Haru always made herself small.
It wasn’t always this way. She used to play and romp with the other kids’ daemons, wrestling with Kacchan’s Senkaki and laughing as they shifted from form to form, matching claws and wings and changing sizes. But that changed after everyone found out Izuku was quirkless.
They tried to go on like it was normal. They tried to keep smiling, keep playing.
Then Tsubasa and some of the other kids made a new game: they would hold Izuku back while their daemons dragged Haru to the limits of their bond, until Izuku cried and Haru shrieked and brought the teachers running. After that, Haru rarely became anything bigger than a weasel, or a cat if she was feeling bold. As long as she was small, then she was quick. If she was quick, then she was had to catch.
It didn’t always work. Not all big things were slow; cat-shaped daemons could catch her mouse form easily enough, and the cruel game would start again until they grew bored or a teacher came near.
One day when Izuku was eight, they were stretched so far that the pain made him faint. The other kids fled, a teacher panicked, and Izuku’s mother was called. He stayed home for three days, and spent most of them hiding in his room with his daemon pressed close. There, they came to a decision.
“It doesn’t have to hurt,” Haru whispered, nestled against his chest as a rabbit. “They do it in the hospital. It’s perfectly safe.”
“What if Mom doesn’t let us?” Izuku asked. “What if…?”
“What if Kacchan and Tsubasa and the others…” Haru stopped, eyes wide and watery. “What if they break us by accident?”
It was a word spoken in whispers, a ghost story to tell your friends at midnight. Intercision . Their bond could break. They might not die, but all the important parts of them would. Izuku and Haru would be gone, and empty shells would remain.
Izuku went quiet.
Later, Mom and Tsurume both cried when they asked. But they didn’t say no. It was like Haru said; daemon separation was easy, painless, and safe when the procedure was done in the hospital. Just a gradual stretching of the bond, until the daemon and human could move about freely, as far apart as they liked, without hurting the bond itself. It was just a quick operation, and no one could ever hurt them with the bond again.
It was done in an afternoon. Izuku went to sleep, and when he woke up, he could hardly feel the difference.
Not that anyone else could tell. Even with that protection, Haru stayed small, quiet, and tucked out of sight where no one could grab her and pull her away from Izuku again.
By the time Shouto was eight years old, Yuna knew better than to struggle when Father’s daemon pinned her down.
“Pay attention!” he snarled. “If you don’t learn this technique, then you’re as good as dead in a real fight!”
Transforming into a fox let her slip from beneath Yuukon’s paws and back to Shouto’s side, bristling. “I don’t even have a quirk yet!”
“You will ,” Endeavor snapped. “Once you settle, you won’t have the luxury of changing shape any longer. Your quirk will be your only protection. Learn it now so you won’t be useless when that day comes.”
Yuna opened her jaws to show her teeth, but argued no more. Shouto locked his fingers in her fur, savoring the touch as much as he could before she was ripped away again.
Later on Yuna climbed into Shouto’s lap and sat there, trembling as he carded his fingers through soft fur. She was taking to predator forms lately, much to Endeavor’s delight. Foxes, large dogs, birds of prey, and venomous snakes were common, though she avoided feline forms whenever possible. She kept sharp claws and teeth, and showed them to anyone who came near. Even Fuyumi’s daemon had long since given up on trying to offer comfort; Yuna hissed, growled, and shrieked whenever anyone who wasn’t Shouto tried to touch her.
“I’m sorry,” Yuna said softly. “I tried to make myself bigger, so I could fight him off, but…”
“It’s not your fault,” Shouto replied, though he had said this often enough to render it meaningless.
She shifted her weight in his lap, sullen and unhappy. “I miss Mom,” she said. “I miss Kirin, too.”
“So do I,” Shouto said grimly. “But they’re better off where she is now. She’s with her clan, away from him.”
“I wish we could go with her,” Yuna said, echoing the thoughts in Shouto’s head. “A witch clan sounds nicer than here.”
Shouto nodded absently, burying the heavy wistfulness weighing down his chest. There wasn’t much he could do about that; only the daughters of witches became witches themselves; sons like him and Natsuo were all too human.
Endeavor himself was the son of a witch. Shouto was three quarters that way, with a quirk made even more powerful by the bit of magic that Mom had been able to pass to him.
Fuyumi was a witch, but a young one. Even Mom was young by witch standards; she hadn’t even exceeded a human lifespan yet. She was back with her clan now, ever since she’d thrown a spell in his face when he surprised her in the kitchen. Shouto wasn’t sure how his father had threatened her into keeping his treatment a secret from her clan, and frankly he didn’t want to know.
“Shouto?” Yuna’s voice brought him back to the present. “You’re thinking awfully loudly.”
