadn’t heard most of what was said. Eventually, most of them had simply left. The only ones left were the man with the hand on his face, a tired looking man with disturbing skin fragments and staples all over his body, and a teenage girl that gave everything – including himself – a strange smile. None of them said a word; they seemed to be waiting for something.

None of this had been intended for him. He didn’t know if that made things worse or better.

The lights weakened Dark Shadow considerably – and they were both already weakened by earlier events – but it didn’t have the strength to force him away entirely. Dark Shadow lingered over one shoulder, but Tokoyami could feel that his quirk was as nervous as he was.

“Psst.” Dark Shadow whispered. “I think we’re a hostage.”

That was, of course, the best case scenario. The villains hadn’t gotten their target, instead making away with what was essentially a compensatory prize; the most logical thing would be to hold him ransom, wouldn’t it? Perhaps call UA, threaten him in front of a camera in the way all the movies showed? Still, Tokoyami couldn’t help but twitch in some annoyance; if Dark Shadow hadn’t gone berserk, they might not have been as vulnerable and weak as they were now. As it was, Tokoyami was exhausted.

Still, being angry at his quirk wouldn’t help now. “Don’t worry.” He wasn’t even sure if he was trying to calm himself down or Dark Shadow. He kept his voice as low as he could, though; no need to give his kidnappers a reason, as flimsy as it was, to get brutal. They had both seen enough movies about kidnapped sidekicks to know better. “We weren’t kidnapped in secrecy. The police and pro heroes will be looking for us.”

A small chortle came from one of the villains. The man with the hand on his face was looking in his direction; the girl, sitting nearby, now had a wider smile. They had heard the conversation and were all but laughing about it. Quietly non-laughing about it. It was… Odd. Tokoyami couldn’t quite make sense of the behavior. Were all villains this… Strange?

The sound of a door opening echoed from down a hall. The corridor was almost directly in front of the chair he was held to, an open frame behind what looked very much like a bartending table, but a dark curtain was blocking the way; heavy footsteps sounded off, getting louder with every step. There must have been stairs for that kind of noise.

A moment later, a large – very, very large – figure pushed aside the curtain. Tokoyami sputtered in sudden shock.

“What the hell?!” Dark Shadow only half whispered, radiating alarm.

--------

They had, of course, been incredibly disturbed after Hosu city.

With Midoriya, Iida and Todoroki all recovering in the hospital, the rest of them had gone over what they knew. News coverage would only say so much as not to cause mass panic; the internet, on the other hand, gave them much more. Even with the repeated video takedowns.

“There has to be some kind of ringleader.” Shoji had concluded a little later than the rest of them. “And a place where they keep making these… These things!”

“People are calling them ‘nomus’.” Mineta stuttered a little, visibly bothered by it all.

“Those things!” Shoji nodded. “There’s got to be this… Evil genius villain behind the scenes for stuff like this.”

They were, naturally, jumping to conclusions bred by years of media, the internet and even comics. The lives of real pro heroes were often dramatized, creating the background radiation that being attacked only confirmed to be true. With their class seemingly at the center of recent events, they murmured agreement.

“This figure keeps popping up.” Kaminari pulled up a screenshot on a tablet; a piece taken from one of the many videos that had been removed. “He’s got… A hand on his face. That’s not creepy at all.”

“Likely not him.” Tokoyami shook his head. “At best, he’s a lieutenant of some sort. The leader of an organization wouldn’t place himself in danger so directly.”

“Makes sense.” Uraraka frowned deeply; the worry hadn’t left her face since they got word of the latest attack and the wounded it created. “But then, what kind of person would be leading such a horrible group?”

--------

 

The closest feeling he could place this was what he felt around All Might. The difference was, although there was this same awe inspiring aura of sheer power and strength, All Might beamed with a calming smile and always had words of praise. It was a power backed with kindness.

This was the polar opposite of that. The man stood easily as tall – if not more so – than All Might, draped in a black suit that might have been ordinary if not for the nearly demonic ebony skull-shaped helmet that reached taller than the average person would need. Thin, gleaming pipes wrapped themselves around the tapered neck of the strange helm.

There was something very, very wrong about this man. Something dark and sinister; Tokoyami leaned back in caution, unable to place words to what was setting off every instinct he had for flight-or-fight. There was something starkly powerfull about this man.

“What the hell…?!” Dark Shadow whimpered again, feeling the same terror that Tokoyami did; this time, his quirk did retreat back inside.

The dark man quietly stepped out from behind the bar and took slow, quiet steps until he stood in front of the chair. Hands were behind the back of that black suit, a posture of authority, as the helm tilted down to stare at the chair-bound captive.

Tokoyami stared back in wide-eyed fear. He could barely breathe, taking short gasps as he tried to figure out why, exactly, everything suddenly felt cold and wrong.

This is what you brought me?” The voice matched the figure; deep, just on the edge of gravely, and vaguely threatening.

“Ah, blame Mr. Compress for that.” The man with the hand on his face answered with a calm, amused tone. As if this were nothing at all. “He had a lot of wonderful things to say about this boy’s quirk, though. Supposedly, he took out Moonfish single-handedly in one fell swoop.”

The black helm tilted a little back in appraisal. “Did you, now?”

Oh. He was being spoken to directly. Tokoyami had the feeling that this was not a good thing. A pit in his stomach began to form and he could not bring himself to even try to answer.

“What is your quirk, exactly?”

“He has this… Shadow monster quirk.” The man with the hand on his face again. He casually leaned his elbows on the bar. “It can even speak for itself, or so I was told.”

A beat of silence passed.

“Show it to me.”

Tokoyami could physically feel Dark Shadow quaking in terror inside of him. He decided that this was a perfectly reasonable response; he was barely better himself, limbs shaking in the restraints.

As it must have become clear that he either wouldn’t or couldn’t do as commanded, a soft sigh let itself out of the man in front of him. “There are ways to force such things. If necessary.”

Well, that was obviously a threat. A sudden jolt of worried alarm flared from Dark Shadow.

“Don’t…!” Tokoyami tried.

Dark Shadow hesitantly peeked out from above his shoulders; as if he could use his human as a shield despite not having a tangible body of his own. It was a stupid plan forged from the overwhelming fear.

“Aww!” The teenage girl suddenly giggled. He had forgotten she was even there. “It’s so cute! But why is it so small?”

“The lights weaken the quirk.” The man with the hand on his face shrugged. “In the dark, it’s much larger. Didn’t you watch the Sports Festival?”

Ah. So the villains did learn about them from the sports festival. If he escaped this room alive, Tokoyami would make certain to bring it up.

Another moment of silence passed. The dark man hadn’t moved.

“I want to see what you’re capable of. Attack me with your shadow.”

“What?” Tokoyami and Dark Shadow gasped at the same time.

The teenage girl let out a delighted squeal and sat up in her chair. “The shadow can talk!”

The room became uncomfortably quiet. Tokoyami looked at Dark shadow with a deep, unsettled worry and received the same in return. Neither of them understood what was happening or where this was leading. Hesitantly, he gave a nod; he wasn’t certain what the alternative was, but it was probably worse than being forced to perform this display.

Dark Shadow paused for only a moment. Then, he flared himself out as much as the lights and current exhaustion allowed; it was hardly anything at all, resembling more of the way frightened cats fluffed themselves up before they howled. Still, his quirk lunged, striking at the dark man with whatever he had, yelling as he did so.

It was only for a moment. A single strike with both claws. Then, Dark Shadow pulled back, immediately fleeing as quick as he was able.

A couple of large tears had been left on the suit. The dark man gave it a short glance before looking back up. “Impressive display, considering you are at your weakest.”

Somehow, the praise was alarming. What did that mean? What did it mean when the person in charge of your kidnapping was impressed?

A hand that had been behind the dark mans back brought itself forward, although the other stayed where it was. It settled itself in front of Tokoyami’s chest, hovering barely within touching distance, palm facing up as if it were grabbing for something that wasn’t there. The villains behind him perked up in visible interest; the girl moved closer, looking incredibly excited.

Tokoyami didn’t know what was happening. For a moment, nothing did. Then, he felt a sharp, sudden pain deep in his chest. He gasped.

Strangely, so did Dark Shadow; ordinarily, his quirk wouldn’t be able to feel pain in the same way he did. They had used it to their strength on more than one occasion, fighting independently of each other without fully feeling the wounds that the other received. The fact that Dark Shadow felt anything at all caused a spike of alarm; Tokoyami looked over his shoulder to find Dark Shadow looking confused.

The pain did not go away. After a moment, it got worse, rattling him to the bones. Tokoyami gaped again; he would have doubled over if the restraints allowed it.

Suddenly, Dark Shadow was no longer at his shoulder. Instead, he felt the familiar tendrils at his midsection, right around where he felt the pain.

“What is this?!” Tokoyami looked up at the dark man. “What are you doing?!”

There was no response.

The tendrils that made up Dark Shadow, however, were starting to erupt from his body. They were flowing in to the large open hand. No, that wasn’t quite right; they were flowing in to the hand. With it, a strange emptiness began to form in the back of his mind, as if something was being removed.

Or, rather, being taken away.

He remembered, quite suddenly, that the monstrous nomus had all possessed multiple quirks.

“No!” That came from Dark Shadow, who must have realized what was happening before he fully could. He appeared in front of Tokoyami and, for a moment, he thought his quirk was going to attack the dark man. Instead, he turned away from their enemy, shadowy claws grabbing hold of his own shoulders.

Tokoyami knew that it wasn’t going to work. The understanding of exactly what was happening trickled in to him a bit slow from shock. The pain was still there and felt now as if it were more of a tearing. “Stop it!” How could – how was this even possible to take a quirk?! To take Dark Shadow?! “I’ll do whatever you want, just stop!”

A high pitched giggle came from the watching gallery. Dark Shadow had started to scream – a howling, really, from pain, from fear, he couldn’t tell – and he couldn’t stop himself past the chaos of it all from doing the same. It was as if a strong wind was blowing against Dark Shadow, pulling him back and away; shadowy claws were quickly losing their grip, ripping apart the cloth underneath.

“Stop it!”

The tearing pain had hit a pitch; when it did, there was a sudden jolt, a pull – Tokoyami thought, briefly, that he heard Dark Shadow sob – and then Dark Shadow was simply… Gone.

A few short wisps floated around the dark man’s hand; they quickly evaporated. The pain suddenly ceased as well; it felt very much was if he had hit a brick wall going very, very fast.

The world started to go dark around the edges; Tokoyami heaved and vomited across the floor.

“Hmm. Never came across a quirk that resisted before.”

Somewhere that felt distant, someone was clapping.

Then, everything went black.

-----


The water felt nice on a day like this. There had been a heatwave over most of Japan – as was typical for any time after May, really. It had been such a nice surprise to get the group text from Midoriya inviting them all to UA’s pool.

They were there under the pretense of ‘endurance training’, but they all knew that there’d be plenty of rest and relaxation around it. Iida had even brought a cooler filled with drinks and had, after a couple of hours, practically forced them all to take a break.

Tokoyami smiled to himself as he climbed out of the pool and wrapped a towel around his shoulders. Iida held out a can in his direction but looked distractedly over at Mineta and Kaminari. Grinning, he thanked Iida for the drink before taking a seat in the shade.

“Do you need an extra towel, Tokoyami?” Ojiro offered, looking a little confused.

“What? What for?” Tokoyami blinked as he looked up at his classmate.

“You’re… Uhm…”

Oh, so that’s what this was about. Tokoyami rolled his eyes; he never understood why people were so awkward when asking about body-related things. Especially with so many different kinds of quirks around. “For my face, no. They’re closer to feathers than hair. They don’t stay wet for long.” This was honestly silly, but the concern was nice. “But thank you.”

“Feathers?” Ojiro mused as he took a seat. “That sounds convenient if they dry quickly. Do you have to use a special shampoo or…?”

Tokoyami gave his friend an amused look. Was this really necessary information to know? They were friends, certainly, but questions about grooming? He noticed Dark Shadow peeking out from over his shoulder – a preferred spot – to give Ojiro a dirty look.

Before he could either answer the question or chide his own quirk, Shoji chose that moment to join them. Thankfully, he changed the subject.

It was nice, odd questions aside, to have friends to talk to.

-------

 

He was still swimming. Or he thought he was. When had he gotten back in the pool?

Blearily, Tokoyami opened his eyes; rather, he tried to. He winced at the first attempt as liquid immediately flowed inside. He was underwater? The world was, for a moment, a milky white before he adjusted. Whatever he was in wasn’t hurting his eyes.

It took a moment for the information to catch up to his higher functions. He was inside a liquid. He was inside a liquid but he could breathe perfectly fine. Then, he noticed the mask over his beak; a thick, heavy thing that felt a little too large for him.

Where was he?

He tried to move; something big and heavy held his hands down, wrapped around his wrists and keeping them together. There were similarly heavy things on his ankles. Cabling was wrapped around his chest and he was reminded of the chair –

The chair! He had been kidnapped after the fight and…

Where was he?!

Now, panic fueled his need to know. Right, he needed to take stock of the situation; his wrists and ankles were both restrained and he was floating in some sort of… Liquid. Yes, he knew that for sure now. Whatever he was in allowed him to see clearly enough and he could see thick metal cables connecting both the single piece around his hands and the two around his feet to a gray metal floor. He assumed his chest was held similarly, but the mask – a breathing apparatus for the water, he assumed – prevented his head from moving too much.

Then, he noticed he wasn’t wearing any clothes.

If that wasn’t just the wonderfully disturbing icing on this insane cake.

For a brief moment, he wondered how he would be able to call Dark Shadow with a mask over his face before the remembering hit.

They had taken Dark Shadow! That dark man had taken his quirk! Tokoyami tried to take a deep breath at a sudden wave of emotion; his vision began to blur and everything felt as if it were shaking.

They had taken Dark Shadow! What was he going to do now?! Was there a way to get his quirk back?! How was he going to –

Wait. Focus. He can panic later or fall in to the depths of despair or whatever it was that followed these things. Right now, he needed to figure out where he was and how to escape. After a few deep breaths to calm himself, he looked back up.

With that, he noticed that the walls around him – were they round? He thought he was inside some sort of round tube, the sort straight out of science fiction and horror movies – were completely transparent. Though, he couldn’t see very far past a certain distance; he could make out something across the room, but they were vague shapes. A desk? Some chairs?

To the left, another tube. It confirmed the tall cylindrical form of it. Inside of that was… Another person. Tokoyami stared in surprise; another kidnapping victim?

It was another boy. About his age, he thought, with white hair that for a moment caused a flash of panic filled fear that it was Todoroki in there but, no, it was a stranger. A stranger with the same restraints and mask. Whoever he was, he hung limply, eyes open but glazed over.

Tokoyami gulped the growing unease down before looking to his right.

Another tube. This time, there was a nomu inside of it. It was held in the same restraints; however, the water in the tube reached only to the nomu’s neck, below a skull with a very visibly exposed brain.

Tokoyami stared at it. He stared for what felt like a decently long time. Was this… Was this where the villains turned people in to nomus? The place where they performed their mad experiments, because how else would they be able to do this?

Oh, no. Oh. Oh, this wasn’t good. Was this real? Was he literally in a villainous mad scientists’ laboratory right now, stuck in a vat, living in the aftermath of having his quirk stolen?!

Shock at the absurdity of the situation was trumping the fear. He used it to look around as best he could, to make certain he hadn’t missed anything. He was able to notice a few additional details past the numbness.

There were IV lines in his arms. They were in both of his arms and there were several different lines. He couldn’t turn his head far enough to look where they went, but he assumed it was outside this… Tube.

The shock was now slowly ebbing away. As it did, the terror was starting to reform itself.

He was in a mad science lab, he had little doubt that absolutely no one knew where he was, and Dark Shadow was… Gone.

Dark Shadow was gone.

Tokoyami couldn’t stop the sudden heaving. A rumbling began to shake the world, an earthquake formed entirely of his own scattered emotions. He tried to pull his arms up to hold his head, to stop the growing thumpthump of his own heart rattling around the inside of his own skull.

He screamed.

Chapter Text

After the fight with Bakugou, Dark Shadow had become insufferable.

Tokoyami couldn’t blame him, he supposed. It had been the first time that they had been able to show off what they could do to that extent. Not to mention just how many people must have seen it. On his end, Tokoyami was a touch annoyed that he had been forced to give up the round; third place was not bad, per se, but it wasn’t, well, first. Dark Shadow, however, was… Delighted. As if they hadn’t lost at all.

More than delighted, really. He had become an absolute ham.

Once the last of the fighting had ended, there were still quite a few hours in the day. Most of 1-A had decided to watch the older years fight their rounds out and relax in the aftermath of their own victories and defeats. There had been a lull; Tokoyami decided that he really, really needed a snack. So, down to the little market he had gone.

Bothered by the earlier defeat, he settled on something terrible. Taiyaki. It was essentially carbs filled with sugar and he usually avoided that kind of thing. But, once in a while, just because he decided he needed it, he’d treat himself. Just once.

As he was paying for the fish-shaped dessert, a news crew had shown up. Later, he’d admit that it was funny; he hadn’t noticed them. Dark Shadow was flexing for the camera, blabbing proudly about how he was, “The Best Quirk Ever, even Present Mic said so!” for probably several minutes before he had even turned around, briefly unmolested as Dark Shadow absorbed all the attention. Tokoyami couldn’t help but be amused when he noticed it all. Who was the quirk and who was the human, here?

There had even been enough time to get a drink before he joined his own quirk and the media – and fans? They had fans? Wasn’t that something! – that surrounded them.

 

--------------

Tokoyami wanted very, very much to be able to calm down now.

It did not look like that was a thing that was going to happen.

He had been screaming for what felt like a long while. He couldn’t put words together in his own head to even explain to himself why; only that Dark Shadow was gone and he was inside a mad science lab and he didn’t know what to do about any of it. The loss of his quirk hurt in ways he hadn’t known was possible; a deep, festering wound that felt as if it were still growing.

So, he screamed. He screamed in to the oxygen mask and was able to hear nothing but the echo of his own voice in the back of his throat.

He screamed until he was tired; until his voice finally cracked and his lungs ached. Then, he finally, slowly, opened his eyes again – wincing a second time at the reintroduction of the mystery liquid that he was fairly certain was not water – and tried, again, to make sense of it all. A tug was given to the restraints on his wrists and ankles; it did absolutely nothing.

Movement caught the corner of his vision. Tokoyami turned his head as much as he could. It came from the tube to his left.

The other boy was looking at him. The boy – now Tokoyami was sure that he couldn’t have been any older than seventeen but something in him told him he could have been even younger – was looking at him with pity. Sympathy. Understanding.

This kid was still human. He still had his mind – it was more than could be said for the nomu in the tube on the other side. Tokoyami desperately wished that there was some kind of way for them to communicate, to just be able to talk to whoever that boy was.

Tokoyami wondered how long the whole ‘human’ thing was going to last. The nomu that they had come across so far had been mindless brutes. After the fight at U.S.J., the nomu that had been there had gone completely passive; the police had even arrested the creature.

Creature. Monster. Certainly no longer human.

Shit. How long did this process take? It couldn’t be an instant thing. The white-haired boy had been here at least longer than the… Day? Half a day? … That he had been.

Tokoyami took a deep breath. He had to buy himself time; that was it. Everyone at U.A. knew about his kidnapping; it had been an incredibly public affair and the police had probably been called as soon as it was possible. People were going to be searching for him, for this place. He wished he could tell the other boy that people were looking; he didn’t know his situation, but a little bit of hope could go a long way.

Hope. If he could buy enough time until they got here – and Tokoyami was convinced that they would, eventually, figure out where ‘here’ was – he just might get out of this intact. Mostly intact. As intact as he was at this stage, at any rate.

He just needed to stay sane until then.

Yet, he couldn’t help but think that this was all… Extraordinarily bad. Wasn’t it? What was going to happen, here? What was going to be done to him before help could arrive? The boy in the next tube over didn’t look too terrible – sad, of course, but that was understandable. Tokoyami couldn’t make out any real major injuries. Not like… Well, the nomu.

It was the nomu to the right that inspired the fear.

A deep breath and a gulp later; Tokoyami forced himself to look. He needed to know, or he thought that he did.

It looked very, very similar to the nomu from U.S.J. event. Incredibly tall, wide, muscles that were more solid mass than flesh in a deep, forest shade of green. A short, stunted snout that somehow resembled both a lizard and some dog breeds and had a forked tongue laying flat and unmoving out of its’ mouth. The top of its’ skull was gone. It had no eyes.

There was blood floating in the water. Thick, dark red clumps. The nomu itself didn’t look like it was currently bleeding, but Tokoyami supposed that it could have happened during… Surgery.

Shuddering, he finally looked away. He felt sick.

---------

He didn’t know how long he floated there. For the entirety of that time, Tokoyami refused to look at the nomu again. Instead, he looked down, at the liquid between his eyes and his own restrained wrists, simply trying to stay calm.

It was noise that jostled him out of his attempts at keeping his mind blank. A soft vwap; then, a bright light flashed in front of him.

Alarmed, he immediately looked up. As he did, he could hear the sound of static. Then, he realized that the glass of the tube in front of him had a screen. Or, rather, it was a screen; static filled a large rectangular block that looked very much like a television.

Confused, a glance was sent towards his white-haired neighbor.

The boy had stiffened; he was visibly bracing, eyes clenched shut.

Well, that wasn’t a good sign.

It took a brief moment of static before an image took its place; a grinning All Might, posing with fists against his hips. A typical All Might pose. Tokoyami blinked.

What in the world was this?

On the screen, All Might let out his trademark laugh. A thumbs-up. “Plus Ultra!”

Then, there was pain. A sharp, sudden shock from his back that sent his entire body spasming and sent all of the air out of his lungs.

Tokoyami heaved once that had passed, eyes darting as he tried to figure out what the hell was that?!

The image on the screen had shifted, but it was still All Might. A different scene. It was familiar; it might have been from a commercial. All Might laughed again. “Remember, self-confidence is an important thing!”

Another shock; this time, Tokoyami couldn’t help a startled yelp in to the mask around his beak.

An electric shock. He had felt it once – weeks ago, by accident, when Kaminari had somehow managed to send a small electrical current to their entire class during science lab – but this one was much, much greater.

They were shocking him alongside images of All Might. He knew what this was; he felt his stomach sink at the realization.

Behavior modification.

Knowing what it was didn’t make it hurt any less.

All Might’s laugh echoed around him. Tokoyami braced himself, gritting teeth and clenching his eyes the same way his neighbor had.

“It’s fine now! Why? Because I am here!”

Shock.

Tokoyami screamed.

As the pain ebbed – and with it the realization that he was absolutely screwed right now – something else was at the very edge of his awareness. There was… Something that he couldn’t quite place.

Something else was off.

All Might laughed. Were they really going to play laughing clips every single time? “You, too, can become a hero!”

Shit!

Tokoyami didn’t even try to stop his body from convulsing. There was really wasn’t much of a point. He was just getting…

He was getting angry. Unusually angry. He knew himself, or he liked to think he did. It felt… Off.

What was this? Were they…?

“A pro always puts their life on the line!” Another damned laugh.

Another shock. Dimly, he thought he could hear someone else screaming.

Now, he was convinced. Tokoyami hissed and glanced at the IV lines in his arms. They must have been putting something in to him for this, trying to make him associate anger and pain with All Might. It made too much sense not to be what was going on.

The knowing still did not help.

Though, he might be able to turn it around. To think around it. Close his eyes, think about how angry he was at the villains who put him in here, maybe. Think about… Dark Shadow.

They took Dark Shadow from him!

A laugh. “Don’t be afraid to try! Every pro had to start somewhere!”

Shock.

A scream.

He was going to kill them for this.

-----

He wished he had a clock in here. Something for him to keep track of things.

As soon as the image of All Might had gone – and the shocks and the entire rectangular outline of the screen with it – so had the anger. Tokoyami had noticed how quickly he had calmed down from the rage flowing through him. It confirmed his suspicions.

This was an absolute mess. No wonder the nomus they had encountered in the past had been so set on All Might; they had been conditioned to. He hoped it was the only part of the conditioning.

He had met All Might. All Might taught at U.A., his voice had been associated with… Grades. Marks. Science and Advanced Kanji and English. All Might had hugged him after the Sports Festival for getting third place. Tokoyami took a deep breath to calm down; he could use their own techniques to condition himself.

All he needed to do was do it long enough for help to arrive.

Chapter Text

After what Tokoyami guessed was maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, the screen lit back up and the shocks started all over again. He was briefly surprised when it did; during a lull, he’d wonder why he was so surprised. Surely, he shouldn’t have expected mercy from these people?

At least there were lulls. A few minutes between rounds that allowed him to catch his breath and to piece together his own thoughts. He’d have just enough time to do so, to understand that the absolute rage that he was forced to experience wasn’t his own and brace himself against what he had to admit – with a great deal of bitterness – that this was a very well constructed method of brainwashing. Then, it would start again.

By the third round, Tokoyami realized that he would probably never be able to hear All Might laugh without wincing.

By the fifth, he thought that he might not be able to be in the same room with the Number One Hero. Assuming he survived all of this, going back to class would likely be impossible if All Might was teaching – if he was allowed back Quirkless at all, that is, and what a fresh wave of nausea that reminder brought.

By the tenth, Tokoyami absolutely loathed All Might’s voice.

----------

 

Eventually, after what felt like days, it stopped. The fifteen-twenty-who really knew how many minute gap had gone on with no fresh restart. No flash of light of the screen to warn of more pain. It had simply… Stopped.

An exhausted, painful glance was spared towards his white-haired neighbor; the other boy had fallen lax in his restraints. Asleep? Unconscious? Either way, it sounded like a very, very good idea. His whole body still tingled in the aftermath of the shocks and his lower back felt as if it were on fire, but, god, did sleep sound good right now. Or at least just a complete lack of awareness.

Tokoyami took a deep breath and allowed himself to fade.

-----------

He woke up feeling… Less exhausted. It was the same sort of tired that had dragged on after the first day of the training camp before the villains had attacked. It was a sort of ‘refreshed’ that hadn’t been fully cycled. During that outside dinner – had it only been a few days ago? – his classmates had alternately joked and whined that it would take days of sleep to recover from the trip. Tokoyami remembered muttering agreement.

It had only been a few days. Time was impossible to track here, but it couldn’t have been longer than that. He had been unconscious once after the loss of his Quirk – there was the nausea and pain again; Tokoyami shoved it back down, unwilling to deal with it now – and again now after, what, a day of torture?

It had been, what, two days? Three? Four if he was being generous?

How the hell was he going to get through this?

The sound of muffled footsteps startled him out of melancholy; Tokoyami looked up towards the sound, or where he thought it was coming from. The glass and the ‘water’ made it sound a little fuzzy.

By the nomu to his right, he saw her; the teenage girl from the room with the lights. He hadn’t seen her at the training camp during the fighting, but he had seen her afterwards. One of the villains. She was looking at the nomu with all the fascination of a small child at an aquarium.

How did a girl that young get involved with a group like this? She was… His age. Had to be. A high school student, if even that.

She had a strange, strange smile on her face. Her head tilted as she looked at the tube-caged nomu as if she were looking at fine art and trying to see the meaning in it that everyone else claimed was there. A crazed juvenile.

After a few minutes, she let out a not ordinary sounding high pitched giggle. Then, she started walking again, taking long, child-like strides. She stopped in front of him.

She smiled at him. That strange, not quite sane Cheshire Cat of a grin. As if he were some sort of display.

Tokoyami stared back, deeply disturbed by this girl. He noticed, then, that she had canisters on her back filled with sloshing red liquid. It looked like blood.

Ah. Whoever she was, he could safely peg her as one of the villains. It didn’t matter, really, how she got there or why she joined them; she was complicit, if not part of what had happened to him and what was happening to him now.

The restraints didn’t allow him to move much. However, it was his wrists that were held together, not his hands. Tokoyami responded with the rudest thing he could do with both of them; it was all he could do to show his displeasure.

She noticed. Her eyes lit up, but not in the anger or affront he had hoped to inspire. Instead, she let out another giggle before reaching for something behind her; she pulled out a syringe, one long IV line keeping it attached it to the canisters strapped to her back.

Tokoyami startled, dropping the rude gesture; oh, come on. He sputtered in to the oxygen mask. Was she really going to…?

She was already walking behind his cage. A moment later, just within the corner of his vision, Tokoyami could see one of the lines attached to his arms fill with dark red fluid. Before it was done, a second line did the same.

He braced for… Something. Pain, discomfort, some sort of feeling to indicate that he was getting these mystery injections. He was surprised when there was nothing. The fluids simply, quietly, went inside of him.

The girl waltzed in front of his vision again. She blew him a kiss, giggled, and marched off. He couldn’t help but stare, baffled and horrified that she existed at all. She stopped by the white haired boy – who reacted with visible surprise but, as far as Tokoyami could tell, no rudeness. She injected the same fluids in to the side of the other boys’ tank.

Tokoyami couldn’t do much else but settle in to unease after that.

-----------

Like most children, Tokoyami didn’t get his quirk until he was already in school. Kindergarten was regarded by most of society as ‘that time’, when chaos reigned in the form of tiny destructive tornados, miniscule explosions and the micro form of every quirk under the sun.

Tokoyami would always remember it. A blackout had knocked out power to the entire school. The windows had been wide open, letting in plenty of sun, but children weren’t exactly known for common sense; two dozen five-year-olds screamed at the same time. Most of it wasn’t actual fear; they had screamed simply for the sake of screaming.

With their fun-filled shrieks came the yell of something that simply wasn’t human.

It did have the good measure of stopping all of his classmates from doing anything; they stopped their voices almost in sync and just stared in shock, himself included, at the sudden arrival of a giant, shadowy bird head. A bird head who, after a moment of silence, blinked dumbly, looked around, and then… Waved.

At the start, Dark Shadow had almost been tame. Almost. A shadowy creature that was curious, confused, and asked questions had a habit of having tantrums once it got dark. A night light to sleep with solved that problem quick enough.

A very small Tokoyami found that he enjoyed the company of his quirk most of the time. Some weeks later, he was sticking together building blocks in front of the television as Dark Shadow read the instructions. The TV blared a show about a Hero from the UK; a woman who grew scales and wings before fighting the Bad Guys with the help of helpful ten-year-old sidekicks. Even he knew it was all made up; ten-year-olds didn’t get to be sidekicks. But they both liked watching it anyway. Still, there were real life Heroes, and this one let him know what it was really like.

Tokoyami looked on in awe as the woman went from Ordinary Human to Hero; dark patches erupted along her sides and face, joined with sparkles and a dazzling musical hymn.

“You think we’ll ever be cool like that?” Dark Shadow gasped, similarly enthralled.

“I hope so.” Tokoyami smiled. “Yeah. Yeah! We can be a Hero. I mean, I’ve got you! Not everybody’s got a quirk that can move stuff or punch stuff.”

Dark Shadow gasped joyfully at the praise. “We’ll practice until we’re big!”

“And then we’ll get the villains!” Tokoyami laughed and punched the air. “And… And then practice more! All Might says that Heroes always practice and never stop, because they have to stay strong, I guess.”

“Yeah!” Dark Shadow mimicked the punch.

On the screen, scales covered the woman from head to toe; she posed for the camera, her transformation scene complete.

--------

All Might laughed. “Remember to practice! All Pro Heroes never stop trying to get better! Even the best!”

Shock.

Tokoyami hissed and glared at the screen. Irritated wasn’t quite the word to describe what he was feeling. Honestly, what was taking the Pro Heroes so long to get here?! It must have been days. Does it really take so long to track down a League of Villains and a kidnapped student?!

It wasn’t as if he was the first victim of the League; nomus had attacked U.A. before. People had to have been going missing and turned in to these… Things for a while before he had been kidnapped. Where were the police?! Hadn’t they noticed that people had gone missing?

“Challenges are what makes a Hero a Hero!” A laugh.

Shock.

Tokoyami dry heaved in to the mask. He hadn’t eaten since before his kidnapping; there was nothing to vomit.

He had not been the first person to get stuck here. He knew that much; a half dizzy look was sent towards the other boy. Someone had to have noticed that this boy was gone, too. Wasn’t anyone looking for them?

Exhausted and nauseous as he was from the pain, it took him a moment to notice.

The boy in the other tank had… Lost all of his hair. It looked like it had simply fallen out. Long strands of white floated around the boys’ scalp in the liquid around him, reflecting the lights. There were also strange dark marks along his skin; Tokoyami had to squint in the attempt to figure out what it was; he stiffened when he recognized it.

Those were scales. Those were definitely scales. The boy was… Growing scales?

The crazed girl had injected them with something a few hours ago. Was that the cause of this?

“Work hard, stay focused, and you, too, can become a Hero!” Another one of those laughs.

Shock.

He noticed, when the next break came around, that his entire spine… Itched.

Chapter Text

Tokoyami was absolutely certain that something was growing on him.

After the last of the shocks stopped – and despite an exhaustion that tempted him in to an unconsciousness that, despite what little it offered, was still a severely better option than the waking hell he was currently existing in – he tried to figure out exactly what it was.

The boy in the other tank had lost his hair and had grown deep green scales all over his body. So far. Tokoyami didn’t know if it was some horrible start to the mutations or the only bout of it. He hadn’t thought about it when he had seen the nomus in the earlier battles or in the videos of them; they had all had odd extra appendages, granted, but nothing that had been out of the ordinary quirks that the average person had. Sometimes, people just had an extra set of arms or a pair of wings or horns. He personally had, after all, been born with feathers and a beak. That was just… Life. That was just the way things were.

He hadn’t considered that it could even be a side effect of experimentation.

His spine itched.

It was worrying. There was no mirror and the glass of the tube itself ended up doing a very poor job of reflecting anything back at him. The best he could manage were vague outlines that told him nothing.

What was happening to him? What had the injections done to him?

---------

 

The sound of footsteps woke him up. They were distant and muffled and, at first, he didn’t recognize them for what they were. An exhausted mind only recognized the noise after he had been listening to it for a few seconds.

Once that happened, Tokoyami woke himself up with a flash of panic. The last time someone had walked through here, that girl had come around and injected them with not-very-nice things. What was happening this time?

The footsteps were slow; they were coming from the other end of the room, past the tube with the nomu. He tried not to look directly at the once-human and instead tried to make out the shape of whoever it was. With the fog that the liquid around him made, it took a few seconds.

It was… A man in a lab coat. A utility cart – the kind that he had seen in dentist and doctor operation rooms – was in front of the man, pushed along and making almost no noise in the process. The man looked well groomed – a salaryman haircut on a middle-aged, nondescript face – and if it weren’t for the lab coat that all but screamed ‘medical professional’, he could have been anyone. Average. Mundane.

Somehow, it was surreal to see someone so plain in a place like this.

Tokoyami watched in faint, stupefied curiosity as what he assumed was a doctor slowly inched his way closer. As the man did so, details became a little clearer; there were things on the cart. The man was maybe ten feet away before he could make clear enough shapes out of the fog.

His heart dropped when he did. Tokoyami gaped and found that he couldn’t breathe.

Lights reflected off of at least three different scalpels of different sizes. There were twice as many pre-filled syringes. In the middle of it all, as if it were the main course in a macabre feast, was a very small hand-held power saw. It held a circular blade on the end of a large blue handle; a cord connected it to something on the underside of the tray.

The nomus all had the tops of their skulls missing.

The doctor – mad doctor, more likely – stopped in front of his tube.

Oh god.

Tokoyami couldn’t breathe. He could feel his entire body trembling now as he stared at the tray of surgical tools. Was this really how this was going to go? Here, now, after only a few days?

He thought that this process would take longer. He thought that he had time, that he only needed to stay strong until the pro heroes got there.

He thought he had time.

The doctor pulled out a tablet from the underside of the cart. Bored eyes looked at it, tapped the screen, and then looked up at Tokoyami.

He could only stare back, terrified in a way he had never been before.

Still looking completely uninterested, the doctor looked away and tapped the screen a few more times. Then, he started to push the cart again. The cart and all of its’ horrors were moved away from him and further down the hall.

Tokoyami was fairly certain that if there had been anything in his bowels, it wouldn’t be there any more. As it was, it took a moment to remember how to breathe.

After a few deep, shuttering breaths – oh god, oh dear god – he realized that the footsteps had stopped again. The doctor had stopped walking. Knowing he would probably regret it, Tokoyami looked up.

The doctor had stopped in front of his neighbor; the formerly white haired boy looked every inch as terrified as he had felt.

Inwardly, Tokoyami urged the doctor to keep walking; to leave the boy alone. Faintly, he noticed he was mumbling to himself, ”Keep going, keep going…”

It took a few seconds. The doctor started to push the cart again, but didn’t move on. Instead, he pushed it next to and then behind the tube.

Oh, no.

Realization hit the other boy at the same time; Tokoyami could see the horror that washed over him. Despite the liquid that surrounded them both, he could have sworn the boy was crying.

After a few minutes, the tube began to drain; the liquid stopped beneath the boys’ chin.

Then, Tokoyami could see for certain the tears quietly rolling down the boys’ face.

-----

It had taken four days before Midoriya woke up. When he did, he was almost immediately surrounded by most of his classmates.

Most of them.

“Did everyone from Class A come?” Was one of the first things he asked.

“No.” It didn’t look like Iida wanted to admit it; he looked… Sad. So did everyone else, now that Midoriya looked at them all. “Jiro and Hagakure are still unconscious from the villains’ gas. And Yaoyoruzu also received a head injury and is hospitalized here. She woke up yesterday, but everyone else but those three are here.”

“Fifteen of us.” Uraraka’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Because Tokoyami isn’t here.” The words fell from Todoroki with all the care of a truck hitting a pole.

Several of his friends turned to stare at Todoroki with various levels of incredulity. Ashido tried to hush him, yelping his name in sputtering shock. They shouldn’t have bothered; Midoriya knew the truth of the situation and what Todoroki was implying.

He had been close. So close. The last image he had of his classmate was of a hand around the back of his neck, the murky black of the villains’ gate, and absolute terror splashed across his face. Tokoyami hadn’t even made a sound; he had just been… Taken.

He had been so close.

“All Might said, ‘I can’t save the people I can’t reach’. That’s why he will always save those he can reach.” The words left him before he really knew why; this admission, this guilt. “I… I was there. I was in a place I could reach. I had the chance to save him. That’s what my quirk is for, isn’t it? That’s what Aizawa-sensai told me.”

The world had gone blurry. He had been so close and he still had failed so, so miserably. Midoriya knew he had failed in a way that was unforgiveable; it tarnished everything that he was and wanted to be.

He had been right there and he hadn’t been able to save one of his friends.

“I couldn’t save someone that was right in front of me.”

There was only a brief moment of silence. Midoriya could feel everyone else in the room, he thought; they knew, now, what Kacchan had known for years. How inept he was, how pathetic he truly was…

“And what the hell did you think you were going to do, you idiot?!”

“Bakugo!” At least three people sputtered in shock and indignation.

His vision was still swimming, but Midoriya blinked to try and clear it; Kacchan stood near the back of the room, leaning against a window frame. As far away from the hospital gurney as he could possibly be.

“Kacchan…”

“The hell were you gonna do?!” Bakugo repeated, staring needles. “Your arms were useless lumps and wrapped up. What were you gonna do, pincer Tokoyami like a crane machine?!”

“Bakugo, stop!” Uraraka sputtered.

Kacchan, as he was always, always did, made no effort to stop. “You have this damned big speech about reaching people, but you couldn’t reach him! You couldn’t save him! Stop trying to think you can do things you just can’t, you stupid little shit!”

Honestly, it was probably the nicest thing Kacchan had ever said to him.

“Then let’s save him this time.”

Well, now everyone was looking at Kirishima. Midoriya even gaped in stunned disbelief.

Kirishima looked impossibly calm. “Todoroki and I were here yesterday. We saw All Might and a police officer talking to Yaoyorozu. She made a tracking device and a receiver. All Might told her to leave it to the pros, but… We can save him. We have a way. We can go.”

“Does that mean you’re going to have Yaoyorozu to make another receiver?!” Iida nearly shouted it, irritation across his face.

The answer came hesitantly, but not from Kirishima, who suddenly looked pensive. Todoroki returned Iida’s stare. “What if it does?”

For a moment, Iida looked as if he were about to explode from rage. It was so out of character, so unlike the ordinarily level-headed class rep that Midoriya didn’t know what to do. He could only stare, stunned. When Iida finally spoke, he was shouting. “It’s as All Might said, this is something we should leave to the pros! This isn’t the place for us to act, you idiots!”

“We know that!” Kirishima yelled back. “But – “

I was their target.”

Kacchan’s words came in a terrifying sort of quiet. Midoriya was reminded of the calm fog before the biggest of storms; when things went from ‘okay’ to ‘holy shit, everybody hide’. As a child, he used to run whenever Kacchan had this tone. As it was, he shrunk in to the hospital bed out of a familiar need to get away. No one seemed to notice.

In fact, Kacchan didn’t even seem to notice, which was oddly unfamiliar; he was, instead, glaring at Iida. “I was the one those goddamn villains were actually after. You’re telling me, great class rep, that you would’ve just left me to those assholes because it isn’t convenient enough to go out there?!”

A hush fell over them all. Midoriya could see shame ripple through his friends.

 

---------

There must have been at least fifteen feet of space, a solid layer of glass and who knew how much mysterious liquid between him and what was happening to the other boy.

Yet, Tokoyami could still hear him the screaming.

At first, he had made a valiant attempt to watch what was happening; he thought that he owed that much to the boy whose name he would probably never know. To give the boy at least a friendly witness to what would be his death. Or what may as well be a death. It was what he would have wanted, he thought; at least someone that would know, however briefly, what had happened.

He hadn’t been able to watch for very long. The mad doctor hadn’t given the boy any kind of sedative or pain relief; a brace had been placed around the boys’ head to keep him from moving. Then, the saw simply turned on with a horrifying screech seconds before the screaming had started. The blood had been instant.

Honestly, he had never seen blood spray like that. He hadn’t thought it was possible; that the movies made up that sort of effect for drama. It sprayed on the glass around the boys’ head; the splash of red didn’t cover much.

Tokoyami couldn’t look; shamefully, he turned away, clenching his eyes shut and heaving in to the mask.

Oh, he hoped the nomus weren’t aware of what they had once been. Tokoyami truly, sincerely hoped that, after it all was over, after this, they were simply… Shells. That they didn’t remember who they had once been or knew what had happened.

He was next. Tokoyami knew that. This boy couldn’t have been here much longer than he was; they had received the injections at the same time.

He was going to die here. The pro heroes either couldn’t find them or were unwilling to take the risk.

The screaming didn’t stop until after the whine of the blade did. It ended with a hoarse breath and a loud sob.

Tokoyami dared to glance over.

The doctor had a scalpel; the blade was stuck very, very slowly inside of visible gray matter and pulled out… Part of it. A small pale pink piece of who the boy was. A piece of existence. It was placed aside; the scalpel went in again.

The boys’ eyes went blank.

There was no more screaming or crying after that.

Chapter Text

It was disappointing how few of them came.

However, he had to admit that it wasn’t surprising. Not really. There were just too many orders from too many teachers, police officers and Pro Heroes to stay put where they were and to let everyone else handle things. They were, after all, still fifteen-year-old students. They had bickered amongst themselves, of course, over what they could do verses what they should do that, honestly, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Yet, Midoriya frowned at how few of them came.

Kacchan had been a fierce supporter of ‘let’s fucking get in there and kick those villains’ collective asses’ group – Kacchan always had such a way with words – and Kirishima had quietly but audibly supported him. Todoroki had been a little to the side, but his expression voiced steely resolve. It was as close to agreeing as he got, really. Yaoyorozu had been a vital part to their plan and although she didn’t necessarily have to go with them, she did anyway.

No one else had been willing to take the risk. Deep down, part of him knew it would be like this; Midoriya had been ready to accept the low turnout.

Todoroki, Bakugo, Kirishima, Yaoyorozu, and himself.

Until Iida showed up out of nowhere and joined the pack. A pleasant plot twist, all things considered.

It had then been a minor adventure in itself; a four hour bullet train ride that they used to brace themselves for whatever came, a stop at a cheap costume store for what must have been the worst disguises in history, and then finally, finally finding the warehouse in the middle of a not unpopulated part of the city.

“To hide a tree, use the forest.” Todoroki had said. No one would look for what they expected. It was smart in a way they had to expect from villains.

Though, there were too many people milling about and they didn’t have nearly enough information to formulate a proper plan. They had decided, after some minutes, to go through a narrow alleyway between the warehouse and the next building over to see if they could either learn anything new or find a less noticeable entryway.

What they found was a window. It was high enough, Midoriya thought, to get a good look inside the building if they stood on each others’ shoulders. Kirishima had even brought night vision goggles. Bakugo had refused to either be lifted or to carry anyone else, so Kirishima stood on Iida, and he balanced somewhat more precipitously on Todoroki.

Kirishima had looked in first. He had been so shocked by what he had seen that he almost fell off Iida’s shoulders. Sputtering and eyes wide as saucers, Kirishima had all but forced the goggles in to Midoriya’s hands, shaking as he did so. “In the back on the left…!”

The first thing Midoriya saw were the vats. Large, square things filled with what must have been very warm liquid for the view to light up through the goggles in the way that they did. Pipes ran in and out of them.

He could see the exposed brains above the water line.

“Are those all…” Midoriya gaped. “Nomu?!”

Kirishima was still shaking next to him. “Behind them.”

The vats of nomu weren’t the worst thing here?! He had to take a deep breath to steel himself for whatever horror Kirishima had already witnessed.

He almost dropped the goggles when he saw it.

“We need to go in there.” Midoriya could feel the blood drain from his face. “We need to go in there now.”

-----------

There had been more than one warehouse. After discovering this information, the Pro Heroes had decided to split themselves up.

It had been tempting to rush in; to make a spectacle of it for the news and for the endlessly watching government payroll. What a story it would have been, after all, if the kidnapped boy could be rescued and an infamous villain group could be arrested all in one night?

In the end, they had decided to take it quietly. Too much flash could do exactly the opposite. The death of the kidnapped boy would be everything that they did not want. Well, the media would have a field day either way, but still not ideal.

Best Jeanist had to explain it three times to Mt. Lady; the much younger newcomer to the Pro Hero line hadn’t been able to immediately grasp the need of restraint. The denim-laced analogies, Jeanist had to admit, actually made things worse. With some sadness, he assumed she must have never worn jeans to understand.

One day, he’d have to try and introduce her to them. But that was for another day.

Right now, there were more pressing matters.

The warehouse was quiet. The lights were dimmed and there was the faint whine of something electronic. It wasn’t until they got past an office-like entryway in to the warehouse proper that they saw the vats.

They were tubes, really; long, thin holding cells filled with water and the unmoving bodies of nomus. There were dozens of them.

So, this was where the nomus were made. Born? Created?

They weren’t looking at them for long before the first sounds broke the air. At first, it was the loud, screeching wail of some kind of power tool. A sander or a drill; something Jeanist didn’t have a particularly great deal of experience with.

Then, they heard screaming.

That was the sound that got them moving. They ran without sharing any words; no orders needed to be given. They simply needed to get there. It was the first lesson every Hero received once they went Pro; once people were in trouble, you moved.

It came from one of the vats. It had the kidnapped U.A. student in it. He was restrained in at least three different ways, was drenched in blood, and was screaming in to an oxygen mask that muffled nothing. A man in a doctors’ uniform stood at the top of a wide set of stairs behind him. The doctor was sawing the top of the boys’ head off.

Surprisingly, Tiger was the one that reacted first. He let out a roar – ironically unlike him – and leapt at the man wielding the small power saw with a rage Jeanist had never seen before. They both fell tumbling off of the other side of the stairs; he thought he saw Tiger punch the villain in the face several times.

He didn’t get long to look, though. Within seconds, nomus were on them.

How had they not noticed half a dozen of these things approaching them?! Jeanist cursed to himself, using his threads to bounce himself back and away from the creatures. He saw, from the corner of his eye, Mt. Lady extend her legs to do the same. Gang Orca simply barreled in to them in his typically blunt combat fashion.

Jeanist swore again when he realized that none of the nomu creatures were wearing any kind of clothes. He had nothing to manipulate.

That was… Fine. Perfectly okay to deal with. There was now more than one objective, after all; take down the nomus, yes, but also to rescue the poor boy in the tank.

There were four Pro Heroes in here. Good. They could spread themselves to handle both of their goals. Mt. Lady and Gang Orca were already doing well; the former had remembered not to grow so large as to destroy the place but was using her own body to corral the nomus in to Orcas’ attacks. Tiger was…

…Where was Tiger?

The doctor was unconscious on the floor. Tiger had gone… Somewhere.

Well, that was just inconvenient.

Jeanist frowned underneath his denim mask. He turned, intending to head towards the vat and the boy. A force hit him from behind.

An attack from the other direction?! The nomus were all being handled by Mt. Lady and Orca, so who –

A high pitched, screeching wail sounded off from behind him. Jeanist turned, flaring threads. The denim strings wrapped around two more nomus; one of them burst free almost immediately.

Oh. There were more of them.

The free nomu screeched again before leaping at him, clawed talons aiming for his face. Jeanist pushed himself back with threads before using the same lines to wrap around his opponent; doubly as thick, this time.

It seemed to do the trick. The creature fell, still wailing.

Then, he heard a loud crack; Jeanist turned to see a nomu pulling itself off of the vat the boy was held in. It rushed off in Orca’s direction; as it did, it took quite a bit of the glass, some of it clinging to spines on the nomus’ back, shattering more shards under its’ feet.

Water immediately drained from the tank. With it came any sort of buoyancy that held the boy aloft; Jeanist could see him drop, a shuddering lurch against the restraint around the base of his skull and jawline. The boy was twisting; choking.

Shit. The boy was going to die from hanging after all of this?!

Jeanist rushed forward but was knocked aside by a new attack. This latest monster had wings and a thick, heavy tail; it spun, forcing Jeanist to jump back. Further away from the vat.

“Someone get to the boy!” Jeanist yelled. “Where is Tiger?!”

“He’s not with you?!” Orca half yelped back, straining between his normal human voice and his quirk-enhanced sound waves.

Damnit, they were fighting against time, now. If someone didn’t get that boy down from there, he really was going to die!

Jeanist threw another round of threads; it caught the latest nomu, wrapping wings around flailing arms. It dropped, either unable to balance or not intelligent enough to figure out what else to do.

A breath was taken before Jeanist turned. The boy had better still be alive –

Someone was already there. Someone with a heavy mop of green hair was already at the top of the staircase behind the tank, holding the still restrained boy by the armpits. Whoever it was was doing just enough to keep the boy from choking but not much else. Just barely out of harms’ way.

Wait. That mop of hair looked very, very familiar.

Then, Jeanist noticed that there were other people around the base of the stairs, behind the tank. Five others. Each and every one of them looked shell-shocked and familiar.

Oh, this was absolutely the last place these kids were supposed to be.

Briefly free of any nomus in his immediate area, Jeanist rushed forward; the kid with the green hair had a very fake-looking goatee and enlarged, puffed out cheeks, as if –

Oh, no.

“Move!” Jeanist pushed himself to the top of the stairs with his threads, nudging the green-haired kid aside as he grabbed for the armpits of the boy in the tank. “Do not get sick all over your friend! It could literally kill him! Get down and get sick on the floor!”

Thankfully, the kid did as he was told. He all but flew down to the ground. The sound of vomiting came a bare second later.

Honestly, he couldn’t blame them. They were still kids and the sight of their friend and classmate in the state that he was in…

The boys’ brain was exposed. That could in no way be healthy. The top of his skull was still at the bottom of the tank. It didn’t look like it was broken; it must have floated down before the water drained out.

These kids were not supposed to be here. They didn’t need to see things like this, not until they were grown, trained and ready.

Though, there were still nomus fighting the rest of the present Pros. The kids were looking up at him, quiet but visibly eager to help. Even – shit, was that Bakugo? Here? And he recognized every one of them from the Sports Festival. Slowly, Jeanist realized that he remembered what every one of their quirks were.

“You, down there, Midoriya, is it?”

The sickly-looking boy wiped his mouth on a sleeve and looked up.

“Can you break the restraints on his hands and feet?” Jeanist received an eager nod and a quick move through the broken glass. Then, he looked at the red-haired boy – and oh, everyone remembered who he was. It had been a hell of a match at the festival. “Kirishima? Does your hardening quirk give you more strength?”

Kirishima was pale. “Yeah… A little…”

Good enough. “Can you promise you won’t get sick?” A nod. “Get up here. I need you to break the clamp around his head. Can you do that?”

He got another nod from the kid, but he honestly didn’t look any more ready to not throw up than the Midoriya boy had. When Kirishima got to the top of the stairs, he somehow managed to pale even worse.

Still, his hands grew an odd texture before grabbing at the restraints around dark feathers. The plastic and metal crumbled under his grip.

“Good.” Praise was good for kids. “Help me lift him, but we need to be careful, his brain could fall out of his head.”

“Holy fuck.” That had actually been Bakugo that said that from below, sounding uncharacteristically faint.

On his end, Kirishima simply whimpered as he helped. Jeanist used his threads and arms alike to lift the boy free from the tank.

Somewhere deeper in the warehouse, something exploded.

Well, that was still happening. There was still fighting going on. These kids needed to get out of here!

A bare, distant keen was coming from the kidnapped boy.

For a moment, Jeanist stared in stunned disbelief; the boy was still awake?!

“Can someone get the top of his head from the bottom of the tank?” Those were words he never thought he’d say.

“Holy fuck.” Bakugo said again. It ended up being a still sickly-looking Midoriya that shakily handed him the skull fragment.

Then, he looked to the girl – the girl that can make things from nothing, he thought he remembered her quirk as. “Can you make me some medical-grade gauze and tape? If you don’t know what medical tape is, just the strongest you can make.”

The girl – Yao? Yaoruzu? He couldn’t recall – pulled at the air above her arm. She gave him cloth bandages and duct tape. Close enough.

Jeanist grit his teeth beneath the mask; he had severe doubts that this was going to work. The odds of the boy surviving this were almost nonexistent. Still – with Kirishima helping hold the boy upright – he set the skull fragment in the best way he could before wrapping it on, bandages going from below a beaked jawline to the top and back again. Then again from the back of his head to the front. Then, taped on.

It was the best, yet also worst patch job they could do at this point.

“All right.” Jeanist took a breath. “There’s an ambulance outside. You’ll be tempted to run. Do not run. I need you to carry him as upright as you can and do not run. There is absolutely nothing protecting his brain right now and even the inside of his own skull can give him brain damage. Do you understand me?”

They all quietly nodded.

Good.

Jeanist lifted the boy with his threads and set them in the arms of the biggest of them; the strongest and least likely to accidentally drop him.

“Go.”

-------

 

To be fair, they had not seen combat. They had stuck to the plan. More or less. So that was… Something.

Midoriya could barely get his own thoughts together; his stomach continued to cramp at the waves of nausea that hit him.

What had they done to Tokoyami?!

In Iida’s arms – and poor Iida had to carry him, shaking as much as the rest of them – Tokoyami took in deep, rasping breaths. The rest of them were stone quiet as they made their way around the fighting, heading to the door as quickly as they dared.

