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Marks and Ties

Chapter Text

Izuku ran. The breath in his lungs kicking up to his throat.

He'd been using One for All to jump between rooftops. Blasting himself through airway shortcuts to his destination. Since he was a previous offender, he'd be in trouble if anyone caught him. But surely this counted as an emergency.

Although he'd never be able to make that argument.

I can make it, I can make it!

Izuku told himself as he skidded along the pavement, the phantom streak of One for All pumping his legs. He drew looks from people, who looked around wondering whether some villain was in pursuit of the poor boy - for him to run as if his life depended on it.

Well, they weren't so far from the truth. 

This was the last time he let Hatsume fiddle with his phone. She'd been adamant about installing a new app she'd developed for him - a program that monitored his vitals, body condition, and strains on his muscles down to most intricate detail.   

He was grateful - except she'd somehow set his phone's clock back an hour as well.

Thank you Iida-kun, thank you a million times. You're a true Hero. It'd been a month since Iida had decided he'd teach the class clock NOT to die every week or so. So far, despite Iida's best efforts and numerous visits to the Support Class - who were frankly not so enthusiastic to his cause - the clock had refused to give up its weekly leave. If it weren't for his persistent friend once again replacing the battery of the clock and setting the time, Izuku would have completely missed the hour.

Izuku nearly crashed into the fountain, scattering some doves and a few bewildered couples. He collapsed with his forehead on the cool surface of the stonework. He felt water droplets splatter onto him. He imagined them turning to steam the moment they landed on his panting form. 

By the time his heart stopped trying to bolt out of his mouth, the thunder from the clock tower filled the square.

I made it.

"...A barely passing score."

A knee lightly bumped into his heaving side. The boy jerked, and turned his head sideways.

A hooded pale face peered down at him.

Izuku pushed himself up, his gaze darting between that face and hands shoved inside the pockets of the black hoodie.

"But - haaa - I'm - ahaaa - on time,"

Shigaraki Tomura emitted a barely audible huff.

This was the third time they met like this.

Chapter Text

 

"...were confined for days... psychologically tortured... alone with a notorious villain, to boot…. And the culprits behind it all still at large. I do not want to scare you, but I do not want to make light of the facts either. All your teachers agree that the experience you've been through would leave marks even in a professional hero. There may be no apparent physical harm, but how your mind was affected is more important... Midoriya-kun... I hope I've outlined the need for these therapy sessions well enough..."

 


 

 

Izuku wondered if he were dreaming - again - when four fingers curled around his neck. Surely an event couldn't replicate itself so exactly. He was at the Kiyashi Ward Shopping Mall, he was even wearing the same T-shirt. The man who'd materialized beside him was also dressed in the same black hoodie that obscured his face.

"You're not scared."

Shigaraki Tomura's voice wasn’t so much heard as it seeped underneath the skin, threading through one's nerves like wisps of inexplicably sharp smoke.

"Unlike last time."

Izuku almost wanted to laugh. Just when he'd been thinking how alike the last time…

"I... am, actually."

It's just that this feels unreal. Even his own words sounded like a distant echo. Izuku was actually glad of the tingling sensation along his body, at the coldness running down his spine. If he didn't show at least a hint of fear, he was afraid if it might provoke the other.

Shigaraki twisted his head, regarding him more up close.

"Shall we have some tea or something?"

 


 

Differences set in gradually. 

For one thing, there really was tea. Held between his hands. It disturbed Izuku that he couldn't actually remember just how it had gotten there. Who had even paid for it? He had to assume, from lack of any screaming or police presence, that Shigaraki hadn't dismembered anyone for it.

He hoped. Fervently.

Perhaps he was having a very slow panic attack. The counselor had warned him about the possibility.

"If you come in contact with something that remind you of that experience.... darkness, a confined room..."

Or the person who shared the experience.

They currently sat on a backless bench in a corner, away from the bustling crowd.

Izuku shifted his cooling hands so as not to let the drink slip from his fingers. He winced at the clinking of the ice and stole a furtive look at his... companion. Shigaraki didn't stir, sitting beside him like a statue, looking down. At least Izuku thought so. He couldn't tell with the hood and pale hair veiling the man's profile.

Something rough brushed him just below the collarbone.

Izuku blinked. He hadn't noticed the loose grip around his throat being removed. A jagged fingernail scraped along the line of reddened scabs that peeked over the loose hem of his T-shirt, making the hairs on his nape stand.

"...You've kept it."

What a strange way of putting it, Izuku thought. Except it was correct. The presence of the Recovery Girl at UA was common knowledge. If a wound stayed, that meant either it'd scar anyway or she had not treated it.

Izuku figured that the one who'd caused it would know whether it'd scar or not.

 


 

"Are you sure? It'd be no problem to remove. Besides, if you don't take care, it really might scar -"

"No, thank you. It's alright."

Izuku smiled awkwardly into the frowning eyes of the school nurse. Then he absently rubbed at the angry swell on his chest. The memory of the burn, the feel of crumbling skin and blood disintegrating - and the brief flash of absolute terror - it all came back -  

Izuku noticed the old woman looking worriedly at his roving fingers and snatched them away, embarrassed.

"It's just - I'd like to have some evidence that... that really happened. The counselor said that I might - unconsciously try to forget the incident and that wouldn't be good in the long run. So… it's like..."

 


 

"... a reminder."

Izuku realized too late that he'd spoken aloud. A slight expulsion of breath was the only response from the other.

Four fingers wrapped around his elbow. Izuku tensed. Mostly from wariness but he was also restraining his own hand from moving towards the other's. It’d been almost a month yet the reflex that'd been built in apparently remained.

 


 

"We need a reset button."

“The action has to be something… impactful.”

 


 

Izuku shook off the memory.

"How's your..."

Everything.

"...leg?"

By the time Izuku had decided he'd been ignored, a lanky leg snaked behind his knees. Before he could even utter 'Huh? Heh?' the leg lifted, swerving his feet off the ground along with it, tipping him. He flailed but he remembered the drink in his hands and clutched it. Why would you do that, you idiot - His brain intervened too late and he was falling backwards -

 - Then the other's arm linked around his, jerking him back to the sitting position.

"Wah!"

Izuku lurched forward, feet planting a little too hard onto the ground. He glowered up at the man. The only movement from him was the red sneakered foot  tapping a mocking rhythm against the ground, stretching languidly from the perpetrator leg.

You could have just said it was okay now!

Izuku had barely swallowed the angry retort when the other spoke again.

"So the media finally got tired of you."

"Uh... um, I guess."

For the past month, Izuku had dominated the headlines– Missing Hero Student Miraculously Returned! - There were days when he couldn't go outside the school grounds without bumping into a line of reporters. 

The recent absence of his face from the news was partly due to the UA administration promising dire consequences to any media who'd dare approach one of their students - who'd gone through an excruciating situation and was still recuperating.

There was another reason, which only the UA administration and the police knew about, that'd led them to raise a metaphorical iron wall between Izuku and the media.

But Izuku had been religiously keeping up with the news. This had distressed both his mother and All Might. But he couldn't stop, even if he had to resort to staring at his phone on the school rooftop, or out on the veranda of his dorm at night.

Watching out for any news regarding the Villain Alliance.

Specifically, that of its leader.

But there hadn't been any. And he’d gone to bed every night with a hollow feeling squeezing his insides.  

His last memory of the man consisted of a limp weight in his arms, blood welding their bodies together, the other's warmth ebbing away second by second as he ran blindly, borne aloft by One for All yet fear instead of power crawling along the whole of his body...

And now.

"Any leads?"

The curt question was clear enough to Izuku. He wondered how he should answer...

...Except there wasn't anything. It was possible that the police and the teachers were keeping things from him. But from the palpable frustration emanating from All Might and his police friend, it was likely they were getting nowhere.

"I...don't know? Still... under investigation, I suppose...?"

Izuku saw a brief tug of cracked lips. When Shigaraki tilted his head towards Izuku, there was a jeering amusement in his tone. 

"I see."

"What about you?"

Izuku was actually surprised at how the other casually answered him.  

"None yet. I'd prefer no development from your side, Midoriya. As I'd like to find them first."

The pale man swiveled his head to face Izuku fully. And the same pressure that’d descended upon Izuku the last time they'd met here struck him in full force. The sheer killing intent. Red eyes gleaming like fresh blood drops rippling upon a razor's edge.

"When I do, I'll let you know, Midoriya. You deserve that much."

And for the first time since this meeting, it truly dawned on Izuku that this - person - next to him was a villain. And along with it, the knowledge of what this man was capable of. What he had done.

He really should be trying to apprehend the man.

Of course, it would be foolhardy to do so. The risk was as same as their previous encounter, even if the villain had forgone the threat. But the possibility wasn't the issue.

What worried Izuku was that the thought of apprehending the villain had only just occurred to him.

Obviously the man noticed Izuku fidgeting. Four fingers dug warning into the soft, damp skin inside his elbow.

Izuku ground out more defiantly.

"Why... did you want to talk to me?"

"…There was nothing about me on the news."

Oh. Was he angry about that? As he'd been when upstaged by Stain or... glad?

"The police thought it best... not to release any information about you."

Izuku shuddered to think what'd have happened if the police and the UA hadn't managed to keep the detail about the villain he'd been... kidnapped with under wraps. A literal iron wall wouldn't have deterred the barrage of reporters.

"... And what did you tell the police and the UA?"

Ah. Of course, he would like to know about that. Izuku gulped. He put the now-lukewarm beverage carefully aside, he might need the use of both hands after all...

"...Pretty much everything."

He braced for the brush of the fifth finger. It never came. It might have been his imagination, but Izuku thought the grip actually loosened a little, as if the other sensed him going rigid and wanted to put him at ease.

"Everything."

The quiet way it was whispered compelled Izuku to offer more explanation.

"Uh, what the... kidnapper said about you, how you were the actual target... and, and how you came up with the plan to break out… and… "

The figure beside him bent forward a little. The sharp nose and the line of chin poking through pale locks. Izuku thought he saw bits of red along the cracks on dried mouth, and under the gossamer splinters of skin on ashen throat. Even later, Izuku couldn't figure out why that sight drove him to say the next words.

"...But I didn't say anything about the dreams."

Shigaraki didn’t reply. Which made Izuku break out in a flustered, rapid-fire speech.

"I explained how the culprit's Quirk manifested the dreams, obviously. That was necessary for the investigation. But I didn’t mention, er, the contents of the dreams… Not that I know anything about yours. Just some words, um, you mumbled whenever you woke up. You stopped doing even that later on... I don’t think I remember most of them anyway..."

"And why not?"

Izuku stopped. He realized he was staring and whipped his gaze downwards.

"...I don't know."

A silence. Izuku thought the tickling sensation in his ear was due to nervousness. Then he noticed Shigaraki muttering to himself. 

"...no… tact... irritating."

Izuku nearly wobbled when Shigaraki let go of his arm. Mortified, he looked down to see the pale hand settle on the bench – palm up, brushing against his hip.

Izuku experimentally shifted his weight. There was no reaction. Not that he could leave until he'd assured everyone's safety. He had to make sure that Shiragaki was gone first.

"So, was that... all... you wanted to talk about?"

"Oh, far from it."

The uncharacteristically cheerful tone jolted him. When the villain faced Izuku once more, he had on a smile that was almost serene. Which was no less scary than the maniacal version he usually had.

"I wanted to thank you, Midoriya."

"...Eh?"

"After all, you did your part. And Kurogiri told me how you handed me over to him, without holding me down for the heroes that came to rescue you."

Izuku cringed at the last sentence. It was like the villain had plucked at the string of guilt that'd been nestled inside, with a twang that ran - cut -  painfully through him.

Thinking back, trying to hold Shigaraki for arrest probably would’ve been useless. There was no way he could’ve fended off Kurogiri in his condition, even for a short while.

As if that were an excuse.

He wasn't even thinking at that time. No - he was thinking of only one thing.

Please don't die, please don't die. Not after all that. Not now. Not like this.

"So... only common courtesy. Thank you, Midoriya Izuku. I owe you."

The overly polite, almost sweet voice made Izuku shiver.

"Er, I, I… didn't thank you either. You that got us out of there, really. So..." Izuku rambled, so as not to offend the villain, "...really, I owe you."

"Oh? It's good that you think that..."

Izuku froze. He had forgotten about that resting hand. Now it slid down his wrist.

"... There was one other thing I wanted to ask from you."

"Ah... oh... and that is?

"Truthfully speaking, I was beating about the bush because I wasn't sure. But now I am."

Calloused fingers tapped onto the fretting pulse.

"I want you to keep meeting me like this. When I let you know the date and the place, you’ll be there. Alone. On time."

It took a while for Izuku to process what he'd heard. Even then, it didn't quite register. Izuku actually repeated the 'request' in his own words, received an affirmation, and among myriads of questions, could only croak out:

"Why?"

"There's something I need to figure out."

And what does that have to do with me?!? Izuku nearly screamed. He opened and shut his mouth several times before he could trust himself to say anything.

"For how long?"

"Until I figure it out."

Shigaraki leaned over. Izuku automatically pulled back but the hand held his wrist in a predator's bite. It yanked hard, making him almost stumble into the man. Izuku could feel a whiff of Shigaraki’s smell - like burnt ashes. The smell he'd gotten used to breathing in during their capture.

"The clandestine nature of the meeting goes without saying, of course,"

Izuku grit his teeth. Yet something inside him responded to the cadence of the other's voice. Deceptively soothing. Sticking to his body, dissolving into skin and blood.

It was the tone Shigaraki had used when Izuku was close to breaking down, in that darkness.

And this was why Izuku knew he was lying whenever his friends asked him whether he was fine, and he said yes.

He knew he couldn't say to anyone else that the first thing he'd felt when that pale hand had draped over him was relief. 

