There is the scrabbling of claws against the wards again.
Izuku resists the urge to scream, but only just: sleep is already difficult as it is in the noisy doya. His neighbors are polite enough, sure, but the paper thin walls do nothing to dampen the sound of people moving around, doors sliding open and closed, or the smell of stale cigarettes and cheap beer. The last thing he needs is a spirit demanding attention at - he glares at the clock - one am.
The thing outside his window mewls in pain as it slams against the ward a third time and Izuku knows, just knows, that he’s never going to get to sleep as long as it wants him for something. Sometimes he wonders why he even bothers, really, with the building wards. They keep things out but they never actually leave him alone.
“Stop crying,” he mutters loud enough for the spirit to hear as he pushes himself up off of the futon and reaches out to break the wards. “What do you want?”
It wastes no time, tumbling into the tiny room and then throwing itself at Izuku, multiple clawed limbs catching on clothing and skin. Only the fact that it clearly isn’t trying to do harm keeps Izuku from blasting it back - and even then, only barely. He’s been hurt far too often to trust these things outright.
<< -- help me help us help us help us HELP US >>
“Calm down!” His head instantly aches from the onslaught of half-thoughts and feelings, none of them actually useful. Spirits could be like that when they were upset - they just thought too fast for a human mind to keep up with and Izuku ends up hearing gibberish. He takes a breath while the thing in his arms flails impotently: << Calm down,>> he says again, this time directly. The spirit shudders and seems to compose itself, at least enough to stop shifting: it had arrived as a mass of tentacles and claws and beaks and feathers, amorphous and undefined. It settles eventually into something like an octopus, if you ignore the fact it has too many eyes and arms and it never quite stops undulating.
<< I need your help,>> long limbs wrap worryingly around him as Izuku holds the spirit. At least it doesn’t seem to have active suckers: he didn’t want to have to deal with that as well. << They hurt my human and cut us apart. They shot him and now he can’t use my power.>>
Izuku frowns: the spirits around here come to ask him for help with their humans on occasion, but most of them know he’s pretty limited to what he can do. He tried the vigilante thing and it hadn’t exactly gone well, and the first aid he could do was pretty limited. Still, if someone was shot... The spirit didn’t seem to be so young to not understand if his human was dead, so if he wasn’t using his quirk - “Is he unconscious, or just badly hurt?”
<< They took his quirk, you stupid ->> The spirit seems to realize insulting Izuku isn’t going to add to his request for help and it changes its tone to something vaguely more polite: << They shot him with a bullet. The other humans said it erased his quirk, even after they healed him. I can’t connect to him now: he’s alive and awake and the humans are useless. I need you to do something! >>
Izuku looks at the clock again: it’s a little after one in the morning, and the trains won’t be running until five. Spirits never seem to care about pesky human constructs like time or distance. Still, it isn’t someone bleeding out in an alleyway - which Izuku has been called out to help with and is always horrifying, so he doesn’t need to just jump up and go. “Let’s start at the beginning,” He shifts the creature from his arms to his shoulder so his hands are free, then raids the tiny fridge in his room for a bottle of water (refilled from the tap) and a konbini onigiri from yesterday. “What do I call you?”
He keeps the question simple and non-pressing and waits. They always hesitate, even though he he never asks for a name. He knows better.
<< Oku,>> it finally offers. It’s almost insulting in how bland it is, like it thinks he’s a threat while it’s wrapped around his arm and demanding he drop everything and help.
“Oku works,” Izuku doesn’t press for more, all he needs is something to call him. “So where is your human? Give me distance in real terms, I need to know if I can walk it or if we’re going to have to wait for the trains.”
<< Not far. It would be instant if you ->>
“Not happening,” that was for emergencies and this sure as fuck wasn’t it. “Define ‘not far’ because I once had a river spirit think a three day walk ‘wasn’t far’.”
<< He has walked from his home to a place near here,>> Oku says after a moment of thought. << He did not need to rest between.>>
If only they could be bothered to learn some sense of measurement or time, Izuku thinks, and not for the first (or last) time. “All right, I need some details. Who is he?”
