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There Will Come Soft Rains

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"Are you ready to go?" you ask your lab partner. He's squinting down at the workbench, and doesn't answer you. That's okay - you know it'll take him a few moments to process your question, being preoccupied with his latest design overhaul.

The workday is finally winding down, and while you normally stay at least a little later, there's a Heroics Convention starting tomorrow that you want to get to the moment it opens. At least you've finished every task that was allocated to you - you wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you were skipping out on your responsibilities. What would happen, after all, if Uravity went into the field and her new Rocket Impact Boots, for which you were one of the primary designers and assemblers, failed to cushion her landing evenly? You would rather die a thousand times than be the cause for a Hero's injury.

While you're waiting for a response, stretching your arms over your head to get some of the aches out of your back, you can't help but remind yourself how lucky you are - how lucky you BOTH are - to have gotten the opportunity to work at a Hero Support lab so early in your careers. You're both barely out of UA's Support grad school! And Uravity is one of the best heroes you could work for, you fervently believe; everyone knows of her kindness to civilians, and the one time she came to the Support lab to meet her technicians, she asked that you all feel free to call her by her everyday name! Not that you ever would, but she's gracious that way to people she honestly doesn't have to acknowledge. No one expects a hero to even know the names of their employees, much less want to meet them, or sponsor birthday parties for them, and so on. Uravity is just that nice.

Finally, your lab partner answers. He's digging his hands in his wild curls, scrubbing them back and forth over his head. "Sorry - I don't think I can leave just yet. The calibration on the left sole just isn't right yet." He looks up at your wry face. "Ahh, I promise to leave before the lockup bell!" His sheepish expression, as always, makes you relent. You know he can't help his enthusiasm for his work.

"Sure, sure. I'll leave some dinner out for you. What do you want for breakfast tomorrow - or are you buying it at the con?"

Gratefully, he says, "Oh, whatever you want to make is fine with me! I want to save my money for the All Might vintage memorabilia auction."

You nod in understanding, and he turns back to his bench. You know he's already forgotten you, so you pack your purse and head out.

***

The air is crisp, with the scent of autumn decay wafting along with the fallen leaves that clog the sewer drains. You step carefully around the various holes in the sidewalk, artifacts of past hero-villain fights that have fallen down on the list of priority repairs for the city, and can't stop yourself from thinking about your partner. You've been best friends since childhood, and sometimes you worry his head-in-the-clouds nature will lead him into serious trouble. Half the times he's worked late, he's wandered into the radius of a villain attack on his way to your shared apartment, and you've had to phone his mother to say that no, he's not dead, he's just giving witness testimony again. The local police know him by name now, and he knows their favorite heroes. They've bonded to a ridiculous degree.

Perhaps this time you'll wait for him in the park across the street from the lab. You can walk home together, and order take-out. You can keep him from staying out too late this way, too. And it's not like the weather is bad, tonight, or that there's any active villainy nearby (there's no alert going off on your Uravity feed, at least, and she's on patrol for this sector tonight). Mind made up, you cross the street and choose one of the park benches that rests a bit back from the street, but has a clear view of the lab entrance.

Once you sit down, you immediately regret it, remembering that you finished your latest book, and that your datapad is almost out of power after a long day of use. What did you think you would do to keep yourself awake? You're such an impulsive fool. You really need to learn to think things through before making decisions. You snort at the irony - with your Quirk, one would think you'd be better at these things. Well, at least you have the excuse of not activating it.

Brushing at your thighs, you start to get up, ready to go home. It's too late for that, though.

***

Down a side street, the professional sidekick Amplify is running for his life. There's a reason for that, and it's gaining on him rapidly - two thugs who look to be carrying syringes. Your blood runs cold. You know the underworld is currently favoring two new, strong drugs for use on heroes: Quirk Off and Quirk Up. The former removes the hero's control of their Quirk, while the latter forces an immediate and ongoing activation of a Quirk until its host is unconscious from exhaustion. As many Quirks have been prevented from causing civilian casualties only by the skill of the heroes who possess them, either drug is a nightmare. Which drug, or drugs, do these men have?

You're a civilian, and while your analysis of situations has been honed by constant practice with your best friend - who loves to pull you into hero RPGs - your actual reaction time remains normal. Which, in a fight, means "uselessly slow".

You see Amplify sprinting toward you. In a direct line, ten meters behind Amplify, the two crooks simultaneously cock and throw their syringes. You see them both strike true in Amplify's unarmored lower back.

