Izuku never meant to die. He was nine years old, quirkless, and bullied every day, but he never wanted to die. Perhaps it was just sheer naive hope that kept him going- the doctor had told him that he should have a quirk, and that tiny cinder remained, despite the world’s frequent attempts to stamp it out.
Of course, everything changed when Midoriya Hisashi re-entered their lives. Izuku’s absentee father hadn’t been home in years thanks to lucrative but highly confidential work overseas; if Hisashi hadn’t left before Izuku had been diagnosed as quirkless, Izuku would have suspected that had been the reason he knew his father’s voice better than his father’s face.
But even with Izuku’s slight grudge against his father for being absent for so many years, it was still a nice surprise to come home after school and find food for him at the table and a familiar figure with a stranger’s face smiling from behind the kitchen counter.
With Hisashi’s raise (the reason he had returned to Japan) and the extra set of hands, his mother didn’t have to work as many hours, and Izuku could see the stress lifting off her shoulders as the months passed, even if she remained somewhat cold to her husband.
Hisashi himself also did his best to make time for the family despite frequent night shifts, and even if it wasn’t perfect (long phone calls his mother made in the dead of night, his father sleeping in the guest room, sudden moments of tension regarding heroes) Izuku could deal with it.
His father and his mother made a terrifying team now that they were back; when he came home with bruises and burns from Kacchan and the other bullies, they spoke to the school and Aunt Mitsuki until the correct punishment was melted out and steps taken to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
Izuku could finally go to school without fear, and his father took him to martial arts lessons across the city to help defend himself. As time passed, it slowly felt like the rift between the family was coming back together, stitch by stitch.
Then he watched his father’s face appear under the A-Rank villain Dragon’s iron maw on the local news station, and Izuku knew his life could never be the same.
When Dragon evaded capture by heroes and police, his mother got on the phone again in a panicked frenzy. Izuku sat paralyzed in front the television as she bundled essentials into two suitcases, unable to do anything more than watch the recaps of the fight.
He had analyzed Dragon when the villain had re-appeared in Japan after a long crime spree overseas, and had eagerly discussed the details with his father at the dinner table. His father had simply ruffled his hair and grinned, because he had known.
“Izuku, sweetie, we need to leave,” Inko said, shaking his arm gently. “Some police officers and heroes are going to be here soon, and we need to meet them.”
Dazed, Izuku let her bundle him outside to the balcony outside of their apartment. Inko led him down the ground floor, directly out of sight of the street. Once she determined that there was no one around and had settled, Izuku finally spoke up.
“Did you know?” he asked in a voice barely above a whisper, unable to meet her gaze.
“... Yes, I did, but I found out only recently,” Inko reassured him, pulling him into a tight hug. “I was going to tell you once he was caught; I wasn’t going to force you to try to act normally around him- it was too dangerous. I’m sorry for not saying anything, but I didn’t want to put you in the line of fire.”
Izuku hugged her back tightly, but he couldn’t stop the cold dread that gripped his heart. He couldn’t reconcile the terrifying image of Dragon with the painfully awkward figure of his father, who muttered to himself when he was distracted, much like Izuku did. Once they pulled apart, Inko ruffled his hair with a small smile.
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” she said, brushing a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. “And we’ll talk about it later, but I need you to be brave right now. Can you do that?”
Izuku nodded, but before he could do anything further a rough hand seized him by the collar of his shirt and threw him backwards. He crashed into the railing and choked as the impact sent the breath from his lungs and made his spine seize up in agony.
“Izuku!” his mother screamed, but fell silent at the distinct cocking of a gun.
“That was very sweet,” an unknown voice spoke, “but I’m going to have to break up this touching moment. Boss wants to have a word with you, Midoriya-san.”
Izuku forced his eyes to open- when had they closed? There was something warm trickling down his back as he struggled to his feet. A villain loomed between him and his mother, casually aiming a handgun straight at his mother’s head. They wore a strange animal skull with antlers as a mask and a businessman’s suit and tie. Izuku didn’t recognize him, but when he looked over at his mother he could see a strange resigned expression on her face.
