Katsuki stood beside an old, dried up fountain at the center of what used to be a vibrant city, and based on the way he was dressed, Izuku could tell he meant it when he said he was about to go to bed. He was wearing a simple, grey hoodie and what looked to be a pair of black pajama pants, haphazardly stuffed into the tops of his boots. And Izuku didn’t think it was possible, but his hair somehow managed to look even more disheveled than usual.
As he approached, Katsuki turned, his posture straightening a bit, tail swaying gently behind him. He looked him up and down, and Izuku could tell from his expression that he looked like a mess.
"Deku…” He murmured.
And for whatever reason, that set him off. The tears began welling up again as the tightness in his throat mounted. Izuku sniffled, eyes downcast as Katsuki closed the distance, removing his hands from his pockets. In the face of his distress, he still felt the passing shadow of something warm when he noted that, despite his chaotic state of dress, he still remembered to wear gloves.
Katsuki wrapped his arms around him as his sniffles devolved into sobs, tears soaking into the material of his hoodie. Izuku’s shoulders shook, Katsuki’s gloved hands patting and rubbing his back with a gentleness he had seldom seen in him before. They stayed that way for a while, until Izuku’s cries began to wane, and he started to pull back.
“What happened?” He quietly asked. Izuku wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and then his nose. Took deep breaths until he could get himself under control.
It took a few tries before he was able to fully explain the event, and all the while, the Demon kept his hands on his shoulders, gently smoothing up and down his arms.
When he finally got through the full story, Katsuki exhaled softly.
“What’s his name?”
“Todoroki.” Izuku swallowed. “Todoroki Shouto.”
The hands on his arms went still. “Wait, no shit?”
Izuku frowned. “Yeah?” He said. “Why?”
“Baldy’s been moaning about that guy for months, Deku.”
He blinked a few times, brows knitted together. “Inasa?”
Katsuki nodded. “He’s been moping around fucking constantly, cryin’ about how the ‘love of his life’ doesn’t remember him. He’s been absolutely fuckin’ insufferable.” He grinned. “I guess he’ll be happy to hear about this…”
He felt a spark of anger inside of him, and clenched his jaw. “Well, that makes one of us.”
Katsuki looked back at him again, his smile disappearing. He opened his mouth, but hesitated, as though he were trying to choose his words very carefully. After a moment, he sighed, taking Izuku’s hand and coaxing him to come sit beside him on the ledge of the fountain.
“Listen, Deku…” He began. “I know what you just experienced was probably pretty fuckin’ upsetting, but it’s not like he’s fuckin’ dead, he’s just…” He shrugged. “Y’know. In a different place. He’s safe, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because Hell has a system for dealing with Fallen Angels.” He replied. “People don’t just spawn randomly in Hell. Not anymore, at least. When an Angel falls from Heaven, they can end up in a couple of places, but they’re all well-equipped to handle ‘em.”
“What does that mean, though?” Izuku asked. “‘Handling them.’”
“Eh, depends on the person.” He said. “Therapy, usually. But overall, it’s mostly just a place for support and re-education.”
Izuku tensed. “Re-what?”
Katsuki gave him an odd look. “Re-education?”
“So you’re going to brainwash him?”
“What? No.” He glared, hand tightening around Izuku’s. “It’s deprogramming, Deku. Literally the opposite of brainwashing.”
Izuku maintained his scowl.
“Deku, I know this might be difficult for you to comprehend, but Fallen Angels are kind of a fucking disaster when they first arrive.” He deadpanned. “We used to not do anything, but after a certain number of attempted coups we realized we kinda fuckin’ had to.”
“If they can even be called that.” He scoffed.
Izuku frowned, and Katsuki sighed.
“See, the thing about Hell is,” He squinted, gesturing vaguely. “Well, the way shit’s set up in Hell doesn’t really leave room for individuals to gain the upper hand over the rest of us.
“I died after the system was already in place, but according to our records, most of those ‘coups’ were really just self-righteous dipshits standing on rooftops and loudly declaring themselves God-emperor, as though people were supposed to, like—fucking care, or something?”
“Why’s that an issue, then? The way you’re describing it just makes it sound like a minor annoyance.”
“It wasn’t an issue, but it could’ve become one.” He said. “Deku, this mindset ain’t an isolated thing. A lot of Angels just have some really fucking weird ideas about, like, power and shit. At some point, you gotta deal with it—preferably before there’re enough of ‘em to pose an actual threat.”
Izuku pursed his lips, staring back at Katsuki. Eventually, he dragged his eyes away. He didn’t say it out loud, but he could kind of see where he was coming from. “Whatever…” He mumbled, then took a deep breath. “Look, just… tell me how long he’ll be there.”
“I can’t. It varies. I mean, he can technically leave whenever he wants, but…” Katsuki shrugged. “Well, if what baldy says about their past is true, it probably won’t be long. It’s generally way easier for Fallen Angels to adjust if they’ve got someone in Hell that they care about.” His tone softened. “Deku, trust me. He’s going to be okay.”
“I…” Izuku opened and closed his mouth a few times. “W-Well, even if that’s true…” He bit his lip. “Still…”
He swallowed around the lump in his throat, eyes beginning to water again. Izuku wanted to believe that Todoroki would be alright. He really did. But there was this writhing, jagged feeling in his chest, this weight on his heart that wouldn’t give up. No matter what he did, he couldn’t force himself to believe that this was good.
Katsuki sighed, roughly throwing an arm over his shoulder.
“Deku, y’know you’re allowed to just be upset, right?” He grumbled. “You don’t have to introduce ethics or fuckin’… value judgements, or whatever. You can just feel sad.”
Izuku froze, then curled further into his chest. “But… But it’s…”
“—I know.” He repeated, pulling him closer. A small sob escaped from Izuku’s throat. He gripped the fabric of Katsuki’s hoodie, like it was the only thing keeping him grounded.
After several minutes, he spoke, his voice muffled.
“Kacchan… I’ll never see him again.”
Katsuki was silent for a moment.
“You don’t know that.”
Izuku tensed, and after a second, pulled away. He clenched his jaw, glaring at Katsuki.
