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“Why do I have to babysit you brats?” Aizawa huffed, keeping his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his black hero costume.

“Because Bakugou-san and Midoriya-kun will probably end up killing each other if left alone, kero,” Tsu answered the very rhetorical question. “Also I dislike Mineta.”

“That was mean, Tsu-chan!” Mineta wailed, peering up at their teacher and ignoring the girl's pointed, “Call me Asui-san.”

“I'm not getting involved in your petty argument,” the man deadpanned, moving forward at a brisk pace to try and get the outing over and done with.

“Why couldn't that cooking-bastard get his own supplies?” Kacchan snarled, slouching as he walked and clearly wanting to be anywhere but there.

“Lunch Rush makes us great food every day, don't be so-” Izuku clamped his jaws shut the moment he saw the murderous intent in Bakugou's eyes. “E-eh, neverm-mind! Sorry!"

There was a tense silence, punctuated with footsteps against the cracked pavement. For some reason, Lunch Rush needed some very rare and very specific ingredients that were apparently only sold in a run-down, eerie part of town. It seemed like an odd errand to get four students to do, but since they had some time the burden had fallen to them – and the burden to keep them from dying fell to a reluctant Aizawa.

Izuku gazed around them as they walked, seeing as no-one was willing to start up a conversation. He observed the peeling paint and crumbling buildings. He eyed the boarded-up windows and scrawled graffiti. He stared skyward, frowning at the unexpected grey clouds, only to realise that it was thick smoke curling towards the sun and blocking out the blue, not clouds.

“Aizawa-sensei,” he said urgently, pointing it out.

His teacher grimaced, clearly torn between acting a hero and checking out the scene or being a teacher and making sure his students were away from danger. Aizawa huffed and upped his pace into a jog across the road, motioning for them to follow him. They navigated littered alleys and darted through empty streets, smelling the burning before they could see it.

There was a large building engulfed in flames. A crowd had already gathered, speaking in panicked, hushed tones. Even standing a fair few feet away, the heat was immensely uncomfortable. Izuku shifted impatiently on his toes as his teacher gleaned details of the incident from the onlookers. Kacchan was tensed and coiled like a spring, ready to dart into action at a moment's notice. Tsu was wincing at the temperature and staring worriedly into the flames. Mineta was trying his best to hide behind the three of them, shaking uncontrollably.

“They don't think there's anyone inside,” Aizawa informed them as he returned to the group, brow furrowed with concern and fire reflected in his dark eyes. “We couldn't have intervened, anyway. It's too dangerous and we don't have Quirks suited for the situation.”

Izuku felt a stab of something pang in his gut at the words - he remembered when Kacchan had been captured by the sludge villain, and none of the heroes had even tried to help just because their Quirks 'weren't suited' for the situation. The desperate burn in his chest faded a little at the news that no civilians were in danger, but the sight of such destruction was still unsettling in a way he couldn't quite comprehend.

“We can't do anything to help,” Aizawa said finally, already turning and leaving. “Come on. We need to get moving.”

After long, furtive glances at the arsonist's lullaby, the students reluctantly moved to follow.

There was a loud crack as something broke inside the building.

Help!

The sound wrenched Izuku's heart, and before he could process what he was doing he had already spun around, firing up One for All and shooting towards the building. His skin protested against the heat scorching against his face. He suddenly faltered, dropping speed as he felt his Quirk being stamped out, but that was fine because he was Quirkless for fourteen years and nothing was going to stop him from saving someone if he was given the chance. One shoulder scraped against the splintered door-frame as he threw himself inside.

Any cries for his return were drowned out as a ragged snap sounded above him, and he barely had enough time to leap aside before a large portion of the ceiling collapsed, burying his exit. His Quirk rushed back into his body and smoke swirled into his lungs. Crackling filled his ears as the flames licked at the walls, gnawing black marks into scorched wood and tearing down the wallpaper with hungry claws.

It dawned on him very quickly that maybe this was one of the stupidest things he'd ever done.