‘Quickly’ was barely a brisk walk. Best Jeanist’s warning had been… Horrifying. Even Kacchan hadn’t argued with it and he had once caught Kacchan in a verbal altercation with a cat in front of their grade school building. A real cat, not a person with a cat quirk.

Somehow, miraculously, they actually got past the battle. The nomus either ignored them or didn’t see them. The exit to the warehouse was still a torturously long few minute walk away.

Tokoyami’s wheezing stopped. For a moment, so did Midoriya’s heart, fearing he had stopped breathing. When a whimper came, he wasn’t actually sure what emotion he was feeling; joy that he hadn’t died just now? Horror that he was still awake? Shock, generally, from… All of it?

The last one really jumped when Tokoyami started talking.

“Iida?” It was weak and barely above a whisper.

Was Tokoyami aware of what was happening?!

“Tokoyami…!” Iida got that much out, but didn’t look like he knew what to say after.

What were they supposed to do? Stop him from talking so he got his rest? Keep him awake at all costs or he would die? Movies and books gave very, very conflicting information about these things.

“Iida…” Tokoyami was still somehow talking. Midoriya wondered, then, if Tokoyami realized that the rest of them were there. How much was he aware of his surroundings? “Can you tell the others…” A deep wheeze that bordered on a sob. “I’m sorry I died. I tried not to.”

Midoriya felt as if a boulder hit the bottom of his stomach.

Then, Tokoyami stopped making any more noise. No more wheezing, no more whimpers. Midoriya could see his eyes glaze over.

They got to the ambulance.

Chapter Text

They hadn’t gone in to the ambulance with Tokoyami. Kacchan had been the first one to say it, pulling Kirishima back out when the red-haired boy tried to get in, exclaiming quite loudly that there simply hadn’t been enough room in the ambulance for the paramedics to work if they were all there along with them. Kacchan, naturally, had used far more expletives to explain it and with severely less eloquence, but the point had been made nonetheless.

Luckily, there had been a swarm of police on the scene. A police van picked them up – lacking windows, and for some reason, Midoriya considered this a good thing – and brought them to the hospital lobby.

The police officer spoke to a woman behind a desk. The next thing they knew, the six of them were herded in to a side room, away from the main waiting hall. It looked enough like any other hospital waiting room – smelling of disinfectant and what he thought might have been chlorine, something that smelled very strongly of cleanliness – but the chairs were nicer, the vending machines in the corner had cheaper snacks, and there was a well stocked coffee bar. A very large TV sat mounted on one wall, showing a local news channel; it was silent, but the subtitles were on.

Midoriya wondered if Pro Heroes got their own special lounges in hospitals. Was it just a perk that the Pros got? Somewhere nice while they waited on news of life or death?

If so, it was really nice of the hospital to let them in here.

The lot of them didn’t say anything as they walked inside. They simply collapsed in to the somehow disturbingly comfortable lounge chairs.

No one said anything for a very long time. It was quiet.

Midoriya couldn’t get through a fog that had settled in his own mind. Part of him wanted desperately to go over everything that had happened and to analyze what he had seen – to figure out the hows and the whys of it all – but felt as if a wall was holding him back. Something inside of his head that stopped him from thinking clearly.

Part of him was very glad for that wall. He… Wasn’t sure if he wanted to think very much right now. Yet, that other part of him did and it was all… Very, very confusing.

Midoriya wondered if the others were feeling the same way.

It was quiet.

“I was completely and utterly useless out there.” That, eventually, came from Todoroki. His tone was subdued.

Slowly, Midoriya looked over; he noticed that so did everyone else. Both Kacchan and Kirishima were hunched over in their chairs in nearly identical positions; though, the latter looked like had been holding his head in his hands. Yaoyorozu was sitting upright, but had both hands over her mouth. Iida…

Iida had figured out that the chairs could recline. He was leaning back against it, expression somewhat blank and far-off.

Todoroki was staring at some far distant point on the floor. Silence answered him for a while.

Then, a half laugh, half choking noise erupted from Kacchan. “I just stood there and stared. I fucking stared.”

“You cursed a little.” Kirishima smirked sadly.

“Yeah, good fucking job. Go me.” This was honestly the most self-deprecative Midoriya had ever seen him. It was… Bizarre.

“His skin was green.” Todoroki said slowly. It was more of a flat statement than anything that carried emotion.

“All the nomus have green skin.” Kacchan, on the other hand, growled the words out with heavy disgust. “The bastards were turning Tokoyami in to one of those… Things.”

It was silent again for a few minutes.

“Fuck.” Surprisingly, that was not Kacchan; Kirishima said it. “I need to wash my hands.”

Oh. Right. Kirishima still had blood all over his hands. It must have happened when he broke the restraints under Tokoyami’s head.

There had been… So much blood.

They had sawed the top of his head off.

Kirishima stared at his hands for a few seconds. Then, in an act that felt sudden, he pushed himself off of his seat and rushed out of the room.

“I… I need to wash… My everything. I think.” Iida set his seat in to a non-reclining position; his entire front was drenched in deep, dark red. He had carried Tokoyami out; their friend had whimpered and clung to life, but there…

There had been so much blood.

Iida followed Kirishima’s lead, quickly walking out of the room with an off look in his eyes.

That left… The four of them. Yaoyorozu, Todoroki, Kacchan and himself.

No one said anything.

Midoriya wasn’t even sure how much time had passed before the door slid opened again. He wasn’t really sure what he had been expecting when it did, but the Pro Hero Tiger had not been it.

Tiger didn’t even seem to notice they were there. He stalked in, fury writ across his face, and… Went to the coffee bar. A large gloved hand angrily grabbed for the pot, poured it in to a styrofoam cup, gulped it all in one ago, and then poured himself a second before slamming the pot back down.

Wait… Hadn’t one of the other Wild Wild Pussycats gone missing during the attack in the forest? Ragdoll? Had they… Found her in that warehouse, too? Was she still missing?

With some surprise, Midoriya realized that he couldn’t remember what any of their non-Hero civilian names were.

“Sir, are you… Okay?” Todoroki somehow got words out. How was he able to get words out?

Tiger practically jumped. The cup in his hand dented a little as he turned around.

For a few seconds, they both stared at each other. Tiger looked shocked, eyes drifting from one teenager to the other.

“They let you kids in here?”

“I don’t think they knew what to do with us.” Yaoyorozu’s voice was barely above a whisper. “We came in with our classmate.”

“The kidnapped boy. Fumikage Tokoyami.” Tiger nodded as he visibly relaxed. “Jeanist told me.” Slowly, he took a seat further away from the group. “I’m sorry.” A pause. “If… If you need to talk or anything, I’m going to be here for a while. If you want anything from the vending machine, let me know.”

Midoriya could only nod. It was nice of him to offer, but he wasn’t sure if he could get any words out now if he tried. Or to eat anything, actually. He wondered if any of them could.

Kacchan was even being uncharacteristically silent. As he looked over, he noticed the blonde boy had hunched over to stare at the floor, shaking in what must have been rage.

All things considered, Midoriya was not surprised.

----------

 

Kirishima came back after what the television told him was half an hour. His hands were clean and the costume layer shirt was gone. No one asked what he did with it; Midoriya assumed he simply threw it away. He would have done the same thing.

Iida didn’t return for nearly three hours. When asked, he had said that a nurse had let him use a washing station for the employees. Apparently, it had been the longest shower of his life. Again, Midoriya did not blame him for this and, the more he thought about it, the more he knew he would do the exact same thing once he got home. Or if they ended up in a hotel. The very first thing he was going to do was take a long, long shower.

Not a half hour after Iida came back, the door slid open again. A doctor walked in, holding papers on a clipboard in his hands. The doctor glanced briefly at Tiger, but then looked to the six of them. “Are you the friends of Fumikage Tokoyami?”

Midoriya stared at him and finally found his voice. “Yes! Is he going to be okay?!”

The doctor frowned. “I’m sorry…” Then, he paused.

He was sorry?!

He was sorry?!

Both Kirishima and Kacchan jumped from their chairs; Yaoyorozu let out a sound that was somewhere between a gasp and a sob.

“I’m sorry, we can’t tell you anything.” The doctor finally continued. “You aren’t listed as family. There are privacy laws in place that prevents us from telling you anything more than what we’re allowed to tell the media. Your friend is in critical condition and that’s all we can tell you. You should go home.”

Midoriya felt as if he had been punched in the gut. The world swam briefly. From the corner of his eye, he could see Kirishima collapse back in to the chair.

Kacchan did not. Instead, he was shaking again. “You stupid… Sorry?! You’re sorry?!

The doctor blinked and opened his mouth to say something.

Kacchan did not let him speak. “You fucking asshole! Tokoyami was nearly dead when we came in here and your idiot ass comes in here and the first fucking thing you say is you’re sorry?! What the hell?! Do you have any goddamn idea what you told us just now?!

No one tried to stop Kacchan from shrieking at the doctor. Not even Tiger stood up to stop him.

Midoriya found himself happy that he was yelling. He wanted to yell, too.

“…Ah.” The doctor responded after a momentary pause. “That was… A poor choice of words on my part. I’m –”

“Get out of here!” Kacchan roared.

The doctor did. He practically scurried away, face a little more red after being berated by an angry 15-year-old.

In the moment that followed, Kacchan breathed in that furiously heavy way he did when he was well and truly mad. Sparks flared from his hands, a barely restrained fury that, usually, Midoriya would run away from.

He didn’t think he needed to, this time.

A wordless, angry yell erupted from Kacchan’s throat. “I need to destroy something right now!”

“That’s what the breakables room is for.” Tiger suddenly voiced up, as calm as if nothing unusual were going on.

They all blinked in unison, looking to the Pro Hero.

“What?” Kacchan sputtered.

Tiger pointed to the far corner. There was a door there. Somehow, Midoriya had assumed it was a closet; it didn’t look particularly remarkable. Now that he looked at it, however, the writing on the door did say ‘Breakable Room’ on it.

“Everything in there is temperature proof and made to be broken.” Tiger frowned. “The entire room is made for stress relief. You can do whatever you want in there, pretty much. If you light too much stuff on fire, though, the sprinklers will go off. Otherwise… Go nuts.”

Midoriya hadn’t even known such a concept existed. Now that he knew that it did, it sounded absolutely brilliant.

Kacchan didn’t waste any time. He rushed for the door, still trembling with rage. He slammed the door behind him.

Then, they heard… Nothing.

“Soundproof, too.” Tiger said.

After that, Midoriya dared to relax. Mostly, he tried to allow himself to think; the doctor had said that Tokoyami was in critical condition, but… Alive. He didn’t say the words out loud, but the implication was clear; Tokoyami was still alive.

Tokoyami was still alive.

-----------

 

“What the hell?” Kirishima was the one to break the silence.

It had been ten minutes at best. Kacchan was still in the breakables room. No one had gone in to check on him. On his end, Midoriya knew he would be in there for a while; he had once seen the fiery boy tear apart a single pile of trash for an hour.

Kirishima was looking at the television. Midoriya followed his gaze. When he did, his stomach sunk.

The sound was still off, but a picture could speak a thousand words. Whoever had taken the picture for the news probably told much more than that.

Somehow, someway, someone got a picture of them leaving the warehouse. At least, they got a photo of Iida carrying Tokoyami. Only two things in the picture were blurred; Iida’s face and Tokoyami’s nudity. The caption stated it as ‘an unknown bystander’ carrying ‘the kidnapped U.A. student’.

There was so much blood.

“That disguise was not nearly that good.” Iida remarked in sheer disbelief.

“How the hell?!” Kirishima sputtered.

Then, their phones all started going off at once.

“Oh, great.” Todoroki grimaced. “How many IMs are you guys getting right now?”

The answer was… A lot. Once Midoriya got his phone out, he couldn’t even read one message long enough for another to come through. It felt as if everyone was trying to message him at once. It took a few minutes of tallying and quick name reading to figure out that it may as well have been.

Everyone else from 1-A had sent at least one message each. Almost everyone from 1-B were sending him notes, as well. There were even a handful from 1-C and the support classes and he wondered how they got his number.

It took some finagling and swiping away of all the incoming messages to invite them all in to a group chat. It was almost no time at all before they were all in there.

There was a cascade of, is Tokoyami okay?!, what hospital is he in, did they tell you anything, what happened?!, we saw the news, is he okay?!, did he die?!, don’t tell me they killed him!!!, where are you?!, how is he?!

Midoriya stared at that last one for a few seconds.

Bad. Was all he could think to reply. It’s bad.

Chapter Text

At the time, Midoriya hadn’t seen any real harm in telling everyone what hospital Tokoyami had been staying in. He had the sense not to tell them anything that had happened in the warehouse – they didn’t need to know, they really, really did not need to know those details – but they were all worried. They at least needed to know where they were, right? No one physically in the room with him had said anything about it being a bad idea, at any rate.

It had been a terrible, terrible mistake.

U.A. was a four hour train ride away. It would be at least that long before any of their classmates arrived.

It was significantly less time before the media got there.

The lot of them had gone to the main hospital lobby to wait for their friends – accompanied by Tiger – Chatora! That had been his name, and Midoriya felt so, so stupid now for not remembering it before. Where had his brain been all this time? – who seemed much more quieter now than he had been at the training camp, but weren’t they all quiet and subdued at present?

They were immediately ambushed as soon as they walked out to the lobby.

There were so, so many cameras. And shouting. And more questions than Midoriya could make sense of; journalists were shouting over each other. They were all outside, but every hospital window by the main lobby was mobbed.

Tiger let out a long, heavy sigh. “Wonderful. We have a leak.”

The lot of them slunk a little lower; Midorya the lowest of them all. He very clearly saw Kacchan smirking a little in his direction.

Okay, so that had been a terrible idea. He knew better now. Learning. Learning was important.

They had decided as a pack to not to return back to the Pro Hero Lounge. Their friends, whenever they got there, would probably not be allowed in. They had only been led to the place thanks to Best Jeanist to begin with.

Tiger found a little spot in the corner, away from the windows, for them to wait in. He also left a few hundred yen for the vending machines before leaving. He didn’t say where he was going and none of them asked. None of them used the money, but Kirishima put it all in a pocket. It was less than thousand yen, so Midoriya didn’t bother to make a fuss about it.

A few hours later – and a small, mute television hanging in a corner told him it had been six hours – Midoriya found himself waking up from a sleep he hadn’t intended on taking. He must have passed out from sheer exhaustion. He was slightly more awake now, at least, so that was something.

Todoroki was the one to shake him awake. He didn’t say anything about him falling asleep, instead only remarking, “Some of the others are here.”

Yaoyorozu was already greeting their classmates as they rushed in past cameras and the ever-shrieking media. She was soon hugging Uraraka; both of them were shaking. Asui stood only a few inches away, a worried expression on her face.

There was another cluster of people at the front desk; too many people were trying to talk to a frazzled-looking woman behind the counter. Iida was trying to calm them. Whatever he was saying was very visibly not working.

Most of 1-A were there. A few students from 1-B were there, as well; he recognized Kendo, Tetsutetsu and Awase. Kirishima had already caught up with Tetsutetsu; both of them had identical expressions of unease on their faces as they talked quietly with each other.

Midoriya shot to his feet when he saw them all. He noticed, then, that Kacchan was still sitting down and made no move to get up.

Kacchan must have seen him staring. He snarled. “What’s the point? Not like we can do anything. Just gonna be waiting here after everybody gets their cry-fest on.”

He had a point. Still, Midoriya headed for his classmates; Todoroki quietly trailed behind him.

It took a little while to notice, but both Jiro and Hagakure weren’t there. He wondered if they were still unconscious from the villain attack at the other hospital. With a startling realization, Midoriya realized how quickly everything had happened.

It had only been… A few days. They went in to the warehouse yesterday. The attack at the training camp was…

It had only been five days. All of this had happened in only five days.

In the end, Kacchan had been right; the hospital staff told them nothing. They were directed to either stay in the lobby for the same news the media would receive or to leave the hospital.

They chose, together, to stay.

-----

When Tokoyami’s family arrived, Midoriya hadn’t been surprised. What family wouldn’t rush to the hospital when one of their children were hurt?

He remembered his own mother crying hysterically in a hospital room when he had gotten the chicken pox.

What he was surprised about, however, was how easily he could recognize them as Tokoyami’s family. He had never met them before and had never seen any pictures of them, and yet they were instantly, immediately recognizable as the Tokoyamis.

Tokoymai’s mother was dark. A deep, solid ebony kind of dark from head to toe; as if her entire body were a single shape. Even her long hair and teeth were the same solid shade of black. She reminded Midoriya of Hagakure, how everything was just a single form – invisible or visible, it didn’t really matter. Something very similar to Dark Shadow hovered behind her, only thinner and somehow looking more frail. The only things not midnight-crayon black were her eyes – a startling gleaming sky blue – and the dark gray dress that she wore.

In the back of his mind, Midoriya remembered that the quirk she had – that Dark Shadow was – used to be categorized as ‘yokai quirks’. Demonic. It was later changed to ‘shadow’ style quirks simply because of how offensive it had been.

The woman held a toddler in her arms; the child was a tiny mirror reflection of Tokoyami, sporting the same black bird-like head. The only differences were that the little one had the same blue eyes as her mother, a slightly smaller, more size-appropriate beak, and a couple of very small, adorable pink bows on her head.

What could only be Tokoyami’s father stood next to her; broad-shouldered and a nearly identical bird-like in appearance to his son. However, his feathers were bright; blues and greens that reminded Midoriya of the birds from South America. Tropical. He had his sons’ eyes. Or Tokoyami had his fathers’. One or the other. His feathers went down past his neck and some were visible on his wrists above much more human hands.

Trailing behind them with a disturbing sort of calm quiet was a girl that couldn’t have been older than eleven or twelve. She could have been a miniature replica of her older brother, if not for the pastel blue and pink feathers and the same blue eyes as her mother. She was wearing a school uniform.

She was also peering at them. Her expression was identical to the way Tokoyami would stare at them during class.

“My family doesn’t even look that much like each other and we don’t even have animal quirks.” Kaminari sputtered.

No one else said anything.

Tokoyami’s sister was still staring at them. The squint turned in to a glare. Then, she was tugging on her mothers’ arms.

After a few seconds of her mother being too engrossed in whatever conversation she was having with the woman behind the desk and not paying attention to her daughter, the girl then tugged on the sleeve of her fathers’ business suit. He turned to look at her; she said something, pointing at the group of them as she did so. After a few seconds, he looked up at them, blinking with confusion.

Then, he turned to talk to the woman at the counter. After that, the entire Tokoyami family and the woman – including the toddler – turned to stare at them.

“Maybe they know who we are.” Midoriya offered.

“I’m pretty sure everyone knows who we are at this point.” Todoroki said with some annoyance. “We’ve been bordering on infamous for a while.”

Tokoyami’s parents turned back to the woman at the counter. After a few seconds of conversation, the woman bowed and quickly walked away. Then, the family was walking towards them.

Not knowing what to expect, Midoriya stood from his seat. A few of his classmates did the same.

Tokoyami’s father stared at them, looking both confused and awed. After a few seconds, his gaze settled on… Iida. “Did you… Save my Fumi’s life?”

Oh. They had watched the local news. That made things… Interesting.

--------

After one of the most awkward conversations any of them could recall having, it wound up being a good thing that Tokoyami’s family had recognized Iida from the news.

The hospital had needed parental permission to allow non-family members access to information and visitation rights; as soon as they learned that their son’s classmates had tracked their son down of their own volition, knowing the dangers involved and yet still going in anyway, they allowed them all to have access.

They were grateful for it; Yaoyorozu had nearly cried when she thanked them and Uraraka hadn’t been much further off. Kirishima actually had tears in his eyes, much to the shock of everyone else.

Almost everyone else; Midoriya noticed that Kacchan had very specifically not said anything about it all. The silence said more than any words ever could.

None of them made a sound when a nurse led them to Tokoyami’s room. Or, rather, to a door that led next to the room.

The door to Tokoyami’s actual room had three separate connected entrances and what looked like some sort of spray station in the middle of it.

“A hazmat room, kero?” Asui wondered out loud.

“Maybe it’s to keep germs out instead of in?” Aoyami frowned thoughtfully.

“He might have a compromised immune system.” Todoroki added. “It happens, sometimes, after surgeries.”

No one asked how Todoroki knew that bit of information, but the nurse made no attempt to correct them or add any additional information.

Tokoyami’s family headed for the interlocking entrance. The nurse opened the door to the room next door for the rest of them.

It was an observation room. A large glass window took up an entire wall. It reminded Midoriya of the observation windows in front of hospital nurseries, where all the babies were on display for their brand new parents and family members.

This display was much more solemn.

The room was large enough to easily hold five or six double beds. It was empty except for the single that Tokoyami was on. He was unconscious, but that somehow made his appearance all the worse.

His skin was still green; the feathers he still had on his head were still black but had a strange green tinge to it. A blanket covered most of his body except for his arms, both of which were at his side and connected to multiple IV lines. There were dark, heavy bruises all over what was visible of his body; his arms and throat were the worst of it, able to be seen despite the avian markings around his neck. A breathing tube ran over his beak.

The top of his head was gone again, but it was replaced by what looked like a cast; a stark white, plaster-looking thing that was larger than his actual skull had been.

Tokoyami also had… New feathers. Midoriya frowned at the sight of them; they went down from the back of his head over his shoulders before ending at the top of his upper arms. They almost looked like epaulets, those pieces of shoulder armor he had seen on ancient armor in museums.

Midoriya knew, then, that Tokoyami had been altered. He had been worried about as much since realizing what the villains had been about to do to him. Knowing now that all the nomus had once been human, they had all been changed in horrible, horrific ways.

He hoped they had gotten there before the worst of it, before something truly insane had happened to Tokoyami.

Well, more insane than getting his head cut open.

There was a single, large window in the room. It managed to let in a large beam of light that covered Tokoyami’s entire body and nowhere else in the room. Midoriya wondered if it had been done on purpose; something to help him get additional vitamins.

It was very quiet for a few minutes. A disturbed hush had fallen over them all.

“Why…” Ojiro finally broke the silence behind him with a slow, almost stuttered question. “…Is there a cast on his entire head?”

Midoriya winced; he caught Kirishima and Yaoyorozu visibly shuttering from the corner of his vision. Though, part of him was surprised that the first question hadn’t been about the new skin color. “They… He…” What was the best way to explain this without completely horrifying everyone? Was there even a way to do so, considering what had happened?

It took a few minutes. No one made any other noise to try to help. “The villains… Uhm…” Midoriya was took a deep, shuddering breath to try and calm himself down. It didn’t help. He decided, then, to blurt it all out as quickly as he could; to just get the words out. “They cut the top of his head off.”

There was silence for a few seconds.

“What.” Shoji said it flat; his eyes, along with everyone that hadn’t been in the warehouse, were as wide as saucers.

“With a power saw.” Kacchan helpfully added, almost a little too cheerfully. Midoriya gaped at him in disbelief; was this really an appropriate time for that detail!?

“What?!”” This time, at least three people said it at the same time.

Suddenly, Asui gasped as if she realized something vital. “Like the nomus.”

Eventually, Midoriya knew, they would have had to explain this. The others had to know what had happened; didn’t this affect them all? Hadn’t the villains been after all of them in some capacity, even if only to kill them? Hadn’t Tokoyami’s kidnapping essentially been random? “I think… We barely got there in time. He was still talking when we got him out.”

“What?!” This time it was Mineta that yelped it out; he looked pale. “He was still conscious after they cut his head off with a power saw?!”

In fact, they all looked pale.

Then, his family finally made their way in to the room. Tokoyami’s mother rushed to his bedside, visibly weeping. The rest of them were stoic and reserved; even the toddler stayed back, holding his sisters’ hand.

“This could have been any one of us.” Midoriya had to say it out loud, to make sure that at least he alone knew it to be true. “He wasn’t even who the villains were after. Tokoyami was just… There. This could have been any one of us.”

Tokoyami’s sister turned her head to glare at them through the glass.

Chapter Text

The world was a haze of mist and everything in it was floating. Sounds came from the universe beyond in distant, muffled tones and Tokoyami knew, more or less, exactly where he was.

It wasn’t the first time he had found himself in this state. When he had been younger, he had been forced to undergo a multiple wisdom teeth extraction; he hadn’t understood it at the time, really, but they had come in early and his beak just didn’t have the room. In the end, he had ended up in exactly the same state he was in now.

Incredibly, impossibly drugged out of his mind. A little giddy, too.

Tokoyami wasn’t worried about it. Everything felt… Peaceful. Happy. He couldn’t remember why he had to go through surgery this time, but it would come back to him eventually. There was only a brief attempt to break out of it, to try and wake up, but it was quickly abandoned. Nope; whatever the doctors gave him was going to keep him like this for a while.

It was nice. Really, really nice. Numb. And for some reason, even though he couldn’t remember the why or the how, it was just incredibly funny.

The last time, when he had been that skinny little twelve-year-old undergoing dental surgery, he had tried to wake up his quirk when he had been in this floating state. After all, why not? What did a quirk even do when the body was like this, anyway?

Those years ago, he had found Dark Shadow in what he could only describe as a deep, dark hole inside his own mind. A nest, actually. Yeah. It had been a nest. Dark Shadow had been hiding in it, in that place he went whenever he wasn’t physically around his human. Back then, Dark Shadow had been curled up in his home, giggling like a madman. Tokoyami had, at the time, thought it was only the greatest thing ever and had quickly followed suit. Neither of them even knew what they had been laughing about, only that it was very, very funny.

Later, thanks to a recording made by his little sister, he had learned that he had been laughing hysterically for over an hour in the real world before the drugs wore off.

So, Tokoyami went digging inside himself to find that nest. In his current state, he wasn’t immediately surprised that it was taking a while. He kind of had to swim through a silly little mire to get there, after all. Still… Where was… There was supposed to be… It was around here somewhere.

Where was it?

Suddenly, he felt as if there was something… Wrong. Something lacking; it was like half of a puzzle was gone.

There was just... A hole. A gaping wound. It felt empty. Where was his quirk?

What had happened?

Where was Dark Shadow?

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They had ended up taking shifts.

The doctors had told them that it would be a while before their classmate would wake up; medically induced comas had a habit of having delays, particularly when a serious injury was involved. One nurse had tried to explain, calm and quiet, that Tokoyami was under a whole lot of pain medication using terms far too long and far too advanced for Midoriya to understand.

He didn’t think any of them understood it, honestly. None of them were medical students. None of them had even gotten to college, yet, assuming that they would instead of becoming Pro Heroes as soon as they graduate. Assuming they graduated.

So, they had agreed to take shifts. Theoretically, they could have just… Gone home and then come back, but no one was agreeable to the eight hour back-and-forth trip. It helped that someone had paid for a hotel room for the each of them in a convenient walking distance to the hospital.

They still couldn’t figure out who, exactly, was paying for so many hotel rooms. Yaoyorozu, the only one hailing from a family of significant wealth, claimed that it hadn’t been her family to foot the bill. And the Pro Heroes they had managed to talk to had played coy about it all, redirecting the conversation or outright avoiding an answer.

Midoriya had a feeling someone at U.A. had done it, though. He just wished he knew who it was so he could thank them. It wasn’t All Might, he knew that much; even as a top earner, he simply couldn’t work the hours. Whoever it was, they had probably done it to keep the stress of the U.A. students as low as possible.

And this was all incredibly stressful. Anxiety gnawed on him even when he tried to sleep, these days. Calls to his mother – most of which were spent trying in vain to calm her down. Yes, he was fine, everyone was here, they were protected – did not help one bit.

Four days after the walk out of the warehouse, Midoriya took his turn in the observation room with Ashido and Shoji. They would sit here for a couple of hours, mass-text the chat if Tokoyami showed any signs of waking up, and otherwise… Try not to worry too much.

It was the first so-called shift that he had shared with Shoji. It was the first time they had been almost alone – Ashido notwithstanding – since the training camp in the forest.

There were chairs in the observation room but Shoji wasn’t sitting down when he showed up. Instead, he was staring at their unconscious classmate, arms folded and seemingly brooding.

Midoriya looked to Ashido; she was sitting down by the window and gave him a shrug. Then, he walked next to Shoji’s side.

Before he could ask how he was doing, the taller student let out a deep, heavy sigh. “This shouldn’t have happened.”

Well, that went without saying. “I know.” The guilt was itching at him again. “I’m sorry, I had been so close to the gate –”

“Are you nuts?” That was Ashido. “From what everybody else is saying, you almost pushed yourself to death. You did everything you could do! I was…” A huff. “In a stupid classroom going over exponents.”

“But –” Midoriya tried to protest.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Bakugo was right.” Shoji stared at him. “You were injured. Incredibly injured. You can’t blame yourself for this. It’s… I was there, too.”

Midoriya recognized the expression that flashed over Shoji’s face; he knew guilt when he saw it. “Shoji?”

“I should have been with you. When you charged at that gate, I should have at least made an attempt. Instead, I just…” A frustrated breath. “I don’t know why I didn’t do anything. I just stood there while you ran and then they took him and look what they did to him!” Shoji shook, eyes a mix of rage and grief.

Midoriya wondered, faintly, if everyone in their class were blaming themselves. Were they all doing this? “It wasn’t your fault, either.”

It was then that the faint beeping of a heart monitor began to speed up.

The glass muffled some of the sound, but it caught their attention all the same. Ashido jumped from her chair and joined them by the glass.

On the hospital bed, Tokoyami was twitching. Laying down and with his beak hiding some of his face, the only thing they could clearly make out were his eyes. They opened halfway and rolled in a very not-aware manner.

There were three nurses in the room. Garbed in scrubs and paper masks, they were nearly identical to each other. None of them looked alarmed.

“I’ll text everyone.” Ashido already had her phone out. “Oh, by the way, Jiro and Hagakure woke up last night. They’re on the way.”

Well, that was some good news, at least.

The heart monitor had kept a speedy, but even tempo. One nurse was checking a monitor, a second was doing something with the IV lines that Midoriya couldn’t hazard a guess as to what, and the third simply stood by Tokoyami’s bedside. Waiting?

Tokoyami’s eyes eventually stopped rolling. When they did, he blinked a few times before snapping in to a clear awareness. He took a deep, loud gasp, as if he were taking the first gulps of air after a very deep dive.

The nurse checking the vitals walked closer to the glass. She pressed at something out of view. Then, all sound stopped with a resounding ‘click’.

“Wha?” Shoji blinked.

“Were we on an intercom this whole time?” Midoriya wondered.

“Oh, come on!” Ashido yelped. “They shut us out!”

“We can still see him.” Midoriya raised a hand to try and placate their pink classmate. “They might have been worried we might make too much noise?”

Still, Ashido managed to pout, seem offended and look worried all at the same time.

Beyond the glass, Tokoyami’s actions were slow. A nurse helped him to sit up; he immediately looked at his hands and seemed startled by their appearance.

He must have noticed the green skin. Midoriya frowned, wondering what he would do if he woke up and found such a drastic change in his own body. Well, without expecting it, that is; One for All was an entirely different thing.

Though, as Tokoyami raised both of his hands to stare at them with a visibly disturbed look on his face, Midoriya noticed a new detail. At first, he had thought that Tokoyami’s fingernails has simply grown in the past week; now, they looked… Pointed. And not very much like nails.

“The hell?” Shoji noticed it, too.

“He… Has… Talons, now.” Ashido took a deep breath. “Okay. That’s a thing.”

Then, Tokoyami winced; one hand seemed to go automatically to his head. Immediate alarm flashed over his face as he pressed at the cast over his skull. Then, he looked… Terrified. An absolute deep fear crossed his face. He physically grabbed for the closest nurse, grasping at her shirt, and spoke quickly; with his beak, reading his lips were out of the question. Midoriya thought he might have been asking a question.

Whatever he had asked had clearly shocked the nurses; all three of them briefly looked horrified. Then, a wave of pity crossed at least two of them. One of the nurses sat down next to Tokoyami and put a hand on his back. The only sign that she was responding was the movement of the paper mask over her face.

After a few seconds, pure relief came over Tokoyami. He almost collapsed forward; then, he started to cry large, heavy tears that flowed along his feathers. One of the other nurses brought over a small paper bag; Tokoyami immediately began to take deep breaths from it.

He was hyperventilating.

None of them said anything in the observation room.

Midoriya couldn’t ever recall seeing Tokoyami this emotional. He had always been stoic and composed, a trait he had thought he had been forced to learn on account of his quirk. Well, before he saw the rest of the Tokoyami family and how reserved they had all seemed.

Still, Dark Shadow had a habit of reacting to Tokoyami’s emotions. In the forest, Dark Shadow had gone absolutely insane when Shoji had briefly lost his hand.

Wait a minute.

Tokoyami was emotional. He was weeping and now he was even shaking, eyes closed as he visibly focused on trying to breathe in to a paper bag. He was… Completely uncontained.

Where was Dark Shadow?

A sudden notion introduced itself in Midoriya’s mind. He reeled back, hands covering his mouth.

“Midoriya?” Shoji looked at him. “Do you need to walk out… Of…” A pause. “Are you okay?”

Midoriya stared at him. He couldn’t uncover his mouth; if he did, he was afraid he would suddenly start talking and reveal things that he really, really should not be telling anyone.

He turned and fled from the room.

“Midoriya?!” Ashido called after him in alarm.

Distantly, he heard footsteps rushing after him; two pairs, now.

Where he was going didn’t particularly matter, but he needed somewhere private, somewhere secluded and he needed it now. With vision slightly blurred, Midoriya ran in to a room with a familiar symbol on it and prayed it was empty.

There was a window on the far side of the restroom. He ran past the series of small, thankfully empty stalls and tried to catch his breath. It took a few seconds to get his phone out of his pocket, hands shaking. He almost dropped the phone several times.

“Midoriya?!” Ashido rushed in. “Why did you just run in to the ladies room?!”

That caused him to stop. Midoriya blinked up in shock. He had thought this was… Oh, it didn’t matter anymore. “I… I need to… I need to call…”

“Uh…” Ashido frowned. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll make sure no one comes in here, okay? Shoji’s outside, too.”

“Thank you.” Midoriya wheezed.

“Don’t worry about it.” Ashido tried to smile as she turned away, but her worry was visible.

Midoriya waited until the door was closed before finally managing to press the correct buttons on his phone. It rang twice; the two longest ring chimes he had ever heard in his life.

“Young Midoriya?” Yagi – All Might, except when he wasn’t – picked up on the other end. “How are you fee –”

The words couldn’t be held back anymore; they came out in a rush, a horrid gnawing at his heart. “I know you told me that All for One can take other peoples’ quirks, but can he steal them from people that don’t want to give them up?!”

There was silence for a few seconds.

“Yes. Yes, he can.”

A great, heaving gasp erupted out of him; Midoriya thought he might collapse.

“Young Tokoyami doesn’t have his quirk anymore, does he?” All Might said slowly on the other end.

A few wheezing breaths had to be taken before he could even begin to answer. “I… I think so. He just woke up and he didn’t have it but he was crying and Dark Shadow always acted on his emotions, and I… I didn’t…”

“Young Midoriya…” Yagi sounded sad.

“I was right there!” Midoriya nearly wailed; he tried to keep himself quiet in case the door didn’t keep sound in very well. “In the forest, I was right there and I should have been able to get to him!”

The guilt inside of him had exploded and felt like something physical; a tangible failure that ate him from the inside out. Wasn’t this why he had One for All? To stop things like this from happening? To stop, so very specifically, All for One from doing this exact thing?

Isn’t this what he had been chosen for, made for?!

He must have been letting off those half sobs he did when he was really upset but somehow didn’t notice he made.

“Young Midoriya…” A sad sigh from his mentor, the greatest hero that lived, who absolutely wouldn’t have failed like this if he had been there and able to reach. “Sometimes, we can’t save everyone. I’ve been right there, standing in front of an innocent person, and I just wasn’t able to save them. Things happen, sometimes, that we can’t control.”

Midoriya choked; that didn’t sound possible. All Might never failed and never gave up; that was his entire belief system. All Might saved everyone he could reach. That was who All Might was.

“You weren’t supposed to have to learn these things until you were much older.” A small breath on the other end of the line. “People will die, sometimes, Midoriya. Sometimes, in front of you. Heroes have died in front of other Heroes when they did everything they could to prevent it. I…” A pause. “I’m sorry.”

“All Might…” Midoriya wheezed, resting his elbows on the windowsill.

“It’s possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That’s not a weakness, that’s life.”

Then, there was a pause; Midoriya took a deep breath.

“I learned that last one from Star Trek.” Yagi managed to say with some humor.

Midoriya almost choked on the sudden laughter; he cried as he did so. “All Might… Thank you. I don’t…” He didn’t know if he really believed it, that he couldn’t have done anything more, no matter what everyone said. It still bit at the pit of his stomach. He didn’t know how to express it. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The mirror that took up a large portion of one wall, Tokoyami was surprised to learn, was a two-way mirror.

He had found it by accident. One of the nurses had pressed a button on the side of his bed to lift up the back of it, letting him sit up and rest more comfortably without further exhaustion. He had been trying to figure out which button set it back down and did so by tapping randomly at the pad on the side of his chair. It was the tried and true method of random button mashing; the best way to figure out how to do things in the modern world.

One of them turned the mirror transparent. Well, semi-transparent; it had a bit of a dark sheer to it. Still, Tokoyami had almost jumped when the mirror suddenly revealed the entirety of his class standing on the other side, looking at him with varying levels of concern.

He had been so stunned that all he could immediately do was give a slow, awkward wave.

They must have noticed he could see them, then. There was a brief surprise, then a series of sad smiles and waves back at him. Uraraka, standing at the front of the pack, opened her mouth and tried to talk to him.

Tried; no sound made it through the glass.

Tokoyami frowned; he held up a finger to ask for a moment and pressed some more buttons on the pad.

Nothing seemed to allow sound – and how did that work, anyway? Were there speakers and a microphone somewhere? – but he did find the button that reclined the bed up and down.

Well, that was frustrating, but Tokoyami didn’t find himself disappointed. He was actually a little bit… Glad. He honestly didn’t know what he was going to say when they started asking questions, and he knew that there were going to be questions. After the pleasantries, everyone was probably going to ask about… What happened.

For now, the most he could give his classmates was a helpless shrug and a vague gesture at the buttons. They seemed to understand.

Though, Ashido had pushed her way to the front. She was pantomiming to his left, trying to gesture to… What?

It took him a moment to find it. There was another set of buttons on the wall next to the window. A simple thumbs-up was sent at the window before he swung his feet off the side of the bed, letting the blankets stay where they were, and stood.

It was an immediate and terrible mistake; the world swam in a very, very uncomfortable manner. It was almost nauseating; he sat – more like fell, really – back down on the bed with a deep breath.

Beyond the glass, Ashido was now waving her hands in a ‘stop, don’t do it, bad idea’ manner; it looked like Iida was chiding her from over her shoulder. Everyone else looked either displeased at Ashido or aimed concern in his direction. He assumed it must have looked worse than it was; had he swayed? He didn’t think he had.

Though, now that he noticed it, the brief and honestly laughable attempt to stand had somehow knocked the wind out of him. Tokoyami lay back in the bed and reclined it back to a flat position. Without looking, he threw the blankets back over him. From there, he decided that staring at the ceiling was honestly not a bad idea. Just until everything stopped spinning, at least.

Everyone had came to see him.

He didn’t know why he was surprised. Granted, he didn’t know most of his classmates as well as he would like, but the villain attacks had forced them in to some kind of bond, he thought. Granted, studying took up more time than anyone really liked and didn't allow them to share more time together – and U.A. had some pretty intense things to study – but they were still.. Friends. And, yes, it was summer now, but the Principal had ordered everyone not to leave town, and yet… Everyone had still showed up.

He had not only survived, but he still had friends at his side.

He had survived. That was still something that rattled him. When he had first woken up, a nurse had to quietly calm him down and explain to him that he was in a hospital before he remembered it all. Tokoyami hoped his friends hadn’t learned what he had asked the nurse.

They would pity him for it. Tokoyami knew it and he didn’t want that. His classmates had already rescued him once before in the forest before he had been kidnapped and that had been shameful enough. He didn’t want his friends to pity him for asking the nurse if he still had his entire brain intact. Though, all things considered, that was a reasonable question, wasn’t it?

The last thing he remembered was the sound of the saw; the intense whirr of the blade, the horrible, gut-wrenching terror of it all before… Pain. Incredible, impossible pain.

There was something else, though, something just at the edge of his memory that he couldn’t quite grasp, something that happened… After? But…

Tokoyami pulled a hand up to cover his face and almost stabbed himself for the effort. He hissed; talons. He had those now. They had changed him and had taken so much

And… Shit. He was crying. He didn’t even entirely know why, but he was crying.

It took a few times to get the right button pressed; the window turned back in to a mirror.

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It was surreal. After everything that had happened – and even before everything, when he had held his own against villains alongside the other U.A. students – and with all the fallout that it entailed, Tokoyami was still unable to sign his own consent forms.

After all of it, he was still legally a child. He couldn’t even sign forms; his parents had to be by his side, giving their consent in his stead.

Honestly, it was a little insulting.

It wasn’t too unreasonable, he thought, to at least have this one request. Were the forms really necessary? The police had wanted to interview him as soon as he had woken up – while it was still “fresh”, an officer had said, and wasn’t that a kick; would it ever not be “fresh”?! – but Tokoyami hadn’t wanted to be in an empty hospital room with only his weeping parents by his side. The very idea of it was severely off-putting, actually.

Part of him didn’t want to speak about what had happened at all. A larger part of him knew it had to be, and that everyone had to know about it. Specifically, a certain subsect of ‘everyone’.

It had taken six different forms, each signed in triplicate by both himself and his parents before his classmates were allowed to listen in.

They had to know. Tokoyami knew that he had not been specifically targeted; if things had gone a different way, if the order of their training exercises had been different, any one of them – more of them, all of them – could have ended up where he had been. Or worse.

He wasn’t entirely certain why, but the doctors had refused to have them all in one room. There was plenty of space, he thought. It was a massively huge room for a single patient. Still, only half of his classmates were allowed in, through multiple sets of doors, some kind of ‘decontamination’ process, and wearing paper masks. Even his father had a special paper coating to fit over his beak. Everyone else stood beyond the window, but at least the intercom system was on now.

Somewhere along the line, most of class 1-B had showed up. Tokoyami wondered why; he barely knew them at all. It was still nice, though, in a ‘comrade-in-arms’ kind of way. They had, after all, been in the forest, too. It could have been any of them just the same.

It didn’t surprise him when he saw Aizawa standing beyond the window. Though, he wondered why he was wearing a business suit and had his hair visibly combed. It was a very, very odd look for the U.A. teacher; it somehow looked… Terribly, terribly wrong on Aizawa on a level that he couldn’t quite articulate even to himself. Disturbing, even. Aizawa stood behind the majority of the students, lingering near the back.

His parents were by his side. Before the officer even showed up, his mother was holding on to his hand. She had been crying; tears had always left these reflective lines along her face that bounced light in a way it didn’t on people with a more standard kind of skin. When he had been young, the sight of it been associated with more pleasant things; his mothers’ allergies, her gardening despite said allergies, blooming flowers and the scent of fresh cut grass.

Neither of his sisters were in the room and Tokoyami was thankful for that. This was not a conversation meant for a twelve-year-old nor a three-year-old.

When the officer showed up, so did one of the doctors. Both went through the same multiple set of doors and wore paper masks. The officer had a small digital voice recorder. He also had the head of a cat. Tokoyami wondered if it was some attempt at relating to him, to send someone with a non-standard human appearance.

“I’m sorry that we have to bother you with this. I’m officer Tamakawa. The precinct, unfortunately, needs to get an official statement regarding what happened.” The officer started as he turned on the recorder. He then sent a slow glance over everyone else in the room. “This might take a while, so some of you might want to get something to eat and then come back.”

Officer Tamakawa was trying to get them to leave, to try and spare them the details that they all knew were coming. Tokoyami understood why the attempt to get them out was made, but it didn’t look like anyone else did; incredulous stares were the only response the officer received.

“All right, then.” The officers’ tone held an implied: ‘At least I tried’. “But if any of you need to leave at any time…” A look was aimed at his parents. “Any of you, it’s perfectly reasonable.”

Then, Officer Tamakawa finally looked at him. “I’m sorry to have to ask you this, Fumikage.” Oh, they were on a first name basis now, apparently. “But I have to ask. Do you still have your quirk?”

The startled reactions were instant; he could hear it without even turning his head to look. A few hushed gasps, what sounded like Hagakure making a long, “what” noise, and, worst of all, the hitched gasp from his mother. Tokoyami found that he didn’t want to look at everyone else and see the faces that went with the sounds and instead focused on the police officer. He had to take a moment at the pain that came with it, closing his eyes in order to force the acknowledgement.

“No.”

It was as if the end of the world had been announced. There was a sudden rush of noises from the watching gallery. Tokoyami forced himself to look; everyone was so, so horrified. The masks over their faces didn’t block anything out; he may as well have announced his own death. Beyond the window was worse. The only ones that didn’t show much reaction were Aizawa – who, as a U.A. teacher, must have seen some wild things over the years – and… Midoriya.

Midoriya just looked incredibly sad, as if he had suspected but wasn’t sure. Then, Tokoyami remembered that the window had been two-way and that Midoriya was quite possibly the sharpest kid he had ever met. Midoriya might have figured it out just by looking at him and realizing there was no Dark Shadow; it wouldn’t have surprised him if he had.

Still, he’d have to talk to him later.

“I’m sorry.” That came from Officer Tamakawa once people began to quiet down. “How was your quirk removed?”

Tokoyami had expected this question. Yet, that ache that came with having to admit it even happened only grew; it was more difficult than he had anticipated just to get the words out. Everyones’ eyes were on him and he hadn’t thought it would be this hard. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to have everyone in here after all. “There was… A man. Wore a black suit and had a large black helmet. I think…” He had to focus; try not to remember the worst of it, not of Dark Shadow being ripped out of his body. “I think he had a quirk that removes quirks from other people. I don’t know how else he could have done it.”

“It wasn’t chemically removed?” Officer Tamakawa sounded surprised.

Tokoyami hadn’t even known that was a thing. He shook his head.

The cat-headed officer closed his eyes a little longer than a standard blink. “I’m sorry, is that a confirmed no?”

Oh. The voice recorder. “It’s a no.”

Relief crossed the officers’ face. “I’m sorry.” Oh, Tokoyami wished he would stop saying that. “We don’t have much information about what happened in the facility. We need as much as you can tell us. The nature of your imprisonment, anything you heard and saw, and even, and I’m sorry, anything you can tell us about the changes done to your body. We know from medical records that the coloration, claws, additional feathers and tail are all new. We need to know if you learned anything about how they did it.”

Damn. He had expected to go in to detail but –

Wait a minute.

Tokoyami stared blankly at Officer Tamakawa for a moment. “Tail?”

The officer looked startled; the silent doctor next to him turned red in the face.

With a sudden rush of panic, the blankets were thrown aside. Thankfully, he was wearing a medical gown – though Tokoyami didn’t think he was wearing anything underneath it, but it covered enough – and it didn’t hide an appendage that he hadn’t even realized had been there.

How had he not noticed this was there?! It lay flat against the bed, a solid mass of long, pointed-tipped feathers that, if they had not been green and black, reminded him of his fathers’. He… Must not have noticed it because of how thin the feathers were. Had he somehow just mistaken the sensation of them for the blankets?

Tokoyami stared at the tail. He didn’t know how to deal with this.

“You…” Officer Tamakawa sputtered. “Didn’t know you had a tail?”

“No!” There was just a bit of hysteria in there; Tokoyami slammed his beak shut and tried again. He gulped before making the attempt. He measured his words slow and carefully, focusing on the sounds instead of the meaning. “No. No one said anything and I did not know that it was there.”

The doctor had quietly stepped a little further away, behind the cat-headed officer. His face was nearly a different color than it had been five minutes ago.

There were hushed, strained whispers coming from his classmates.

Officer Tamakawa shot the doctor a dirty look over his shoulder before looking back in his own direction. “I’m sorry. Can… Are you able to start from the point after your quirk was stolen?”

Stolen. That was a good word. Tokoyami took a deep breath to try and calm himself; it didn’t help much, but this was something that needed to be done. He had already decided that this needed to happen.

He forced himself to look to the doctor, painfully aware of the dozens of eyes on him, and told them everything.

Chapter Text

Everything was quiet.

Everyone must have been in shock, Tokoyami thought. No one had said a word during his occasionally stuttering monologuing that he had felt had droned on for far too long. He had tried to keep to the simple facts and not think too much about how he had felt. Still, Officer Tamakawa must have noticed how much trouble he had been having and had stopped him, once in a while, to either ask him to skip a detail that was clearly too difficult to explain or to redirect him in to a different line of thought. It had almost been done like the psychiatrists did it on television dramas and Tokoyami allowed himself to be distracted by wondering how much truth there were in those shows.

Everyone else, though, had been completely and utterly silent. Most of them were still looking at him, even as the officer went around the room to get signatures on the nondisclosure form. No one was actually reading what they were signing. It was just a legal document prohibiting them from speaking about what they had learned; nothing important, Tokoyami thought with some sarcasm. Wasn’t this just a little predatory, getting minors to sign legal documents while they were barely able to think?

It must have been about the man that stole his quirk; it would make sense not to talk about it in public. What kind of panic would it cause if it showed up on the news, a madman running around able to do something like that?

How had no one noticed this had been going on until now? That such a person even existed?

A few of his classmates were crying. Quiet tears, mostly on the girls. The boys were no less visibly distraught. The only differences were Bakugo and a few from 1-B, who had turned to look out the window on the far side of the room – the real one that looked outside – when he had started talking about the electric shocks. None of them even glanced at the officer at all.

Even when Officer Tamakawa left, there was a resounding nothingness in the air. His mother was still clinging to one of his hand with both of hers, as silent as a tomb. Her Aura floated over one shoulder, looking very much like a sad ghost.

He had spent a long time going over what had happened. Tokoyami actually wasn’t sure how long he had been talking; it felt like hours. It had been more difficult than he thought it had been; there had been moments when he couldn’t immediately follow his own train of thought as memories resurfaced and tried to drag him back in. An exhaustion weighed on him now. Yet, with the officer gone, there was something bothering him.

There was something he had forgotten to ask.

“How long was I in there?”

At first, the only response were wide eyes and horrified stares.

His father was the one to answer, setting a hand on his shoulder. It felt odd having feathers there, now; he could feel the quills of them shifting at the new touch. “Four days.” The tone was a hushed whisper that he had never heard from his father before. “They got you out on the night of the fourth day.”

That made sense. He had thought as much while he had been in there. Tokoyami gave an affirmative sound in response but couldn’t help but feel immensely bothered by how short a time span it had been. “All this in just four days.”

It had been close. A few hours earlier and the Pro Heroes would have been able to rescue that other boy. A few minutes too late would have left him… A corpse, essentially.

He had tried to ask the officer about that boy, the white haired kid that had been turned in to a scale-covered monster, but had been told that all the nomus had been corralled up and sedated and who knew which one he was now. A few minute later and he would have ended up just the same.

“I got lucky.” Tokoyami heard a few surprised gasps at the proclamation. “If the police and Pro Heroes hadn’t figured out where I had been taken when they did…” Out loud, he couldn’t finish the sentence.

“If Yaoyorozu hadn’t made that tracking device, they might not have.” Mineta said a little too loudly, but somehow sounded hollow.

Tokoyami looked up in surprise; he felt both of his parents shift besides him. “Tracking device?” It took a few seconds to find Yaoyorozu in the crowd; her eyes were wide, as if the sudden attention would only lead to terrible things. “You made a… Tracking device?”

During the Sports Festival, he had beaten her so soundly. Tokoyami could still remember feeling guilty about it after the fact; it had hardly been a fight at all. Yaoyorozu had lost simply because she hadn’t been able to make a quick enough decision. Her biggest weakness had been caution; she thought too much, hesitated too much, and doubted herself more than she ever needed to.

Yet, when it mattered the most, she had acted.

Now, however, she was sputtering. “A… A classmate was in danger, and I… The police used it to track down the villains, but I didn’t really…”

Was she embarrassed about this? At being recognized for this, of all things?

“You saved my life.” The words came out before Tokoyami really thought it through.

A soft, strained whine came from his mother; she let go of his hand and turned to look at his classmates.

Oh, no.

“Mom.” Tokoyami tried to stop her despite essentially being bedridden. “Mom, please don’t.”

“Mayumi, dear…” His father tried as well.

It didn’t help. Tokoyami could only stare as his mother practically floated to a dubious Yaoyorozu – who, to her credit, leaned away but didn’t step away from the approaching woman – and… Hugged her. From the side. Aura did the same from the other, physically trapping the poor fifteen-year-old.

“You saved my baby…!”

There were a few stunned, strained smirks from around the room.

“Mom…” Tokoyami covered his face with a hand; this was mortifying. “Please stop molesting my classmates.”

“Honey…” His father sounded like he had given up.

“Uh.” Yaoyorozu managed to look more disturbed than he had ever seen her. “Uhm…” Then, she appeared to have a sudden idea. “It wasn’t just me, I was actually… Badly injured.” She was making an effort, as minor as it was, to wriggle out of his mothers’ hug. “It wouldn’t have worked without Awase’s welding quirk.” She pointed him out beyond the two-way window.

Tokoyami – and his mother, he noted – looked in the direction of the point. The student from 1-B started to back away from the glass with a loud, “oh, crap!”

There came another too-happy whine from his mother, but she did, at least, let Yaoyorozu go. She started to head for the window – and Tokoyami wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to do when she got there – but at least he could see Yaoyorozu breathing more freely.

“Honey, why don’t we check on the girls?” Oh, thank god, his father was trying to distract her. “We’ve been here a while and you know how impatient they can get.”

“Oh…” A squeal, really, as his father gently took hold of his mothers’ arms and started to lead her to the door. “Alright, but… Later. Later, we need to really thank them…!”

Tokoyami watched them walk to the door and prayed for nothing else incredibly embarrassing to happen. Thankfully, the door leading to the first of the multi-room exit closed behind them.

Then, he looked back to Yaoyorozu. “I’m so sorry. My mother gets… Excited. Sometimes.”

Most of the room stared at him as if he had lost his mind. Still, they all looked significantly less strained than they had a few minutes ago.

“Y’know, I can’t blame her.” Kaminari shrugged from the other side of the room.

“It’s okay, really.” Yaoyorozu was smiling faintly. “It’s okay.”

Something about the way she said it bothered him. Tokoyami frowned in confusion as he tried to figure out what it was. It reminded him of something, but it was faint and disjointed.

It took a few seconds, but it wasn’t just what she was saying, but the fact that she was saying it.

A half faded memory trickled in.

“Tokoyami?” Suddenly, Midoriya was at his bedside, looking worried. “Are you feeling okay? Do you want to us to leave so you can rest?”

He was ashamed by how tempting it was; he was exceedingly tired. Still, this was bothering him.

Either his memory was lying to him – which, he had to admit, was perfectly possible considering the state he had been in at the time – or it wasn’t the Pro Heroes who had pulled him out of the nomu warehouse.

Another glance around the room was taken before he found who he wanted to find; Iida was standing near the back, probably in order not to block the shorter majority. “Iida, did you carry me out of the villains’ facility?”

No one else in the room looked surprised by the question.

“…Yes.” Was the hesitant and slightly ashamed response.