“Skull,” she said coolly, “I should have known he would have sent you.”
The villain dipped his head slightly in a small bow, but his gun never waivered.
“I must ask that you come with me, Midoriya-san,” he said, and pulled a pair of manacles from his suit pocket. “Aperture is waiting, and you know you can’t win against me.”
Skull looked back towards Izuku pointedly, and Izuku could see two glowing red eyes looking out from behind the mask. Izuku gulped; he knew he should do something, but his legs refused to move. The villain simply stared at him for a few moments before turning back towards his mother and presented the manacles.
“Yes, I know,” Inko said, “We’ll go with you, but please, let me go to Izuku first. He won’t misbehave.”
Izuku watched as his mother took the manacles and put them on, mildly disturbed by her calm and cold expression in the face of terrifying danger. Had she done something like this before? Once the cuffs were on, she made to move past Skull, but the villain seized her around the arm.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Midoriya-san, but you misunderstand,” the villain said, eerily calm. “My instructions are clear. He knows what you did, Midoriya-san, and he’s willing to forgive you, but Dragon wants you to know that what happens now are the consequences of your foolishness.”
He suddenly turned his gun back towards Izuku, and there was nothing Izuku could do but stand there as the man pulled the trigger. Pain shot through his stomach, and blood rushed up the back of his throat.
Izuku collapsed to his knees and looked down at the growing bloodstain in disbelief. He could hear his mother screaming and Skull talking over him, but it was muted beneath his heart pounding in his ears. He hadn’t even been fast enough to react. In the end, he couldn’t even do anything. He was just a useless Deku, a quirkless nobody, after all.
The ground rushed up towards him, and then there was nothing but darkness. He sent up one last apology, and then there was oblivion. He was dead...
… that is, until he woke up several hours later hovering over a large pool of his own blood, his mother missing, and surrounded by dozens of police officers coordinating off the crime scene.
It was then, after his cries of help were unanswered and he realized that none of the officers could neither see nor touch him, that Izuku realized that not all men were equal.
His cellphone was buzzing again.
Tsukauchi suppressed a loud sigh as he set aside the case file he’d been reading and reached over the thick stack of paperwork for the phone; it was vibrating to the tune of Ghostbusters, an ancient, pre-quirk American television program, which meant only one thing: Spectre was contacting him. After changing numbers twice to no effect, he’d resigned himself to the constant cheerful updates the most wanted vigilante in Japan kept sending him.
“Another message from Spectre, nyah ?”
Tsukauchi looked up at Sansa with a tired expression as the cat-headed officer set a steaming cup of coffee on his desk.
“Thanks, Sansa,” he said wearily, taking a big gulp of the scalding beverage. Long nights at the precinct office had dulled his taste buds to the point that hot coffee meant nothing to him. “Can you check the front office for me? Whoever they’ve caught should turn up soon, and I want to get their testimonies before I head home.”
The other officer nodded and departed, the bell on his collar ringing softly. Naomasa leaned back in his and took another sip of coffee. This was the third time the vigilante had contacted him this week, and each time they sent him a message another criminal turned themselves in.
The vigilante Spectre had an annoying habit of creating and fixing headache-inducing problems simultaneously. Their quirk involved the creation of hallucinations- villains and criminals found themselves haunted by things only they could see, building their guilt or fear until they were either incapacitated or fled to the nearest police station to confess their crimes.
Many spoke of a dark figure stalking their every step, but every police and hero reported that no such figure was present. Cameras caught the criminals reacting to seemingly thin air and speaking to unseen people. Some villains were even found trying to fight an invisible foe.
If not for their consistent testimony about a dark figure and other fear-related imagery, Tsukauchi would have said that Spectre had an invisibility quirk- the shit had earned the nickname Spectre for a good reason.