“Sorry.” His mind wouldn’t quiet. “I’m just… scared.”
“About the separation ceremony?”
He took a deep breath, pushing past the fear that sprang up at the phrase. “I wasn’t thinking about it before, but now I am.”
“It’ll be fine,” Yuna assured him. “It’ll hurt, but loads of witches have done it. Mom did, so did Fuyumi.”
“You saw how she looked after,” Shouto pointed out. “She looked so dead, and Miyuki vanished for days and didn’t even talk or visit.”
“ I won’t,” Yuna said fiercely. “I won’t blame you. It’s not your fault anyway; he’s forcing us to do this.”
“Is this supposed to make me feel better?”
“I won’t leave you,” Yuna reminded him. “And Fuyumi will be there. Okay?”
No , Shouto wanted to answer. But all he said was “Okay. I’ll be fine, Yuna.”
Shouto’s separation did not take place in a hospital. There were no doctors, no painless procedures, no lollipop at the end. An ice-cold expanse stretched before him, devoid of even the mean, hardy life that existed this far north. It was empty ice and nothingness, colder than his right side, colder than his father’s heart.
He walked. For this first time in their shared life, Yuna could not follow.
(He wasn’t fine. They survived, and true to her word Yuna didn’t leave him at all. But he wasn’t fine. He hadn’t been fine in a very long time.)
UA was… different. It could be said that it was different because it was the first school Izuku had ever attended with a quirk, but either way it was different. people were nice here. Uraraka was wonderful, and even Iida urned out to be not so bad. Aside from Kacchan and Senkaki’s presence it looked as if UA might not be so bad.
“You say that now,” Haru pointed out at lunch on the first day, from the sanctuary of his shoulder. “Do you think they’d still be nice if you were still quirkless?”
“I don’t know,” he murmured back. “I can’t imagine Uraraka being mean to anyone. Iida, either. Even Kacchan--Kacchan’s not as bad as he usually is.”
Izuku shut his eyes. Kacchan was as bad, but it was different because he wasn’t on top anymore. He didn’t have the whole class following and hero-worshipping him like they did in middle school.
“He doesn’t impress anyone” Izuku murmured. “Even if his quirk is strong--they’re all strong.”
“Senkaki’s settled,” Haru pointed out.
“Exactly. She’s the first one settled, the first daemon in class to get her human’s quirk, and no one cares.” His voice became firmer, more resolute. “It's different now. They’re better people. Aizawa-sensei, too. I don’t think he’d let them act like that.”
“He sleeps all the time.”
“Yeah, but his daemon doesn’t.” Izuku wasn’t sure what Aizawa’s clouded leopard daemon was called--she must have introduced herself at some point, but Izuku had been distracted by her sharp, unblinking stare. “She’s always watching, even if it seems like he isn’t.”
“She’s not the only one,” Haru said pointedly.
Izuk looked to her, then followed her gaze across the cafeteria to the lonely table where one of his classmates sat. Todoroki Shouto appeared to be completely absorbed in his food, ignoring the students around him as he had been doing since the start of the school day.
But his daemon watched.
In the form of a pale hawk, Todoroki’s daemon perched on her human’s shoulder and watched his surroundings like a silent sentry.
“She does that, always,” Haru whispered in Izuku’s ear. “She looks at you like she’s trying to decide which of your eyes to claw out first.”
Iuku pursed his lips. Truth be told, he had caught Todoroki’s daemon looking his way more than once. And it was unsettling, because when kids with powerful quirks--or their daemons--took notice of him, it rarely ended well.
But in the end, all he said was, “It’s rude to gossip, Haru.” His daemon sighed quietly, but said no more before slipping back into the shirt pocket beneath his jacket.
The aftermath of All-Might’s dramatic first class left Shouto to quietly process things on his own, with only his thoughts and his daemon to help fill the silence. His body ached a bit from using his quirk so much in one sitting, though besides that he had emerged unscathed, with not even a bruise on Yuna to pain him. Most of their classmates were gone, and Shouto was dawdling as much as he could before going home for the day.
Yuna was in the shape of a fox again. She favored canines and birds of prey most these days, and sometimes Shouto caught himself hoping that she would choose the latter in the end. All witch daemons were birds, and it might piss off Endeavor to see his precious masterpiece’s daemon in a shape so similar to All-Might’s osprey.
And speaking of All-Might--
“You saw it, right?” Yuna whispered, in a voice that trembled with excitement. “That boy, Midoriya--his power, it’s like--”
“All-Might’s,” Shouto finished. In spite of Endeavor’s hatred for him, he had seen videos of the Symbol of Peace’s quirk in action. And Yuna was right; the effect and power level were startlingly similar to his timid classmate’s.