Instead of a reply, it pecks him on the ear with a beak sharp enough to draw blood and squawks. Izuku responds in kind, throwing the spirit off of him and through the wall (which it passes through unharmed), cursing and then biting his tongue because it’s fucking one am and everyone is trying to sleep and if he gets kicked out for disturbing the others he’ll be out a week’s rent. “What was that for?” he hisses, digging out his first aid kit for some gauze because his ear is now bleeding freely. “Humans are human!” There’s a hell of a big difference between trying to help some young gangster on a street corner and a doctor who lived in a building with a concierge that would take one look at Izuku and call the cops.
The creature hisses back at him from the floor, all the too many arms? legs? appendages? grouped together to narrow at the base, so that it looks a bit like a balloon covered in eyes. Still creepy, but nowhere near the worst thing he’s ever seen. Izuku can’t tell if it’s just a defensive position, or if it’s trying to intimidate him. << You asked for his name.>>
“No. I didn’t.” Maybe this was a younger spirit, if it didn’t understand the distinction, most of them at least understood this. “I asked who he is. Nevermind that humans don’t follow the same rules and I know hundreds of human names that don’t mean shit, I’m not doing anything until I know who I’m dealing with.”
Oku seems to think this over, its bulbous had bouncing up and down slowly as it ignores gravity to rise upwards until it stops at eye level. << His hero name is Suneater.>>
Well shit, Izuku thinks to himself, already reaching for a change of clothes and his hoodie. It’s a hero. Someone - some villain, if the spirit is right about the bullets being responsible - took out a hero’s power by severing their connection to their spirit: that’s never happened before, at least he’s never heard of it. Quirk suppressants and erasure quirks could mess up the connection, sure, but they never made a spirit find Izuku and demand he fix it. Spirits try to ignore him unless they want something from him or want to try to do something to him, and they also only deal with him when they don’t have an alternative. Whatever this is, Oku thinks it isn’t going to be fixed by regular medicine or someone’s quirk.
Nevermind that Suneater is a third year student, the part of Izuku’s brain that still obsesses over heroes supplies. Everyone is doing internships right now - he’s seen heroes and students patrolling together in various areas over the week, and oh god, the rest of his brain catches up and slams into the bit of him that still has too much sympathy. He might think he’s quirkless.
That twists in his gut, gnawing at the lone rice ball and threatening panic if he doesn’t breathe. “Are you sure I can fix this?” he asks, even as he picks up his shoes from the corner (he can’t afford to leave them at the door, his last pair were stolen) and slides his backpack over one shoulder.
<< You’re the Bridge,>> the spirit offers, almost grudging in the title.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Izuku quips as he locks the sliding door and heads quietly down the narrow hall. “You lot only ever call me that when you really need a favor.”
<< And what will this cost me?>> Oku’s voice has echoes to it, Izuku thinks as he changes out of slippers into his red trainers. There are levels - worry mixed with a begrudging respect, impatience, and the quiet throughline of fear.
Izuku doesn’t call him on it. He considers what he knows of Suneater from the UA Sports Festival while Oku floats beside him as he walks down the alley to the main street. “For payment, you’ll owe me a favor. Your power lets Suneater manifest various animal body parts, right? What are the limitations of that?”
<< Why do you need to know that?>> More suspicion, once again.
“Because what I usually trade in is power. I do this for you, and I can call on you to help me, usually by you channeling power through me for a specific job I need to do. So I need to know what sort of ‘quirk’ that ends up being.”
They’re both quiet as they continue, Izuku letting Oku lead as they make their way out Kotobukicho and heading northwest. The gambling dens are still busy, here, and Izuku doesn’t meet anyone’s eye as they pass track suited yakuza and the various old men who spent their nightly rate on alcohol instead of a roof over their head. The area’s shit and Izuku does what he can, but he’s never much better: all of them are a bad day, or week, from being homeless.
No one bothers him here. A weird kid who talks to himself and wanders around at all hours of the night fits right in, after all.