How Spectre caused the hallucinations was still a mystery, but the vigilante’s quirk kept property damage and risk to civilians at a minimum, boosting their popularity online. Tsukauchi would applaud them if they weren’t a dangerous individual running around outside the law with an extremely potent quirk with the potential for causing psychological trauma and scarring.
They also kept sending him outdated hero memes when he was off his shift, and he was sick of it.
Spectre was clever, if extremely cheeky and childish; they gave away no details in their messages other than an admiration of heroes like All Might and a desire to do right in the world. Taking a deep breath, Tsukauchi opened the messaging app on his phone.
The REAL Spectre: Sorry to message so late, but crime never sleeps :(! Sent a mugger your way, he’ll give you the deets <3
The REAL Spectre: hey it’s me again! So I know this might be progressing our relationship too quickly but I got you a present!!! I’ve found Hammerhead! Sorry for dropping this on you last minute...
The REAL Spectre has shared their location.
Naomasa spent a good minute staring dumbfounded at the screen at the last pair of messages before he shot out of his seat, knocking over his coffee as he dashed out of his office.
Hammerhead was an up-and-coming mid-tier villain whose quirk, Groundswimming , allowed him to dive into and swim through cement, stone, and other materials as they were water. He’d let seven successful bank heists and recently had nearly killed the underground hero Secret during a raid on an underground fighting ring. Hammerhead was dangerous. If Spectre had found and captured him, Tsukauchi needed backup.
Tsukauchi quickly punched in numbers on his phone as he swung his coat on. The other line was picked up after the first ring.
“What is it, Detective?” Eraserhead’s tired voice came through loud and clear despite the yelling in the background; the underground hero was still on patrol, after all.
“Spectre contacted me again,” Naomasa said, ignoring the curious looks of the officers he passed. He needed to get a squad assembled if they were dealing with Hammerhead. “They said that they’ve captured Hammerhead, and shared specific coordinates. Sending the location to you now.”
“I’ll be there as soon as possible,” Eraserhead said, all traces of exhaustion gone from his voice. “I’ll scout out the area. This is the first time Spectre’s done this; they must be up to something.”
“My thoughts exactly. I’ll keep you updated.”
Tsukauchi exited the call and looked over Spectre’s previous messages. The vigilante had never contacted him to lead- previously, the criminals had either turned themselves in or had been called in by anonymous tips.
What are you up to, Spectre?
The location Spectre sent him was an abandoned hotel on the edges of the city. Naomasa couldn’t say he was surprised; he had suspected that Hammerhead had gone to ground in one of the rougher districts of Musutafu. Whether Spectre had remained was the real concern, and the possibility of trap was always present.
With the tip about Hammerhead, it had taken little time to assemble a fleet of squad cars and a transport van. Several heroes patrolling near the area had also been alerted, and would be on the lookout for any suspicious activity.
Tsukauchi’s phone buzzed; it was Eraserhead.
“What do you have for me?” Naomasa said as soon as the line connected, forgoing the usual greeting.
“Hammerhead’s tied in the lobby, near the front desk,” Aizawa reported, “ and Spectre’s quirk appears to be active; Hammerhead’s been talking to thin air and cowering for the last ten minutes. There’s no sign of Spectre so far; I’ll secure Hammerhead after I finish my sweep.”
“Understood,” Naomasa said, and pulled up the car’s GPS. “Shadowdancer and Clue are patrolling in this area and are on standby in case of trouble, so ping their comms in case of trouble- I’ve let them know about the situation.”
“Got it. For now, have them search the surrounding buildings.”
As Eraserhead shut off the comm, Naomasa couldn’t help but feel that they were woefully underprepared if this was a trap. He sent off the messages to the other two heroes and watched as the city passed by.
Despite his doubts, everything went smoothly. By the time the patrol cars had roped off the block, Eraserhead had Hammerhead wrapped up in his capture weapon and secured in quirk-suppressing cuffs. The villain was clearly still under Spectre’s quirk; the shark-headed man was currently cowering behind the much-smaller Aizawa, which would be humorous in different circumstances.