The teachers and his counselor were right to worry. What'd he'd gone through - it'd affected him. Stayed with him. It made him unable to look at this - being - as just an enemy, just a villain, for one thing.

"...And if I refuse?"

Shigaraki Tomura shrugged.

"Then you get to find out the consequences through the news."

...Even though he was MOSTLY a villain.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

About two months ago: 

 

"...Midoriya Izuku, a UA student and a Hero-in-Training... missing in action... the League of Villains suspected... Rest assured that both the police force and the hero association have not lost hope and are continuing their investigation..."

 


 

Izuku stared down at his own body.

He shouldn't have recognized it. It was in pieces. Just a reddish mess spilling out from a heap of green fabric, topped almost comically with a mop of blood-flecked hair.

Yet he knew it to be his. Even the jutting bits of whitish bones. Belonging to him.

A part of him thought: That's ridiculous, human body doesn't break like that, even from so much height. And the school rooftop isn't that high -

He found himself riveted by the sight of his toe.

To be exact, its bones. The littlest toe had been neatly stripped of its flesh, as if someone had sucked it clean. It gleamed, flaunting its two joints.

'It used to be a way to tell how one wouldn't have a quirk, two joints on the smallest toe...'

A banner of his worthlessness. That was the sole pristine thing to survive among the wreckage.

'Jump off the school building. Hoping for next life.’

Was this next life? Doomed to look upon the evidence of his failed existence, his broken dreams forever? 

But this didn't happen. I picked up my burnt notebook and... On the way back, I was attacked by a villain. Then... All Might saved me and...

‘You can't be a hero.'

Electric blue eyes softening with pity as his hero spoke the words that crushed his hope. Only... they weren't blue anymore. Dull green, veins of blood reaching at it like some sickening growth.

His own dead eye stared at him among the ruin of his body.

'Deku. Useless.'

 


 

Muffled scream thrashed Izuku’s body. Muffled because of the bile that bubbled up his throat. He choked on it, and dropped on all fours to retch.

He couldn't stop heaving even when he'd emptied his stomach. The spasm stopped only when he'd sapped all strength.

He dropped his head on the floor, heedless of the stink of his own vomit. He wrapped his arms tight around his body. Almost crushing himself in violent shivers.

Alive. Whole. Still here. HERE.

And here was...?

Had tears glued his eyelids? No, he could blink. But why was everything so dark? Had he gone blind?

Or... was he truly...

Still on all fours, Izuku tried to shout. The first few attempts ended in mere gasps. When a sound finally emerged, it was a whine.

He didn't notice another sound at first. Only when he stopped voicing his own did he hear it. It reminded Izuku of growls from an animal in pain, or that of an angry beast.

There was a dull thud. Then another. Repeatedly. Like flesh against a hard surface. Something that resembled a human voice broke through intermittently. But Izuku was sure he was imagining the words. Sorry? Dad?

"Anyone... there?"

The sound stopped. Then a scratchy groan crawled over to him, so low and barely there. Even in his current state, Izuku could sense its desperation, as if a scared child was saying it.

"...Sensei?"

The word, without context, only disoriented Izuku further. Then recognition dawned slowly. Memory coming bit by bit…

 


 

He’d been visiting Bubble Girl and Centipeder. For the first time since Sir Nighteye had... had...

The two of them were about to investigate a nearby shipping container yard, concerning the possible sighting of the League. They tried to stop Izuku from getting involved but he’d insisted he'd help. They gave in under the condition that he kept to patrolling the premises.

When they were there... explosions and screams had burst all over the area as if timed to their arrival. Other heroes and the police rushed in and soon, it was chaos. Izuku was at the edge of the yard, watching in horror as the smoke and flame enveloped the whole area. He'd tried contacting Bubble Girl and Centipeder to no avail. A jamming device? A quirk? 

He jumped high to escape the suffocating smoke and to survey the situation - and sighted flashes of blue light slamming down from sky - one narrowly missing him.

Like dividing screens raining down – Then Izuku had realized that was exactly what the blue-light blocks were doing. Dividing the area into neat enclosed squares - separating everyone among confusion. Surely the work of a quirk.

Izuku landed on a spot just outside of the blue lights. Since he couldn't be sure of the situation, he was debating whether to run for help but then... 

"...are you trying to pull?"

A voice he couldn't forget. From inside one of the containers. Still, should he just barge in? Then there was a cry for help which made the decision for him. 

The first thing he saw as he rushed in was the dark figure topped with pale hair looming over a man. A hand twitching just over the man's face.

"Shigaraki Tomura!"

The villain whirled instantly, the deathly hand covering his face also swiveling towards him.

Then... Izuku felt something both like a knife and a mighty wind slash him from behind, knocking him over – as if he'd run into a storm - or a mixer -

Then – darkness - .

 


 

Izuku groaned, the memory brought back all the physical pain. He could feel scratches upon his body. Felt slashed bits of his hero costume chafe against his wounds. 

He heard rustle of clothing as the other presence shifted. Izuku carefully called out. 

"...Shigaraki?"

Silence. Then:

"You."

Izuku recoiled at the amount of venom in the voice. Shuffling back instinctively until his back hit something hard - a wall? But... with a rugged surface and strange lumps.

The other’s hoarse voice snapped.

"Explain."

Izuku's mouth hung open at the sheer unfairness of the accusation.

"I should ask you that!"

But that short word already 'explained' some things. This, at least, wasn't the work of the League. Of course, Shigaraki could be playing with him but what was the point? And from that genuinely frightened tone he'd heard before...

"Can - can you see - anything?"

The reply came a while later, with an irritated smacking of mouth.

"...I suppose that means we're stuck in the same… predicament. Your communication line?"

Izuku checked his comm. built into the suit, as well as his phone. Both were on, but with the signal still jammed. Izuku shook his head no, realized the foolishness of the act, and called out in negative. There was an exasperated expulsion of breath that indicated the situation was same for the villain.  

"Wha...what is this...place?"

Nothing. Obviously the villain didn't deem the question worthy of a reply. Izuku offered a possibly more valuable contribution.

"I can feel... sort of a wall behind me."

"...And I can feel a floor under me, Hero Genius Sir."

Okay. Perhaps not so insightful. But the previous hostility from the villain had... thinned somewhat. So likely Shigaraki didn't intend to... antagonize him at the moment. At least, not until the situation was clearer.

"What's the last thing you remember?"

The villain's question alerted him anew. Well, after all, he was just thinking about that. So Izuku complied. 

"There was... sharp... wind...? Then... black smoke obscured everything... Ah, no... more like... black paint spreading along the ceiling and the walls... Wait, are we still inside the container? But... the wall are... strange and lumpy..."

"Yeah, that's how it was," the villain interrupted him with a displeased grunt. "That was what made me suspicious when I entered.”

"... and... there was a voice,"

Just after the darkness had engulfed everything. Something unique about it, but Izuku couldn't place it. It'd said...

"'Sleep well, and sweet dreams'?"

Izuku breathed in deeply. There was a snort from the source that'd repeated those ominous words.

"I suppose it's definite we've entered the same game. But what kind?"

Izuku tried to control his shudders. What the voice had said... and the dream had come. Izuku bit his lips as bile surged up again.

"Was it the... man... you held?"

"That rodent? Not at all likely."

"Did you...?" Kill him?

"Regrettably, no."

"Who was that man? What were you doing there?"

There was no answer. Which left Izuku to his own contemplation. He turned off his phone and comm. It'd be better, he decided, to save their batteries for a crucial time.

"Break the wall."

"Wha-?"

Izuku jerked his head up at the sudden command. The voice came again.

"Try. Breaking. The wall. With your. Damn. Quirk."

The clipped words were pronounced as if to a particularly dense child, dripping contempt. Izuku cringed, yet forced himself to stand up, knees shaking, supporting himself against the strange wall. Really, he should've tried this earlier. But he needed to control the damage, since there was no telling what lay beyond this – prison. Izuku drew up One for All over his body – releasing it along with his fist.

He felt the power fizz out the moment he struck.

Izuku let out a yep of pain, reeling. He rubbed his knuckles. Nothing broken, at least.

"From that sound, and the continued existence of this room, I guess - a failure?"

Ignoring the mocking words, Izuku tried to summon One for All again and felt dread pierce his skull when the heat of the quirk seeped out the moment he felt it coming up.

"Similar to Erasurehead," Izuku turned, even though he knew it to make absolutely no difference. The villain’s speech continued, accompanied by what sounded like tapping of fingers against the floor.

"This - place - negates the quirk used against it. And it seems to suppress the said quirk for a short while. After the 'downtime', the quirk is restored, although it only seems to work on anything that is NOT part of the room."

There was a chuckle.

"So we're able to kill each other, at least, if it comes to that."

Izuku tensed. One for All firing up almost automatically. This time, although the quirk ‘sputtered' like an old engine, it managed to surge up through his body, spreading slowly to the ends of his limbs, proving Shigaraki's theory. Izuku forced himself to relax.

Bubble Girl, Centipeder, and the other heroes... had they gotten away? Or were they in a similar situation? Izuku slowly felt his way along the wall. He wasn't sure for what. It was better than just standing still - except the almost tangible darkness robbed him of all sense of balance. He tried to count the steps but soon lost it as he bumped into... something. A cold, smooth pipe-like structure. At the end, something like... porcelain...

After quite a few minutes, Izuku succeeded in turning the handle, and was rewarded with a wet trickle. Then he bumped into something else that almost cracked his knee and bent over in pain, banging his head over an object equally hard and smooth. The painful revelation led to further exploration and Izuku felt compelled to share his discovery.

"There's a... faucet here, and possibly a... toilet."

"... Congratulations, you've unlocked... a new feature in the dungeon."

Was it his imagination, or was there a drowsy lilt in the reply?

"So the host... intends to make this a long stay,"

Izuku's heart sank at the other's statement. Sure, it was a logical conclusion...

"But... this space, this room... it must be due to a quirk... Then it surely can't last that long, right?"

Silence.

"It can't, right?"

No answer.

Izuku tried to shout, then found his voice sapped out in a similar manner as his quirk had done. Then his knees gave and he slipped onto the floor. His whole flesh felt as if they weighed a ton and his fragile bones couldn't stand them.

Izuku folded upon himself. He put up a weak fight against the darkness invading inside his head until he was soon overwhelmed.

 


 

Next brief bout of consciousness was exactly that. Brief.

He spent that time flat on his belly. Tears pooling between his cheek and the cold floor.

He could not get up. He'd failed the exam. He'd failed All Might. Not only that, his entire body was broken. By his own quirk.

No, not his. Never his. All Might had been wrong. He didn't deserve this quirk. All that training was for nothing. Except to wake him up to bitter reality.

He was never worthy of any quirk. That was why he'd been born without one. It seemed so clear now. And he'd spend the rest of his life crippled for his stupidity. That is, if anyone found him at all. Perhaps he'll be found as a desiccated remains only after clearing up the exam area for the next - proper - applicants. Stuck under the very lowest of the rubble -

How his mother would cry.

He should've listened to Kacchan. Then at least, One for All would have gone to someone worthy...

Guttural moans. Too distant to be his own. Too different. A piece of memory flickered at that sound, like a weak amber buried under ashes. Groans, then a series of curses, the last ending in a screech that reverberated through the floor, through his bones. Izuku twitched. Curling up into a ball to shield himself. He screamed to block out those howls of rage and pain.

It shocked him. Hadn't his body completely broken? How could he move, and shout...

The miniscule awareness fanned the frail flame of recognition. It still stayed out of his reach like the trail of a dream upon waking...

A dream.

"...rat ....brat!...."

Someone calling. Then... a sound like something being... dragged over.

Something prodded his side, his wet face, making him gurgle.

"...riya,"

It was a marginally familiar voice. But Izuku couldn’t make out what it meant.

The only clear thought that flashed through before his consciousness shut down again was: Thank goodness someone came.

 


 

"Kacchan!"

Izuku reached out. Screams tore out of his lungs.

All Might was gone. All for One had defeated him. Then, because he had lost all hope when All Might fell... he'd faltered, making Kirishima slip - and Kacchan also fell...

He heard coughing. Then, raspy sighs.

All was suddenly clear.

Shigaraki Tomura.

It was all his fault. He was the one who'd orchestrated the abduction of Kacchan, who'd led All Might to...

He’d nearly crippled Aizawa-sensei. He’d have killed Mineta and Asui just to provoke All Might.

It was all him.

He blinked away heat from his eyes. Anger boiling at the villain trapped with him. The sheer hatred amassed into physical strength that pushed him up. This was a chance to stop him from all that pain he had caused - could cause -.

He was summoning One for All without even realizing it.

He'll pay for all he's done. I'll make him pay.

A small part of him stirred, trying to catch his attention. But it was a faint signal.

I'll take back everything you've taken away -

The coughs morphed into sobbing.

It halted Izuku in his vengeful tracks.

Then the sobs congealed into muffled words.

Someone. Help. Please.

It was as if those words had flicked a different switch inside Izuku.

Izuku moved - it had nothing to do with his own will. Just the same urgency that took over when he'd seen Kacchan taken by the sludge villain, when Eri had clutched at him.

His rage forgotten, he padded over to where he figured the sound was coming from – whimpers, loud thumps, and some disturbing scratchy sound - increasing as if reflecting the crescendo of desperation and madness behind them -

He nearly tripped over something, balancing himself at the last moment. Izuku froze and he felt the the body below him do the same. He cautiously knelt down, groping with his hands. After some hesitation, Izuku took off the gloves in favor of more sensitivity. His fingers traced a shaking, bony slope which heaved with a loud gasp. His hand brushed against a section of bare skin - nape? Izuku was startled at the wetness that smudged over his fingertips.