“Kacchan, I’m not going to Fall.” He spoke through gritted teeth. “And I’m really not in the mood to hear about how much you think I will.”
“You don’t have to Fall to see him again.”
Izuku was briefly puzzled.
Then it hit him.
“You mean, like… bringing him to the surface?”
“Well, no. Not exactly.” He said, looking away. “I was thinking more along the lines of bringing you to see him.” He sat up straight, and stretched his arms above his head. “As in, bringing you to Hell.”
Izuku stared at him for a long time, his eyes wide. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” Katsuki scoffed, side-eying him. “Are there any laws forbidding you from visiting Hell?”
“I-I mean… I don’t think so, but—”
“—Then why not?”
Izuku faltered, swallowing. “Why can’t you just bring him to the surface?”
Katsuki paused, licking his lips. “Well, I could possibly pull that off, sure.” He admitted. “But if I’m being completely honest, I have other motives here.”
He narrowed his eyes, “Such as…?”
“Such as showing you what Hell is actually like, Deku.” He said, finally turning to look at him fully. “I know you’ve still got a fuck load of internalized ideas about it. You should see for yourself why you’re wrong.”
Ah. Should’ve known.
Izuku scoffed, and mumbled, “Of course…”
“Of course what?” He snapped. “Of course I want to show you that my home, which you seem to be so fucking fond of making unsubstantiated assumptions about, isn’t what you think it is?”
Izuku winced, averting his eyes. Hearing it put like that made him feel a bit guilty.
“I just… I don’t know if I…”
Izuku shook his head, and didn’t respond.
Katsuki exhaled, standing up.
“Look, just…” He raked a hand through his messy hair. “Just fuckin’ think about it, alright?”
Izuku stared down at the ground, gripping the fabric of his cloak. It’d be a lie to say he wasn’t at least curious.
Just like it’d be a lie to say the thought didn’t terrify him.
In his exhausted state, he couldn’t tell which feeling outweighed the other. After a moment, he gathered the will to reply.
“Alright.” Izuku quietly told him. “I’ll… I’ll think about it.”
That night, Izuku returned to his room in a daze. Collapsed in his bed and stared at the ceiling, his mind paradoxically both numb and anxious.
Sometimes he wondered if free will actually existed.
Although he did his best not to think about it too much, he could never quite rid himself of that persistent sense of inevitability. It was as though he were on a conveyer belt, and it was slowly but surely carrying him toward this singular end.
Because there were two distinct, irreconcilable images of Hell inside his mind: the version he’d been taught, and the version Katsuki’s words had constructed. On some level, he’d convinced himself that these were separate places. It wasn’t rational, of course, but it was something he could get behind emotionally, at least for now.
The fact of the matter was, there were certain foundational ideas he’d been taught early on—ideas about the way the world works, about what’s right and what’s wrong. And just like all people, Izuku had built his belief system off of that groundwork.
There were times when talking to Katsuki made his worldview feel like a game of Jenga.
‘Demons are capable of altruism’ was the first block pulled. ‘Individual Demons can be good people’ was the second. ‘Demons, like humans, are probably mostly decent,’ was the third.
None of these were critical. It was entirely possible for groups of mostly well-meaning people to enact evil. Humanity had proven that fact many times over.
He knew that the things Katsuki said about Hell were true for him, but that didn’t make them real.
Katsuki was real. His relationship with Izuku was real. The fact that, despite knowing his real name, Katsuki never actually used it against him, never forced him to Fall, even though Izuku Falling was his ultimate goal—all of that was real, because he’d seen it. He’d experienced it.
But Hell wasn’t real. Or at least, it didn’t have to be. And sure, his concept of Hell wasn’t exactly foundational, but it was deep enough in his hierarchy of beliefs to have the potential to destabilize things. Hell was the place where he stored his reservations. It represented the ideas he was too afraid to examine, and too afraid to give up. It both was and wasn’t the place where Katsuki lived. Hell was the evil built from billions of shards of good, an abstract structure that kept Izuku oriented in a world of ethical ambiguity.
Heaven never needed to be perfect. It didn’t even need to be good.
It just needed to be better.
And as long as Izuku didn’t have to see it, he could convince himself that somehow, in some way, Hell was worse.
But then there was that fear, again. That relentless inevitability, underscoring Izuku’s existence like an ominous rumble emanating from the tectonics of his reality.
Because one of these days, Katsuki was going to lay it all out for him. Drag him down to Hell and make him look, make it real.
Izuku didn’t know if he’d be the same person if he found out the grass was greener there.
Two days after the incident, Izuku was lying in bed, holding the journal up in both hands. The overhead light backlit the book and made it a challenge to read, but Izuku was too tired to do anything about it. He stayed still, squinted and dealt with it.
I’m not really sure how to describe it. I think it’s just one of those “know it when you feel it” sort of things. All I can really say is that one moment, I was doubled over in pain with an obsidian spear impaled through my abdomen, and the next moment, I couldn’t feel it at all.
I don’t mean that in the sense that it was numb. It felt like the wound had healed somehow. I vaguely recall a sort of rush of relief, but after that, it gets fuzzy. I do remember Nana looking very scared when she saw me. She pulled the spear out of me before the wound could heal around it. I didn’t even realize it was closing up until then.
I’m still not certain how she knew. I never got the chance to ask, since… well, you know.
Anyway, I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones. It certainly doesn’t feel like it, but I acknowledge that it could have been a lot worse. Please be careful out there. If you have any reason to suspect soul bleed, get yourself to a medic immediately, consequences be damned.
It’s taken me a few months, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to fight anymore. I’m looking into teaching, and I’m feeling a bit more optimistic these days. Perhaps in some ways this was for the best.
Izuku frowned, staring at the page, reading over it a second time.
What is that supposed to mean?
He got his answer the following day, after a firm knock on the door nearly made him jump out of his skin.
After a minute of deliberation, Izuku forced himself out of bed and shuffled over to answer. He slowly opened the door, peering through the crack. To say he was surprised at who he found would be a massive understatement.
“All Might?” Izuku opened the door further.
“May I come in?”
Izuku nodded, stepping aside.