The last thing you see is Amplify lighting up like a supernova, a beam of energy searing out of his mouth straight into you.

***

"Rise and shine, sleeping beauty! Ain't nobody got time for you to sleep it off!" A violently perky voice greets your dazed ears.

"Ugh, what?" you croak. Have you been hit by a truck? Your everything hurts.

"Look, this is cute, but get up, boss lady. You got some Choices to make. And make 'em snappy!"

You open your eyes and choke on air. You're looking at yourself. A copy of you is leaning over your prone body, and staring into your eyes at pointblank range. "AAAHHHH!"

The other you rolls her eyes and sits back on her haunches. "Can we skip the meet and greet? Yes, hello, I am also you. I am not your biggest concern right now - remember the villain attack on poor Amplify?"

She might be ready to move on, but you aren't. "What the hell, you're also me. Bull. Shit. This is a villain's illusion Quirk, and I need to snap out of it yesterday and get out of here before I get ground into paste."

She grins nastily. "Oh, reeeeaaallly. While that's a reasonable assumption to make, is there any Quirk out there that involves both illusion AND mindreading?" Well, no - you had to admit, multidirectional-Quirks seemed to be one of the few solid limitations Quirks had ever come up against. While a person's will or perception could be tampered with, or their memories read and meddled with, the Quirk couldn't be both disparate things at the same time. They were too unrelated. Even Endeavor's youngest, who was rumored to have control over both ice and fire, didn't break that rule of thumb; if the rumors were true, he would simply have been able to control two types of chemical reactions, or perhaps have control over thermodynamics in general. "And since the odds are low that a random thug took an elective course in pre-Quirk non-Japanese poetry, how's this for proof of identity?" She took a deep breath, then warbled in English, "At times I almost dream I too have spent a life the sages' way, and tread once more familiar paths. Perchance I perished in an arrogant self-reliance ages ago -"

"Thaaaat's enough, thank you." You cut her off. No need to talk about dying now! "Why are there two of me, then? What happened?"

She loses her smirk, and her shoulders square up. "Well, maybe it would be more accurate to say, I'm your Quirk. 'S'nice meeting you face to face, after all our time together." She sees your jaw drop, and a small, smug smile returns to her face. "When Amplify got hit, it was with both drugs - but since his Quirk is only to make other Quirks stronger, the majority of the effects were passed over to you when he caught you with his beam."

You're trembling. What does this mean? "That doesn't explain why my Quirk would be talking to me."

Now it's her turn to look wry. "Consider this: the Quirk of Informed Choice must have a certain amount of self-direction. Why? Because of the way it works. You get to see what would happen if you made a particular choice, and all the consequences for either option, when it's activated. You tend to use it in the mornings to pick the best commute, and when you go out to eat to pick between two meal options, but the rest of the time you're not using me, yes?" I nodded.

"But you should know - you should have reasoned this out a LONG time ago - there's almost never any such thing as a pure binary choice. Your Quirk is proof of a multiverse, isn't it? An infinite array of possibilities, on a omnidirectional bell curve of reality! How can that be distilled down into a simple tempura versus sushi choice? Hell, even the menu choice is bogus - there's always more than two items on the menu." Quirk-You is starting to look a little angry. Why? you wonder. She goes on: "Logically, you must be limiting yourself. You've throttled down your Quirk to the point of almost perfect control and miniscule effect. The binary choice exists because you prevent yourself from seeing all the others." She coughs into her hand, and gets to the point. "Well, as I said, Amplify both got amped up, AND passed the effects of the drugs on to you. Soooo, what do you think happened to your control?"

You gaze at her in horror.

***

Now that you're not bewildered by the appearance of a doppleganger, you start noticing the world around you - and that there isn't anything happening. It's as if time stopped - Amplify is tripping forward, the eyes of the thugs are widening as if they're just starting to realize that they've succeeded, and a cat you missed seeing before is in the middle of a jump off of a ledge on the other side of the park, its body gracefully suspended at the apex of its arc. You want to try touching something to see if you can move it (that seems like it could be a useful effect of your amplified Quirk), but you're too afraid of the consequences, and keep your hands in your lap as you settle down, sitting cross-legged next to Quirk-You.

Quirk-You seems totally calm in comparison, as if she's had all the time she needed to process this massive snafu and is patiently waiting for your slow self to catch up. She's humming tunelessly and checking her fingernails for splits.

Well, she did ask you a question, so it's probably up to you to restart this conversation. "What do I have to do, to use up the drug and stop activating you?"