What... what do I do? Izuku ended up saying the first thing that came to his mind:

"I'm... here..."

Something whipped across his chest.

A flash of burning sensation both cold and hot, as if he were slashed with a sharp piece of dry ice. Then a feel of powdery texture slipping against his flesh – almost ticklish -  

Then the pain.

A chunk of his costume, and a layer of skin - he could feel them evaporate, even the blood flowing turning to wisps, like an abrasive smoke flowing out of his chest-.

Then it stopped.

Izuku drew in a deep breath, half-thinking the act would make his body collapse like a sand castle. His knees did crumple. But his body held.

His trembling hand went over his chest - just below the collarbone. Felt a rough, long groove made of scabs.

Another stuttering breath, only this time, it wasn't his.

"Are... you..."

The amount of fear weighed in those words made Izuku forget his own.

"I'm... alright, alright."

A shuddering sigh was the only answer.

I am alright. The realization made him aware how close to death he'd been. Izuku found himself breaking into panicked babbling, as if the action itself confirmed his survival.

"You must've been usingyourquirk on the floor without reallyknowing and it must've suppressed yourquirk enough to...."

"...Midoriya."

"...not disintegrate me completely justasmallpart soyeah I'mreallyalrightandwhole..."

"Shut up."

"Okay."

The ensuing silence was awkward. But it gave Izuku time to get his bearings. Which, admittedly, weren't so good. He was parched, the burst of speech hadn't helped. And the insides of his stomach and back seemed plastered together. The hunger and exhaustion making his limbs shake.

He was swaying, nodding off while standing. Izuku pinched himself. 

“Water,”

Izuku clamped his hand over his mouth. The villain didn’t stir. After waiting a while, Izuku spoke slowly, cautiously.

“I’m…going to get some. What about -"

Izuku had meant to reach for the walls. Instead, his hands touched something softer.

Both jerked away.

“Don’t. Touch. Me.”

“I didn’t mean to –“

Izuku held his breath until the snarl from the other subsided. Then he slowly got up.

“So… going. Do you…?”

Izuku hadn’t expected it and was surprised when he felt the villain get up. Supporting himself against the wall like Izuku, by the sound of it.

Eventually, they managed to work out a system – the one coming up behind would align the sole of his feet to the heel of the one walking front – Izuku taking up the latter role – and crawl along the walls. Izuku supposed Shigaraki figured necessity outweighed the… unpleasantry of working with him. Besides, it was best to stick together. If only to avoid the danger of accidental collision, which could cause the other to – lash out -.

Shigaraki was having trouble walking, dragging his legs. Izuku wondered if he'd been seriously injured by that knife-wind. He was fairly sure what he'd stumbled over before was the villain's leg and the lower hem of his pants now felt wet. Blood?  Izuku rubbed his stained fingers. 

The journey felt like forever. And the reward, meager. The faucet gave a thinnest flow, which dwindled to a drip now and then. Izuku gave up on washing and just quenched the thirst. Water felt like needles in his throat, but it was a welcome pain.

In an unexpected display of patience, Shigaraki let Izuku take his time, before following his example. Only the sound of harsh gulps and a sigh hinted that the villain had been just as parched as him.

Izuku swallowed a few times before speaking. It was definitely easier now. 

"How long... do you think we've been here? It can't have been days..."

"Depends on how long we'd been... knocked out."

Perhaps they were wasting precious energy this way. But if they just kept still, they'd just fall asleep again. The very thought of another dream was enough to make Izuku hurl.

No, it was better to keep talking, just to keep awake.

"... Wanted to join the League, he said, that rodent."

"... Huh?"

Izuku blinked at the out-of-the blue statement.

"That was why I - we - were there."

It took time for Izuku to figure out that Shigaraki was giving a delayed answer to his previous questions. 

"Our... broker confirmed he wasn't a threat. Obviously, he and I are going to have a talk later on,"

"Then... why were you interested in recruiting him?"

"The rodent had some… useful connections. Perhaps more than we gave him credit for."

So, it was a secret meeting between criminals that heroes had crashed into.

"That's why you weren't in your costume? With all those... hands... except on your face..."

Izuku hadn't meant to say that aloud. At a time like this, you're going on about that? A wheezing sound very much like a laugh didn't help with his embarrassment.

"The rendevouz necessitated a more... inconspicuous presence. Now, your turn, why were you there?"

Izuku hesitated. Wondering how much he should tell. But then, there wasn't really much to tell.

"There was an anonymous tip about sighting the League at the yard."

A tut, then a fit of furious scratching that made Izuku wince.

"So, a setup, after all."

"Do you think the others... I mean, the heroes, the rest of the League..."

"Probably fine. If the - culprits had enough raw power to subdue all of them, they wouldn't have bothered with the diversion. Likely they bailed after the - target - was separated and then..." The villain snapped his fingers. "Still, I doubt they expected to get something... extra."

"Why did you... decide to tell me all this?"

"I'm just arranging my thoughts out loud. You're just a talkative echo. Which reminds me, you still haven't answered my question. Rather away from UA, weren't you?"

"Just... visiting. I also heard the tip about the League and..."

"... Offered to interfere?"

Izuku could imagine that scarred face break into a smirk.

"Your luck stat must rank negative."

Izuku wondered whether he'd just hallucinated that child-like, fearful voice. The one talking to him now was definitely villain Shigaraki. Izuku was actually glad of it because it grounded him. It was also worrying because a terrible theory was forming in his mind and he wasn't sure how the other might react.

"Ah, um. You're having those too, aren't you? The... dreams..."

A sibilant expletive. Which was as good as a 'yes'. Izuku carried on.

"The way they just... continue to happen... I mean, it may be coincidence but... "

There was a bark of a laughter, and the lilting response:

"’Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time...’”

'It's enemy action.’'”

A new voice boomed through darkness, almost physically rattling both of them.

Izuku frantically looked around, and immediately sank because of the vertigo caused by sudden movement. His only consolation was that the other couldn't see him making a fool of himself.

And him trembling.

Sleep well. Sweet dreams.

This was the voice they'd heard before. Its unnatural resonance lent it an eerie quality, although Izuku could tell it sounded male.

"I apologize for the delayed greeting. Did you have ample time to figure out the amenities? And there'll be room service as well. I’m no monster, you see."

Izuku realized what had struck as unusual about the voice was the accent. This was a foreigner speaking.

"...And how long will our stay be?"

Shigaraki's voice countering it shouldn't have been so reassuring. But it was. Immeasurably so. Izuku found himself trying to twitch nearer to it. But the voice of their captor was just as all-permeating as this darkness.

"Until the desired state is reached."

"And the purpose of this 'desired state' is...?"

"Let's say that... we're keen on collecting useful assets," a pause, then, "at least assets some surmise could be useful, or possessing a certain rarity value - such as being the supposed successor of All for One."

"If I understood correctly, your recruiting tactics could use some work,”

You're the one to talk. Izuku couldn't help retorting inwardly at that.

The voice gave an exaggerating cough.

"Sorry, I'm afraid my Japanese isn't perfect. But, recruit as in ‘recruiting members’, isn’t it? I do mean collect… as in, ‘collecting butterflies’."

"And was the rodent a member? Or a bait?"

"A rodent is a vermin. And what are vermins good for? I'd appreciate it if you do not bring us down to its level."

Izuku stood up. He heard Shigaraki huff in warning. But he needed to say something, just to combat the feeling of helplessness.

"And just who - who are you?"

Izuku could somehow feel the voice 'swivel' towards him.

"Ah, the little larvae of a hero. I'm sorry you got into this. Be assured that my focus isn't you. If you stay - docile - there's a good chance your - inconvenience - may be short-lived."

"Are you behind this... room, this quirk?"

"Do not lump me in with this... mere contraption." A flash of annoyance, breaching towards anger, bled into the voice before simmering down. "As for your first question, you may address me as Sandman."

"What...  kind of organization do you belong to?"

There was a sigh, and a muttering in English that Izuku couldn't make out. He only caught the word 'idiot'. Then the voice directed its attention back to Shigaraki.

"Aren't you being rather passive, Shigaraki-kun? Letting this... boy take over the conversation?"

After a few seconds of silence, Shigaraki spoke in a different tone, with a slight sway to it: "Sandman… subtle." Then, to Izuku's astonishment, Shigaraki broke into English.

The voice sounded also taken aback. But it answered in the same language. Shigaraki's English had a mocking cheer that set his speech into something between a purr and a hiss. It was apparent that 'Sandman' was finding whatever Shigaraki was saying infuriating – he had lost what smidgen of politeness he’d deigned to display prior. Instead, his tone had changed into a domineering one, with some seething emotion barely held in check. Both spoke rapid-fire and Izuku couldn’t understand at all apart from some stray words: ‘Bell boy', 'boss'...

'Overhaul.'

Sandman gradually regained composure, leeriness increasing tenfold as he spoke deliberately slow. Izuku still wondered whether he heard right: '...break eggs...’, '.....your teacher...' Shigaraki's response to those last words was a near-snarl.

"Fuck off."

Well, Izuku got that one.

Echoing laughter trailed off into nothingness. They waited for a while. Izuku even called out. The voice was gone.

Shigaraki let out a deep sigh. Izuku turned towards the general direction of it.

"What did you say to him?"

"That I wanted to talk to the boss instead of a bellboy,"

'Why do you think-' Izuku's thoughts caught up before his mouth went off. The voice - Sandman - had admitted that there were more than one of them. Had hinted that Shigaraki hadn't been his choice of target - if the irritated tone when he'd said ‘some of them’ was anything to go by. Which meant someone had overrode Sandman's opinion. Obviously, Shigaraki had goaded the other using that point. Still, their captor sounded like he got back by mentioning Shigaraki's teacher.

Izuku decided not to press that particular point. 

"Didn't... didn't he say Overhaul?"

"Very good, Midoriya. Apparently he was our Sandman's preferred target. Sounded quite a bit peeved that he's no longer... useful."

A snicker slipped into the last word and Izuku bit his lip. He'd heard what'd happened to the police and the hero who’d been transferring Overhaul and to Overhaul himself. It once again reminded him just what kind of man he was trapped with.

"You were trying to get him mad. Is that a good idea?"

"Oh, our Sandman was pissed to begin with. You are responsible for that, Midoriya."

"Me?!?"

The word came out as a squawk. It earned a chuckle from Shigaraki.

"When he was muttering to himself - hmm, something like – ‘those fucking idiots can't do anything right, letting some mite contaminate my work’ - pity I can't recreate the original rancor,"

Shigaraki took a pause while Izuku took it in.

" - I'm guessing 'contaminating mite' refers to you. For some reason, your presence seems to have thrown a major wrench in his plan." Another laugh. "It almost makes me like you,"

This didn't offer any comfort to Izuku.

"And, er, didn't he say something about... eggs?"

Izuku braced himself for a major taunt, sure he'd misheard. But the answer came casually.

"That was bout omelettes,"

"...Omelettes...?"

"How one has to break eggs first to make one," Shigaraki gave a derisive tut. 

"Although, he sounded like he'd enjoy the breaking part a bit more."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Izuku slumped down on a bench all boneless.

The interview had been even worse than he'd expected.

The media had been setting up tents - some literally - around UA since Izuku's return. Those who were elbowed out of the prime spot chose more indirect sources such as the heroes who were present at the site of the kidnapping - Bubble Girl and Centipeder taking the brunt of it. ("Weren't the pros responsible for the student's safety?" being the favorite subject.) After a while, Izuku had acquiesced to a group interview in the hope that others would be left alone, despite the reservations from his mother and his counselor.

The press conference had been held at one of the annexed buildings that was a little away from the main campus.  Principal Nezu and Aizawa-sensei were there for him but nothing could’ve prepared Izuku for the myriad of mics being shoved at him and blinding camera flashes. Izuku was sure he'd blanked out a few times.

Izuku sunk deeper into the seat. Minutes prior, he’d been in the back room where Aizawa- sensei had left him – the teacher having joined the rest of the pros for the second half of the interview. But it soon got too claustrophobic and Izuku had to come out for a breather.

"You look like you need a drink."

Izuku's head shot up and almost knocked the can out of the other person's hand. The figure before him retreated a few steps, waving the drink sheepishly.

"Sorry, surprised you, huh?"

"Um... no, I’m sorry. Who...?"

The woman handed over the drink can, which he accepted out of reflex. S he looked about the age of Aizawa-sensei. Bleach-pale hair veiled the left side of her face.

Then the press tag dangling from her neck alerted Izuku. The woman followed his line of gaze and smiled.

"Lena Kusei(九生). From the Tensai Times."

"Um... okay, but..."

"If you'll excuse me,"

The woman cheerfully sat down right beside him.

“Um, Kusei... san, the press are all- at the conference room..."

"Don't do well with crowds. Don't worry. I won't bellow out your secret hiding place. You must be exhausted.”

"Well, I didn't do much -"

Izuku remembered being bombarded with questions. With frequent interjections from his teachers. He couldn't remember his own voice. In a way, it wasn't. The UA administration and Detective Tsukauchi had prepared his lines for him since some details couldn't be made open.

It made him feel guilty.

"Do you feel a bit better, talking about it? Although, I bet it was just a script you were reiterating,"

Something must have shown on his countenance because the woman suddenly closed her mouth. Biting his lip, Izuku made to get up.

"I have to go. I'm sorry. I - shouldn't talk to the press -"

"Hey, wait - gah!"

Izuku turned at the sharp exclamation and saw the woman bent over, half-risen, with her right leg collapsed on the edge of the bench and all her weight on the shaking right arm.

Izuku instinctively rushed to help but she shook her head as she managed to sit again, groaning.

"It's alright. It’s because of this creaky thing."