“Oh, uhhh. Sorry it’s so messy, I’ve just been…” Izuku trailed off.
All Might laughed. “My office looks like this on a good day.” He said. “If this is how your room looks on a bad day, I think you’re doing just fine, Midoriya.”
“Is that what this is about?”
All Might smiled. “I wanted to check to make sure you’re doing alright.”
“I’m… fine.” Saying it made Izuku wince. He averted his eyes, fidgeting with the hems of his sleeves. “I thought we couldn’t see each other outside of scheduled times, though.”
All Might opened his mouth to respond, but hesitated. “Well, when I heard what had happened, I figured I ought to make an exception.” He finally said.
“But what if you get in trouble?”
He shrugged. “If I do, then it’s my own fault. Nothing for you to worry yourself over, Midoriya.”
Izuku’s brows pinched together, and he looked down at the ground. As seconds ticked by, his eyes began to tear up, a fact which surprised even himself.
“But… how can I not? All Might, I—“ His voice broke. “I can’t lose you, too.”
He wiped his tears away, covering his face.
All Might didn’t say anything for a while. When Izuku glanced up at him, he found him sitting there with his mouth open, an odd, almost pained look on his face. He looked down at the floor.
“I don’t… want you to have to bear the burden of thoughts like that.” He eventually said. “I know it’s a moot point, but a student shouldn’t have to worry about their teacher’s safety.”
“But you’re not just my teacher, All Might. You’re…” Izuku trailed off, sniffling. All Might stood up, and gently pulled him into a hug.
“I know,” He murmured. “I know.”
Izuku tried to get himself under control, but his shoulders still shook.
Deep, shuddering inhales. Slow, shaky exhales.
After a few minutes, he managed to reign himself in enough to pull back.
“I’m sorry…” Izuku murmured.
“No, no!” He waved his hands. “Please, don’t apologize. I understand completely. It’s normal for you to feel this way.”
Izuku nodded, staring at his feet.
All Might sighed. “I’m sorry for getting you wrapped up in all of this.”
Izuku looked up. “Wh-What do you mean?”
“Well, uhh…” He gestured vaguely. After a pause, he simply shook his head, chuckling softly. “I wish I knew how to answer that. Lately, it’s felt like being caught up in a maelstrom.”
Izuku offered a weak smile, taking a seat on the edge of his bed again. All Might pulled the desk chair closer, and sat in it backwards, resting his arms on the back.
“Have you been keeping up with the journal entries?”
Izuku blinked. “I, uh—yes. I have.” His brow furrowed. “It’s… All Might, what was that last one? Soul bleed?”
“Ah.” His posture straightened. “Right, yes. That was a part of a letter I wrote to a friend a while back, after I retired.”
Izuku tensed. “Wait, that was you?” He frowned. “All Might, I thought your injuries came from Hellfire.”
“Some of them did!” He quickly clarified. “But that’s… Well, it’s not the real reason I retired. It was…”
“Soul bleed.” Izuku quietly finished. “All Might… what is that?”
“Uhh…” He scratched his head, brows pinching together. “Well, you know how Angels are generally considered to be indestructible? At least when it comes to regular physical damage.”
“That’s… not exactly true.” He stated. “There is actually a limit to how much physical damage one can sustain.”
“…What’s the limit?”
“It’s…” He squinted. “Well, I can’t really give you an exact answer. Like I mentioned in the letter, it’s really more of a ‘know it when you feel it’ sort of thing.”
“What do you mean?” Izuku asked. “What exactly do you feel?”
“Let me just start at the beginning.” He sighed. “Essentially, when an Angel crosses a certain threshold of physical damage, the serthus—the fluid inside your soul—begins to leak out into the rest of your body, where it’s used to heal your injuries. This is called soul bleed.
“It’s a physiological phenomenon. A last-resort sort of defense mechanism.” He drummed his fingers on the back of the chair. “The point of this is supposed to be to allow you a chance to escape an aggressor when your injuries would otherwise prevent you from doing so. That’s the idea, in theory.”
“Oh…” Izuku mumbled. “I mean, that sounds like it’d be useful…?”
All Might squinted. “Well, in some ways, I suppose that it is.” He said. “But there are issues. For one, it’s not clear what conditions need to be met to initiate it. Not all severe injuries result in immobilization, but soul bleed has been known to occur regardless.”
“But… is that really a problem?” Izuku blinked. “I mean, if it’s healing you, I don’t really see what the downside could be.”
“Ah,” All Might grinned. “Remember what I told you a few months ago?” He asked. “Midoriya, the problem is that serthus does not regenerate.”
Izuku opened his mouth to respond, but nothing came to him.
“Part of what makes soul bleed so dangerous is how quickly it happens.” He went on. “Once it starts, you really only have around fifteen minutes before it’s too late. And even if you manage to get medical assistance in time, it almost guarantees you won’t be able to fight anymore.”
“Well, I’m not an expert, but essentially, it’s actually very important that the soul’s entire volume be filled with serthus.” He replied. “If it isn’t, the parts that aren’t in contact with it will dry out and become inflexible, which keeps energy from being able to move through properly.
“I can still use power, but it’s nowhere near as strong. And I have to be extremely careful not to overdo it.” He smiled. “For most Angels, overdoing it isn’t really possible. But when parts of the lining dry out, they become brittle.” He shrugged. “If I’m not careful, my soul could rupture, causing the whole thing to start up again—only this time, I’d have even less time to get help before it was too late.”
Izuku frowned. “What do you mean by ‘too late’?” He asked. “What happens if it all drains out?” His voice fell to a whisper. “Do you… die?”
All Might chuckled. “Oh, I wish.”
Izuku’s eyes went wide.
“Ah, sorry—“ he rubbed his neck sheepishly. “That was a bit morbid, wasn’t it?”
“Let me start over.” He said, waving his hands. “When the serthus completely drains from an Angel’s soul, they become what is known as a husk.”
“It technically refers to the fact that your soul is, quite literally, an empty shell. But the meaning runs deeper than that.” He chewed his lip, hesitating. “It’s…” He trailed off, and after a second, he sighed. “What you need to understand is that your soul is… well, it’s what makes you, you. Without it, you’re just…”
A moment of silence.