Wait. But that had meant that they had used a second tracking device and then followed it despite having already given one to the police, went in to a nomu-filled warehouse and then pulled him out of it?!

His friends were all insane.

Yet, there was something… Else.

“Did…” Oh, now that he was remembering it, Tokoyami prayed it wasn’t true. This would be incredibly embarrassing if it was. “Did I… Apologize for dying?”

Oh, now others in the room looked surprised.

“…Yes.” Came an identically hesitant response from Iida, just much less ashamed.

“To be fair…” Kirishima held up his hands. “Y’know, to be fair, you were kind of really bad off at the time. Pretty sure anyone would’ve been freaking out.”

Oh, god. How many of them had been there? How many of them had seen him in that state? All he remembered now – and the memory was still fuzzy and faint – was Iida carrying him. “I’m sorry.” Tokoyami rubbed his face with a hand, trying to hide the flush of shame. “I shouldn’t have put that on you.”

“Oh, come on!” Bakugo finally turned around from the window; his expression was entirely fury. It was not a particularly alarming look, considering ‘angry’ was seemingly Bakugo’s default mode. “Stop apologizing for shit!”

“Kacchan…” Midoriya had backed a little away, stopping at the other end of his bedside, essentially putting the bed – and Tokoyami in it – between Bakugo and himself. Tokoyami allowed himself to feel a little annoyed at this. “This is a hospital…”

“I don’t care!” Bakugo yelled louder, probably on purpose. People were shooting him dirty looks and it looked very much like either Uraraka or Jiro were about to hit him. Maybe both of them. Asui looked no less furious, but he doubted she would be the first to do anything.

“Bakugo.” Sero’s tone held a warning, but also had an air of worry.

“He apologized back at the training camp, too, and I’m sick of that shit!” Bakugo wasn’t flailing or gesticulating in his usual manner, but his voice was still a shout. “He need to stop feeling sorry for himself and deal with the shit that happened!”

Tokoyami stared at his fiery classmate. “‘Deal with the shit that happened’?” He repeated incredulously as a bubble of anger began to form in his gut.

“Bakugo.” Shockingly, that actually was Asui this time. She was staring daggers, but her posture was calm. Too calm. “I would seriously reconsider my words if I were you, kero.”

The horror had re-manifested itself in to a fury in everyone in the room. No one had yet outright attacked Bakugo – thankfully, really, this was still a hospital and the masks over everyones’ faces probably wasn’t for show; if blood was let loose here, would it become a hazmat situation? – but everyone was glaring at him.

Except for Midoriya. Midoriya just looked confused and alarmed. That seemed to be his usual response whenever anyone held Bakugo in to account for his actions. Hadn’t they grown up together as children? What kind of childhood did those two have?

A frustrated snarl let itself loose from Bakugo. He did, however, visibly notice that he was the center of negative attention; he physically backed down a little, taking a single half step back. “Idiots. If he spends time apologizing for crap he can’t fix, then he won’t actually try to fix the stupid shit!” Then, he looked at Tokoyami square in the eyes, fury brimming at the edge of his expression. “The minute you get out of here, we’re gonna find the bastards that did this and bring them down!”

That was not what Tokoyami had expected. He spent a moment blinking, the indignation now mixing with unease. “Haven’t you heard a word I said the past…” How long had he been talking to the police officer? “…The past couple of hours? I don’t…” Why did it still hurt to say it out loud?! “I can’t do anything without Dark Shadow. I’m quirkless.

“Like hell you are.” Now, Bakugo briefly flailed, but his voice had dropped in volume. It became a low, rumbling growl; it sounded far more dangerous than it should have. Both of his hands had balled in to fists, twitching restlessly as his sides. “Those bastards put you through hell for absolutely no fucking reason and fucked you apart, so get them back for it. They made the mistake of letting you leave alive. Don’t be weak. Get up and show them why it was a mistake. They even fucked up by giving you some new parts, so figure out how to use them. You have claws now, so once you can get up off your ass, get up and fight with them. Don’t just fucking give up. Destroy them for what they did to you.”

Everyone had fallen in to a stunned silence. The anger had melted away in to some sort of awe; a few jaws had dropped and at least two people had started to look impressed. There were, as well, a few looks of sheer alarm. Tokoyami found himself staring with a quiet surprise.

That should not have been nearly as motivating as it was.

Chapter Text

Fifteen-year-olds shouldn’t shock him nearly this often, Aizawa thought. Yet, since the start of this wretched semester, it had been nothing but endless surprises.

There had been absolutely no reason to even think it would be any different; nothing to warn the U.A. faculty that this year would be a change from the ones that came before it. Even the initial villain attack hadn’t clued them in. It had not even been the first time U.A. had come under attack, so how were they to know? Usually, though, it was the older students that came under some trouble; the ones that were closer to graduation and were starting to get known. The ones making a name for themselves before applying to become Pro; it almost became a rite of passage to defeat a villain before graduation. Those attacks were why they had security put in to place to begin with, though.

It wasn’t supposed to be first years that had to deal with this shit. They were only fifteen and sixteen years old, for goodness sake. They weren’t even old enough to drink.

The media had clued in how strange the semester had been, as well. There had been questions when the older students had been attacked in the past, of course – with U.A.’s fame, the cameras were pretty much always on their collective asses – but this time had been so vastly different.

They had never lost a student before. They had never had one abducted out of a school-sponsored training event. Somehow, the journalists had found out that the poor kid hadn’t even been the target, that the villains had shown up with the intent to abduct a different student. They had, essentially, failed to protect everyone there – or so the current news cycle proclaimed.

The news conference had still been going on when word broke of the rescue. The looks on those journalists’ faces when they found out the conference had essentially been one giant distraction was the only thing that had warmed Aizawa’s heart at the time.

And then some jackass had to get that damned photo.

It was like a goddamn rollercoaster. Just when things seem to finally be going well, everything dropped and they had to climb back up again.

The only bright point to the whole thing was that the photo distracted the media coverage away from the conference; it was a horrifying image to see, to be sure, even half blurred out simply for how graphic it was. Fumikage Tokoyami, barely awake and cradled in the arms of a large, blurred-out man – Iida, easily recognizable to those that knew him, but was simply called a ‘bystander’ by everyone else, thank god – covered in blood and bearing an indecipherable head wound covered in duct tape. It reeked of a desperate cling to survival. It was an entire story wrapped in one photo. There wasn’t a single news report that wasn’t on the boys’ side; a few channels were even waxing poetic about how brave Fumikage was to endure what must have been the impossible.

No one had reported on what had been done to him yet. The hospital had, at least, kept mum about that. The best had been conjecture; rumors that, perhaps, the new green coloration were related to the nomu monsters that had been attacking all over Japan. Nothing concrete, though. Yet.

Shit, when they all found out – not if, the media had a bad habit of getting the worst of it all eventually – it was going to be a shitshow of massive proportions.

Right now, though, Aizawa just desperately wanted to sleep.

He had been heading out of the hospital, checking his phone as he went – going over news reports, fielding questions about the boy from Principal Nezu and the rest of the school staff, nothing wholly unexpected – when he came across someone unusual.

It was in one of the side lobbies; a little sitting area on the way to the main waiting area. There was an empty desk where there would have been a sign in sheet or a clinic if it wasn’t the middle of the night.

Best Jeanist was there. He was sitting down at one of the many, many chairs and also looking at his phone.

This was not Jeanists’ prefecture. It wasn’t terribly far, but it wasn’t like Jeanist to take a leisurely stroll at two in the morning an hour and a half out of his usual stomping grounds to conveniently end up in the same hospital he had brought a dying kid to. Jeanist was trying to check up on the kid and was doing a very poor job of hiding his concern.

“What are you doing here?” Aizawa didn’t bother starting with a greeting; may as well get to the point.

Jeanist looked up with surprise; he looked absolutely exhausted. “Aizawa!” That sounded a little too excited. He coughed before standing, tone taking a more even, level air of professionalism. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here this late.”

Aizawa was honestly not in the mood to have this dance. “You’re a little far from home, aren’t you? Are you here to check on my students?”

The blunt manner of questioning tended to rile some people; it didn’t seem to bother Jeanist. “Is that a bad thing?”

A deep breath had to be taken; why did conversations always turn in to this? Answering questions with even more questions. Ugh. “Fumikage Tokoyami is recovering. He’s in stable, but guarded condition.”

“He survived?!” Jeanist’s nearly jumped, physically jolting in place; it was unlike him.

“He did.” Aizawa blinked. “Weren’t you the one that pulled him out of that warehouse?”

Jeanist looked like he was in some sort of shock. “His head was held together with glorified band-aids and duct tape and he survived that?!”

Oh. Well, Aizawa had to admit that it looked terrible in that photo, too. “And yet, he only has a concussion, according to the medical professionals.”

This only appeared to startle Jeanist further; he continued to physically reel for a moment. “I knew U.A. had a reputation for recruiting strong students, but that is ridiculous.” After a few seconds and a deep breath, Jeanist looked more like himself; calm and collected. “So he’ll be… Fine, then?”

“That remains to be seen.” Aizawa sighed. “He’ll be here for some time.” He didn’t want to tell Jeanist too much. Jeanist could have asked the doctors themselves for this information; if he was wandering in side halls, then he hadn’t been able to get what he wanted. If the medical staff wasn’t going to reveal anything, he wasn’t going to, either. “Is that the only reason you’re here at all hours of the night?”

Jeanists’ eyes narrowed. Ah, he knew he had been caught. “More or less.”

“Uhm… Excuse me?” A high-pitched voice came from the side.

Aizawa turned in surprise; from the corner of his vision, he saw Jeanist do the same.

A small, brightly colored girl stood there. Her head was the shape of a bird – identical to the U.A. student he had been listening to only a few hours ago from beyond a glass window pane – and she wore a black and red school uniform. The colors of the uniform contrasted with the pinks, purples and greens of her feathers and the big, bright blue eyes.

Well, that was absolutely one of Tokoyami’s relatives. A sister, perhaps? She looked young. Eleven, twelve, thirteen at tops. What was she doing wandering the hospital at two in the morning?

“Hello.” Aizawa answered awkwardly. He didn’t particularly enjoy handling younger children; they tended to be… Unpredictable.

“Are you lost?” Jeanist blinked just as awkwardly.

The little girl blinked. “I was going to ask if you knew where the vending machines were, but… Aren’t you Best Jeanist, the number four hero? And you’re… From my brothers’ school.” She looked excited.

Oh, the little girl was a fan. Of course she was; her older brother applied to U.A.. Siblings of students tended to be huge followers of the hero rankings.

Jeanists’ lower face was covered as it typically was, but Aizawa could see the smile from the way his eyes tilted. “I am, and he’s Aizawa-sensei. He teaches your brothers’ class.”

Why was he talking to her like she was a five-year-old?

“Oh.” The girl bowed. “I’m Tokoyami Hikari.” She was old enough to know to introduce herself with her last name first. She was incredibly endearing, he had to admit. Her eyes darted between them both, vibrating just a little as she did so. “Do you know All Might?”

This was levels of adorable that Aizawa found just a little nauseating.

“We do.” Jeanist didn’t seem to feel the same way; he bent over to speak to the girl eye-to-eye. “Are you a fan of his, too?”

“Uhm…” Hikari shifted in place, suddenly looking shy. Incredibly, endearingly shy. Aizawa hoped she wasn’t going to end up in U.A; she would just slaughter everyone just by being charming. “Can you give him a message for me?”

“Of course.” Jeanist must have been grinning under his mask.

Then, something in the air seemed to shift; it was as if everything suddenly became cold. Aizawa blinked in alarm. Were they under attack?

“Can you tell him that it’s not nice to make promises he can’t keep?” Little Hikari was suddenly significantly less adorable. A hardness radiated off of her and her tone had dropped to something dangerous despite keeping the high pitched natural level of her youth. “He said he would save whoever he could reach. He didn’t save my brother. Can you tell him that it’s not nice to say things like that?”

Her tone had been calm and even the entire time.

Jeanist looked like he had been punched in the gut. “…Sure.” It came out strained.

“Thank you!” And just like that, the air returned to normal. The little girl perked up brightly, as if the entire conversation had been perfectly fine. “Oh, and the vending machine is right there. Thank you for your help!”

She bowed politely. Then, she simply skipped away.

Jeanist was still hunched over, blinking long and wide.

Aizawa had decided that he had changed his mind. He hoped he would see Hikari in U.A. in a few years. If only to have All Might come face to face with that terrifying child.

 

------------

 

Tokoyami woke with a startling lurch. For a brief moment, he couldn’t remember where he was; the sight of a flashing clock next to the hospital bed told him it was a quarter to five in the morning.

With a sigh, he rubbed his face; it was the first night he had asked to not have a sleep aid to rest with. He hadn’t been sure why they had been sedating him to sleep in the first place, but it had struck him as wrong, somehow. So, he had tried to sleep the more natural way.

Somehow, he should have expected that he would have a nightmare. It wasn’t even one that made logical sense in the aftermath of it, but felt real all the same; tubes upon tubes with all of his classmates in there, screaming and struggling but endlessly trapped. He had been able to wander the dreamscape and see them all, every one of his classmates and then some, before finding himself in a liquid filled cage of his own…

“Bad dream?” Came, sleepily, from nearby.

Tokoyami blinked in surprise; the window that looked to the real world had started to show off light from the incoming sunrise. It was a faint glow that illuminated the more than half dozen people in the room.

Someone had brought in chairs. Someone had gone to the trouble of bringing in chairs through those multiple doors and spray station. Eight people were either sleeping in them or on the floor.

They didn’t have to do that. Tokoyami felt touched by it. They could have just as easily slept… Anywhere else instead of holding this watch over him.

Sero and Sato were both on the floor; the former was using the latter as a headrest. Tokoyami wished he had a camera to capture the moment; they would never have lived it down. Jiro, Uraraka and Asui were asleep in three of the chairs. Ojiro was against the wall, using his tail as a bed of sorts. Koda had taken over – or, more likely, had been given by everyone else – two other chairs to rest his larger body on. Kaminari was the only one awake, stretching in a seat of his own.

“Where’s everyone else?” Tokoyami asked with a small smile.

“Someone rented hotel rooms for everyone.” Kaminari stretched his arms, straining his voice a little as he did so. “But some of us just… We just wanted to stick around. The doctors tried to make us leave, but your mom stuck up for us. You have a cool mom.”

Tokoyami rolled his eyes. Those was not the word he’d use for either of his parents, but he wasn’t going to argue it. “And everyone else…?”

A shrug from Kaminari; he didn’t look bothered. “The doctors would only let so many of us in here overnight, so we rolled dice.” A pause. “Well, okay, a dice app. A random number generator thing.”

Ah, that explained it. They hadn’t all been allowed in the room when he had been talking to the police officer, either.

He didn’t think that they would all try to stay with him like this. It was a happy surprise that seemed to keep coming up; when things well and truly mattered, they stuck together despite knowing each other for less than a year.

“Oh, also, we have a plan.” Kaminari was keeping his voice hushed to avoid waking up everyone else in the room, but his hands were animated, moving along with his words. “You’re probably gonna be here a while, but we figure if you’re still in here when the next semester starts up, we can bring the textbooks over and email all the assignments. Iida, being, you know, the class rep, he’s already sending out forms to Principal Nezu and all our possible teachers next semester to get permission, but we figure it should be okay. You okay with all of that?”

For a few seconds, Tokoyami just stared. They were planning what to do for next semester already? They were planning how to make sure he’d stay in the loop? Even after everything he had told them? “Assuming U.A. let’s me stay enrolled, that sounds fantastic.”

Kaminari’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “What do you mean, assuming they’d let you stay?” His voice raised a little, but it then dropped to a hiss. “Why the hell wouldn’t they?”

Tokoyami gave him a blank stare. “Didn’t Aizawa-sensei expel an entire class several years ago because they ‘didn’t show potential’?”

That had been one of the biggest things that had haunted them from the first day of class. Every time their teacher had threatened to expel the lowest performing student or even hinted at the possibility, they all remembered the Great Fiasco of the 1-A class that proceeded them all those years ago. It had been something of a school legend. Before the villains had begun to show up, it had been their greatest source of collective anxiety.

“…Okay. Yes. That was a thing.” Kaminari began to sweat. “But they… They wouldn’t…”

“They’re not going to expel you.” Jiro had woken up. She yawned and absently twirled one of her earphone jacks. She said the words with such conviction that Tokoyami almost believed her. “It wouldn’t be a good look for the school.”

“Huh?” Kaminari blinked. “A good look?”

“Think about it.” Jiro grinned a little sinisterly. “They let one of their students gets kidnapped, and then they expel him when he’s rescued? The media would lose their minds. It’d be endless negative press.”

That made sense now that Tokoyami thought about it more objectively. Aizawa had been lurking in the side room while he had told everyone what had happened. To knowingly expel him after all of that would be… Cruel. Or the media would make it sound cruel, perhaps.

“Should we, uhm…” Kaminari was staring at Jiro; he was making a point to not look directly at him, Tokoyami realized. “Should we tell him about the…”

“Probably.” Jiro took a breath. She slowly looked to Tokoyami, an expression of unease on her face. “You should know that the news has been talking about this a lot

Tokoyami gave a small nod; moving his head was odd, the cast giving his entire skull a heaviness that he couldn’t get used to. “I assumed as much. I actually first assumed that the reason I had been rescued so quickly was because of how high profile the attack must have been.”

“Oh.” Jiro looked surprised; so did Kaminari. “Well, there’s… Some pictures floating around.”

Well, that didn’t sound good. “Pictures?”

Kaminari already had his phone out. He was visibly wincing as he typed in search terms and swiping the screen. After a few seconds, he held up the phone for him to see.

Tokoyami’s eyes widened in shock. That was… Him. That was absolutely his own self being carried by a blurred-out Iida, everything drenched in blood and his skull barely held together with… Was that tape? Had he been saved by duct tape?! He blinked a few times at the image. “I… I look terrible.”

“It’s the biggest story right now.” Kaminari said it slow and unsure. “How do you, uhm… Feel… About this?”

Tokoyami couldn’t roll his eyes any harder if he had tried. He settled for staring at his electric classmate. “It is what it is. I suppose…” A slight wince as he had to admit that earlier received advice had not been wholly terrible. “That I need to ‘deal with this shit’.”

“Oh god, please don’t start swearing like Bakugo.” Jiro pinched the bridge of her nose. “It just sounds wrong when you say it.”

On his end, Kaminari suddenly looked far, far too happy. “Hold on, I need to record that.” He tapped at his phone. “Say that again. Swear again.”

Jiro shot Kaminari a deadly glare. “Why the hell are you encouraging this?”

“No.” Tokoyami felt a bubble of laughter at the back of his throat.

“Oh, come on…!” Kaminari whined, but managed to still keep his voice hushed. “Just one swear word! Just – ow!” He rubbed the back of his head where an earjack had slapped him.

A small grin crossed Tokoyami’s face; this was a flash of normalcy that he needed. Something to remind himself that not everything had changed.

Chapter Text

The good news, Tokoyami learned, was that he would be back at the U.A. campus before the start of the next semester.

The bad news was that it ultimately didn’t matter.

“Six months?” He couldn’t help but openly gape at the doctor.

“I’m afraid so.” The doctor gave him a small smile. It was the same doctor that had forgotten to tell him about his tail, but Tokoyami was willing to forgive that transgression given how completely insane the overall situation was; after all, how often did they get patients growing wholly new body parts? “Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with any issues involving your quirk, but rather for your health overall. You are going to be in recovery from a rather intense surgery.”

A twinge of anxiety formed in Tokoyami’s gut; along with it came just a bit of shame. He had been so concerned with the loss of Dark Shadow that he'd completely and utterly forgotten to think about the rest of the minutia; he hadn’t even given any consideration to his physical health or any restrictions that might be imposed upon him as a direct result.

“Hey, uh, you know what school we go to, right?” Came from Kaminari not a few feet away; he had agreed, stupidly, to let the friends that were there to stay, running with the logic that he didn’t need to hide anything from them. He was staring at the doctor with the same incredulity Tokoyami felt, at least, so there was that. “He can’t just… Not lift anything heavier than five pounds for six months. That’s a whole semester!”

Tokoyami still didn’t understand why surgery on his skull prevented his arms and legs from lifting weights. The doctor had suggested that maybe, maybe, he might be able to go up to ten pounds in a few months, but that hardly helped at all.

Above him, his mother turned to look at the watching gallery, a hand still holding one of his own. It was, on some level, a little embarrassing to have his mother physically hold on as if he were a child – particularly in front of his classmates – but he didn’t want to hurt his mother by refusing it. “U.A. wouldn’t make considerations with a doctor’s note?”

There were twelve of his classmates in the room. The rest were in the connected observation hall. All of them exchanged wide-eyed worry and unsure glances. No one responded.

In the back of the room beyond the glass, Tokoyami caught sight of Aizawa speaking quietly in to a cellphone. The U.A. teacher met his eyes but immediately turned and walked out of the back door, expression as gruff and unreadable as always.

This could not be a good thing.

-------

 

What followed was two weeks of doing absolutely nothing. Then, the doctors had to get what remained of the top of his skull from ‘cold storage’, whatever that meant, and said something about using ‘donor bone’ to fill in the rest. Kaminari had joked that now Tokoyami was technically ‘part zombie’ with that latter addition and had been glared at and given at least one smack against the back of his head for the poor taste in humor.

There had been the option to stay awake for the duration of the reattachment surgery. Tokoyami had declined it, choosing instead to stay sedated for it. No one had tried to change his mind. They still had him under, he later found out, for skin grafts and feather transplantation to cover his head more properly. It almost helped him feel normal. Almost.

However, there were still staples in his skull. They ached as soon as he woke up some six hours later and he hated that he had to take medication to handle it; it felt good when he did, but he didn’t want to get addicted. Wouldn’t that just be a fantastic ending for all of this?

From there, he was placed under ‘observation’ for an additional two weeks. Classmates had asked why the doctors couldn’t simply heal it all together and call it a day; a nurse had responded, quite condescendingly, that healing donated bone and then having it rejected by the body would be both counterproductive and a lawsuit.

At least he was allowed out of bed after that. Small, short distance walks in the hall were allowed, but Tokoyami was frustrated by how tired he got. Something about the medication against infection causing the exhaustion; it didn’t help him feel that much better about it, no matter how much encouragement his friends gave him.

No one had to wear paper masks anymore, at least. The extra security with the multiple entrances were also left wide open.

The short walks were how Tokoyami found that he had been placed in the pediatric ward.

------------

 

Aizawa came to visit him four days before the hospital would officially discharge him. Tokoyami hadn’t seen him in any capacity for nearly three weeks.

The expression on the teachers’ face was the standard; silent, gruff, but at least he looked more like he did back at campus. No more slick, shined hair and disturbing business suit. Before everything, there hadn’t been stress when talking to Aizawa; Tokoyami had been, academically, somewhere in the mid range of the class.

This time, though, his friends had all been asked to leave. No one had been allowed to listen in. All it did was induce anxiety.

His mother had been the exception; she stayed by his side.

His father and sisters had gone back home a couple of weeks ago; there was only so much work his father could miss and a hospital was not place for healthy little girls. Tokoyami had understood with no ill feelings.

One of his hands was in both of his mothers’, again. It had become her usual pose.

Aizawa had walked in quietly and closed the door behind him. He stood only a few feet away, holding nothing and hands leisurely at his sides.

Tokoyami waited for the ball to drop.

“The rest of your classmates are probably learning this as we speak, but U.A. is shifting to a dorm layout. It’s more secure than having our students walk to the campus in light of villain activity.” It sounded rehearsed; honestly, he didn’t have to tell Tokoyami about the ‘villain activity’, he knew it first hand. “With your parents’ permission, we have a dorm reserved for you at U.A.”

Tokoyami blinked; this was not what he had expected. “You’re… Not expelling me?”

There was a pause. Aizawa gave a small shrug. “The negative press would be more trouble than it’s worth, honestly. Besides…” There was a slight roll of the eyes. “Principal Nezu believes that there’s more to the students than only their quirks.”

Jiro had actually been right on some level? She would be thrilled if she knew.

A deep breath had to be taken to get over this turn of events; he had been so sure that he wouldn’t be allowed to return in his current state. His mother squeezed his hand as Aura gave the little swaying dance that she did whenever his mother was secretly and quietly delighted.

“Thank you.” Tokoyami nodded, still stunned. “Of course I’ll return.”

“There is something else.” Ah, that sounded much less rehearsed; was this where the bad news was coming in? “In light of suggestions and, frankly, demands from the medical staff that has been treating you, Principal Nezu has decided to restructure your academic layout apart from your classmates.”

What did that mean?

“You have physical limitations over the entire next semester.” Aizawa looked vaguely annoyed. “There’s nothing any of us can do about that, but it does restrict you from the standard training exercises. Instead of participating physically, you will be expected to observe. Additional assignments in connection to these observation lessons and exams will also be placed on you.”

Oh. Was that all? Tokoyami allowed himself to relax. Granted, he didn’t have a mind like Midoriya did, but this was a far better alternative to not being allowed back to U.A. at all.

“As well, as All Might is still teaching your class, you will be allowed to take identical coursework in 1-B –“

“No.” Tokoyami interrupted before he could stop himself.

Aizawa looked somewhat surprised. “No?”

There had already been a lot of thought given to this. He hadn’t spoken to his classmates about it – Tokoyami had honestly already known that there would be mounds of encouragement but nothing that concretely solved the issue. “My family’s home is a five minute walk from a game center. Every day, on the way to the train, there’s machines filled with All Might dolls and figurines and pre-recorded quotes blaring from speakers. He’s the number one Hero and he’s… Essentially everywhere.”

For some reason, Bakugo’s words came back to haunt him. He had both hated and admired the speech the fiery boy had given. Tokoyami still didn’t know what seeing All Might in person would do – just thinking about it sent small shudders through him, remembering the pain and anger now associated with the very image of All Might – but, he thought, there was no other way.

“I can’t deal with this by avoiding it or by avoiding him.”

There was a few seconds of silence. Aizawa simply stared at him, expression unchanging. “I see. In that case, classes will resume as normal. The semester will begin as usual in a little over a month. You’ll be allowed to enter your dorm as soon as is convenient for you.”

 

-------------

 

Tokoyami couldn’t quite decide if there was far too much security on this single train cabin or if there wasn’t enough.

The entire of 1-A had stayed with him at the hospital. They didn’t have to, and there had been some fruitless conversations spent trying to convince them to go to the new dorms and settle in. Despite it all, they had all chosen to stay. It was a touching gesture that he still wasn’t sure was necessary.

Still, with decisions made as they were, they all ended up going back to U.A. on the same four hour train ride. With them were four Pro Heroes, each taking a seat in every corner of their cabin. There might have been more Pros in different parts of the train, but none of the ones present would either confirm or deny it.

They were either the most secure train in all of Japan or a giant moving target. Tokoyami knew that he was not the only one to think about it; there was just a little too much anxiety floating in the air, too many tense jawlines and not nearly enough conversation going around to say anything else.

Everyone was anticipating an attack, but no one was certain that one would actually happen. There were valiant attempts at distraction going around; faces looking at cellphones, out the window, reading books, and earbuds in place. Though, no one had both ears covered or were entirely engrossed in whatever they were doing; everyone was too wary to do so.

It was a four hour train ride. A little under three of those hours were spent in relative ease; some of his friends had even dared to eat.

Eventually, he simply couldn’t take it anymore. The stress felt like a string that was going to snap at any moment. Tokoyami got up from his seat next to a completely silent Pro Hero Edgeshot – and it still felt so, so good just to be able to get up and walk around without his head feeling as if it were a brick – and looked around for someone specific. Edgeshot gave him a glare, as if he shouldn’t be moving around at all.

Everyone was looking at him with concern in their eyes, Pros and classmates alike; they were still trying to protect him. It was starting to get a touch annoying.

Midoriya was sitting with Uraraka. Tokoyami slid down at the end of the bench and let out a breath. “Please tell me you’re at least having a conversation.”

They both gave him amused stares.

“Edgeshot’s not much of a talker?” Uraraka dared to look back at the seemingly sullen Pro. “I hear he’s kind of broody.”

“Has he said anything at all since we left?” Midorya was smiling, but it was strained. Worried.

There must have been at least a dozen different escape plans and battle tactics going on in his head right now, so Tokoyami didn’t blame him. Midoriya was a known overthinker.

“Not a word.” Tokoyami allowed himself to relax a little. “I know I’m usually not one for talking, either, but… Three hours without answering anything other than one word responses…”

The strained smile on Midoriya’s face turned a little more thoughtful. “It just makes the stress worse, I guess. Is he the kind of person that sometimes just gives sounds instead of words?”

“Yes.” Tokoyami hissed; it had been incredibly annoying.

Midoriya’s expression did not change. “His attention is probably on every corner of the train. There are three exits including the fire escape hatch in the roof, and Edgeshot can thin himself out to get through the cracks, so I guess he would be going over defense tactics in case of a villain with a similar quirk, since his quirk is more two dimensional than three – “

“Midoriya.” Uraraka smirked. “You’re doing it again.”

“What?” The trance that had settled over Midoriya during his analysis faded. “Oh. Oh, sorry. I was just…” Both a smile and a blush crossed his face. “Sorry.”

Tokoyami couldn’t help but grin.

“Listen, maybe nothing’s going to happen.” It sounded like Uraraka had said it quite a few times already. “Maybe we’ll just… Get back home and everything’s going to be fine.”

Then, from what sounded like a great distance away, came the sound of explosions.

“…Or, I guess, screw everything.” Uraraka groaned.

Chapter Text

The first sign that there may have been a connection between the sounds of explosions and the train that they were on was when the train itself slowed down. It didn’t careen to a stop or send anyone lurching; it merely slid in to a calm and effortless end. Which, considering they had been on a bullet train going two hundred miles per hour, this was a significantly better alternative to just about any other possible outcome.

Still, everyone on the train was instantly on edge. Tokoyami looked around the cabin; eyes were off their phones, earbuds and headphones were shoved back in to bags, and every one of teenagers and Pro Heroes present looked tense. Some of his classmates were getting off of their seats, fists clenching and looking as if they were about to explode at any moment.

The Pro Heroes must have noticed they weren’t the only ones ready for a fight.

“None of you are authorized for combat!” Edgeshot yelled as soon as he was up. Oh, now he was talking. “Stay in your seats!”

“Attention passengers.” That came from the overhead intercom; the conductor, most likely. “The track ahead of this train appears to require some construction.” Well, if that wasn’t code for ‘the track has been destroyed’, Tokoyami didn’t know what else it was. “This train will be redirected to a local station. Please stay seated until arrival.”

“Stay calm!” Edgeshot was yelling it, but managed to sound serene. It was a good skill to have, to not sound worried at a time like this. “Listen to the line employees and stay seated!”

“We still don’t know what’s going on, though…” Uraraka gave words to at least what he was thinking, if not them all.

Out the window, there was nothing but the last dying embers of the sunset. The train was on an elevated platform overlooking the city, giving them a clear view of the landscape. Lights were on in almost all of the buildings; the only ones out were around a growing pile of what was very clearly a large fire. It didn’t look like any actual buildings were on fire. A park, maybe; some sort of clearing.

It was, for the most part, not an unusual thing to see. Even low-grade villains could cause destruction and property damage. For all he knew, it could have been a summer bonfire that had simply gone out of control.

“I don’t see anything unusual.” Tokoyami had to admit it out loud. “Uraraka could be right, it might just be… Nothing.”

“The fire is over there.” Midoriya gave the scene before them a slight nod. “If that’s the case, why is the track in front of us out?”

Ah. Well, that was a good point. Tokoyami frowned, even as he overheard other classmates along the cabin reach the same conclusion.

Midoriya was right. Something was off, here.

A small shimmer caught his attention from a nearby rooftop. A pale, purple glow.

“There!” Iida, a few rows away, called it out before he could. “Pro Heroes, they’re over there!”

‘They’? Tokoyami had to squint against the last remnants of the sunset and billowing smoke to make it out; the purple gleam took shape in to a round, suddenly all-too-familiar disc. A heavy weight began to form in his gut as he recognized the portal; the same kind he had been dragged in, hand around the back of his neck, still dizzy from the decompression of the orb…

Next to the portal were two similarly, horrifyingly familiar people.

An angry hiss erupted from Uraraka at his side. Tokoyami looked over in surprise; he had never heard the sound from her before.

“Shigaraki.” Midoriya almost sounded like he was snarling. “And that portal-making guy.”

The man with the gruesome detached hand on his face – and this time, he had more all over his body, countless limbs from who knew how many long dead people. So that was his name. Tokoyami couldn’t recall seeing the one that could make portals from his first few hours of imprisonment, but he certainly remembered the other. The memory was there, of the man with the hand on his face looking on with the same quiet glee that echoed from the rest of the villains; they had bore witness to what still felt like the tearing apart of his own soul, cheering it on as if it had been entertainment.

Now, he could feel the same anger growing in him that must have been flaring inside of his friends. “He was there. Shigaraki. He was there.”

Midoriya gave him a confused look. “There? He was –” Then, he seemed to understand; the fury returned to his face twicefold. Bare, blue sparks went along his arms.

“We’ll get him.” Uraraka put a hand on one of his own and gave it a small squeeze. “We’ll get him for it.”

The support, at least, was nice.

Then, illuminated by the rays of the sun and streetlamps alike, there were what were very clearly several nomu flying in the air. Tokoyami counted at least four of them, each holding something in their arms. It wasn’t until one of them carried their load with talons and dropped it on the roof next to the portal that Tokoyami recognized what it was.

The nomus were carrying bodies. From here, he couldn’t make out if they were unconscious or not, but none of them appeared to move. What he could tell, however, was how small they all were.

They were abducting children.

“Shit!” That came from one of the Pros from further in the cabin – Hawks, he thought, but wasn’t sure.

A growl erupted from behind Edgeshot’s mask. “Are there any Pros on the scene or do we have to leave the train?”

“I’m getting word that Yoroi Musha is on the scene and heading for them.” Gang Orca chimed in. “We are not to leave the train unless the train itself is threatened.”

Tokoyami had to admit that there was some logic to it.

“It could be a distraction.” Midoriya caught on to it, too. “Lead the Pro Heroes away and then attack us. That’s why they’re not leaving.”

There were some grumblings of disagreement from deeper in the train – Bakugo, Kirishima and Kaminari for the most part – but otherwise, no one was raising a fuss or charging out in to battle. Everyone was… Listening. Restraining themselves.

Honestly, it was remarkable.

On the rooftop, there came some movement; Shigaraki turned to stare directly at them.

Despite himself, Tokoyami shrunk down just a little. He felt both Midoriya and Uraraka tense; the hand on his own clenched just ever so slightly, petite nails digging in to the flesh around his knuckles. It barely stung, so he said nothing.

Behind Shigaraki, the air appeared to shift. For a moment, Tokoyami could only stare in confusion; the portal wasn’t close enough to make any sort of disturbance, and yet something was changing the lighting around the white-haired villain.

It took a moment. The air seemed to coalescence, becoming something tangible in a manner that somehow looked like it was struggling. It slowly took a solid shape; despite the distance between the train and the rooftop, it was clear and visible as pink and orange light bounced off of it.

Something deep inside of his stomach shifted; it was as if Tokoyami’s entire body lurched forward all on its’ own.

Next to him, Midoriya and Uraraka loudly gasped. The noise was echoed along the train.

“Bastards!” Bakugo shrieked.

Dark Shadow loomed behind Shigaraki. A long, wispy tendril – too weak, too small, like the kind Tokoyami remembered having as a small child – connected itself to its’ new host. It still looked far, far too much like it had before, with gleaming red eyes and a form carrying numerous spikes. It was missing a beak, but it was still wholly, entirely Dark Shadow.

The only difference was that a villain had it now.

“Tokoyami?!” That was neither Midoriya nor Uraraka; Aoyama was yelling it from a little too close by. When had the rest of his class gotten so close? “Tokoyami’s shaking!”

He was; Tokoyami only noticed it now against Uraraka’s hand.

“Get him away from the window!” Large, heavy hands were suddenly on his shoulders, pulling him back; he recognized both the limbs and the voice as belonging to Shoji. “He needs to sit down!”

Tokoyami didn’t resist. His mind felt as if it were far, far away.

That villain had Dark Shadow.

They had taken his quirk and given it to someone else.

The sound of a fresh explosion went off; it sounded a little closer than the last, but the train didn’t rock. A flash of light went with the noise; Tokoyami didn’t – couldn’t, suddenly feeling dizzy – look to see where it came from, but what sounded like Ashido yelled something that he couldn’t quite make out.

Everything was suddenly muffled; noises came as if he was underwater.

A bag appeared in front of him. A small, thin paper thing; Tokoyami grabbed it and shoved his beak inside of it. For a few seconds, he tried to breath with it, to take deep, heaving breaths like the nurse had taught him to at the hospital. Three deep breaths were taken; then, he vomited.

At least it went in to the bag.

Shoji’s hand – or he thought it was Shoji’s – was still on his shoulder. There was an attempt made to tell his friend that he was fine, but Tokoyami got a single syllable out before he heaved in to the bag again. Nothing came out of his stomach this time.

The man with the helmet had given his quirk to that villain. Dark Shadow was more than gone, now, it was with someone else, it was with an enemy, with someone who had watched as it was torn from him.

It was if Dark Shadow hadn’t simply been taken but instead had died. On that day when he had been pulled from the tank, Dark Shadow may as well have been left behind, taking his place; this was only the end result, a mutated nomu of what Dark Shadow had once been, attached to someone else and no longer who it had once been.

The voices around him were suddenly lifting in tone a bit more jovially; Tokoyami managed to glance up, but didn’t let go of the bag; his classmates were smiling and cheering at whatever was going on. Some looked like they were calling names – Pro Heroes that were on the rooftop? However, after a few minutes, some of the smiles abruptly faded in to anger.

Then, some sound made a bit more sense. There were still upset yells, but some calm noises as well.

“They got away!” Ashido glowered at the window.

“But they didn’t take anyone.” Asui sighed in relief. “That’s the most important thing, kero.”

“Tokoyami?” Oh, the hand on his shoulder was Shoji. “Do you need to lie down?”

His stomach was still roiling; all he could do was shake his head a little. “I’m fine.” Oh, even he heard how queasy he sounded. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m acting like this.”

“Oh, for fucks sake.” Bakugo sounded exasperated a little further away. “Is he apologizing again?!”

Someone tried to hush him; whoever it was actually succeeded.

“I’m pretty sure any of us would be acting the same way, kero.” The bench next to him shifted as Asui sat down; a large hand set itself on his knee. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re here. We’re all here, kero. We understand.”

Tokoyami wasn’t sure if he did, though.

He was, however, starting to calm down. Breathing was slowly becoming easier and the world had stopped spinning for the most part. It was still a little tipsy, but manageable.

Oh, he should have expected this. The man with the mask had taken his quirk, but he should have assumed he could do other things. The expectation should have been there, that he would come across some villain with Dark Shadow like this. Shouldn’t he have?

Tokoyami felt foolish; he clutched his hands around the bag, piercing the thin paper with his talons, and knew that he was still shaking. He should have thought about these things more thoroughly. It was shameful, really, to not pick up on something like this. Why hadn’t he figured this out sooner? He had been blindsided.

Suddenly, the train gave a heavy rock; gasps and yelps of surprise filled the air. Tokoyami looked up in surprise and he noticed that so did just about everyone else.

There was what sounded like more than one set of heavy footsteps and a hurried scratching sort of sound. Both were coming from above them.

Nomus were on the roof.

Chapter Text

This, Best Jeanist decided, this finally pushed this entire insane situation up to the top spot on his List. The fact that it hadn’t been at the top of his personal leaderboard probably said more about Pro Hero work than what was actually going on, but it was still something of a milestone. He wondered, in the back of his mind, if this was an issue insane enough that it was worth publishing. Or at least putting up online.

The List had started as something of an inside joke with the Pro Heroes. Or at least the Pros that were cordial enough with each other when it had begun; a personal ranking of the craziest, most wild villains they had faced, situations said villains caused, or just general insanity. Recently, the younger Pro Heros had begun to try and use it to ‘top’ each other, boasting of extraordinary tales over beer at the end of the day. Kamui Woods had specifically begun to call it The List Of What The Actual Fuck; Mt. Lady had thought it was the funniest thing ever, if a little crude, and had quickly followed suit. It was something of a thing with the younger ones, these days.

After ten years of being a Pro, there had been far, far too many wild things in Best Jeanists’ resume to put on the List; it bordered on needing a categorization system. This one, though, probably needed an entirely new rank just to do it justice. Could a numerical system have letters added to it, like in the popular video games? An ‘S’ rank above the ‘1’?

Pulling that poor boy out of the tank with half of his head missing had absolutely put it in the top ten. Hearing that the kid had survived having the top of his head cut off nudged it up a couple of slots. It was why he had jumped on the chance to even be on this train; he had to admit he was curious to see how the boy was doing after such an intense trauma. Jeanist had not been surprised to see that Fumikage Tokoyami still looked like he was in desperate need of a whole lot of therapy.

But this! This, learning that the boy hadn’t simply lost his quirk from emotional and physical trauma – it was not without precedent and the brain did some crazy things in order to cope, so even the media had readily accepted it – but that, it seemed, it had been taken somehow and given to someone else?

How the hell was that even possible?!

Regardless, it was now in the top spot. Absolutely.

Best Jeanist was in such shock for a few seconds that all he could do was stare at the rest of the kids. These teenagers – freshmen at U.A., freshmen! – had leapt in to gear as if they hadn’t been surprised at all. They already knew, Jeanist realized, that there was some villain going around stealing quirks.

They were only fifteen years old, but each and every one of them had the same look in their eyes. Best Jeanist recognized it when he saw it; the same look every Pro Hero got when they had their first innocent death, or been forced to kill a villain in the line of duty, or had seen one of their own go down and not get back up again. It was the hardness they all got after having their first moment.

They had already had it. At fifteen and sixteen years old, these kids already had that harsh push that erased the fantasy that the world made Pro Hero work look like and left only the gritty reality behind. It had already happened to them. He could almost forget how young they all were with faces like these.

Movement came from the corner of his vision; Jeanist looked over to see one of the girls had pushed her way over – Yaoyorozu. Her help had been shockingly invaluable during the rescue of her friend. She held out a small device; he took it. “Best Jeanist, I’ve made tracking devices for everyone in my class. I can’t secure them to anyone, but everyone has one. Just in case.”

It was the same tactic she had used the last time. Her quick thinking with a tracking device she had created had been the only thing that had led the police to where Tokoyami had been held captive. These kids were learning these lessons very, very quickly.

“Wait, can we eat these?” One of the other kids – a lanky kid with wide teeth – looked at Yaoyorozu. He got a blank stare in response. “The tracking devices, they could fall out of our pockets. Can we eat them? So they stay with us?”

“Sero, what?” The girl with the earjacks sputtered. “You’re asking if a metal device that Momo created with her quirk that you yourself compared to poop a few months ago, you’re asking if you can eat it?!”

Yaoyorozu slowly shook her head. “I… I strongly advise against it.”

The boy – Sero – had the sense to look ashamed. “It was just a question.”

Ah. They still were teenage kids.

None of the other Pros in their cabin of the train had gotten their senses together, either, so that was something. The kids, it seemed, had it under control; they had pulled Tokoyami away from the window, getting him the sickness bag as they did so and were now trying to calm him from what looked like a panic attack of some sort. They were rallying behind their friend, each and every one of them, and made no comment about his behavior. Jeanist couldn’t blame him for it, either. There was no appropriate response to all of this that didn’t involve at least a little bit of a meltdown, as far as he was concerned.

Out the window, things were actually looking like they were under control. Shigaraki and Kurogiri – both wanted by police in essentially every prefecture in Japan and probably a few countries outside of it – had used one of their portals to escape but hadn’t taken any of the people they had brought to the roof with them. Good.

Just as Jeanist thought that things would actually calm down, that the train would just pull away and everything might possible just go right for once, then, then, something had to land on the goddamn roof. It came with a few very noticeable thuds, the rocking of the entire train cabin, and some scratching noises just to make sure it sounded like a horror movie.

“None of you are authorized for combat!” That was the second time that Edgeshot yelled that. Probably for the best; these kids looked less and less like schoolchildren and more like a rabid pack of wild dogs as the minutes went by.

“There are three exits on the train…” That green-haired kid, Midoriya, started to say a little too quickly. Several of his classmates turned to look to him with rapt attention, as if what he was saying was incredibly important. “They’ve blocked off the one on the roof, but there are two more at either side of the train that connects the cabins…”

The cabin gave a violent lurch; everyone who was standing, Jeanist included, was forced back down. What sounded like rattling chains and the shattering of metal and glass went off from both ends of the cabin.

“…And that would be them disconnecting us from the rest of train, most likely, and possibly sealing the doors.” Midoriya bemoaned.

“Uh, guys?!” The pink skinned girl with the horns stumbled back upright, using the backsides of seats for leverage. “They’re lifting our part of the train in to the sky?!”

“Let them.” Jeanist managed to back up himself and look around.

“What do you mean, let them?” Edgeshot looked unsteady and it had nothing to do with his balance.

Most of these kids hadn’t made it to the battle segment of the Sports Festival all those months ago, but Jeanist knew enough about the ones that had been there to know what they could and could not do. He made his way to a girl by Midoriya and Tokoyami, a young woman he might have mistook for delicate if he hadn’t seen what she could do. “Uraraka, is it? Can you levitate this entire train cabin?”

Her eyes lit up with an eagerness Best Jeanist only saw in fresh young Pros. “Absolutely.”

“Jeanist, these children can’t be allowed to enter combat.” Gang Orca rumbled from one end of the cab.

“I’m authorizing them on a play-by-play basis.” Best Jeanist met his fellow Pro’s eyes. “I’ll take responsibility if it comes to that, but this is an unusual situation.”

Both Gang Orca and Edgeshot didn’t look happy about his decision, but neither of them argued about it. Hawk, on the other hand, had a small smirk on his face. Of course he did; the kid was barely in his twenties, he was still fresh.

Young Uraraka was already pressing her hand to the metal by a window.

“When I give the order, levitate the train. When I do…” Jeanist looked around; after a moment, he pointed to Iida. He knew the boy mostly through the fame of his brother, but he hadn’t been a small thing to sneeze at during the Festival, either. “You. Jet legs. Are you capable of pushing a vehicle this large through the air using your burst?”

Jeanist was surprised to get a frown from the boy. Iida shifted in place and actually hesitated. “I hate to say this, but… As Class Rep, a certain amount of honesty is involved –”

“So the answer is no.” Jeanist grit his teeth; thankfully, no one could see it under the denim of his mask.

Iida straightened as if he were in the military. “Bakugo has a higher rate of fire power than my jets!”

Well, that was a surprise; Jeanist looked to the fiery boy he had once tried to tame. At the time, he had been disappointed that Bakugo hadn’t taken any of his lessons to heart before the internship ended, but now… “Bakugo, when I give the order, can you blast a hole in the side of the train directly behind Uraraka and then blast at a constant rate?”

Bakugo was giving Iida a look as if the other teenager had suddenly declared he was from another planet. He still looked a bit disturbed when he looked back to Jeanist, but flashed a grin. “You’re talking propulsion? I did shit like that when I was ten.”

Jeanist didn’t doubt that claim for a second. “Good. On my mark. Ten… Nine… Eight…”

 

----------

 

It worked perhaps a little too well.

The flying nomu that had tried to carry off the entire train cabin hadn’t anticipated it, at any rate. Following Best Jeanists’ orders, Uraraka had made the train lighter, Bakugo had pushed it through the air, and then Uraraka had made it heavy again. Then, visibly straining herself, she made it float once more before slowly, slowly, relieving her quirk to gently put the entire section of the train on the ground.

Not a single one of them complained of any injuries. Not even a moan. A couple of them had actually laughed.

Tokoyami wasn’t ordinarily one for swearing, but holy shit, that had actually worked. He let out a breath of relief and accepted Midoriya’s help to get back to his feet.

No one was wasting any time; Edgeshot started to call something out, but cut himself off when everyone already began to get out of the train of their own accord. The hole Bakugo had made – and had made larger in the past few minutes – was the only exit.

Only a few of them had gotten out of the train – himself stumbling near the back, Uraraka and Midoriya still at his side and he was fully aware of the fact that everyone was still watching him – before some startled yelps warned them all that something was terribly wrong.

There were windows on this side of the train. Bakugo’s explosions had blackened some of them, but the ones that were still clear showed a nightmare of a scenario.

Uraraka’s hand had slipped in his own at some point; she squeezed it and tensed when she saw it too. Midoriya made some sort of choking sound.

The train cabin had landed in the street at an angle, essentially blocking them from going anywhere but a single direction. In that direction waited more nomu. Possibly the biggest ones any of them had ever seen; monstrous things easily thrice the size of Shoji or Koda. Each of them bore the usual trademarks of the nomu – the exposed brains, the wide unblinking eyes – but these ones had some sort of scar on their stomachs, a long line that reached from the base of their throats to the very bottom of their figures, between legs that were practically trunks. Large, tusk-like bones – were they teeth? Why did they have teeth on their chests?! – erupted in a zipper-like pattern from the wound. If it was a wound.

None of them had any clothing on, but none of them appeared to have any genitals, either. In those areas, there was a blank, smooth emptiness around the bones; the area looked, obscenely enough, a little like his sisters’ dolls.

“What the hell…” Kirishima and Kaminari said at the same time in the exact same incredulous tone.

A flapping noise came from above them; Tokoyami looked up and above the monsters that he knew had once been people. The flying nomu were still around; they landed behind and around the taller ones.

At least the flying ones had pants on.

There were at least thirty of both kinds of nomu in total, but he didn’t bother to make a precise headcount. At least there didn’t appear to be any civilians on the scene. Well, except for themselves.

“This is bad.” Tokoyami managed to say out loud. Midoriya made a squeaked noise of agreement.

A deep, heavy sigh erupted from Best Jeanist. Tokoyami looked up to find the denim-clad Pro had a look of great annoyance on his face.

“This definitely counts as one of those ‘special situations’.” Best Jeanist even twitched. “That’s it. I’m authorizing combat.”

Chapter Text

They had not been given authorization for combat for no reason. Midoriya caught on to it immediately, to what Best Jeanist had intended with the order. A glance was exchanged with Uraraka to see if she caught it, too; her hand in Tokoyami’s, clutching as if it were a lifeline, told him that she did.

The problem was that he wasn’t sure how many of the others had also figured it out. Some of them – Kacchan, of course, but also Kirishima, Kaminari, Sato, and even Sero – had their fists clenched and sparks flying, ready to leap in to the fray.

This was not a fray that they should be leaping in to.

The good news was that they were all off of the train. Staying on it would have been the worst possible idea; it would have separated them, left them ready for the flyers to pick off. No, they needed to stay together, hold together in a pack; they needed to protect each other. They were not all equipped to handle these… These insanely tall, brutish-looking nomu that Midoriya could swear he’s seen in zombie MMOs.

For a moment, the nomus did not move. The flyers almost looked as if they were sedate, calmly standing behind and to the sides of the taller ones.

The rush came suddenly; there were no words said, no command given, but there may as well have been. Midoriya wondered if there was some long range communication involved. A telepath like Mandalay, maybe? Something that told the nomu that it was time?

The Pro Heroes were immediately at them and pushing some of them back; other nomu moved of their own accord, but didn’t seem to be interested in anyone but those directly attacking them.

Despite being given permission to fight, his classmates were hesitating. Good. Maybe they had figured it out after all. On his end, Midoriya stretched a hand in front of Uraraka and Tokoyami.

They had someone that they needed to protect.

Best Jeanist threw threads at the unmoving flyers. The lines wrapped around them; they all fell without a struggle. Midoriya could see the logic in it, in taking them out before they could become a problem later or, worse, a distraction.

The bigger ones were rushing in different directions, but didn’t appear as if they could move very fast. They lumbered, thundering footsteps sounding like a rhino or elephant – or, at least, how they sounded in a lot of video games and movies, the echoing kind of thudthudthud. Hawks jumped in to the air, firing feathered bolts from his wings at the lot of them.

Most of them took the hits as if they were nothing. One of the large nomu opened its’ fang-lined scar – was that supposed to be a giant mouth?! – and swallowed a feather whole.

Midoriya had expected a stomach. Or, perhaps, guts spilling out like all those stitched together zombies in all those games. At the very least, there should have been something fleshy in there, but instead it was a… Darkness. A darkness that kind of glittered in a manner very similar to a certain kind of villains’ portal. It wasn’t purple but looked like it had the same sort of mechanic; the feather bolt vanished inside of it, leaving no damage or sign it had even existed in its’ wake.

Oh. The design of these nomu suddenly made a whole lot of sense.

“They’re like venus flytraps!” Midoriya made sure to yell it loud enough for the Pros to hear. “They’re made to kidnap people inside of their… Insides!” He winced at how absolutely dumb the words sounded.

“Oh, fantastic!” Gang Orca yelled, sarcasm dripping from his words. From everything Midoriya had studied about him, Orca had a habit of barreling in to opponents; this time, he was holding back, trying to use his quirk to disorient the nomus, screaming a frequency that anyone not in range couldn’t quite hear.

It didn’t appear to phase them; Orca had to leap out of the way, looking startled. It should have worked, should have rattled their inner ears to cause the paralyzing vertigo – unless these nomu no longer had the capability to hear? Were they deaf, now? Had it all been removed?

They must have been human, once. The portal mouth things – not to mention that certain things were missing – meant that they must have been horribly, severely altered. It was possible, Midoriya had to admit, that everything about them had been changed. Basic medical information about the human body no longer applied.

None of his classmates had jumped in yet. They were exchanging looks – sparing quite a few in Tokoyami’s direction – but no one had separated from the flock. Even Kacchan, even though he was at the front and flames were sparking from his palms, was waiting.

Gang Orca, Hawks and Best Jeanist were barely holding the twenty – twenty one, Midoriya finally counted – large nomu back. They were acting more as a distracting, dancing away from the chomping stomach maws or flying around them. Midoriya couldn’t tell if the nomu were simply not intelligent enough to not fall for the Pro Hero’s ‘look at me’ ploy or if there was something else going on that he couldn’t yet see.

Edgeshot was having significantly more luck handling them, at least; the ones he faced against were now keeping their distance. A couple of them were visibly limping.

One nomu in front of Edgeshot was down. It lay on the ground, twitching.

At this rate, they were going to tire themselves out long before the nomu were done with them. More could even arrive while they were doing this. Granted, the police and other Pros could be on the way, but there was no way to who would get there first.

They had been given authorization for combat.

Midoriya had a plan.

“Mineta.” Midoriya looked around for the much shorter boy.

“Oh god.” Oh, there he was, jumping in alarm at suddenly being spoken to. “I am not going out there!”

“I wasn’t going to ask you to,” That would have been a terrible idea, honestly. “But can you stick the nomus’ to the ground from here? Their feet, arms, it doesn’t matter.”

Mineta looked back to the fight. “I can try.” He reached for his scalp.

The best way to handle this was long range; the farther away they were, the less likely any of them were going to get caught. “Kacchan, Todoroki, Ashido, can you –”

“Aw, yeah!” Ashido cheered before he even finished the sentence.

“We just have to keep our distance.” Todoroki had figured it out. “We can’t get too close to them or we risk capture.”