Izuku's eyes widened when the woman rolled up a trouser leg to reveal a prosthetic leg. She reached at that leg with her left hand - which was also artificial. Dark metal fingers tapped lightly against the titanium support.

"Happened when I was a greenhorn. Was a bit careless about butting my nose in someone's business. Partly the reason I don't like crowds. too much shoving. "

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm pretty sure I ain't. Still at a job that cost me an arm and a leg."

Sitting back, she gave a lopsided grin and pointed to her tag.

"I understand that we may not be your favorite people at the moment."

"I - it's just that - I'm not at all used to all this. It’s rather - overwhelming."

"Bet you're oblivious about your own fame. One of the students involved in the Eight Precepts Operation. Powers that remind one of All Might -" 

Izuku flinched. But the woman didn't seem to notice - "And a mysterious kidnapping still left unsolved. You're a news material. And it's all too easy for a person to become just that, a material."

The woman scratched her head.

"I admit, can't say I wasn't optimistic about snagging a private interview with you. But I saw you sitting here - looking so - well, ordinary. Sorry, probably not something you'd like to hear."

"I - no, that's fine."

"See, once you're seen as something - you're stuck in that category. You're either a hero or a villain or a victim. We don't like to think that one can be - all of them, depending on the situation. It makes the world that much complicated and fragile."

Izuku's fingers stiffened. He could almost feel flaking skin beneath them, the line of bones that jutted precariously under a thin layer of flesh. Fragile.

Not knowing his thoughts, the woman went on.

"It’s a cruel thing to say but all of them – “ The woman jerked a thumb towards the building – “- including myself – are trying to fit you into one of those angles: a traumatized victim? A hero who managed to break out from the grasp of dastardly criminals? But at the moment, I see - a student. A boy. A tired someone. And - I thought it'd be irresponsible of me to have this chance and not talk to you. Not even really that, just – see. Just to have that image of you in the back of my head when I'm doing my work."

She pointed at the drink in Izuku's hand, chuckling. "And hand you a drink."

She stretched her right leg gingerly. "Yeah, it probably sounds like bullshit. You already had to talk about how you felt about the whole thing among complete strangers. And here's another one of them, prying.”

A moment passed. And Izuku settled down on the bench again. Rolling the can between his hands.

"I'm not sure what I feel."

 


 

Izuku thought it a small mercy that their first ‘arranged’ meeting fell on a Sunday. At least he had some time to think. As it turned out, it only gave him more time to do nothing but worry.

It won't come to that. Not really. I'll tell someone. All Might. Aizawa-sensei. Iida-kun. I have to. I must.

However, the thought of possible consequences halted Izuku whenever he braved a step towards any of his friends or his teachers with such intent. If he told, it may lead to Shigaraki's capture – but what about the rest of the League? They'd still be free to carry out whatever 'consequences' that Shigaraki might’ve instructed them. Then any possible casualties would be on Izuku.

As time went on, the idea of telling anyone became more and more difficult.

When Saturday came, Izuku found himself fussing over, of all things, on what to wear.

He wanted to avoid the school uniform, to attract as little attention as possible. And he didn't think anything that reminded the villain of UA would improve his mood. He didn't want the T-shirt he wore during their... encounters because by now, he was sure that T-shirt was jinxed. Something black? But it'd clash with Shigaraki's and he wasn't sure how he villain would react to it.

He'd once heard that one should avoid wearing bright-colored clothing to keep bees from attacking. The Shigaraki Tomura's profile was missing such crucial information as to what sartorial choice was least likely provoke the villain.

In the end, Izuku opted for a white shirt that his mother bought him some time ago. With a pair of dark trousers, plus a baseball cap.

The fateful Sunday found him at a park not far from the Kiyashi Shopping Mall. By a tree that looks like it’d been fattening up on pedestrians. Izuku had assumed that Shigaraki was playing with him on that little detail. But once there, he could see it'd been an apt description. It was HUGE. Its trunk and branches had grotesquely contorted bulges that reminded one of faces writing in rage or pain. Izuku wouldn’t have been surprised if this tree developed a malevolent quirk of its own and uprooted itself from its current seat to seek victims to devour.

No, that’s wrong. No quirk’s malevolent in its nature.

Izuku inwardly apologized to the tree. Which didn't seem to placate its mood.

He was early - which left him plenty of more time to be anxious. He half-expected - hoped - he'd be stood up. But if Shigaraki did show up -

Izuku had spent a good part of the week going over possible scenarios. Filling an entire notebook. He imagined Detective Takeouchi and the principal coaching him and All Might giving moral support, just as they'd done for his press interview.

Of course, by logical process, it always came back to them admonishing him to come clean about the whole situation. 

After a while, Izuku was playing out his previous scenarios with the suitably hostile-looking tree as a stand-in. Since there was no one to stop him from muttering and gesticulating – people took one look at the tree and took a detour - Izuku got even more into it -

"...You're scaring the poor tree."

Izuku nearly jumped out of his skin.

He practically did a stumbling pirouette turning around. The villain was in very much the same attire as last time, hands inside the pockets of his hoodie.

"Ah! Um... hi!"

His imaginary teachers simultaneously slapped their faces.

Shigaraki Tomura swept past Izuku as if he weren't there, resting his back on the enormous tree. Izuku couldn't help looking up to check if the monstrous tree wasn't offended by such insolence. Against all rationality, Izuku thought that the tree looked a little mollified at the villain's casual attitude. Izuku trotted near, still not quite daring to lean beside the villain.

"...What's with that?"

"Sorry?"

Shigaraki swept a hand to indicate Izuku’s cap and everything down to his trousers. Izuku felt heat rise to his cheeks.

"Um - do I - look – er, weird?"

There was a short expulsion of breath. Izuku wondered if that was a laugh.

"It’s kinda cute,"

Before Izuku could process that the word ‘cute’ really had come out from the villain's mouth, a pale hand reached out.

"Like a kid who went through his father's wardrobe,"

The hand turned up the collar of his shirt.

"Or a first-level RPG character."

This time, breathy laughter at Izuku's pout was unmistakable.

Then something like a lightest touch of sandpaper swept near one of his eyes.

"You still look like shit."

A calloused finger rubbed lightly at the bags under that eye, flattening out the wrinkled skin. The finger retreated as Izuku squirmed. Izuku blinked and rubbed at his now-watery eye, muttering defensively.

"I'm... a lot better than before."

He wasn't lying. Since his return, Izuku had spent the too many nights wide-eyed. The doctor’s prescriptions helped, but Izuku was afraid of getting dependent on them and only used them as a last resort. When he did manage to get some sleep, the first few minutes of disorientation upon waking were almost as bad.

During the day, he could almost pretend to forget about it. But the fear the night would bring tainted everything. Waiting like the proverbial monster under the bed.

Which was why Izuku pushed himself to train near the breaking point. So that he'd have no option but to pass out at the end of the day. Even when his teachers threatened to pull him out of the class altogether for his own sake, Izuku would work himself to the brink of exhaustion.

The worst, the absolute worst was the thought that he might have to live with this... fear for the rest of his life. 

Izuku tried to look for signs of similar fatigue on the other. Except one couldn't really tell with Shigaraki. Who always looked like a... a sort of revenant.

He wondered if there was an underground counselor that Shigaraki had been seeing. Was every night a trial for him, too? That moment of terror just before he dared to close his eyes? That desperate longing to not be afraid anymore, did it claw at his heart as well?

He consciously tried not to think about the fact that the first night he slept soundly since the kidnapping, without any help of medication or over-exhaustion, was the night of their last encounter. Possibly the thought of the rendezvous drove away all other worries. But behind that was something else, as if the mental equivalent of a knotted muscle had been loosened, relaxing with a sigh.

Shigaraki Tomura is alive.

That fact helped for the next few nights as well. It didn't banish the fear, but it'd insinuated itself in between, a buffer between Izuku and the darkness.

Their shoulders brushed. Izuku hadn't been aware they'd been standing so close.

"S...so,"

Izuku did his best to picture All Might giving him a supportive thumbs-up for taking the initiative.

"Is there anything that you'd like to talk about..."

"Regarding your side not having any leads..."

"Eh...?"

"You were lying, weren't you? So spill."

Izuku’s stomach plummetted.

For the next several seconds, Izuku - quite unintentionally - entertained the villain by doing a very good impression of a floundering fish out of water. The performance ended when his frantic hand scraped its back against the tree. The pain helped to get his bearings.

"H - how did you - !"

"You just told me."

All Might's reassuring figure receded into the distance to be replaced by those of Principal Nezu and Aizawa-sensei, both with hands on their brows, shaking their heads disapprovingly.

Izuku rubbed his cheeks to push down the flush as Shigaraki smirked at him. Izuku took a deep breath. Okay. It's alright. This was one of the things he'd been prepared for.

"I... was going to tell you, really."

Which was true. He'd been shuffling his feet about it until Shigaraki had arrived, but this had cemented his resolve. After all, it was only fair that…

"...you be warned."

He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. The pale man craned his neck sideways to glance curiously at Izuku.

Izuku breathed in again...

 


 

...and exhaled.

"Ahhhh, you almost caused a ground to sink with that one."

Izuku gave a weak laugh. The journalist grinned in return. Izuku hadn't realized that he'd opened the given can. He lifted it to his mouth to find it, surprisingly, almost empty.

Izuku actually had ended up talking. She hadn't asked anything that hadn't been already presented at the interview. But this time, Izuku was talking to just one person. In a way, it was like talking to his counselor. And like the counselor, the initially talkative journalist had proved an attentive listener, only putting in appropriate rejoinders when the conversation faltered.

The police had been polite, his teachers and counselor had nothing but his well-being in mind, and his friends, always supportive. Not to mention his mother. But sometimes it was all a little... too much to bear. 

It felt like he was doing them wrong by not being as alright as he should be.

Worrying about someone he shouldn't be worried about. 

Talking to a stranger to whom he owed nothing was strangely liberating.

But at the same time, it increased the guilt. Because he couldn't talk about how he truly survived that darkness. Who had held him so that he wouldn't break. Who ultimately took him - both of them - out of it all.

"I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit,"

The woman said abruptly, flicking her hand.

"I mean, surviving through that more or less whole. Surely even veteran pros would've been broken."

"No, no. It was... I had -"

An anchor.

" - luck."

And I still don't know if he's alive and whole.

"No, no, still a student and hold his own along with the Leader of the League of Villains? I call that quite a feat."

The sentence didn't register for a moment. During that time, Izuku would've been just looking at her with a blank smile, as the impossible implication fought to get through his mind.

The woman who'd introduced herself as Lena Kusei languidly bent over, a cheek pressed against her metal knuckles.

"You know, we thought you were just a minnow caught in the net with a shark. But no, we were wrong. You're more of a dolphin."

Izuku jumped up as if the ground had burst underneath him. The can flew from his hand. Izuku paid it no heed.

"Who are you?!?"

The woman gave a toothy grin.

"To me, names are clothes. To be worn or shed at convenience." She chuckled. "Apologies. That was shamelessly dramatic. I find our nicknames a tad embarrassing. Unlike our dear Sandy."

Izuku shifted his weight. Every fiber of his muscles a coiled spring. His hands balled into fists. The woman raised an eyebrow.

"Now, now. No need for that. My quirk is no good at brawls and you can probably pin me down with a finger. But - " She cast a glance towards the building. "You don't know if I'm with my - comrades, now do you? Some of them probably mixed in among the unsuspecting press there. Sure, there are pros present, but it's better to avoid a scene altogether, no?"

Izuku clenched his teeth to keep the shuddering breath from escaping. The downed drink boiled inside his stomach. He felt sick with it.

"What do you want?"

"I told you, I really did mean it when I said I just wanted to see you."

She tapped the bench as if to urge Izuku to sit down again. When Izuku didn't budge, she shrugged.

"I really should pay my respects to the young successor of All For One as well, except the League doesn’t advertise their address. And after the stunt we've pulled, they seem to be extra elusive..."

"Are you the Sandman's superior? The boss of the... organization?"

"We like to say we run a democratic group. I can merely claim seniority. Sandy is, well, young."

The woman leaned back on the bench.

"Your villain friend, he did quite a number on our Sandy. Not gonna lie, Sandy was overdue a lesson. Too spoiled by lack of failure. Continued successes at a young age can be quite dangerous. Although, this might be a lesson that poor Sandy won't recover from."

She tutted. Izuku saw a flash of tongue dart out, like a snake.

"Hell, you both did quite a number on us. That room? It was a work of art. Unique. Irreplaceable."

"It was an abomination." 

A shrug. "A matter of perspective."

She got up with a slight grunt and flexed her artificial limb.

"So, it looks like we'll be spending some time licking our wounds. Afterwards, well... we'll see."

She shrugged again.

"Don't bother walking me out. It was nice seeing you in person, Midoriya Izuku."

With that, she turned her back to him, waving carelessly.

Izuku didn't move until that back was out of his sight.

 


 

"...Did no one ever tell you not to talk to strangers?"

Izuku raised his shoulders slightly at that, half-bristling and half trying to hide his face.

The press conference had finished uneventfully. The Tensai Times turned out to be a legitimate newspaper company. But they had no connection whatsoever to anyone named Lena Kusei nor anyone fitting her description, nor could they explain how this ghost journalist had gotten into the press conference under their name.

It was suspected that the woman had entered the building mixed among the crowd, but there were no clear witnesses. If not for Izuku and a video surveillance footage of her exiting the area, she might as well not have existed.

In the latter, she'd actually looked directly at the camera. And waved with her metal hand.

The police had only released a partial testimony – that a journalist under a false name had infiltrated the conference – and because of that, the UA was wary of exposing their students to the media.

Izuku didn't want to think what’d happen if any of the authorities found out if he’d shared this information with the Leader of the League of Villains.  