“An empty husk.” Izuku whispered.
All Might looked up at him.
“Yes.” He said. “There’s an entry in the journal which goes into this in more… detail. The next one, I believe. So…”
He nodded slowly, and for nearly a full minute, neither of them spoke.
Izuku eventually broke the silence.
“All Might…who is ‘Nana’?”
“Ah! She was my mentor.” He replied. “Your grand-mentor, if you will.”
“She saved you, didn’t she.” It wasn’t really a question.
All Might looked down, a sad smile on his face. “Indeed, she did. At the cost of her own soul.”
Izuku frowned. “You mean…”
“Yes.” He sighed. After a moment, he began to speak again, his tone soft. “Midoriya, I know how it feels to watch someone you care for Fall. It’s… a special kind of helplessness.”
Izuku swallowed, his throat becoming tight. “Did you ever see her again?”
He shook his head. “Even if I could, finding someone after they Fall can be challenging. Not impossible, but…” He shrugged.
“Right.” Izuku paused. “Kacchan… actually offered to help me with that.”
“Oh, you told him?”
He nodded. “The night it happened. I would’ve gone to you, but because of… Well, you know, I went to him instead.”
“Yes. He, uh, comforted me,” Izuku winced. “Kind of?”
When All Might didn’t immediately respond, he looked up and found him grinning. The embarrassment hit him like a freight train.
“I—I mean, it’s not like,” He sputtered. “Um, y’know, I just didn’t—“
All Might waved his hands. “It’s alright, it’s alright.” He assured him. “Midoriya, I’m happy you’ve found such a good friend in him. A bit surprised, yes, but happy nonetheless.”
Izuku’s face still felt far too hot for his liking. He averted his eyes and muttered a squeaky ‘thanks.’
“So, he offered to bring him to the surface?”
“Oh! Um, not quite.” Izuku laughed nervously. “He… actually offered to take me to Hell to see him.”
All Might froze, staring at him for a moment.
Then he burst out laughing.
“All Might?” Izuku squeaked, embarrassment coming back full force. “What’s so—“
“Sorry, sorry,” he wheezed. “It’s just… Ahh. It’s just funny.”
“Nothing bad, I promise!”
All Might raised a hand, putting a stop to Izuku’s incoming anxiety monologue.
“Midoriya, do you know how…” He gestured vaguely. “Protective, I should say, Demons are of Hell?”
Izuku frowned. “What do you mean?”
“As someone who’s been around a lot of high-ranking Angels, I can tell you, the few times when we actually tried to negotiate with Demons, it’s always been quite challenging.” He shook his head. “Everything needed to be on Earth—which is easy for them, of course, since they can pass as Humans. Not so easy for us, however.” He gestured pointedly back at his wings, and sighed.
“Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is, Demons actually have a surprisingly strong sense of collective responsibility. As a consequence, they’re usually reluctant to do anything that could cause others in their community to feel unsafe.”
“Okay…?” He said. “I still don’t—“
“Midoriya, for Katsuki to simply offer to bring you to Hell…” All Might chuckled, shaking his head. “It almost sounds like a marriage proposal of some kind.”
Izuku’s blush flared up again.
“I don’t mean that literally, of course!” He put his hands up. “I’m quite certain Demons despise the very concept of marriage, anyway.”
Somehow, that didn’t make Izuku less embarrassed.
They ended up talking for nearly two hours, and when All Might finally excused himself, it was with evident reluctance.
Izuku was happy, though. Despite the ostensibly dark nature of certain parts of their conversation, the lighthearted portions left him feeling alright in the end, and it was nice just to be able to speak with All Might this way. At least for a little while, it was almost as though things were back to normal again.
It was almost enough to convince Izuku that things would be okay.
The next journal entry unlocked at the stroke of midnight, and Izuku was on it almost as quickly.
I do not like the husks. They have a certain unsettling quality to them—somehow alive, yet simultaneously not. We’ve tried everything we can, but they don’t respond. No talking, no movement, no response to stimuli whatsoever. They just stare into space, breathing slowly, blinking occasionally. It’s not clear whether their minds are still intact, or whether they can hear what we say to them. We haven’t been able to prove it either way.
I try not to think about it too much, but lately, it’s been bothering me. There are times when I look into their eyes, and I just know that these Angels are gone. That there’s nothing left behind that hollow gaze—at least nothing we can recognize.
But then I see that shine in their eyes during the tests, and I start to wonder. The pain sensitivity tests seem to be the only thing that promotes a response, albeit an involuntary one. Thankfully, due to their volatility, the pain inflicted during these tests is necessarily very minor, which is a relief, I suppose. Even this much bothers me, sometimes. I feel like I can feel their pain. Sometimes I wonder if the Councilmen forget that these are still Angels.
The hypothesis the others seem to operate under is that the husks aren’t conscious.
I hope they’re right about that.
For a few minutes, Izuku just stared at the page in shock. And suddenly, his mind flooded with memories of the boy from level one—the one who’d fallen ill, but by the time that was known, it was already too late. That vacant stare of his still haunted him, even to this day.
Is this what became of him? He wondered. But… I thought soul bleed only happened after sustaining severe damage…
Maybe there are other conditions that can cause it?
Izuku shook his head, and sighed.
Well, I suppose I’ll just have to wait until our next meeting to ask All Might about it…
All Might wasn’t in class the next day.
At first, Izuku didn’t think too much of it. All Might was absent more than most teachers. His status as a retired high-level Angel meant that he would occasionally be asked to travel to the innermost circles for the purpose of things like special training events and teaching seminars. It wasn’t all that unusual for him to disappear for one or two days every other month or so. The fact that Izuku didn’t know about it ahead of time made him a bit anxious, but it was easy enough to dismiss. Given the infrequency of their meetings as of late, it’d be reasonable for All Might to simply forget to mention it to him.
The second day made him a bit more nervous, but he still managed to remain calm enough to put his mind off of it.
And then the third day rolled around, and the sight of the substitute teacher strolling in made Izuku’s heart lurch against his chest. He could barely focus for most of the day. He slammed his wings against the edge of one of the rings on the flying field, dislocating it, and wound up having to sit out for the rest of the session.