“Psh.” Kacchan’s hands were sparking even worse, now. “Don’t have to tell me how to fight, you half and half bastard. Same goes for you, Deku.”

This was already going far, far better than he had dared to hope.

“Mineta.” Wait, was he suddenly in control? Midoriya blinked, suddenly realizing that everyone was actually listening to him. “Whenever you think you have a good shot, go.”

 

-------------

 

The only thing that they really did was attract the nomus’ attention.

It should have worked; Midoriya’s plans had a habit of panning through and a certain level of respect had been gained for the rate of success. All the analysis and thought that he put in to things was, by all accounts, remarkable. Lately, whenever Midoriya had a theory or even a suggestion, everyone immediately gave him an audience, knowing his words had merit.

It should have worked. It was Midoriya’s plan; it should have worked.

But it didn’t.

Tokoyami barely got out of the way in time; he might not have if Uraraka hadn’t been holding one of his hands, pulling him along with a startling rush that knocked the wind out of him.

Mineta’s attack had landed properly, sticking the limbs of several of the large nomu to the floor; the problem was that most of them had ripped free almost immediately. Mineta had screamed in alarm, throwing more in a panic.

Then, there was acid, fire, and the smell of ash. Explosions rang through the air, but there also came the sound of startled yells, roars of fury, and some panic-filled wails. The world, for a moment, was a blur.

Tokoyami was ashamed to find himself hiding behind a parked car. Uraraka had all but dropped him there, hunched him down with both hands on his shoulders, and then had ran off to join the others with a worry-filled order to stay put.

It took a few minutes before he even dared to peek over the trunk of the car. His friends were out there and they were all fighting; he could see them, throwing everything that they had. Even Hagakure was out there, and she had no real offensive quirk, not any more than he did. She was using her invisibility to get behind them with what looked like a floating kitchen knife, stabbing at ankles and then leaping away.

There was every excuse to hide here. The medication he still had to take drained him, he was recovering from a surgery, he was practically quirkless, but there was still a huge weight in the pit of his stomach. Shame and guilt swam in it.

None of his friends would blame him for staying here. They had wanted this, hadn’t they? To make sure he was safe until he was fully recovered, fully healthy? And yet…

He shouldn’t have been hiding. Tokoyami shook, clinging to the tire of the car; he should be out there with them! It didn’t matter what a doctor said he could or could not do…

A soft hissing noise came from the tire.

Tokoyami blinked and looked down; his claws were in the rubber. His fingers – the pointed tipped talons that he still had absolutely no idea how to effectively wield – had to be wrenched free. When they were, air seeped out of the holes.

He had talons. They were the only weapons he had, now. They weren’t a real quirk – a quirk factor, at best, a side effect of what the villains had done to him – but they were there.

There was a heavy fog in the street and a series of thunderous roars. Bakugo must have still been setting off explosions. A wall of ice shot up further down the way and Tokoyami realized, with a startling panic, that this meant that some of them must have been separated. There was too much smoke to see who, if anyone, may have already been taken.

He couldn’t just watch this. The villains were trying very obviously to kidnap them; they would end up going through what they had put him through. Shoved in to liquid-filled cages and tortured, mutilated, lobotomized, made in to a monster with no way to resist and no way out…

He had to go back out there. A part of him screamed that he shouldn’t, that he should stay exactly where he was, but Tokoyami couldn’t just watch this.

The last time he had been in a fight had been at the training forest, when he still had Dark Shadow. Without his quirk, he found that he was… Afraid. More than he had ever been before. Tokoyami didn’t even know a horrid, desperate fear like this even existed. It clutched at his heart and made everything hurt just a little bit.

Fists were unclenched; he hadn’t even realized he had been holding them so tightly until he let go and felt the pinpricks of blood. Entirely unsure of himself, Tokoyami stood back upright and tried to take stock of the situation.

There was too much smoke. Perhaps something had heated up the asphalt or Ashido’s acid interacted with the ground chemically, because something thick and smelling vaguely like rotted eggs was billowing off the blacktop. It covered almost everything now and blocked his vision, but maybe it also blocked the nomus’. Maybe it had been intentional.

A sudden flash lit his vision; a laser – Aoyama’s – went through the air, dissipating some of the smoke; it struck a nomu in the shoulder and sent it stumbling back a few feet. Tokoyami tried to look to see where Aoyama was, but he couldn’t find him through the fog; the only thing he could make out was the giant monster the laser had struck.

The nomu turned just enough to notice him, too. Then, wide, blank eyes were on him, staring, as the entire grotesque form turned in his direction.

Oh. Oh, no.

Tokoyami took a step back, but he had already been spotted. The nomu’s brain was exposed like the rest of them; maybe if he got up there and could stab the brain with his claws, it would give the creature an almost merciful death?

But… How the hell was he going to get up there?!

The nomu lunged for him, but it moved slow. It was easy to jump out of the way, using the top of the car to push him along, and to avoid the large hand that came grabbing. It was not a fist, but an open palm; the idea that Midoriya had been right about this being an attempt at a mass kidnapping only cemented itself further.

He had to get behind the nomu and climb up from there. It was the only way up to the exposed brain, but it was also an incredibly, incredibly stupid plan. This was not a video game where he could grapple up with no consequences! If he only had a real weapon or Dark Shadow…

Dark Shadow would have been able to punch the nomu without the fear of getting grabbed. Dark Shadow would have been able to do this.

Dark Shadow wasn’t here, any more. Dark Shadow was still gone.

Tokoyami had to do this without him.

Gulping, he forced himself to stand still, to let the nomu get closer. How fast could he move, theoretically, if he jumped on that arm? Could he scurry up? Was he limber enough to do so after a couple of months in a hospital bed? How fast was the nomu’s reaction time?

Why didn’t he know the answers to any of these questions?!

The nomu lunged again, but it was quicker than the last time. Tokoyami shook himself out of the pondering to jump out of the way. His back hit something hard; something very large. There was green at the corner of his vision.

Shit, there was a second nomu there! Tokoyami had enough time to gasp and make an effort to leap back, but this new nomu turned in the wrong direction and turned a little too quick; he hit the bumper of the car behind him, tail folding between his legs from the force. The nomu was almost able to grab him with his stomach-mouth alone, opening wide to swallow him whole.

Almost able; the second nomu was still there and had already moved to grab him again. Instead, it’s arm plunged in to the other nomus’ chest. It was elbow deep before the stomach-mouth closed, severing the limb.

Neither of the nomu made a sound. They both simply started moving again as if nothing at all had happened, even as blood – far too dark, far too red – poured from the wound, splashing both the ground and over Tokoyami. His breath stalled out of sheer disgust.

The injured one, though, was now slower than before. A fresh, deep breath had to be taken and a hand over his face to wipe away the dark, sticky blood; before he could question his own line of thought and double-guess himself, he made a rush for the back of the wounded nomu. He climbed atop the car before he used his claws, digging themselves in to the nomus’ lower back; from there, he pulled as hard as he could to lift himself up.

His arms ached. Shit; he knew he had a weight restriction on, but he didn’t think it would hurt like this. It felt as if his muscles were about to tear themselves apart just from using them.

This had to be done quick. He couldn’t stop on account of personal weakness. In hindsight, he probably should have taken off his sneakers before this – he had claws instead of toenails, now, and it probably would’ve helped instead of the dull rubber and plastic – but there wasn’t any time for that.

The nomu beneath him was trying to twist; it reached with the severed limb, seemingly not able to realize that the rest of it was gone. It worked out in Tokoyami’s favor; by the time it even moved the other hand, he had gotten to the top – heaving, wheezing, out of breath and feeling faintly dizzy – and stabbed with both hands.

Blood immediately began to seep from the wounds. The pink, spongy flesh and gray matter reached his knuckles. Distantly, Tokoyami felt a little sick; he pulled his hands free. Then, he noticed that the nomu was tilting ever so slightly; it was falling.

There was no choice but to hold on as it fell. Tokoyami fell off of the nomu once it hit the ground with a loud thud and rolled a short extra distance after. A car alarm went off behind him.

It was hard to breathe. It was as if all the air had been knocked out of him. His entire body was shaking and Tokoyami realized that he was having trouble getting back up; everything felt so weak.

The other nomu was still there. It was staring at him.

Panic washed over him. He didn’t know if he could get out of the way in time. A great, green hand reached for him; Tokoyami scurried, bringing his own claws up in what even he knew would be a failed attempt at defense.

Then, something flew along his vision; a blurred form that struck the nomu from the side. Both forms went skidding along the ground, forcing more smoke – and now large pieces of the pavement – to break in to the air.

Tokoyami blinked in shock and tried to clear his vision. He had to squint to make it out through the fog.

A far too familiar form stood atop a nomu that was now on the ground.

All Might had arrived.

Deep inside of him, Tokoyami felt something burn.

Chapter Text

In hindsight, it probably should have made a lot more sense than it did that All Might had shown up when he had. An attack of this scale in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street? Of course Pro Heroes would have been called in; of course All Might would have been informed. Appearing out of no where was practically a Pro Hero callsign.

Right now, though, Tokoyami had a moment of surprise as he stared at the Symbol of Peace as he pummeled a nomu twice the Number One Hero’s size. All Might said nothing as he did so; there was only the harsh thuds of flesh hitting flesh, the faint cracking of bones and something that somehow sounded wet.

Once the shock faded away – and it faded quick, maybe a little too quick – a deep burning started to form in his gut. It clutched, it felt, at the very core of his being, a big bold flame that was quickly becoming a wildfire.

Tokoyami twitched as he stumbled back to his feet, wincing more at the emotional strain than the physical. Granted, his entire body felt as if it had just gone through the wringer, but the inferno inside of it, the aching core…

No. He should not have been feeling this; he should know better by now. This was not real hate. He knew that. Logically, he knew that this was something manufactured, something that wasn’t really his own; it had been drilled in to him, forcefully planted with every image on that screen in the tank and every electric charge that had torn the air from his lungs.

There was no real reason to hate All Might. There was absolutely no good reason to feel this loathing for the man that had, in the past few minutes, literally saved his life. The nomu that had been looming right there could have taken him – back to the tank, back to the loss of everything – could have been killed him, any number of things could have happened, if not for All Might showing up.

All Might had finally reached him. Just like All Might had always promised. But it felt like just a bit too little and just a bit too late.

The nomu on the ground was not moving anymore. Still, the Number One Hero stood above it, fists still clenched, as if to make sure that it wasn’t going to get up again.

Tokoyami couldn’t even look at him.

He had to clutch at the car next to him with one hand just to steady himself; the other was on his head, trying to ease a growing headache away. Even as he was doing it, he knew it was stupid to close his eyes, to try and stabilize himself here, when insanely monstrous creatures still roamed around with the intent to whisk victims away.

But he needed to breathe. All Might wasn’t talking right now, there was no distant screeching of brain-altered nomus, he could almost pretend that nothing at all was going on –

Wait. All Might wasn’t talking. He wasn’t making his usual speeches, the usual sound bytes that went with his grand entrances. He had simply… Shown up, grandiose but quiet.

“Young Tokoyami?”

Except for now. A vague irritation echoed the words that filled the air; his name had not been something played in the tank, but the very sound of it was still All Might’s voice.

Hesitantly, Tokoyami opened his eyes; he was startled by what was in front of him.

All Might was there, which he anticipated, but he was not smiling.

It felt… Wrong. All wrong. All Might always smiled; in every image, every news report, every video, the whole ‘smiling’ thing was practically his trademark. But now he wasn’t – although now that he noticed it, there was a strain to it, as if the non-smile neutrality had to be forced – and there weren’t any familiar quotes, none of that loud and boisterous, ‘I am here!’…

A sudden notion introduced itself. Tokoyami squinted at the Hero before him, suspicious and still struggling with the rage. “Do you know what they did to me?”

There was a small pause. “Yes.”

Oh, for god’s sake, that’s why he wasn’t being his usual self. Somehow, someway – and probably the police had just flat told him – All Might already knew that the hate for him existed; he knew that it had been drilled in. The attempt at brainwashing had been made and All Might already knew. He must have been trying not to trigger it, but his presence alone did the job.

“Where the hell were you?!” Tokoyami couldn’t help it; no matter how much he tried to stamp the negativity back, there was an irritation that refused to go away. It was almost like a cloak, filling the corners of his vision with red.

At least All Might made the attempt to look apologetic. No smile, no flaunting; it only made him it worse, really. “I was three hundred kilometers away, young Tokoyami. I’m sorry –”

“I don’t mean in the past five minutes!” There was a very, very strong impulse to start swearing and name-calling, to start screaming at the top of his lungs; it was barely restrained. It wouldn’t have been proper for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which that this was still, despite everything, the Number One Pro Hero in front of him. “Where were you when the villains had me?! When we were attacked in the forest?! Where were you that entire time?!

Another pause. It almost looked like All Might deflated just a little bit, as if his muscles weren’t quite real and the single poke of a needle might drain out all of the fake, false air. “Young Tokoyami… I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?!” It was adding insult to injury; a slap to the face that left a bruise. It broke something. “You’re sorry?! A whole world of good that does me now, doesn’t it?! A lot of good it does everyone else! Where were you and where was the help that you always promised?!”

For a few seconds, there was nothing. All Might slowly, hesitantly, reached a hand towards him; Tokoyami reeled back.

Then, distantly, something rumbled. A flash of lightning came with it; there were no clouds in the sky.

People were still fighting. Tokoyami gasped at the sudden realization, that he had forgotten, somehow, in all of the anger, that his friends were still out there; they were still in danger.

They were still fighting for their lives and he was here, monopolizing the time of the Number One Hero. He was making things worse.

Still, the fury was there. A fist was clenched at his side, the other still using the car for support. “Go. Get to the others.” Please, he wanted to add, but false pride made by this forgery of hate wouldn’t let him.

“Can you hide until this is over, young Tokoyami?” All Might asked slowly with a low, rumbling gentleness. He hated it, hated everything about this. “I can’t look to your injuries right now. I’m sorry.”

Injuries? Tokoyami blinked once before remembering that he was covered in nomus’ blood. “…Fine. Okay.” He had to hiss it out and settled for the closest hiding place, for sliding underneath the car next to him.

He didn’t know where else was a decent enough place to hide. It was no longer blaring a car alarm; somewhere in the past few minutes, it must have been shut off. Someone in one of the nearby buildings had to have done so remotely.

How many people had seen his meltdown?

From beneath the vehicle, there came a slight push of the air in front of him and the vanishing of All Might. The Pro Hero had either jumped in to the air or flown and Tokoyami didn’t have the energy to really figure out which.

Underneath the car, Tokoyami curled up and clutched his head, trying to will away emotions that he knew were not his own.

----------

 

There was no real way to tell how long he was hiding there. His phone, somewhere along the way, had gotten cracked and now refused to turn on. That was just a mild thing, really; he could have it replaced, as frustrating as it made things right now.

That, and he thought he might have fallen asleep at some point. Or fainted. Neither of these options would have surprised him; he was absolutely exhausted and he had slept – been forced to sleep – in stranger places and in more awkward positions.

“Tokoyami!” Someone was calling him from out there. It was the only thing that pulled him out of the anxiety. It was a young woman’s voice, but he couldn’t quite make out which of his classmates it was.

“Here!” He called back, waving a hand from under the car. With the smog around, would anyone even see it? With that idea now in play, Tokoyami moved to pull himself out from under the car. “I’m over here!”

“Oh, thank god.” Oh, it was Uraraka. “Guys, he’s over here!”

Suddenly, the car above him was floating a few extra feet in the air. It certainly made it easier to get out; Tokoyami gave his friend a small smile to try and reassure her, but even he knew it was forced and unsteady.

“Oh my god, are you okay?! Where are you hurt?!” Uraraka now looked frazzled and pale as she grabbed, with hesitance and far more gentleness than necessary, for his arms. He thought she might have been trying to help him stay upright.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” The hands holding him weren’t necessary, but he didn’t push them away. He was still annoyed, but not at her, not at his friends, so he tried not to let it show. “The blood isn’t mine.”

That caused her to pause. “It’s not…?” Then, she glanced to the side. He followed her gaze.

Oh. The nomu he had stabbed was still on the ground. Blood drenched the front of the car and the pavement around it.

“Holy shit.” Kirishima suddenly appeared out of the fog, but had apparently noticed the corpse before he had seen the two of them. “Well, that’s a thing that – Tokoyami, are you okay?!

This was just going to repeat itself every time one of the others met up with him, wasn’t it? There was a sudden flash of humor in it, a hysteria that caused Tokoyami to laugh just a bit. “Surprisingly, yes, I’m fine. Are – ” Oh, there went all of that hilarity, vanishing as quick as it had appeared. “Is everyone else okay? Was anyone…?”

“No one was kidnapped.” Uraraka still had his arms; it didn’t look like she was letting go any time soon. It was probably better that she hadn’t; relief washed over him and his legs felt weak. “We’re all accounted for. A few of the others are hurt, I think, but I don’t think it’s anything serious. All Might had to tell us where you were. The police aren’t here yet, but all the nomus are… Down?”

“Mostly kind of dead?” Kirishima shrugged, similarly unsure. “They’re not moving and like hell any of us are gonna get close enough to check for a pulse.”

Well, the humor was rising again. They were all alive; they had come out of it all… Okay? For once, nothing had gone horribly, horrifically wrong? Things had gone well?!

Both Uraraka and Kirishima met his smile with their own; the former even giggled a little.

That was, until he stumbled on absolutely nothing, suddenly feeling woozy.

“Woah!” Kirishima rushed over to help carry him along. “Shit, that’s right, you weren’t even supposed to be exercising or lifting anything!”

“I stabbed a nomu in the brain.” Tokoyami half wheezed, half laughed. “I’m pretty sure I did every single thing the doctor very specifically told me not to do.”

“How did you even…?” Uraraka had let go of his arms, but now had one of his own over her shoulder. So did Kirishima on the other side. Tokoyami wasn’t sure if he needed it, but it was… Nice. “Did you… Climb on…?”

“Jumped on the car and used my… Claws. To, uh, get up.” It was still strange to admit he even had claws at all. “I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

“Damn.” Kirishima looked impressed and a little… Proud? “I mean, Ashido got covered in blood, too, but all she did was fall in to a pothole she made that got filled with the stuff.”

For reasons he couldn’t quite pinpoint, that was the absolute funniest thing Tokoyami had heard in a very long time. He couldn’t help but laugh; it felt a little bit crazed, but it also felt as if he was letting some great weight off of his chest. The annoyance that had been held back in light of his friends’ presence was now fading away completely.

They were all alive and that was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

Tokoyami was surprised to find himself waking up in the back of an ambulance.

There was a startling jolt when he did so, mostly because he couldn’t remember how he had gotten there. Once he recognized the faded yellowed plastic of the walls, he was then surprised that he was able to instantly recognize what the back of an ambulance looked like. It was likely he had seen a few too many movies or medical dramas; he couldn’t figure out how else he was able to pick up that the look translated to what it did. The hanging stethoscopes were a nice additional clue, though.

The annoyed-looking nurse at his bedside, looking at a paper on the wall, was also a pretty big sign.

For some reason, he wasn’t alarmed. Ambulances were in the pile of ‘good places’. “What happened?”

The nurse – a late-middle-aged woman with deep, harsh wrinkles and small black ram horns – gave him a sour look. “You fainted.”

“I did?” The last thing he remembered was Uraraka and Kirishima half carrying him out of the fog. He had been mostly walking of his own accord – dizzy, which was the only reason he hadn’t shrugged the help away, but still up on his own. Dimly, he thought he remembered seeing a crowd of the rest of his friends, but then there was… Nothing. “Why did I pass out? Should I be concerned?”

The nurse was still glaring at him. “Your friends told me that you recently had surgery and should not have been trying to push yourself. You pushed yourself. You passed out.”

Oh. Well, when she said it like that, it all just sounded so… Mundane. Simplistic. Granted, the entire ‘attacked by nomus that were intent on kidnapping all of his friends’ thing was a little egregious, but he had passed out after the fact just because he had been… Moving?

It felt so average.

A sigh came from the woman at his side. “Are you able to sit up?”

“I think so.” Tokoyami found that it was easy to do so – there was only a little vertigo, but it quickly went away. Although, now that he was moving again, his clothes felt… Uncomfortable. They were still mostly wet from the nomus’ blood, he assumed; some of it must have dried, giving the strange, scratchy and almost sticky feel that it did.

“I need to take your blood pressure. Hoodie off or sleeve up, whichever you prefer.” Did she have to sound as if she was doing him a massive favor that she didn’t want to perform? This woman was an ambulance tech; surely, they had to have some kind of bedside manners training. The nurses at the hospital had been significantly nicer, at any rate.

Pulling his sleeve up proved to be more trouble than it was worth; the fabric was just too thick now. The entire hoodie had to be pulled off. When Tokoyami tried to do so, he winced; it was clinging to his skin, only releasing with a very wet-sounding tearing that felt very, very odd.

For a brief moment, the notion that perhaps the problem was his skin and not the fabric presented itself; a glance down told him that it wasn’t the case. The hoodie had simply been so thoroughly drenched that it had seeped through; he had worn it long enough that it just… Stuck.

Tokoyami let out an audible groan; that was just disgusting. There were large, dark red marks left on his skin where the fabric had clung especially hard; he hadn’t even realized it had been that bad with the dark shade of the hoodie itself.

He probably shouldn’t have been wearing a hoodie in the middle of summer to begin with, but he had felt unnaturally cold after leaving the hospital. The doctor had assured him that it had been normal; after an extended hospital stay, most people left feeling at least a little bit off. There had even been a hospital protocol that made it worse; at the time, it had felt so strange to have to be in a wheelchair on the way to the taxi, covered in layers of clothing and blankets. Still, he stared at the ruined garment in his hands, wondering if he should have insisted on more weather appropriate wear.

“Yeah, that happens sometimes.” The nurse was not the least bit phased by the wet stickiness and the sounds that it made. “I have some wetnaps after this if you want.” Then, she was wrapping the velcro of the blood pressure cuff under the sleeve of his t-shirt.

Well, at least he had been wearing that underneath. It looked more or less okay from what he could see of it; a little red, but not… Horribly, horrifically drenched in blood.

He wondered what his face looked like. If this was just his clothing, was his entire head covered in blood? His beak had a habit of being difficult to get stains out of; skin sweat helped to get stains off just by itself, but his beak had no such help going on. Hesitantly, he reached a hand up to press and – yep. Sticky. Ew.

“Stop moving.” The nurse practically hissed; Tokoyami put his hand back down, feeling vaguely nervous by the woman’s tone. His gaze drifted back to the hoodie, mostly in the attempt not to evoke more of this intimidating nurse’s ire.

A stained, but still fancified embroidered logo of U.A. stared back at him.

Tokoyami could still remember how excited he had been. His whole family had been excited, really; it had been less than a year ago, when his mother had called upstairs in a far too excited tone that they had gotten the letter in the mail and that he had to open it, open it.

He had been so nervous that he hadn’t been able to. His little sister, sighing overdramatically, ended up taking the letter out of his shaking hand, had read the words out loud herself, voice climbing in overjoyed pitch as she said it.

Back then, it had felt like such an accomplishment. The family had even gone out to celebrate; they had eaten and laughed and even a couple of overhearing strangers had congratulated him on not only getting in to U.A., but in to the ‘A’ course, the course to be in. It had felt as if his entire future, joyful and bright and promising, had been set out in front of him. That day, hours after receiving that letter – and he remembered, now, that his parents had framed it – he had ordered five of the overpriced hoodies from the U.A. merch website, each with a different version of the logo but all in the same black.

This morning, it had seemed like such a good idea to wear one of the hoodies on the trip back. If he had to wear it, if the doctor insisted, he may as well wear something from U.A. A reunion, of sorts.

He had been so afraid of being expelled because of what had happened, because of his newfound inability to perform. There had been such relief when he hadn’t; his parents had been so happy for him. After everything, they had still been willing to let him walk whatever path he had wanted to take, even if it was marked with untold dangers and a pile of trauma.

At the time, there hadn’t been a thought given to if this was still the right path, if he could handle the road before him.

Tokoyami stared at the logo.

“Hmm.” The nurse broke him out of reverie. “When’s the last time you’ve eaten?”

The question caught him by surprise. Tokoyami realized that he actually had to think about it; he hadn’t eaten before the train, too wary and too nervous about all of 1-A being on a single train ride to even attempt it. Dinner had been skipped the night before for the same reason.

“…Yesterday?” Honestly, he wasn’t sure. “I think in the afternoon?”

The nurse glared at him. Tokoyami shrunk back just a little.

With a deeply annoyed sigh, the woman opened a small closet. Then, something new was being shoved in his hands; it took a moment to recognize it as a small, child-sized juice box.

“Drink.” The nurse ordered. As she did so, she opened the back of the ambulance; the doors both swung open, letting in harsh summer sun.

Oh. The ambulance hadn’t even been moving. There had been some suspicion of that, but Tokoyami had been just a little too nervous to ask. Out of the doors, his friends sat around on benches, on the ground or were just standing while they talked. Some of the smog from the fight must have cleared for it to be as bright at was now. A bit of it still lingered, but they were pale, floating clouds along the bright sun-lit ground.

Once his friends saw him, a few of them waved. He waved back.

“Ahem.” The nurse reminded him of her presence. Her arms were folded and a glare was on her face.

Tokoyami gave his friends an awkward look – the lot of which looked a mix of worried and amused, the latter probably because of the nurse’s countenance – before sticking the straw through the top of the juice box and making a grand show of taking a long sip.

Only then did the nurse relax; her shoulders slumped a little and her expression softened. “You know, it’s okay not to always be on. I get that you’re training to be heroes, but you need to think about the long term. So many kids just like you pushed themselves so hard that they ended up giving yourself life long injuries and then couldn’t become heroes at all. Just… Try to take it easy on yourself sometimes, okay?”

A mix of annoyance and confusion came from that. ‘Life long injury’ was a little too late to avoid at this point. Still, Tokoyami gave the woman a nod. “Thank you.”

Only then was he given a look that was tantamount to dismissal.

Tokoyami pushed himself off of the ambulance bed, out of the doors, and down the two steps to the pavement. His hoodie was crumpled up underneath one arm and the juice box in the other. May as well keep the drink, as laden with sugar as it was. It honestly couldn’t hurt at this point, could it?

“Were you just force-fed a juice box by a surly nurse?” Sero asked with a tone that said that he found it at least a little but funny.

“I… Believe so, yes.” Tokoyami shrugged. Another sip was taken; he had to admit that it felt good to get something in his body after all of that. In fact, he even felt a little warmer; there was still an uncomfortable chill, but he could tell it wasn’t the sun alone that was helping heat him up.

A glance was sent back towards the ambulance; it was then that Tokoyami noticed that it wasn’t the only one there. Six other emergency vehicles were standing there; most of them were empty, doors wide open to showcase their vacant cabins.

Most of them.

Pro Heroes milled about, talking to police officers or to each other. All of the ones that he knew were on the train were there – except for All Might, and that had to have been on purpose – so none of the Pros were injured.

A frown crossed Tokoyami’s face. “Who else is hurt?”

“It’s mostly minor stuff.” Jiro – looking a little scratched up and sporting a couple of fresh bandaids, but otherwise seemed fine – said it nonchalantly as she got up from a bench. “You can have my seat.”

Tokoyami turned with surprise. For a moment, he wanted to refuse the curtesy, but his friends were giving him a set of identical looks. Faintly amused, he took the offered seat.

He had just walked out of an ambulance after passing out and was drenched in blood. Even he knew that he must have looked – must still look – completely horrifying. They were going to baby him for a while. All things considered, it was fair enough.

“The worst’s Asui, I thought?” Sero looked around.

An affirmative sound came from Ashido, who smirked as she leaned against a light pole. “Yup. She’s got bragging rights for weirdest injury.”

Well, that was just all sorts of intriguing and a nice distraction besides. Tokoyami wondered if, perhaps, they were trying to make light of things on purpose; they must have all been stressed. At any rate, he couldn’t help but be interested. “Dare I ask?”

As if on cue, the doors to one of the closed ambulances swung open. Asui, one leg heavily bandaged and an unsteady look on her face, stumbled down the stairs. The nurse in the back of the cabin had hands that were faintly glowing; a healer. Whatever had happened had required an actual healing quirk to fix.

No one said anything, but all eyes were on Asui as she made her way to the group. Aoyama left the seat on the bench right next to him; Asui collapsed in to it.

“We are never speaking of this again. Kero.” She sounded exhausted.

“What happened?” Now, Tokoyami really wanted to know.

There were a few grins and faint smirks around the group, but a few shared the same intrigued confusion he felt.

“Absolute dumbest fucking hit I’ve ever seen, is what it was.” A snort followed the words.

“Thank you, Bakugo, that makes me feel so much better.” Asui groaned. “All I did was fall wrong. It happens, kero.” The look in her eyes begged not to ask any further.

A bark of laughter erupted from Ashido. “Yeah, on a broken bike. There was absolutely nothing else on the ground but that bike. How many of the wheel things stabbed you, again?”

Tokoyami winced in sympathy; he noted a few of the others doing the same.

It was good to see everyone in such high spirits. Even in the aftermath of such a terrifying attack, they were still laughing and making fun of each others’ wounds. ‘Bragging rights’, Ashido had said.

A glance was spared towards the hoodie underneath his arm. The others had handled this all so well; they were practically made to become Pros. Everything seemed to come so smoothly and so naturally to them that he doubted anyone could deny it. A few months ago, he had belonged there just the same, had felt such pride then, but without half of who he was, who he had been…

Without Dark Shadow, did he even stand a chance standing with them? Was he even close to being on the same level now? Or was he just a distraction, a perpetual beacon of distress that constantly needed to be saved in some manner?

How many times had he needed to be rescued so far? It felt like far, far too many. All Might had even shown up and what had he’d done? He yelled at him, distracted the Number One Pro from his job. He hadn’t even been able to control himself when it had mattered the most, when the people he cared for were in danger.

Every chance he got, he managed to mess things up.

“Tokoyami?” Where had Midoriya come from? Suddenly, he was standing there, looking at him with concern.

Tokoyami found that he couldn’t meet his gaze for long. He dropped it after only a few seconds to look back down. “I’m sorry.”

“Is he seriously –” Bakugo started, but stopped when someone made an audible, “Sssh!”

“What do you have to apologize for?” Midoriya sounded genuinely confused.

For a few seconds, he couldn’t quite articulate why he felt guilty. It was a little bit of everything forming itself together in to a single ball of terrible, but each part couldn’t be said without the rest following suit. There was what felt like a long, quiet stretch before the biggest puzzle piece could be picked out. “The nomu and Shigaraki… They had shown up to show off what they had done, hadn’t they? That they had Dark Shadow. Wasn’t that, at least on some part, my fault? It had been my quirk.”

There was a moment of silence. Then, voices – most of them quiet and subdued – came from different directions.

“What.” Flat, from Hagakure and Kaminari simultaneously.

“How did you even make that connection?” Iida sputtered.

A loud, audible growl came from Bakugo. “For fucks sake, I thought we already went over this shit!”

“You cannot possibly be blaming yourself for that.” Even Aoyama sounded stunned.

“Yeah, what the hell?” Kirishima’s voice was like he was drowning, a garbled choking tone.

There was what sounded like frustrated sighs from at least two others.

“Tokoyami…” A large hand was on his arm, but it was Asui’s incredibly off tone that got his attention. Hesitantly, he looked up to meet her face-to-face.

He was shocked to find that she was crying. Why was Asui crying?

“Tokoyami.” Asui said again, looking absolutely distraught. “It wasn’t your fault that you were kidnapped. If you did something wrong, so did the rest of us. But ours were much worse.” A sniffle. Then, a long pause; she looked as if she was struggling with something internal. “After Yaoyorozu put the tracking device on the villain, I advocated not to try to rescue you.”

The admission was so stunning – and so completely unnecessary – that, for a moment, Tokoyami had absolutely no idea how to process the information. All he could do was stare at the weeping girl.

Asui was blaming herself for that?! She didn’t have to, none of them did…

“Most of us wanted to leave it to the Pros.” Ojiro sounded so sad.

“I was the one that said it.” Asui was starting to hiccup, face flushed with an anguished guilt. “That breaking the rules, to go off on our own without permission, wouldn’t be any better than acting like villains.”

“To be fair…” Some time in the past few minutes, Todoroki had gotten closer; he put a hand on Asui’s back. “We weren’t any use when we got there. I didn’t… I didn’t do anything at all.”

“Best Jeanist had to give us orders.” Midoriya’s tone was hushed; unnaturally subdued. “Asui, you were right. We had absolutely no idea what to do, we weren’t any real help at all and were probably in the way…”

“You carried him out of that place!” Asui nearly shrieked it; he had never heard her yell before.

It was as if the guilt had been airborne; the same expressions bounced from face to face, each likely internalizing every misstep that had been made along the way and every event that had played out the way that it had. Tokoyami gaped in shock.

What was happening right now?! Why were they blaming themselves?

“What the fuck…” Bakugo sounded stunned. He was looking from person to person – none of which looked back – with angry confusion. “Idiots. If we’re going to go that far back, might as well bring up that I was the villains’ stupid target in the first place.”

That, at least, was true. Even then, it had come down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, hadn’t it? Back then, back in the forest when they had all been under attack, their little bodyguard brigade could have gone in any sort of order. Shoji had been carrying Midoriya, but both of them could have easily ended up in the rear. Todoroki even could have.

Tokoyami had always suspected that he had only been picked up because of where he had been. Convenience on part of that one compress villain; a whim, a ‘why not’.

On top of that, Bakugo had been the target. He had been compressed as well; if they had both been taken – or if the orbs they had been held prisoner in had been switched – it could have just as easily been the explosive boy inside the tank, quirk stolen and screaming.

Someone was shouting, but it was distant. It sounded like Iida; he was going on about how no one could have anticipated anything, how they all acted quite exemplarily, that none of them – none of them – should be feeling guilty in any way…

Tokoyami barely heard it. The entire fight in the forest had been littered with mistakes and villains that they had held no chance against. He could remember the inside of the orb, the brief confusion that came with it; it had been a tap on the shoulder and then… A funhouse mirror showing off the outside world.

It hadn’t even been clear what had happened, at first. Not until he heard voices that came through heavily muffled, that compress villain proclaiming so proudly how he had taken both of them, and how the others had tried to catch up with seemingly no avail.

Dark Shadow had immediately been thrown in to a panic-filled state; his quirk had been slamming against the inside of the orb, pounding and yelling all the while. Tokoyami had felt intense anxiety at the time as well, but had tried to calm a quirk that had probably still been quieting down from his recently frenzied state, only to get a shriek of terror that he had only ever heard twice from Dark Shadow. “We are being kidnapped!”

That kind of noise – the horrific, strangled wail of a part of him that had not been human but had been part of him all the same – had then happened only once again after that, when Dark Shadow had been ripped out of him.

Tokoyami could still hear it sometimes.

Oh, god, he missed him.

With a great deal of shame, he couldn’t stop the sob that broke itself free. Ever since he had woken up in the hospital, he had tried to keep it all at a distance; even telling his friends every detail of what had happened had been done as clinically as possible. Abstract. He didn’t want them to see him like this, to lose what little respect for him they may still have had. He had wanted to deal with it ‘later’, but that later never seemed to show up. His classmates were just always there.

It felt like it was cascading now, though; a waterfall that could not be stopped.

“Tokoyami…!” Asui was still at his side; her voice warbled in a partial cry of her own.

“I miss Dark Shadow.” It had to be said out loud; they wouldn’t understand, but he still had to say it out loud. “I know he was just my quirk, I know it doesn’t make any sense…”

Another hand was on his back; it was much larger than Asui’s.

“Dark Shadow was more than just a quirk.” Shoji, eyes brimming but otherwise keeping himself together. “I mean… He was able to speak on his own.”

“Didn’t Dark Shadow give an entire interview on TV after the Sports Festival…?” Ashido asked faintly.

“You’ve been through a lot.” Shoji’s voice was steady but it wasn’t quite calm. “Hell, you’ve been through…” A beat. “You’ve been through hell, actually.”

“You know we’ll all be here with you, right?” Midoriya; he sounded more like himself, now. Calm, reassuring, but with that edge of an energy to him. “No matter what happens. We’ll all be here with you.”

Tokoyami was shaking. He knew he was shaking; he could feel the vibration of his own body under the comforting hands. The sobs were still coming no matter how much he tried to hold them back now.

Why were they still willing to keep him around, to help him? They had all seen his weakness so many times. And without Dark Shadow, who had all but died in that warehouse, before he had even been put in that tank. The stolen quirk that Shigaraki now wielded was not the same, could not be; it had looked different, had even moved differently, was now a piece of that villain instead.

His Dark Shadow, the one that had been with him since he had been five years old, the one that had been with him for every bedtime story and for every class lesson, he had…

…He had died.

A sudden want filled him that he immediately knew sounded absolutely ridiculous.

“Tokoyami?” A much quieter Asui asked it this time.

Oh. He had stopped making noises. That must have been startling. A deep breath was taken before he could even try to formulate any fresh words; even then, every syllable came out shaky. “Is… Is it strange to want to have… A funeral for Dark Shadow?”

A funeral for a quirk. It sounded so stupid now that he asked it out loud.

Tokoyami started to shake his head and try to take back the question, but was interrupted by an answer.

“Of fucking course it does, you giant idiot, but it also makes perfect fucking sense.”

There was the noise of several people shifting in place and turning to stare. It took a moment of shock before Tokoyami was able to do the same, to look up and stare at Bakugo.

With so many eyes on him, Bakugo seemed to visibly deflate. An air of anger was still floating on him, but now there was less fury attached. “Makes perfect fucking sense to have a funeral.”

Chapter Text

The problem with the modern world was that everyone was a potential journalist. With the same tools at their fingertips and the very idea becoming so mundane, it was easy to forget that everyone had a camera in their pocket and that everything could be recorded at any given time.

Honestly, it hadn’t even crossed his mind until it was too late. Tokoyami had found himself in a bit of a daze clear until a bus came to pick them up; the train wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, so they had no choice but to head off with little more than the clothes on their backs to a hotel that was somehow still being paid for by a mysterious benefactor.

It wasn’t until the bus ride that Ashido let out a little scream; not quite a happy one but not quite a scared one either, as if she didn’t really know what sound to make but knew she had to make one. “Everything is online!”

Tokoyami was glad that he wasn’t the only one that had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. It wasn’t until the rest of his classmates, sharing confused expressions, pulled out their own cellphones that he realized what she had meant.

His own cellphone was broken. Several horrible cracks marked the screen and it did not turn on. A frown was aimed at it until Asui shared the use of hers.

She hadn’t left his side since they had regrouped. Asui had even held his hand when they had boarded the bus.

Nothing was marked with a U.A. tag or by their own names for the most part, but the city they had been in was now trending on every social media platform. The video sites had it on the front page and it lead to a clickable list.

Asui went pale when a short video of the injury she received came up near the top of said list. It was only a few seconds long, but had the worst of it. “Now everyone is going to remember me as the girl that got stabbed by a bike.”

Tokoyami couldn’t do much more than give her a gentle pat.

Every one of the videos clearly came from the buildings around the site. Generally, the titles were positive enough – ‘kids defending the town’, ‘Pro Heros and teenagers fight nomu’ – and even early news reports seemed to be on their side. Best Jeanist had apparently made it a point to let them all know that he had given them permission to join the fray.

Tokoyami browsed the videos faintly, Asui watching over one shoulder; most of them were simple enough. Aoyama shooting his laser but the camera couldn’t catch what he hit; Kaminari using a broken, spraying sprinkler as a conduit, frying several of the looming monsters in a single impressive blow; Uraraka lifting an entire car and throwing it, releasing it to crush a nomu underneath.

The sixth top video had him in it.

Whatever humor that had arisen from the situation vanished immediately.

It was a short clip, barely spreading more than a minute, but it showed him during the carnage. It didn’t start where it should have, didn’t show him being dropped behind a car to hide like a coward; instead, it kicked off where one of the giant nomu had its’ arm severed, showed him – from the side, he noted, barely showing his face, unable to show the panic he truly had felt – scurrying atop the car and then clawing up the nomu’s backside. Tokoyami thought he looked very much like a rodent doing so, barely grasping on and tail twitching uselessly below him.

The video showed him stabbing the nomus’ brain, riding the corpse as it fell and then rolling in to an undignified heap. On the screen, it looked much better than it truly had been and didn’t quite show how unsteady he was; the car partially blocked his body, making it look like he was stumbling back up, claws raised and ready to fight again, until All Might flew in. The camera followed the Pro for a moment before zooming back to his unmoving, surprised-looking self.

Then, the video shakes for a moment and abruptly ends.

It made him look far more impressive than he was.

The video was the only one that had a name in the title.

‘Tokoyami Fumikage, Pro Hero in the making’.

“Wow.” Asui said out of nowhere; she must have watched the video with him, seeing what he had done for the first time. “That was incredible.”

“They put my name in the title.” Tokoyami couldn’t think of what else to say; it felt as if this whole conversation was distant and somewhere else. “How did they know my name?”

A pause came from Asui. Tokoyami looked over to find an unsure and hesitant expression on her face.

“We were… Afraid to tell you, I guess. Kero.” Asui rubbed the back of her neck. “Everything that happened made international news.”

International news?!

“What?” He didn’t know how to take this information.

Asui stared at him. “Did you google yourself while you were in the hospital?”

All he could do was numbly shake his head; it hadn’t occurred to him to do so.

Thankfully, Asui still had her phone in her hands. She paused only for a moment before bringing up a browser. She typed his name in for him, last-and-first.

There were thousands of news articles in hundreds of languages. There were blogs with ‘progress reports’, police and hospital statements that had apparently made the top searches at some point, medical websites about ‘quirk loss and what it means’, and even a few fan pages. One of those fan pages supposedly had thousands of subscribers.

When he had left the hospital and had been wheeled towards the taxi, there had been a media presence. Journalists had been there, shouting questions about how he was feeling, how he felt about U.A.’s responses, what his plans were. He had been so shocked that they were there at all that he hadn’t answered them and then he had been heading for the train and he still hadn’t really digested everything about it all…

For right now, Tokoyami could only stare at the search results.

“People love a survivor story, I guess.” Asui set a hand on his knee. “Are you okay?”

Honestly, he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know what this all meant, but he didn’t want to admit to that. “I… Think so.”

It was all so surreal.

 

---------------

 

It wasn’t until the next morning that Tokoyami was even almost able to think again.

Before that, he had operated on automatic; it felt as if he were a robot, only able to follow his most basic of thought patterns. No one questioned it; he had overheard a few of his classmates murmuring that he might have been in some short of shock. Hands were on his shoulders more than once to guide him in the right direction; none of them were refused or shaken off.

All he could do was get to his hotel room – a private one, not shared, small and had just enough to be functional – take the longest shower of his life and then collapse in to bed.

In the morning, he allowed himself to cry for a while before doing anything else. Then, he washed himself up again, took a second very long shower, and met the rest of his classmates for breakfast.

Then and only then was he able to participate in actual conversation, stomach the first real meal in nearly two days, and tell his friends what he wanted to do.

 

---------------

 

There were no eulogies. Tokoyami hadn’t wanted any; it somehow didn’t feel right, to make long speeches that made no difference and only made things more upsetting. Instead, it was more of a memorial.

It was nearly a week after they had returned to the U.A. campus and to their new dorms. There had been a few days of settling in, of getting basic things and adjusting to where they were going to call home for the next two and a half years. In that time, his friends had gotten things done that he hadn’t been aware of until the last minute.

A few of them had collaborated on an actual monument. It wasn’t quite a tombstone; it was a large “rock” that they had admitted to asking Cementoss for under the guise of using it for an art project, that Todoroki had first used his flames to darken the stone before Koda had carved it – and who knew that Koda was such an artist, or that Todoroki knew how to do something like that.

It was a large, primitive-looking line drawing made in cement by a group of teenagers and it was absolutely perfect. They put it in the 1-A common room in the corner. It nearly touched the ceiling.

Tokoyami had been so touched by the sight of it that he had almost wept. He knew that his eyes were brimming when they had gathered around it, setting flowers in little vases by the large stone.

Then, Hagakure began to hand something out; surprised gasps erupted at the little basket that she carried, ‘floating’ in midair, with small black dolls made of wire and cloth pieces, each in the shape of Dark Shadow. They even had little beaks and painted yellow eyes. There were enough for each of them and then some, hanging on little string loops.

She said something about being inspired by South American ‘worry dolls’ and that it hadn’t been too much trouble. She needed more practice, she said.

They were more than he could have ever hoped for. All he could do to show his appreciation was to hug her and try very hard not to bawl.

After that, as if that hadn’t been enough, his sister had shown up.

Tokoyami hadn’t told his parents that they had been doing this. On some level, he was still ashamed that he had asked for it at all and that he wanted to hold a service for a quirk. His friends admitted, with only a little bit of embarrassment, that more than half of them had texted Hikari and told her about it. They had done so completely independent of each other and only found out then and there how many of them had gone to the effort.

Hikari was only twelve. Still, she wore black when she arrived, holding a little plush crow that she set by the base of the stone. It wasn’t quite a Dark Shadow toy, but the sentiment was appreciated.

No one said anything for a little while. Tokoyami didn’t expect them to; the silence meant as much to him as any grand speeches could have. The fact that his friends understood, that they had gone to so much effort to help was remarkable. It was something that he knew he would remember for the rest of his life.

After ten minutes, Hikari’s voice broke the air. “I think I was eight when I first realized that Dark Shadow was special.”

Tokoyami wasn’t the only one to turn to stare at her; he saw the rest of his friends doing so, looking surprised.

There were no tears in Hikari’s eyes or a quiver in her voice. “When I was really little, I wanted a Dark Shadow, too. I was upset and kind of jealous, I guess, when all I got was dad’s copy quirk. I can copy anything I see and everyone says I’m gonna be a master artist one day, but I wanted something big and strong.” A pause. “Anyway, I practice drawing a lot, and I guess when Fumi was studying once, Dark Shadow got bored. Our rooms are next to each other, and Dark Shadow just kinda showed up. Asked what I was doing.”

Tokoyami had to do the math in his head; he had to have been her age at the time. Eleven? He had to take a deep breath before he could even speak. “We were practicing how far he could go at the time. I told Dark Shadow to stretch himself while I studied for school.”

“Oh.” Hikari gave a little shrug. “Didn’t know that. But anyway, I told him I was drawing. He asked if he could, too. So I gave him some papers and my old crayons and he took them and drew stuff with me all day.” A small smile crossed her face. “He’d visit every time Fumi was studying and we’d draw together.”

There were some small gasps and sniffles from around the group. Tokoyami had already known that Dark Shadow would join in on arts and crafts when he was a child – what he did, his quirk did, too – but he hadn’t known it had become such a frequent thing independent of him.

“The last time we drew together was before Fumi left home for high school. A couple days, I think.” Hikari took a few steps to the couch where she had left her backpack. She opened it and pulled out a few clearfile folders. “Most of them got thrown out, but I saved some of them.”

“Hikari…” Oh, now his eyes were overfilled. Tokoyami didn’t even try to stop the tears; he noticed that quite a few of his classmates weren’t in any better a position.

They gathered around the common room’s coffee table as the clearfiles were spread out and opened. The drawings – every one done in crayon – were hardly better than a childs’ scribbles, but many of the figures were identifiable nonetheless.

Little stick figure shapes of buildings, places, and a few barely legible words were on all of them. Most were of Tokoyami and Dark Shadow together, but a few were of Hikari, of Tokoyami’s parents, one was inexplicably what was either a dog or a cat.

The final drawing was of Tokoyami and Dark Shadow, both wearing t-shirts with ‘UA’ scribbled on them.

“We need to laminate these.” Uraraka was the first to speak and sounded breathless when she did. “Every one of them.”

“I know a framing company.” Yaoyorozu had one of the drawings in her hands, eyes brimming. “These need professional mounting and protective glass.”

“Why am I crying?!” Kaminari yelled from somewhere further away.

“We can hang them around the common room.” Midoriya was turning slowly, looking over the walls. “And put the rest right by the memorial.”

Were they officially calling it a memorial?

“Thank you.” Tokoyami had to sit on the couch to try and get his bearings. “Hikari, all of you, thank you.”

He didn’t think he’d ever be able to thank them enough.

“Fumi.” Hikari suddenly stood next to him. “Fumi, you’re going to try to be a hero, still, right?”

At first, he wasn’t sure how to answer the question. There were still questions in the back of his mind, doubts and worries about it all. Here and now, though, he couldn’t bring himself to disappoint his sister. “Of course.”

“Good.” Hikari nodded. For a moment, her very young face looked thoughtful. “Everyone says to become an artist, but I don’t think I want to do that anymore. I want to be a hero, too. To get villains. I want to be your sidekick one day.”

Before he could even think of what to say to that, someone let out what sounded like half of a squeal and half of a sob.

Hell yes.” Ashido had a fiery look in her eyes; it was startling. “I was like ten when I started exercising, I will personally help you with this if I gotta.”

“I think we all can help.” Shoji had four hands up to try and calm Ashido; it didn’t seem to relax the crazed look in her eyes in any way.

“Not all of us have big powerful quirks.” Hagakure piped up as she set one of the extra Dark Shadow dolls on top of the monument. “We’ll help train you! All of us, right, guys?”

All of this was far, far too much; it felt as if a whole new emotion that wasn’t quite happiness and not quite grief had suddenly been born. Tokoyami set a hand on his sisters’ shoulder and made the first true decision that he didn’t doubt in a very long time. “If mom and dad are okay with this and once I’m cleared medically… We can train together. If you want.”

On her end, Hikari looked pleased but her eyes had starting to shimmer. “I’d like that. I’d like that a lot, big brother.”

Chapter Text

Appendix 1: Dropped plot points:

While writing this thing, most notably in the first 8 chapters or so, I was also watching the anime and the events in-show as they happened because I didn’t read the manga like a dummy. So, essentially, I was working random bits in as they ‘occurred’.

Along the way, I did spoil myself using an online wiki and tried to find stuff about nomu creation, but had little luck. The ‘nomu in a tank with the exposed brain’ bit was written in before I saw it in-episode and it was the funniest thing ever.

But because I was rewriting ideas and forming new things along the way, plot points ended up changing, altering, combining… Ya’ll know how it goes, you get an idea and then it mutates. Originally, the whole ‘becoming a nomu’ thing had a timetable of months; I assumed it would be a time consuming process. But with the canon going ‘rescued in three to four days’ bit, I just decided that, yeah, I could work that in. Originally, the Other Boy In The Tank would’ve already been there for quite some time.

I almost had a sequence where Tokoyami is told after the fact who the boy was and goes to his funeral but couldn’t quite figure out how to work that in or if it was necessary.

I’m going to add an entire alternate ending that would’ve happened waaay back in chapter five/six as a second appendix. But have some other little bits in the mean time.

-------------

New body parts:

Chapter Fifteen:

 

He shouldn’t have been hiding. Tokoyami shook, clinging to the tire of the car; he should be out there with them! It didn’t matter what a doctor said he could or could not do…

A soft hissing noise came from the tire.

Tokoyami blinked and looked down; his claws were in the rubber. His fingers – the pointed tipped talons that he still had absolutely no idea how to effectively wield – had, in the past several seconds, somehow grown… Longer.

This was new. A harsh tug had to be given to wrench his claws free and a blank stare given; there were a visible additional legnth from his knuckles to the pointed tips.

Were they…? Tokoyami wasn’t certain how other types of quirks worked. If he just
thought about making them shorter again –

His fingers returned to a much more normal size in the blink of an eye and without a sound made.

Me, two seconds after writing this: “Shit, did I just make him in to Wolverine?! Abort, abort abort! Backspace! Aaaaaah!”

There was also going to be something of a ‘body still changing after the rescue thanks to nomu chemical science nonsense’ bit. I may have wanted Tokoyami’s legs to’ve melted very painfully in to bird legs while his friends watched in horror.

It was a little… Much. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made and the worse it felt. Didn’t really flow in to the story either. The tail I kept in only because it amused me and because it technically already happened in the tank.

The idea was, the nomus have multiple peoples’ DNA thanks to experimentation – that much is in the canon itself – and I assume then their quirk factors, all of the quirk factors, are activated to grow all those extra parts and limbs. The first nomu grew an entirely different face with a beak, for goodness sake. I figured, Tokoyami already has a bird quirk factor, which is why I had him grow a tail and additional feathers, but he was rescued too soon for anything else to be set off. At least, that’s what I eventually decided.

Which leads me to dropped idea #2…

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Getting Dark Shadow Back:

It was almost six months later; the return to U.A. hadn’t gone as smoothly as most would have liked, but the infamy couldn’t be helped. Whispers and stares were aimed from all sides at 1-A; even the general classes couldn’t stop themselves from staring.

Particularly, many looks were given to Tokoyami. Even he knew he was a little hard to miss, now; the green tint of his skin aside, the media coverage had been – still was – pervasive. Everyone knew who he was and what had happened. He wasn’t sure if it was for better or for worse.

Still, they were students, here. They were allowed to roam the campus. They were, most especially, allowed to take seats in the cafeteria during lunch like any other normal high school student.

Tokoyami did not waste any time. He found his friends, skipped getting a tray of food for now, and instead dropped an envelope with a torn top on the edge of the table.

“Tokoyami?” Midoriya asked a bit dumbly. “What’s this?”

“It’s from a ‘doctor’.” The word was stretched with dubious intent; Tokoyami took a seat but didn’t touch the letter. “He claims he can give me my quirk back.”

Eyes bulged open from more than a few people. Several pairs of hands grabbed for the envelope at the same time; Ashido and Kaminari had a small finger-laden mini battle before the latter finally won, gleaming victoriously as he pulled the paper out. He made a show of unfolding it; Ashido rolled her eyes as she fake-pouted.

Kaminari’s eyes glanced over the words before he said anything out loud. When he did, he went over the words slowly. “…Medical treatment in the experimental stages looking for volunteers, preferably those who have lost their quirks rather than being born quirkless. The treatment involves altering quirk factors to reactivate them…” His hands were shaking a little and he sounded a little excited. “Dude, this sounds amazing!”

“Keep reading.” Tokoyami folded his arms over his chest.

Ashido took the momentary pause to grab the paper out of Kaminari’s hands. He made a brief sound of protest but otherwise did nothing to stop it. It took her barely a moment to find where he had left off. “Previous volunteers have been receiving treatment anywhere from a month to two years… Known side effects involve dizziness, increased fatigue, heart issues… That sounds fun… Headaches, nausea, potential –” Ah, there it was. She paused, reeling back in surprise; when she spoke again, her voice hitched. “Potential fatal events have been known to occur?!”

A small hush fell over his classmates. Tokoyami waited calmly; when he had first read the letter, he had undergone the same reactions.

“A side effect is death.” Kirishima eventually broke the silence. “A side effect is death?” He repeated it as if he couldn’t have heard that correctly. “A side effect is death?!”

“It gets worse.” Tokoyami waited until everyone was staring at him. “Because of… What was done, I was told I potentially have multiple quirk factors now. Even if I would decide to risk my life on this procedure, there’s no guarantee…”

“There already isn’t a guarantee.” Asui looked ill.

“A side effect is death!” Kirishima said again.

This was fun to play with, but ultimately felt like a copout even if Tokoyami did decide to go through with it. A get out of jail free card.