But he’d wanted Shigaraki to know that the culprits were still close by. Perhaps on a reserved stance, but still circling. So that the villain would be on guard against them. Izuku knew this was his fear speaking. His fear that Shigaraki might be caught unawares.

"So she shows her face openly, not only risks but invites the wrath of the whole UA and the police just to mess with you. At least Overhaul was businesslike." Shigaraki clicked his tongue. "So that's the real reason why the UA's coddling you against the media. Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose."

They were walking now. Along the less scenic back path of the park. Izuku spoke almost to himself.

“Maybe she wasn’t… wary of showing herself because she had no records.”

The woman’s face was being searched all over, but so far, with no hits. The criminals were likely a foreign group, and that meant accesses to out-of-the-country databases were needed.  Which presented more difficulties.

“Another thing is…”

Izuku hesitated. There was a huff beside him. Izuku took it as a sign to go on.

"She called the... Sandman young. Really, she didn't look all that much older than him. It may simply imply she was in the group longer than him but the way she referred to Sandman, like..."

"...Perhaps a shape-shifting quirk? And artificial limbs can be hidden or replaced. That'd explain why she's so unconcerned about showing herself."

"Just a guess. But, could be."

Unexpectedly, Shigaraki chuckled.

"Although, Sandy? I can't help liking her just a little."

Currently, there was no power on earth that could make Izuku harbor even a dust grain's worth of warm feeling towards the woman.

...Which had been true for the man walking beside him as well, mere months ago.

"So from what she said, the game's on pause at the moment, at least from their side."

Shigaraki turned a sharply curved path and Izuku automatically followed. His head almost bumped into the taller man's shoulder. Izuku's ears tickled at the near-contact.

"W-what about you?"

"Hmm?"

Izuku half-regretted asking. But as long as they were meeting like this, he might as well attempt to gain information, instead of just imparting them.

"W-ell, the League has been..." Izuku fumbled for an appropriate word, "...quiet?"

Amused red eyes looked down at him.

"Would you prefer it if we weren't?"

"Wha- no! Not at all! It's good! That you're quiet! The best! I mean...!"

An arm wrapped around Izuku’s neck and pulled him roughly. So close that his mouth was muffled against the villain's side. Izuku flailed but froze when he felt something dig into his shoulder.

His brain finally kicked in and took note of two things: Several of the passers-by were looking at them - likely because of his outburst. This could be dealt with: The villain had already shut him up, so all he had to do was duck beneath the stares and walk a little faster.

His brain abandoned him on the second issue, however - that Shigaraki was laughing quietly against him, face buried in his shoulder.

Pale hair tickled his neck, which had become a bit too warm. 

Thankfully, the slight weight lifted before Izuku had to do anything about it.

"...We've been busy doing some spring cleaning,"

"...Ah?"

"Figured our own backyard needs to be dealt with first, before any new projects."

"Do you mean...?"

"Next Thursday, 7pm, Senbu Squareside, by the lion statue."

Izuku blinked. Then his brain rushed to grab at something it could deal with.

The next meeting. Which meant that this meeting was over.

Izuku looked up with some surprise to see bluish darkness seeping through the thinning light of day.

"...Okay."

What else could he say?

Shigaraki, despite having made the announcement, made no move to depart. So Izuku had to keep walking awkwardly beside him.

"What was it?"

"Huh?"

"The drink, what was it?"

Izuku glanced at the figure beside him. Then he followed the other's gaze, and ended up at a vending machine near one of the park's exits.

The police had retrieved the can to check for any trace evidences. Afterwards, Izuku was assured that there hadn't been any foreign substances.

Izuku had puked his insides out anyway, that night.

"Well?”

They were now right by the vending machine.

"...LEE Milk Coffee."

There was a tinkle of coins, and a dull thud. The hood slipped as Shigaraki bent over to take out the can. And Izuku stared down at the pale head in a kind of daze. Izuku didn't think he'd see the other man from this angle again, outside that room. It'd gotten darker. The light from the machine alighted strangely upon that ashen hair, blurring the outline of that figure.

Then coldness pierced his hand. Startled out of his reverie, Izuku looked up at the man standing up once more before him.

"It's not for you, it's just that I don't - "

Shigaraki bit off the rest of the sentence. Looking discomfited - almost angry - for the first time they'd met today. The can pressed more insistently into Izuku's palm until Izuku just had to take it.

Their fingertips might have brushed against each other in the process.

"You don't have to drink it, Midoriya. Just chuck it in the garbage can if you want to. You'll at least have that satisfaction."

With that, Shigaraki turned. Walking back the way they'd come. Izuku watched until he couldn't see that stooped back anymore.

Izuku hadn't meant to. But on the way back to school, Izuku drank the can empty even when he fully expected to spend the night hugging the toilet. An act of obscure defiance.

However, his stomach stayed peaceful. And sleep claimed him early that night.

 

Chapter Text

The 'room service' that Sandman had mentioned turned out to be two packs of liquid nutrients.

It was Izuku, by scrabbling with his foot, who discovered the plastic packets - but Shigaraki who identified them. Later, Izuku would wonder whether their arrival had been timed to make them irresistible because by then, the hunger was stabbing at his gut. The water he consumed prior had alerted the senses so that he felt the pain more acutely.

"... Might be drugged."

Izuku's suspicion might've had more weight if not for the growl from his stomach. Reddening, he tried to stifle it in vain. A snort sounded from the other side. An assent or a derisive amusement.

Izuku was startled to hear the plastic rip, and the subsequent gulping noise.

"How can you -"

"The mind-affecting types of quirks need fine control. Such quirk users tend not resort to chemicals. The mix creates too many unstable factors."

'I guess it could contain a straightforward poison but what'd be the point?'  Saying so, Shigaraki continued to suck from the packet. Izuku yelped when something hit his knee and tumbled down with a soft flop. Izuku tentatively reached down and noted with some surprise that the other must've thrown the packet to him.

Izuku cautiously opened the plastic bag and started with a hesitant sip. The content tasted like some cross between a lukewarm broth and a protein shake. Not in a pleasant way. But flavor was the least thing in his mind as he started consuming, one gulp after the other, each one more rapid than the last. He was soon reduced to greedily licking the inside of the packet.

"... There must be a chute where these came from,"

Izuku was a little embarrassed at the loud smack at the end of the sentence, and was thankful when Shigaraki answered without commenting on it.

"I suppose you're suggesting that there's a crack that we can.... utilize?"

"... You don't think so?"

"Well, if it's specifically for this purpose, I suppose a cat would be able to manage. You're welcome to try feeling the ceiling to prove me different."

Izuku sagged as Shigaraki continued. "And if it were me, I'd take some measures against any errant heads poking out of the said chute."

Izuku had a vision of his head popping out of the small opening, then something sharp and cold - like the 'wind' that had torn through them before the darkness enveloped them - slicing through, his severed head rolling down like a toy piece - and shuddered. 

Shigaraki had a point. Based on the loud thud the packets arrived with - which had Izuku jump out of his skin - they must've fallen from quite a height. Izuku tried to recall the container he'd burst in - he didn't actually remember seeing the ceiling, which probably meant it was quite high...

"Considering it's a container, this blasted space," Shigaraki spoke again, breaking through Izuku's thoughts. "While we may not feel it, it may be mobile. Which'd make detection trickier."

Izuku felt his heart sink. He must've been fooling himself with the hope of rescue more than he'd realized.

"He... the Sandman... said... 'desired state'," Izuku wet his lips. "Does he intend to... what, break our... your mind? Is that it?"

"'Collecting butterflies', according to him." 

The ominous words conjured up a particular memory of Izuku's childhood: A white butterfly, so huge that Izuku could see the fuzzy ends of its wings, fluttering past him. Izuku had been about to share the sight with Kacchan- for that'd been before the distance that grew between them - when the butterfly sank suddenly. Only then did Izuku see a line dragging behind those wings, a string attached to its body - tied, pinned, Izuku hadn't been sure- the end of which disappeared into a hand. It belonged to a boy slightly older than him. Izuku gasped as the hand gave a vicious tug and the butterfly was sharply pulled back, fluttering in futility. Izuku had turned to Kacchan but he'd gone ahead while Izuku was distracted. The older boy had soon sauntered off, with the butterfly jerking along like a cruel balloon. When Izuku had caught up with his friend and tearfully related the story, the latter had just snorted and retorted,'So what, why would you cry over that anyway -'

"Some say one of the humane ways to collect them is to chloroform them beforehand,"

The words woke Izuku from his reverie.

"Although I doubt he - they - are going through all this trouble just to pin me up on a wall,"- a disgusted tut - "not that our Sandman would be above it," muttered the villain bitterly. Then he spoke in a more contemplative tone. "That brings to question, though, what's the use of mind-broken quirk users? Is the bastard's quirk..."

The sentence trailed off in a cough. Although it may have been a choke of pain morphed at the last moment. Which reminded Izuku about the other's supposedly injured leg. There was a sound of shuffling, and a harsh hiss that left no room for doubt.

"... Your leg?"

A huff. No answer.

"Perhaps I can... take a look?"

"Even if you take a 'look', what can you do?

Izuku mentally kicked himself for the faux-pas.

"I have.... first aid..."

Izuku trailed off as he checked the kit built into the suit. It had obviously been damaged at the point of capture. The medicine had been either spilled or evaporated. Izuku touched what was likely the tattered end of a bandage.

"I can... bandage it or something..."

"Or make it worse by your blind groping."

"So you ARE hurt."

Izuku nearly heard the villain's mouth snap shut.

"It should at least be... cleaned. To prevent infection..."

A scraping sound. And a rustle. Izuku could practically see in his mind's eye the pale figure drawing in his lanky limbs, curling into a ball. Well, that was it for that subject.

He sat still for a while, wondering what to do. And jerked his head up when he felt it nod down. He raised his hand over his eyes. He was horrified to find that he'd kept them closed, without any memory of doing so. He slapped his cheek. It felt as if he were hitting himself underwater. Izuku panicked. Sure he was tittering on the edge of sleep again. Why hadn't they kept talking? Anger bordering on anguish bubbled within. But he was panicking only inside his head. His body was relaxing, sinking. Izuku called out to Shigaraki. Or only thought he had. In case, no reply came.  Was the villain that far away? Had the room grown larger? No - the room was no longer. Just an ever-stretching darkness that suffocated. Filling him from the inside. Izuku tried to call out once more but even his voice - thoughts - were swallowed up.

 


 

Izuku became aware of his body drawing in a shallow breath. It was his body doing it. Not him - because there wasn't enough of him to do any conscious action. He tried to move but his muscles had melted. He was a barely-breathing puddle on dank ground. Anything that was himself had trickled away. It was, in a way, a relief,  not enough of him to feel anything. Not to think about the dreams.  Was it worth taking another breath? The thought was distant, just as the sound -.

With Herculean effort, Izuku managed to lift his head up - barely about a centimeter from the floor.

Father.

Izuku tried to pronounce the word. Just to make sure he wasn't just envisioning the word in his head. He had heard something similar before, hadn't he? Not that exact word. But an equivalent... a child calling for his -

A sharp cry pulled his head up, which immediately bumped into something cold and hard. Izuku carefully stretched out an arm and caught hold of something icy and dripping. Water pipe. Izuku held onto it to literally pull himself together. He tried to speak, flinched when tightly held lips broke apart painfully. Izuku licked his mouth and tasted metallic tang.

There was a bumping noise, slight enough to doubt whether it was imaginary.

Shigaraki.

Izuku took a shaking step. Slowly dragging his fingers along the pipe, up the porcelain sink. Izuku loathed to let go, but had to eventually. When he did, his knees gave and he crumpled down onto the floor. Izuku then started to crawl towards where he assumed the voice had come from. Operating on just the urgent need to get to the only other living presence.

Yet another loud sob and Izuku tripping over something happened simultaneously. Shigaraki? Izuku fumbled about and his fingertips brushed against... something.

Further probing proved it not to be any part of the other man's body. It didn't move at all, for one thing. And whatever it was, it was something small. It reminded Izuku of the squishy walls of this container. Equally cold. Leathery. But... Izuku shuddered, also wrinkly and spindly. Izuku gulped and took hold of it. Then was surprised by the weightlessness of it. It lifted easily, as if he were handshaking with just a - a -

Izuku let out a howl and stumbled back on his haunches. He was only aware that he'd flung 'it' away by a dull splat that followed. Feeling the floor bit by bit, Izuku tried - hoped - to slide around it. Fighting an irrational thought that the dismembered hand - for that surely was what it was - would spring to unnatural life and grab onto him. Was it even real? Once attached to someone? Izuku fiercely rubbed the hand that'd held it on the floor until the flesh felt raw. How could the villain keep it on him?

He collided into a mass that gave a lurch. Izuku hastily backed off, skidding along the floor, clutching his chest unawares. The hardened wound throbbed as if in remembrance of pain - of death.

Going against all of his survival instinct, Izuku reached out with a shaking hand. When the tips of his fingers grazed over a curved, soft surface that was not part of the floor, he forced himself to rest his palm upon it. A tremor traveled up his whole arm by the meager contact. Izuku stayed absolutely still. Lest any sudden movements provoke the figure below.

"Are -"

Dry throat proved a difficult climb for a word. The ensuing coughs completely broke whatever careful measures Izuku had been taking. Despite that, the other gave no reaction that Izuku could sense. It made him bold.

"Me - it's - me."

(It'd be only later that the sheer idiocy of that statement would dawn on him. His only consolation would be that the villain had have been too out of it to notice.)

Izuku swallowed - which made his throat ache all the more - and moved his hand along the line of... shoulder? He was surprised at the sudden heave. The previous trembling had now changed into jerky movements. So much that he was almost thrown off. There was a growl mixed with sobs. Izuku winced as sounds of dull thud echoed in succession. He remembered hearing this. Just before the villain's deadly touch almost disintegrated him if not for this prison.