She shrugs. "You could try doing something different than your usual. Say, looking at consequences more than half an hour in the future? Or, well, this is a stretch, but maybe, just maybe..." She's scrunched up her mouth as if her thoughts are a plate of bad calamari that she can't spit out.

"Cut that out. What's your theory?" you ask.

"Oh, FINE. How about using this energy to change a decision in the past, rather than one in the present? There probably aren't that many interesting choices available to you now, given that you're currently caught in a villain's trap, but go back a little and you could find a choice that would prevent this from happening..." She's not looking you in the eyes, and you think you know why.

"That is clearly not how you work, Miss Quirk of Mine, or have you lost touch with yourself?" You ask, poking at her shoulder teasingly. "Plus, how could you change the past now, when it would keep this from happening and so make it so that you didn't change the past? Time travel paradox!"

She huffs and brushes your hand away. "Well, if I weren't under the effects of two drugs and an amplifier Quirk, I'd agree with you about not being able to do it, but now, I figure we should go for it. Worst case scenario, it does nothing other than burn up some of the drugs. And as for the paradox... don't you remember what I said earlier, about how there's a multiverse out there? We'd really just be slipping into a different one that's moving a little bit slower than this one in the space-time continuum, and bringing it closer to reality while pushing the current one down the stack. No paradox applies. And that's what I've ALWAYS done, you just didn't know it because it was always one moving at the same rate." She crosses and uncrosses her legs. "What else are we going to do, play mental chess?"

Well, when she puts it that way, she's almost convincing. You do hate chess.

***

"Let's try to see how far back you can go first, and then look for choices at that point," you suggest. The two of you are standing now, your right hand clasped in her left, as you both face Amplify in his perpetual fall.

She nods, and squints. With no further fanfare than that, the world around you changes. It's yesterday morning, you're about to fix breakfast -

It's last week, you've just spilled tea on your new slacks -

It's this spring, and you're going out to view the cherry blossoms -

It's UA graduation, and you're hugging your best friend -

It's the last day of middle school, and your best friend looks so relieved -

It's sometime in the winter, and an eight-year old you is pelting your best friend with snowballs -

It's Quirk registration day for you, and your best friend looks devastated -

It's your third birthday, and you're blowing out the candles on the cake -

Everything screeches to a halt, metaphorically speaking, as the world stops moving around you. All you see is a dark room, with shadows suggesting the forms of two people resting in a bed together. What the hell is this, you wonder, and who are these people?

Quirk-You is faster on the uptake, and lets out a gaspy giggle. "Wow," she gets out, "I guess if you were ever wondering how you were conceived..."

You gag, and turn to face the other direction. "We will never speak of this again. NEVER."

***

Still facing the other way, you slide your words through gritted teeth. "Well, you're the expert at how you work. Why don't you tell me what choices I can make from this far back?"

You can't see it, but you just know she's rolling her eyes at you, as she answers, "Duh, Einstein, there's virtually no limit. D'you really want me to waste our time counting them? It should only take me a few million years, give or take a hundred thousand."

You squeeze her hand tighter. "That's enough lip from you, Miss Snark. How can I cut down the choices to a manageable number?"

She hums. "How about you pick an outcome, instead? Then we can look for a choice that matches it?"

She has no idea how much force that suggestion has - it strikes you like a bolt from the blue. "Yes, that's it, that's IT! Wow, I cannot believe - but who could? - jeez, I don't - God, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?"

Her teeth are clacking audibly as she cries out, "Stop, stop, I promise, I will know whatever you want me to know, just stop shaking me." You release her, embarrassed at this loss of self-control.

But who could blame you, really? You've just discovered how to find the best of all possible worlds.

***

You think furiously. What would be the best possible outcome for the largest number of people? Probably a world with strong heroes and the worst of the villains defeated. Or maybe that's thinking too small - maybe you should be looking for a timeline with most significant diseases eradicated... or a successful space program with colonies on the moon and Mars... or an end to poverty...

Quirk-You sighs with what you think sounds like exasperation. "God, why did you have to pick up the mumbling from him? Couldn't you have mimicked anything else?"

You hadn't realized that was out loud. Blushing, you say, "Well, it's harder than I thought it would be! It's a lot of responsibility, finding the best outcome..."

She rolls her eyes. "Why don't you just accept that it's impossible, because that's a totally subjective idea, and pick something smaller?"

But you don't want to give in so quickly. Where's the line between reasonableness and selfishness in a decision like this? You wish you could take yourself out of the process.