Though, it was tempting to just straight up traumatize whoever is reading this with a Bad End of dying from the experimental procedure.

That being said, if he would have successfully gotten Dark Shadow back, I wouldn’t have been sure if it would be the same Dark Shadow or a ‘newborn’, new quirk. The latter makes less sense than the former, but the idea is fun. Little baby Dark Shadow being adorable and not having any idea what was going on.

But that also leads me to address the other Dark Shadow situation.

The Dark Shadow in Shigaraki is not the same Dark Shadow. It simply cannot be; I imagine quirks of these sorts are echoes of the emotions and minds their humans have. In the canon, every time Dark Shadow did anything, it was in direct response to what Tokoyami did not do.

During the team up with Tokoyami and Asui during the exam, Tokoyami was all “thank you, Tsu, your plan was brilliant” and Dark Shadow was all “I am awesome, I did the thing!” because although Tokoyami may have felt proud of himself, he did not want to show it. Dark Shadow has no such filter.

During the forest training arc, Tokoyami saw Shoji lose a hand and Dark Shadow went insane. Tokoyami was horrified; Dark Shadow was essentially, “I will murder EVERYTHING, how dare you hurt my friends, I will END YOU, argleblargleblarg”

Following this logic, a Dark Shadow attached to Shigaraki would just be any emotions he suppresses magnified, but with a voice and able to move on its’ own. Which is terrifying no matter how you look at it, isn’t it?

Chapter Text

It had been Ashido’s idea. The whole thing by itself had, at first, sounded innocent enough – a few of the others had even expressed excitement when it was suggested – but, after a few seconds of really thinking about it, it sounded less and less like something Tokoyami wanted to participate in.

A ‘room presentation contest’? Showing off their newly decorated dorms to each other? On either side of him on the couch, he noticed a wave of horror washing over both Midoriya and Mineta; the latter was completely understandable and, honestly, would anyone be brave enough to go in to that room – because he sure as hell was not – but the former?

Part of him was just a little intrigued. Just a little. What in the world could Midoriya have in his room that he was afraid would be seen?

Poor Midoriya. Really, if he hadn’t immediately begun to protest, yelling for everyone to stop while blushing so profusely, everyone else might have just skipped it. They might have dropped the entire silly competition. Instead, the lot of them headed immediately for his room – only half of them reluctantly, the other filled with such eagerness that it was a touch on the side of the absurd.

Tokoyami didn’t say anything and kept to the rear of the pack. He made an effort to walk around his classmates and head to his own room on the same floor – a few doors down from Midoriya – but didn’t quite get the chance.

He heard Uraraka make a happy squeal of excitement and saying what sounded suspiciously like Midoriya’s room being ‘an otaku’s dream’ – and, for a moment, he was more intrigued by that statement – before a hand was on his shoulder and trying to guide him away from Midoriya’s room.

Tokoyami blinked up in surprise to see Iida; the class rep looked concerned.

From his dorm, Midoriya let out a strained breath. “It’s just because I admire him…”

Oh. Oh. Of course. Of course Midoriya’s room would be filled with All Might merchandise; his reverence towards the Number One Pro Hero was common knowledge at this point. He doubted just seeing the figurines, action figures and who knew what else sported All Might’s face probably wouldn’t have triggered anything, but…

Well, okay, he was only half sure it wouldn’t have upset him. Probably.

Tokoyami let out a soft sigh and gave Iida a nod of thanks. He still needed to work on that issue. It was probably for the best not to rush it, though.

He leaned against the door of his own room, frowning to himself. The chatter from down the hall was pitching with a bit more laughter now. Aoyama’s room was likely next, being next door to Midoriya, and if they were going in order –

“Tokoyami’s room!” Hagakure squealed.

Oh, come on.

Tokoyami hadn’t even bothered to look up; instead, he leaned against the door and folded his arms. “This is foolish.” It was, honestly; it was childish. It bordered on an invasion of privacy; surely, they wouldn’t force this ridiculous nonsense on each other?

He hadn’t expected Hagakure to barrel right in to him and shove him to the floor.

It had been such a shock that, for a moment, he didn’t even move. One moment, he was perfectly fine and then he was on the floor. All he could really do was blink numbly as the door to his room was thrown open.

“Hagakure!” Uraraka was already yelling at her as she moved to help him back up; he took the offered hands, still blinking.

“That was uncalled for!” Iida was making chopping motions in the air with his words.

“It’s fine.” Tokoyami sighed; he wasn’t even angry, just… Surprised. A small ache came from his tail at suddenly landing on it and he moved to brush his clothing back in to a bit more of a dignified look, but otherwise he wasn’t really sure how to react.

“It doesn’t even matter, his room is boring!” Hagakure shouted from inside his room. “Everything is still in boxes!”

Well, okay, now he was a little annoyed.

Tokoyami took a deep breath and marched inside his own room, walking past the concerned looks several classmates were giving him. Somehow, the looks only made him more annoyed. “You could have just asked…!”

The mood around this whole silly competition had shifted. He could feel it; the jovial air had dampened. There were already unkind stares being aimed at a seemingly unaware Hagakure.

His room was bare and undecorated. The boxes his parents had sent were still closed. He had set up the most important things; the blankets and pillows – black, fluffy and warm –, his laptop, some study guides that had been more or less just dropped on the desk and the pill bottles he still had to empty a little bit more out of every night. The basics. The necessary.

Everything else, though, was still… Packed away. Untouched.

He hadn’t wanted to say anything.

There was an air of silence. There was pity and he knew it; unnecessary worry over something so trivial. He knew that this would happen if they saw; he had been trying to avoid it, but then Hagakure had to just knock him out of the way and force the issue…!

“You could have just asked.” Tokoyami repeated, glaring at Hagakure, or at least where he assumed her face was. He was upset, now, but he didn’t want them to see it. “Now, get out.”

 

--------------

 

The ‘competition’ had gone on as intended, but it was done under the pretense of getting the rest of them together. It was tantamount to an emergency class meeting, done while Tokoyami still sulked in his room.

As soon as they had all left, Tokoyami had slammed the door shut. None of them had tried to open the door again or even to knock.

“I’m sorry!” Hagakure said it for the fifth time. “I wasn’t thinking, I was just excited! I thought I’d just nudge him out of the way, I didn’t think he’d go… Splat.”

“I was getting excited, too, but you don’t body slam someone that just got out of the hospital!” Ashido had her hands on her hips as she chastised her classmate.

“I’m sorry…!” The sixth apology; it came out in a long, extended whine.

They had gathered on one of the first floor common areas. Most of them had taken seats around the couches and chairs, but a few of them remained standing.

A breath came from Uraraka, sitting on the sofa and hands clasped in a position similar to a prayer. “Do you guys think Tokoyami might be… Depressed?”

“Psht. Are you surprised?” Bakugo said it with a short, bitter chuckle. “Shit, bird-brain’s had issues before all that crap went down.”

A couple of glares were aimed at him; Bakugo ignored them all as he leaned back in a chair, one leg draped over an arm rest.

“We could be over thinking this.” Yaoyorozu frowned thoughtfully as she said it. “He might have been embarrassed to ask for help with the weight restriction.”

“Or it could be worse.”

Everyone turned to look at Iida; the words had come out quietly and devoid of his usual energy or care.

“Iida?” Midoriya frowned.

A moment of silence passed; a visible struggle played out on the class rep’s face before he started speaking again. “When my brother was released from the hospital, he tore down every Ingenium poster he had in the house. We had to talk him out of burning everything that had his Pro Hero name.”

“I’ve heard about Pro Heroes doing things like that.” Midoriya nodded softly, tone grave. “When they get severely injured and have to give up their careers, they get rid of everything. Sometimes they even change how they look.”

“My brother doesn’t even want to have the name Ingenium anymore.” Iida released a shaky breath. “He wants me to have it.”

A few winces went around the room.

“Think Tokoyami’s going through something similar?” Jiro asked with a frown. “Some kind of… Grief, loss… Thing?”

“We should go shopping.”

All eyes turned to Hagakure.

“What?” Kaminari sputtered. “Just, what?”

“No, no, hear me out!” Hagakure waved an arm – or, rather, the sleeve of her t-shirt did. “If he can’t look at any of his old stuff because it reminds him of things, then we should take him shopping for new stuff! I mean, even if he gets things that are literally identical, it’d feel like new stuff, right? Like part of his… New… Future… Life?”

“That’s not a bad idea, actually.” Jiro nodded slowly. “It couldn’t hurt.”

“We could tell him we all need to pick up things for the dorm.” Uraraka said; a touch of eagerness came with the words. “It could get his mind off things for a while even if we don’t buy anything.”

“When was the last time any of us even went out as a group for something as normal as shopping, anyway?” One of Shoji’s additional mouths asked.

There was a collective pause as the answer to that question hit multiple people simultaneously: The last time they had all done something together as a group – not counting the battle on the train – had been before the forest training session, where everything had gone so horribly, terribly wrong. It had essentially been a lifetime ago.

“…Yeah!” Hagakure eventually broke the heavy silence with a cheer. “1-A dorm shopping trip adventure!”

-------------

 

The only reason Tokoyami had agreed to go on this sudden shopping trip, he told himself, was because he actually had forgotten some basic necessities. That was it. He didn’t really want to go, still annoyed with his classmates as he was; it was just that everyone else was going for the same reason and it made sense to go with them. Safety in numbers and all.

That was it. Distracting himself would just be a bonus.

As soon as they had gotten to the subway – the Kiyashi ward mall was a ten minute train ride away, four simple stops – he knew that it had been a terrible idea.

The moment that they had gotten to a more public space, the stares had started. Strangers looked at the lot of them – looked at him more specifically – with an intensity that could not be ignored.

It had been too warm to wear a hoodie. It had been the peak of summer, so he had worn a simple gray shirt and jeans. He wished he had something to pull over his face.

This was probably going to happen sooner or later. The last time they had gone on a shopping trip – and it felt like so, so long ago – they had been recognized from the Sports Festival. A great deal more had happened since then. What had Asui said? International news? Would this happen even if they left the country?

The rest of 1-A had noticed the stares. Most of his classmates looked uneasy; had no one anticipated the attention? It took Tokoyami a little while to notice that he had somehow wound up closer to the middle of their group; surrounded and protected. That had to have been intentional.

By the time they actually got to the mall, the stares had increased and were joined by whispers and points.

“Perhaps this was a bad idea.” Tokoyami let out a soft sigh.

“No, no.” Ashido said it as if she was chastising an animal, but wasn’t looking at anyone in particular. Instead, her eyes were going over the crowd around them. “We’re still going to do normal people things no matter what!”

At least none of the stares were hostile. For the most part, the people around them just looked amazed and unsure, as if it was a shock that they were here but not a terrible one. It was as if none of the ‘normal people’ doing ‘normal people things’ knew how to react to the ‘not normal’.

There was an ambient noise in the air; Tokoyami paused for a moment as he suddenly noticed it. The chatter of thousands of people mingling calmly in a single place. It had been a mundane sound the last time that they were here – just other people doing every day things and making the clatter that they did while they did so.

He wondered if, perhaps, his world had been quiet for too long. The sudden noises sounded… Different. Nice, even. Pleasant. The hospital had been filled with a quiet sort of dread – the beeping of monitors from his room, the quiet crying of children in the other parts of the pediatric ward whenever he had decided to take a walk – and the tank he had been held prisoner in had been… A tomb.

These noises, on the other hand, sounded like life. Like living.

The air was warm and smelled vaguely like food frying in the distance; it wasn’t the cold stagnancy of either the hospital or the oxygen mask. It felt as if he was breathing for the first time after a very, very long era.

Maybe the stares could be ignored in light of all of this.

-----------------

 

Tokoyami figured out what was really going on roughly twenty minutes later. When he did, he was a little ashamed that he hadn’t figured it out sooner. Even then, he only did because it was so blunt that there was no way not to.

Somehow or another, several of them had forgotten to pack hand towels for their new bathrooms. On his end, he had been so startled when it had been brought up – alongside everyone else that hadn’t remembered to pack such a necessity – that they had all gone in to the generic home supply store.

“Oh, this is nice.” Uraraka had said nonchalantly as she stared at a footrest that was absolutely in no way her style; it was black and had a rococo theme. She looked at him when she asked her follow-up question. “Maybe you would… Like it in your room?” Then, she flashed a nervous smile.

Oh. Oh, for goodness sake.

It was, on some level, nice of them to care about him. On the other hand, he was not a small child and his classmates were not his parents. He had to fight not to roll his eyes and to stay polite. “Thank you, Uraraka, but it isn’t necessary.” Though, he did catch sight of the price tag. “Also, it’s thirty thousand yen.”

The color drained from Uraraka’s face; she stared at the footrest as if it had personally betrayed her.

“But do you like it?” Yaoyorozu appeared as if from nowhere; Uraraka, similarly surprised, physically jumped and let out a shocked gasp.

Tokoyami stared. They were not having this ridiculous discussion. “You are not buying me a chair that costs thirty thousand yen. My room is perfectly fine without it.”

Yaoyorozu stared at him for several seconds; she raised a brow as if she had been personally challenged. Then, she quietly and wordlessly picked up the footrest and headed for the register.

Tokoyami sputtered in shock. Then, he covered his face with a hand.

“She means well.” Uraraka set a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle pat.

--------------------

 

Well, now that he knew what everyone was up to, Tokoyami decided that it might be easier just to give in.

They meant well. They were trying to cheer him up. He should be grateful to have friends that cared so much, he knew, but he was still annoyed by it all.

He had realized that the whole class was in on it when every time he even glanced at a store with something vaguely interesting through the storefront window or on a display, they were all ready to go in. It didn’t seem to matter what it was; after Yaoyorozu had gotten the ridiculously expensive footrest, Kaminari and Kirishima had jointly purchased a rug, Shoji picked up a framed poster, and even Aoyama waltzed out of one shop with a couple of pillows.

Even Asui, who ended up separating from the group, had come back with a decorative wooden cut-out candelabra. It wasn’t the least bit functional and even had fake flames on the top of wooden candles. He hadn’t even been in the store or knew that this thing existed.

He loved it.

In fact, Tokoyami was embarrassed to admit to himself that he liked every single thing everyone was getting for him. They knew his tastes a little too well; was he really this transparent, or had they gone to the thought of paying this much attention?

None of them were letting him carry any of the purchases made. The weight limit restriction still hung over him and he couldn’t argue the logic behind it. Even if he doubted the pillows weighed five pounds.

After a few hours, they had decided to stop for lunch. The food court still had the dozens of stares aimed in their direction, but Tokoyami was surprised how quickly he had gotten used to it. With no one approaching them – save for cashiers who choked just a little bit before going in to their standard greetings and spiels – or saying anything out loud, they had all just adjusted to it. It was easy to ignore after a while.

There were twenty of them in a group. They had to sit at multiple tables; there hadn’t been one big enough for all of them, but they sat close enough together that it didn’t really make that much of a difference. After a couple of hours of relaxed walking, Tokoyami was troubled to find how tired he was.

A long sip was taken from a straw before he had to admit it. “I think I might need a few extra minutes.”

“This is the longest you’ve been on your feet since…” Ojiro started before abruptly stopping himself.

“Don’t worry about it, kero.” Asui nodded; she looked completely relaxed and sedate as she sat back in the plastic chair. Her eyes were closed and she looked ready to fall asleep. “I want to sit here for a little while, too.”

“It is very warm and humid today.” Sero said.

“Like a swamp.” Asui managed to look even happier.

“Well, that solves the mystery of ‘why does Asui never turn on the aircon in her room’.” Hagakure giggled.

A small smile crossed Tokoyami’s beak; it was nice to see them like this, to let them have a simple, mundane and ordinary conversation. It was nice to be part of it.

He couldn’t remember the last time he felt this at ease.

“Thank you. It was a good idea to come out here today.” Tokoyami took another sip. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do.”

“Aww!” Ashido, sitting at the table behind him, turned to sit backwards on her chair to pat him on the back. “We just wanted to help ya feel – …” She stopped. “Tokoyami… Did you… Did you cut a hole in the back of your jeans for your tail?”

Tokoyami almost choked on his drink.

“Why are you looking at Tokoyami’s butt?” Hagakure giggled.

Behind him, Ashido let out a strangled half-yelp. “It-it’s not like that! I’m just sitting right here! I just… Noticed! I’m perceptive!”

“Uh-huh.” Jiro smirked.

Tokoyami could actually feel his face heat up; he tried to cover it with a hand. Light laughter was going around their group; he couldn’t bring himself to look at any of them.

“Actually…” When Ojiro spoke, his voice was more thoughtful than amused. “You wouldn’t have any clothing made for having a tail, would you?”

All Tokoyami could do was shake his head, still trying to cover his burning face.

“We could stop by some clothing stores.” Midoriya’s voice had a smile in it; he could actually physically hear it. “We’re already here, we may as well.”

“We are not going shopping to buy me pants.” This was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. “What I have is perfectly suitable.”

“Not if your ripping your shit to fit in it.” Bakugo sounded like he found this all very, very funny.

“Clothes shopping!” Hagakure cheered. “The hunt for jeans!”

Tokoyami’s head met the table and he buried his face in his arms.

 

-----------------

 

Naturally, they got distracted along the way. Half of his classmates existed in a perpetual state of ‘distracted by anything shiny’, so Tokoyami wasn’t surprised.

Ojiro knew of a shop that catered specifically to people with tails. It made sense that he would know where it was and had decided to lead the pack along the wide hallways of the mall. Half of the shopping center was outdoors, but there was shading by the storefronts. Asui was the only one who walked in the sun and practically skipped as she did so, soaking in the warm weather.

Along the way, however, a few of the cafes and small grocery stalls held out trays of samples. The Kiyashi shopping mall had a reputation of catering specifically to the many different kinds of quirk the world held; the food, similarly, was just as varied.

Kaminari and Jiro both let out identical cries of disgust as Asui happily took in some kind of sauce-coated bug on a stick. They openly gaped, joined by Kirishima, as she paid for two boxes of the snack.

They nearly lost Sato entirely when he wandered in to a confectionary import store. They had to double back when they realized that they had lost him; they found him waiting patiently outside the store, lugging four bags stuffed to the brim with western and middle eastern brands and bearing the most excited look on his face that Tokoyami could remember ever seeing on him.

When they went on their way again, Iida made everyone swear to at least call out if they were about to suddenly go in to a store. “With the attention the world has on us, we need to be vigilant!” Arm chops accompanied the word. “We need to be an example!”

Begrudgingly, they all agreed. Tokoyami found himself amused.

“Fujiya apple chocolates!” A young woman in a red and white apple-themed uniform called as they passed by a shop several minutes later, holding out a platter covered in little square treats. “New from Tirol!”

Tokoyami stopped; he was only a little surprised by how quickly everyone else did as well. He could hear someone at the front of the pack call for Iida, to let him know that ‘something got Tokoyami’s attention’. He decided to ignore how important the words were made to sound.

Instead, Tokoyami quietly took one of the squares and tossed the whole thing in his mouth. Nibbling, he would never admit out loud, was something simply not possible with his beak. Easier for people to think he was a glutton.

In hindsight, he shouldn’t have stopped at all. He certainly shouldn’t have paused after eating the thing. Even worse, he had let out a quiet, “Mmm.”

Immediately, he knew his friends were about to do something stupid. Tokoyami turned to look at them, trying to warn and intimidate with his eyes alone that, no, just enjoying a single sample did not mean he wanted a pile of them. He didn’t get the chance.

Bakugo had already gone in the store, Midoriya on his heels. That alone caused him to stop and stare; he hadn’t expected Bakugo to be the one to go in. He wasn’t alone in the stupefaction; the rest of them were warily staring from outside the shop, none of them brave enough to follow.

The woman holding the samples was oblivious. “They’re prepackaged and last for two years. You only have to toast them in the oven for a few short minutes, and then you have your own personal mini apple chocolate pie! Made with Fujiya apples and white chocolate!”

Inside the store, Bakugo was emptying an entire shelf.

“Kacchan…!” That was a helpless Midoriya. “Kacchan, this is too much!”

“What do you know, Deku?!” Bakugo gave the green-haired boy a harsh stare.

“He can’t eat all of this! The whole class can’t eat all of this!” At least Midoriya was trying to put some sense in to the fiery boy. Not that it ever worked in the past, but the attempt was valiant.

“They last for years, idiot! He’ll eat what he wants!” A snarl. Bakugo was starting to move to a second shelf.

The rest of the class was silent. In fact, everyone in the immediate area were looking at them again but were now laughing at the antics.

On his end, Tokoyami stared and felt terribly conflicted. “What a mad banquet of darkness.”

Next to him, Hagakure squealed. Then, invisible arms were hugging him and he found that he had absolutely no idea what to do.

“Hagakure?!” A sputter.

“That’s the first time you’ve said that in months!” Hagakure was hugging him a little more awkwardly now. “You said the thing and I’m so happy…!”

Both Jiro and Uraraka were both close enough to have seen the entire spectacle. They both stared with wide-eyed amusement. Hagakure wasn’t letting go; he couldn’t even see where her arms were to pry them off. So, he looked to his two classmates.

“Help me.” Tokoyami begged.

 

------------------

 

Eventually, eventually, they actually got to the clothing store. It was a large shop, possibly the largest in the entire mall, with clothing on mannequins clearly intended to portray the most wild and outlandish of quirks. One of the mannequins had three heads.

Those with the more physical quirks – Ojiro, Shoji, Koda and even Mineta – had wandered to aisles more specific to their own styles and body types. Tokoyami was at least grateful for that little thing, for knowing that his entire class wasn’t going to start picking out clothing for him. He half expected at least some of them to want to see him try whatever they picked out.

He was surprised to find that he was only half right.

“We are not going to follow him in to the men’s fitting room!” Ashido stage whispered very badly to Hagakure. “I don’t care how much you want to help. I get that you want to help. But no peeping!”

“No one would even know I was in there!” Hagakure’s voice wasn’t very quiet, either. They were both horrifically bad at this. “You know it’s easy for me to sneak around!”

“Why am I here?” Tokoyami asked himself as he watched them argue. “Why did I agree to this?”

“Well, one, because we tricked you.” Kaminari said with an impish grin. “Two, because you care about us. Three, because free stuff?”

Tokoyami gave him a glare. “I was perfectly content with what I had.”

“Dude.” Kaminari stared right back. “You cut holes in the back of your pants. Did you do that to your uniform, too?”

“…No.” Tokoyami admitted as he turned his face to glare at the floor. “U.A. supplied new uniforms free of charge.”

“Hey!” Sero held up a pair of plain black jeans from the rack. “How about these?! It’s got a button clasp on the back!”

Tokoyami stared for a moment. Then, he slowly shrugged. It was probably easier to just give in to this. “Why not.”

It joined a growing pile in Sato’s arms.

 

------------

 

In the end, it had honestly been a rather nice day.

They didn’t get back to the dorm until the late afternoon. The sun was just starting to go down when they reached the common room and collapsed, en masse, in to the couches and chairs.

Before Tokoyami had fully gotten comfortable, Iida was already passing out cans of juice, soda and water. He took a can and immediately started to gulp it; he hadn’t realized how tired he was until he sat down.

“Well, we have enough apple chocolates to last for… Until we graduate, probably.” Midoriya laughed awkwardly as he put the many, many small packages in kitchen cabinets.

“Shut up! It was a good decision!” Bakugo yelled as he made his way towards the elevator.

“None of you had to do any of this.” Tokoyami sighed. “I would have eventually done it myself.”

“Eventually.” Jiro snorted.

“You cut holes in your pants instead of ‘eventually’ buying new ones.” Sero very helpfully reminded him.

“It worked as intended.” It was the only defense he had for that. Still, Tokoyami flushed with some embarrassment. “No one noticed until someone decided to gawk at my rear end.”

“I’m perceptive!” Ashido yelped, scandalized, from her seat on the sofa. She physically jolted along with the words. “I was not checking out your butt!”

“The lady doth protest too much.” Kaminari cackled.

A deep scarlet flush crossed over Ashido’s face as more laughter filled the air. Then, she folded her arms and pouted, but she didn’t run away.

They didn’t have to do any of this. They had all gone out of their way. Granted, they had picked up some things for themselves while they had been out, but they had all gotten together strictly to try to lift his spirits.

All in all, Tokoyami had to admit, they had done a very good job.

Chapter Text

Tokoyami had never seen the power saw up close. It had not been flashed dramatically in front of his eyes nor were there any grand, maniacal proclamations about what was about to occur. That reason alone made reality so much different from the fiction that he had grown up with: There were no supervillains monologuing about their evil plans, talking at length and either buying the hero time to escape or for the sidekick to be rescued.

There had only been the quaking of his own flesh and the echoing clatter of his teeth. Overwhelming terror had stopped all thought beyond internal prayers; he hadn’t had the sense to beg for his life. Yet, he knew without any doubts that others must have in the past; perhaps even here, in this exact spot. How many people had they tortured? How many people had fallen victim, screaming their final screams here, in this place?

Then, it came: The harsh, pitched whine of the blade. It came from everywhere at once; there had not been a way to tell exactly where around his skull the saw had been held. The sound had been everywhere; all that he could do was brace himself, clenching his eyes shut and wait what felt like the longest seconds he had ever experienced.

And suddenly, he was no longer there.

When Tokoyami opened his eyes again, he was outside the tube. It was only a blank, water-filled round thing, standing on an ornate golden pedestal. There was nothing else around it; only a void, tinged faintly with purple, a swirling miasma of nothingness.

Inside of the tube – the vat, the cage – was another story. A small, still body floated inside of it, held with the same restraints he had been in, the thick metal cabling that may as well have been much more dramatic metal link chains. It was his sister.

Hikari, seemed so, so small; her eyes were open and glazed over; she stared at nothing.

No. Oh, no, no, no. Not Hikari, not her. He had to do something, he had to free her! How had the Pro Heroes done it? How had he been set free and carried away?!

Before he could think of what to do and how to do it, the whirr of the blade came from behind him. Tokoyami jumped, turning at the noise, unable to keep the terror at bay.

There was another tube with another body; someone far, far too small, water drained below the neck. Little Sawako, still somehow wearing her favorite pink dress and twin pink bows on either side of her head, coated in blood below the missing portion of her skull.

She was only three and a half. She hadn’t even formed her quirk yet, had not yet started preschool. Little Sawako was too small, too young; her favorite hobby was still drawing with any writing utensil she could get her hands on and scribbling on anything pen and crayon could touch. She still laughed at funny faces. Now, the top of her skull was gone and she was not moving…

With a jolt, Tokoyami woke up. A soon as he did, he leaned over the side of his bed and vomited; a bucket was there to catch it. This had become routine; the nightmares had been frequent enough that waking up feeling ill was no longer anything to concern himself about. Not really; the dorm came equipped with a convenient, private toilet to both empty and clean the trash can that he had purchased on that trip to the mall.

After the heaving stopped, a moment was spent reaching dumbly in the dark before Tokoyami found his phone on the ottoman Yaoyorozu had purchased for him. The phone declared that it was a little before five in the morning. Not as bad as usual. Sometimes, he woke up earlier and then he had to inevitably deal with two nightmares if he decided to go back to sleep.

He had to be up in an hour anyway. The first day of classes started at eight in the morning and although they now all lived in the dorms, they had collectively agreed that meeting at a quarter past seven was the best idea. Half of the girls and even some of the boys had gushed about how much ‘fun’ it would be to all eat breakfast together before making their way to the classrooms proper. Better not to be late doing something as juvenile as going back to bed, at least not on day one of the new semester. That would just be embaressing.

Still, he had an hour to kill. Tokoyami stumbled out of bed and opened the door to the balcony – even now, he was surprised that the school had given everyone such a perk – and leaned against the railing. The sun was already up; it was only a little past dawn.

The dorms for 1-B were directly across, but a little yard lay between them. It wasn’t much more than some mowed grass between the buildings, but he had already seen his friends use it for impromptu games despite the fact that the main school building had an entire gym. Just a few days ago, 1-A and 1-B had gotten together seemingly at random for a round of some kind of baseball-dodgeball fusion using a giant beach ball. Tokoyami had entertained himself by watching from this very spot, -- situated on the second floor had given him the perfect view – and had been joined by a similarly amused Todoroki. Neither of them had wanted to join in, but had a pleasant conversation while it had gone on. They had spoken strictly on the mundane: Study habits, grades, hobbies. Nothing about what had happened over the summer.

Tokoyami was surprised by how calm everything had become. Even without what had happened, living in the same building as a certain few of his classmates could have been much more chaotic.

Right now, there was nothing but the silence of the late summer. It wasn’t quite fall, yet; the chirps of both bugs and the early morning birds were going off in the distance. It was more quiet than usual; Tokoyami spared a glance to the balcony next door.

Aoyama’s music was not on. Usually, there’d be the faint thumping of high-pitched pop music – usually French pop – that resonated through the walls a couple of hours before sunrise. At first, Tokoyami had been surprised by the music, but he had learned that he could no longer tolerate the total silence he had once adored. The faint, incomprehensible music had been… Nice. It helped him to sleep at times, although he would never admit it.

Silence used to be his home. A quiet room had once represented peace; hours of studying or quiet training with Dark Shadow’s more rambunctious side.

Now, Dark Shadow wasn’t coming back and the quiet reminded him of the tank.

Maybe Midoriya had complained about the music. He was in the next room over, he must have heard it at as well. Still, Midoriya had a certain shyness around him and an unwillingness to ask things of people that he honestly should. Had he finally reached a point with classes starting up today and finally asked Aoyama to quiet it down?

Suddenly, the door to the balcony next door flew open with a clatter despite being of the sliding variety. Aoyama took two steps out, planted both feet next to each other, and spread his arms out as if greeting the day. Somehow, he managed to glitter.

Tokoyami stared. Then, he had to check his phone; he couldn’t have been musing out here for that long, could he? No, wait; it wasn’t even half past six, yet. “Good morning.”

Aoyama actually jumped; he looked startled. “Ah! Good morning! You’re… You’re up early, mon ami.”

Tokoyami continued to stare; no, he wasn’t, Aoyama simply never came out to the balcony before. Instead of correcting his classmate, he decided to keep it polite. “It’s a big day.”

“That it is!” Aoyama was spreading his arms again. Where was that glitter even coming from? “A wonderful sunny first day of a brand new semester and I have nothing but anxiety!”

It was delivered in a perfectly calm and cheerful tone of voice. Tokoyami choked on sudden laughter.

Well, that was fair. Even if they hadn’t been repeatedly attacked by villains, Aizawa was still their terrifying homeroom teacher. Cementoss came in once in a while to teach some general courses, but All Might was, for the most part, the only part of their education that they didn’t have to worry about. All Might had never threatened to expel any of them, at any rate.

All Might. Tokoyami hadn’t been able to figure out how to handle his feelings towards the Number One Pro. He let loose a sigh and looked back over the courtyard. “I understand exactly what you mean.”

There was a few seconds of silence before Aoyama spoke again. “Do you think you’re… Ready? With All Might teaching us…?”

“All Might knows what happened.” Or he had assumed he did during that fight after the train. “I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

“If you find that you cannot handle All Might standing there, I… I might have something that can help. If it comes to that.”

Hesitantly, Tokoyami looked back up; Aoyama was looking over the courtyard with a troubled expression on his face, as if he was bothered by the mysterious help that he offered.

What was he talking about?

Instead of asking – Tokoyami was suddenly not sure if he wanted to know – he turned to head back inside his room, disturbed by Aoyama’s behavior. “Thank you… For the offer.” The clock on his phone hadn’t even yet hit a quarter to seven. “We should probably get ready.”

“Ah, oui. We should.” It came flat and unlike Aoyama’s usually bright personality.

------------------

The first time he had put on the U.A. uniform, Dark Shadow had been there. In fact, once the last shirt button had been slid closed and he had taken his first look in to the full length mirror his mother had insisted she put in his room just for the occasion, Dark Shadow had slid out with a small gasp and gleaming yellow eyes. There had been noting but pride; his quirk had waxed poetic about how ‘amazing’ he had looked and had tried to wear a spare tie for their first day. They had almost lost it; in all the euphoria, Dark Shadow had forgotten that he couldn’t retreat back in to Tokoyami’s body with objects. The tie had fallen to the floor. Dark Shadow had pouted for hours.

Now, the uniform felt odd. Principal Nezu had gone to the effort to measure him for a new uniform – one suited to the tail and additional feathers and who knew he even needed extra shoulder room to account for those? – but it was as if the uniform had been made for someone else.

Without Dark Shadow, it all felt… Hollow.

 

-----------------

Of the students that attended their portions of the U.A. main building, nearly all of them knew every details of what had happened with the League of Villains. Both 1-A and a large portion of 1-B had been in the hospital when Tokoyami had told the long, sad tale, after all. The rest of 1-B, he imagined, had been filled in by their classmates.

The rest of the area they claimed was otherwise only frequented by two other types of people: Teachers and the other first year students.

Which was why – despite the stares and the whispers and he really wished that would stop quick enough – Hatsume Mei ending up by the 1-A homeroom when the group of them showed up for their first classes wasn’t that great a surprise. It was a surprise, however, when she waved very specifically at him with a shout of, “Tokoyami!”

Tokoyami blinked. He noticed that the rest of his classmates had stopped as well. From the corner of his vision, he could see both Asui and Ashido both staring at Hatsume with suspicion.

“Can I help you?” Tokoyami had only met Hatsume once, back during the Sports Festival, but couldn’t recall if he said more than two words to her or not. He could, however, recall watching her ‘fight’ – if it could have even been called that – against Iida. All she had done was show off her inventions and had treated the entire event like her own personal commercial. Even now, Tokoyami bristled at this arrogant girl.

“Actually, I’m hoping that I can help you!” Hatsume was all smiles below goggles that could in no way be standard non-hero uniform regulation. “So I heard over the grapevine that you have a little issue with a weight restriction.”

How had that gotten in to the gossip pool? Tokoyami wondered if it was even worth getting annoyed over; sooner or later, people were going to notice something was off when he wasn’t even trying to participate in 1-A class activities. The rest of the student body tended to watch those things a little too closely. “Not a permanent one, but yes…?”

“Well, I’ve been working on something that might help with that.” The goggles over her eyes sparkled against the florescent lights in a nauseating manner. “I assume you’re still going to keep trying to hold yourself in tip-top shape. How does a biomechanical barbell system that scans your precise muscle mass to know the exact amount of weight you need to strengthen yourself without the possibility of damaging or overloading your body due to any medical restrictions sound?”

For a moment, Tokoyami could only stare as he tried to understand exactly what she was asking. “You made a… Specialized weight lifting thing that can… Measure muscles?”

“Mm-hmm!” She looked monstrously excited. “The scanning algorithm will know exactly how much weight you need without the dangers of tearing muscles! It’s still in the testing phases and the intended audience is injured Pro Heroes to help in the recovery process, but I’m hoping you would help with that particular phase of development?”

“Wait, wait.” That was Kaminari. “You did a what?”

Tokoyami shuttered his eyes for just a moment.

“I thought you were more interested in inventing enhancements for large companies, kero.” Asui, at least, was a bit more on the ball, but her words carried a barbed edge.

The grin did not leave Hatsume’s face. “Money is money. And there is a great deal of it in that particular target audience.”

This all sounded predatory. Taking advantage of desperate, injured Pro Heroes to sell some fancy exercise equipment? At this stage, Tokoyami was tempted to take it out of spite, just to prove how shameful it was. “I’m sorry, but I rather –”

“I’ve already made them to your specific criteria.” Hatsume’s words came in a tumbled rush. “It’s already made. I only need a test subject.”

A deep frown crosses Tokoyami’s face. A test subject? “If I say yes, will you leave me alone?”

”Yes.” The relief that crossed her face was unexpected. “I’ll only contact you in regards to the equipment. I can bring it to your dorm or you can pick it up from the lab, however you prefer.”

“I’ll pick it up after class.” Tokoyami didn’t stop frowning. “Thank… You?”

Hatsume didn’t say another word; she simply beamed at him before turning and all but skipping away, looking for all the world as if she were the happiest girl on the planet.

Around him, the rest of 1-A was quiet.

Chapter Text

Sitting down at his desk felt… Surreal. It had the familiarity of being somewhere that he hadn’t been in a very long time, like visiting a spot he had frequented in childhood; it was known inside out, but felt distant and, strangely, nostalgic. Tokoyami took the few minutes before their first class to settle in to the same chair he had sat in not too many months ago.

There was something strangely calming about being here. Before this crazy summer had began, he had spent hours here in the sort of solitude that wasn’t; Dark Shadow never came out during class – they had both learned why that wasn’t a good idea in early elementary school – and it led to… This. This calm, nostalgic peace.

It almost felt as if nothing at all had changed. As if everything was completely normal and that the summer and all the horrible things had not happened at all. He could almost pretend that Dark Shadow was still there, sleeping inside of his body and waiting to greet him at the end of the school day as he once had.

Almost; Tokoyami noticed an immediate problem. As soon as his daily school supplies were out – a notebook, a mechanical pencil, the basics of the basics – he realized with a great deal of embarrassment that he had once again forgotten about certain things.

Tokoyami shuttered his eyes for a moment and hoped no one noticed that his face had gone red. He could feel the heat of it, but his feathers had the fantastic benefit of hiding it. “Uhm… Can someone… With long nails help me figure out how to hold a pencil?” He had talons now, but he hadn’t even considered that they would get in the way, hadn’t given thought to such a tiny little thing like writing and taking notes. It was a shameful oversight.

Almost all of the girls had stopped what they were doing, though – some physically dropping whatever was in their arms – to turn to his desk and offer their help.

It was the little things, he supposed, that would keep reminding him that things weren’t the same.

------------------------

For the most part, the first day of classes appeared to be going perfectly fine. Which, all things considered, Aizawa decided it was nothing less than an actual miracle.

Yes, there was some of the usual antics: Bakugo had yelled no less than twice during a group assignment involving a hypothetical hostage situation that pulled in math and history assignments that they had done the previous semester and Kaminari had only lit one piece of paper on fire by accident with a slightly too big electrical shock. Yet, this was all minor; little things. There have been worse classes.

The only real substantial issue he could see – and strictly from an educational standpoint – was Fumikage Tokoyami. Despite his beak and feathers, he was extraordinarily expressive under certain situations. Academia appeared to trigger it; he had seen the boys’ face go through visible panic during exams that he ended up passing with only decent grades and showing intense confusion during lessons that later revealed themselves in homework assignments that he appeared to struggle with. Still, he had not been the worst student. Aizawa had seen much, much worse. Tokoyami had hardly been on a level worthy of expulsion, unlike students in previous years. Unlike certain students that were currently enrolled.

Now, however, there was just a little bit of both that panic and the confusion present on his face. If it had been an ordinary summer vacation, he would have pinned it on a simple lack of studying; kids had a habit of forgetting things over the breaks. It had, by any marker, not been an ordinary summer. It would not have surprised Aizawa if the boy had forgotten everything that he had learned in the entire previous semester; he had seen students go through memory loss for things much less severe than villain abduction, torture and brain surgery.

It was the only reason he didn’t call on Tokoyami to answer a single question. Ordinarily, he would pick at these weaknesses – these kids wanted to become Pro Heroes, after all – but even he had limits. What Tokoyami had gone through certainly hit that limit. Aizawa could agree on giving him a break, if only for the time being.

Still, he would need to keep an eye on that boy. If he wanted to continue on this path, he was going to have to overcome a hell of a lot of obstacles to do it.

As Aizawa wrapped up the lesson and began to leave before the next teacher moved in, he noticed Tokoyami covering his face with one hand out of what could only be incredible frustration.

-------------------

Halfway through All Might’s English lesson, a loud snap went through the air. A few seconds after the noise, a green talon-tipped hand raised in to the air.

“Ah… Young Tokoyami?” All Might sounded thoroughly shocked.

The voice that came out of the feathered student was dry, gravely and sounded severely unlike him. “May I be excused?”

“Of course.”

The classroom fell in to complete silence; the only noise was the chair moving away from the desk and the light clatter of uniform-issue dress shoes on the floor. The sliding door opened and closed without event.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Everyone from the rows in front of Tokoyami’s desk turned as if choreographed, expressions of concern and alarm across their faces.

“Did you notice anything?!” Ashido asked of everyone in the rear rows.

“He’s been tense all class.” Todoroki filled in not only for Ashido, but for everyone else present. “He’s been shaking a little, too, but I think he’s holding together.”

He’s been gritting his teeth. Koda signed, bearing the same frown as most of his classmates. Should we be worried about that?

“Did he just snap a mechanical pencil in half?!” Sato gaped.

“Uhm… Students.” All Might said from the front of the class with quiet shock. “I’m still holding a class here, you know.”

“We know, we know, just give us a minute, sensei!” Ashido actually waved her hand dismissingly. “We just need a minute!”

“Everyone!” All Might called louder. “Get back to your seats!”

A hush fell over 1-A at the sudden volume. Several students slunk back in to their seats with shame.

“All Might-sensei, we’re all just very worried.” Yaoyorozu said; it sounded like a defense. “This is the first time we’ve… The first time he’s…”

“I understand.” The eternal smile on All Might’s face shifted just a bit. “I was told what happened. But young Tokoyami might stand a better chance at a stronger recovery if everything were more normal. We can’t stop the entire world for him and you have to consider that he wouldn’t want us to. When you all become Pro Heroes, you’ll want to stop everything for every person you want to save, but often the best thing to do is let them build back their own lives. They might resent it otherwise. Or, worse, be unable to adjust to the world on their own.”

The class fell silent again as the lesson strayed.

The only noise after that was All Might’s voice, back to lecturing about English, even as Tokoyami returned with an entire box of pencils and small bruises on his knuckles.

-----------------------

As was typical for 1-A, Aizawa taught the last two lesson slots before classes wrapped up. What was sadly also typical was their homeroom teacher asking at least one person to stay behind. This was never for anything good; slipping grades or ‘emotional’ issues that needed to be addressed. Things the gossip pool loved.

“Tokoyami. A moment.” Aizawa made the half request, half order in a completely calm and bored tone.

Tokoyami still couldn’t help but wince; he waved off concerned looking friends that lingered back for a few seconds. They were probably going to wait outside and ask for a repeat of whatever Aizawa wanted to tell him or, more likely, criticize him over. He was already cringing at the notion of having to repeat whatever it was.

A deep breath came in and out as he stopped in front of the teachers’ desk, waiting for admonishment. They hadn’t handed in the first homework assignment yet – and he had already dreaded that, once he realized that he couldn’t remember half of what he learned last semester – but this couldn’t be anything good. No one gets asked to stay behind after class for a compliment.

“You did well today.”

Tokoyami blinked rapidly in surprise. “What?”

Aizawa stared at him with his usual half-lidded expression. “You handled All Might’s lessons better than I had anticipated.”

He hadn’t even been in the room. Tokoyami wondered if Aizawa had used the security cameras, unable to think of how else he could have been watching, to spy on the class. Had he been waiting for some kind of emotional meltdown?

“Thank you, Aizawa-sensei…?” Somehow, it didn’t feel like a compliment.

“Ordinarily, I would be telling my students to push themselves as hard as they could. Plus Ultra and all of that.” There was a heavy roll of tired-looking eyes. Tokoyami twitched at the use of an All Might catchphrase. “But knowing your limits is just as important.”

Tokoyami only blinked at his homeroom teacher; he had absolutely no idea what he was trying to say. He wasn’t sure if he could even ask.

“That’s it.” Aizawa gave a halfhearted shrug. “Dismissed.”

----------------------------------

Most of them had stayed in the hallways after class had been let out. There were enough of them huddled close enough together that it blocked the path, forcing passing students from other rooms to shove their way through with an occasional insult or frustrated breath.

“Guys.” Uraraka bit her lip for a moment. “Guys, we can’t all do this. Tokoyami isn’t going to like this. It’s like we’re…” She stopped as she tried to find the most appropriate phrase.

“Babysitting him?” Jiro hit the nail on the head.

“We can’t help that we’re worried!” Surprisingly, that was Kaminari. “I mean… Shit! It’s day one and it’s… Big!”

“Ochaco is right.” Midoriya said it with a thoughtful look on his face; he missed the blush that crossed over Uraraka. “Absolutely we need to help him when he wants the help, but All Might was right. He’s going to resent this.”

“I think he already does a little.” Sero said with a wince. “He almost got in to a fight with Sato the other day about doing dishes. I think he’s upset that he’s not allowed to do most of the chores…?”

“I was doing some baking and didn’t think it’d be fair just to dump that many bowls in the sink.” Sato pouted. Iida and Midoriya both pat his arm and shoulder in an attempt at comfort.

“Okay, okay, okay!” Ashido waved her arms to get her classmates’ attention. “Okay, someone’s gotta go with him to pick up the weight thingies. I say most of us back the heck off and let Midoriya, Shoji and Koda do the thing.”

“What?” Shoji said from a secondary mouth.

“You have lots of arms!” Ashida spread her own as if it helped demonstrate her logic. “And Koda’s… Quiet! But also big! And I’m pretty sure everybody likes Midoriya.”

The expression that crossed Koda’s face showed that he was both confused and insulted.

Midoriya didn’t look much better than their near-mute classmate, but gave a small nod. “I’m sure we’d all be happy to help Tokoyami…”

“Great!” Ashida grinned as if she had personally done a fantastic deed. “Okay, let’s the rest of us get back to the dorm. I expect gossip from the rest of you later!” She physically pointed at Shoji, Koda and Midoriya as she said it. Then, she began to march away.

The rest of 1-A gave each other baffled and bemused looks before following their pink classmate at a much more normal, far less suspicious-looking pace.

“What just happened?” Shoji blinked his standard eyes.

The only answer he received was a shrug from Koda.

-----------------

Ashido could be a little bit headstrong, Midoriya thought to himself. Headstrong, but at least she had her heart in the right place. That counted for something, didn’t it?

He hoped Tokoyami would feel the same way when he came out here and saw them waiting like a bunch of stalkers.

It took a few minutes. Briefly, Midoriya was tempted to peek through the small window in the door to see what was taking so long, but restrained himself; he wasn’t a child and he didn’t need to spy on his classmates. No matter how worried he was about this particular friend.

They were all worried, though. It wasn’t even subtle; the air in the dorms carried it as if it were a particularly pungent perfume. They had been making chore charts that put Tokoyami in the easiest, least work-laden positions – some days struck him out entirely – and quite a few of them had made diet suggestions that had mostly been ignored. They had all been looking after Tokoyami’s wellbeing as thoroughly as they could. Perhaps a little too much.

And now here they were, three of them, after their entire class had banded together for the second time in one day to specifically put things in place without Tokoyami’s knowledge or consent.

Were they going too far? Were they doing the whole ‘mother hen’ thing a bit too much? Tokoyami had just been through so much; Midoriya knew that they all just wanted to help, but…

All Might had said that too much help could make it difficult to return to normal life. Were they crippling Tokoyami with good intentions?

A few seconds later, the classroom door slid open. Tokoyami stood there and looked back and forth between the three of them. Then, he rolled his eyes. “You want to help me carry the weight things, I guess.”

Midoriya offered a smile; it came out strained and he felt embarrassed. “There’s the weight restriction.”

“To be fair, they’re literally… Weights.” Shoji shrugged. “They can’t be easy to carry.”

Koda gave a small, shy wave.

Midoriya wondered how many times they could say that word before it lost meaning.

“…Fine.” Tokoyami looked frustrated, but was making an effort to be polite. “It… Makes sense. Thank you.” A pause. Then, he seemed to flush, looking ashamed. “It’s occurred to me that I don’t actually know where the general education lab is.”

“Oh.” By the sound of Shoji’s voice, he didn’t know where it was, either.

“Don’t worry, I know where it is.” Midoriya said with an actual smile. “It’s on the opposite side of the floor.”

The walk there was quiet and uneventful; most of the other students had either left for the day or were at extracurricular activities. Even U.A. had school clubs; laughter and yells echoed from some of the closed off rooms.

Midoriya had thought that if any room on campus would be busy after classes, the lab would have been one of them; he was surprised to find it almost empty. The only ones there were Hatsume, who stood proudly in front of a table with all the weights and a few mysterious machines spread on it, and a couple of students working over something in the back of the room. The lab itself looked like a mix of a garage and a science fiction futuristic space center; there was endless equipment and a whole lot of things Midoriya couldn’t hazard a guess what they did. It was all very, very shiny.

“Huh. So this is the lab.” Shoji summed it up fairly well. Koda gave a small, appreciative nod.

“Thank you for coming!” Hatsume spread her arms in front of the array of weights. “I’ve included the standard equipment between two and twenty pounds, but this addition here…” She held a small, square device with what looked like a fancy blood pressure pump attached to it; it was a gleaming silver with numerous buttons. “Wear this while you’re lifting the smallest weights and it will, after several seconds…” Suddenly, she began to speak very quickly. “Though there may be a bit of a lag because it is still in the development stage…” Her voice returned to normal and, with it, a bigger, prouder smile. “Give you an exact readout down to the ounce of how much weight you can add to increase your strength and stamina without fear of damage. You only have to put in which limb you’re working on. No more guessing or worrying about doctors’ orders!”

Then, Hatsume grinned a gleaming grin, hands on her hips.

There was a moment of silence.

“Thank you…?” Tokoyami shifted in place awkwardly. “I’ll… Test your equipment and… Let you know, I suppose…?”

Midoriya frowned with concern. Should they have stood up more forcefully before, when Tokoyami clearly didn’t want this equipment? Hatsume only wanted to help, didn’t she? He wasn’t sure what to do, so he gave the goggle-wearing girl a polite smile. “Thank you, Hatsume. We’ll take good care of your, uhm, babies, I promise.”

“’Babies’…” Tokoyami scoffed under his breath, but Midoriya caught it.

Hatsume didn’t appear to or had otherwise chosen to ignore it. She let out a happy squeal. “Please contact me if there are any bug reports or errors or malfunctions. The testing phase is critical, you understand. I… Is your friend okay?”

From the corner of his vision, he suddenly noticed movement. Midoriya turned; Koda was signing something frantically with a look of absolute fear on his face. His hands were moving too quickly; Midoriya couldn’t read it fast enough. “Koda?”

Suddenly, Koda pointed to a spot further away, deeper in the lab.

The two students in the back had pulled in some equipment over what looked like a row of motherboards. One of them had his hands over a power saw; a big, bulky thing that looked ancient and had spots of rust.

Midoriya felt himself move before he realized it, but it was too late.

The unknowing student flipped the switch.

Chapter Text

At first, Tokoyami wasn’t even sure what had happened.

One moment, he had been there and fully aware of what was going on. He had seen the saw in the distance – it was far enough away that he couldn’t even make out the details of it, sitting on the far end of the large laboratory as it was, but it was a very large looking machine – and he knew what was about to happen. He knew the sound that was about to fill the air.

Bracing for the noise didn’t help. Perhaps it had even made things worse.

The brace around his face keeping him still, the mechanical whine of the blade that was the entire world, knowing he was going to die, he was going to die here, he couldn’t stop shaking and he prayed that someone would recognize his mobile nomu corpse, he was going to die here and he wanted his parents, and then the pressure came and there was painnothingbutpain

Everything flashed in a strobe light and colors.

The next thing that Tokoyami was aware of was that he was on the floor. The back of his legs, tail and rear end hurt as if he had fallen. Two hands were on his back – both of them rights – and his own were wrapped around his skull as if he had been trying to block everything out. His own talons were digging in to his skull.

“It’s okay… It’s okay…” That was Shoji – those were his hands on his back – trying to calm him down. Tokoyami had to open his eyes to confirm that he was there; he had been clenching them, although he had no active memory of starting that action.

Koda was kneeling in front of him, face bearing nothing but worry.

What the hell had just happened?

Distantly, he heard someone yelling. The world was drowned out by the loud, echoing beat of his own heart in his head, but he could see them by the large rust-spotted blade; Hatsume was yelling at the two students at the work table, both of which looked thoroughly horrified. Midoriya stood next to her, hands raised in a placating manner, trying to calm her down.

“You saw the photo that’s everywhere, right!? How do you think he got that injury?!” The words came to him fuzzy at first, as if through water, but cleared up along the way. His own heartbeat quieted down as the seconds went by.

This was… Embarrassing. What had happened? He must have had some kind of reaction to the noise; it was the only explanation, but there was a chunk of memory missing. It was as if he had fallen in to a pit and didn’t realize it until he had hit the bottom. How much time had passed just now?

Tokoyami shifted in place on the floor, intending to get back to his feet – he was fine, really, he knew he was fine – only for an unexpected warm dampness on his uniform trousers to catch his attention. He blinked once, briefly confused, before the smell hit him.

Oh. Oh, no.

Had he really…?

Tokoyami gaped down at himself, mortified; everyone here had seen that, hadn’t they? Maybe they hadn’t, maybe his classmates wouldn’t say anything even if they had, but how was he supposed to get back to the dorms like this? He couldn’t very well walk through the halls with such an obvious mark.

His panic must have showed; a gasp came from above him. A glance up revealed Koda, still kneeling there, somehow looking even more concerned than he had a moment ago.

“I’m fine.” Tokoyami forced the words out; they came out a little too quick and a little too loud. “I’m fine.”

“Don’t rush it.” Two of Shoji’s hands were still on his back. “Take your time.”

“Idiots!” Hatsume yelled from further down the lab. Then, the loud stomping of angry feet came with it, bouncing off of the metal floor. She was carrying a bottle in her hand and Tokoyami couldn’t identify if it was water or one of those clear energy drinks. Either way, she was headed in his direction. “Hey, are you –” She stopped and stared, mouth forming a thin line and eyes an angry gold.

“I’m fine.” Tokoyami tried again. He could feel the heat on his face and prayed that his feathers covered it; every movement came with the uncomfortably warm reminder that he had lost complete control of himself and now this girl had seen it, too.

For a few seconds, Hatsume continued to stare. She maintained that not-quite-eye-contact gaze even as she ripped the security tab off of the top of the bottle, twisted the bottle cap off and then immediately splash the contents of it all over both himself and Shoji.

They both let out yelps of surprise.

“Hatsume!” Midoriya, who had followed the pink-haired girl, openly gaped.

“Oh, how clumsy of me!” Hatsume declared dramatically. “I’ve accidentally spilled coolant all over your uniforms! Oh, accidents happen in this lab, you know, sometimes things just get spilled.”

It took a moment to understand what she had done. Tokoyami noticed the realization spreading to his friends’ faces as well; relief and gratitude went around the room.

All he could think to do was give Hatsume a stunned stare. He must have misjudged her.

“…Accidents happen. Right.” Shoji was looking at her with his real eyes, but a secondary one was looking at him. Tokoyami wondered how he kept the world in focus when he did that. The eye turned in to a mouth. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Honestly, though, he wasn’t sure. The hands on his back moved to help him stand up and he took it; his uniform wasn’t quite soaked, but it was colder now than before. The spill from the bottle had done a good job of covering the rest on the green cloth, spreading the dark wet to other places. “I’m okay.”

“Are you boys able to carry all of this?” Hatsume gestured to the weights and machines on the table, still shooting glares at the two students in the back. “I think I have a spare cart or something around here.”

“Thank you, Hatsume!” Midoriya said it fast as he gathered the weights from the table. Koda and Shoji both moved to help him. “But it’s okay, we got it!”

Thankful or not, they couldn’t get out of that lab fast enough.