Yet here you are again. You don't learn, Deku.

A strangely Kacchan-like voice rang somewhere inside his head. But a completely different texture under his roaming fingers managed to distract Izuku.

...Hair? 

Still the villain was unaware of the other's hands upon him. Instead focused on pounding floor as if suffering a seizure -

Izuku's fingertips slipped down lower and felt wetness. Tears?  Then something sharp raked across Izuku's knuckles. Pain blossomed right after. Similar wetness trickling down his own fingers. The association brought him the vision of the villain's serrated fingernails. The realization made pain evaporate, to be replaced by panic. 

"No, don't -"

Jagged nails went at Izuku once more. It wasn't really an attack, only that Izuku's fingers happened to be in the way of the villain clawing at his own face. If it weren't for this room sapping his quirk, the villain would've turned himself to dust already.

"Stop... Don't - "

The villain didn't even make much of a sound now except for low grunts, the effort of self- harming robbing him of any leftover strength to shout or growl.

Where. Father.

Izuku barely caught the garbled words, as if they were chewed and spat out in shredded fragments. Father? Could he possibly mean All For One? But the villain's title for him was always sensei -

Then a - ridiculous idea dawned.

"Wait, wait -" Fully knowing the futility of it, Izuku nevertheless repeated the words as he detached himself. He turned and stumbled forward. Crawling on all fours as he did before. There was no way to tell he was actually treading back the way he came but desperation nearly served as hope.

A sudden rubbery sensation under his palm hurtled him over. Izuku rolled to land on his shoulder, felt sharp ringing echo through the bones. Biting down the tear-squeezing pain, he crouched and carefully - almost wading - groped around. A chill traveled up his spine when he managed to reach the dead appendage. He attempted to pick it up by the fingertips - missed a few times - then bit his lips and just snatched it up.

Like a giant spider. Which was... preferable, really. Think that it's just a giant, dead spider.

Izuku tried to make his way back quickly. The direction of 'back' as vague as before. The prolonged lack of sound disturbed him. Izuku almost sagged with relief when he heard a low, panting breath.

"Sh... Shiga- Shigaraki,"

It occurred to Izuku that it'd been a while since he'd called the other man properly, and his dry tongue tumbled over the words as his weakened feet did over the floor. It met a resistance and a subsequent twitch, and Izuku immediately sank down on his knees.

For a moment, he was lost. Then he put out both arms with the dried-up appendage balancing on his hands like an uncertain offering.

"... Father?"

Izuku wasn't sure what'd prompted him to say the word. Perhaps just an attempt to say something that'd get through the man. And it soon became apparent that he'd inadvertently struck a point. Although in the way of someone stepping on a landmine.

Izuku somehow sensed the change. The way all sounds stopped. Even breathing. As if some button had been pressed - the one marked red.

After respecting that silence for longer than he could bear, Izuku's weakened knees jerked him forward. For one horrible moment, Izuku could feel the dead hand brush the other man in a grotesque pat.

Izuku didn't even notice when the slight weight had gone away from his hands. Not until he heard a deep, somewhat muffled groan.

Izuku gulped and spoke. "Shigaraki...? Was that -"

A snarl that answered was barely human.

The past year of his training had done more than just physical refinement. Or perhaps it was an extension of it. The way how his every nerve, the very cells, reacted to subtle changes of air exuded by another. Be they allies, the ones he was trying to protect, or an opponent. This... what emanated from the opposite side...

It was murder.

Izuku stiffened. He didn't even dare retreat. Lest that killing intent solidified itself into action.

His quirk still must be stunted. He cannot strike sure in this darkness. I can - I - 

But a deeper part Izuku was certain.

I'm going to die here. 

One. Two. Three. There was a slow expulsion of breath. Dissipating that killing aura into mere malice. Then... shuffling, like someone scooting - away.

Izuku stayed in place a moment longer, on his knees. Then - muscles protesting with the effort to not make any noise - he slumped down fully. Silently shivering.

 


 

While Izuku wouldn't have called what they had between them prior a camaraderie - not by a long shot - what'd transpired had driven a definite wedge between them. Possibly one with metallic spikes.

The uneasy quietude was punctuated only by Izuku trying to talk to Shigaraki - mainly to keep his sanity and from falling asleep - to which the latter replied in growls. After a while, even that didn't come. Which had Izuku scared more than he cared to admit. The thought that he was left as a sole conscious being in this room was - worse than a nightmare.

Once, Izuku hit the floor hard enough that his palm burned. Hoping the reverberation would get to the man. When that failed to produce a response, Izuku blindly scrabbled forward to try and feel for other. Izuku later surmised he might have risked another incident with the villain on edge. It was fortunate that the other made his relative well-being known by shoving Izuku hard on the ribs.

Afterwards, Izuku was left with the assurance of occasional coughs or scraping of shoes. A couple of times, he'd even heard the trickle of water. Then no sounds at all.

Izuku was sure he was going to go mad.  

So he was grateful when the Sandman's voice broke the stillness. (Later, he'd surmise that that might have been exactly the Sandman's intention.)

"I commend you for not killing each other yet,"

"... Regrettably."

Izuku felt a pang of sudden and unreasonable betrayal at the villain's raspy reply. Shigaraki had all but ignored him yet he'd answered so easily to Sandman.

"I hope I didn't leave you feeling too abandoned."

"Not really, it provided a... suitable environment to think."

"Oh? And where did that thinking lead you?"

"You aren't..." The sentence was interrupted by hacking coughs, "...really interested." Despite that, Shigaraki managed to let considerable contempt seep into his words. "You just... like to hear the sound of your own voice."

To Izuku's surprise, this prompted a trill of laughter. Not a condescending one, but as if the other found the comment genuinely amusing, laughing at some joke that only he understood. When the Sandman spoke again, it was with mirth still tinting the booming echo. "Oh, believe me, I'm far from the only one." Then a low mutter that Izuku couldn't catch. Only suspected that it was English.

Sandman switched back to Japanese: "Well you're right, that was merely for politeness's sake. I'm not really interested in where your thoughts led you. For I already know the answer."

"Nowhere, I bet you're thinking."

A chuckle in place of a reply. But this time, it was cut off short by Shigaraki's own sneer.

"Just like this conversation, bell-boy-san."

Izuku tensed as he again sensed hostility in the musty air. Nothing compared how Shigaraki's had felt, but a kindred of it -

"Sandman!"

Izuku could see in his mind's eye two heads - although one of them was only an abstract shape - snap towards him. Izuku swallowed. It chafed. He dearly wished he had the sense to hydrate himself from the faucet instead of spending the time as a tight ball of nerves tuned to the barest hint of the other's presence. It couldn't be helped now.

"Why keep me here?"

The Sandman tutted disapprovingly. "I am aware that you are... a child. I suppose you can be forgiven for such naivete. And being a little... selfishly un-heroic."

"No. I meant,"

He might be poking at a bee's nest, but he couldn't stop himself. Didn't want to. If only to give the slightest defiance.

"If you don't need me, nor intend to let me go, why let me live?"

There was a minuscule pause before the Sandman answered. When he did, he somehow communicated the verbal equivalent of a careless shrug.

"You cast a net to catch a fish, and when you draw it in to find an extra minnow, no need to let it go, is there?"

"Before, you were pissed off with his 'interfering mite' presence."

An exasperated sigh shifted towards the villain. "Are you intentionally being annoying by nitpicking at my words, Shigaraki-kun? I simply could have changed my mind."

"Well, it's Torture 101. Isolate the subject... until their sanity gauge is red," Shigaraki cleared his throat, and continued. "...Your plan was funked from the beginning. Yet you chose to go on with this setup,"

Izuku found himself intently listening, thinking

"...Unless... it's not by choice. Maybe it's more of a... restriction?"

"Really, what's the point of talking about this, at all?"

There was a subtle change in the Sandman's voice. A sort of velvet softness. It was... nearly kind.

"As cliché as this sounds, you're making this only harder. After all, there is no alternative. It only takes toll, if you fight."

"How are we fighting, exactly?" His own voice startled Izuku. Apparently it had the similar effect on the other two - who seemed to have forgotten his presence momentarily.

"Well for one thing, by the way you talk back, herolet," The last word was pronounced in a lulling, drawn-out English. "For you are still... stiff-necked." Izuku felt the Sandman's voice slither under the skin. Izuku was reminded of the time when he was hospitalized after the fight with the Hero-Killer. He'd been on painkillers that made him pleasantly numb. Limbs and brain loosening.

""For you are stiff-necked people", "uncircumcised in heart"?"

The harsh voice of Shigaraki broke through the haze. The Sandman gave a long whistle.

"Received some... unexpected education from All-For-One, didn't you, Shigaraki-kun?"

"DO NOT," Shigaraki snarled, "mention his name."

Laughter. Shigaraki practically ground out the next words.

"You fancy yourself a god?"

"It's just a... figure of speech. And more regarding you than me. Your minds... are stiff-necked."

Another sigh. One could almost conceive that it held pity.

"See, don't hold onto any false hopes, such as the possibility of getting out of here as you were. That is not an option anymore. Either get out of here alive or dead."

There was a deliberate pause to give time for words to sink through. Izuku shook as he imagined the words doing so literally. Seeping into his body like drizzling rain. Drenching him. 

"You may think you two are lucky to be thrown here together. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are your own nemesis. Keeping each other from the easy resignation."

"So we should... bow down to you, figuratively,"

"Give up your minds to me. Where they will suffer no more."

"Too quick, don't you think? You haven't even bought us dinner," Shigaraki coughed again. "Well, I guess you have. But one meal surely is too fast."

"The number of meals increasing will be directly proportional to the time of torture you go through."

Shigaraki clapped.

"So you've finally said the word."

"I'd say 'have it your way then', except it'll inevitably end up my way. And your own minds will do the job for me."

The tone signaled this to be the end of the conversation.

"Sandman?" Izuku called out. No answer. And a definite lack of presence. 

After a while, Shigaraki hissed: "Fuck." 

A part of Izuku was worried about just how much comfort he found in that small, angry expletive. Apparently too much, enough for him to blurt out unthinkingly:

"I'm sorry."

There was silence which Izuku desperately sought for ways to fill, each one sounding worse than the one before as he recited them in his head. Mercifully, Shigaraki was the one to shatter it.

"You off your head?!"

Inwardly, Izuku fervently agreed.

"I- I, I meant - before- the... when you - Fa - "

Izuku slapped both hands to his mouth. Still, the muffled 'sorry' seeped out like a scared but stubborn creature with a life of its own, feeble as it might be.

There was an intake of breath and Izuku winced, readying for a physical or a verbal blow. It fizzed into a heavy sigh.

"It's like I imagined you talking comparatively well just... a moment ago."

At least the villain was talking to him again.

"You almost... sounded as if you were offended about... being kept alive, Midoriya."

"I wasn't - "

Izuku started reflexively, then caught himself. Next words came out more timidly than he'd have liked.

"... Was it... rash?"

"... Probably no more than anything you can do at this point. In any case, that was a... point," The villain spoke a little hesitantly, as if he loathed to admit it. "And one that Sandman didn't want to discuss, apparently."

"He also muttered something... in English?"

"Yeah, "As you'll find soon enough.""

Izuku wrapped his arms around his body, an unconscious act to protect himself from the memory of that voice.

"What... does that mean?"

"Just a rotten taunt - is what I want to dismiss it as, but seeing our track record, I doubt we'll get so lucky."

"What was all that... stiff-necked and... you said... hearts...?"

"Loose and bastardized Bible quote."

"...Um."

Apparently the short syllable sufficiently translated the young hero's incredulity. For the villain irritably went on to explain.

"I just came across that from a game once, okay?!"

"Oh."

The talk came to an awkward halt. Izuku struggled to come up with a topic. Anything to continue the conversation.

"About this room, I've been... thinking. Something strange,"

A light snort.

"Really? What an idea."

"I mean the... quirk upon this room... and it must be a quirk, right? It doesn't work like most quirk-suppressing tech..."

Like the Maiden. Izuku made sure to pause so as not to give himself a chance to blurt out that thought.

"But if that's so, how can... this last for so long? And Sandman said it wasn't his quirk..."

"A 'contraption', he'd said." Shigaraki murmured. "Different than the line of thinking I was on, but I guess this damn dungeon mystery can be tackled first."

The sentence got cut off by a groan. Which had Izuku wonder again about the state the other was in. But when the villain continued, he had managed to disguise whatever pain he was under.

"Do you smell that?"

It was such an unexpected question that Izuku nearly squawked.

"Huh?"

"I guess you didn't spend as long a time with those bullets,"

"Bullets?"

"Quirk-destroying bullets by yours truly."

Izuku went rigid. The memory of Overhaul, and just HOW he made those bullets came flooding back, just as the thoughts of Mirio-

"Because they were based on biological components-" Shigaraki's voice cut through the reverie, "- there needed to be some chemical procedures involved to keep those flesh bits - fresh, so I've heard... I'm not sure about the exact makeup, but most of them serve to keep the cells from going stale. Preservatives. And..."

Eri's cells. All those parts of her - and Eri herself - were more than deserving of such - clinical - mechanical- details. Yet Shigaraki droned on, his tone cold and flat. Only a sniffing sound betrayed anything human.

"Surprised you can't smell it,"

"What?"

"This chemical smell that permeates this... room,"

Another sniff, followed by a little exaggerated wheezing that was borne of distaste rather than actual nasal irritation. Reflexively, Izuku mirrored the action. And he could smell it. A sort of alcoholic sting in the air. Paired with some nauseatingly cloying scent. And a faint, dull metallic tang that was familiar...

"... Are you saying that this room smells similar to... quirk-destroying bullets? Then..."