That was all he knew about Midoriya, actually--that he was timid.
“I can’t believe they’d be connected, though,” Yuna went on. “You’ve seen him! He’s so… mousey .”
“Was that a pun?” Shouto asked dryly.
“It might as well be, with how often that daemon of his hides in his pocket! It doesn’t make any sense .” Yuna paced agitatedly around his feet. “He’s so friendly and cheerful with everyone, and his quirk is ridiculously strong, but his daemon’s like that!” She whirled to face him, bushy tail whisking. “She hides. She’s his soul, and they’re supposed to be training for heroics, and she hides.” Her teeth were showing, her coat bristling, and her yellow eyes flashed. “He’s got a cowardly soul and a quirk that breaks him as much as anything else. What is he even doing here?”
She was angry; Shouto could feel it sharply through the bond. Not at Midoriya or his daemon but at the unfairness of it all. After all they had been through, all the pain and fear and suffering that had formed a hardened shell around their shared heart, what gave clumsy Midoriya and his timid little daemon the right to stand at the same starting line?
Why hadn’t they been forced to toughen up? Why hadn’t they come in with ice around their heart?
Why hadn’t they been forced to separate?
These were petty, irrational thoughts, he knew. His situation was abnormal, and it wasn’t fair to demand the same pain from anyone else. it was hardly Midoriya’s fault that Endeavor was a bastard; hating him for living a normal happy life was irrational. If Midoriya and his daemon had anything worth shaping into a hero inside of them, then it would show itself eventually. If need be, Shouto and Yuna would drag it out themselves.
And it did, barely a week later, when the USJ was under attack.
They were close enough to see All-Might use his quirk on that Noumu--the monster with too many quirks and no daemon in sight. Shouto felt it like thrumming vibrations in his teeth--raw, untamed power the likes of which Endeavor could never match, much less beat. They saw his daemon with her wings flared to their fullest, singing victory with a piercing whistle.
And at the very end, with villains closing in and All-Might standing still--faltering?--it was timid Midoriya and his ever-shrinking daemon who rushed to his aid. His power burst to life, his daemon sprang from his pocket and changed --
Marten claws gripped Shouto through his costume as Yuna clung to him and hissed, “ Look .”
He was looking, and he was seeing. It was impossible to miss Midoriya’s daemon as she spread enormous brown-and-white osprey wings and sang with fury, talons reaching for the bloodshot eyes of Shigaraki Tomura’s snarling jackal.
There was little more to see, once the other teachers arrived. All-Might, Aizawa, Thirteen and Midoriya were whisked away for treatment. Their classmates chatted excitedly amongst themselves, riding out the pounding adrenaline now that the danger had passed. Shouto stood alone among them, as Yuna wound serpentine coils around his neck and shoulders.
“It’s not just powerful,” she whispered. “it’s All-Might’s. Shouto… what do you think this means?”
“We underestimated them,” Shouto said simply. “And it won’t happen again.”
That was a rare thing, Yuna hesitating. With the life they lived, hesitation was never an option. It was always act, act, act. Act on instinct, act first and don’t ask questions. Save the thinking for when the danger has passed and the job is done.
“What does that mean?” Yuna asked. “Not underestimating them? What, then? What do we mean to do about them?” She hesitated again. “I mean… do we have to do anything about them?”
“If they have All-Might’s quirk, then this is our chance to prove ourselves” Shouto explained. “If we can beat them, then it’s the first step--”
“To what?” Yuna interrupted. “Beating All-Might? Doing exactly what Endeavor and Yuukon want?”
“They want us to use their power,” Shouto reminded her. “They want their power to bring down All-Might, but what if it doesn’t?” He turned to look Yuna in the eye. “We swore we wouldn’t use their quirk. Just Mom’s. Just the ice. If we can beat someone with All-Might’s power without using his fire--”
“We swore we’d be a hero without his power,” Yuna broke in again. “We don’t have to drag someone like Midoriya in--All-Might’s power or not, they’re still nothing like us. We’re stronger, we’re bolder, they don’t know pain and fear like we do. Beating them won’t prove anything.”
‘It will,” Shouto insisted. “Don’t underestimate them, remember? They got into this school without coasting in on anyone’s recommendation, and they even caught All-Might’s attention. Maybe they’ve grown up safer and happier, but that doesn’t make them weak.” He stopped to lower his voice keenly aware of his classmate’s presence. “I don’t know if it’ll prove anything. But at least it’ll be the first step toward proving Endeavor and Yuukon wrong.”
She didn’t argue after that, but he felt her uncertainty.
“You did well against young Shinsou,” All-Might’s daemon whispered, her voice warm with pride. Haru felt her heart swell at the tone, and she switched from cat to hawk shape without meaning to. The osprey stretched her head toward her slowly, giving Haru time to move away before running her beak through Haru’s ruffled feathers. No fuss, no questions asked.