“Please, it’s here, it’s here!” Hammerhead whimpered, peeking out behind Aizawa’s shoulder in the direct of the open hotel doors. “It’s after me! Please, don’t let it get me!”
There was nothing there, but it was unnerving to watch the hulking villain act like a frightened child.
“What do you see?” Naomasa asked Hammerhead, pointing in the direction of the hotel as the other officers secured better restraints around the villain. “What’s coming after you?”
Hammerhead shook as he looked towards something on he could see; Naomasa could see the man’s pupils were strangely dilated. A side effect of Spectre’s quirk, perhaps?
“She’s here,” Hammerhead whispered, gnawing at his lip between two sharp teeth and tearing the skin, “She knows, she knows what I’ve done. All my secrets. She won’t stop, she won’t let me sleep, she won’t let me rest-”
The villain cut himself off with a whimper and went limp in his restraints, falling face-first onto the ground.
Aizawa knelt next to the downed villain.
“He’s fainted,” he said, lifting up one eyelid. “Spectre’s quirk must have worn off.”
Next to Naomasa, one of the shadows cast by the police headlights suddenly bulged upwards and coalesced into a figure, who stepped forward after shaking off the last of the darkness.
“We’ve swept the hotel and surrounding buildings,” Shadowdancer said, their full-face mirrored mask giving nothing away. “And we found no evidence of any vigilante activity. None of the squatters have seen anything out of the ordinary around the hotel for the last few days.”
Naomasa nodded; Spectre was notorious for leaving no traces. He had hoped Clue might be able to find something other heroes could not, but no such luck.
“Thank you both for your time,” he said, and looked upwards towards one of the nearby apartment buildings for a familiar dash of grey. Clue preferred to keep their distance from others unless necessary; relieving others’ memories was overwhelming with so many people around. “You can come in later for the full report; I don’t think we’re getting any new leads tonight. I would also appreciate it if Clue could come in later for Hammerhead’s interrogation. This time was different from the others; we might be able to figure out how Spectre affected Hammerhead.”
Shadowdancer inclined their head.
“Of course. I will see you later, Detective,” they said, and then vanished back into the shadows. Naomasa looked back up at the apartment building, and watched as the two heroes departed.
While he had been talking, the officers had managed to carry Hammerhead’s limp body into the armored van. The doors closed, and the force breathed a collective sigh of relief as it drove off with an escort into the night. The city would sleep better with Hammerhead behind bars.
Shadowdancer and Clue would watch over the van, so Naomasa wasn’t worried; he was more concerned about Spectre. Despite this new break in their pattern, he hadn’t seen any sign that the vigilante was present.
Naomasa’s phone buzzed again, and he fished it out to see, to his surprise, that Spectre was calling. He waved to garner Aizawa’s attention as he answered the call.
“Hello, Spectre,” he said casually, keep any eye on the buildings around them. Aizawa tapped the comm unit in his ear, which had the capability to connect into Naomasa’s phone Once it was synced and he could hear everything, the pro-hero nodded and dashed towards the hotel’s fire escape.
“Hi! It’s so nice to finally meet you, Detective!” Spectre exclaimed, and Naomasa had to hold the phone away from his face- their voice sounded like it was constructed of nothing but loud static.
“We haven’t met,” Naomasa said, raising an eyebrow as he suddenly glanced around the complex. “I think I would have to actually see you to meet. I presume you’ve been watching the whole time?”
“Of course!” Tsukauchi swore he could hear the vigilante smirking over the phone, “I wouldn’t leave Hammerhead alone; he could escape! I was going to leave when Eraserhead showed up, but I couldn’t resist watching one of my favorite heroes in action! Do you know how hard it is to keep tabs on an underground hero?”
He looked up as a light flickered on in one of the rooms on the eighth floor of the hotel; Tsukauchi could make out a dark figure standing at the window. The figure waved cheerily, and Naomasa held the phone away from his face as he tapped on his own comm unit.