A vague thought began to crystallize itself.

"This... room... you think it's built in a similar manner..."

"Which would explain how the quirk stays in effect for so long. But likely this isn't mass-produced, unlike those bullets. Which means Overhaul still gets efficiency points."

Shigaraki muttering to himself sounded far away to Izuku, whose brain was now fitting together the horrifying pieces together. He shifted. His back bumped against the wall that squelched. Izuku's stomach churned.

This room, it had reminded him of something. It had from the very beginning. It had just escaped him until now.

"Cells. Human cells."

Izuku choked out. Shigaraki hummed in reply.

"While he had a definite edge because of his quirk... Overhaul wasn't a pioneer by any means. There are other records of experiments using physical... samples from quirk users. For project of this scale, I wonder how much of the original quirk user was wallpapered over?"

'And how much was left of that user, afterwards.' Izuku couldn't reply. For he had rammed both fists into his mouth. As Shigaraki intoned, Izuku fought down the bile that surged up.

"We're in the belly of the beast, I guess you could say."

 

Chapter Text

Your luck stat must rank negative.

Shigaraki had said that once, during their capture. Izuku had wanted to contest that statement. It wasn't luck. It had been his own decision to go to that yard. His own rashness that had landed him in that situation. Because that'd give him a measure of control. Because the accusation of 'bad luck' had too old a hold over him. Only dispelled the day he'd met All Might.

But now, those words came back with a vengeance.

"Get back! Or else!"

The purple-skinned villain bellowed, thrashing his octopus-like tentacles. The crowd shrank back screaming.

Thus clearing a ring around himself, the villain dramatically lifted one tentacle-limb.

"I have hostages!"

As Izuku looked at the hooded, pale figure in the villain's grasp, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

 


 

10 minutes ago -

Izuku had never actually been to Senbu Squareside. He'd only heard that it was a newly renovated area rivaling the size of Kiyashi Shopping Mall. He almost found it in himself to be excited about visiting the place.

Of course, the reason for the visit kept that almost firmly in place.

It was a holiday - but it was still morning. And Izuku couldn't believe the diligence of families on a holiday.

He squeezed himself through groups of people tightly woven like clusters of grapes, seeking refuge in a nook between numerous shops. Only then did he get a chance to get back his bearings.

A girl of about six, in an All Might costume, strolled by, both hands holding tightly onto her parents. Izuku looked at them with a wistful smile. He remembered being that child. It'd been a while since his family had been all together, what with his dad being away - 

Dad.

Had he really heard Shigaraki uttering that word? In that child's voice? Sometimes it did feel like a dream -

He tensed as he saw a striking black amid the flow of bright colors. The figure maneuvered itself to a corner very much like Izuku had done, walking towards - oh, now he saw it: the marble lion statue where they were supposed to meet, a bit to the side of the square. 

The figure also seemed to have spotted him, because it raised its hooded head -

Then a shop wall exploded, knocking the head off the lion. 

 


 

"Outta way, outta way!”

"Is a hero coming?!"

Izuku had trouble standing against the fierce waves of people running away. He could make out a silhouette of a giant among cloud of dust - like a huge octopus flinging its tentacles about. Then one of the tentacles rose wrapped around a dark, lean figure.

Izuku was relieved to see the villain, after coughing a little, look around in mild curiosity.

Now that the dust had cleared, Izuku got his first good look at the villain: Although not a competition to the Mount Lady, the villain towered over the crowd, the smooth purple head nearly brushing the top of the now-half-torn plaza building. With six tentacles sprouting out of both shoulders and down the sides of upper torso.

The villain was too preoccupied with making threats to recognize the rather blasé attitude of his hostage.

Well, one of the hostages.

"Help! Waaaah! Mom!!!"

Izuku grimaced to see yet another tentacle rise holding a boy about Kota's age.

Izuku just barely caught a woman rushing blindly forward.

"Sorry - but - you can't -"

"Let go! That's my boy! KOUTA!"

Izuku winced. He couldn't even believe even the name was similar...

"YOU!"

A man who had been backing away with his phone raised froze in spot.

"M - me?!?"

"Yeah! You're getting this, right!?"

The man nearly dropped his phone. "Um, uhh -" He stuttered, frantically gauging which answer would prove beneficial to his continued existence.

"ARE YOU, you fucking IDIOT?!"

"Y-yes!!! Yessir!"

The man gripped the phone with both hands, quivering. The villain lowered his head.

"You upload that shit right now, you hear?! Get my message loud and clear. The last of the Rokumachi Gang demands that his brothers and sisters be released!!!"

Izuku searched his memory while trying to hold down the hysterical mother. The name sounded vaguely familiar...

Then it clicked. A news he'd seen a few days before - a group of five bank-robber villains apprehended. Only the youngest still at large.

Thankfully, a handful of people came to his rescue by then. Prying off the desperate woman as gently as possible from the teen. All her strength spent, the woman broke down sobbing.

"And see here!!!"

Something popped out from the end of the villain's tentacle. The growth began to expand, as if the tentacle was blowing out a bubble gum. The strange, rubbery 'ball' grew to the size of a man's fist - reminding Izuku of a more translucent version of Mineta's quirk.

The villain whipped the tentacle up, sending the fleshy sphere high up into the sky-

Where it exploded with a loud bang.

The crowd gasped cowered.

The villain bellowed again.

"If anyone - tries anything funny -"

Izuku - who was just looking for an opening to try something - winced.

Another tentacle began to grow a bomb. To the horror of the onlookers, the villain brought it right before the boy's puffy face. The child strained to be as far away from the blob as possible, to no avail.

"- this kid won't have enough of a face for his mommy to recognize!"

"Won't yours suffer the same, though?"

It was as if someone had flipped the channel.

There was a beat of silence as everyone’s heads - including the villain’s – swiveled towards the other hostage.

"I mean, considering the previous demonstration, you'd be well within the blast range, no?"

Granted, that was totally what Izuku himself would've asked. But Izuku could only scream inwardly that this was NOT the time for Shigaraki to take words out of his head.

The octopus-villain seemed caught off-guard.

"I... um, uh... I can..."

To make it worse, the collective heads of the crowd now turned towards him. Which only served to further fluster the villain.

"I, er... I... I can just... throw the kid along with the bomb!!! Yeah! And they'll both explode up in the sky! Where I will be safe from harm!"

The villain exclaimed, proud of himself for coming up with the perfect solution.

"Hmm, I suppose."

The less-than-impressed tone of the captive obviously had a dampening effect on the villain's excitement. But the villain's 'idea' was enough to start the child crying out anew.

"Mommy! Help! Ma -"

"Shut off! Or I'll make you!"

"Please! Take me instead!!!"

... Which had his mother struggle again with renewed desperation, despite a throng of people holding her back.

"Waaaah! Mom! Heeeeelp! Save - "

"Shut it, kid."

The unexpected words from the unexpected source made everyone pause. Unfazed, the hooded figure continued to address the other captive.

"Your excessive outburst is making your mother crazy. What if she rushes in and gets her head bashed in or something. By the way,"

Shigaraki now addressed the distraught woman.

"There's no way any criminal with a brain is going to replace a child hostage with an adult one. Don't waste yours and others' time by spouting out nonsense,"

'Hey, hey! You don't talk like that!' Someone at the back of the crowd shouted, fear forgotten by righteous indignation. Izuku cringed, inexplicably feeling responsible.

"I guess it's considered good manners -"

Aaaaand he's actually replying. Izuku clutched his head.

"- to not point it out when someone's being a useless idiot -"

"Don't talk like that to my mom!"

The boy - his red, wet face tightening and his whole body shaking with the effort to not cry - sniffed hard, defiantly, glaring at the other to defend his family's honor.

"And you're... a... a..." The child glanced at his mother. And one could see him mentally shuffling through his list of Parent Approved Vocabulary. He eventually settled for the obviously inadequate but acceptable, "meanie."

Shigaraki shrugged.

"Okay."

Izuku may have imagined it, but was that a hint of approval seeping into the reply?

However, the other villain had figured that it was time to reclaim the limelight.

"I. Was. Saying!"

The villain punctuated each word by striking the surrounding debris with his free tentacles as he menacingly looked over the stricken crowd. When he was satisfied that his authority seemed to have been sufficiently reinstated, he went on a calmer tone.

"So, I demand the release of my brothers and sisters. If that doesn't happen in an hour - no, half an hour, you mark my words, there will be consequences! No one can stop me -"

"Why not?"

The villain staggered. As if the sudden question from his hostage hurtled physically into his head.

"What?"

"I said, why not? There are plenty of ways to stop you. For one thing, you've just advertised your quirk and your current position -"

The hooded figure flicked his chin towards the man who still dutifully held his phone aloft.

"- which the authorities will no doubt find helpful. I'd be surprised if they haven't already figured out several strategies. If it were me -"

Shigaraki paused. The villain scrunched his face at him, apparently battling a sudden wave of self-doubt. The crowd also stared. Even the child looked over at the fellow captive, full of curiosity. 

Shigaraki lifted his chin and everyone - including Izuku - perked up expectantly.

Only to be treated to the sight of the hooded head silently tilting the other way.

The villain bellowed again.

"Well?!? What?!? If -"

"- If it were me," Shigaraki spoke, casually cutting the villain off, "I would first neutralize your quirk from a distance. There are devices or abilities fitting for that purpose. Or not even waste that. Sniping with a tranquilizer dart would be effective as well."

The villain began to hurriedly scan the nearby rooftops with bulging eyes as Shigaraki languidly glanced over the wreckage around them.

"You really should have barricaded yourself inside an enclosed space with your hostages, hidden from view. Instead, you've thoughtfully littered the place with so many useful covers. One could easily approach you without being seen. Isn't this near Ryukyu’s patrol area? All she has to do is get behind you and... before you know it -"

The villain whipped his head down so quickly that one was almost worried that his eyeballs might drop.

"Foregoing all that, you could've just captured a few civilians, hole yourself up somewhere safe and unknown, and then upload the video to garner public attention and corner the authorities."

Izuku caught the video-taking man nod in approval and then catch himself guiltily.

"This is at best, a highly unnecessary ploy. You're not giving an ultimatum, you're throwing a tantrum."

"Who do you think you are?!"

The villain's nostrils flared with the force of anxiety-induced anger. He shoved his face so close to the pale captive that he nearly poked the other's face with his eyes.

"Being so cocky and all, you think you're the League of Villains or something?"

Someday, I'd look back on this and be able to laugh. Izuku thought. Someday.

"I ought to toss you up in the air along with my bombs. When they see pieces of a hostage raining down, then they'd know I mean business - Wuagh?!?"

The youngest Rokumachi ended his sentence in a comical squeak as something crashed into the back of his knee, his whole frame folding down from that point like a falling Jenga tower.

A shape blurred along the body of the falling giant, stopping at the back. Only then did the crowd marginally make out a human figure.

Flailing to keep his balance, the villain reached out with other tentacles to break his fall -

A dull crack rang somewhere from the back of the purple head.

One frozen moment like a paused screen - then the villain's eyes rolled inwards and he slowly collapsed.

At the same time, the tentacles around the hostages loosened enough that the boy slipped through -

Before the boy could scream his way down to his - perhaps not death, but broken bones or concussion - the mystery figure had swept him safe in its arms.

The villain's head and the flying figure's feet hit the ground simultaneously.

An absolute stillness reigned until the echo from the villain's fall gradually died. Then the figure pressed down on the green cap that shielded its face.

As if that had been a cue, the crowd broke out in a thunderous applause.

The child's mother pushed through the cheering crowd. Shouting her boy's name and profusion of thanks in succession.

"Kouta! Oh thank you, thank you...!"

The capped figure merely shook its head and looked about to hand over the child -.

Only for the boy to cling tight and point over his rescuer's shoulder.

"Th...there...!"

Izuku turned to see one tentacle rising. He, the boy, and the mother watched in horror as a bubble 'hatched' from its end.

The villain raised his head a little, whole body trembling with effort.

The purple face managed to twist itself into a nasty grin before thudding back to the ground. But not before the tentacle shot its deadly egg forward.

The front of the crowd - those that saw what was happening - screamed and pulled back. Izuku tried to throw the child towards the mother but the boy's fingers were so tightly hooked onto him. Perhaps he could make a run for it, or jump - shielding the boy as much as possible - no, what about the mother, and the people -

The only option was to tear the child off, and catch the bomb and make off with it -

All these thoughts whirled inside Izuku's head in a matter of milliseconds. Yet looming in the background, flashing in red like a police siren, was the dreadful realization -

Not going to make it.

The bomb was in its downward trajectory. It looked to be in slow motion to Izuku. But so was himself. The cry of the crowd and the child likewise a spaced-out ringing -

Izuku made to rip his own clothes off along with the boy - Not going to make it. Must make it. Must –

A pale hand reached out to catch the bomb.

Izuku and the boy watched as the bomb dissolved. Wisps seeping out from the lightly clenched fist. Then the hand shook off the rest of the dust.

For several seconds, those that took in the sight silently stared at that hand, hypnotized.

The mother was the one to break the spell.

"Kouta?"

"Mom!"

The boy finally let go of Izuku to rush into his mother's arms. That action unfroze everyone. The square came alive with shouts and questions. The ones who had the front row view rushed towards the two mystery figures.

The man who'd still managed to uphold his phone ran past all others and thrust forward his phone like a victory flag.

"You were awesome! Say some -"

But Izuku had already snatched up Shigaraki's wrist and running.

Thankfully, the latter came without resistance.

Izuku didn't dare use his quirk again, not so openly, not in front of so many eyes. But his physical training served him well. He only hoped the lean man could keep up.