Haru was grateful; the first time Isana tried to touch her without warning, she’d panicked, changed into a squirrel, and dove down the front of Izuku’s shirt. That had been… awkward to explain.
“It was close,” Izuku admitted as he let Recover Girl bandage the bite on his hand. “If Shinsou had gotten you to, we might have been in real trouble. You saved us both, keeping your head like that.”
“At least one of you can,” Recovery Girl’s snake daemon muttered.
Haru puffed up her feathers bashfully. “I guess there are advantages to being shy.”
“You are getting bolder,” All-Might remarked. “This is the biggest I’ve seen you outside of a battle.”
“It’s true,” Isana said with a bob of her head. “Take advantage of the shifting while you can. Give yourself fangs and talons if you need them.”
“I’ll try,” Haru said firmly. “And…”
“Yes?” Isana coaxed her gently.
“W-well, we’re separated,” she said. “And that’s a big advantage. I didn’t use it during the cavalry battle, and I should have. I could’ve gotten the ten-million back before Todoroki hid it. So, I’m gonna need to get used to it.” She turned to Izuku. “Will you be all right for a while if I have a look around? You can just tell everyone I’m a mouse in your pocket.”
“I guess…” Izuku said hesitantly. “If you’re sure.”
“I could come with you, if you like,” Isana offered. “No one will think anything of seeing me about.” It was true; All-Might’s separation with his daemon was well-known, and while All-Might’s true form was weakened and thin, Isana stayed just as bright and strong as ever. She, at least, had no old wounds to keep secret.
“Um…” Haru shifted on her talons. “A-actually… thanks, Isana, but I’ll be all right. It’s not like I’ll get lost.”
“Okay, well… don’t be late for our next match,” Izuku said. “I know for a fact that I can’t pull that off without you.”
“I will! I’ll try and catch Iida and Uraraka’s matches, too!” With that, Haru changed into a smaller, quicker sparrow and flew off.
No one took notice of her as she flitted through the hallways, wrestling with the terrifying thrill of being alone and exposed. It wasn’t so bad, once she got used to it. It helped that Kacchan and Senkaki were both in the stands, watching the matches while they waited their turn. She wouldn’t mind running into anyone besides them. Even Todoroki and his daemon would be all right.
Haru faltered in flight, losing a bit of altitude as her thoughts turned to them. Todoroki had pulled Izuku aside during the break after the cavalry battle, and Haru had spent the conversation in the shape of a cat, draped around Izuku’s shoulders and watching their classmate’s daemon.
She couldn’t help but think it odd, at the time. Todoroki had been calm, even cold, as emotionless and composed as ever. But his daemon?
She’d been a fox, like she usually was, pacing and bristling like a caged animal. She’d looked trapped. Maybe even scared.
And why wouldn’t she be, considering the story Todoroki had told them? If Endeavor was like that--
Voices in an otherwise empty hallway startled her, and she switched to something with heavier bones and better claws and teeth to match. She hit the ground as a cat and crept to the crossway where the voices were coming from. Flickering firelight made her draw back ears flat against her head. That was Endeavor, standing with one hand curled in the mane of a fully-grown male lion. Todoroki’s daemon was a fox again. They looked so small against their father.
Haru felt her claws scrape the ground beneath her, seeing Endeavor’s daemon loom over Todoroki’s. What could she even do? The biggest she had ever managed was an osprey form like Isana’s. Endeavor’s daemon was massive .
But before she could get properly alarmed, Todoroki and his daemon stormed out of Endeavor’s reach. The lion snarled deep in his throat, and Haru shrank back out of sight, fur standing on end. Heavy footsteps drew near, and she darted away and far out of Endeavor’s path. A twisting path took her to one of the doorways overlooking the stadium arena. Todoroki was up, facing off against Sero.
Haru shifted again, giving herself a hawk’s sharp eyes. She could see a line of tension along Todoroki’s shoulders, matched by his fox daemon’s arched back and bristling fur. Present Mic called the start of the match.
It was over as quickly as it had begun. Haru sprang back in shock, from hawk to mink for the sake of thick fur against the wave of sudden cold. Before her, the arena was encased in ice. Her heart pounded from her own shock, and the alarm flowing from her bond with Izuku.
Todoroki didn’t look very triumphant, for all that he’d crushed his opponent. Mostly, he just looked ashamed of himself. When he walked forward to free Sero from the icy prison he’d made, his daemon did not follow.