He’d been too afraid to ask where All Might was. Rationally, he knew that doing so wouldn’t raise suspicion, that it was normal for a student to wonder about something like that. But the paranoid thoughts in his mind all seemed to meld together in his state of panic.
Izuku cried out in pain as Uraraka popped his wing back into place. He wiped the tears from his eyes and did his best to regulate his breathing as she sat down beside him with a sigh.
“How are you doing, Izuku?” She asked, after a moment. “I heard All Might was out sick.”
Izuku tensed. “Oh, really?” He said. “Um, where’d you hear that?”
“I asked this morning. It seemed strange for him to be gone more than two days in a row, I guess.” She shrugged. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it seemed kind of…” She bit her lip. “Well, serious.”
Izuku felt a rush of cold run through his veins. “I… see.” He gulped. “Well… I hope that’s not the case.”
She hummed in agreement. “Same here.”
“Do you, uh, have any idea what he’s sick with?”
She shook her head. “Sorry. I didn’t really think to ask.” She nodded toward the substitute, who was standing on the sidelines, a whistle held close to his lips. “You could, though. They might know.”
Izuku gulped, anxiety twisting up inside him.
“I think maybe I’ll just go to his house. See for myself.”
“Alright.” Uraraka smiled. “Well, be careful. He might be contagious.”
Izuku forced a returning smile, and that was that.
All Might’s house was a short walk from campus, but that day, it felt like it took an eternity. As he approached, he scanned over the windows, noting that out of all of them, only one light was on—the one in the study. Despite the circumstances, it made him smile. Typical All Might. He thought fondly. He hates wasting energy.
Izuku ran up the steps to the porch and stopped at the door, taking a deep breath before ringing the bell. He waited. And waited.
Izuku frowned, felt a wave of nausea in his stomach.
Don’t panic, he told himself. If he’s sick, it would make sense for him not to answer.
After a minute, he tried again. He rang the bell, knocked, even called out, “All Might?”
But still, nothing.
A bead of sweat rolled down the back of his neck.
Either he’s not here, or he’s too sick to get out of bed, Izuku thought, with a spike of panic.
He managed to reel himself in a moment later.
Or he’s just sleeping, he reminded himself. Stop jumping to conclusions.
He lingered on the doorstep for a little while longer, but ultimately, he just had to head home.
Things have been tense lately. It’s been a while since any of us last spoke to God. The Council won’t tell us anything, though, and it’d be a lie to say I didn’t feel frustrated by it. It’s just that I don’t really understand it. It’s such a departure from how things used to be. And I know that things are tense right now. I know that the Council likely feels paranoid. But frankly, if their fear is that transparency could be a detriment if more third spheres Fell, then I’m afraid it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Already, I can sense my fellow level nines growing agitated and restless in the silence.
There’s a rumor going around that the Council is looking into ways to modify Angels in order to prevent them from Falling. I choose not to believe them, mostly because I’m not sure how I’d feel if this were the case.
Izuku stopped by All Might’s house again the next day, and the day after that.
Even the light in the study was still on.
It’s hard for me to say whether it’s better or worse than Hell at this point. Maybe it’s the proximity of it, but I’m inclined to say it’s worse. I know it’s useless to dwell on it, but I wish the Demons could’ve at least tried to be a bit more flexible. If they’d been willing to negotiate on this, maybe Operation Lacuna wouldn’t have been necessary.
I opened the hatch the other day. The fumes inside the place are truly something else—quite literally a misery agent. I’m still not sure if it’s chemical, magical, or both, but it’s potent stuff. It’s supposed to be airtight, but I still hold my breath if I’m within fifteen feet of it. Last time I got a whiff of that stuff, I tried to go in. That’s probably the worst part of it. When you’re enveloped in it, you stop caring.
He was just doing it as a gesture. Because All Might was absolutely in there. He just wasn’t well enough for visitors.
That’s what he told himself. It left a bitter taste on his tongue.
It was the fifth day since he’d first visited, and the seventh since All Might’s first sick day.
It was a Sunday, so Izuku took the opportunity to prepare a basket, and a nice, soft blanket.
He wasn’t much of a chef, as one would expect of an Angel, but he did his best. He got up early in the morning and dusted off the cookbook, opening it up to a recipe for a simple soup. It took a while for him to get it right. His hands weren’t steady, and he had to throw it out the first time after accidentally pouring in an entire container of salt.
It took a few hours, but once he was satisfied that it was sufficiently edible, he put the soup into an airtight thermos and placed it in the basket, buried under the blanket.
Though it was generally more socially acceptable for Angels to eat when they were ill, the fact that illness occurred so infrequently meant that most casual observers weren’t likely to assume sickness when an Angel was caught eating. When in doubt, it was usually best to keep such things out of sight.
Izuku wrote a simple, unsigned note which read, ‘get well soon,’ tied a red ribbon around the handle of the basket, and was on his way.
It was still quite early when he arrived, so he didn’t ring the bell. He simply set the basket on the doorstep and hoped that All Might would find it.
He crossed his arms, digging his fingernails into the flesh of his upper arms as he strode away.
The light in the study was still on.
I sat in to view the results of the first test, and I’ve decided to distance myself from this particular project. I know they’re sinners, but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting. I find it hard to watch people suffer, even when they deserve it.
The gas does more than I originally thought. Apparently, if you spend more than five minutes in there, your senses start to dull. By ten minutes, you can’t sense anything at all. Not even orientation, or where your limbs are located in space.
The subjects were fished out after about an hour. It was… disturbing. Neither of them reacted when they were dropped onto the floor. They were shaking and twitching a lot. One of them—the woman—had bitten off the tips of her fingers. The man was worse. When he came out, his chest and throat were spasming, and the lower half of his face was bloody. It took a moment for them to realize he was choking. When they managed to get him to cough the obstruction up, it turned out to be a large portion of his tongue. After washing his mouth out, it was discovered that most of his teeth were broken, supposedly as a result of him grinding them.
I guess this is what happens when someone loses the ability to sense their own strength.