 

-------------------

 

Naturally, everyone else was waiting in the dorm common room. The entrance to the building led right to it, to the collection of chairs and couches by the large TV. They had to pass it to keep walking to the elevator.

They must have noticed the wet uniforms; the expressions aimed at them flipped to instant concern.

“What happened?!” Uraraka yelped.

Tokoyami decided to do his best to ignore it; he couldn’t bring himself to look at any of them. Not right now.

Midoriya, on the other hand, gave the group a smile. “We’ll be down in a few minutes, guys! Don’t worry!”

It appeared to work; the lot on the couches calmed down just a little.

The elevator let out a chime; they filled in. None of them made a noise until the door closed shut.

Koda let out such a breath of relief that he almost collapsed.

“I don’t think they noticed anything except that we’re soaked.” With his arms busy carrying equipment, Shoji looked at him with his real face. “If you don’t want to say anything, Fumi, we won’t, either.”

The effort was nice; yet, Tokoyami could only give a small nod. “Thank you.”

Though, he had the feeling that if any of them were to say anything, it would be Midoriya. He was terrible at keeping secrets.

Another chime went through the air as they hit the second floor.

No one said a word until they were inside of his room. He made no effort to kick any of them out; they had already seen the worst of it.

There were still a few boxes around, but the furniture and miscellanea purchased on that shopping trip were all in their proper places. He had, since then, also put up a few band posters along the walls and set up a decorative sword in a corner but it was otherwise generally uncluttered.

Tokoyami stalked quickly in to his room and headed for the balcony. A tug was given to the sliding door; it didn’t open. He gave it another useless tug before giving up; he gave the glass a harsh kick. It didn’t even dent it.

He must have locked the balcony door at some point. Probably a few days ago. For now, Tokoyami clenched his fists at his side and allowed himself to really feel everything he had held together on the walk and short elevator ride.

“Tokoyami…?” Midoriya half whispered from behind him. The soft thuds of things being set on the floor came with it.

Frustration, rage and a deep sadness were mixing together to form complete incoherency. Tokoyami tried to find the words, but all he could do for a moment was let out an angry yell at the closed balcony.

Behind him, no one said anything. The door to his room didn’t open to indicate anyone had left.

After a few minutes, something resembling words finally formed themselves. “How the hell am I supposed to become a Hero when I fall apart from some stupid noises?!”

Silence answered him at first.

“By doing the best you can.” It came quietly and not from Midoriya. He had expected it to be and was surprised that the words came from Shoji.

“The best that I can…” Tokoyami scoffed, still glaring through the glass. “What good is that when… When everyone knows everything and I’d just…”

Articulating his fears and frustrations was difficult.

Somehow, they still understood.

“You’re not a liability just because you went through something horrible.” That, finally, was from Midoriya. “There’s tons of Pro Heroes with known PTSD. I mean, villains try to use it against the Pros all the time, but that’s why there’s therapists and psychologists just for Hero work…”

Somehow, that was not helping him feel better. Midoriya sputtered for a moment before shutting up.

There came another round of silence. Tokoyami could hear the three behind him shifting in place; for all he knew, Koda was having an entire conversation with them. He didn’t turn to look.

When noise broke the air again, he didn’t expect the question. It came from Shoji again. “Did the Pussycats ever call you?”

It felt like the line of thought came out of nowhere, a non sequitur. Tokoyami’s brow furrowed in confusion, but he still didn’t turn back. “The Wild Wild Pussycats? From the forest training camp?”

When everything had fallen apart.

“One of theirs was kidnapped, too.” The words came in nearly a whisper from Midoriya, hesitant and unsure. “The same time you were.”

Now, Tokoyami finally did turn around, unable to keep the shock at bay. This was the first he was hearing about this. “What…?”

They came to visit you in the hospital once. Koda signed. When you were still in a coma.

“It was Ragdoll. The League took her from the forest, too.” The mask around Shoji’s face shifted as if he were frowning. “They didn’t call you after?”

Tokoyami couldn’t do much more than shake his head; he could feel his legs shaking a little. He slowly took a seat by his desk, in to a plush throne-like chair.

They had taken someone else from the forest, that day? Why hadn’t anyone told him? “Was she… Was she…?”

“She lost her quirk.” Midoriya wasn’t looking at him; his eyes were on the floor with a deep, sad regret. “They didn’t say how, but I kind of assumed they did it the same way Dark Shadow was taken.”

“They didn’t do to her what they did to you, though.” Shoji had moved closer, somehow. He was almost right next to the chair.

They didn’t try to turn her in to a nomu? The League hadn’t shoved Ragdoll in to a tank, pump her with mysterious injections and tear her skull apart?

Tokoyami had never been so relived in his life. A deep, shaky breath erupted from him.

A pair of right hands set themselves gently on his back. He made no move to shrug them off.

“The Pussycats didn’t retire.” Shoji said quietly.

Tokoyami only blinked once in surprise. “Of… Of course not, they still have most of their team intact…”

“With a part of their team who now has no quirk and is recovering from who knows what the League did.” Shoji was looking at him; Tokoyami glanced up quickly but turned away, unable to look at his friend for long. After a brief second, one of Shoji’s extra appendages turned in to an eye in front of his face, all but forcing visual contact. “They didn’t retire, but they took a… ‘Leave of absence’, I think. You know, you just got out of the hospital a few weeks ago.”

Aizawa’s words from earlier in the day suddenly popped in to his mind; what had he said about knowing his limits? About not pushing past it before he was ready?

Shoji, however, wasn’t done talking. “You were kidnapped, had your quirk taken from you, were then tortured for days, almost lobotomized, had to have surgery, you’re still under medication for that by the way, was attacked the day you left the hospital, managed to take down a giant freakish nomu when you were, and that was just like three weeks ago. Do you have any idea how crazy that all sounds?”

Honestly, he hadn’t before now. Every moment had been taken as they came; piecing it all together in to a single instance hadn’t even been done. It almost sounded like it had all happened to someone else, some crazy, long horror movie.

No words came to Tokoyami; he only sat there, trying to digest everything that had happened in a single lump sum.

“Shoji’s right.” Midoriya had moved closer now, too. “You need time.”

A squeak filled the air; Koda had made it, forcing attention on him as he signed. And maybe the school psychiatrist? A bunch of the others are already going to that.

“Or at least thought about it.” Midoriya nodded. “Everyone except Kacchan, anyway.”

The others had gone to the school psychiatrist? He had been told it was an option, but what pride he had left stood in the way. But the others had…?

Tokoyami took a deep breath. “It’s just… Incredibly frustrating. Everything felt fairly nice and stable for the past couple of weeks. Even today, with All Might’s class, and then things like this just…” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“It’s going to take time.” Midoriya said again with a sad smile. “And we’re all here for you. You just need to take the time.”

“I feel like I don’t have that time.” It had been bothering him ever since the rescue; long hours of thinking about things in that hospital bed had run down to this line of thinking more than a few times. “We’re in U.A. now, the most important time of our lives. This is the time when we’re supposed to train and show the world what we can do, what we are capable of. This is the time when we make our marks…”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve made a mark.” Shoji said a little too loudly.

“Besides, some Pro Heroes didn’t start until their thirties.” Midoriya said; he was still smiling, but it was strained and his eyes darted to Shoji with some awkwardness. “I know Death Arms didn’t enter the Pro field until he was thirty-five. And Tiger, of the Pussycats, he didn’t start until…” A pause. “Twenty-two or twenty-three. I need to check my notes.”

Tokoyami frowned at that. He hadn’t known that there were Pros that didn’t begin their careers until so late. The way the media and schools made it sound was that it had to be now; he had taken that internship under Hawks, who became a top earner and Pro Hero immediately after high school, and he hadn’t even gone to U.A. It was all supposed to happen one after the other, wasn’t it?

He wasn’t sure how to feel about this new information.

There was silence for a few seconds, allowing him to gather his thoughts.

“Did we help at all?” Shoji eventually broke the silence with a lighter, happier tone.

“…Yes.” Tokoyami had to admit. “At least a little.”

He meant that last bit as a joke; the mask on Shoji’s face shifted as he grinned beneath it. “So are we telling the others that our uniforms are soaked because of, what, spilled water?”

“Please.” A nod; he did not want to have to tell them what had actually happened. The pity would be too much.

Spilled coolant! Koda suddenly signed a little too enthusiastically; he spelled out ‘coolant’ letter by letter. That’s the right word, right?

The smile on Midoriya’s face turned a little more natural.

The lift in spirits was contagious; there was still lingering stress, but Tokoyami couldn’t help but feel a little more calm.

Chapter Text

Everyone was incredibly, thoroughly excited. The joy that filtered through the air was somehow odd; the ups and downs since the start of life at U.A. made every peak that much sharper, much more solid and tangible. Compared to the previous day’s melancholy – compared to the past few months, honestly – the feeling of such joy and rapture seemed bizarre and out of place.

Still, Tokoyami had to admit that it was a cause for celebration. The others deserved something to look forward to.

“Over the next few days, Class 1-A will be focusing on getting their provisional hero licenses.” Aizawa said it only a little outside his usual flat tone; it held an edge to it, making certain they all knew that this was something important, his way of saying ‘pay attention, kids’ without making it too obnoxious.

An actual hero license. It would literally give them a chance to follow Pros from an agency, to get their feet in the door for their futures and walk the streets similar to their last internships, only with far more gravitas. Tokoyami had never heard of students their age getting them; he had thought those were for their final year.

Had the rules been changed in light of all the villain attacks?

He supposed it didn’t matter the how or the why; everyone in class had eager grins on their faces in light of this news. It was nice to see them all so happy.

“A hero license bears with it the great responsibility of human life.” Aizawa was still going on about it all, but surely everyone must be aware of how big a deal this was? “Naturally, the exam to receive one is very difficult. Even the provisional license has only a fifty percent passing rate each year.”

Well, that put an immediate damper on the room. Faces fell and quite a few of the others had immediate looks of alarm.

Tokoyami let out a soft breath of disappointment. Well, he wasn’t going to pass this particular exam.

“That is why, for the next few days, we are going to focus on your ultimate moves.”

Then, the door slid open; Cementoss, Midnight and Ectoplasm walked in, full of dramatic flair. Their arrival alone immediately pumped up the room again.

Everyone was chattering so loudly with each other, even as the explanations to what exactly they were going to do came from their teachers. Tokoyami folded his arms and allowed himself to zone out just a bit; odds were that he was going to be given some alternate assignment. Maybe he wouldn’t even be allowed to take the exam at all. He was practically an outsider looking in.

Deep down, he was both disappointed and a little glad. He both wanted to and did not want to join his classmates; he couldn’t keep up with them now, and he didn’t want to shame himself by the abysmal failure he knew would come at the attempt. Yet, he still, on some level, wanted to try.

He didn’t like these conflicted feelings. Still, Aizawa was probably going to make the decision for him, anyway.

“Your ultimate moves will represent you.” Midnight was saying, posing dramatically as she did so. “These days, a Pro Hero without an ultimate move is a rare species.”

“We will tell you more as we go along.” Aizawa was looking between the students in front of him, lingering for a brief moment on a few of them. Mostly on Bakugo and Midoriya. “We want to proceed logically. Change in to your costumes and meet in Gym Gamma. Except Tokoyami, of course, your standard gym uniform will suffice.”

The mood in the room instantly flipped.

The delight and eager anticipation were like bricks thrown from a window; Tokoyami jolted in surprise as he felt it, the darkening of his classmates’ faces and the sudden sharp eyes. Oh, boy. “Everyone… It’s fine.” He made sure to keep his voice calm because really, it was fine. That, and it felt as if he was speaking to a room of very angry and possibly rabid tigers. “Aizawa-sensei has already spoken to me about this…”

“It’s not fine!” Uraraka said it with such force that he jumped a little; she looked at him for a moment, but then her eyes – far more intense than he had ever seen before – were on their homeroom teacher. “Aizawa-sensei, we can’t leave Tokoyami out!”

A few of the others had their mouths open, clearly ready to join in on the argument in his defense – unnecessarily so, honestly – when Aizawa let out a loud sigh. “Fine, fine. I don’t really care. Everyone, get in your costumes.”

The air immediately cleared again. Uraraka had a grin on her face as if she had won a great battle.

Tokoyami wasn’t sure how to feel about this.

 

--------------

 

His costume didn’t… Fit, anymore.

Not in the traditional sense; he hadn’t grown or changed form in any way outside of his tail and, even then, his costume had been replaced with one that took the new appendage in to account. The black cloak that he loved – still did, really, still had a special place in his heart – just… Clashed with his new skin tone.

It hadn’t really matched to begin with. Tokoyami had never been the kind of person that could tan easily and had been particularly pale. Back then, he had tried his best to hide the color of his own flesh to bring out the more dramatic flare of the darkness without making it look too awkward. That had been the entire concept; black and gothic and intimidating.

Now, however, he had this green skin and these claws and it all looked just a little ridiculous.

Besides, he had asked the costume company for a particular sheer fabric specifically for Dark Shadow. It was designed to keep himself as much in darkness as possible, to give his quirk as much strength as possible.

Dark Shadow wasn’t here anymore. There was no quirk to enhance. He was alone.

What was the point of this costume now?

----------------

 

He wore it anyway. If he didn’t, there would be questions from his classmates; concerned, worried, pity-filled questions that Tokoyami honestly did not want to deal with. Maybe he would have to talk with them later. Perhaps he could even spin it as a good thing, to get their help designing something new. Anything but those frowns and furrowed eyebrows that felt like stabs to the gut.

Watching Cementoss restructure the gym – with the floor physically changing shape and erupting in to small mountains and cliffsides – was remarkable to watch. It distracted him for a few minutes.

It lasted long enough to watch the rest of his class be led in to their own personal training grounds by Ectoplasm’s clones. Tokoyami lingered behind; there was no clone for him.

There was a shadow of disappointment, but he understood. He simply couldn’t participate in his current state, could he? He noticed Aizawa heading for his position and he gave his homeroom teacher a nod of acceptance. “Ah. I’m observing, I assume.”

“Actually, no.” Aizawa still had that flat tone. “You’ll undergo specialized training for the next few days.”

He hadn’t expected this. Tokoyami blinked. “Specialized training?”

Aizawa tilted his head to look past him. Tokoyami turned to follow the gaze and was immediately surprised by what greeted him.

“Hello, Tokoyami!” Literally greeting him; Mandalay of the Wild Wild Pussycats walked in from the back of the gym, Tiger steps behind her.

There was no sign of the rest of their team, but the fact that they were here at all was a shock. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”

“They’re here to help you train in the least strenuous way possible.” Aizawa let out a sigh. “We still have to take your medical restrictions in to account, so allowing you to take severe blows and train in a traditional manner is out of the question.”

For a moment, Tokoyami bristled, feeling vaguely insulted. Yes, he was under doctors’ orders not to lift heavy things and he was still tired more than he used to be on account of the medications, but he could still take a hit.

He was certain he could still take a few hits. Pretty sure. Mostly sure.

The more he thought about it, the less sure he was about it.

They must have noticed the look on his face; Mandalay gave him a soft smile. “Don’t worry. It might not be what you’re used to, but maybe some Wild Wild Pussycat training techniques will be just what you need!”

An explosion came from behind him and, with it, the sound of crashing debris.

--------------

 

It ended up being better than he had expected.

When Aizawa had said ‘specialized training’, Tokoyami had anticipated a toned-down, simplified exercise routine. Something intended for children; stretching, maybe some note-taking and verbal lessons. It was all he could think of with his current restrictions.

He hadn’t anticipated actual combat training. It was slower, granted; they went over the movements of hand-to-hand combat, stopping at points of contact and never moving very fast. It hadn’t been enough to leave bruises. That, and several ‘Wild Wild Pussycat Approved’ acrobatic moves that he truly had only seen before and found himself happy to attempt. The conversation along the way had been kept light and enjoyable.

It was actually… Pleasant.

“You’re not half bad, even in the cloak!” Mandalay smiled as she said it, hands on her hips. “If you couldn’t get the flips, Tiger was going to show you how he does it. Looks like he didn’t even need to come here!” She sent him a cheeky grin.

Tiger, sitting on a cement bench that had been burst from the ground, only shrugged with an amused smirk on his face. He had been watching in silence the entire time. It was only a little strange.

Tokoyami smiled to himself; this was somehow, miraculously not a waste of a day. He had expected it to be, had anticipated hours of watching his friends do all the work and make some useless essay about it all. But this was actually productive.

Exhausting, but productive. As it was, he was bent over, hands on his knees as he took in deep breaths. He had been doing flips, actual acrobatic flips…! The claws on his hands had actually helped, giving him a better grip of the ground beneath him and it had been exhilarating, at least for a little while. Actual learning and improving was happening, here.

“Need a break?” Mandalay waved a water bottle in his line of sight. “We’ve been at this for a couple of hours and I was told you’re still under doctors’ orders to rest often.”

“Yes, that’s accurate.” His chest was burning just a little; Tokoyami didn’t bother to walk to a proper chair. Instead, he sat on the floor where he was, grabbing the bottle of water as he did. He was surprised to find that his hands were shaking as he opened the top of the bottle. Had he really pushed himself that far?

Oh, good, the water was cold; Tokoyami gulped it greedily. He didn’t bother to put a straw in as he usually did; pouring it right in to his beak did the trick well enough. It was wonderful. “Thank you.”

Mandalay took a seat on the floor a few feet away, knees folded and legs tucked. “How often do you need to take breaks? Your teachers just told me that you were taking medication that makes you tired…?”

“Every few hours, according to the medication warning labels.” Tokoyami closed the bottle after half of it was empty, spirits high. “When I’m in a classroom setting or left to my own devices, I can go for longer stretches. This is honestly the first time I’ve been this active since…” The mood dipped just a bit, but he didn’t want to give it up. “Well, since.”

Mandalay’s expression turned a little sad.

Damn; this was exactly the kind of thing he was hoping to avoid. “It’s fine. This is a temporary issue. I mean…” Tokoyami took the pause in the training to look to the other mountains around them, to the electricity sparking in the air and lines of tape falling from a higher ledge. “I doubt I’ll be able to take the license exam with the others, but… I’m here, I suppose.”

“I’m glad for that.” Mandalay was still smiling. “But why don’t you think you can take the exam? If not this one, why not the next? They hold them every six months.”

Tokoyami shifted in place. He didn’t want to rant about his concerns and anxieties here and now; not to this kind woman. “I… I’m still learning what I can and can’t do.” Yes, that shouldn’t get too much pity; ‘I’m learning’ was a far better sounding cry than ‘I have no idea if I can even be a Hero’.

A small affirmative sound came from Mandalay.

There was a moment of silence. Well, on their platform; a fresh explosion went off from wherever Bakugo was training from, and one of the girls was laughing wildly.

A conversation from the day before prodded his mind. “I heard what happened to Ragdoll.” Tokoyami couldn’t bring himself to look directly at Mandalay as he said it. “I heard she lost her quirk.”

Another soft affirmative sound.

“When do you suppose…” Tokoyami had to take another gulp of water to steady himself. “When do you suppose Ragdoll will return to Hero work?”

“What?” Mandalay sounded surprised by the question. “…Oh. Oh, she’s decided… Not to. She’s staying on as an assistant back at our headquarters, though.”

It felt like a punch to the gut. Tokoyami turned his head so sharply to look at Mandalay that a muscle in his neck complained. “What? What do you mean?”

Mandalay shifted in place; she looked unsure, worry clouding the edge of her eyes. “It was her decision to make. She said it was because she couldn’t use her search quirk, she was better suited for a… ‘More traditional supervisory position’, is what she said.”

“A desk job.” Tokoyami could hear what wasn’t being said. “But she has years and years of experience, how could she just…”

Somehow, it was as if he had been personally betrayed. If Ragdoll couldn’t return to Pro Hero work after losing her quirk – and she hadn’t had a physical quirk at all! – how was he supposed to go on this training path? How was he supposed to do the same thing?

“Hey. Hey, it’s okay.” Mandalay edged a little closer, one large cat-gloved paw raised in a calming manner. “Just because Ragdoll decided not to go back to Hero work doesn’t mean you should give up. It was her decision. You might have lost your quirk, but you can still decide for yourself what you want to do. If you want to become a Hero, you absolutely still can.” A pause. “I personally think you have a lot of potential. After the next internships come up, I’d be happy to take you on at our agency.”

The mental imagery that came with that almost caused him to choke on air. “Your uniforms involve… Miniskirts.” Tokoyami shot a glance at Tiger, sitting far enough that he probably couldn’t hear the conversation. Hopefully couldn’t.

“You don’t have to wear a miniskirt.” A short bark of laughter came from the woman in cat ears. “I won’t force you to. It’s only a suggestion of where to apply, anyway.” A wink.

Tokoyami gave her a small nod. It was incredibly nice of her to make the offer; Pro Heroes weren’t supposed to do that sort of thing. “I’ll consider it.”

“Good.” Mandalay lifted herself back to her feet. “Feeling ready for another round?”

Tokoyami found himself smiling; the last of the water was downed before he got back up.

Chapter Text

It happened fast, that simple thing; an action so mundane and so ordinary that, for a brief moment, there was denial that it was even happening at all. The little things, the average things, had become so strange and foreign compared to everything else that he hadn’t given any thought to it.

It was just such a simple, every day thing.

Tokoyami fell wrong.

He knew it almost instantly; the way his body was twisted in the air was just slightly off of how Mandalay had been teaching him to do it over the past few days. There was an attempt to correct it mid-air, but he lacked the experience to know precisely how. So, he fell, half turned in a direction that he did not want to be in.

A stabbing pain shot up his arm when he hit the ground. It had been an attempt at a flip; one clawed palm hit the floor of the hard, fake mountain first before the rest of him collapsed.

It was not the first time he had aborted a maneuver in the middle of an attempt – Mandalay had assured him that it was perfectly fine to do so, that learning acrobatics tended to be more about the body trying it rather than the actual techniques – but this was the first time that he thought he might have actually broken something.

That ‘might’ quickly turned in to an ‘absolutely did break something’; two fingers were jutting out in a very unnatural angle. Sideways, even. It was certainly not a way a hand was supposed to look, at any rate. Tokoyami stared at his own deformed limb in mute fascination; it hurt immensely, but the surprise was topping it. He had never broken a limb before.

“Tokoyami? Why –” Mandalay had made her way to his side and let out a hiss of sympathy when she got there. “Oh, yeah. Things like that are going to happen. Let’s get to Recovery Girl, okay?”

She offered a hand down to help him up; Tokoyami took it with his other arm, still staring at the broken fingers. How had he made this big of a blunder? “I’m sorry, I know I didn’t turn the right way, but I didn’t know how to fix it.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Mandalay offered him a smile. “You have no idea how many times my team has broken fingers and arms and, honestly, everything while training.” Then, she looked up over the fabricated cliffsides the rest of his classmates were training on. “Aizawa! We need to make a stop at Recovery Girl!”

“What?” Tokoyami could have sworn that Aizawa sounded alarmed. A steely gaze looked down from a cliff above them. “What happened?”

Sounds from nearby training had stopped as well, at least from the immediate area. Well, this was just embarrassing, now; Tokoyami flushed as several pairs of eyes, all filled with concern, looked down at him.

Mandalay, however, shrugged. “Broken finger! Nothing serious. You know how it goes.”

“Ah.” Aizawa gave a small nod. He then mumbled something; Tokoyami couldn’t hear what was said, but he didn’t look angry or upset. “We’re almost out of time, anyway, so go ahead.”

Mandalay rolled her eyes. She gave Tiger a small nod – still sitting at his bench and unalarmed by any of this – and still bore that small smile before looking back at him. “Come on.”

The false mountain that they had been training on slowly and smoothly melted back in to the floor. They didn’t start walking until they were back on ground level but didn’t begin talking again until they were outside of the gym. Probably for the best; the noise tended to raise in the last few minutes of training. The others always tried to get that last bit in before 1-B kicked them out in mad fits and bursts.

It was a bright and sunny day outside; as soon as they were out of the gym, the sounds of electricity, spewing tape and melting acid were replaced by the wind brushing through the trees and birds singing in the distance. It even smelled cleaner out here, somehow; less smoggy.

With the fresh air, Tokoyami’s mind wandered. His classmates were leaps and bounds ahead of him; those extra few minutes of training he was now missing out on would probably not even do him any good. His was a process that would need much, much more time, he knew, but it was still frustrating. He needed more time than anyone else in class. Possibly more time than anyone else in his year in the entire country.

He must have had a look on his face; Mandalay gave his shoulder a small nudge with a large, cat-gloved fist. “Is this the first time you broke a bone at U.A.?”

Oh, good, she wouldn’t make him express his actual thoughts. She wouldn’t dig. “Yes, actually. In my entire life, I think.”

A small laugh. “Once, Tiger broke his leg in five different places trying to pull off a single stunt, and he hadn’t even been in a fight at the time. He was just goofing off. I’ve broken my arms on three separate occasions in one year. Don’t be too hard on yourself for this one, okay?”

Tokoyami gave her a small nod and tried to look less concerned.

---------------------

Thankfully, there was no one in the halls on the journey through the main building; classes were still going on for a few minutes yet. The room to the nurse’s office had no one waiting in the little lobby in front of it; with any luck, it would be empty and he wouldn’t have to talk about things with other people.

When the door opened and Recovery Girl stared at them from a desk against the wall, she looked surprised. “Oh, goodness. When Aizawa told me to expect a patient, I assumed it would be young Midoriya. Come in, come in.”

“Midoriya?” Mandalay blinked as the door slid shut behind them. “I saw him get injured at the Sports Festival, but does that happen… Often?”

“Extraordinarily so.” Recovery Girl sighed, perhaps a little too dramatically. “Now, what happened here?”

Tokoyami didn’t say anything; he wasn’t sure he needed to. He only held out the hand with two broken fingers.

“Oh, is that all?” Recovery Girl gave the top of the same hand a gentle pat. “Don’t worry, dear, things like this happen. Take a seat for a moment.” Then, she shuffled off to a back room separated by a curtain.

There were two empty beds and several chairs. Tokoyami frowned at the furniture and the medical posters on the wall; they were far too much like the hospital. Slowly, he settled on a chair, shifting his tail so it slid through a hole in the back.

Mandalay was still there; she gazed around the room slowly. Then, something seemed to catch her attention. Three steps were taken as she stared at something in the corner above a bed. Then, he could see her eyes widen in visible amusement. “Oh. Huh.”

Well, now his curiosity was piqued. He got off from his chair again – using his uninjured hand to get his tail free, and the useless limb was honestly getting more annoying as the days went by – before making his way to get a closer look himself.

There was a small, wooden plaque above one of the beds. It was the kind of thing tourist shops in sunny locations had; engraved markings made on cheap wood. In big, blocky English letters was very clearly: Midoriya’s Suite.

Tokoyami stared at the plaque quietly but couldn’t help but find the humor in it. He wondered if Midoriya knew that this was here.

“He gets hurt a lot, then?” Mandalay broke the silence with barely restrained mirth.

“I’m fairly certain he’s broken more bones than the entire class combined.” Tokoyami admitted with a nod. “His quirk is apparently dangerous to use.”

“Poor kid.” Mandalay let out a breath. “Must’ve been a tough childhood with a quirk like that.”

A memory resurfaced; Tokoyami tilted his head at sudden musings. “When classes first began here, Bakugo… Blonde, fiery temper, explodes things…” He got a nod at the description before moving on. “Well, he claimed Midoriya was quirkless and appeared surprised to learn that he was not.”

“Ooh.” That came with a wince. “I’ve heard of people that refused to use their quirks for similar reasons, but Midoriya still applied to this school and is just… At it.” She shook her head but seemed visibly impressed. “Takes a lot of guts.”

Tokoyami hadn’t given much thought to Midoriya’s issues before; he had wanted to respect the privacy of his classmates by not prying in to their personal lives or asking why they were here at U.A. After all, they all were here to become Pro Heroes; it would have been rude to dig deeper than that.

He hadn’t thought about their personal struggles, though; he had intentionally kept himself distant. Those months ago, he had done it to keep his own quirk at bay, to keep Dark Shadow from blurting some secret or embarrassment out in the fits he had been prone to get in to, but now… Well, he was free to think about things, he supposed.

Midoriya hurt himself just by using his quirk; it would have been easy to just not use it and to go to a less demanding school, to simply give up and aim for a more mundane life that didn’t involve such frequent pain. But he didn’t.

It would have been easy to give up. But he didn’t.

“All right, dear.” Recovery girl shoved the curtain aside, holding two small metal braces and what looked like… A piece of wood? A small branch? “This is going to sound odd, dear, but I need you to sit down and to bite on to this.”

That just sounded ominous. Hesitantly, Tokoyami did as he was told, sitting on a chair – pushing his tail aside again – and put the thick piece of wood between his teeth in the way a dog carried a stick.

Mandalay had moved off to the side but didn’t leave the room. Gently, Recovery Girl took hold of his injured hand in both of hers.

Then, there was a sharp and sudden flash of pain as the broken fingers were shoved back in to place. Tokoyami grunted in surprise, alarm flaring in the back of his head as his teeth and beak gnashed on the bark. There was then a small wetness as Recovery Girl finally used her quirk, giving each finger a small peck with her lips, before sliding the small braces on to each finger. The pain ebbed and soon enough was fading away.

Still, Tokoyami did not move.

“There we go, dear.” Recovery Girl, on the other hand, took the wood from his beak; he allowed it, loosening his grip. “I’m sorry, but warning you would have made you brace for it and that just makes things worse. Broken bones need to be put back in place before they can be healed, you know.”

It made sense. It made perfectly logical sense. Yet, Tokoyami still paused, unsure how to take the fact that the school nurse just snapped his broken fingers back. Did Midoriya have to go through that every single time? He had never complained about it or anything; did any of the others have any idea? “T-thank you.”

“It’s what I’m here for.” Recovery Girl smiled at him and gave his knee a couple of pats. “Stay here as long as you need, dear. Classes are just about over for the day anyway.” Then, she wandered off, taking a seat by the same desk with a computer she had been sitting on before.

Mandalay gave him a concerned look. “Are you okay?”

The hand with the previously broken fingers were flexed; they couldn’t bend all the way with the metal in place, but they didn’t hurt anymore. The entire arm felt a little numb, as if he had been lifting something heavy, but otherwise… “I’m fine. I think.”

Then, Mandalay flashed him a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

Tokoyami waited until Mandalay was gone before he finally let out a deep breath. Perhaps it was because he had never broken a bone before; he had never needed a healer or doctor to do what Recovery Girl had just done.

Midoriya went through this frequently. At least every couple of weeks, really; Aizawa sent him off to whichever one of Recovery Girl’s clinics was closest so often that he may as well live in one of them. Yet, he never complained about bones being set in place, never even brought it up as if it was anything at all. Tokoyami had absolutely no idea this was even a thing; did any of the others know about this?

The green-haired boy was constantly fighting his own body and the painful repair it needed and yet acted as if it wasn’t an issue at all. He had a quirk he could barely use, but he was still here, still pushing himself.

Tokoyami knew that he no longer had a real quirk of his own, but at least he didn’t break his bones every time he did anything. If someone like Midoriya could keep doing this, what right did he have to complain?

And, yet, the doubts still lingered. Insecurity in his own ability had held strong since the hospital. It didn’t really matter that he got lucky and survived that one nomu attack, he still felt… Weak.

Tokoyami looked up at the plaque as conflicting emotions clashed inside of his mind. He didn’t know how to handle this and didn’t know how to feel.

Maybe it was time to talk to someone.

-------------------

Briefly, he thought about asking for the school psychiatrist. In the end, Tokoyami decided that doing so would be an unnecessary step; he had questions that only a very specific person could answer. May as well go right to that step instead of dragging it along.

Besides, he wasn’t sure if he was ready for a psychiatrist or psychologist – or whatever it was that U.A. employed – quite yet. Television series showed intense lines of questioning whenever those doctors were involved that were, granted, probably overdramatized, but still not something he felt ready to dive in to just yet.

So, for now, he headed for Aizawa’s office.

With the past few days spent on forming ‘ultimate moves’ and preparing for the upcoming license exam, there were no students waiting outside his office for additional tutoring or to beg for a chance at extra credit. In fact, Aizawa himself might not even be present with no papers to grade. Still, Tokoyami knocked on the closed door, prepared to leave should he get no response.

There was only a little surprise when there was one. A solid, “Come in.”

Tokoyami slid the door halfway open. “May I speak with you for a moment, sensei?”

Aizawa looked surprised but gave a nod in return. There were papers on his desk but no move was made to push them away; instead, he gestured for the single chair facing his desk and waited for the door to close. “If this is about what happened today, you have no reason to be concerned. Injuries are bound to happen here.”

Tokoyami took a moment to steady himself once he sat down; Aizawa had gotten right to the issue he thought was at hand, passing by the usual teacher-student pleasantries and small talk that did nothing but fill up dead air and relaxed no one. He may as well do the same. “Why did you allow me back in to U.A.?”

It was not what Aizawa had expected; Tokoyami caught the brief flash of confusion before it settled back in to the steady dead-eyed stare. “I allowed you back and specifically in to 1-A because I suspected you still had potential. You have yet to prove to me that you do not, so here you are.”

“Potential?” Tokoyami couldn’t quite grasp that. What did he have after losing his quirk?

Aizawa let out a deeply annoyed sigh, as if he couldn’t believe he was even having this conversation. “We’ve spoken about this before, haven’t we? But, fine, let’s have it again.” A pause. “What do you think makes a Pro Hero what they are?”

Tokoyami took a moment to give the question real thought. After a few seconds, he settled on, “Ability.”

“Ah.” Aizawa seemed to agree with that. “I’ll admit that ‘ability’, to be able to do things, is a big part of it, yes. But there’s far more pieces to becoming a Pro than just the ‘ability’ to hit things very hard or move things with your mind or whatever you believe it is that makes a Pro what they are.”

There were a few seconds of silence. Tokoyami waited, frowning.

“Several years ago, I had a student in 1-A who had a lot of promise.” Aizawa blinked slowly. “Had a quirk similar to what you once had, actually. Theirs, though, was an all white, blazingly bright thing that could even turn in to a horse-like shape to ride on. They designed their Hero costume in the style of those old English knights. It was a good match, a literal knight in shining armor on a goddamn steed. They would have been an amazing Pro Hero if I hadn’t expelled them late in their second semester.”

Tokoyami blinked in surprise; why was Aizawa telling him this? “Why did you expel them…?”

“Arrogance, mostly.” Aizawa shrugged. “They refused to do any of the school work beyond the minimum to keep from academic expulsion. They thought that their quirk would do all of the work and let them reap the glory. They failed exams and then argued with me about it. There wasn’t a single instance where they actually tried to learn from their mistakes or even thought that they had made any in the first place. Every time they had even the slightest difficulty or were pushed down by another student in training, they whined about the injustice of it all and pouted instead of getting back up. So, I expelled them.”

This conversation was a little uncomfortable; Tokoyami shifted in place, wondering what any of this had to do with his question.

“Even with the loss of your quirk, you are what that student was not.” Aizawa stared at him dead in the eyes. “You fell farther than any other student I have ever seen by no fault of your own, but you never pitied yourself, at least not publicly. You shared your trauma with your classmates to warn them what the enemy if capable of, not to gain sympathy. Then the fact that you accepted training from the Wild Wild Pussycats speaks volumes. Adaptability is an extremely important element for any Pro Hero.”

Most of that wasn’t true, Tokoyami thought. “But that’s…” He failed, briefly, to form the words. “I pity myself constantly. I…” A flush of shame washed over him. “I weep alone in my dorm, sometimes…”

“And you believe there’s something wrong with that?” Aizawa raised a brow. “You’re only fifteen years old and you’ve been through an intense trauma. There are Pros that cry over less. You admitted yourself just now that you make attempts to keep it private, alone in your dorm.” A pause. “Which, and I hate to say this because it sounds contradictory, but it wouldn’t be terrible to involve your classmates in the healing process.”

Somehow, none of this was helping him feel better. Tokoyami shook his head. “My so-called training is behind everyone else. Can I even catch up? I accepted Mandalay’s training only because I had no other choice, no options…”

“You had plenty of options.” Aizawa was still staring at him. “You could have dropped out. You could have gone home to your parents. You could have transferred to any number of courses in this school or any others. Instead, you refused to go to 1-B for All Might’s classes and accepted the training offered to you.” A shrug. “Besides which, Mandalay tells me you already have at least some skill. Something about your size and body type being ideal for the whole acrobatic thing.”

Distantly, Tokoyami wondered if that had been a jab at his height.

Another deep sigh came from the homeroom teacher. “You were released from the hospital a month ago. I can’t tell you that catching up to your classmates will be easy, but you’ve made impressive attempts at it. Don’t beat yourself up so soon. Have you considered going to the license exam next week?”

That last question came out of nowhere. Tokoyami frowned at the sudden shift in topic. “I doubt I even have the stamina for it.”

“Eh.” Aizawa shrugged. “Most don’t. That’s why there’s a low passing rate. But, I will be honest, no one expects you to pass that exam even if you went. Strictly from a medical standpoint, you aren’t ready. You’re still in recovery and no one would blame you if you decided not to attend. That being said, however… Your classmates would get a boost just from your presence there. Moral support, if nothing else. The whole ‘if he thinks he can do it, I can too’ mentality, even if you don’t actually believe it yourself.”

That was not an angle he had considered. Besides which, he still felt uneasy, still felt unsure if the assessment made of his overall situation was correct, but there was some real weight to Aizawa’s words. The man was not shy about ‘culling the weak’, as he had overhead older students say; if Aizawa still allowed him here, it meant something. But the license exam?

If no one anticipated him to pass it and no one would blame him if he didn’t, he literally had nothing to lose but a few hours of his life. A day, at best. And Aizawa claimed that his friends wanted him there. On top of that, there would be another exam after the ‘six months’ stipulation the doctors had given him. There was no real reason not to go outside of sheer laziness. “I can attend, I suppose.”

“Good.” A nod from across the desk. “Let me know if your change your mind, though. We need to get the forms filled out in advance.”

Chapter Text

He was ten years old when Tokoyami first learned that the world was not always a happy place.

For as long as he could remember, Tokoyami had grown up with legends of the Pro Heroes, imbibing cartoons that exaggerated villains as all maniacal laughter and flamboyant plots, heroes that were not much more than sparkled and bedazzled men and women saving the day. All Might had been in most of those shows and games in some way or another, flashing a grin and that ever-so-famous, “It’s fine now! Why? Because I am here!”

All of that flipped upside down a month after his tenth birthday. It hadn’t been anything personal; he had not been attacked, had not been injured and hadn’t even been involved.

A girl from his school had been kidnapped. Tokoyami had never met her or even knew her name. She had been a year younger than he was, a nine year old picked up not in a villain’s mad plot to take over the world or in a flashy hostage situation at the local convenience store; these things were what media had told him were the only real way bad guys did anything. It hadn’t been flashy or loud.

Instead, the kidnapper had been an ordinary looking man. The news had said he had been wearing a business suit and the only grainy image ever shown looked identical to every salaryman that Tokoyami had ever seen; ordinary and mundane. The bad guy, for the first time, hadn’t looked like a bad guy at all.

Nevertheless, the man had tried to lure in several girls walking home together, claiming that he had a new baby puppy in his car and just needed a trustworthy youngster to watch it for a few minutes. That one little girl had been the first one to take the bait. There had been no struggles, no cries for a Pro Hero to save the day; she had gone willingly, holding his hand and a smile on her face.

As soon as she had gone missing, the entire school – if not the entire city, it seemed – had fallen in to a panic. Tokoyami had barely been aware of what was going on, as young as he was, even as his entire class sat stone quiet as a police officer standing in front of them and told them plainly what had happened; that the girl was missing and to tell an adult if any of them had any information. The very idea of ‘stranger danger’ outside of villains had been foreign until that moment. Weren’t you supposed to run to an adult if things were wrong or if people were in trouble?

The little girl hadn’t been found for nearly a week. When she was, the melancholy that had overtaken the school sunk in to an abyss. He caught the news on TV talking about the girl a few times, but his mom kept on changing the channel, so he didn’t learn much from there. Still, it was the only thing anyone was talking about at school for weeks and weeks; even as antisocial and withdrawn as he was, he thought that he would have still heard it even if he had been deaf.

She had been hurt very, very badly. At the time, he didn’t understand the words that the older kids said about it – and he had asked many questions that his parents refused to answer – but the fact that she had lost her quirk had been the most important thing. A school-wide assembly had been called; a very important-looking man in a suit explained to an auditorium of young children that, sometimes, people could be hurt so badly that their quirks went away. Sometimes, the quirks came back but sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes, someone could lose their quirk forever.

It was such an unthinkable thing that everyone was talking about it and nothing else. Classmates whispered to each other for days at a time about it. Kids from younger classes were sent home crying in the middle of the day.

The Saturday after it all happened, Tokoyami found himself playing with building blocks in front of the quiet television – mom only let him watch an hour of television per day and he didn’t want to waste it when there was nothing good on; that, and the pouring rain outside made hero training too annoying – so he had decided to try and put together the rest of his birthday present with Dark Shadow. These building block kits took ages and ages, but it was something to do and they both enjoyed playing with the end result. It even came with a little block man that had a bird head like he did.

Tokoyami was fiddling with the little bird-headed figure, trying to figure out if it could wear the helmets meant for the other figurines, when Dark Shadow let out a little whimper and the echo of sadness floated over him. It had been so strange – Dark Shadow hardly ever got sad – that he looked up in surprise. “Dark Shadow?”

“It’s nothing, Fumi. I’m okay.” Dark Shadow was looking down at the pile of blocks that would eventually become a part of the fortress. It almost resembled a shape.

The problem was that Dark Shadow couldn’t hide anything from him; whatever was bothering Tokoyami was what was bothering his quirk. That was how it was. “Are you thinking about that girl from school, too?”

Dark Shadow deflated a little, shrinking around the blocks. “Yeah. It’s really scary. She lost her quirk and everything.”

It was frightening. Tokoyami frowned in thought. “I don’t think I’d be able to do anything if I lost you.”

A great gasp came from his quirk; Dark Shadow stared at him with two dark claws over his beak. “Don’t say that, Fumi…!”

“But it’s true!” Tokoyami’s frown deepened as he dug further in to his own fears. “We’re supposed to be a Pro Hero together, right? We’re a team! But without you, I’m just… A kid. A kid that looks like a bird.”

“Nuh-uh!” Dark Shadow still had that horrified look on his face, blazing yellow eyes wider than Tokoyami had ever seen. “You’ve got the brains and… And the stra-ge-ties!”

“Strategies.” Tokoyami corrected.

“See?!” Dark, not-quite-solid arms flailed in the air. “You’re the one that pays attention in class and knows the things! I think… I think even if a villain made me go away…” A firm, resolute expression set itself on Dark Shadows’ face. “You’d still be the best. You’d be a really awesome Hero. I know it. You work really hard all of the time and you wouldn’t give up, right?”

Tokoyami didn’t know how to answer that; so he gave his quirk – more than a brother – a hug. The tenebrous arms that returned it lacked the warmth of normal bodies but had a special feeling all the same.

By the time that the last of the block castle was put together some hours later, both Tokoyami and Dark Shadow forgot about the conversation.

 

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Slowly, Tokoyami stirred from slumber. For a moment, he was surprised to be waking up this way at all; the nightmares had been so frequent and waking from them so sudden that he had forgotten how to wake up any other way.

The dream had been… Calm. Not quite pleasant, not something particularly happy, but it hadn’t been a thing that made him sick to his stomach or forced him to drag out the bucket from under his bed. He decided to celebrate this by lying there for a few seconds and staring at the ceiling, mentally clinging to this nice kind of quiet. The only sound came from Aoyama’s room next door; another night – morning, now, he supposed – of vaguely European pop music. The lyrics were foreign and he didn’t know what language they were in – French, probably? – but the same songs were played so often that he was starting to memorize them. It was pleasant, though. It continued to chase away the suffocating silence.

He had dreamed about Dark Shadow again. Things that were half memory and half longing. There was a pit of sadness in his stomach, but it wasn’t as bad as usual. Tolerable, really. Like most things in his life as of late.

It was still dark out. No sunlight came in from below the window curtains. After a short while, Tokoyami grabbed hold of his phone to check the time. A little before half past two in the morning; far too early to be awake.

Though, now that he was up, he quickly noticed that he was a little bit thirsty. He could ignore it and go back to sleep or he could go to the kitchen, grab something from the fridge, and then sleep without an annoyingly dry mouth. A few seconds of thought were given to the dilemma before he pulled himself out of bed and stumbled to the door.

Naturally, the hallways were quiet at this time. Everyone had spent the past few days in heavy training and focused on putting together their Ultimate Moves. There was still one more day of this intensity before they headed to the exam; everyone else must have been exhausted. Not that he wasn’t, but he had a feeling his was on a lesser level. He didn’t have to do half of what his classmates had to. He wasn’t tired because of work or strain.

The stairs were taken instead of the elevator but entirely out of curtesy; the loud chimes that it let off might wake someone up. The kitchen was just as silent as the rest of the building, but the barest of lights were on. Tokoyami thought that they probably were just in case of this kind of situation; if he was down here, some of the others must have picked up snacks at weird hours. Through the windows, he could see the bottom floor lit up in the nearby dorms in the exact same manner.

He stopped in front of the fridge; from there, Tokoyami could see Dark Shadow’s monument.

He stopped when he did and stared at it; it lay against the corner wall next to the big television. With the open floor plan, there was nothing to block his view. Tokoyami turned away long enough to open the fridge and grab a small box of apple juice; he made a mental note to pay back whoever purchased it and the dozens of similar ones that were in there.

Then, he was staring at the stone again. A sip was taken from the juice box. The cold liquid and pleasant taste were like a splash of fresh water, a solid and pleasant shock. After a moment, once he had relaxed from the simple pleasure, he headed for the image of Dark Shadow unmoving in the corner.

Someone had been cleaning it; there wasn’t a speck of dust anywhere on it and it gleamed as if it had been oiled or shined. It still looked every bit like a fresh gravestone with the small dolls Hagakure had made spread around it as if it were an altar to a god.

The grief had started to fade; it wasn’t the stabbing pain that it had been a month ago. It still hurt to think about the loss of what had practically been his twin, but he must have passed through some of the infamous ‘stages of grief’; things were the way that they were and he had to accept it. Still, a part of him thought that Dark Shadow would have loved this monument and the effort that had been put in to it.

Tokoyami couldn’t help a small smile; Dark Shadow had been somewhat of an egotist. Every bit of attention that had been on him and not on Tokoyami had been met with such glee; oh, he absolutely would have been thrilled with what Hikari had said and the dolls that Hagakure had made.

And now that he noticed it, there were some new dolls; Hagakure must have been practicing. Tokoyami sat down in front of the carved cement and picked up one of the newer ones. It looked a little fancier; the paper she used had a different metallic gleam, he thought, or perhaps the wires were better quality. The newer ones had a loop on top to attach to cellphones and keychains that the older ones didn’t have; did his classmates have miniature Dark Shadows on their phones, now?

Tokoyami stared at the little doll. He still had the first one he had been given but wondered if he could wear this one on a necklace. He couldn’t even pretend to feel an echo of Dark Shadow anymore, but this was… Something. A physical token, something he could touch and look at during the day. He wondered if it would be too much; would wearing it garner additional looks of pity?

There came a sudden loud ding. It was so unexpected that Tokoyami jolted; then, he stared in the direction of the elevator despite the island counter standing in the way.

The footsteps were loud but muffled; it was as if someone was physically stomping every step with bare feet using every ounce of strength that they had. A few seconds later, the footsteps became a figure with blonde hair and a scowl that seemed permanently etched.

Oh. The stomping made sense, now. What was Bakugo doing up at this hour?

The counter only blocked half of his view; Tokoyami could only make out his classmate from the waist up and immediately took note of the thick white gloves the fiery boy was wearing. The only thing he could think was that they were burn-resistant; something to stop Bakugo from blasting apart the world as he slept, perhaps?

The fridge door swung open with more force than was necessary; the gleaming white light – slightly different in hue from the yellows overhead – shone across the floor.

Suddenly, Bakugo stiffened. With the fridge door still open, he gave a sudden turn, one still gloved hand raised in an attacking position; eyed briefly darted for the threat, but eventually landed on Tokoyami.

Tokoyami stared back. “Good morning.”

“God damnit, bird-brain.” Bakugo snarled but relaxed from the tense position. He turned back to the fridge. “Fucking sneaking up on people.”

Technically, he hadn’t moved, so it hardly qualified as ‘sneaking’. Still, Tokoyami decided not to say anything on the subject. Really, he had been hoping that Bakugo wouldn’t notice he was here at all; he really wanted to avoid an awkward conversation. Though, all things considered, would Bakugo, of all people, even bother with late night chatter and aimless pleasantries?

“The fuck you even doing up, anyway?” Apparently, the answer was yes. Bakugo let off an audible smirk, a short chortle, as he continued to look through the contents of the fridge. “What, you nervous about that license exam shit like everybody else?”

Tokoyami took a moment to think about the question. “No, not really. My failure is essentially guaranteed.”

The fridge door was slammed shut; it let off a too-loud bang as it was. Bakugo turned to glare at him, a sealed bottle of some energy drink in one hand. “The hell are you talking about?”

Bakugo was not nearly this stupid. Tokoyami simply stared at him; he doubted he had to say the words out loud.

After a few seconds, that scowl on the blonde’s face turned a little more vicious. “Then why the hell are you going at all?!”

Tokoyami gave a shrug. “I don’t have anything to lose by making the attempt.”

That seemed to be the right answer; the snarl on Bakugo’s face relaxed in to the more familiar angry-but-not-at-anything-in-particular expression that he ordinarily had. “Ah.” A nod; his eyes shifted just a little and, for a moment, Tokoyami thought that Bakugo looked like… He respected the answer? No, that couldn’t be right. “Then the hell are you doing up if you’re not freaking out like the other jackasses in this place?”

Really? Were they honestly going to have this conversation? Tokoyami let out a soft sigh. “I haven’t been having the most pleasant dreams as of late.”

The expression on Bakugo’s face shifted in to something Tokoyami couldn’t identify. It looked like he was having some kind of internal struggle. “Nightmares, huh?”

What was going on right now, exactly? Tokoyami didn’t think he needed to answer the question – and didn’t really know what to say to begin with – so he settled for simply staring at his blonde classmate.

“Do you…” The words came from Bakugo so strained that it sounded almost like a hiss; like something forcefully being pulled out of too small a hole. “Want to… Talk… About it?”

What?

The fact that it was Bakugo that had asked the question – of all people, Bakugo?! – that, for a moment, it felt as if Tokoyami’s entire brain came to a screeching halt. There was nothing but blank shock.

Had that actually happened? He had actually asked that question just now? Tokoyami couldn’t even think how to respond to it.

Was Bakugo honestly asking about his well-being? Was he making fun of him? Trying to make fun of him? Midoriya had admitted that Bakugo used to be a bully, was that what this was? …. Had Tokoyami fallen in to a parallel universe and not noticed?

The silence must have stretched on for a little too long; Bakugo let out a fresh, much more natural snarl and turned to walk away. “Stupid… Never mind! Forget I even asked and don’t you dare mention it to anyone, got it?!”

“W-wait…!” Tokoyami stumbled back to his feet, still startled that the situation was happening at all. “Was that… A genuine question?”

“I said never mind!” It was too late; Bakugo was already hitting the button for the elevator.

When the elevator finally opened with the tell-tale ding, another body – visibly startled by Bakugo’s presence – immediately rushed out of the way. Bakugo didn’t make an attempt to physically nudge them out of the way, but did glare as he stomped past. Tokoyami didn’t recognize who it was until they were in better lighting.

“He looks more pissed than usual. Do I want to know?” Sero asked, sounding a little uneasy.

“Bakugo asked if I wanted to talk about my nightmares.” Tokoyami replied numbly.

“What?” Sero’s eyes physically bulged in a way Tokoyami had never seen before. Oh, thank god, he wasn’t the only one completely shell-shocked by this. “Is he… Sick? Feverish?”

The only think Tokoyami could do was give a helpless shrug.

Chapter Text

With only one day left before the license exam, training had been pushed to the most intense level so far. At least, it had been for everyone else; Tokoyami’s personal training cliff had been set higher than everyone else’s today – and as far as he could tell, what level Cementoss set the peaks were entirely random every time – and he could see clearly from up here how hard everyone was being pushed. How hard everyone was pushing themselves.

He had tried to follow suit, or at least to make an attempt; Mandalay and probably Aizawa allowed it, although the latter never officially said anything on the matter, and a solid portion of the morning had been spent in robust hand-to-hand combat training. Though, the acrobatics Mandalay had been teaching him ended up being incorporated in to the lessons.

Halfway through the morning, he had decided to take off his shoes. He had suspected that the talons on his feet, although useless for anything directly related to combat, would help clutch the floor and stop sliding after a flip. He had been quietly thrilled to learn that he had been correct. There had been less joy when he pulled a few muscles in his legs after the fact, but the praise from Mandalay at the discovery was nice.

For the first time since before the summer, class lessons left bruises. It was a pleasant thing somehow; the light off-coloration forming on his arms and legs through green skin weren’t obscene on any level and Tokoyami had the feeling that his classmates had much, much worse at present, but it almost felt as if he were on the same level as them. That he was actually doing something here and receiving an equal education.

Eventually, they stopped for lunch. The entire gym shrank back down to the same ground level when the chime sounded off from the overhead speakers. Then, the floor formed a series of tables and cement stools. Like the past few days, there was what was essentially a buffet, with one big cement block covered under aluminum foil-coated trays from Lunch Rush’s cafeteria. Some of the others had brought their own lunches and made a rush for their belongings. He had not.

Unlike the past few days, however, Cementoss had gone to the trouble of creating more sitting space. A few small flat clearings with long benches were formed around them. Tokoyami watched with some amusement as Kaminari immediately made use of one, laying down with his backpack as a pillow and managing to fall asleep despite the strong glare of the overhead lights.

Perhaps it was the strain of training and the stress of the upcoming exam, but his classmates were spreading out to the other platforms. Every one of them looked some level of exhausted as they took more comfortable positions; very few of them, it ended up, sat on the stiff cement stools. Instead, backs were against pillars or flat on the ground, legs spread on the floor or folded sideways, arms stretching and food all but inhaled.

On his end, Tokoyami wasn’t quite as spread thin as everyone else seemed to be; tired, yes, but it was only the midway point to the day. Perhaps it was from the lack of stress; he had no doubts that he would not pass the upcoming exam and, as a result, wasn’t the least bit worried about it. The others must have been at their wits’ end from nerves alone.

Tokoyami grabbed some food from the days’ offerings after most of everyone else had, making extra sure to actually grab a straw for his drink this time – he didn’t know how he had managed to forget the day before and it had been incredibly awkward gulping his beverage down; he felt like he had resembled a baby bird in a nest, beak wide and hideous – and then took a solid look around for a place of his own.

One of the first things that he noticed was that Bakugo was sitting alone. That in itself was a little unusual. Kirishima usually sat with him, but their ginger classmate was one of the few that had sat at the stools at the table and… Was currently resting his head on said table. Looked like he had fallen asleep next to a half-eaten plate of some kind of meat and soba noodles.

Iida was absolutely going to be yelling at everyone to get ‘plenty of rest’ once they got to the dorms. That was absolutely what was going to happen.