Hmm, there's an idea - "Since you're really my Quirk, and you know how I think maybe better than I do, why don't YOU pick the outcome that you know I would like the best?"

You blink, and decide that you must have been mistaken in the expression that Quirk-You had had on her face - she doesn't look frightened now, just thoughtful. "If you're sure, then I can do that, no prob. You really want me to make your decisions for you, though? Isn't that the opposite of self-control?"

You sigh. "I trust me, and you are just a part of me that for whatever reason was granted a little autonomy. I'm not worried."

She straightens out of her slouch. "All right then, boss-lady, let's do this! I think we should look at the new present with the 'best' outcome and roll backward until we get to the changepoint. It'd be easier on me."

You nod in agreement, and she closes her eyes.

***

You and Quirk-You are back in the park, but there's no-one there, not even your past self. You guess that means your routine's a little different. The park looks a little brighter now, with well-lit lampposts at the cardinal points and the path through it now dotted with multiple benches. Hmm, maybe the city's a little richer, or whoever's in charge has a slightly different set of funding priorities. You shrug it off, and start walking towards the agency with Quirk-You.

You pause in front of the agency. There's something different about it as well... even from across the street you can see that the sign on the panel above the main doors is larger. Since the panel is part of standard agency architecture - it lets the public know which registered heroes have offices in the building - there's only one conclusion you can draw: a different roster than your home timeline. You hope Uravity is still there; even if you didn't admire her so much, she still sets such a great example for the sidekicks, and the neighborhood has been thriving since she implemented the soup kitchen in the previously-unused basement.

As you get closer, you sigh in relief to see Uravity's name is clearly blazoned across the panel. But who on earth is Deku? You've never heard of them, and the size and placement of the kanji indicate that they are not a sidekick but a hero equal in status to Uravity. But that seems really unlikely. Your best friend has always kept you up to date on all the aspiring sidekicks and rising heroes, and anyone he hasn't heard of doesn't exist.

You slap your forehead, chiding yourself for forgetting. Obviously Deku is one of the people who got the opportunity to do something different here than they had in the other timeline.

You want to go in, to do a little reconnaissance about this Deku, but the doors are closed. Can you even move things when time's not moving?

Before you can do more than turn your head towards Quirk-You, she's rolling her eyes and anticipating your question. "Duh, if the world was frozen for you, then the air itself would be like concrete and we would've suffocated already. Just put things back where you found them!"

Muttering under your breath, you stomp to the door and swing it open. You quickly make your way to the stairs, and up to the hero offices' floor. Darting past Uravity's office (hmm, still in the same roomas before) you find Deku's nameplate on the far corner office's door. Gently, you turn the knob and peer in. You're not sure what you expected to see, but dozens of hero posters on the walls weren't it. Wow, this hero is really into All Might - maybe All Might is still active in this timeline? Most people (other than your best friend and other Hero-nerds) have gotten used to his disappearance from the pro scene; he's been out of public view since, oh, around when you started at UA. You heard once that he was enjoying a well-earned retirement on a farm in Hokkaido. Good for him, he must have been feeling his years. In any case, most people have moved on and become fans of other heroes, such as Endeavor or Hawks, or even Miruko.

Quirk-You hip-checks you into the office. "Quit dawdling and move your butt. There's gotta be photos in here somewhere."

You squawk at the indignity, but she's right. After a moment's contemplation, you head for the desk. Every hero has one in their office, even if they have a fleet of secretaries, just because they need to be recorded "hard at work" for various school PSAs about how even heroes have to follow paperwork laws. Whether or not Deku uses the desk otherwise, it must have photos on it for the cameras - otherwise no-one would believe the desk was anything more than a prop.

Once you get to the frames on the desktop and pick them up, you're disappointed. Nearly every one is not a photo at all - there's some conceptual drawings of costumes and action poses, mostly of current heroes like Uravity, Red Riot and others in their year at UA. While this implies that Deku is around their age - or a creepy fan of the younger generations - it doesn't help to identify them. You don't know most of the hero class students from your year anyway, just the ones that made it into the top 100 hero lists already. Well, you can take the one UA graduation class photo that's framed with you, maybe you will be able to do some process of elimination.

Quirk-You has been digging through the desk itself, and is pursing her lips. "Does this handwriting look... familiar to you?" She's holding out an incomplete mission log. You lean over to squint at it. Well, Deku certainly doesn't believe that brevity is the soul of wit - every possible space in the observations sections is jam-packed. Hmm. The writing style does look like one you've seen before, but whose?