It took a few minutes for the two of them to start regaining their senses. I’ve never heard a person make a sound like that, and I hope I never will again.
I don’t know. I know that punishing sinners is necessary. I’m just not used to having it at the forefront like this. I know that this is God’s will. I don’t need to understand it. But I can’t help it. It keeps me up at night.
When I heard those two screaming, nothing about it felt holy.
The basket was still on the doorstep on Monday.
Tuesday, as well.
The roof of the porch kept it safe from the rain, but Izuku knew the soup would be spoiled. Like a sacred item, however, he couldn’t bring himself to move it.
The light in the study was still on.
I can’t do this anymore.
I’ve been afraid to even think it until now, but things have gotten to a point where I can no longer stay silent. The Council is absolutely, unequivocally out of line.
I could tolerate the idea when it was just the sinners being punished, but this expansion is just grotesque. I know that preventing the leaking of intelligence is important, but not every Angel who experiences high levels of corruption is a traitor, and to punish them as though they were is morally repugnant.
I’ve had enough. I need to find some way to speak with God directly. I need to hear him condemn what they’re doing here, for the sake of my friends and my own soul. Because honestly, I’m scared. These thoughts I’ve been having lately make me feel like a different person. I’m not sure how much the corruption has progressed. I’m too afraid to wash the glue off. Not even fire tea really takes the edge off anymore.
I’ll be on a mission tomorrow. We’re not expecting the fight to last long, but I need to be careful. I need to hold on, at least until I have a chance to speak with God. If things turn ugly, who knows what might happen.
On Friday, the basket was no longer alone.
Izuku noticed almost as soon as the house was in sight. The house was located in a cul-de-sac a few blocks from the corner where Izuku always turned.
He was too far away to actually feel anything, but the fear that ramped up inside him was still quite real.
The Acolyte stood still on the doorstep. He was facing away, but Izuku would know the look of that white cloak anywhere. Luckily, being so far away meant that the Acolyte didn’t seem to notice his presence, but Izuku wasn’t looking to push his luck. After a moment of shock, he turned on his heel and marched right back the way he came.
The whole way back, Izuku couldn’t walk five steps without checking over his shoulder.
Izuku didn’t get a chance to open the journal until later that night.
He didn’t even realize it was the last entry until he checked the back cover, and realized that there was nothing written after it. It was odd, considering the fact that the listed page number was only around halfway through the total thickness of the journal.
He was nervous as he turned to the listed page. The past few entries had shaken him nearly enough to overtake his curiosity, and he felt a bead of sweat roll down his temple when he found it.
A cursory glance at the heading left him with an odd mixture of relief and fear, however.
Because unlike all the others, this one was addressed to him, specifically.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this, but you’ve waited long enough.
First of all, I would like to apologize. I want you to know that I never meant for things to turn out this way. It wasn’t part of any sort of grandiose plan. Like you, I am fallible, but that does not excuse my getting you caught in the crosshairs. Six months ago, I did not have all the facts. I was not aware of the extent of the Council’s actions, and my greatest regret is involving you before I had everything figured out.
I’m sure you’re confused about some of the previous entries. The contents of this journal come from various sources. Some come from my own mentor’s notes, others from those of my mentor’s mentor. I transcribed them for you because I don’t want the information I’ve gathered to go to waste if something happens, and because I think it’s important that you know what I know.
The short of it is, my mentor Fell in order to save me. I witnessed it myself. When an Angel Falls, unless a Demon specifically prevents it, they are automatically transported to Hell. However, a few months ago, I managed to confirm that there is no record of her soul ever having appeared in Hell. This suggests that the magic was intercepted. The list of those capable of doing such a thing is very, very short.
At this point, I need to come clean about one thing in particular.
When I originally suggested you work with Katsuki, I told you it was because I thought demonstrating an ability to resist temptation would make your application for ascension stand out.
This was a lie.
The real reason was far more selfish.
Back then, I was still searching for a way to confirm whether or not my mentor was in Hell. Due to the nature of my retirement, I am unable to leave Heaven, and in the beginning, I had hoped that your connection to Katsuki might allow me to circumvent those restrictions in order to achieve that goal. Of course, I wound up confirming it independently shortly after your partnership with him begun. It was only then that I really started to put the pieces together.
I know that an apology for a mistake of this scale will probably fall flat, but I want you to know that I am deeply sorry. I’m sorry for deceiving you, and I’m sorry for all the suffering that my choice has caused you. I could not have predicted how this would unfold, but that is no excuse. As your mentor, part of my job is to protect you. I have failed to do so, and that is something I will regret for the rest of my days.
As for this journal, please believe me when I say that I did not decide to tell you all of this out of a desire to cause distress, or put you in danger of Falling. In fact, I think that you may be one of the only Angels capable of processing this information without succumbing to despair. Let me explain what I mean.
What you need to understand is that Falling is a physiological process: the dissolution of the soul’s outer shell, which is held together by faith. It’s an event which is triggered by either tactile corruption damage, or specific emotional experiences. Experiences which trigger the release of certain chemicals. For the vast majority of Angels, this can only occur under one specific circumstance: losing faith in God. When an Angel loses this, everything else comes crashing down. However, this does not seem to be the case for you.
Over the course of the past six months, I’ve watched you grow to care deeply for Katsuki. He has become a friend to you, someone you can trust, despite what he is rather than because of it. Your trust in him does not rely on your trust in God. It is wholly independent. And though I obviously cannot know for certain, it is my belief that, as strange as it may sound, your relationship with him might be the reason you’ve managed to hold on for so long. Even if you lost every last shred of faith in God, you would still have something to believe in. Of course, this is all just a hypothesis, and so I’ve done my best to remain cautious.
Now is the part where the “good news” ends. Because if you are reading this, I am already gone. I ask that you do not come looking for me. I ask that you do not attempt to rescue me. I’m painfully aware of the hypocrisy of this request. After all, I got myself into this mess in an attempt to save my own mentor, but I need to at least try to deter you from doing something incredibly brave and stupid.
Of course, I know you well enough to know that you’re probably already crafting a plan to save me, even as you’re reading this. Fortunately, I’ve planned for this. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this is not the last page of this book. There is quite a bit after this. I did not lock it, but I strongly suggest that you do not read any of it, as much of it is upsetting, and not particularly useful for you to know.