“They’re on the eighth floor, 3rd room from the left,” he murmured rapidly, keeping his eyes on Spectre’s figure, who didn’t move.
“I’m almost there. Stall them as much as possible,” Eraserhead breathed.
“Just wanted to say hi before I left!” Spectre continued, and from the window Tsukauchi watched their silhouette bow. “And now I gotta go. I can’t see my favorite hero anymore, which means he’s on his way to arrest me right now! Wouldn’t that be exciting?”
“Wait!” Naomasa asked, putting the cellphone back against his ear. “I won’t say I’m not grateful for Hammerhead, but why are you doing this? Can you tell me that?”
There was a pause so long that Naomasa almost through the vigilante had hung up on him.
“I used to want to be a hero,” Spectre whispered, and all mirth vanished from their tone. The static had died down; Naomasa could hear their original voice better, and he was worried about how young it sounded. Spectre sounded like a child, and when he looked up at the silhouette he noticed that it was rather small. “But something happened, and now that’s no longer possible. I admire heroes; I can’t just sit and watch someone get hurt. This is the only way I have left.”
The silhouette waved at him once more, and then the light turned off again.
“So goodbye for now!” Spectre said again, and Tsukauchi could hear the cheer back in their voice. “Go Beyond, Plus Ultra!”
The phone call ended, but Tsukauchi kept the phone up to his ear as he watched the dark window. A minute later, the lights turned back on in the room, and he could see a familiar shape standing at the window.
“It’s too late,” Eraserhead said, looking down at him. “They’re gone.”
“I think it’s safe to say that Spectre’s quirk isn’t sight-activated,” Aizawa said, looking over the previous incident reports.
Back at the station and two cups of coffee later, Tsukauchi was ready to admit that while they had gained a little more information after the night’s incident, they were still further away from understanding Spectre’s quirk.
“Hammerhead was in the lobby,” Aizawa continued, looking at a map of the area, “ and there’s no way Spectre could have maintained sightlines on him while I was searching the area. Shadowdancer and Clue also didn’t encounter them in the hotel, so Spectre must have evaded them somehow. What a troublesome quirk.”
“Perhaps its proximity-based?” Naomasa suggested, taking another sip of coffee. This was his fifth one tonight, but he desperately needed the caffeine. “If they’re as talented as we assume, they could have easily followed the low-rank criminals to the station without being seen. They also told me they were there to ensure Hammerhead didn’t get away.”
“That supports the current theory,” Aizawa said tiredly, stepping away from the desk as Naomasa jotted down their notes. “Anyway, we won’t get anything more tonight, and I need to finish my patrol.”
Tsukauchi nodded, and waved the underground hero away. He wouldn’t be sleeping until later; there was too much to do.
Unseen by the other occupants of the room, a small figure hovered in front of them, muttering furiously under his breath.
“Sorry, Tsukauchi-san, Eraserhead-san,” Izuku murmured, propping his hand on his chin as he memorized all the documents laid out. He couldn’t use his notebooks, or else he would be writing all of this information down. “These are great assumptions based on what I’ve been doing, but I won’t let you figure out my quirk. I still have so many things I need to do.”
Midoriya Hisashi- no, Dragon- was still deep underground and out of reach, along with his other villain accomplices, but Izuku wasn’t worried. He had time to find them when they reemerged; Spectre had a direct police line. Besides, he had a dream to fulfill.
After all, UA’s entrance exam was tomorrow, and dead or not, he was going to be there. A hero would avenge his mother’s disappearance, even Izuku couldn’t be a pro. He wouldn’t be useless, not this time.
“Go beyond, Plus Ultra,” Izuku muttered to himself with a small smile. “The heroics course won’t know what hit it.”
Behind him, Aizawa straightened as a sudden chill ran down his spine. Cursing under his breath, the pro-hero rubbed his back, but he couldn’t shake the sense that something bad was going to happen.
Just paranoia, he thought, unaware of the ghost with a shit-eating grin two feet in front of him.