Izuku hurried through the hallways, ducking into every waiting room and corner he could find. He had lost track of which match was currently up, but that didn’t matter because Haru was upset. He didn’t know much more than that; he didn’t know why, though he was fairly sure it had something to do with the match that just ended. But besides that, he had no clue about where she was or how she was, besides the fear-worry-sorrow in his chest that he knew wasn’t his own.
Movement caught his eye near the floor around the next bend, and Izuku picked up his pace. “Haru?” he called, and his heart sank when he didn’t feel her recognize him. “Haru, is that--”
His voice trailed off as he rounded the corner and skidded to a halt at the sight of a daemon--just not his.
She was still perfectly recognizable, a red fox with darker marbling from head to tail. Even without the distinctive markings, Izuku recognized her unblinking yellow stare.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re Todoroki’s daemon, aren’t you?” A quick glance around confirmed that Todoroki was nowhere in sight. “Oh wow, you’re separated. That’s--I didn’t know that, but I guess I’m not that surprised? That seems like something that… er.” He half-expected her to leave, but there she was, tense and bristling a little as she watched him. “Anyway, I was actually looking for my daemon. Her name’s Haru. She kind of went off on her own earlier, and she doesn’t do that a lot, but she’s upset about something, so I wanted to check on her. You haven’t seen her, have you?”
To his relief, the fox’s fur was lying flat again, and some of the tension bled from her body. “...No,” she said. “I haven't.” She blinked her lamplike golden eyes at him, tilting her head as she looked at him like she was no longer sure what to make of him. “I didn't realize… um.”
“Are you okay?” Izuku asked.
“Why wouldn't I be?” the daemon asked, immediately on the defensive. “You and Shouto will be matched in the second round. Maybe you should worry more about yourself.”
“I am, a little,” Izuku admitted. “I mean, more like a lot. But after the match with Sero, Todoroki--I mean, you both seemed upset. And now you're by yourself, so…”
“He didn't mean to go that far,” she blurted out, and then looked mortified. It wasn't her fault; daemons were said to be manifestations of human souls, their innermost being. It was harder for them to hide things than it was for their humans. “We didn't--it’s just, Endeavor and Yuukon caught us before we went out, so we were angry, but that wasn't any excuse--”
“It's okay,” Izuku assured her. “I understand. It must--I can't imagine what it must be like, but I don't think you're wrong to be angry about it. I don't think Sero will hold it against you, either.”
She still seemed troubled, but at least she looked less on edge. “That's kind of you to say,” she murmured. “Especially since you'll be fighting us soon.”
“O-of course, we're still going to do our best,” Izuku went on. “But we'll do our best against Iida too, and Uraraka, if we end up facing them. We don't have to hate each other just to compete. Right?”
Her ears went back, with sorrow rather than anger. “I wish it were that easy, but…” She shook her head. “For what it's worth, Midoriya, I'm sorry. You seem nice. Too nice to get caught up in our problems. Whatever your connection to All-Might is, I'm sorry we dragged you into this.”
“You didn't drag. You invited us into an empty hallway very politely.” She tilted her head again at that, and Izuku wondered how often people joked with her and Todoroki. “It's fine, really. We're fine. Honestly, I'm looking forward to our match. You and Todoroki are really strong, and I know that whatever happens, we'll learn a lot. So… don't worry about it, okay? You seem nice, too.”
The daemon stared at him as if she genuinely didn't know how to respond to that.
The worry and upset were no longer gnawing at the bond, so Izuku sighed with relief. “Well, I think Haru’s okay for now. So, um… do you want to come along? I was just going to get back to the stands to watch the other matches, but--oh wait, you'll want to go back to Todoroki, obviously, just ignore me. Do you need help finding him, or…?”
“That sounds nice, actually,” she broke in. “Um. Going to watch. If you don't mind? I don't want to be a bother, and I know we aren't exactly friends, but it's be nice to take my mind off things. It might do Shouto some good if I calm down, too.”
“Oh, uh, great! My what’s this way, then. I'm sitting with Iida and Uraraka, though I think Uraraka’s up soon, against Kacchan. I really need to cheer her on.”
The fox’s voice was so soft that Izuku nearly missed it. ”Sorry, what?”
“My name,” she said. “It's Yuna.”
Izuku smiled, pleasantly surprised. “It's nice to meet you, Yuna.”
From the look in her eyes, she was beginning to believe him when he said nice things.
You went too far, Shouto.
You didn't have to use that much power--
All you did was humiliate him, and that's not supposed to be what we're here for--
Do you, Shouto? You feel pretty uncertain about it now!
Yuna’s parting words still rang in his ears, sharp with disappointment. He'd gone and let her down, let down his own daemon, and now he had no idea where she was--
“I knew it!”