It would be extremely useful to the Demons, however.
Make of that what you will.
The most important thing I need to tell you is this: though I have done everything in my power to cleanse the situation of your involvement, it is still only a matter of time before they come for you, too. I’ve procured a serum that will wipe my memories to an extent, but no form of memory erasure, even that which God uses on his Angels, is completely infallible. Persistent and sufficient probing will eventually lead to you being implicated.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this, it is this: Falling is not the worst fate an Angel can meet. On the contrary, compared to the alternatives, it’s quite merciful. I realize this is probably very shocking to read, but please try to understand that I would not be saying all of this if I thought there was a better way.
Midoriya, for your own safety, you need to Fall. Please. Before it is too late. Trust me when I say that, if they get to you first, it will be much, much worse.
Midoriya, I love you as though you were my own son. I’m so proud of everything you’ve achieved, and I want you to continue thriving. It is ultimately up to you, but I can’t stress enough the importance of this choice. I will buy you as much time as I possibly can, but there are many variables beyond my control.
I do not know how long it will have been by the time you read this. I tried to time it so that this entry would unlock a few days after my disappearance, while still allowing you time to process each entry. If it’s been under seven days, you have some time to think. I can probably hold out a bit longer than that, but there are no guarantees.
In the unlikely event that it has been more than twelve days, you need to operate under the assumption that you are in immediate danger.
At a minimum, you need to get out of Heaven. In the long run, though… it pains me to say this, but I cannot think of any other option. I know the idea of Falling is scary, but please think about it. I want you to make that choice before someone else makes it for you.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but it is worth emphasizing:
When the Council takes you, they do not allow you to Fall.
Please take care of yourself.
Izuku stared at the page for a very long time.
Twelve days, he had said.
The day All Might came over was a Sunday. He was gone the next day, which would make Monday the first day, so that’s…
Izuku mouthed the days as he counted on his fingers.
He felt a chill run through him, like a block of ice dropping straight into his gut.
“Twelve days.” He whispered.
He glanced at the clock.
Thirty minutes to midnight.
Thirty minutes until the thirteenth day.
For a minute, he just sat there, paralyzed. And then the hyperventilation began. Izuku gripped the edge of his desk, black spots appearing in his vision as his mind struggled to come to grips with it all.
They have All Might. They’re doing something to him. Some sort of interrogation. Is he okay? Are they hurting him? What if they’ve turned him into a husk? They wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t. Not if they want information from him.
His breath caught in his throat.
That place the journal described. What if he’s in there?
Izuku’s heart slammed against his chest.
They wouldn’t—would they? All Might is susceptible to soul bleed. If they put him down there, he could hurt himself. Unless they restrain him. Unless something has changed.
It felt as if all the blood had been drained from his body, and he could hear it rushing out through his ears. Izuku was shaking.
What do I do? What do I do? He told me to Fall. But if I Fall, I won’t be able to return. I won’t be able to save him. I need to save him, but… is it even safe to leave now? What if they catch me? Maybe I could—no, that wouldn’t work. Maybe—wait, no.
What if they’re already outside?
He felt his throat starting to close up, tears blurring his vision.
Think, think, you idiot! You’re running out of time! There has to be—
Izuku screamed. He fell out of his chair, scrambling backward on the floor.
Oh God, this is it. It’s over. I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I’m going—
Izuku didn’t process it at first.
“Hey, Midoriya? Are you okay?”
Shinsou. Oh, thank God.
Izuku struggled to stand up, nearly tripping over his feat as he went to open the door. Shinsou stood on the other side, looking at him with an almost fearful expression. Before he could even speak, Izuku yanked him inside.
“Woah, hey!” Izuku shut the door, nearly catching Shinsou’s cloak in the process. “Midoriya, what the hell is going on?”
How do I answer that? Why did I let him in. Oh God, this was a mistake, wasn’t it? I made a mistake, this will just—
Shinsou grabbed his shoulders. “Midoriya?” He studied him for a moment. “Crap.” He muttered. “Midoriya, I think you might be having a panic attack. You should probably sit—”
“No.” Izuku reflexively shook his head. “Can’t. I need to go.”
“I need to go.” He repeated. “I need to get out of heaven.”
Shinsou’s brow furrowed. “Why do you say that?”
“It’s not safe.”
Shinsou faltered. “What makes you think that?”
Izuku looked at the journal, still open on his desk. Shinsou followed the path of his eyes, and started moving toward it.
“No!” Izuku shouted. Shinsou froze. “You can’t! If you read it, you’ll Fall!”
To say Shinsou seemed alarmed would be an understatement.
“I—Okay,” Shinsou nodded, putting his hands up. “It’s okay. I won’t read it.”
Izuku relaxed slightly.
After a moment of uncertainty, Shinsou began speaking again. It was slow, careful, as though he were treading a verbal minefield.
“Midoriya,” he said. “Regardless of what that book says, you are safe right now, in this room. You need to calm down. Take deep breaths. Can you do that?”
After a moment of hesitation, Izuku nodded, but the tightness in his throat made it a challenge.
“Don’t force it.” Shinsou told him. “Go slow.”
Izuku nodded again, and did his best to focus on that alone.
After a couple of minutes, he gradually started to feel normal again. Shinsou handed him a glass of water.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, pressing the cool glass against his forehead.
Shinsou sat on the floor in front of him. “Are you able to talk about it?”
Izuku paused, the edge of the glass pressed against his lip. He wasn’t sure how to explain it in a way that would make sense while still being safe for Shinsou to hear.
He didn’t know what to tell him, so he decided to just say that, or something to that effect. Shinsou hummed, apparently thinking it over.
“Well, if you really don’t think you can tell me everything, then tell me the version that doesn’t make sense.”
“You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“I’ve always thought you were a bit crazy.” Shinsou deadpanned. “But I still trust your judgement. Mostly.”
Izuku hesitated. “Uh, let me just—“
He went to take a sip of water, and then wound up downing the entire glass. Shinsou stared at him, one eyebrow raised. Izuku set the glass down gingerly.