They turn away from the narrow, overcrowded streets and walk past the convenience store Izuku buys most of his meals from when Oku breaks his silence. << He must eat the animal he wishes to become. It has to be close to eating it to work. It stops when he digests it.>>
Every word sounds like it pains the spirit to say, as though it’s worried Izuku would use it against Suneater. Maybe he’d understand that and feel sympathy for him, if Izuku had any history whatsoever of using what he knew against heroes, or against humans at all. Instead it just stings, but that’s normal for dealing with spirits. Hurt feelings are the best he can hope for, really.
“All right,” he switches to projecting, the ‘inside voice’ where the spirits can hear him and no one else can. It’s good for being quiet, obviously, but it’s also the way to make contracts. << If this works,>> he lines the words with power: intent, honesty, clarity. << You will owe me three uses of your power I can call on at any time and you must provide. If this doesn’t work, you will owe me one use of your power, for dragging me out of bed and who knows how far from home on this.>>
<< I will agree so long as that use of power isn’t turned against my human.>> Oku returns, warily.
<< It might be if he’s a hero and tries to attack me or thinks I’m involved with this after I help him,>> Izuku points out wryly. Or he might just the sort of hero who’d want to ‘help’ the clearly deranged minor appearing on his doorstep. << If it does come to that, it will be to get me away from him and not to hurt him.>>
The spirit considers as they walk. It doesn’t take too long. << Then I, Oku, Guardian of the Yahagi River, agree to your terms.>> There is power in his words, Izuku can feel it, and it might not be the spirit’s true name but it doesn’t have to be to make a contract binding.
<< And I, Deku, will adhere to our agreement to assist you and your human to the best of my ability,>> Izuku returns, knowing the spirit can feel the power in his words as the contract tightens around them both, one more leash, one more tether, to join the multitude Izuku carries.
He’s Deku, in contracts. He’s Deku everywhere now, except in his own head.
He has to be.
He hasn’t had a name in years.
The apartment complex is a mid rise and nothing special after walking for just over an hour to get there. It feels weird to know a hero - well, a hero-in-training - lives here, but maybe that’s what makes it a good place to live. Some heroes don’t really separate their private and personal lives, while others strive to do so. It’s never meant anything much to Izuku, of course: spirits tend to stay around their chosen human, and Izuku can always recognize ones he’ds seen before.
“Which apartment is his?” Izuku asks as they approach the building.
Oku floats up ahead and then continues to rise, before disappearing into a unit on the third floor. << You’re doing that on purpose and it isn’t funny,>> Izuku tells him, but the spirit ignores him and leaves him to figure out his options. The building is tucked between two others, one looking like an office space, the other probably also residential. No balconies, just row after row of windows, many with ac units hanging out of one side.
The front door requires a key or a buzzer code, neither of which Izuku has. Buzzing up isn’t going to work if he doesn’t know what the unit is - nevermind ‘hi I’m here to restore your quirk, your octopus spirit asked me to’ isn’t likely get him access. He circles the building, annoyed at Oku for abandoning him - probably as some sort of test? Hazing? Regretting his agreement even though it had come to him? But the back door is, at least, more useful. It’s got an old style lock, and while he’s sure there’s cameras around Izuku keeps his hoodie pulled up and the back door isn’t nearly as well lit as the main entrance. His lock picks come out from his backpack and it takes a little more than a minute to ease the door open from there.
He takes the stairs up to the third floor and then just searches for Oku. He can feel the starbursts of power of other spirits - there are more than thirty in the building at first look - but Oku is distinct, now that they have a contract, and waiting in an apartment without any other.
(Which doesn’t mean Suneater is alone - there could be someone quirkless in there - but it’s not likely. God does Izuku know how unlikely it is.)
The light had been on when Oku had floated into the window. Deku stretches out his senses and - Suneater is awake. Good. At least he isn’t trying to wake him up.
He knocks on the door.
He can tell when Suneater is standing on the other side of the door - he can feel it, feel the hesitation as he’s examined through the peep hole. The door opens an inch. The face that peers out at him looks bruised and pale, eyes dark behind messy black hair. “I think you have the wrong apartment.”