Izuku pulled his shirt over his nose and squared his shoulders, taking comfort in the green flashes of lightning that danced across his skin, and focusing on the reassuring power rather than his watering eyes. He choked in a breath, squinting through the smog and taking cautious steps down the blazing hallway. It felt like he was nonchalantly walking into the underworld with the intention of rescuing a soul from Hades himself.

Losing his cool and approaching things in a blind panic would help no-one. He carefully searched through what remained of the living room, casting his radioactive gaze across half-melted furniture before stepping out and heading to the next room, methodically creeping through and looking it over before deeming it lifeless. The clothes on his body were heavily singed and starting to burn away, peeling off in chunks to expose sore flesh that the flames nipped at as he rushed further into the house.

There was nothing on the ground floor, and fear was starting to rise in his chest. The building was practically crumbling around him, and he had an unpleasant realisation that this might be his last chance to get out. It was a tempting proposition, but then he remembered the anguished, guttural plea for help and he soldiered up the shaking stairs.

His head spun. He checked a bedroom. His chest ached. He searched another bedroom. His skin burned.

He stumbled into a wall, leaning heavily against it for a moment as he wheezed for breath. There was a closed door right in front of him, and he blistered his palm against the handle and pushed it open. A rush of flames followed him into the room and he slammed it shut behind him, suddenly realising that he wasn't alone in the bathroom. The walls looked worse for wear and the tiles were scorched, but it seemed to be holding up decently for the time being. He glanced down and nudged the towel back into place along the bottom of the door before looking up and offering a tired smile to the inhabitant.

“Is there anyone else in the building?” He croaked out – it sounded like he went through sixty cigarettes a day, and he didn't doubt he looked just as bad as he sounded.

The girl shook her head, tears sparkling on her cheeks as she huddled down in the bathtub. Izuku sagged in relief before shaking his dizzy head and examining the room. There was only a small window, high up in the wall, and it was the sort that didn't open. He gritted his teeth, glancing back at the rapidly blackening door and picturing the blaze that lay beyond it.

Adrenaline was the only thing shielding him from most of his pain at that moment, and he was sure that if he were to venture back out there he wouldn't come out alive. There was the option of breaking the window, but he wasn't sure if they would be able to fit through it safely- not to mention it being on the second floor. Another possibility was to push his strength to the limit and break down the whole wall, but he didn't know what sort of injuries that would bring and it would hinder the escape.

“It's okay,” he reassured the girl between his frantic mutterings, “We'll get out of here, don't worry.”

She nodded at him, still trembling.

The ceiling groaned ominously. Izuku lunged forward, grabbed the girl, kicked the bathtub loose and pulled it over the pair of them in one smooth movement, just in time for the roof to collapse above them. He held onto her tightly while the rubble crashed down onto their shield, keeping his own body curled around hers as they crouched underneath the tub, feeling the floor sway and dip under their weight. Blood roared in his ears and the girl sobbed into him.

A splintering noise beneath their feet had Izuku ready to move, but it all happened too quickly. The tiles split apart and the floor tore open, sending them tumbling down into rubble and flames with a bathtub falling after. His head slammed into something and everything went black.

He gradually came to, roused by the snarling fire. Every part of his body screamed in pain. He lay there for a few more moments, dazed and disoriented, before jolting back into action. The girl was sprawled across him, barely conscious, and the bathtub had landed a short distance away, shattered into pieces. Scorched planks and broken tiles were littered over the two of them, and the small area in which they had landed was temporarily extinguished by all the debris, although Izuku could see fire rekindling underneath.

The boy moved an arm, causing a stab of white-hot pain to arc up his muscles and slither down his spine. He bit back a scream of pain, forcing himself beyond his limits for the sake of helping another and pushing himself to his feet, the girl cradled in his grasp. It looked like the back half of the building had collapsed, the burning pile too dangerous to navigate. He turned his sights towards the hellscape that was the half-destroyed front part of the building, steeling his nerves and spluttering in as deep a breath as he dared before darting forwards in a flash of green.