Ice formed on his right arm as he sprang back and the lone daemon before him sprang forward, from mink to cat in the blink of an eye. It was Midoriya's daemon--it had to be, with that dark tortoiseshell pattern. Midoriya's daemon always looked the same whenever she was a cat. (Iida's, by comparison, was probably close to settling soon, but kept switching between different breeds of dogs.)
His daemon was here, but Midoriya himself was nowhere to be seen. And that could only mean--
“I thought so,” Midoriya’s daemon went on. “After you beat Sero, I thought--you looked so far apart. You're like me and Izuku, aren’t you? You’re separated.”
Shouto shifted on his feet, surprised and off balance. He wasn’t used to talking to other people, much less unattended daemons. “I didn’t--I didn’t realize,” he said.
The cat daemon shrugged and seated herself, tucking her tail around her paws. “You couldn’t have known. We’re never really apart, are we? This is the first time I’ve been away from him for more than a few seconds.” Her tail switched, betraying her agitation. “It’s more like a precaution.”
Shouto frowned. “A… precaution?”
“The separation. It’s not, um.” She lowered her head, ears back. “Just--we got picked on, a lot. And sometimes, the other kids and their daemons… they’d think it was funny to, um, pull us apart. S-so, a while ago we talked to Mom, and we figured it’d just be safer. In case they went too far.”
“That sounds… frightening,” Shouto said weakly. “What about Bakugou? You’re childhood friends, aren’t you? Did he know about this?”
It was the wrong thing to say. Her ears flicked back further, her tail fluffed like a bottle-brush, and she lowered herself from sitting to crouching. “Senkaki settled when we were twelve,” she said softly, as if ashamed. “When she figured out she could use Kacchan’s quirk, she tested it on me first.”
Shouto’s heart plummeted. They’d been wrong; this daemon was no coward, and she had every reason to be timid and cautious.
“But--but it’s nothing like what you’ve been through!” she said hurriedly. “I mean--no one’s ever tried to force us to be something we’re not. Honestly, hearing what you told us… it’s like we’re from whole different worlds.”
“I think we both have something to prove to ourselves,” Shouto said. There wasn’t much he could do besides offer common ground.
“Well… I don’t think you need to prove yourself,” the daemon replied. “But are you all right? You both looked upset after that match. And where’d your daemon go?”
Shouto leaned back against the wall with a sigh. “I think I disappointed her,” he admitted. “I think I disappointed myself, too.”
“Oh. Well, would you like company? Just until she gets back? It’ll take some time to get to our match, and I’m sure she’ll want someone looking after you while she’s gone. Sorry if I'm butting in, it’s just that you looked sort of lonely and--”
“It’s fine,” Shouto assured her before she could start babbling in earnest. She really was Midoriya’s daemon, wasn’t she? “You aren’t a bother. And I don’t mind talking to you.”
She sat a little taller at that, ears pricked forward. “That’s good! My name’s Haru, by the way. You’re a lot nicer than you let everyone think.”
“Thank… you…?” Shouto shook his head, unsure of how to respond to that. “It’s nice to meet you, Haru. And I’m sorry, if we were unfriendly earlier.”
“Well, it’s like we said,” Haru answered. “We’re all here to win. We’re all doing our best. When you came up to us before the festival started, you didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.” Her tail switched again. “And don’t think you’ll get an easy win from us. Like you said, we have something to prove.”
Shouto pursed his lips and nodded, and Haru brightened.
“There’s a nice smile,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do that before.”
Before Shouto could think of an answer, Haru went still. Her hackles rose again, and she rose to her feet and turned away, suddenly intent.
“That’s odd,” she said. “There’s a daemon coming without a human, and it’s not yours or All-Might’s.”
The vague contentment that had crept over Shouto’s mood promptly vanished. “You need to go.”
“You need to--”
A creature of Yuukon’s size should not have been able to move so silently. But the daemon’s approach made no sound besides his own hard, grating voice. Shouto had never been able to detect his approach without Yuna's sharp nose.
He tried not to flinch at Yuukon's voice. He didn't try hard enough.
"Shouto! What are you two doing, wasting time when you should be observing--” The huge lion stiffened, teeth bared, as his eyes fell upon Haru. “Shouto, where is your daemon? And what is this ?”
Shouto took a moment to untangle his tongue. He knew--he knew --that Yuukon was not a real lion, that he would never touch him, that he was nothing more or less than a manifestation of his father’s soul, but that knowledge did not take the teeth and claws from his nightmares.
And then, as if he didn’t have enough of a reason to panic, Midoriya’s daemon stepped between them without changing her tiny feline shape.
“I’m Haru,” she said. Her fur still bristled, but she stood firm before a daemon that towered over her. “I’m Midoriya Izuku’s daemon. I was just wishing him luck on our match in the next round.” She paused, as if bracing herself. “You know, since he’s going to need it.”