Izuku shakes his head, trying to sound as confident as he can: he only has one real shot at this. “I-I know this is going to sound weird, but I’m here because your quirk got messed up. Someone asked me to come by and fix it for you.”
“No one told me anything,” Suneater looks at him with narrowed eyes. “Who are you?”
“You can call me Deku,” Izuku offers, struggling not to stutter. It’s somehow easier, talking to spirits, compared to humans. “I’m sorry for coming by so late, but I was only just asked by a friend of yours and it felt kindof urgent. I’m alone and I’m not here to hurt you, I just want to help you get your quirk back.”
“Who sent you?” Suneater asks, still suspicious.
“I don’t think you know him, but he knows you. His name is Oku.” It’s the truth, after all. Not that he expects the name to mean anything to Suneater, but at least it isn’t the sort of truth that gets him called crazy.
The door shuts; Izuku holds his breath. He doesn’t know what goes on inside Suneater’s head, maybe he just considers his options and thinks what more harm can it do? No one wants to be quirkless. Plenty of people call it worse than death, Izuku’s heard them.
The sound of the latch moving and door opens. Suneater is in a black hoodie and pyjama pants with UA’s crest on them. He doesn’t meet Izuku’s eyes. “If this is a trick…”
“It isn’t,” Izuku promises, his voice quiet to match Suneater’s low tone. “It’d be a shitty one when you’re already hurt.”
“I’m not hurt, it’s just my quirk…” he holds the door open and steps back. Sensing it’s the best he’s going to get in terms of welcome, Izuku steps in and then steps out of his shoes, feeling stupidly grateful he’d put on clean socks before leaving.
“Your quirk getting messed up is still going to hurt,” he points out as they stand in the hallway awkwardly. “I’m sorry.”
Suneater looks at him suspiciously. “Why are you apologizing?”
Izuku can’t say ‘because I know what it’s like’ because that won’t work when it’s going to look like his quirk has something to do with... well. Quirks. “I know someone who’s quirkless and they wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” he explains. “So. Is it ok if we get started? I don’t know how long this will take.”
That probably isn’t promising, but Suneater just looks at him carefully again, eyes flickering up in surprise before returning to Izuku’s feet. “What do we have to do?”
“Just sit down somewhere?” The apartment isn’t particularly large from appearances. There’s a door to the left of the hallway that Izuku expects is the bathroom. The kitchen is to the right and straight ahead is the rest of the space, split in half by a folding screen to hide the sleeping area from the sitting space. “Could you sit on the couch?”
Suneater shuffles along, shoulders high and hands flexing, clearly nervous. Izuku does his best to project harmless, even if he knows he sounds suspicious as hell. The other boy hesitates at the couch before sitting down, facing Izuku.
Izuku kneels on the floor, keeping his motions slow and straightforward. He digs out a green sharpie and puts the bag aside so Suneater doesn’t think he’s got anything weird hidden in it. “I have to draw on you, to start,” he says with the marker in hand.
“Have you done this before?” Suneater asks, still hunched and uncertain but at least looking more at Izuku’s face.
“Not exactly,” Izuku admits, because he doesn’t want to give a false hope. “I - I’ve helped some kids with quirk problems before and there was an old man who - well. I’ve done things like this, so they - I think I can do this. I know I can’t make it worse, and if I can make it better I want to.”
Suneater seems to take that at face value, because he doesn’t comment on the slip (Izuku really doesn’t want to try to explain who ‘they’ are). He nods instead. “What do I have to do?”
“Just stay still, mostly. I’ll be… meditating? So I won’t really hear you if you say anything.” Izuku pauses and ducks his own head. “So. You know. P-please don’t knock me out and call the cops on a weirdo dropping by at 2am?”
“Closer to three,” Suneater almost seems to smile for a brief second. “All right.”
“Great,” with genuine relief Izuku uncaps the marker. “I just need your hand.” Suneater offers his left and Izuku carefully adds the simple strokes of a connection sigil. Suneater examines it curiously, and Izuku knows he can’t read it. Humans can’t. Even he can’t really see it, not with his eyes. That’s magic for you.