Rubble covered the uneven flooring, and broken walls forced him to reroute more than once, never able to escape the jaws of flaming fangs that sunk into his form as he rushed through the building. He tried to keep the girl as protected as possible, but her skin was smudged with ash and blood and her clothes were getting more scorched by the second. When she peered up at him with a fragile gaze, he forced his lips into a wide smile, keeping it plastered on his face even after she pressed her nose against his chest.

There – dusty daylight beamed through a gap in the front wall where a window had exploded outwards, and he wasted no time in sprinting towards it. It was like heaven's rays, casting across his skin as he swept the sharp shards of glass from the frame with a foot.

He froze. A beam was crashing down towards them. He loosened one arm from the girl and raised a palm towards the beam, arm glittering with his Quirk. The impact tore through his muscles and jolted his shoulder, almost forcing him to buckle under the weight. Izuku removed his other arm from around the girl's back, letting her stand on her own as he struggled against the mass pressing down on him.

Go!” He yelled at her through gritted teeth.

She stared at him with tearful eyes before turning and leaping through the window. He watched her sprint towards the crowd for a moment. His classmates seemed ready to surge forwards, only to be stopped by Aizawa who was staring with barely concealed terror at his student. Izuku glanced upwards with stinging eyes and wet cheeks, knowing that he couldn't move out of the way in time if he let it go. His arms shook violently, and the beam lowered further, pressing painfully against his shoulder-blades with the unspoken promise of a death sentence.

Slowly, he raised his head, meeting his teacher's wild eyes. Aizawa tensed up and suddenly rushed forwards, feet pounding against the pavement, hair sprawling in the wind, capture gear swirling around his desperate face and shooting towards the building but-

*

The beam crashed down in a cloud of sparkling embers.

Shouta skidded to a halt, mere feet from the rubble. The oppressive heat pushed against him, but he was frozen, staring at the place where Midoriya had been crushed. He knew the boy was strong, but there was no way he could survive such a weight dropping onto him, and as much as he wanted to, Shouta also knew that he didn't have the strength to lift it off his student.

So he stood. His heart was pounding, clenching in his chest, aching horribly: it wasn't something he could blame on the sprint.

He should've ran in after the boy – but no, no – he needed to stay with his other students, too, making sure they didn't get themselves into trouble. He should've called in some heroes with water Quirks the moment he noticed the fire. He should've done a lot of things, but now he couldn't do anything but stare into the flames with anguish clawing at his insides and the unfamiliar sting of tears threatening his eyes.

Shouta took a hesitant step back, pausing before forcefully dragging his gaze away from the sickening scene. He returned to his students, barely able to look at them because their stricken faces only made him feel worse. Bakugou was unmoving, the firelight throwing his features into a sharp contrast and giving him the appearance of a marble statue. Asui's eyes were wide and unblinking, shadows gouging out her cheeks and darkening the glitter of her gaze. Mineta had stopped his loud crying, but tears were still falling silently down his cheeks, sparkling with taunting flames.

Deku...” Bakugou muttered, voice hoarse from all the screaming he'd done and uncharacteristically subdued.

The man was never good at offering honeyed words of comfort in times of crisis, and even if he was, he really didn't think he would be able to in the face of such a tragedy. He opened his mouth to say something – it didn't matter what, he just needed to drown out the unbearable silence – but he was cut off by a gasp from a stranger that rippled through the crowd. His students suddenly straightened up, their conflicted expressions morphing into one of delicate, disbelieving hope, and Shouta felt his heart leap into his throat as he slowly turned back around to face the fire.

Something in the wreckage was moving. The debris was shifting, pulsating, breathing like a sleeping dragon. Ribbons of amber flame were tugged away from the edges of the building, torn from their feast and drawn into one specific spot. All of the fire swirled inwards, extinguishing the house and drawing all the heat under the pile of rubble. Spears of burning firelight cut through the dust, emanating from a certain place, and Shouta couldn't help but hold his breath in anticipation, latching onto the stupid, childish, pathetic hope that maybe, just maybe, his kid had survived the impossible once again.