Which he did. Seemingly effortlessly. Well, Izuku shouldn't be surprised, considering how he'd moved at the League's first attack on USJ. And how resilient he proved to be during their -

A sudden tug and Izuku stumbled. Shigaraki pulled so that the teen nearly crashed into him as they rounded a corner behind a building.

They stuck themselves into a shady niche. After a while, Izuku saw a couple of people - including the phone wielder - pass right by them.

Izuku sighed deeply and leaned back. Then he remembered just what - whom - he was leaning against.

He went rigid.

Fighting his first instinct to bolt right then and there, Izuku slowly detached himself from the other. One spinal segment at a time, making a show of peering over the corner edge.

"I - I think it's clear now."

So saying, Izuku walked a couple of steps away from the other man. When he turned, it was to the sight of the pale hand looming towards him.

Izuku managed to flinch only a little when that hand pulled the cap off his head.

"They'd be looking for someone with the.... neon cap."

Shigaraki idly tossed the cap as he muttered.

"You couldn't choose something more conspicuous?"

...This was the second time the villain had commented on his choice of apparel. He'd read records of heroes going undercover or having villain informants. He wondered if those heroes ever had to worry about their rendezvous attire.

But Shigaraki had a point about it being noticeable. Izuku took the cap back with a bit of embarrassment.

"Um, thank you,"

He realized that further context might be needed.

"For, I mean, saving me... us... back there. I... People might have..."

"You saw me, didn't you?"

Izuku blinked up at the figure before him. The villain remained silent even after a few more questioning blinks. Until Izuku had to ask.

"Saw... you...?"

Shigaraki gave an exasperated sigh.

"You knew what I was about to do. That's why you jumped in."

Izuku drew back a little, swallowing. He had seen it. Under the tentacle wrapped around the lean body. The pale hand twitching.

In that split second, Izuku saw the immediate future: Five fingers pressing into the tentacle which'd dissolve into fine powder, the rapid disintegration spreading before that giant of a villain's expression can even change from smug hostility to shocked horror. Until even that face was turned to dust.

Before he realized it, he'd been running.

Shigaraki tipped his head sideways so that it almost touched his shoulder.

"Cautious to a fault up until then, and that's what makes you act,"

"I -"

"To prevent a villain from getting killed."

Shigaraki's voice had a lilt to it, not quite mocking, but more amused. Or perhaps Izuku was interpreting it more favorably.

"I... I couldn't just watch..."

Not like that, not in front of me. A life being snuffed out. Of course, he wasn't thinking these things when he rushed out. His body had just propelled him forward.

And every time, you survived because of sheer luck. Thanks to someone else.

"Is it because you didn't, that time?"

Izuku merely stared at the other for a moment.

Then understanding came like a bullet through the head. Izuku heard the sound of his thought shattering in its wake.

The image of an emaciated body - more a skeleton - held up by a network of wires like an empty husk of a moth in a spider's web.

It was a sight that still sometimes hung inside his closed eyes when Izuku tried to sleep.

When he really thought about it, he hadn't been in a condition to observe accurately. So most of the picture, he knew, had been recreated in his mind. Blurry details inserted by imagination.

He can't have known the figure lacked limbs. Because everything was covered with cables and various machinery except the barely recognizable human torso. One would've thought it was a mummified corpse. Except for the way the skin stretched and contracted in minuscule amounts, every shallow breath threatening to tear the paper-thin muscles and explode desiccated bone-ashes.

Something like that, shouldn't exist.

No-one should exist, like that.

And like those details, had he imagined himself calling to Shigaraki at that time? Was he asking to stop or... pleading to...

"That was - "

'That was different' was the immediate reply ringing in Izuku's head. A reflex. Not an argument.

It - Izuku couldn't even know whether that figure had been a man or a woman - that person - hadn't really been alive. Stripped to be used as a material for that damned room. What Shigaraki had done was -

It was a mercy killing.

Was it? Izuku recalled eyes like smoked glass twitching as the pale death's hand came over them.

Those glass eyes closing. And the body sagging loose just a little. As if in relief.

Perhaps that relief had just been his own.

"I -"

A movement at the corner of his right eye. Shigaraki had moved close to his side.

"... You know, you really ought to realize it when someone's being an asshole just for the sake of it."

As Izuku struggled to catch the casually-tossed sentence, the taller man peered around the wall.

"It's clear now. Let's get going. It's probably no use now. Thanks to that seafood lug. But still -"

"Huh?"

All of a sudden, Shigaraki had him by the wrist just as Izuku himself had done prior, pulling him out of the alley's shades. Izuku managed a minute glance to be sure of the index finger hovering above his wrist.

"Where -?"

Izuku managed breathlessly, breaking into a trot to match the other man's stride.

"You'll see,"

A pause, then the villain added:

"Hopefully."

 


 

In this case, the hope had not been in vain.

As Izuku found out, this wasn't to his advantage.

"You what?!?"

The shock made Izuku forget to be careful.

But Shigaraki wasn't paying attention to him, too busy looking at a handful of game booths set up in front of an electronics shop from a safe distance.

"... No lineup. I guess that's to be expected, since that little incident has gone online…"

Izuku actually tugged at the other's sleeve, whispering.

"This is ridiculous."

"I'll say, whoever heard of having to come over physically to pick up an advanced copy at this day and age?"

"No, no no, I mean... I can't go in your stead!"

"Why not?"

Izuku opened his mouth, to let loose -

... and found that he had no real excuse.

Was picking up a game at a villain’s request in itself a criminal activity?

… Perhaps if the said game was a vital part in his dastardly criminal plot, but somehow, Izuku doubted it.

And technically, it'd be no different than him getting a game and giving it to a fr - an acquaintance.

"...Done with your internal monologue?"

"I - I can't believe you registered using my name,"

Izuku said lamely, putting up a weak last stand against what he knew was a losing battle.

"I can't exactly use my own, I'm wanted, gotta lay low. In case you've forgotten."

The way we've been meeting, and how you've been acting, yes, I might have forgotten.

Izuku wisely kept that thought to himself.

"They might pack up if nobody comes."

With that, Shigaraki pulled down Izuku's jacket. The latter yelped and tumbled back, wrapping his arms around himself, face flushed.

"Wha - what -"

"... To minimize the chance of you being recognized? From the footage that's now gone viral?"

"... Oh."

Face still burning, Izuku gingerly took off the jacket himself.

"...You could’ve just told me -"

Before he even finished the sentence, Izuku found himself magically whirled out of the alleyway.

"Get,"

The hand upon his shoulder - which Izuku hadn't noticed - gave a light push and let go.

Izuku cast one last helpless glance back. But the villain had turned away from him, his hooded face lowered to his phone. A finger tapping away with remarkable speed.

Probably texting his comrades.

Izuku quickly turned around before the villain could catch him watching.

 


 

"Was the real reason you sent me in your stead the Hero Roulette?"

Izuku asked while wobbling under the weight of numerous packages. He'd been expecting a simple disc, but it turned out the 'Special Advanced Boxset' that ‘he’ had won consisted of numerous booklets, artworks, a custom controller and a slew of other items.

The last 'Surprise Packet' had been a prize that had to be won via ‘Hero Roulette’ - where each section of the wheel was assigned to top heroes (Izuku had been gratified that All Might was still included) and he had to do a 'heartfelt' impression of the one where the roulette stopped.

Izuku's had landed on Midnight. 

He'd spend a lifetime to forget those two minutes, and utterly fail.

Izuku noted that the other was in the process of tucking his phone away. A disconcerting almost-smile on his face.

"A pity I couldn't witness it. Don't mind if you re-enact it now..."

Izuku shoved the armful of load towards Shiagarki a little rougher than necessary. Adding a huff for a good measure to stand in for an answer to that request.

A small part of him that was always irritatingly aware quipped that it wasn't all due to the – errand. The sight of that phone had irked him.

The thought of Shigaraki contacting the League. Possibly regarding their future plans.

A reminder.

And how he'd resented it.

"So is this what these meetings are about? You using me for trivial errands?"

"First, this isn't 'trivial',"

As if to lend weight to his words, Shigaraki carefully hefted the sizable package.

"Second, aren't heroes supposed to help those in need?"

"This isn't...!"

Izuku started, but Shigaraki was already walking.

"Third."

Shigaraki muttered as Izuku caught up with him.

"That was just a side quest. I really wanted to inform you about a criminal activity."

Izuku looked up, wondering if he'd heard right.

“There’ll be an illegal smuggling at the Daifu harbor next Tuesday, at three a.m. The ‘export’ is a criminal rodent named Enmoto Sei, fleeing out of the country. He’s been a wanted villain for a while. You’ll have no trouble finding records on him. I believe Daifu District is Eraser Head's beat. Perhaps you can ask your teacher to play guide."

"Um, but why me? I mean... you could’ve just put in an anonymous tip."

"After what happened to you, wouldn't pros be a little more suspicious? Or can they not learn?"

Izuku wasn’t sure whether he should be offended or appreciative of such an off-handed comment about that incident.

"Besides, is it wrong for me to want my... least despised hero to earn some points?"

Izuku nearly tripped over a raised pavement.

He stared at Shigaraki walking past him. Only when he was in danger of losing him altogether did Izuku wake up and run after him.

"You have -"

Izuku panted as he caught up with the taller man. He still couldn't believe how fast the man moved. Stooping and with all that package, his walk looked slow. Yet the distance his steady gait covered was almost supernatural. As if he were doing a subtle teleportation.

"- reason to want this villain caught?"

A noncommittal hum. Well, it wasn't like Izuku had actually expected an answer.

"You say he's a name, but I don't think I ever heard of such a villain."

"The rodent's the sort that latches onto a passing gang and gluttons itself on stolen cargo and is the first to get off at the first hint of sinking, as a rodent does."

The way Shigaraki spoke of the criminal struck a chord. Izuku just wasn't sure what. ‘Rodent’ – hadn’t he heard Shigaraki refer to someone as that –

“How am I going to convince others for this – stakeout?”

“I thought you were rather good at using that little head of yours,”

Izuku felt himself pout, and immediately folded his lips in before the villain could catch him doing that.

Izuku supposed he could ask Aizawa-sensei for wanting to patrol the area. All-night patrol was one of the training curriculum, and he was reasonably sure he could suggest a preferred area.

Still.

“I’m not sure how I can convince the pros to look into that harbor at that exact time.”

Sir, I have a feeling that a known criminal is secretly getting out of the country at this very moment, at this very place! – That wasn’t going to fly well.

Shigarki sighed.

“Fine, a… suitable… disturbance worthy of attention, then? Whereupon the heroes will coincidentally spot the vermin trying to flee?”

Izuku’s head shot up.

“You’re not – “

“Something harmless, I’m sure.”

Am I supposed to just take your word on that?

What came out of the teen’s mouth was:

"...Can't guarantee anything, you know."

"Oh, just make sure you don't repeat the mistake you did at the sports festival."

This was so out of the blue that Izuku’s steps faltered again. Sure that he'd misheard.

"Um, I don't -"

"When you needed to shut up and just couldn't. And was saved by sheer luck."

None of the words registered for a while, until Izuku's brain, working furiously, managed to pull up a relevant memory file.

Shinso? Is he talking about Shinso? Why was he -

The brain gave a metaphorical whack in his head with the said file.

"Is - is it something about this - villain's quirk? One shouldn't talk to him?"

When Shigaraki didn't answer and merely adjusted his grip on the package, it made Izuku want to grab at him. Which he resisted for obvious reasons.

"Then - "

"You can tell me about it at Kiyashi Second District Mall next week,"

Are you actually treating me like one of your League members just because I got you your game? Of course, Izuku knew better than to voice that out loud, as well.

Then it struck him. The way the other had been describing this criminal...

"You said… rodent. Just like how you've referred to... the one who lured… "

"On Friday, seven p.m."

Izuku realized that the villain had effectively called an end to their meeting. Not pressing any further with regards to the - assignment, for that was what this information was - Izuku pointed at the package. 

"You're going to carry all that back to... wherever your... headquarters are?"

Shigaraki spared him a glance at that.

"You know, I don't think any of us actually uses that word."

As Izuku fought the threat of another blush, Shigaraki shrugged and kept on walking.

After a while, he stopped and gazed at Izuku, who’d also stopped.

"I am an adult. I can walk back by myself."

Oh.

Izuku awkwardly put his cap back on. Making odd half-gestures with his hands. Saying ‘goodbye’ or ‘see you’ or ‘until then’ between them was… well, it was…

He eventually settled for: 'Um, okay, then.'

Izuku exaggeratedly turned to the opposite direction. After walking a few steps, Izuku looked back and found Shigaraku still in that spot, standing skewed. Still looking towards him. The sight caused a sharp ache inside Izuku. The villain likely just wanted to make sure he was gone first. It wasn't as if he were seeing Izuku off.

Yet still.

"No guarantee. Okay?!?"

Shigaraki merely cocked his head. The movement lightly ruffling the hood and the pale hair underneath. He stood like that, silent. Until Izuku had no choice but to walk away.

 


 

"...and the identity of the mysterious duo who took down the youngest of the Rokumachi Gang remains unknown... Now, a testimony from the hostage himself and the parent..."

"It was awesome! First, this guy with a green cap just knocked out the villain in one blow! And this guy who was held beside me..."

"Such a callous, callous young man…”

"Yeah, he was a meanie. But also cool! He just grabbed that bomb and...!"

 

"Hey, hey, hey! Bakugou! We were watching that!"

"I care? Everyone’s watched it about a hundred times by now!"

"Oh, that was totally trending today. I wonder if they're one of those vigilantes. They're on the rise..."

"That just means we as heroes must step up and make sure that no one takes the law into their own hands! Which reminds me, it's time for the evening roll call..."

"Deku-kun? Your face is all red and… Are you alright? Try breathing a bit slow, Deku-kun! Should I take you to the infirmary?!"