He makes the complementary sigil on his own left hand and settles back on his heels. “So just… don’t move around too much?” he offers with a lopsided smile, and then closes his eyes and reaches for Suneater’s power which feels like embers of a once-bright flame. He can do this. He will do this.
“Then what happened?” Fatgum asks, leaning forward in his seat. It’s awful: everyone’s staring at him and Tamaki’s hands are on his knees and bruising them in his grip, which is the only real distraction he has against just crawling under the table and hiding. Nighteye and Eraserhead are both looking at him intently and even Tsukauchi is in the room for the debrief and Kirishima is here and if he doesn’t show the other student how to properly give a report what kind of example is he even being and -
“Breathe,” Eraserhead tells him calmly. “We just want to know everything you remember. Take another breath and then tell us what you can and we’ll go over the details once we know everything.”
“R-right,” Tamaki breathes and wishes Mirio were here instead of interning with Mirko just to take some of the attention away from him. Or all of it. Or help him disappear into the floor. “He knelt there for thirty five minutes. He didn’t move, even when I reached for my phone and texted you,” he nods to Fatgum.
“Still wish you’d called, kid.”
“It was late - or early. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Next time, wake me up.”
“Yes sir,” What was he - oh. Right. “I watched him but whatever he was doing didn’t have any outward indication. It didn’t look like anything, really, except the writing on my hand - it was weird.” Before they can ask him weird how Tamaki pulls out his phone. “I tried to take a photo of it, and every single one just… well. They look like this.” He hands his phone to Nighteye first.
The pro-heroes all look at the gallery of images. There’s photos of Tamaki’s hand, clearly outlined against his thigh and couch, but the strange symbol is unreadable - literally. There are artifacts and distortion running across the image where it sits. It’s on every image, no matter the angle. Any image that doesn’t show the symbol is fine.
And then there are the images of his strange visitor, Deku. Useless isn’t what Tamaki would call him, after last night, but maybe he had a reason for that code name.
“How is this possible?” Fatgum asks over Nighteye’s shoulder. “If his quirk is manipulating people’s quirks, he shouldn’t be able to do this.”
“He must have had an accomplice,” Eraserhead muses.
“I looked through the security footage while we were waiting,” the detective speaks up. “If he did have an accomplice, he didn’t enter with this Deku, and he also didn’t interfere with the security footage. That’s clear, but we don’t have anything close to a useful image of him. He kept his hood up the whole time and seemed to know to avoid the cameras.”
“Which begs the question why allow security cameras to record footage but not Suneater’s phone.”
“I don’t know,” Tamaki shrinks, feeling like he should have done a better job of this, that any other hero would have managed to get real identification and know what this kid was doing. “I didn’t see or hear anyone, and he said he came alone, though he could have lied about that. I gave up trying for a bit, then tried to take a video instead and that just made my phone restart. By the time it was running again, whatever he was doing finished. I could feel my quirk come back.” He doesn’t mention the overwhelming relief. He doesn’t mention how tight his chest had gotten. His weakness in the moment isn’t important. “The mark on my hand just flaked off, and Deku stood up and asked how I was feeling.”
“I don’t like any of this,” Eraserhead frowns. “He knew where you lived, a ‘friend’ asked him to see you, someone you don’t know and none of us recognize. We’ve kept the circle who know about the quirk cancelling bullets small, so it’s likely he got his information from someone involved. If he’s involved with the Shie Hassaikai, this could be an elaborate trap.”
Tamaki nods: he wants to argue, because nothing about the boy who came to him screamed Yakuza thug or villain but maybe that was entirely the point. You couldn’t judge people so quickly, for good or bad, because quirks could be so insidious, and who was he to be any sort of judge of character anyway? “He asked me not to tell anyone about it, but I think he knew that was impossible. After that he just took his bag and left. I checked the apartment but I didn’t find anything - no bugs or tampering - but someone else should probably check in case I missed anything.”
“We’ll have our people go through it,” Tsukauchi assures. “Did he say anything else before leaving?”