A hand shot up from between splintered planks, wreathed in bright flame. It twisted and clasped onto the side of the beam, but the charcoaled wood didn't crumble under the temperature. The hand tensed, and the beam rose, moving swiftly and smoothly as if it were as light as paper.

At optimal height, it was tossed backwards, landing with a puff of fluttering ashes. No-one dared say a word in the face of a miracle.

Another burning arm reached up from within the pile, pressing down on the debris and flexing as something under the mess moved. A shoulder came into view, then a mess of singed green curls, and soon the boy rose in a blaze of glory, pulling himself from death's clutches and standing victoriously on the charred mound. Glowing ashes danced from his lips with every heaving exhale and his green eyes shone from within the flames. Freckles glimmered ethereally like embers on his cheeks. Fire curled around his entire body, twisting and playing in the wind, yet it didn't seem to be harming him. His clothes were falling apart, one sleeve missing in its entirety, his shirt seemed to be more threads than fabric, and his trousers were torn to shreds, but he was smiling.

Despite the grazes and the warped, scorched flesh and the blood dripping down his face, he was grinning, and, like a match to a flame, the awed crowd burst into whoops and cheers, beaming and laughing and celebrating the hero.

Shouta could have cried, if he did that sort of thing.

*

Izuku hopped down from the wreckage, approaching his classmates with an uneven, tired gait. He came to a stop in front of his teacher, standing crookedly and tilting his head with an exhausted smile.

“That was stupid,” was the first thing Aizawa said, his lips pressed into a thin line.

The boy huffed out some giggles, accidentally spewing some sparks in the same breath. “Sorry, sensei. Oh- how's the girl?!”

“Burnt and scared, but alive,” Aizawa paused, his expression softening minutely. “Thanks to you, Midoriya.”

“Can you stop burning, Midoriya-chan?” Tsu asked with an unexpected wobble in her tone, her eyes wide and hopeful and relieved.

“I- I don't kn...” Izuku paused, raising his hands to peer at them curiously.

It felt... oddly natural to be on fire. Whether it was an invisible Quirk rising to the surface or a sympathetic blessing from above, the power had saved his life. He knew he died - he felt the beam crush his body, and he felt something break in his chest, and he felt a flash of hot pain before there was nothing – and somehow the knowledge didn't disturb him as much as it should have.

The flames were familiar, hugging him like an old friend, and after a moment it dawned on him: it was his compassion, his desire, his determination. The embers had laid dormant in his chest, kindled into a tiny blaze whenever he needed to help, warming him with reassurance before fading when the moment had passed. And now, when he was the one who needed help, it rose to the challenge, bursting out in a blazing inferno and driving out the darkness with insistent heat until the life returned to his body, but even then it stayed, coiling around his limbs and giving him strength to go beyond when anyone else would have failed.

He closed his eyes for a moment and clenched a hand into a fist, thanking the flames and guiding it back to his heart to rest once more, and when he blinked down at his palms the fire had receded.

Izuku caught Kacchan's gaze and the two stared at one another for a moment before the volatile boy looked away with a huff. Mineta cheered along with the crowd, screaming about how cool his classmate was. Tsu shifted her weight from foot to foot before stepping forwards and pulling Izuku into a hesitant hug that only grew tighter when he wrapped his arms around her. She was quick to let go and back up, a smile playing on her lips and tears of gladness pooling in her large eyes.

He turned around and looked up at his teacher, who merely raised an eyebrow with an unimpressed expression.

“You're not getting a hug from me, problem child,” Aizawa grumbled without malice, but after a moment of silent staring he paused for a second before reaching out and hastily ruffling the kid's hair, withdrawing his hand just as quickly. “I'm glad you're alive.”

Izuku gazed up at the man in wonder, happy tears glistening in his green gaze as his face lit up with an elated grin.