Shouto almost choked on the air he was breathing.
Yuukon bent his head slowly, lowering himself toward her eye level while still looming over her. His teeth were showing, more in amusement than in aggression. “That was an impressive quirk your boy showed,” he growled. “Such a pity you can’t use it yourself yet. Still, you should prove a useful stepping stone in that one’s growth.” Haru’s ears flattened. “Tell your boy not to disgrace himself like he first one did.” In spite of himself, Shouto flinched again.
Haru stepped forward, unsheathed claws scraping the floor. “You shut up about Sero,” she hissed.
“Haru,” Shouto tried to warn her.
Yuukon bridled, teeth flashing. ”I beg your pardon?” he snarled.
“You’re not getting any pardon from me.” Haru’s voice shook with anger. “You talk big for someone who’s gonna be watching, not fighting.”
A low roar built in the back of Yuukon’s throat; flames were beginning to appear along the edges of his mane. “You mind your tongue!” A moment later he drew back, narrowly avoiding a vicious bite to the muzzle as Haru’s teeth snapped shut.
She had changed again, to a form several times her previous size. For a moment Shouto wasn’t sure what she was. Rounded ears turned back, her sloped spine taut as a spring, with bristling spotted tawny fur and a dark muzzle built for crushing, powerful jaws.
“I’ll mind my tongue when you mind your own business!” Haru snarled back. “This is our fight, not yours! Stick to worrying about villains, why don’t you!”
It took a few tense, terrifying seconds for Yuukon to leash his temper. But eventually, the flames in his mane died down, and he snorted in vague amusement.
“Not as spineless as I would have guessed,” he said dismissively. “We’ll speak later, Shouto. Remember--we’ll be watching.”
Shouto didn’t let himself breathe again until his father’s daemon was gone. When he looked to Haru again, she was inspecting herself with a curious eye.
“This is a new one,” she remarked absently. “I was trying for a honey badger--Senkaki used to like that one.” She glanced up at Shouto, and her ears lowered again. “I… didn’t get you in trouble, did I?”
“I--no,” Shouto said, still dumbfounded “No, he’ll be angry with you, not me.”
Haru’s rounded ears popped back up again. “Oh, good,” she said, clearly relieved. “Sorry for butting in like that. Again. But he was being an ass.”
“Try living with that,” Shouto said dryly, in a voice that almost didn’t shake. Haru snorted with disgust. “So, er, what exactly are you?”
“Think I’m a hyena,” she said. “I went as big and anti-lion as I could… I think tigers are bigger but I couldn’t quite manage it. Oh well. Baby steps.”
“Haru?” a familiar voice called. “Haru, are you okay?” Midoriya came hurrying down the hallway--with Yuna at his heels, for whatever reason. “Haru--oh wow, that’s a new one.”
Yuna, heedless of the other daemon, all but crashed into Shouto’s legs before he scooped her up. “I’m sorry!” she cried out. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have run off when I knew they were here and they’d want to talk! I’m sorry, Shouto.”
“It’s fine,” Shouto assured her. “It’s all right, I know you were upset. It’s good that you didn’t have to see him like that.” She sighed quietly and shifted from a fox to a smaller spotted civet, and slunk out of his arms and down to the floor. Shouto found himself looking at Midoriya again, unsure what to say for all that he’d been talking to his daemon.
“I think we’re up soon,” Midoriya said, a bit awkwardly. His voice steadied. “We’re still going to beat you.”
“We’ll see,” Shouto replied.
In a blur, Haru became a cat again, level in height to Yuna. “May the best hero win?” she said, stretching her head forward.
Yuna hesitated for just a moment before returning the gesture, touching her nose briefly to the other daemon’s. “We’ll see who’s best then. Good luck.”
Shouto met Midoriya’s eyes, and found his own surprise and faint embarrassment reflected in them.
The rules of the match were simple--the first to be immobilized or to leave the ring would lose the match and the boundary rule included daemons. In the blink of an eye, Haru was an eagle, soaring over the oncoming wall of ice to seize Yuna by the scruff of the neck and drag her toward the edge. Yuna shrank down to a weasel’s size and slipped free just in time to avoid getting flung out of bound. Haru wheeled around, changed again, and hit the ground as a snarling bobcat. Yuna became a wolverine, and the match began in earnest.
“Incredible!” Present Mic’s voice rang out over their heads as Midoriya fended off each assault and the two daemons circled each other. “Midoriya’s daemon makes a bold first move, nearly throwing Todoroki’s out of the ring! And with no adverse effect to either combatant! Could it be that both these students are separated from their daemons? What are the odds! You never hinted at this, Eraser!”
“Neither did they.”