For a few seconds, Tokoyami shifted in unease, uncertain if what he wanted to do was the correct action or even if it was proper. His classmates were certainly going to want to know more about it, like they did with every public decision he made; the gossip mill at this school had been able to churn rumors out faster than the speed of any quirk and that had been before the summer had happened. A few of the others were already staring at him; Jiro and Asui, he spotted quickly enough, Aoyama and Sero from the corner of his vision.

Still, knowing he would probably regret it later, Tokoyami moved for Bakugo’s little corner of the field, a round little clearing of slightly raised cement without any benches or chairs formed in to it. The blonde was sitting on the floor and stared at him suspiciously even as he did the same.

“What do you want?” Bakugo snarled, but it lacked the usual venom.

In fact, the ferocious intensity that Bakugo usually exhibited – used to exhibit – had faded in to something a little more tame. At least, it did in his regard; there was still the same mysterious anger when it came to Midoriya most times and the same condescending attitude that bordered on a superiority complex when it came to everyone else. Yet, when it came to himself, something had changed and it felt like a recent shift.

Tokoyami had a suspicion as to why he earned such different treatment. It took a few seconds to form the words in a way that made sense. Or, at least, almost made sense. “Were you… There? That day?”

At first, Bakugo stared at him with confusion.

That probably should have been phrased more specifically; in hindsight, Tokoyami realized that it sounded like a complete non-sequitur. He opened his beak to clarify, trying to find more appropriate words.

Bakugo beat him to it; he let out a deep, angry sigh, as if he already regretted this conversation. “At the nomu warehouse? Yeah.”

Well, that put that suspicion to rest. Although all of his classmates had become overprotective, a certain select few of them had been acting completely off in personal interaction ever since the hospital. Bakugo had only been the worst offender.

“I remember that Iida carried me out.” Almost remembered. It was very, very fuzzy and the memory itself was tied to the saw; attempting to recall one automatically brought up the other and even now he winced, trying to separate the fuzzy aftermath from the horrific and painful clarity. “And I… Think Yaoyorozu was there. I think I remember her crying.”

Bakugo snorted. “She didn’t start the waterworks until we got to the ambulance and you were out by then.”

“Out?” Tokoyami blinked, frowning at how ominous it sounded.

Another snort; Bakugo wasn’t looking at him, gaze instead on a partially eaten onigiri in one of his hands. “You know that look dead fish get? The whole… Wide open shit but not seeing anything? You stopped breathing and you looked like that.” The next words came quieter. “Thought you fucking died.”

Back in the hospital, a nurse had told him that there had been ‘complications’ in the time between his rescue and finally waking up, but he hadn’t known that he had stopped breathing. Tokoyami shifted in place uncomfortably and took a long sip from an energy drink. “Who else was there?”

“Kirishima, the half-and-half bastard and fucking Deku.” A short, bitter laugh. “Half of us didn’t even do shit in there. I just fucking stared. Even Deku made himself useful and got the top of your head back.”

The top of his…

Tokoyami stared at Bakugo in mute shock. He knew that his head had been cut open – oh, did he know, and just thinking about the memory brought a slight wave of nausea – but the top of his skull had been physically removed? To the point that someone else had to get it back? And Midoriya had been the one and…

He wasn’t sure what expression he had on his face, but a voice from across the field suddenly yelled, “Hey! Bakugo! The hell are you telling him?!”

“Shut it, earlobes!” Bakugo yelled back.

The yelling snapped him out of the shock. Tokoyami looked back at Jiro – who sat in a picnic-like round with Midoriya, Uraraka, Asui and Ashido and every one of them was staring at him – and gave a small wave. “It’s fine!”

Then, he rubbed his face around his beak. This was going in the exact opposite direction of what he had hoped. The point of this was to do things subtly and quietly; it didn’t look like it would be possible here with all of his classmates nearby. He needed to get to the core of the issue before this cursed lunch break brought anything else. “Bakugo, I have a favor to ask.”

“What?” It was a response from sheer surprise, not a query about what the favor was. It was what he expected.

“I need some assistance with a… Situation in my dorm after class. If possible.”

Bakugo was staring at him with suspicion again.

Still, he wasn’t automatically shutting down the conversation. He was receptive.

That was likely as good as this was going to get.

 

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After the final long day of training, most of 1-A was absolutely exhausted. Despite that it was only the middle of the afternoon with still a couple of hours before dinner, the flock of teenagers let off moans as they collapsed in to the couches in the main room. Only a few of them made for the elevator or stairs.

Of those few that didn’t fall over in the living room, three of them were together in a single pack. Several sets of eyes stared in surprise as Tokoyami, Bakugo and Kirishima quietly walked together, avoiding eye contact with anyone else and seemingly in the same group.

“Should we be worried about that?” Hagakure stared at the elevator – or, at least, her uniform top was tilted in a way that they all thought she was – even as it closed shut with its’ three occupants.

“What, Tokoyami talking to Bakugo?” Asui stretched her arms and legs wide; a couple of minute cracks let loose before she relaxed again. “You know he’s capable of making his own decisions, right?”

“Yeah, but…” Hagakure said with a partial whine.

“I don’t think this is anything new. Maybe.” Sero shrugged as he put his legs on the coffee table. A swift glare from Iida forced him to put his feet back on the floor. “I caught them having a… Kind of private conversation at like two AM last night.”

“Private conversation?” That was Ashido, tone lifted and a little too excited. “Like a forbidden middle of the night romantic conversation?!”

Several startled stares and groans immediately aimed themselves in her direction.

“Oh god. No, Mina, no.” Jiro shook her head, expression sheer disbelief. “Why do you keep doing this?”

“That… Honestly hurts my brain a little.” Shoji piped up from the nearby kitchen.

Sero looked every inch of horrified as he stared at Ashido. “They were talking about nightmares, not… Not that.”

Ashido deflated with visible disappointment.

“It makes sense.” Yaoyorozu frowned, guilt at the edge of her expression. “We’ve all been handling Tokoyami as if he would break apart at the slightest inconvenience. Bakugo is the only one who doesn’t, I think.”

“Yeah, they’re probably just… Going to watch a movie or something.” Asui let out a breath, still visibly rattled by Ashido’s suggestion.

“All Might was right.” Midoriya said it out loud, but they were all thinking the same thing. “I mean, things are going to happen…” He shared a quick glance with Shoji – Koda had escaped to his room as soon as had been possible – before looking to the rest of his classmates to avoid suspicion in the gesture. “But he probably feels smothered by now.”

A moment of silence passed in resounding melancholy.

“But we can still check on him, right?” Hagakure eventually broke the quiet.

“Maybe we can be more sneaky about it? We can… Spy on him.” Ashido suggested with a nervous grin.

“That’s your first thought?” Jiro stared at her. “We might be acting like a whole bunch of overconcerned smothering parents and your first thought is ‘let’s spy on him’.”

“We’re not going to spy on Tokoyami without his knowledge or consent.” Iida frowned deeply. “That is unbecoming of both Heroes and respectful citizens.”

A loud echo of something digital came from the floor above them; the bass from a speaker.

“See, it sounds like a movie.” Asui rolled her eyes. “He’s fine.”

The sound effects were distant – the living room was not directly under any of the dorms – but another loud rumble came from the direction of the only occupied rooms on the second floor. Indecipherable tense music made muddy by the building material and distance. There was what sounded like a scream.

“A horror movie, it sounds like.” Midoriya mused out loud. Then, a realization struck. “Oh. Oh, it doesn’t even matter what horror movie it is, we would have all been watching Tokoyami more than the movie. He would have hated that.”

Winces went around the room as they all quietly fell in to agreement.

It took a few seconds of mass internal musing before anyone realized that something was off.

“What – oh come on!” Ashido picked up Hagakure’s shirt from the pile on the couch. “How the hell…?! When did that even happen?!”

“Hey, you were the one that put the idea in her head.” Jiro sighed as Asui physically facepalmed nearby. “This is kind of a little on you.”

“We couldn’t even find her now if we wanted to.” Midoriya groaned. “If we go upstairs, Tokoyami will think we’re checking up on him, and Hagakure might assume we’d go looking for her and could just be anywhere else.”

“We’ll absolutely have to talk to her later.” Iida grimaced. “She needs to understand the importance of privacy and personal affairs – ”

Then, the door to the outside world swung open. Aizawa stalked through with quick, purposeful strides. A brief glance was sent to the gaggle on the couch, but he otherwise did not stop. Instead, he rushes for the stairs next to the elevator, pushing the door open and leaping them two at a time before the door to the stairwell closed.

Stunned expressions were shared along the living room. A beat of silence passed.

Then, without a word, every one of them shot to their feet and headed for the stairs.

Chapter Text

The dorms may have been new but getting a call after school hours was not. Over the past few years of teaching and overseeing countless students, Aizawa has gotten more than a few calls late in the day about teenagers doing things that teenagers should not be doing.

Honestly, all things considered, the new dorms only made things more convenient. It was a good thing; he didn’t have to trudge to a train station or walk for hours to get to whatever commotion this latest round of idiots were getting themselves in to. In fact, considering it was barely early evening, he might even go easy on them; it was a far cry from the middle-of-the-night brawls earlier versions of 1-A had caused and/or taken part of.

His phone was still vibrating in his pocket when he charged through the front door. A gaggle of kids were on the couches, gaping as he strode by, but Aizawa didn’t bother to acknowledge them. Though, they saw him charge through and he had a feeling that once he got in to the stairwell…

Yup. He could hear them following him. A stampede of footsteps trailing in the rear.

Goddamnit, kids.

Not much he could do about that right now, though. There were more substantial issues to deal with.

Once he got the door for the second floor open, he could immediately hear the yelling.

“You can’t even see me!” Seriously, Hagakure was being defiant? Seriously?

“That is not the point, mademoiselle!” That was the loudest he had ever heard Aoyama’s voice. He sounded upset, as anyone in their right mind would be.

“Hagakure.” Aizawa sighed, slowing his stride to a more comfortable walk. “Enough.”

“You called Aizawa-sensei?!” At present, there was a floating towel – wrapped around her waist, it looked like – that turned to Aoyama’s direction. “Why?!”

Aoyama – face slightly red from what was probably a mix of embarrassment and anger – gaped at the direction of the invisible girl, jaw opening and closing as if he really wanted to say something but couldn’t quite find the words.

The only sounds, for a moment, came from the room in the corner. The loud echoing thump of a movie’s sound effect. A brief glance was spared for the closed door; it was nowhere near curfew and the volume was technically fine. Really, it was better that Tokoyami wasn’t peeking out in the endless curiosity that teenagers had. It was one less person to yell at.

“Enough.” Aizawa took a deep breath. Back to the matter at hand. “Hagakure, did you really think that breaking in to your classmates’ room without their knowledge while also entirely naked would not be alarming?”

“I didn’t break in.” At least Hagakure had the sense to sound a little ashamed, voice dropping to a quieter, much more meek tone. It was almost swallowed by the rumbling of noises from the next room over. “The door was unlocked.”

“Oh, Hagakure.” That came from behind him; Aizawa glanced back to find the rest of the kids already there. Yaoyorozu stood to the side of the pack, but it had been her voice.

“The rest of you, get back to your rooms or wherever you were five minutes ago.” He didn’t care where they went, as long as it wasn’t here. “Aoyama, same for you. Hagakure, go put some actual clothing on and meet me in front of the building. We need to have a long talk in my office.”

There was a scurrying of noises behind him as the rest of the present teenagers began to scatter, but his eyes weren’t on them. Aoyama’s face was still red; he did not look the least bit relieved even as he slunk back inside of his dorm. Aizawa was well aware that the boy usually sought privacy in his daily life, class time flaunting and that whole ‘sparkles’ thing aside, so he wasn’t surprised that this had gone down the way that it had. Whatever Hagakure thought she was doing, this was not the way to go about it.

Still, all things considered, this was not the worst attempt at teenage flirting he had seen over the years. There had been methods that had gone much more awry. A few of them had even bordered on dangerous. This? Almost harmless. Almost.

He would need to check on Aoyama later. Invisibly quirk aside, suddenly realizing that he wasn’t alone in his room – especially after all the villain activity over the past few months and the reason that they had built these dorms in the first place – had probably shaken him. In the initial whispered and panic-filled call, Aoyama hadn’t even known who was in his room. He had been terrified until Hagakure had decided to speak up.

At least Aoyama’s instincts had been correct to call an authority figure and not, well, start firing stomach lasers everywhere. So that was something in his favor.

These stupid children. This lot had so much promise, but there was still all the hormonal nonsense to deal with. It was aggravating. But that was how it was every year, really.

A sudden, startling whine of something mechanical came from the corner dorm. Despite that it still had the faint digital echo of something that wasn’t quite real, Aizawa still felt his hackles raise and his defenses flare just a bit. Though, the sound cut off halfway through – not the slow shutting down of a true machine, but the sudden halt of a video on pause.

Then, there came the sound of crying; a deep voice wheezing and blubbering.

If it had been any other group of students, Aizawa would have let it go. It was just a kid watching a movie and had to pause it at an intense scene. Nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, probably better than ordinary, as they paused it instead of screaming at some horror sequence at the top of their lungs while it kept on playing.

But the fact that the sound effect was absolutely of a power saw and that that was absolutely Tokoyami that was sobbing what was caused the indecision.

“Hey, you wanna stop it for a while?” Kirishima was in there? Huh. When did those two get chummy?

“No, no, it’s fine.” Tokoyami did not sound fine. In fact, he let out a heave as if he were deeply nauseous. “Keep going. Put it back on.”

Wait. A horror movie playing the sound of a saw? Tokoyami forcing himself to watch it, and he had the foresight to drag in at least one other person to keep tabs?

Oh, that stupid child.

Aizawa let out a deep, annoyed breath as he strode over those few feet. He knocked twice on the door before trying to open it. It wasn’t locked.

The movie hadn’t been turned back on yet. Three teenage boys looked up at him with sheer alarm, as if he had caught them doing something terrible; the lot sat on the floor in front of a laptop in near darkness, owlishly wide eyes reflecting the screen. Which, in itself, wasn’t anything close to unusual, but Aizawa quickly noticed that the laptop was not, in fact, playing a movie.

It was playing clips from one of those video sites. From the title of it, it was a collection of ‘power tool sound effects’.

These stupid, stupid children.

Tokoyami had a bucket on his lap. It was not empty and even he could smell it from here. In front of him, halfway between his legs and the laptop’s screen, sat a tub of… Ice cream? Was this boy honestly trying to associate the sounds with something pleasant only to just vomit it up out of nerves? Clever idea, entirely idiotic execution. “Aizawa-sensei –”

“Save it.” Honestly, these kids. “You are aware that there are professionals employed by the school to help with these sorts of matters?”

None of the three students said anything – and he was only a little surprised that Tokoyami had convinced Kirishima and Bakugo to help with this ignorant attempt at immersion therapy – but the first two at least had the sense to look ashamed. Bakugo, on his end, did not, instead just looking vaguely uneasy. Typical.

Though, Tokoyami immediately muttered something close to a defense: “It worked with All Might videos.”

Aizawa rolled his eyes. Well, that was a fair explanation as to why he had been doing so well in that particular class, but this was still a stupid way to go about things. “Did you even talk to the school-employed psychiatrist? Or even check the office hours?”

There was another bout of silence. Ah, so the answer was ‘no’ on both accounts. Fantastic.

“Are we in trouble?” Kirishima eventually asked.

“It was my idea…” Tokoyami straightened up in alarm. “I convinced them to help…”

It didn’t take long to fall upon a decision. These kids were going about this in a roundabout way – really, only a teenager could think that this was a good idea – but they weren’t doing anything malicious.

Hell, they had even gone about it in such a way that they had technically not done anything improper. They were doing this in private, volume not too high, pausing it when necessary and with the full consent of everyone involved.

“You aren’t in trouble.” Aizawa sighed. “Technically, you’ve done nothing wrong. You aren’t even breaking curfew or sound ordinances. Though, I would strongly, strongly suggest asking the professionals at this school to help. I understand your frustration, but you risk hurting yourself worse by doing things like this.”

Though, other things were starting to fall in to place, now. Hagakure had forced herself in to Aoyama’s room, the only one that shared a wall with this corner-set dorm.

“Next time, however, if you decide you want to keep on this idiotic method of yours, I suggest using headphones. The floors aren’t that soundproof and everyone downstairs can hear the noise.”

Oh, now that caused a new wave of surprise; even Bakugo’s brows shot up. Kirishima looked every inch of awkward and Tokoyami stilled as if he had committed some grievous crime, beak slightly agape and eyes wide.

The message should have gotten through to them by now. By their expressions, it looked like it had.

“Consider this a warning. Enjoy the movie.” Aizawa said with as much audible annoyance as he could put in to it. He turned to walk out of the room and closed the door behind him; no other sound came from the boys inside.

 

-------------

 

Last night had been… Embarrassing.

Tokoyami had tried to keep it quiet. He hadn’t wanted to alarm anyone or cause any worry; that had been the whole point of seeking Bakugo out in private. Although the blonde pulling in Kirishima hadn’t been part of the original plan, he hadn’t opposed it. In fact, it all almost worked out.

Then Aizawa had to show up and catch them like children with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, immediately throwing a wrench in to the whole thing. It was sheer dumb luck that their homeroom teacher hadn’t demanded an explanation, instead letting them off with just a verbal slap on the wrist.

The entire exercise had come to a halt at that point anyway. From there, he had spent the better part of a half hour trying to apologize to his classmates. Kirishima had tried to calm him down, saying repeatedly that none of them were in trouble so there was no need to fuss, and Bakugo had just shrugged it off; he had expected at least one of them to be angry, but neither of them had been. There had been no explosions or insults or cursing, just… A ‘see you tomorrow’ and that was that.

Tokoyami didn’t even know why Aizawa had been there in the first place, at first initially believing that someone had called their homeroom teacher because of the noise; what happened with Hagakure hadn’t been discovered until the next morning.

The bus to pick them up wouldn’t arrive until eleven. With absolutely no surprise to anyone, at least five classmates had decided to sleep until the very last possible minute. When he showed up to the kitchen a little before a quarter to nine, it was the talk of the class. At first, he had heard someone whispering in the hall about ‘Hagakure getting in trouble’ before finding out why.

Hagakure was there, at least, so he hadn’t thought it was anything too serious. Not expulsion serious, at any rate, until he overheard some of the girls talking as he tried to decide on breakfast.

“You went in to Aoyama’s room naked?!” Uraraka squealed with horror from the couch. “You didn’t even tell him you were there?!”

“I was trying to be sneaky…” Hagakure whined sadly. “I hoped he wouldn’t even know I was in there at all! I just wanted to be a fly on the wall…”

“Until you, what, knocked over a jar by accident?” Jiro smirked.

“I think it was a candle. He has a lot of these scented candle things in his room.” The ‘floating’ t-shirt gave a shrug. “But it was an accident and then I panicked! I was just… It was a bad idea, okay? Aizawa-sensei was really, really angry about it.”

Aizawa hadn’t been called on his behalf? It was because of an actual incident that hadn’t involved him in any way? It had just been coincidence?

Oh, thank god.

Still, his classmates were all very, very strange sometimes. Hagakure had gone in to Aoyama’s room naked?!

Though… There was something nice about the distraction. Today was the day of the license exam; everyone’s nerves might have been much more on edge if Hagakure hadn’t done this… Whatever it was that apparently involved nudity and breaking in to Aoyama’s room. Honestly, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to know. Kind of. Mostly.

Either way, no one was looking at him for a change, so he grabbed a couple of apples and a glass of juice – a light breakfast was for the best, probably – and tried to relax in the couple of hours or so before the bus would show up. To not think about recent blunders and how completely underprepared he was for this.

Everyone was trying to do the same thing, it seemed. The couches were sprawled on by multiple bodies even though they were in full uniform, television blaring nonsense. Bags with their costumes lay by the door, packed and a few with additional snacks in them. Kaminari was the last to trudge down at exactly ten forty-five, uniform wrinkled from obviously having slept in it. The blonde looked proud of himself as he grabbed a couple of slices of bread, made a quick butter-and-cheese sandwich, and nibbled it even as they got on the bus. No one made a single remark about it.

On his end, Tokoyami wasn’t certain what the day would bring. He had felt uncomfortable enough in his hero costume these past few days and had, as a last thought, brought an extra pair of sandals. The only one he owned had been for the beach, flip-flops that were not intended for combat, but the talons on his feet peeked out over the edge. There hadn’t been enough time to get anything more suitable. The whole ‘talons on his feet’ thing was still weird enough as it was.

Tokoyami knew that he was going to look ridiculous and that he was absolutely going to fail this exam. There was no question, now, on either of these two issues.

With any luck, though, he wouldn’t be the center of attention. Had enough time passed since the media firestorm around his rescue that no one would recognize him? Maybe he could just slide through, fail quietly, and not have this turn in to a thing. After all, there were going to be many other schools at this exam and likely dozens upon dozens of applicants; he was just going to be one grain of sand in the giant hourglass.

He could hope, at least, right?

Chapter Text

It was roughly ten minutes in to the bus ride when his phone began to buzz. There had been a time, eight months and an eternity ago, when Tokoyami would have been content to ignore it until after school hours. Back then, nothing could have been so important as to warrant an immediate check.

Now, worry immediately flared as he reached for his uniform back pocket.

As tight as seating currently was, he couldn’t hide what he was doing from his benchmate. Shoji had ended up with a window seat and Mineta usually sat next to him on rides like this – mostly out of convenience of size than anything else, considering how much bulk the multi-armed student took and how little their smallest classmate did – but, for reasons Tokoyami honestly could not place and was a little nervous to ask, Mineta had sat next to Koda. So, phone pulled out in as much haste as he could, both of Shoji’s natural eyes looked on.

Tokoyami expected the worst. His parents didn’t ordinarily text him and everyone else who would were on this bus. The most reasonable conclusion was that something had happened. But he had spoken to his parents just the night before – they had wanted to wish him luck and he hadn’t had the heart to tell them that he had already given up on getting his license – so what could have…

The message was from his sister. Tokoyami blinked once at it.

Then, he glared at the screen with quiet annoyance. He tapped a few buttons to send a reply; his phone vibrated again only a moment later.

“Is something up?” Shoji asked quietly, but there was worry in his tone.

Well, no need to make the concern worse. With a breath, Tokoyami tilted the phone so his friend could read it more comfortably.

did something dumb. plz dont be mad love you xoxoxo

Did you at least get mom and dad’s approval?

kinda sorta yes dont be mad xoxoxo

“Well, that sounds ominous.” Yet, the worry was gone; Shoji was amused. “Your sister seems like such a good kid, though. She’s always so polite when she visits and trains with us.”

“Hikari is an evil genius.” Tokoyami said with a completely deadpan air.

A tentacle-laden mouth let out a small laugh. “She’s twelve.”

“Don’t let it fool you.” There was a different kind of worry, now; not the heavy constricting fear of something truly going awry, but a softer concern about what Hikari could have done this time. “The last time I got a text like that, she was suspended from school for a month for blackmailing a fellow student in to doing all of her school chores. It had been going on for at least six months. She was ten.”

Shoji was openly gaping at him; that extra mouth was hanging open. An extra eye was blinking widely at him. He looked like he might laugh. “I kind of want to know more about this.”

Well, may as well; they were stuck on this bus for at least another twenty minutes. “You remember my sisters’ quirk?”

A nod from Shoji’s actual skull. “Visual copy quirk?”

“Precisely.” Tokoyami folded his arms. “This fellow classmate of hers, a boy, had apparently been flashing the girls in his class for a while and she became… Vexed.”

The expression that came across Shoji’s masked face was entirely pride. “And with her quirk, she’s essentially a living camera.”

Tokoyami had not been nearly as proud of his sister as Shoji currently seemed to be. A little impressed, but it had been far too mortifying at the time. “She threatened to draw his… Form… On the blackboards in school unless he did as she asked. As I said, evil genius.”

After that, Shoji actually did laugh, a quiet trembling chuckle that went over his entire frame. Tokoyami found himself not nearly as amused by the memory; knowing his sister, she could have done something just as embarrassing. Still, it was the day of the exam, he wouldn’t find out what had happened until after he was back at the dorms.

At least, he had thought so until the bus pulled in next to the facility.

As soon as they stepped off the stairs, he noticed several things. First, that there were hundreds, if not thousands of students from a variety of schools milling about. Some were already in their hero costumes, but uniforms from all over the country were present as well. Secondly, eyes from many milling about nearby were aimed at a bus a distance away; students stood in front of said vehicle in clean-pressed uniforms of their own.

The students there, however, were very, very small. Too small.

“Hey, I thought we were the youngest people at this thing.” Kaminari said from somewhere behind him.

“Uhm, isn’t that Tokoyami’s sister?” Ojiro physically pointed at one of the uniformed children.

It was, in fact, Hikari. She waved at them, grinning a little too smugly.

Tokoyami shuttered his eyes for just a moment.

There was no possible way that his sister had convinced his school to try their hands at this. They were far too young and most of them, as far as he knew, did not have quirks suited for combat. Hikari attended an art school, for goodness sake.

Aizawa had already left their little pack to approach the gaggle of children. It only took a few minutes of talking to the young woman with the lot of them before he came back, looking a little confused. “This is highly unusual, but those children are here to observe, not to compete.”

Tokoyami took a deep breath; what a mad banquet of darkness this was.

-------------

 

After that, Aizawa had attempted to give a pep talk. It had quite a few bird-related analogies in it. Tokoyami found it just a bit insulting, but had decided not to say anything about it, especially after his classmates seemed more motivated by their homeroom teachers’ speech.

Then, things became a little bit strange.

Of course they should have expected some attention; as if the Sports Festival alone that had been broadcasted to the entire country wouldn’t have brought them some fame, recent events certainly would have.

It came suddenly; Students from Shiketsu had barged in just to make their presence known. The rivalry between U.A. and Shiketsu had been going on far before either of their classes began attendance at their respective schools; yet, somehow, pride in their institutions ran deep and always made things more personal than it needed to be. They were both considered ‘elite’ hero schools; they were representatives.

One of Shiketsu’s, though, literally shrieked about how much he loved U.A. before they all had briskly walked off. It was a student that Aizawa had claimed had been accepted in to U.A. but had turned down his acceptance?

What a strange lot those were. Still, they ignored him on a personal level, seemingly not even noticing he was there at all, so that was nice.

Tokoyami wasn’t nearly as lucky the next time a group of students noticed their class.

A green haired woman that ended up being the Smile Hero, Ms. Joke – he had seen her on the news a couple of times, but he hadn’t instantly recognized her, although Midoriya had with much fanboyish fanfare – brought over her own students after a bout of banter with Aizawa. Ketsubutsu Academy’s arrivals were, at first, seemingly much more polite than those from Shiketsu. At least, they didn’t all rush over, shrieking and hollering.

Instead, they were introduced. It was almost normal.

That is, until a black-haired second year started grabbing peoples’ hands in his own; Midoriya was the first victim and was visibly startled. “I’m Shindo! U.A. first years have had nothing but trouble, so it must have been tough!”

Midoriya sputtered something, but Shindo had already moved on, grabbing Kaminari’s hands. “But still, you’re all aiming to become heroes, huh?”

Tokoyami took a few steps back and tried very hard not to be in this boys’ line of sight. Granted, he seemed… Earnest. Polite. But it was unsettling, as if something was just a bit off. A glance at his own classmates confirmed his feelings; everyone looked unsure. Bakugo was glaring daggers at this boy.

“It’s so wonderful!” Shindo was still talking, grabbing now for Jiro’s hands. “A heart of fortitude is what I believe all heroes should have from now on!”

There was absolutely something very strange about all of this. Shindo was practically sparkling, as if glitter had just magically sprouted from somewhere. In fact, it was not all that dissimilar to…

Tokoyami glanced to Aoyama; he was also hiding near the back of their group but was gaping at Shindo as if he were personally insulted.

“Amongst you, there’s Tokoyami, the famous survivor of the Kamino Incident!”

Tokoyami jumped and turned back to stare; oh, no.

Shindo was making his way towards him, still with that mysterious glitter. Tokoyami tried not to be too impolite – this Shindo was acting strange, but not threatening, not really – but leaned away just a little. From the corners of his vision, he could see his classmates shoot the black-haired outsider all sorts of looks.

His hands were being grabbed in the same way his classmates were and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. No one else had pulled their hands away; it would be rude if he did so, as uncomfortable as it was. It might be best just to let whatever this was to just… Happen.

Shindo was still talking. “You must have an especially strong heart to come here even after being made quirkless! I’ll do my best to learn from you!”

It had not been said with malice. Instead, it was said with all the air of a compliment, if an unintentionally backhanded one. Still, Tokoyami couldn’t help but flinch.

--------------

 

They had to change in to their hero uniforms. Unfortunately, Tokoyami had forgotten what a normal locker room looked like. He hadn’t accounted for how public it was.

Back in U.A., the students each had their own private cubicles to change in. Naturally, there had been some questions as to why – as even middle school had group-shared benches with rows of lockers – but had received unclear and conflicting information no matter who they asked. All that any of them were able to get was that someone in a class eons before their own had done something that made single-occupancy rooms mandatory.

The large cavern supplied for this stadium was much closer to the norm, if not expanded to a massive scale. There had to easily be room for a thousand in here and this was only for the boys. The girls had their own facility, likely just as big, with seemingly endless numbered rows of lockers, benches and mirrors.

Their class had stuck together, of course. But that wasn’t the problem.

He should have worn the bodysuit of his hero costume under his uniform. In hindsight, Tokoyami mused, that would have fixed this entire problem. It would have made changing faster, as well, although they had been given a solid half hour to do so.

None of his classmates had seen his body since the hospital. Even then, he had worn a hospital gown that had covered the worst of it. They were going to stare and give him those looks again and, if he was particularly unlucky, were going to say something.

Still, he couldn’t exactly wait for the entire facility to empty out before changing. That would get even more questions; it would be counterproductive to try and hide.

With a deep breath, Tokoyami unbuttoned his shirt. Maybe if he was quick enough, no one would notice, too busy with their own wardrobe change…

As soon as he slid his shirt off, someone behind him gasped.

There it was.

Tokoyami turned to look; he thought it had been Kaminari that had made the noise, but now Sero, Kirishima and Mineta were staring and even Koda was purposefully looking away with an embarrassed look on his face. Ojiro glanced over but then also turned away, likely trying to be polite, and everyone else was pointedly trying not to look…

“If you have something to say, now’s the time.” Tokoyami sighed, even as he moved to take off his uniform trousers.

There was a beat of silence. Then, Kaminari began to slowly move his hand in the air back and forth, visually punctuating stunned, quiet words. “That… Line on your back…?”

It was more of a large, thick and nearly blackened scar right above his tail; ‘line’ just made it sound dainty. “The electric shocks.”

All four of the people gaping at him shuddered. Tokoyami thought he saw a few of the others nearby – the ones trying not to participate in this conversation – do the same. Iida, at least, he was sure of, even as the class rep was putting on his helmet. Midoriya and Bakugo were both staring at him from opposite directions, each one too far away to say anything, but he suspected that both had already figured out what was going on.

“And your shoulders?” Sero asked it this time, but at least made an effort to start changing out of more of his own clothes.

There were two, much more lighter scars a couple of inches below his shoulder blades. Those ones had healed properly and barely left anything behind but mild discoloration and some patchy skin. Tokoyami gave a small shrug. “I don’t actually know. Back at the hospital, the doctors told me they had to remove something, but I never found out exactly what.”

That had to be the end of that; there were no more scars or visible wounds that he had been hiding. The momentary pause gave him enough time to turn away from the stares that he had been trying so hard to avoid, faces filled with horror and pity.

As if he had become something grotesque.

He had tried to say it all devoid of emotion; to say it plainly as if it weren’t anything at all. Not a big deal; this is what happened and that’s why those scars were there now. It was nothing to be concerned about. Really.

They didn’t have to worry about him. He was fine.

His back was already turned to them before they started talking again.

“I bet they were wings.”

“Denki!” Sero sounded horrified.

“I’m just saying…!” Kaminari sputtered a moment. “The feathers, the tail, he was probably growing wings…!”

“You’re really saying this now?!” Mineta yelped.

“Kaminari, dude, seriously.” Kirishima sounded worried. “Not the time.”

“I was just saying…” It was nothing short of a pout from their electric classmate.

Tokoyami decided not to respond or to even look at them. Instead, he focused on getting the rest of his costume on.

It wasn’t until he was finished, coated in black and ready to leave with the rest of his class, that he noticed someone staring at him from deeper in their row of lockers. The black haired boy from Ketsubutsu – Shindo – had a strange smile on his face and eyes pointed right at him.

Chapter Text

If the very tired-looking man had not been standing on a podium, Tokoyami doubted he would have been able to see him at all. As it was, at his rather petite height, almost everything in the gym-like auditorium was blocked out. He could only imagine how those with actual height-related mutations fared.

Now that everyone attempting their hands at this thing were all packed in a single room, he couldn’t help but marvel at just how many people there were. A glance at his classmates showed that they were similarly as surprised; it was a good thing that they had stuck together because he had absolutely no idea how they would have found each other with so many people here otherwise.

The man on the podium – someone from the Heroes Public Safety Commission who looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks – spoke barely above a mumble. Yet, he managed to hold a fairly dramatic orientation speech about how all 1,540 of them – over fifteen hundred people?! This was a single testing ground, there were dozens more all over the country – were going to be tossed in to a single massive free-for-all.

It all sounded so ominous. Everyone around him radiated a nervous energy, grinding teeth and twitching limbs. It was a dreadful kind of silence from the hundreds of people around him, hanging on to every word that came from this otherwise average city worker.

Then, the proverbial bomb dropped.

“The first hundred to fulfill the requirements will pass.”

There was a very brief moment of silence; then, it was a cacophony, a chattering of shock and dismay. Only the first hundred?!

Oh. Oh, this was… Not even close to a fifty percent passing rate. Only the first hundred would even make it to the second round? That was less than a single percent, wasn’t it?

Oh. He really wasn’t going to pass this, then, was he?

Somehow, Tokoyami only felt a deep, echoing calm. This was fine. He had suspected as much from the start – had accepted it, really – but this sort of finalization was nice to have.

If he failed out early enough, could he leave and relax for the rest of the day? Could he watch the others from the sidelines and cheer them on? It sounded like a pleasant enough way to spend the day, really.

The man on the podium was still talking despite the panic-filled whispers from the crowd. “Well, a lot has happened out there in the world. And, you know –”

A loud creaking noise came from the ceiling. Tokoyami looked up in sudden alarm – he wasn’t the only one to do so if judging only by the startled yelps from around him – as the ceiling… Split apart? It wasn’t as if it were being broken, but a clean sliding of metal and gears.

“Oi!” The man on the podium sighed. “Who did that? It’s too early. We haven’t even gotten to the rules, yet…”

Was this part of the presentation?

The walls collapsed with the resounding cry of metal meeting earth; the ceiling seemed to unfold from both directions, meeting the ground below in the same manner at the same time. That had to be choreographed. Once the dust cleared – it was far too quick to be natural – a stadium appeared around them, towering bleachers overlooking the fake city landscape, crafted mountains and artificial lake.

It all looked very much like U.S.J. had, only on a much grander scale and with seating for an audience that wasn’t there. There were only endless rows of almost empty seats.

“This is unnecessarily dramatic.” Tokoyami mumbled to himself. Someone behind him murmured agreement.

“Up top!” Jiro yelled from nearby, full of alarm. Not sure what she meant, Tokoyami looked straight up.

The sky was purple. It swirled, dark and malevolent. It was also familiar. A stone of panic hit the bottom of his stomach as he recognized precisely what this was.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?!” Bakugo shrieked. “This again?!”

“This… Isn’t part of the exam.” The man on the podium sounded amazed. “What is this?”

A flowing wave of miasmic purple dropped from the sky. Screams of alarm came from the people around him. Instinctively, Tokoyami crouched to defend himself while knowing it would do little good. This had happened once before, back at their first meeting with the League.

The cries around him instantly faded out.

---------------

 

When natural colors came back to the world seconds later, Tokoyami was not the least bit surprised to find himself somewhere else. It had been the same method the villains had used on their very first attack against U.A.; divide and conquer.

Thankfully, he was still in the stadium. The red seats towered far above him, much closer than they had been before; he was close to the wall now, near what looked like a suspended half of a road. Around him were a great deal of other people that had been pulled in to this area with him. Tokoyami didn’t bother with a head count but there were probably fifty or so here. Possibly more.

This didn’t make any sense. There were over a thousand would-be heroes in this facility; each had come ready to fight in their full Hero costumes. The last time the League had attempted a similar attack, they had brought dozens of thugs to attack the twenty in his class alone.

“Tokoyami!” Oh, there was Yaoyorozu. “Are you all right?”

Tokoyami gave her a nod and prepared to answer, only to be interrupted.

“Does anyone know what’s going on?!” A tall, burly teen with a vizor yelled from the fifty-ish strong.

Oh. Yes, of course not everyone here would be familiar with what had been going on at U.A. “League of Villains. They do things like this.” Tokoyami squashed down the spark of panic that simmered in his gut. Right now, everything was more or less under control; it was better to stay calm as long as possible.

“Villains?! Here?!” A rather petite girl with long pigtails yelped, terror in her voice.

“Everyone, calm down!” Shindo suddenly rose from the crowd. “Haven’t any of you been watching the news in the past year? Seeing things online?”

There were a great deal of blank and embarrassed expressions.

A flash of color caught his attention from the corner of his vision. Tokoyami turned; a flash of purple grew and swirled against the curved wall of the stadium below the bleachers. It stretched, filling up a long expanse of said wall. A moment later, hulking figures erupted from the portals.

They were nomu. The same type that had attacked the train; tall monstrous things with their fang-covered and grotesque full body mouths.

There were less than a dozen of them from this patch of portals alone. Fewer than what was at the train attack.

Tokoyami squinted in suspicion. With a horrible feeling in his gut, he looked up to the sky; he was unsurprised to spot another portal, a smaller one, appear close by. From there, flying nomu erupted. There were only a few of them, a bare smattering; he counted… Five. Only five fliers.

One of the flying nomu had dark feathers and a tail very similar to his own. A burst of nausea bubbled; Tokoyami gulped it down but followed that flier with his gaze for perhaps a little too long.

The villains had made an attempt to abduct people at their last attack. They had made quite an effort to do so, in fact. And now that he was thinking about it, when he had made a brief attempt to read about his own rescue from news reports – he had never had the stomach to read a full article and the photos had nauseated him with reminder – they had said that Pro Heroes had taken down multiple warehouses. The reports never said it outright, but those buildings must have held the League’s nomu stock.

“They’re desperate.” Tokoyami frowned. “I think… That maybe this is all they can spare.” He took a deep, shaky breath as he tried not to think very much about what he was saying. “They need more… People. To experiment on.”

The large nomu were walking very slowly. The portal that they had come out of – now shimmering away entirely – had been quite a distance away; they lumbered at a casual pace. The closer they got, the more details he could make out.

Their brains were covered. A plastic and transparent hole-filled shell covered each of their heads. Tokoyami was reminded, somehow, of those covers for the more flamboyant hamster cages aimed at children; the kind in bright and bold colors that let air in but nothing out.

Well, he wasn’t going to be stabbing any in the head this time.

“They have portals in their… Chests.” Tokoyami warned the rest of those around him. “Those things on them are teeth that open up to a stomach portal. Generally, I suggest that it’s a good idea not to get swallowed up by those.”

Several shocked and horrified murmurs came from the teenagers around him.

Then, it occurred to him that they were all teenagers. There were no Pro Heroes here as there had been on the train. The best they had were Aizawa, Ms. Joke and whatever other teachers had accompanied the various classes. Tokoyami looked up to the bleachers, trying to find one of those Pro Heroes turned school officials…

There was what looked like a yellow bubble on a series of top seats. He could barely make out shapes inside of it; small figures, mostly, and that’s when he realized that that must have been his sisters’ class, protected in what looked like someone’s shield quirk. There was, however, a single little figure that suddenly ran out of the bubble; it launched itself from the seats and tumbled down the stairs.

It was the flash of pink that told him who it was.

Oh, no. No, no, no. What in the world did she think she was doing?! Tokoyami found himself running in the same direction before his brain caught up to him. Was she about to jump down?! That was at least a hundred-foot fall!

“What is she doing?!” Yaoyorozu figured it out, as well, hot on his heels.

She jumped. Tokoyami’s heart almost stopped when she did, but somehow, someway, Hikari was… Flying. That was not part of her quirk. Tokoyami stopped and openly gaped as his younger sister ‘fell’ – more like floated – down to the ground near them, landing neatly and without even any dust rising up, her expression somewhere between fear and determination. Then, she was running towards them. “Fumi!”

“Are you out of your mind?!” Tokoyami rushed for her and grabbed her shoulders as soon as he could. Even he knew that his eyes must have looked crazed by the itch he felt around them. “Why didn’t you stay up there?!”

“I couldn’t leave you down here!” Hikari sputtered and glared. “I want to fight with you!”

“You’re twelve!” This couldn’t be happening. Tokoyami stared at his stupid little sister – what was she thinking?! – for a moment. Then, he pulled her in to a hug. “Mom and dad are going to be absolutely furious, you know that, right?! You don’t even have an offensive quirk!”

“Neither do you, dummy!” Hikari was hugging him back, at least. “But I saw that video from the train fight. We can still fight them, I know it, and we can do it together!”

That was ridiculously idealistic; Tokoyami grimaced at the flawed, hope-fueled logic.

Suddenly, a hand was on his shoulder. He looked up to find the smiling face of Shindo. “Hey, don’t worry. We’ll protect you both.”

Tokoyami looked behind him; the fifty-odd strangers stood, some visibly terrified, nervous and unsure, others with determined faces and grins. Yaoyorozu took hold of one of his hands, gently prying the death-clawed grip from his sisters’ shoulder.

There were more of them than there were nomu and still hundreds more in this facility, likely facing their own incoming monsters. The rest of his classmates were out there, as well.

The only thing that they could do was fight.

Chapter Text

Tokoyami couldn’t let go of his sister. There was no real logical reason as to why; only that he had her in his arms and he absolutely did not want to let her go.

Above the pink and purple feathers on the top of her head, the nomu in the distance took slow, lumbering steps. Fear clouded his thoughts, but he wondered why they were moving as slow as they were; the ones that attacked them at the train had been significantly faster, or at least had moved as if they were aiming for a target. These ones were just… Walking. As if they had been told to head towards a destination without being told why.

Most of them did not have eyes; a familiar but disturbing thing that the League did with them. He couldn’t help but wonder that if he had ended up stuck in that warehouse, would he also have ended up blind? Would he have noticed, after they tore pieces of his brain away, would he even have been aware if he had? The ones that did have eyes didn’t even have eyelids; could they see at all?

How did the nomu even know what to attack? Did they go by scent? Sound? Once they picked up on whatever it was that they used to hunt, they might start charging; or he guessed that they would. Everything was guesswork.

But everyone that had been dropped in this part of the arena were looking to him and Yaoyorozu; they were the only ones with experience dealing with these things. The only ones that had come face-to-face with the nomu.

It was a fifty-fifty shot.

“I don’t suppose…” Tokoyami swallowed down the nausea and tried again. “I don’t suppose anyone has a quirk to make… Smells?” That question had made more sense in his head; he winced at his own incoherency.

“Smells?” Yaoyorozu frowned, clearly not understanding.

“He thinks they find their targets by scent.” How Hikari translated the question, he wasn’t even sure. She was only now starting to release her side of the hug, squirming to try and look around him at the other would-be heroes.

“I have smoke bombs?” A short, thin boy drenched entirely in black offered meekly.

“That’s visual, I don’t think it’ll work.” Tokoyami shook his head. “They either move by scent or sound.”

“If we’re really unlucky, echolocation.” The girl with the long pigtails mumbled a little too loudly. Tokoyami flinched at the idea and had to admit, with dread, how much sense it made.

“I might have something that would work!” The peppy shout came with a nervous warble but the girl that stepped out from the crowd looked like the sort that was endlessly happy; she had the same rosy cheeks that Uraraka had on her better days and a hero costume so bright and bold that it bordered on the visually nauseating. She held herself long and thin, collar in the style of rose petals, hair a curly mess of bright yellow so much that she reminded Tokoyami of a dandelion weed.

A flower-based hero? Stranger concepts have happened. Still, Tokoyami stared at her dubiously.

Yaoyorozu, on the other hand, was much more personable. “Anything that you have could be beneficial. What do you have?”

The thin flower girl smiled more naturally. Then, she held up her hands in the direction of the nomu. A few aborted shouts tried to stop her but none were in time; a thin, long spray that reminded Tokoyami of Ashido’s acid – only more direct, a longer stream and somehow thinner – landed directly in front of the green flesh creatures heading in their direction. A pink cloud rose from the puddles that they formed.

It was an impressive enough distance to spray. Yet, even from here, Tokoyami could catch the barest scent of it; a potent, intense… Perfume? A perfume spray?

The nomu had stopped. They paused, eyeless faces moving back and forth, as if they couldn’t quite figure out what was happening.

“Oh…!” Yaoyorozu smiled and gave the flower girl a nod. “Good, that works!”

It occurred to Tokoyami, then, that neither of them were leaders. Both he and Yaoyorozu were the only ones here from the infamous 1-A, had the most experience and, yet, both of them were incredibly awkward trying to give direction or compliments.

This was a mess.

“Hey, uhm…” Hikari finally managed to squeeze out of his grasp; he allowed it reluctantly. She was looking up at the replica bridge overpass. “The bridge thing, can we… Explode that?”

“What?” Tokoyami sputtered.

“The bridge thing.” Hikari said again. “The monsters are heading right for us anyway, right? The smells will only confuse them for a little while, right? If we make them come here under the bridge thing and then explode it, it can crush them all at the same time.”

“A ton of us have explosive quirks, yeah!” The girl with the pigtails nodded enthusiastically.

“No, that’s not going to work.” Hikari shook her head. “Then whoever is doing the exploding is going to get crushed, too. We need long distance or… A bomb or something. Lots of bombs.” She then turned to Yaoyorozu, blue eyes wide and shining. “My brother told me you can make stuff just by thinking about it! Can you make bombs? Then someone can climb up there and put them there and it’d work!”

Yaoyorozu gave a thoughtful nod. “I think so. The kind you’re talking about would need a remote detonation.” Her hands were already moving to her exposed arms. “It’s going to take me a couple of minutes.”

“Yeah, a remote!” Hikari beamed. “We need a way to stick it to the underside of the bridge thing, though. It might not fall down if we put it on top.”

Tokoyami openly gaped for a moment at how quickly his twelve-year-old sister had formulated a coherent plan. Still, he could see the logic in it; what she was saying was somehow, someway, making a whole lot of sense. “Then we need people that can climb up and stick it on there, another group to lure the nomu under the bridge… Possibly another to watch for the fliers…” He looked at the bridge itself, frowning in thought.

Then, he noticed that the beams holding the overpass had little lines in them. Little ridges that he honestly didn’t know if it was added to the bridge for the sake of the exam or part of ordinary construction. They were just wide enough for someone with really small fingers or claws to stick in and climb up.

“I can get up there.” Tokoyami marveled. “And anyone with claws can, too, if we don’t have people who can get up there with their quirks.” He paused; they had forgotten a step. “Do we have anyone with a sticking quirk?” It was unfortunate that Mineta was not there; that thought forced the reminder that the rest of his class was still out there, likely fighting their own fights.

Hopefully, they were all doing okay.

“I can make super glue.” Yaoyorozu offered sheepishly. “You’ll have to hold it on there for a few seconds for it to stick, but it should do the trick.”

It was better than nothing.

 

-------------------

 

The flying nomu were ignoring them. Tokoyami realized that halfway up the bridge. There had only been five of the flying ones, so he had to force himself to stay calm; they could just be distracted by… Other targets. There were likely near two thousand people around here. If anything, the longer the various nomu were distracted, the better. He had to stay calm.

It was also halfway up the bridge, however, that Tokoyami fully realized what he was actually doing. He paused for a moment – arms burning, breathing a little labored and he blamed his continued medication for that – but he was actually climbing up the inside of a bridge. There were other teenagers only a little older than he was doing the same thing; quirks aside, most of them hadn’t been equipped for this kind of activity. Only one of them had suction cup-like things on her hands and feet; the six other volunteers were jamming claws and long nails in to the same little crevices he was using. Everyone else’s quirks had either been too destructive or too short term; the girl with the pigtails offered to jump the distance, but she had no way to stay up there once she did.

This was definitely breaking the weight restriction.

He was climbing up a bridge. This was exactly the kind of thing search and rescue heroes did, wasn’t it? It wasn’t the glamor of flying in to villainous plots like All Might was prone to do, wasn’t the intense flaming, dramatic entrances of Endeavor or the unmistakable flamboyancy of Best Jeanist; it was gritty and it was tough. And he was doing it.

The Wild Wild Pussycats did this kind of thing on a regular basis. Mandalay had told him as much, although she had tried to make it sound far more pleasant. They came in after a disaster, did the cleanup work, pulled out civilians and got very little fame for it.

It was something he could do. Mandalay had already offered an internship next year – assuming he survived this latest villain attack – and here he was, climbing up a bridge, exhausted and limbs burning and not nearly at his best, but here he was all the same.

He would never be a top Pro Hero. Tokoyami knew that, had known it for quite some time now; but he didn’t have to be, did he?

The top of the bridge had what looked like ‘pockets’ near the top; large, purposefully made curves in the cement near where the beam met the top. It was just large enough to sit in, the claws on his feet dug in to a ridge as he strained just a bit to turn at an awkward position; he hadn’t given enough thought to how he was going to super-glue a bomb to the bridge. What if these little pockets, whatever they were, hadn’t been here? Still, this was as good as it was going to get.

In the distance, a loud explosion rang through the air.

Tokoyami looked up in shock that he instantly knew he shouldn’t have felt; the top of the bridge blocked a great deal of his vision, but he could see the fiery inferno in the far distance, engulfing a building in one of the cityscape mockups. A few seconds later came the screeching cries of nomu.

More of the others were fighting there. He already knew that; why had he been so surprised to hear the blast? Tokoyami took a deep breath and tried to focus on the task at hand.

A few seconds in to holding the bomb against the bridge – he just needed to hold it for a few seconds, Yaoyorozu said, enough for the glue to harden – a strained cry came from one of the strangers with him. He looked up again, expecting to be under attack.

They weren’t; instead, the others up there with him were looking to the distance. He couldn’t make it out too clearly past another teenager clinging to a beam in front of him and the top of the bridge itself, but he did see two of the flying nomu.

Each of the nomus’ claws had a figure in them. Both of their victims were flailing but were too far away for him to see if either were anyone he knew.

One of them yelled something that might have been profanity; the voice was not familiar, but they let off some kind of green and black fire from their hands. The nomu screamed and released its’ grip; the body fell. Tokoyami could not see where they landed, but it came with a resounding thud, billowing smoke and the horrified gasp from the girl with the suction cups.

Whoever that was might have survived that. Possibly. Maybe they had a hybrid quirk, something that gave them super strength; that would explain the smoke. Maybe someone caught them at the bottom. They could be… Fine. Tokoyami took a deep breath and tried not to panic.

The second victim was still fighting; there was a sparkle around them – and this time it was familiar – but the bright beam that shot out from the figures’ stomach that missed the nomu that carried it caused a wave of alarm.

“Aoyama!” Tokoyami gasped too loudly and could feel a cold grip on his heart.

The flying nomu had a firm grasp on Aoyama’s arms; from this distance, facial expressions were impossible to make out, blurred from how far away they were from each other, but the way Aoyama flailed and tried again to fire his laser spoke to the terror.

Blasts and streams came from the ground closer to Aoyama; fire, tape, liquid sprays, attempts at rescue from who knew how many people. There were too many to be from their classmates alone. They were screaming.

Suddenly, the nomu dove, effectively dodging the attempts; there were several of the bigger nomu in the distance, the ones with the stomach mouths and portals. The lot of them opened up their hideous fangs, vaguely resembling horrendous baby birds waiting to be fed.

The flier dropped its’ cargo. It was too far away to hear if Aoyama made a sound, but Tokoyami could see his body fall in to one of those mouth portals and…

And then he was gone. The clawed mouths closed again.

He was gone. It had all happened in a manner of seconds.

The world felt very, very cold. There was nothing but silence from those around him; a similar disturbed quiet came from below.

Tokoyami couldn’t hurry down the bridge fast enough.

---------------

 

It wasn’t until he was back on the ground that Tokoyami realized that he had only put up one of the bombs. He had been given two, each with their own detonator remote. It was too late now to go back up; his head was spinning and everyone else was already on the ground.

“Did you see that?! Did you see that?!” Someone was yelling only barely coherently; quite a few people were still gaping at the distant air where the flying nomu had been.

Yaoyorozu’s eyes shimmered and one hand was over her mouth.

“We need to be careful how we do this.” Tokoyami took a deep, shaky breath as he made his way towards her; he felt as if he was barely able to keep his emotions under control. “I think if we just go right past the bridge, the fliers might try to pick us off.”

“We need to stay under it until the last minute.” Shindo had finally rejoined the conversation; he didn’t look like he was being fueled by panic like most of everyone else here. Tokoyami envied his ability to remain so calm. “Or until they get closer at least.”

“My Fragrant Discord will wear off soon.” The flower girl said with a deeply terrified warble in her voice. “Then they’ll start moving again.”

Everyone looked frightened. Panic edged at the eyes of those who weren’t wearing visors or masks and limbs visibly shook on quite a few of them. They were all only a little older than he was; none of them had faced villains before, had they?

Tokoyami grabbed his sisters’ hand; Hikari didn’t resist and held on just as fiercely. He wanted to say something inspiring, wanted to try and boost morale that he barely felt himself, but his mind felt empty. For a moment, he deflated as absolutely nothing substantial formed at his tongue.

How did the Pro Heroes do this?

It was Hikari that finally said something. It came in a hesitant squeak: “Plus Ultra?”

Somehow, it was all it took to get the backs to straighten and expressions to shift. The ones that had been looking to the distance turned to look back.

“Yeah.” The girl with the pigtails nodded. “Plus Ultra. Let’s do this.”

They moved, together, under the bridge.

Chapter Text

It was like herding cats. There were several dozens of them all together, most of them quaking and terrified in some manner as they grouped up under the overpass. Each bomb had been given its own detonator – a failsafe in case something happened to one or more of them – and Tokoyami found himself clutching the one linked to the bomb he set above them, hand in a pocket on his body suit.

Somehow, miraculously, he still had his cloak. He wasn’t even sure why he still had it on; so far, it had given him absolutely no benefit. There just hadn’t been time to get rid of it, not like the sandals that he had tossed off before climbing the replica bridge.

People around him were whimpering, but there was no overt crying or terrified wails. None of them were civilians, not really; they were heroes-in-training, had their entire lives wrapped up in these stronger identities. They could handle this. He could handle this. At least, he could only hope as much.

Still, they were jittery; more than a few looked ready to bolt or attack the incoming nomu. Quirks and weapons alike were on display. His sister shifted uneasily at his side, one hand in his own.

Hikari had no weapon and lacked a quirk useable for any kind of combat. If they were to be separated or, worse, if one of the flying nomu decided to target her…

“Yaoyorozu?” Tokoyami had a feeling he was going to regret this later. “Can you make a knife for my sister?”