You hear a low whistle. Quirk-You's expression looks like the cat that caught the canary's, if it had subsequently been blindsided by a bus. She's holding up a green pen with a bobblehead erasertop on it. That's a lucky find - when it comes to silly-looking merch, the heroes tend to collect their own rather than someone else's. She rotates the pen around until the face of the erasertop is turned towards you.

You choke on air. Deku... is...

***

There's no use denying it. In this world, somehow, your best friend overcame all the obstacles in his way, the roadblocks thrown up against the Quirkless, and became a bonafide Hero. But how? What's so different here, to change society enough that a Quirkless citizen could get a hero license? Was Izuku some kind of test case, some attempt at minority quotas? Was there some successful court case that forced in anti-discrimination laws for the Quirkless? People have worked so hard for decades to try and achieve equal rights, and it's wonderful to think that in some version of the world those activists succeeded.

You need to know what changed. Knowing now that this is Izuku's office, you gamble that his methods of organization have remained the same. Zeroing in on the cabinet next to the desk, you open it and find the laptop that's been tucked away. Bringing it to the desk and booting it up, you enter Izuku's standard passwords and prepare to eviscerate all the search engines until you're satisfied.

Or, rather, until you give up and start banging your head on the desk. There's no evidence whatsoever in the political newssites or social media of any significant changes to Quirkless rights, and no mention of a Quirkless hero. Looking up "Deku" brings up scads of forum posts with hero-fans speculating on the exact nature of his Quirk, but everyone agrees that he has one and it has something to do with strengthening the body. Deku is extremely popular, as well - some of these fans are calling him the new Symbol of Peace, and others praising him as Japan's role model for young heroes. So you would expect a higher degree of scrutiny into Izuku's life. Instead, it seems like his life pre-UA has been hushed up - there's no interviews about his childhood, no candid articles about his teen years, and absolutely no exposes of any kind as to whether he had ever been classified as Quirkless.

Quirk-You drags your head off the desk, and banishes you to the corner to "rest, because time may not be passing for them, but you haven't slept for over 24 hours of your time and you're a wreck", apparently. Before you succumb to sleep, you see she's taking your place in the internet crawl. Good - at least sleep won't be wasted time...

***

When you gaze blearily around, you realize that Quirk-You has woken you up with a breakthrough. You do feel more rested, but not like you've had a full night's sleep - that's probably the best you're going to be able to guesstimate in a frozen timeline. You swat her hand off your shoulder and groan your way to your feet; maybe you need to get into that tai chi stuff.

"Stop acting like an old woman and take a look at this," Quirk-You exclaims.

It's a very sketchy-looking website. How did she even find this? You look over, and she shrugs, "I just remembered what you saw when you leaned over the aisle that one time while the firm's White Hat was looking for data on that villain Caltrops." Oh well, it doesn't really matter if your subconscious stored and remembered something like that. More importantly, the website has an interview that isn't available on the public websites. You frown in confusion; the interview was an official one, you can see the station's brand in the corner of the video, so why has it been buried?

Fifteen minutes or so later, you know why. Izuku was just a weensy bit indiscreet in this one - it looks like it's one of his first solo interviews as a hero based on the datestamp - and when the friendly pop star who was sharing the couch asked Izuku about the latest Quirkless health care laws, he murmured something about having empathy for the Quirkless. Not sympathy, or pity, but empathy, which implies that he had a similar experience... and there's very few options other than him having been Quirkless at some point.

But what could have changed? All you can think of is that Izuku had an invisible Quirk, one of the ones that needed very specific activation circumstances to even manifest. That sounds a bit too fantastical to you. It's the kind of scenario that Izuku dreamed of, on and off, from age four to age twenty-four, but it's a common fantasy for Quirkless people. You've helped him work out routines with his therapist to stop that kind of toxic thinking and redirect his thoughts to the realm of the possible. And Quirks showing up late are not possible when the person in question has an extra toe joint. The statistics don't lie, and for his sake you spent hours combing over medical journals with him looking for an exception to this ironclad rule of biology.

"I think we need to start rolling this timeline backwards, and see if we can figure out the point when Izuku activated his Quirk. That's the most likely candidate for the point in spacetime when this timeline started to differ from the original one," you say to Quirk-You. She nods in agreement.

"What kinda increments are we talking for the jumps?"

That's a good question. You should try to find a span that limits the number of jumps, since you don't know how much energy Quirk-You really has left. "How about... one year, and we stand in the park while we do it to avoid construction and other changes to the landscape?"