The match went on in earnest, neither side giving ground. The daemons flashed from form to form, snarling with teeth and claws or swooping in on swift and powerful wings. Haru limped with every bone her human broke, but the bond between them only shared the pain, not the injuries themselves. Yuna began to falter as Todoroki’s ice froze them both with a bone-deep, aching chill. It slowed her down as much as Midoriya’s pain slowed Haru. Her right eye was shut to keep the scratch above it from bleeding into her vision.
Their humans’ words reached them, too.
Todoroki was still going strong, slower and trembling from the cold but still fresh and uninjured as Midoriya shouted himself hoarse. But slowly, even as her human defended against each attack, Yuna gave ground. She stumbled, missed her footing, took bites and blows that she should have been able to defend until finally--
In the blink of an eye Haru was a black-coated leopard, spots barely showing in her dark fur. She moved in a blur, pouncing and cannoning into Yuna, then sank her teeth into the scruff of the smaller wolfhound daemon’s neck and pinned her to the ground.
The crowd held its breath, and Midoriya’s desperate shout reached his opponent and both of their battling daemons.
“ It’s yours! Your quirk, not theirs! ”
Beneath Haru’s paws, Yuna changed.
Brown fur turned black and shaggy, and she grew until her new size threw off Haru’s balance. With a powerful heave, she threw the panther off and tore free of the gripping teeth, and whirled to face her opponent fully.
An enormous jet-black hound stood amid the shattered ice, broad-shouldered and fierce as she bared her fangs to the gums. Her eyes shone pale in her dark face, one ice-blue and the other lupine yellow.
Firelight flickered to life, for the first time in too many years. And when Todoroki Shouto burst into flame, his daemon lit up with him.
Haru’s voice was hushed when she spoke next, too quiet for anyone but Yuna herself to hear.
“Oh. Oh, you’re beautiful .”
The world lit up, bright and blinding and warm.
Recovery Girl shooed the bottlenecking students out of her sickbay, her daemon hissing his displeasure, until only Isana and the half-conscious Midoriya remained. All-Might had slipped out while the students were present.
And oh drat, Midoriya’s daemon was missing. Her own was still in a pet, winding around her arm and muttering darkly to himself. That was the trouble with separated daemons. So much harder to keep track of them and--
“Oh,” Isana spoke up suddenly. “There she is--is she all right?”
A massive black dog stood in the doorway, looking strangely meek for a creature her size. She held Midoriya’s daemon gently by the scruff of the neck--the latter was a small cat again, limp and exhausted from the match and the anesthesia currently working its way through her human’s system.
“Bring her over here,” Recovery Girl’s snake sighed, slithering down and coiling himself neatly beside a cushion on the floor.
Todoroki’s daemon deposited her on it. “She’s not hurt, i think,” she said. “When the stadium went up, I sheltered both of us with ice. I think she’s just tired.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Recovery Girl said. “Midoriya’s going to need surgery for that hand. I won’t be able to heal it all in one sitting.” The boy in question was already unconscious, from weariness or anesthesia.
The black dog tucked her tail. “Could I stay?” she asked. “I won’t get in the way.”
Recovery Girl sighed, again. She and her daemon had been doing that quite a lot today. “If you keep well out of the way. And you’ve only just settled, so you watch that quirk of yours. Any sign that you’re losing control, and I’ll send you right out again.”
She curled up as small as she could by Midoriya’s exhausted daemon, though even her best wasn’t very small. Heavens, she was enormous. What sort of dog was she--a husky or a malamute perhaps? She looked far too sharp-faced to be an akita.
“That’s quite rare,” Isana remarked.
Yuna raised her head “Hm?”
“I was sure you were a wolf,” the osprey explained. “You’re built like one, your face is quite distinctive, and your movements are more wolflike as well. But you’ve also got dewclaws on your hind feet, and I thought I heard you bark earlier.” She blinked, her sharp yellow eyes bright. “Hybrid daemons are quite rare. Supposedly they reflect some duality in the soul. I suppose that’s fitting, considering what I know of young Todoroki.”
Yuna hummed softly and rested her head on her paws again.
“That was kind of you, to bring her safely and stay with her,” Isana went on, stepping closer to Haru.
“She’s my friend,” Yuna said. “I think. We’ve never met anyone like them before.”
To her surprise, the osprey leaned over to run her beak through her head fur in a preening motion. The gesture reminded her distantly of Mother’s daemon, before they returned to their clan.
“You’ve done well today,” she said. “We’re proud of you all.”
She said it so lightly, so easily, as if she didn’t realize that the sound of it wrapped Yuna’s heart in softness and warmth.
There would be more matches soon. But for now, as Shouto watched his classmates compete, his soul tucked herself around Midoriya’s, closed her eyes, and rested.