Yaoyorozu’s eyes were still shimmering and barely held in liquid pools that threatened to spill. She gave a small nod and pulled a small switchblade from her arm. It was pink.

Hikari took it with a similar muteness, free hand wrapping on to the closed blade so tightly that her knuckles turned white. She stared at it for a moment before looking back up at him, blue eyes wide and a little bit confused. She didn’t know how to use a knife – they both knew that – but what else could they do?

“Thank you.” It was all he could think to say to Yaoyorozu, a pit in his stomach turning sour at her teary expression. He knew why she mourned; he felt the shadow of it himself.

They had all seen Aoyama get swooped away and had all been too far to do anything at all. Had this been how his classmates had felt after his own kidnapping? This dread, this nausea, this blank-faced shock and terror for what may happen next? This almost resigned sort of helplessness?

When he had been told about what happened after his own abduction – that the villains had gone and his classmates had been left to howl and grieve – they had not been in any immediate danger. This was different; everything was still happening. There were still too many things that could go wrong.

“Incoming!” A high-pitched scream came from one of the girls. “The flyers!”

Tokoyami looked up in alarm along with so many others; one of the flying nomu – the dark one with the feathers and tail – dove under the top of the overpass. It made a grab for one of the taller members of their group; no less than a dozen attacks came from around in response, a cacophony of thunder, fire, rope and arrows.

The nomu screamed and flew upwards, claws empty and abandoning whatever plan it had. It hit the top of the underpass and, from there, appeared to become confused; for a moment, it was tangled in wires and cabling before finding its way out. Thankfully, no one tried to attack the nomu once it was up there; no one was willing to risk hitting one of the bombs.

The nomu, after a few seconds, flew away; it screeched a horrifying wail and headed away from them.

Tokoyami let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding; a glance around told him that no other fliers were nearby. Or, at least, not where he could see them. Not near the bridge, at any rate. Three of them were in the far distance, flying in circles around a small mountain and pond.

Then, there came a rumbling. It came from a different direction; the giant nomu, the ones that they had been trying to lure under the bridge, had finally started to move with a much faster gait.

“Smell must’ve wore off.” The girl with the pigtails let loose a shaky breath. “Here they come.”

“We can’t move until they’re close enough.” Tokoyami said it mostly to himself, quietly and as a reminder; the girl with the pigtails repeated it louder, shouting it to their group.

The giant nomu – there were now eight of them, and Tokoyami could have sworn that there were a couple more a few minutes ago – now knew where they were. They were running for them, taking large, thundering steps and the fangs on their chests snapped in anticipation, letting off a clattering noise that rang through the air. Whatever it was that they had caught on to – some sound, some smell, that earlier suggestion of echolocation still rang in the back of Tokoyami’s mind as a possibility – they had caught on to it very, very strongly.

The collection of teenagers waited. Tokoyami kept his eyes on the incoming targets, but assumed at least a few in the back of their group had either started to already run or at least were moving backwards. Nerves alone would account for it and Tokoyami had to force himself to stay as still as he was. Hikari shook at his side; her hand clutched tightly.

The distance closed meter by meter; a guess was made that they were, perhaps, ten or so off before it became too much. “Move!”

It was, again, like herding cats. This time, they scattered in different directions, either running or using their quirks to gain distance away from the terrifying monsters hot on their trail.

It was then that Tokoyami realized that he never once asked for any of the names of the people around him; he regretted it as a sudden idea came to his mind. All he could do, as he ran and pulled his sister with him, was to look to the thin flower girl, wishing he could call her but not knowing how.

Somehow, her eyes met his anyway. Then, hers widened in understanding. She turned as she ran, hands raised and spraying fumes under the bridge before, in the same fluid movement, she swung back around to run again. She didn’t lose an inch of ground.

Tokoyami wondered, in near hysterical amusement, if she had a hybrid quirk. Was she telepathic? How had she known what he wanted her to do?

The new round of perfume spray seemed to do the job; the nomu stopped again, fangs still clacking but far slower now. They were stuck under the bridge, standing there dumbly.

There was no time to waste. Tokoyami took out the remote in his pocket. He was not the first to activate his bomb; the explosion that came from his single button press came a brief second after one of the others. Then, they all began to sound off one after the other, ringing loudly in the air.

There was, however, something that they hadn’t taken in to account; as the bridge fell, it suddenly occurred to Tokoyami that this was in no way what the news would have called a ‘controlled explosion’; they had set the bombs at random, hoping and praying that it would work. It did, really; the issue was that it also sent debris flying.

Screams came from around him as large cement, brick and blacktop came flying in all directions. Tokoyami turned to cover his sister with his own body, pulling her close in a hug. He tried to lift her and carry her, but his arms were shaking and still weak from his ongoing recovery; he ended up crouching, trying to shelter his sister as best that he could.

He got lucky; some shattered pavement flew by their sides – missing them by a meter or so at best – but otherwise they ended up unharmed. The falling debris stopped only after a few seconds.

“Holy shit, is everybody okay?!” That was the girl with the pigtails again.

No one yelled out any injuries. The air smelled of smoke and burned toast. Several people coughed.

Only then did Tokoyami look back. The bridge lay in a crumpled heap; there were no nomu crawling out or the shaking of earth in an attempt to free themselves. Broken cement and metal lay still.

It may have possibly worked. Their makeshift plan may have actually worked.

But it wasn’t quite done yet.

“We need to move.” Tokoyami gasped, trying to take in deep breaths and failing utterly. “We’re out in the open. There’s more nomu. We need to regroup with more of the others.” Safety in numbers seemed to be the best way to go about things; at the very least, he had absolutely no other idea what else to do or how to keep everyone calm. Especially after that one boy had fallen – possibly to his death – and Aoyama had been kidnapped.

That flying nomu had swooped in to the manufactured city so far away and had just… Taken him, dropping him in to one of those grotesque stomach portals. Wherever those portals led…

A new idea presented itself. It was an absolutely terrible idea.

Still, Tokoyami turned to Yaoyorozu; her hero costume was now dusty and her leg sported a large, nasty bruise. “Yaoyorozu, I need a tracking device.”

“Woah, tracking device?” The girl with the pigtails had made her way closer to them for reasons he didn’t understand; her eyes were wide and amazed. “Like, in case we get taken, you can track us down?”

Again, Yaoyorozu nodded. “I don’t think I can make enough for everyone, but I can make a few. I’ve done it before. Keep them close.”

Tokoyami made certain that Hikari got one first before accepting his own; he put it in one of her uniform pockets and buttoned it shut – almost like his mother had on his first day of middle school, taking care with pride to make sure that he had looked his best and had done the same for Hikari – and then he looked to his sister. He knew that she was not going to like what he had to say. He braced himself for yelling and for arguments from more than one person.

“Hikari, I need you to –”

“Over there! Everybody, back!” A terrified yell interrupted him.

They were on the outskirts of the giant arena; the bridge had been far against the edge of the place and, even after the entire thing collapsed, they hadn’t gotten very far. There hadn’t been anyone left in the middle of it all, where the gymnasium had unfolded not too long ago. He could only assume that everyone had been teleported to different ‘corners’, or at least as far away from the direct middle as possible. Probably to keep everyone from meeting up so easily.

Now, however, there were people in there. A large portal hovered behind one of the figures; an incredibly tall, broad man with a terribly familiar black helmet. A smaller, thinner person stood in front of him; from where they were, all Tokoyami could make out was the severed hands clinging to limbs below a mess of gray hair and the hovering shadow lingering behind him.

Tokoyami felt his world sink. He stared at the two standing so far away for a few seconds, stunned and quiet.

“Fumi?” Hikari tugged on his cloak. “Fumi, who are they?”

That was Shigaraki standing there with what could only be the leader of the League, black helmet gleaming under the sun and full of memory. For a moment, Tokoyami only heard the remembered screams inside his head; his own and Dark Shadow’s both.

Dark Shadow was there, too, in a way; the thing hovering behind Shigaraki had changed. It no longer looked like what his own quirk had been; it was thin, lanky, spikes long and curled and alien. The tendril connecting it to its’ host was thicker than it had been back on the train.

“Fumi?” Hikari sounded worried. “Fumikage?!”

The man in the helmet was looking to the sky. Tokoyami barely had the mind to look up but it wasn’t necessary; the air swirled before something fell from above in bold colors and with a resounding crash. A cape flew in the air behind it.

“Oh, thank god.” The flower girl collapsed to her knees. A few similar sounds and several cheers began to sound off around him.

“Fumi, it’s All Might!” Hikari tugged at his sleeve.

“It's going to be okay now.” Yaoyorozu said the words with clear relief.

He barely heard any of it. Tokoyami found his eyes locked on the scene, on the man with the dark helmet. Something inside of him began to bubble at the sight of All Might standing there, thick and heavy. They were having some kind of conversation, Shigaraki slowly meandering to the side as if he wasn’t the least bit concerned.

The bubbling was turning in to rage; he felt it in his bones, clawing itself around him. These were the people that had taken everything from him and still flaunted it so boldly, showing off the twisted mutation that had once been his own quirk and best friend, had made attempt after attempt to kidnap his friends – had succeeded not ten minutes ago! – and stood there now. They had held him for an eternity of days in that tube and he had been – still was – left barely more than a walking corpse.

Tokoyami saw red.

Then, he ran. He ran towards them, towards the people that had ruined everything, mind nothing but shattered disrepair and a need to make them hurt.

People screamed behind him. Tokoyami did not stop.

Still, he didn’t get very far. A hand grabbed on to his arm and stopped him in his tracks; he had been running with such speed that the force of it caused a spike of pain in his shoulder. Shindo had a firm grip of his arm with one of his own, a surprised look on his face.

“Let go!” Tokoyami hissed at him. “Let me go! You have no idea, you don’t understand, you don’t know what they did!” A tug was given at the grip on his arm; he wasn’t sure if it was his own current weakness or the other boys’ strength, but he couldn’t break free.

“Actually…” A strange smile crossed Shindo’s face. “I kind of do.”

“What?” Tokoyami blinked, startled.

Suddenly, there came a series of screams. Then, a looming shadow came from behind him. He turned, arm still held in an iron grip.

A nomu stood there. Stomach fangs were open wide, dark purple swirling beyond the teeth.

Then, Shindo pushed him in.

Chapter Text

It all happened in a matter of seconds. The nomu that had towered above him blocked out the sun, lidless eyes and thin, partially open mouth empty of emotion. All of the nomu were, generally, blank-faced; it might have been better, Tokoyami once thought, if they showed something instead of that emptiness. A smile, a growl, something to indicate that they weren’t all mindless, that something still remained.

There was no such thing here. The only thing at all came from Shindo – who sported a strange, somehow familiar smile that bothered him, an expression that tried to trigger a memory that didn’t come – who pushed him clear in to the abyss that was the portal inside of that shell of a monster.

Tokoyami didn’t even have time to scream. From behind him, though, he heard the wails of dozens of others; a few yelled his name. At least, part of his name; all sound cut off once he was through the purple haze. There was, however, the distinctive shriek of his sisters’ voice, trailing in to an empty echo as he tumbled inside.

Then, he was falling.

It was only a depth of, at best, a single meter. One and a half, maybe, if that; a sudden drop that sent him slipping, unable to gain proper footing from the surprise alone, and landing on his rear on cold, hard tile. His tail crunched uncomfortably underneath him, feathers bunched together but otherwise did not hurt.

There was a heat blazing behind him. Tokoyami had the sense to turn his head, to take in a fire at the end of the hall. Plumes of flame billowed from what looked like one of those giant air conditioning units on the top of apartment buildings, a giant block of metal and wires. It didn’t look like the flames were spreading.

Around him, in neat rows on either side of him, were empty tubes. The sight of them caused his brain to come to a complete halt. The memory of the laboratory that he had been held in was still fresh; these were identical to that round glass prison. He could still see himself in one of them, could still remember it all so clearly – so, so clearly now, coming to the front of his mind at what lay around him– could remember the white-haired boy and the nomu on either side. These ones were empty.

Still, he could not move; for a moment, present horror and memory alike gripped him in steel-wrapped terror. Tokoyami forgot, for a moment, which lab he was in, how he had gotten there and that he wasn’t actually in one of those tubes now. He was fully stuck, as trapped as the water and the restraints had once held him then, until a shout pulled him out of it and back to the now.

“Tokoyami!” A familiar voice a short distance away and opposite from the fire. Then, gloved hands were on him, pulling him to his feet. “Mon ami, are you okay?!”

It did the job; the world lurched back in to focus as he staggered back up. Aoyama stood by his side, one of his arms in his grasp. The light from the laser on his belt was still glowing, ready to fire. Aoyama’s face was slightly green, nauseated from use of his quirk.

For some reason, he tried to nod, to tell his friend that he was okay. He immediately knew how stupid it was to try; first because he certainly was not fine and, secondly, they had bigger things to worry about.

Next to them were two other teenagers that he didn’t recognize. A tall girl in a wrestlers’ uniform, muscles bulging and face a terrified grimace, the other a similarly large boy, half of his flesh made of metal and the rest of him shimmering in an odd manner.

Around them, trapping them in a circle, was a crowd of lab coats and guns. Then – and only because one crunched under one of his bare feet – Tokoyami noticed that there were darts on the ground. They had to be tranquilizers, something to knock them out so they could be stuffed in the tubes. For some reason, the people around them were hesitating; they weren’t blasting them with the full force of these things.

It took roughly two seconds to understand the situation after that.

A soft hiss came from one of the weapons around them. The boy with the metal limbs transformed more of his flesh and caught the dart in open palms before throwing it back. A roar came from a silver mouth, but the fear in it wasn’t masked completely. “You’re going to have to try harder than that to take us down!”

Aoyama took that moment to fire his laser again; it blasted two of the men in lab coats and sent them flying back with wild screams. Another dart fired through the air, but the girl in the wrestling uniform moved to take it instead. It pierced her skin – around several other darts in her body – but she showed no immediate signs of fainting. She briefly stumbled before resettling her footing, snarling wordlessly at the air.

After that, the villains around them paused again.

Why were they hesitating? They could be firing everything they had. Were they waiting for more victims first, to take as many as they could down at once? To ration their supplies?

Tokoyami winced. There were more nomu out in that arena; fifteen hundred teenagers were still there and anyone else could end up trapped here at any time. Somehow, they had to stop this before more arrived and then they had to escape from this place. He had no weapons of his own to help in this fight; clawed hands dug in his pockets in the attempt to find something, anything, that could be of use. He paused as his fingers hit two things.

The first was the tracking device. That was still on; if Yaoyorozu managed not to get kidnapped, she could track them down later. Assuming the device stayed with them through it all.

The second thing was the bomb. The one that he had forgotten to place on the bridge. The detonator was with it, in the same pocket on his cloak.

It was made to destroy things much bigger than this room. If he set that bomb off in here, it would certainly do the job of making waste of this lab, but it would also most likely kill everyone in here. It would kill them all.

The tubes glared down at him, empty but full of malice. Memory of how it had been inside of one threatened to consume him again, to leave him trapped both in that moment and here in this room.

Was death a better alternative than being back in there? Than the promises it made of where it would lead, that end result of mindless enslavement brought about by lobotomy? Was death a better way out?

Pro Heroes could still rescue them. He had the tracking device, there was still potentially hope. But then, there had been that the last time as well; Yaoyorozu had made the same exact thing back then and he had still ended up languishing, he had still watched that white-haired boy have his brain carved apart.

Was death, was killing them all, a better thing than the possibility of being tortured in to living, mindless weapons?

Absolutely.

If he had been alone, he would not have hesitated. If he had been the only person here, he would have been more than happy to hold that bomb in his hands and detonate it without regret. But with these people here – with Aoyama here – he wasn’t sure if they would agree. Tokoyami pulled the bomb out of his pocket and held it in his hands.

“Oh.” Aoyama had seen it.

Tokoyami looked up at the red glasses that warped blue eyes in to purple. One of Aoyama’s hands was still on his arm; he trembled beneath it.

Slowly, Aoyama gave a nod. “Can that thing be thrown?”

Tokoyami blinked at the question but then understood what was being asked. He looked at the men in lab coats that circled them; there was a larger bunch in one direction where it looked like a hall branched off.

“Ready when you are.” The metal boy was now coated in that silver. The muscled girl only gave them a nod, but visibly braced herself.

This would kill them all. Somehow, Tokoyami had the feeling that they already knew that and knew that this was still their best option.

Tokoyami took a deep breath. He threw the explosive at the crowd of lab coats with everything that he had. Then, he turned to grab Aoyama in the same moved that he pulled the detonator out, intending to shield his classmate despite how little mass he had to do it with.

He pressed the button.

There was a cacophony of sound and a blazing, horrible heat. The ground below them quaked as glass shattered around them in an endless song, showering everything in both broken shards and the water-like substance that had been held in the tubes. A blazing flash of light came from behind him, the fire flared in front, and, for a moment, the world was nothing but yellow and gold.

Then, everything faded away in a resounding black.

 

--------------------

 

The first thing that came back to his senses was an overwhelming pain. A horrible ache that felt like he had been stabbed all over his body. Then, a pressure on both his chest and his back, crushing him in a vice that didn’t move or budge even as he tried to.

Tokoyami let out a cough; with it came a new round of pain needling across his entire body.

Honestly, he was surprised that the world came back at all.

“Tokoyami, don’t move!” It was Aoyama’s voice, but it somehow sounded both far off and right next to him. It came in and out of focus, warbling and distorting strangely.

He couldn’t see anything. Blinking his eyes brought some light in to view, but something was blocking his vision. Well, that was a better alternative than being blind; he was surprised by how much relief it brought, the knowledge that he could still see.

“What…?” Tokoyami hissed at the pain that came with trying to talk. Why did everything hurt? What had –

Oh. He had set off a bomb. A bomb in a very small space that should have, by all means, killed them all.

That would be why everything hurt.

“You probably shouldn’t be talking, either.” Aoyama half whimpered, but at least his voice was clearer now. More solid.

“How are we still alive?” Tokoyami heard the slurring in his own voice and frowned.

“Luck?” Aoyama offered.

Then, the thing in front of his eyes started to shift. Something creaked when it did, the sound of metal being moved. With the light bouncing around, Tokoyami thought he saw a hand moving something. Then, whatever it was cleared out of the way and Aoyama kneeled above him.

Aoyama was bleeding. A nasty looking head wound leaked blood over half of the blonde’s face. His glasses were gone now and showed off wide, worried eyes over pale skin. One of his arms was also bent at a very unhealthy angle and he moved as if limping.

The light was coming from overhead; a large, gaping hole in the ceiling that showed off clear skies, pieces of scaffolding and warped, bent beams. It wasn’t directly overhead, but further down, where the bomb had most likely detonated. With his senses coming back, he could see blood splatter on the ground and in seemingly random pieces around him. Something smelled off, as well, but he couldn’t quite place it. The building around them had collapsed, blocking them in, but it looked like they had been in a single floor space; he didn’t think anything could fall on them now and crush them alive, so that was something.

There were no body parts littering the ground or corpses hanging precariously nearby; none of the grotesque post-explosion horrors the movies had. Wherever those scientists had gone, they weren’t here.

With his vision clearing more with every passing second, Tokoyami tried to sit up; he immediately stopped himself at the pain and settled, instead, for trying to look over himself. He had to be hurt somewhere; he had to have some kind of injury to be in this state, shouldn’t he?

He couldn’t see anything. There were no visible wounds, all of his limbs looked like they were in more or less okay condition, and there was nothing physically stabbed in to his skin. Fingers and toes flexed without any issue. It wasn’t like the movies where the protagonist would wake up and find a pipe jammed in to their stomach or a leg missing; nothing that could be immediately fixed or pushed through by sheer will alone. What was wrong with him?

“I think your ribs are broken.” Aoyama frowned. “There was a… Beam on top of you when we woke up. Our new friends had to move it off of you.”

From over Aoyama’s shoulder, sitting amidst the rubble, was the metal-coated boy. The girl with the muscles sat close by, one of her legs at an unnatural angle.

A beam had fallen on him? But he had tried to shelter Aoyama, his back had been to the explosion, how had that happened? Did it even matter at this point?

“Did we get them all?” Tokoyami wheezed as he tried to ask.

“I think so?” Aoyama shrugged helplessly. “We haven’t seen anyone, but I think it’s only been twenty minutes.”

Above them, a horrible creaking noise sounded. Tokoyami tried to identify what let it out, but it sounded too much like the background effects from a horror movie to even guess. Something heavy that bent, or even a strong wind going through metal.

“Hopefully, someone will get us out before the rest of the building collapses.” The metal boy grumbled with very clear anxiety.

“But we’re in the cleared part…?” The girl frowned.

The metal boy rubbed his face. “With everything that just happened, I would not be surprised if it hit us anyway.”

The girl’s frown turned annoyed, but she didn’t respond again.

“Aoyama…” Tokoyami said with a fresh wince. “Yaoyorozu… Gave me a tracking device.”

Despite the blood and without use of his laser, the relieved grin that crossed the blonde’s face could have lit up the world.

 

--------------

 

They tried to calm themselves down by talking. It was the only thing that they could do, really, until someone dug them out of the building. It was either that or dwell in worry; they had friends and classmates still fighting nomu, most likely. The danger was distant now, didn’t directly threaten them, but still technically present.

So, they talked. In the conversations that came and went, Tokoyami learned quite a number of things.

First, both of the teenagers that were trapped with them were only a year older than they were. They were both second years in two different lower tier hero schools in the Tokyo area. They had both, naturally, tried to get in to U.A. but hadn’t quite hit the mark. The girl wondered out loud if they had perhaps dodged a bullet doing so, considering all the trouble U.A. had been having in the past short while. Tokoyami hadn’t tried to argue the point, but Aoyama hadn’t, either; on some level, Tokoyami even agreed.

Perhaps, if he had failed that entrance exam all those months ago, he would still have had Dark Shadow now and would not be here, trapped in a collapsed building. A moment later, Tokoyami realized that wishing it had not been him that was kidnapped that day was almost like wishing that someone else had gone through all of it instead. A faint sense of guilt came with that; no one deserved what he had gone through.

He hadn’t deserved what he had gone through. It was okay to know that much now, at least, wasn’t it?

Conversation, after that, went in to happier topics for a while; their families, life at their different schools, how the dorms compared to each other’s and learning that most other hero schools had followed U.A.’s lead and built their own on-site housing. Everyone in the numerous hero courses had been on edge ever since Tokoyami’s widely known kidnapping and subsequent rescue. The media had turned it in to the biggest news story for cycles. The train attack had not helped matters. The whole thing had, by all regards, changed how every high school protected their students.

It hadn’t just been U.A.; the entire country had been altered by what he had suffered. Pro Heroes were even changing their methods; not the least of which had been All Might, who Tokoyami found out had been making far less frivolous public appearances. Pro Heroes of all ranks had become more serious.

Then, Aoyama had all but confessed what aid he had offered not too long ago in regards to All Might’s class.

“Why do you even have prescribed sedatives?” Tokoyami half expected to start choking on blood every time he tried to talk – like the way it was in the movies, that dramatic cough and red splatter – but none of that ever happened. There was only the pain in his chest.

“I’ve had them since I was a small child.” Aoyama said a little sheepishly. “Before I had the belt, it would hurt very badly every time the lasers went off and I wasn’t able to control my quirk. The doctor agreed to keep the prescription ongoing just in case the belt would ever malfunction, but I’ve hardly needed them in years. But they, well… They numb the mind as well, so…”

“You thought I could take them in class.” Tokoyami had to admit that he could see the logic in it, but he also felt terribly disturbed by the idea. “Thank you for the offer, Aoyama, but I think I managed.”

Aoyama smiled at him. “So you did, mon ami. So you did.”

Not too long after that, noises came from above them. The whine of a helicopter’s distant blades that became louder as it got closer. Shouting came, as well, and Tokoyami recognized some of the voices as different Pro Heroes. Around them, vines and what looked, at first, like spider webs started to pull debris away. It took a moment more to realize that the webs were actually blue threads. A laugh came from the metal-plated boy; the silver started to retract. The girl let out a cheer.

Less than an hour later, enough of the building had been cleared for the paramedics to move in.

Chapter Text

The hospital was a madhouse.

That became apparent almost immediately, despite the fact that Tokoyami couldn’t get a clear view of everything while laying on a moving gurney. As far as he could guess, everyone that had been at the testing site had been brought to the same hospital; even though paramedics pushed and pulled the wheeled bed he was on through the emergency room lobby, there was a thick crowd of teenagers and hero uniforms.

In the span of those few minutes trying to cut their way through the crowd – and the mild swearing of one of the paramedics wheeling him along – Tokoyami managed to overhear snippets of conversation. Bits and pieces of worried, startled and amazed voices; something about a big fight involving All Might and the man with the black helmet. The only thing that he was clearly able to understand was that All Might had won. Of course he would have; why was everyone around him so surprised? All Might always won.

He wanted to ask for more details. Tokoyami turned to the nearest group of people and opened his beak, but the swearing paramedic gave him a swift glare and he clamped his beak shut again awkwardly.

Right. They told him not to talk and to avoid straining himself on the trip over. They were a little aggressive about it, actually.

Then – as they finally cut a path in to the hospital proper – he heard a familiar voice.

“Tokoyami?” Asui’s voice came from… Somewhere. He wasn’t sure where, actually.

Still, she was somewhere in this lobby and most likely concerned about him, considering that he was on a gurney. He raised a hand to give a thumbs up. The symbol managed to be flashed, but the same paramedic grabbed his arm and lowered it back down only a little roughly.

Well, okay then. Hopefully, he got the message across that he was okay and that his friends didn’t have to worry.

-----------------

 

Tokoyami learned what had happened through the TV. The rooms at this hospital had ancient, tiny screens physically connected to the bedframe itself. They were old enough that the images were just a little grainy and the sound went out every so often, but it did the job mostly okay.

The news helicopters had caught just about everything. He couldn’t remember seeing them in the air – perhaps they had shown up after he had been thrown through that nomu’s ghastly stomach portal? – but they had recorded the most important things.

All Might had gone head-to-head with the villain’s leader. The man in the black helmet was apparently far, far more powerful than Tokoyami could have ever guessed. Portals had swept away not only Shigaraki but the various nomus not soon after the fight had begun. As far as he could tell, no one else had been kidnapped after that.

In the hospital, a solid few hours after it had all happened and while waiting for a doctor to see him, Tokoyami couldn’t stop watching. He openly gaped as the man in the black helmet seemed to use dozens of quirks simultaneously, flying and super strength and his limbs even grew with some kind of muscle quirk. The helicopter didn’t catch any audio, but it looked like the man in the helmet was taunting a grim-faced All Might.

That man had taken Dark Shadow from him. All of those nomu had been human, once; had he stolen all of their quirks the same way he had Dark Shadow and… Kept them? Stockpiled stolen quirks in order to… What? He could have been rampaging over the entire planet, done some kind of insane world domination thing like the supervillains in all the cartoons and TV shows, but instead he… Hadn’t.

Tokoyami hadn’t even known that such a person existed until his kidnapping. The police officer he had spoken with in the first hospital had been surprised when he told him his quirk hadn’t been removed by an artificial means or evaporated from sheer trauma.

This helmet-clad man only came out when… All Might entered the fray. Or a few minutes before he had. He must have known All Might would have shown up; threatening thousands of children trapped in a single space would be the type of thing to draw out the number one hero. Had that been the entire plan? Had trying to abduct the lot of them just been a secondary thing?

Had it been like his kidnapping, where they had an actual target but took him instead just because they could? Because the opportunity was there?

The fight between the two was intense. The image on TV had almost no sound at all; the media covering it were too stunned to make any sort of noise or commentary. The only thing on screen was the far-off, zoomed in image of a monster in a black helmet, flying, floating, limbs enlarged, moving as if he were laughing as All Might barely held his ground.

And after all of that, the greatest hero in the world had barely won the day. The television screen played the image now, of a weakened and seemingly shrunken All Might standing there, shaking arm in the air in victory as the crowds of hundreds that had run as far to the edges of the arena as they had been able to now cheered and wept.

All Might, after all of that, looked like a walking corpse. As if he had been deflated, all the strength pulled out of him. The man that he had fought lay on the ground, helmet crushed and broken around him, revealing a horrible, grotesque face with only a mouth and burn marks.

What the hell. Tokoyami found a whole new kind of worry deep in his gut; the man with the black helmet had been apprehended, must have been after all of that, but he was still… Alive. He still existed. He still had so much power.

At the end of it, All Might pointed to the camera that he somehow knew was exactly there, and a microphone that the helicopter news crew must have only then gotten in to position picked up the hoarse, strained words from the number one hero: “You’re next.”

He didn’t even look like All Might. That man barely resembled the posters, the action figures and the commercials that played on TV.

Then, Tokoyami realized that he felt no bubbling anger, no artificial rage that wasn’t his own, when he stared at this version of All Might.

 

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In the end, Aoyama had been right on the mark; half of his ribs on both sides had been broken. The doctor had remarked how lucky it had been that his lungs hadn’t been pierced. If they had, he would have likely died out in that collapsed building.

Thankfully, Recovery Girl had come to the hospital. They weren’t far from U.A. and she had apparently rushed over as soon as news of the attack had broken. She must have known that there would be wounded. Tokoyami suspected that Recovery Girl’s presence at this hospital is why so many had been brought here in the first place, though; she was, after all, the top healer in the country, if not the world.

Still, her method was a little awkward. She was an elderly woman and he was… Not, and she was kissing his chest. Granted, it was on top of a brand-new surgical scar to put his ribs back in to place, but… It was still just a little bit weird.

“There you go, young man.” Recovery Girl did not look the least bit embarrassed. Years and years of this, and who knows what weird places on peoples’ bodies this woman has kissed to heal it; Tokoyami wasn’t sure that he wanted to know, honestly. “Now, I just have one question before I make my way to another patient.”

She had a smile on her face that looked a little strained. It bordered on a dangerous kind of smile, the expression people had right before a fight were about to break out. It looked very, very off on Recovery Girl’s face.

Tokoyami found himself a little bit frightened. “Y-yes?”

“What the hell were you thinking?!” Ah, there it was; Recovery Girl smacked his arm with a rolled-up paper. It didn’t hurt. Still, it was an unexpected action and he found himself jumping. “After doctors’ orders and my instruction not to push yourself, you end up entering the provisional license exam?!”

Oh. Now, Tokoyami felt just a little ashamed. He tried to shrink on himself a little to mollify the shockingly terrifying octogenarian. “I… Didn’t think there would be much harm in trying?” The glare on her face told him that it was not even almost a good excuse. “Aizawa-sensei agreed with that assessment and I… Well, I didn’t know that villains would attack the facility.”

Recovery Girl paused.

Bringing up the villains had probably calmed her down. Things had gone off that had been entirely outside of his control – outside of anyone’s control, really – so, surely, that should redirect her anger? She would understand, right?

“Aizawa… Agreed with you?”

That was not the part that he had hoped she would cling on to. Her expression shifted unpleasantly; Tokoyami leaned away from the sudden purely murderous expression on the elderly woman’s face.

After a moment, Recovery Girl’s expression softened. She smiled again and gave a gentle pat to his hand. “It’s okay now, dear. You should rest now.”

Then, she turned to shuffle away. The only noise in the room was the faint clacking of her cane hitting the ground.

Alone in the small hospital room, Tokoyami had the feeling that he had just gotten his homeroom teacher in a great deal of trouble.

----------------------

 

He wasn’t in the hospital for long. With Recovery Girl on site, there were too many people trying to make use of the hospital in too short a span. There just wasn’t enough room to keep anyone that was healthy enough to leave. Healed up ribs were apparently not on the list of injuries that required too long of a visit.

Tokoyami was there for less than two days and half of that had been spent either asleep or unconscious from surgery. There had been just enough time to call his parents and to let his family know that he was okay – and to find out that Hikari, thankfully, was fine and at home and was supposedly pissed off that he had ‘gotten himself kidnapped’ – and for his classmates to walk with him out of the building. At least, those that hadn’t been hurt during the attack themselves.

Well, mostly walk. This hospital apparently had the same protocol as the last; Tokoyami tried not to pout at the wheelchair. A nurse had told him that every patient was required to be wheeled out of the doors, but then to walk to their cars or to the bus station if they were able. Also, to return the wheelchair, which just felt like salt on the wound.

“What, exactly, is the point of this?” At least Aoyama was stuck in a wheelchair of his own, but he looked more amused than anything as he propped one leg on top of the other, openly mocking the hospital in the simple action. The others laughed.

At least his friends were there. All of class 1-A had shown up. As close as the hospital was to the grounds of U.A., they had been able to go to their dorms and back. As it was, Tokoyami was now wearing fresh and clean laundry that someone had brought back and he was incredibly pleased not to be in that horrid half-open hospital gown.

“Hey, I heard you had surgery?’ Kirishima asked with an air of curiosity as he pushed his wheelchair.

“Another scar for the pile.” Tokoyami sighed. Making light of the wounds was the best thing, he thought; dwelling on it only made it worse. “I likely wouldn’t even have it if I hadn’t been pushed in to a nomu, so it isn’t exactly my fault.” He meant it jokingly and hoped his tone carried it.

“Oh, about that…” Jiro hissed. “Apparently, that was a villain.”

“Well… Yes.” Tokoyami blinked. “I assumed as much. He pushed me in to a portal.”

“No, I mean… One of the villains has a body copy quirk.” Jiro frowned. “What was that guy’s name?”

“Shindo.” Yaoyorozu let out a soft sigh. “He was attacked before he was even at the facility and the villain took his place.”

“It was the crazy girl that attacked me and Tsu-chan at the forest training camp.” Uraraka shuddered. “Well, at least now we know what her quirk is.”

“Crazy girl…?” Tokoyami blinked widely; he knew exactly who they were talking about. He remembered her crazed grin through the tube of the glass and how amused she had looked at his suffering. Before he had been pushed in to that portal, Shindo – the girl – had said that she ‘kinda understood’ why he had been upset.

Tokoyami felt anger stirring in his gut, but at least certain things were making sense now. Still, he didn’t want to get upset; he didn’t want it to spread to his friends. Right now, they were… Happy. Or content, at least.

There were smiles on his classmates’ faces. Relief shone through; they had all survived the latest encounter with, for the most part, only light injuries. Aoyama had gotten through with a mild concussion. His own was the worst of it all and, even then, it could have been so much worse.

Well, he hadn’t been the worst off, now that he thought about it. All Might had been the worst. He still couldn’t get the images out of his head, of that shrunken body standing there, fist raised in the air.

Everyone must have seen it by now. It had been playing on endless loop on the hospital TV with the single channel that it offered. Every news station must have been talking about it at least a little.

There was a throng of cameras and microphones waiting outside of the hospital.

“Oh, no.” Yaoyorozu sighed as they all stopped in the hallway leading to the doors.

“I’m starting to think the media waits for one of us to get hurt, now.” Todoroki said calmly.

“Fucking ambulance chasers.” Bakugo snarled.

Well, they had no option but to go through that. Tokoyami hoped that they weren’t here specifically for them; that they were waiting to question Pro Heroes or maybe even All Might on what had happened, not to yell at high school students.

They started walking again. The closer they got to the pack of journalists, the more his hopes were dashed. A side door next to the main entrance was headed for in the attempt to go around them – a push type compared to the automatic sliding ones – but several cameras whipped in their direction as soon as they were outside.

“Out of the way!” Bakugo was yelling and his fingers were crackling just a bit. It wasn’t his usual level of aggression; he was making an attempt to control himself and not to blow them up. “Just get out of the way!”

Cameras were letting off the telltale clicking noises of photos being taken. Voices were yelling on top of each other, questions that were lost in each other’s shouts. Tokoyami sat there, confused and bewildered; why were they following their class? Nothing about this was related to his kidnapping from those months ago, as much of a media firestorm that had been. All of that had already happened, so what was this all about? What was newsworthy about them specifically that those hundreds of others from that one testing site didn’t have? Was it just because of U.A.?

They were blocking the way out. Cameras had moved in to position as if they were paparazzi chasing a celebrity.

“This is ridiculous.” Asui sputtered, the same amazed confusion in her voice that he felt.

Bakugo was still yelling. Somehow, this actually helped to move some of the encroaching journalists away; a path was slowly being made as they moved along at a snails’ pace. Tokoyami then realized that, by all accounts, they were technically outside of the hospital; he pushed himself off of the wheelchair. He noticed Aoyama looking at him as he did so before following suit a moment later, flashing a grin. Kirishima gave both wheelchairs a solid shove back towards the hospital doors.

The shouting around them was a cacophony of sound that barely made sense. Still, one journalist – trucker hat bearing the logo of a well known Tokyo station – pushed his way to the front with help of a quirk that seemed to physically move people aside without having to touch them. Media personnel yelped as he shoved his way past, grin that of a shark, thrusting a microphone towards them. Tokoyami was startled to find it inches from his own face.

“Tokoyami!” Oh, god, he wished that this journalist didn’t know his name. Hearing his own name out loud from these people was just a reminder that everyone, everywhere knew everything about the past year of his life. “How do you feel about U.A.’s repeated failure to protect you and your fellow students from these villain attacks?”

The journalist couldn’t have offended him more if he had tried. Tokoyami took a moment to absorb the question as he reeled back in shock and anger.

“What kind of question –” Kaminari sputtered behind him.

“How do I feel?!” Tokoyami hadn’t intended to interrupt his classmate, but the words came out before he could think about it. He didn’t try to quell down the fury; years had been spent practicing to control his emotions when he had Dark Shadow, but he didn’t have anything inside of him to stop him now. Dark Shadow wasn’t there to remind him to calm down. “How do I feel?! I think you’re all doing a magnificent job of doing half of the villains’ work for them, that’s how I feel!”

He wasn’t really sure where the words were coming from; he didn’t even think about them until they were already in the air. His classmates and the media alike had suddenly gone quiet and hushed at his outburst, but the anger was still bubbling.

The rage was growing and he wasn’t done yet. It felt as if his brain were suddenly on fire and that he needed to get this all out of him.

“The League keeps attacking U.A. over and over and you don’t think there’s a reason for that?! After Stain’s whole… Thing got out there and this all started, you didn’t put it together? They’re trying to make everyone doubt how the hero schools do things so we stop trying to train new heroes!” Tokoyami took a deep breath; even as he said it, some things were starting to click in to place. Realizations were stringing themselves along. “Do you think they targeted U.A. at random? That what they did to me was just… Just for the hell of it?! You keep talking about how the Pro Heroes keeps failing to protect us without even asking if you fell right along with this plan of theirs and acting as the villains’ mouthpiece! You’re all doing exactly what they want you to do!”

Everyone was dead silent. Every microphone and camera were aimed right at him. Someone’s hand was on his shoulder but he didn’t turn to see whose it was.

He wasn’t done yet. The fury was only hitting its’ peak.

“I was out in that testing place with hundreds of others from hero schools all over the country and each and every one of them were… Amazing and didn’t hesitate to work together and protect each other and do things exactly the way everyone keeps saying the Pros should, and you’re out here trying to tear everyone down! I saw your own cameras recording that fight and I heard what All Might said just as the rest of you did. ‘You’re next’? That was not a threat to the villains, that was for all of them in that field and for everyone that wants to be a hero. Any of them, all of them, could be the next Symbol of Peace. There could be multiple Symbols, I… I don’t know!”

Now, the anger was starting to fade and turn in to frustration. Coherency was starting to jumble itself; he had an actual point to that last bit and he couldn’t remember what it was.

So, he settled on just ranting, on finding some end to this speech that he hadn’t intended to give.

“That is, if your own journalistic integrity doesn’t destroy the entire institution of hero schools at all!”

Tokoyami took a deep breath. He got it all out and was pretty sure he had been mostly coherent; there wasn’t anything left to shriek at these journalists that kept hounding them. That last bit sounded like a good place to call it quits.

The journalist with the shark-tooth grin wasn’t smiling anymore, but he still held up the microphone. “And what about you? Do you want to be the next Symbol of Peace?”

The only thing that Tokoyami could give him as an answer was an offended glare. Was this guy kidding? Seriously? He was quirkless, what did they expect him to say?

He didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of an answer. So, he turned to stalk away through the path that Bakugo had made.

His classmates silently gaped at him the entire way out.

Chapter Text

It was surprising how quickly things got back to normal. Or, at least, some semblance of ‘normal’; Tokoyami wasn’t really aware of it until the following day, until he woke up in his own dorm room after collapsing on his bed for some fourteen hours.

He woke up only because of his automatic alarm. For once, it had been a dreamless sleep and he woke up feeling no less drained and tired than he had when he went to bed in the first place. The phone at his bedside, sitting innocently on the fancy ottoman, shrieked with the chimes he used specifically for a school day.

Classes were supposed to resume as usual. After all of that, things were just supposed to be the same as any other day. He supposed it wasn’t particularly unusual for the way U.A. ran things. Almost get murdered by villains? Well, there’s still exams to study for, so get moving. There was probably a perfectly logical reason for it; Pro Heroes had very little time to adjust after major disasters, so those training to become the same shouldn’t have that grace period either, right?

Still, Tokoyami practically stumbled to the kitchen. His uniform was put on in a half-asleep state, but he gave himself credit for getting it on correctly on the first try. Most of his classmates were already in the kitchen and common room area and none of them looked any better than he did.

Breakfast ended up being only a little bit quieter than usual. The light pre-class chatter went on, though he didn’t do much on his end; he barely participated himself when things weren’t insane and had never been particularly good at social interaction besides. His friends had always taken this in stride, thankfully.

It wasn’t truly apparent that something had changed until class started. When Aizawa walked in to class, he looked a little… Off. Tokoyami couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it was, but a glance around the class showed that everyone else noticed it as well.

“Aizawa-sensei?” Ashido was the first soul brave enough to ask.

Things were okay enough for Aizawa to roll his eyes in his usual manner. Somehow, it was calming. “Nothing is wrong, if that’s what you wanted to ask. Some things have changed, yes, and we will discuss that. But first, there has been an alteration to our class schedule.”

Now, that at least sounded intriguing, if also not alarming at the same time.

“Due to the attack on the exam site, no one that had registered for that facility had been able to get their license.” Aizawa let out what sounded like half of a sigh. “So, they’ve rescheduled it to two weeks time and everyone that had been on that roster is free to attend this exam without it counting as a second try or as a do-over as it would under any other circumstance.”

A few excited expressions went over the class, but silence still held.

“So, on top of our standard exercises and usual lessons, we will continue training as we had before the initial exam day. However, if any of you want to hold off until the next official testing cycle, I’ve been told that you are free to do so, again without it counting negatively against you. In fact…” There was that half of a sigh again. “A few of you will be forced to do so.”

Tokoyami sat up with alarm. Why did he have the feeling that that was specifically about him?

“Sensei?” Asui murmured nervously. “Some of us won’t be allowed to enter the exam in two weeks?”

Aizawa gave a small shrug. “It isn’t up to me, unfortunately.” He gave a glance around the classroom. “Aoyama, Kaminari, you were both treated for moderate injuries after this latest villain attack, so you’ve both been placed on the registry for the exam in six months.”

“It was just a broken arm!” The disappointment on Kaminari’s face was practically tangible. “And Recovery Girl fixed it!”

Aoyama looked no less as upset as their blonde classmate; he slouched in his chair but otherwise didn’t protest.

“It isn’t up to me. I can’t override this decision.” Aizawa said with a touch of anger. “Trust me when I say that I would rather see you on the same field as the others. As well, Tokoyami…”

Ah, there it was. Tokoyami held his breath and waited for the pin to drop.

“…Recovery Girl threatened injuries that I can’t repeat in the presence of minors if I even thought about entering you back in without her direct approval, so you’re going to have to convince her that you’re healthy enough in six months time.”

There was a beat of silence. Then, a snort of laughter came from somewhere in the room.

That was not what he had expected. Tokoyami couldn’t help but feel amused at the mental image of the small, petite school nurse threatening their normally terrifying homeroom teacher with all the wrath that the little old lady had. Though, he now knew first hand that she could air threatening vibes if she cared to, it was funny knowing that an elderly woman that needed a cane to walk had hobbled a Pro Hero all in order to keep a student from straining themselves too much. Honestly, he couldn’t argue with that. “I understand.”

“Good.” Aizawa turned his back to the class and began to write something on the blackboard. “Now, we’re going to pick up exactly where we left off…”

 

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The daily training exercises ended up being almost exactly as it had been for the past week. Mandalay and Tiger were both waiting for him in the gym, Cementoss altered the ground and observed from the sidelines, and All Might – now shrunken, now so much different from what he had been before – briefly visited just to watch.

All Might had retired. The class, as a whole, were still trying to figure out what this meant. Training distracted them from talking to each other much, but Tokoyami had the feeling that the dorm chatter was going to be intense when they all got back.

The only major difference now, though, was that Recovery Girl hovered nearby as well, glaring at everything with the keen eyes of a hawk. For the most part, she was watching him as he worked with the Pussycats; even Tiger shrunk back at her gaze, mumbling more than once about how ‘scary’ she was.

But things had, in fact, changed. All Might’s fight weighed heavily on everyone. When they returned back to the dorm building and put on the TV as they automatically did every afternoon before they headed to their own rooms to deal with the drudgery of homework, the news spoke only about the ‘loss’ of the Symbol of Peace. As if All Might had died.

Prerecorded footage played on screen of a speech All Might had made outside of U.A. earlier in the day, officially announcing his retirement.

“Crime’s going to spike for a while.” Midoriya sighed. “It always does when any Pro Hero retires, but… All Might…” It sounded like he couldn’t quite find the words. How could he articulate what had happened? How could any of them?

“And the League’s getting well known now, right?” Uraraka frowned. “It’s… Going to be bad for a while, isn’t it?”

No one knew how to answer that, so no one did. After a few seconds of the news blaring on about All Might and an uncomfortable silence in the room, the channel flipped to a much more mundane action movie.

“Fuck that shit.” Bakugo tossed the remote on to the coffee table. “I don’t want to deal with that shit right now.”

No one argued. In fact, the mood lifted and light chatter started to spread anew.

Tokoyami took the moment to flee to his room.

 

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A few hours later, Tokoyami stared at the papers scattered on his desk and knew that he needed some help.

It was stupid, really. He knew from the start that he shouldn’t be doing this alone. In fact, he had thought about ways to spin it to his classmates so he didn’t look completely and utterly ridiculous asking for help with such a thing.

With a deep sigh, the knowledge that he could not avoid this cemented itself. It was either trudge through it on his own – and he couldn’t, at this point, it involved skills that were just beyond him – or take those papers down to the main room and see who else was still down there.

After a few minutes, he stuffed everything in to a folder and made his way to the elevator.

As it wound up, everyone was in the common room. It was Sato’s and Sero’s night to prepare dinner and just about everyone tended to get down early just to smell whatever genius it was that Sato concocted. It was early enough that the two of them had only just started to gather ingredients – and, on their night, it was always more elaborate than anyone else’s. No instant ramen or basic egg dishes; there were at least two different kinds of flour involved, this time. Possibly three, several of the bags on the counter were not in Japanese. Or in English, now that he looked at it.

Tokoyami gave it a curious look for a few seconds before realizing he was both procrastinating and couldn’t even begin to guess what dinner was going to be at this stage, so he slowly made his way to the couch and chairs by the TV. It was not on.

“Tokoyami?” Iida asked with a look of concern on his face. “Is something wrong?”

Then, everyone was looking at him. He must have had an odd expression on his face to get that kind of reaction; Tokoyami coughed and tried to clear whatever it was that he was showing off. “I actually… Need help. With something.”

This was embarrassing; he could feel the feathers on his face flare just a little.

They were patiently waiting for him to continue.

“I’m… Trying to redesign my hero costume.”

Ashido, who had been sitting on the armrest of one of the couches, physically fell off of it. She hit the floor with a soft thud before popping back up to her feet. “Yes!”

“Oh, no.” Asui laughed. “Mina’s been waiting for this.”

That sounded more ominous than it should have.

 

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With the kitchen fully taken over by bowls, pots, pans and the most pleasant aromas Tokoyami could remember smelling, the common room and the large coffee table had to make do.

“I think…” Tokoyami spread some of his basic sketches around. “I’m still not sure if I should be going in to any specific hero field, so I’m a little conflicted.”

“The Pussycats have been suggesting search and rescue, huh?” Asui smiled broadly. “Doesn’t every Pro Hero try to push whoever they’re training in to their field?”

“I think they make the assumption that we’ve already decided.” Midoriya had his eyes on the papers, eyes squinting in thought. “I mean, we all had to make a decision with the last internships.”

“Didn’t we kinda miss an important thing just now?” Kaminari said with a wide grin. “Our bird boy here just said he’s going for hero work!”

Tokoyami shrunk a little at the proclamation. He had thought that he had hid his insecurities about the whole thing well enough; how had they known?

“We didn’t want to push you by asking.” Jiro pat his shoulder gently. “But it’s good to hear it from you directly, y’know?”

“You’ve been fucking moody.” Bakugo said from over their shoulders.

“Oh, come on, bro.” Kirishima sputtered in the blonde’s direction. “Really?”

“He has!” Bakugo glared as he took a long swing from a can, but it lacked the usual venom. “He’s just been goddamn moody and acting like a kicked puppy.”

“There’s not a lot of… Detail in most of these.” Aoyama blinked at the papers on the coffee table; at least he was making an attempt to push the conversation back in to focus.

“I’m not very good at costume design.” Tokoyami had to admit with some shame. “In fact… Dark Shadow made most of the suggestions for our original outfit and even then it took a few days.”

“It took a few days for ‘black with a cloak’?” Hagakure sounded like she was gasping.

There was a moment of silence. Tokoyami felt himself flushing under his feathers.

“Okay.” Aoyama enunciated both syllables as if they were two words before dropped a pile of colored pencils and what looked like glitter crayons on the table. Tokoyami couldn’t figure out why he had them or where he had been keeping them; they appeared to show up out of nowhere. “Don’t worry, petit corbeau, you will have a magnificent design by the end of the night!”

Tokoyami made a mental note to translate whatever it was that Aoyama had called him later and wasn’t sure if he wanted it to be something overly familiar or not. “There’s also one other design that I was seriously considering, but it’s a little…” He tried to find the right word. “…Bad?”

“Most of these are stick figures.” A paper floated in the air where Hagakure held it. “This one is a stick figure with goggles. How bad can that one be?”

Tokoyami sputtered and choked on words that he couldn’t find.

Everyone was staring at him again.

He couldn’t figure out how to describe it. So, he pulled the folder back out from underneath the pile of papers and tugged out the only one that he hadn’t drawn on loose-leaf. Instead, it was on an unlined sheet, every pencil-drawn mark clear and thick. It had been given far more thought than any of the others.

At first, all he received were a few horrified stares.

“…Oh.” Yaoyorozu said after a very long moment, visibly stunned and disturbed.

“That… Is something.” Shoji said with his real mouth, his extra limbs had turned in to multiple large eyes that simply stared at the paper.

“Are you sure about this?” Todoroki’s usually stoic exterior had cracked just a bit in surprise. “That makes quite a statement.”

“To tell you the truth, Midoriya inspired this a little.” Tokoyami could still feel the embarrassed flush.

“What? How –” Midoriya stopped as realization crossed his face. Then, he winced. “…Oh.” He covered his face with a hand. “I can see what you mean now.”

“What, what did Deku ‘inspire’, huh?” Bakugo stopped behind them on the couch and crouched over enough to look at the paper. “Fuckin’ sick!” He sounded far too happy; he even laughed. It was a wild cackle that managed to sound a touch maniacal. Tokoyami winced at the volume. “Yes! Do that, bird face! Do that!”

Everyone else simply shared wide-eyed, unsure glances with each other. Still, in the end, they helped to improve the design.

 

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As it wound up, U.A. had some kind of deal with the companies that designed student hero costumes. Tokoyami could have sworn that the paperwork suggested a month of wait time, but he had his box in three days. It was coated in the tell-tale logos of the companies, but it was not too heavy to get to his room on his own.

He ignored the curious and eager looks from his classmates. At least no one asked to see it right away. They did, however, look far too eager the following day when they had to get in their hero costumes for their usual training. Ashido practically bounced on the tips of her toes. Sometimes, he forgot how much hype society placed on the ‘reveal’ of a new hero costume; even as students, it was a notion that trickled down.

For a few seconds after opening the box in the private locker cubby, Tokoyami stared at the contents. He still wasn’t sure if this was the right decision, though he was calmed with the fact that if he changed his mind, he could always request a new costume all over again. He was assured that some other hero course students went through dozens of alterations before finally settling on something and even Pro Heroes changed their look every few years. Pro Heroes even made a business of it, and he suspected that they changed their looks just to make money off of the new action figures that came with the update. Regardless of the reason, he wasn’t stuck with this.

Mandalay had suggested fabrics that were either breathable and flexible – there were some specifically for Pro Heroes, some designed for very specific activities like crawling in to burning buildings or jumping from tree branch to tree branch – or no fabric at all. There were several Pros that had shirtless costumes in the warmer months. Hell, Hagakure’s wore almost nothing. Still, his last costume had been a fully covering thing – it had held multiple layers – and this one had significantly less than that. It would be an adjustment.

The harness around his chest had been pulled from painful memory alone, as close to the one from the tube as he could remember it. He had never been able to see it, but he recalled the feel of it and the criss-cross design that had held him prisoner. Enough of it on his back was exposed to show off the scars; he had wanted that, had thought it was important. There were matching cuffs on his wrists and ankles; not quite as big as they had been in the nomu warehouse, but the symbolism, he thought, was enough.

The trousers were from the photographs that the media had snapped of the nomus; the torn, ripped things barely held on by a belt. Alterations were made for the sake of hero work; a more flexible black pair of shorts underneath that hid his underwear, additions to the belt that included pouches and clips in case he ever needed to hold anything there. The sketches his classmates had helped him work on had made certain not to cover any part of his tail; there were mixed feelings to learn that the company that had made this had followed that order.

His feet were left almost bare; his talons were a help sometimes, so he thought it was better to leave them out, but he had discovered just through research that there were companies that made stick-on pads specifically for Pro Heroes that wanted ‘bare’ feet. He could walk without worrying about accidentally stepping on glass but he could still keep his feet exposed.

The helmet was barely even that; it was more like a crown, really. A round, thin metal thing in the same type of metal as the harness and cuffs. It fit his head perfectly and went right over where the surgery scar was hiding underneath the feathers. It attached to the nonfunctional, not quite solid oxygen mask over his beak; he still needed to breathe, after all. It had enough holes for that. In fact, it added an extra layer of protection to his beak, which honestly couldn't hurt to include.

Around his neck, around the feathers that turned in to soft shoulder guards, was one of the Dark Shadow dolls Hagakure had made, held on by a simple, thin red choker. It was the only part of the costume that he didn’t have to order.

Every one of his scars were out on display. He thought he looked just a little horrifying in the mirror. His classmates had thought the sketch was wild enough; in person, it was… Unusual. Only his classmates, the students in 1-B, his teachers, the police and – most importantly – the League would even understand this design and what it represented. Tokoyami hadn’t been able to settle on a new hero name yet – he certainly wasn’t Tsukuyomi, the Jet Black Hero any longer, as much as it pained him to admit – but this was a step, he thought.

It was a step in taking his life back.