She grins. "Sounds good to me. Let's do this thing." She closes her eyes.

"Wait, we're not in the park yet -"

***

Luckily, she was listening to the rest of the plan, and you both jumped back only a year in the office. Even more luckily, you did NOT land on top of Izuku, who was apparently working on paperwork that day.

He looks so peaceful, you think. Since he can't see you, you get right in his personal space and confirm that, yep, most of his crow's-feet are gone, and his hair seems a bit thicker than your Izuku's. You hadn't realized how the stress of the lab was grinding him down. Or maybe it's being constantly exposed to his childhood dream and not being able to reach out and grab it, that made your Izuku just a bit less healthy than this version.

You shake your head, exasperated with yourself. You're being ridiculous, you think; this Izuku probably has a least a couple years of heroics work under his belt, there's no way he doesn't have at least a couple scars and aches that your Izuku didn't have to suffer. He might even have a more serious injury by now, if he's been working since soon after graduating UA.

You pinch Quirk-You's arm as she sheepishly follows you outside. "No more sloppy mistakes, you goof!" You remonstrate.

You're not sure how genuine her look of remorse is, but she sounds sincere when she says, "Yeah, yeah, my bad. What places do we want to check out during each jump?"

"We need to be sure of what's going on, so let's split up at the beginning of each jump - you stay here at the Uravity offices and hack the computers, and I will go to the library down the block. You look for dark web information and news sites about Deku, and I will dig into social media and anything else about any possible leads you find for changes in the timeline. Since we were able to make the computer work, I assume phones will too, so I'll keep the cell and you use one of the office phones to call me. Let's aim to spend one day in each jump, including sleep. Sounds good?" You really hope it does, although planning like this is not your forte. "By the way, why DID the computer work?"

She brightens. "Oh yeah, that's fine. And I'm developing a theory on that. Since some things are moving at the same speed as us - the most obvious example being your clothes - my guess is that when you touch something, it synchronizes to your speed. When you touched the computer physically, that must count as being in contact with the internet, or maybe virtual touching is just as good, whatever. Long story short, the internet will actually be the fastest you'll ever see it, since effectively no-one else is using it at the same time as us!"

Oh well, as long as it works.

***

Your system works fairly well, even if it is tedious. The two of you ferret out massive changes to history, namely that Izuku has been a very busy Hero and the rest of his class has risen to meet his work ethic. There's also the continued presence of All Might as a consultant to the heroics program at UA; the poor man looks exhausted and rail-thin in his articles, but is always smiling. Otherwise, on the one hand there are little differences, like the top ten Hero list being slightly shuffled in the years before Izuku's class shows up, and on the other hand there are strange differences that seem more important, like the lack of curfews and lockdown bells for city businesses, and no rumors of illicit drugs with effects similar to the ones that hit Amplify. You can't quite figure out if those are connected to one big change in the past, or if some events really are as random as the flip of a coin.

After a week, you've gone back to the year after high school ended for you and Izuku - but in this timeline, only you went on to graduate school. Izuku was already patrolling as a Hero when the ink on his permanent Hero license was barely dry. After due consideration, you and Quirk-You agree to cross over to the UA campus for the next three jumps.

Each one of those jumps hits you like a sledgehammer with the sheer amount of new information about what Izuku got up to in UA. (It's a long-disregarded dream, finally achieved, to have Principal Nedzu's computer and confidental files at your disposal.) Apparently he was in the top hero class, and made friends with virtually all of his classmates, and a smattering of students in other grades and classes as well. The school files note his slowly-tempered recklessness with his 'self-destructively powerful' Quirk, and the number of incidents in which Izuku needed medical attention are staggering when compared to any sane standard. But it's not just what happens at school that's shocking. Villains attacking and abducting students seems to have become almost a yearly ritual. Izuku is present at a disproportionate number of these villain attacks, which you chalk up to his nature as a hero-villain fight groupie; you're a bit relieved that you can still recognize his personality under all the skills and adventures that your Izuku never had.

You still can't figure out how Izuku manifested a Quirk, though, which means it's back to searching in the past. You move yourselves to Musutafu, in the middle school courtyard, for the next jump.

***

Quirk-You wolf-whistles. "That is the first literal ton of shit I have ever seen."