“He apologized for coming in so late and mentioned a long walk home.” That could have been earnest, or maybe it was meant to deflect attention. “And he seemed calmer, less uncertain after he did whatever it was that he...did.”
“You’re very lucky,” Nighteye says, gaze nailing Tamaki to the spot. “That could have gone very poorly. Why did you let him in?”
Because I wouldn’t be any more useless dead? Tamaki knows he hadn’t been thinking clearly, but who could have, suddenly stripped of their quirk, possibly permanently? He’d felt useless and as though everyone’s teaching had been a waste, that he’d taken valuable space from someone more deserving, that he’d be worrying everyone and they’d be distracted from the real issues. It had been too much, and yet… “I let him in because he seemed trustworthy. I know - I know that sounds stupid, and dangerous, but he never made me feel threatened, and that was enough to take the risk. I believed him.” He considers those words and meets Nighteyes gaze directly. Only for a few seconds before he has to look away, but still. “I believed him, and now my quirk is back.”
“Which may or may not be related,” Nighteye points out.
“What?” Eijiro’s been uncharacteristically silent this whole meeting, but that gets blurted out in surprise. “But Suneater’s quirk-”
“If the quirk cancelling bullets have a duration, he might know the duration and have arrived specifically to time it for Suneater’s quirk return, to buy trust.” Nighteye turns his gaze to Eijiro who’s in his school uniform, not hero costume. “Without anything else to go on, we cannot assume this new player is an ally. We need to treat him as an unknown factor - if we can find him, bringing him in for questioning may give us answers, but we can’t be distracted from our core case.”
“Even if he’s involved?”
“He may be, and in which case proceeding with our investigation may uncover more. At the moment that is the best we can do: without anything else to go on, tracing one possible villain or vigilante will only distract us.”
“We’ll need to see if he appears again,” Eraserhead agrees. “And run his quirk through the database, see if we can get any hits that way. Would you recognize him from a photograph?”
Suneater considers that question, thinks of Deku’s messy hair and far too bright green eyes and the freckles that stood out against very pale skin. “I think so, why?”
“From your description he’s young enough to be a student. We can cross reference his quirk against student records and see if anything comes up that way.”
Fatgum nods. “Good idea. Maybe check for quirks that manipulate cameras as well, in case Nighteye is right and he doesn’t have a quirk-changing quirk.”
“There’s something else,” Tamaki says after the discussion drags forth one more memory. “He said he hadn’t done this before, but that he’d done something for kids with quirks. The way he talked about coming here it sounded like there was someone else who thought he could do it and sent him.”
“So if he does have a quirk that manipulates others, there might be record of him using it, especially on minors,” says Tsukauchi. “That gives us a few options.”
“The detective and I will run through the database,” Eraserhead agrees. “Until then, everyone else should focus on patrolling and gathering information on the Shie Hassaikai and their movements.”
They break up after that to patrol, and Tamaki doesn’t know if he should wish that does meet Deku again, or not.
Deku is stocking shelves when the fox spirit arrives.
She’s a kitsune, and an old one at that. She stares him down at the end of the aisle with her tails in a fan behind her. Izuku doesn’t try to count them - he can feel how strong she is. She stares and says nothing, so Izuku does the same, though he keeps his senses aware: if she lunges at him she could take him and the shelf out and he can’t afford to lose this job.
The cups of dried noodles get lined up neatly, labels facing outwards. He takes the empty shipping box to the back to be folded up and set aside. Yamada will just trash cardboard to be incinerated, but he lets Izuku take the boxes to the recycling depot if he keeps them neat and tidy.
The fox watches him still as he stocks the ancient fridge with cut-price beer and boxed sake. The light inside flickers when the door opens and closes, so Izuku spends a few minutes chilling his fingers to tighten the bulb back in place.
He sweeps, after that, and then checks to see if Yamada needs him to do anything else. The elderly man seems to wake up slightly and look around the store. “That was quick,” he scratches at his salt and pepper beard, seeming to think about more tasks to assign. “No, that’s all we need right now.” He opens the ancient register and hands Izuku what will be his rent for the day, with something small for dinner. He’d planned to see if Abe would need his help as well, but, well. The kitsune is being polite.