He took a deep breath.
“The Council has All Might and they’re coming for me next and if I don’t leave soon the Acolytes will take me and I don’t have a lot of time.”
Shinsou stared at him for a long time, expressionless.
“Well, that’s definitely crazy.”
Izuku’s shoulders slumped. “I knew you’d—“
“—I didn’t say I didn’t believe you.”
“So you…” He squinted, “Do believe me?”
“I didn’t say that either,” He replied, with a small smile. He dropped it a moment later. “That said, I can tell you really believe what you’re saying.”
“So you think I’m crazy.”
“Maybe. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong, though.” He shrugged. “What’s that quote? I think I saw it in a book, once.” He used air quotes. “’Just cause you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you,’ or something like that.”
That actually got Izuku to laugh.
“In all seriousness, I don’t know if I believe you or not, but I guess it doesn’t exactly matter.” He said. “You’re going to leave whether I help you or not, so I guess I will.”
“I said I’ll help you.” He stated flatly.
“Shinsou.” Izuku spoke slowly. “I’m pretty sure that’s treason.”
“Actually, it’s only treason if I believe you.”
Izuku held eye contact with him for a while, analyzing Shinsou’s oddly lighthearted expression. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he could count on Shinsou to help him if it came down to it. But for him to offer so readily, without even bothering to try and talk Izuku out of it, was… unexpected.
“Listen, Midoriya.” He sighed. “I had a lot of time to think while I was in the hospital. It’s not like I’ve had some massive change of heart, but I’m trying to be less…” He trailed off, wincing. He paused, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “Anyway. All of that aside, if there’s even the slightest chance you might get caught by the Acolytes, then yeah, I would rather do too much than too little.”
“I… Thank you, Shinsou.” Izuku said, smiling softly. Shinsou quickly looked away.
“…Do you have a plan for where to go once you leave?”
Izuku started to say no, but then—
Just fuckin’ think about it, alright?
Katsuki’s words echoed in his mind, and he bit his tongue. After a minute, he cleared his throat.
“…Yes, actually. I do, uh, have a place in mind.”
Shinsou looked at him expectantly. Izuku grimaced.
“Are you going to tell me?”
“I, uhh… I mean, do you really want to know?”
He continued to stare at him for a while afterward, blinking slowly. Pointedly. If Izuku didn’t know better, he’d think the dark circles under his eyes had gotten deeper.
“It’s Hell, isn’t it.”
Izuku tensed. “Uhh, no comment…?”
“Midoriya…” Shinsou pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know, I knew you were crazy, but… wow.”
“It’s not that crazy.” He muttered. “Kacchan will protect me.”
Shinsou scoffed. “Uh-huh.”
Izuku frowned. “I’m serious, Shinsou. He really would.”
“Uh-huh, yeah, I know.” He said, with a bizarre, sarcastically sweet cadence. Izuku watched as Shinsou began massaging his temples, his eyes closed, and realized he was quietly counting up to ten under his breath.
Shinsou exhaled, looking up at Izuku. “I know,” he repeated, only this time, it sounded genuine. “I just don’t like it, is all. Which is fine. I’m allowed to not like it. Anyway,” he suddenly stood. “Do you own anything with like, a hood? Something dark, preferably.”
“Uhh.” Izuku noticed that Shinsou was moving toward the door, as though he already knew the answer. “No? Nothing I can think of anyway.”
“Well, I have something you can wear.”
“Oh!” Izuku stood. “Um, are you sure? I mean…” He trailed off. “You know, it’s possible you won’t see it again.”
“Oh, don’t worry.” Shinsou said. “From what I can tell about that guy’s personality, I would expect nothing less. Be right back.”
Izuku opened his mouth to retort, but the door shut behind Shinsou before he got the chance.
It was around two in the morning by the time Izuku reached the surface. He ducked into the first intact building he saw, which turned out to be an old, abandoned tavern. He held the edges of the dark blue cloak Shinsou had lent him, trying to keep it from dragging through the piles of dust, broken glass, and God knows what else. He set down his bag, took a seat on a barstool, and placed the memo on the dusty countertop.
He found his pen, and set it down beside the memo. He didn’t open it yet. Instead, he took a deep breath and sighed, his elbows on the counter, his head in his hands.
There were too many thoughts swirling around inside his head, too many things he had yet to truly process. Even before the last journal entry, Izuku’s mind had been a mess. He had no reason to doubt the authenticity of any of the journal entries, but that didn’t make it any easier to digest. It was like all those horrific things he’d read about weren’t quite real until he was hit with the possibility of All Might falling victim to them.
All Might’s letter was a tangled ball of emotions and fears lodged in the back of his throat. Izuku hadn’t even allowed himself to look at it again after the first time, as though he were afraid it might unravel and reveal something new, something even more terrifying.
Everything. The lies, the stories, the implications of Nana’s Fall. The not-so-subtle endorsement of treason. The theories regarding Izuku’s resistance to Falling, and the explicit push for him to Fall regardless. There was a part of him that couldn’t wait to hand the journal over to the Demons, and yet another that wanted to clutch it tight to his chest and never let go.
Izuku was not going to Fall. Not tonight, anyway, and probably not tomorrow. There was still so much he needed to think about. There was still so much he could do. But though he might make it through this stage with his wings and halo intact, he knew, on some deeper level, that this would change things. When he emerged from the depths of Hell, Izuku might still be an Angel. But he wouldn’t be the same person.
Izuku opened the memo, and turned to a fresh page. He picked up his pen and pulled the cap off with his teeth. Clutched his wrist with his left hand to try and keep it steady.
Something ends tonight.
Izuku put pen to paper, knowing this could very well be the last thing he ever wrote in the memo. And as he penned the message, he wondered, with the sort of humor one can only engage in under dire circumstances, what a passive observer might think if they were to read it. If someone—with no additional context—were to pick up the memo, read through all of it up to this final point, Izuku wondered what sort of story it would tell.
Maybe they’d read it as a tragedy. Or perhaps just the start of something new.
I need you to take me to Hell.
Izuku closed the memo, and waited to see who he’d become.