You wince. This jump had been depressing you, as you arrived to see Izuku being cornered by that jerk, Bakugou. Now there's a face you haven't missed... you think that he's one of the least accomplished Heroes you know, with a limited 'Apprehension-Only' license for good reason. The man he became had only two modes, Enraged and Asleep, and the child version here seems no different. You were surprised to see him doing better in this future and making it to the top 100, but on second thought you'll credit Izuku with being a good influence on Bakugou's bad habits once they're both in UA. Unfortunately, this version of you must be home sick, as there's no one here on Izuku's side in this confrontation.

Seeing Izuku so upset had made you want to take a break and go to your favorite beach. However, when you got there, well. Quirk-You is exaggerating only a little - human feces is about the only thing that hasn't been dumped on the sand.

You give up on relaxation. "Let's just get back to research. This time, you take the school and I'll take the Midoriya apartment."

***

The Midoriyas haven't changed much. You see the same All-Might decorations, the same furniture, the same wall of photographs. You don't bother to look at them closely. Inko is puttering away at the stove, so you're careful not to go in the kitchen - you can't touch her, or risk speeding the stove up.

Oh well, not every research trip can be helpful.

***

When you get to your meeting spot in the school library, you see Quirk-You has beaten you there. She looks unhappy, somehow.

She confirms your impression when she asks, "Whadd'ya find?" listlessly. She doesn't look up from the tabletop, or she'd see your frown.

"I think I need to hear from you first. What's bothering you?" You ask.

She doesn't put up even a token amount of resistance, just caving in immediately. She must be very disturbed.

"You're not in the school database. You never went to this school." She sighs.

"Well, that's not necessarily the sign of anything terrible," you declare, "since there's other neighborhood schools I could've gone to instead. Just one of those random changes..."

"Yeah, that's a nice thought, but it's wrong. You know how I know that?" She finally turns her face towards you and looks you in the eye. "Because your brother is going here instead."

That statement shocks you for a moment, but you recover. Well, there's no reason why your parents couldn't have had another child after you, or why they couldn't send the two of you to different middle schools, although it would be unusual... unless...

"What grade is this boy in?"

She covers her eyes with her hand. "Yours. He's born a week after you would've been. There's no way, no loophole, that would make it so you exist here."

***

Quirk-You has been draped over the reference desk, looking despondent, while you processed this. After an unmeasureable amount of time spent pacing and trying out all the other chairs in succession, you think you understand.

You'd been running on assumptions about the ideal timeline, but Quirk-You could only do what you subconsciously valued most. What if somehow, those decreases in crime, and Izuku's Quirk, and the success of his classmates, and all the other strange changes to the timeline really do require that you make the biggest sacrifice that you possibly could? What if none of those are possible in any world in which you exist? It sounds hopelessly solipsistic, but your intuition is screaming at you that you're correct.

You're a Support lab technician and at heart a scientist, so intuition is enough to start with, but not enough to base a choice on. You need better proof.

"Let's go forward a bit, and see if we can pinpoint the date Izuku first activates his Quirk. How does that sound?" You ask quietly.

Quirk-You trembles, then unfolds herself. She tries to smile. "Stiff upper lip, huh? Sure, let's do that."

***

After some trial and error, you find out what happened. It's ridiculous and implausible, and requires that you believe in transferable Quirks, but you see All-Might give Izuku his Quirk. When you realize the date, you smack your forehead. Really, just before the UA exams? There's no way those went well. You could watch, but you won't risk the tired Quirk-You on something that would be a pure indulgence now that you know the broad outlines of Izuku's Quirk.

Now you need to figure out how Izuku and All-Might met. That's definitely not something that happened in your timeline - Izuku would've never stopped bringing it up if it had.

You force Quirk-You to take a break and sleep. She's looking like she's burning her candles at both ends, for good reason - you've been jumping so many times you've lost count. Quirk-You reluctantly agrees to one day of rest. As soon as your synchronized watches show 24 hours have passed, she's pressing to start again. It'll be grueling, since you'll have to repeat the stutter-jumping around, but you've got at least one way to track your landings - that beach, which was so grungy a year ago, is pristine the day All-Might hands over his Quirk. Who knows how it got clean, but at least you can orient yourselves based on its level of filth.

***

You thought a hand-me-down Quirk was weird enough. A concidental series of meetings over one day between Izuku, Bakugou, All Might, and a frankly gross villain made out of sludge are definitely weirder, although you suppose it's good that they're usually not all four in the same place at the same time.

You watch the school bullying, the anti-Quirkless-Hero speech by All-Might, the entire hostage incident and the deciding conversation afterwards, even though it requires dozens of microjumps by Quirk-You. You're frantically observing and putting together your theory, and are only able to feel distantly regretful for pushing her this way. Soon enough, the pain won't matter anyway.

***

You've both gone back to the beach, and to a year when it's clean, to rest. You feel you owe her that. She takes advantage and you spend a week there, enjoying the haze of a perpetual sunset and stealing ice cream from a nearby vendor cart. Eventually Quirk-You gets antsy again, and restarts serious conversation.

"You've been very calm about all this... do you think that there's really a connection between your life and Izuku's happiness?" She's flipping a shell over her fingers and avoiding your eyes.

You sigh, perhaps with relief at not having to hold back any more. "Yes, I do. From what I see, Izuku in this timeline has no friends before UA, unless you count Bakugou as one - and I wouldn't - and apparently I was the only person who would've been willing to remain friends with the Quirkless kid in class. My alter-brother certainly didn't try. If there were kids who might've been friends with Izuku, they either don't exist or have gone to other schools. We'll never be able to find them, but that doesn't matter, because this is a solid case of nurture shaping nature." You can see she understands - well, of course she does. You want to explain, anyway. There's a certain satisfaction to airing out your theory.

"Being picked on and isolated changes who Izuku becomes. He always had the potential to be a Hero, but he would never have been ready to throw a backpack at a Villain if he'd been even slightly more confident that someone else would take care of the problem and save Bakugou. He's utterly independent, for all that he later collects friends like ducklings trailing behind him at UA; he'll never assume that his help isn't needed, or that he can't do something to right a wrong. And all it took was a decade of suffering alone to make him that way." You're crying, you realize, when your throat tightens up and your eyes burn. "All the kindness he had from me was just dragging him down."

"Are you making an 'ends justify the means' argument for child abuse?" Quirk-You asks gently. "You know that's wrong. You can't weigh out the value of a friendship that way, or disregard the happiness that your Izuku gained in his Support job. Being a Hero doesn't automatically make this Izuku better or more successful than yours."

You hate to do this. "Except that it does. It does, when you remember that I requested the best possible world. Even if we leave out Izuku for a moment, there's all those other things... the curfews, the drugs, all those signs that the Heroes were losing ground to the Villains in our timeline, that simply don't exist here. Maybe Izuku working as a Hero stops them, or maybe there's just a chain of events in which he's the butterfly causing the earthquake halfway around the world, but the world is better for having the Hero Deku in it."

You lift your chin up and straighten your back. "I can't put myself over the greater good." You wipe at your tears.

Quirk-You is also crying, but she's doing it shamelessly, with little snorts of emotion and a screwed-up face. "I don't agree. You can't prove this. Let's go back and find a timeline like this one but with you in it."

You put your hand on her arm, lightly. She shudders. "I don't think there's enough power left to even look for such a thing. You're looking frailer and frailer. And if it had existed, we would be there, not here. I'm happy enough, knowing that I've been able to see this world, and make it more real."

She draws a deep breath, then lets it all out slowly. "I know, I know, I just... hoped." She pauses and hauls out a handkerchief to compose herself. When she's dried her face, she says, "How do you want to use the last bit of power?"

You smile. "I'd like to see Izuku's happiest day so far. Can we do it?"

She nods tiredly. Hmm, there is something you haven't quite thought through.

"Is there any paradox risk here? And what's going to happen to you when I..."

She manages half a grin. "Don't make me repeat myself about the multiverse. I'll just fade into one of the other versions of this Quirk. You don't need to worry." She reaches out and puts her other hand overtop yours. "Are you ready?"

You pull out one last poem for the road. "Listen: I hear there's a hell of a good universe next door, let's go~"

*************************************************************************************************

It's been a slow day at the agency, and Uraraka has been doing paperwork with her partner for hours. Suddenly, she feels a chill run down her back. Looking over at Deku, she sees he looks unnerved as well. Is there an attack nearby? Maybe one of the villains has a frost Quirk...

She checks the private Hero alert system, but there's no current alert. A look out the window yields nothing. Deku calls his underground contact, and he finds nothing either.

It takes a while, but she slowly relaxes. There's plenty of inexplicable phenomena out there, and no need to waste time on them when there are real issues at hand. Uraraka bends back over the forms.

Neither notice the photograph that appeared on the corner of the desk at that moment. It started disintegrating almost immediately, but if Izuku had turned his head a few degrees to the left, he would've been confused by the picture - not just the way it's dissolving, but its content as well.

In mere seconds, a snapshot of two small children throwing snowballs at each other crumbles to dust.