Spirits are never polite.
Yamada’s little store isn’t much more than a shipping container retrofit into a place the locals buy groceries, cigarettes and alcohol from, but the old man had once done a favor for the local mob, or so he told Izuku, and so they let him have his tiny business selling staples to the rest of Kotobukicho’s poor and unwanted. The whole area had been dedicated to day workers, once, men from all over Japan, mostly the rural areas, working construction jobs and helping to build the brighter Tokyo everyone wanted to believe in. They’d needed a place to stay, and so the cheap, tiny flophouses - doya-gai - gave them a place to rest their head and wash the sweat off their backs, before starting work the next day.
That had been years ago, and the decrepit buildings remained, servicing the elderly, the poor, and most of all - the quirkless.
Izuku ducks down an alley, the fox following at his heels, until they both stop at a dead end. Tucked against one wall is a man fast asleep on a bed of cardboard, a box over his head to block out the light, but they’re otherwise alone. It’s as close to privacy as Izuku can get these days.
He turns to the spirit properly and since she’s not threatened, cursed, or attacked him - he bows a little. “Hello,” he says, curiously. “What do you need from me?”
<< Why do you live here?>> she asks, blunt but not, Izuku thinks, antagonistic. There’s a sense of stability from her, some distaste, perhaps, but no genuine dislike. It’s one of the nicest receptions he’s ever felt.
“Because it’s what I can afford?” Spirits don’t ask about living spaces, or human things much at all. They usually don’t understand it. “Why?”
The spirit doesn’t answer, looking around the grubby alley with something Izuku can’t place - disgust? disdain? He’s never dealt with a kitsune this old or powerful before. He really hopes this doesn’t end up in a fight. “What do you need from me?”
<< You assume I need something from you.>>
That drags a laugh from Izuku, and it’s maybe too bitter but he can’t help it. << No one has ever come to me for no reason, and you haven’t attacked me yet.>>
<< You expect me to attack you.>> There’s no judgement in the tone, even against his laughter.
“Like I said, there’s two reasons a spirit comes by, so if you need something just spit it out already.” It feels too personal to project, right now, like the kitsune can read him when he’s usually good at deflecting. “Is there something wrong with your human?” he finally offers. “That happens. If they’re young and you gave them too much power, or forgot to give them an off switch.” Which happened more than he’d like. Izuku had helped more than a few kids with shitty quirks be able to deal with them, and it always made him upset. If the spirit was new and young, he could understand it a bit - sometimes they really just didn’t know better. Powerful spirits were usually just selfish and didn’t think about what their power would do to a person, they only cared about the returns.
The kitsune’s tails sway in a wind Izuku can’t feel. Eventually she ducks her head slightly. << You have helped the humans shot with the bullets that disconnect us.>>
Izuku really really hates those bullets and whoever makes them: there had been two others so far, and while it was getting easier to reconnect spirits to where they belonged, the heroes were catching on. The last one had been a first year student named Uravity; she had tried to hold him after he’d fixed her quirk. He didn’t want this sort of attention, the last thing he wanted was to be helped by someone who didn’t understand. Yet another person would be another risk, since they’d probably be a hero - or worse maybe a villain.
Yet not doing something felt wrong - nevermind how much of his life could be made a hell by whatever spirit he refused.
“I’ve been fixing what the bullets are doing,” Izuku hedges while his mind races on. Someone with a spirit this powerful would have a powerful quirk. “Was your human shot?”
<< Yes.>> The kitsune stares at him, clearly awaiting a reply.
Izuku really doesn’t understand what’s keeping her from speaking. “Are you asking me to fix it?”
<< His hero name is Eraserhead.>>
The world seems to stop. Eraserhead. Underground hero Eraserhead. He’s not popular, not part of the glitz and glamor of regular heroes. Izuku had wanted to be a hero, once upon a time. It had been his dream, when he’d been young and hopelessly idealistic and thought that heroes helped everyone. He’d learned the hard way that wasn’t exactly true, and he didn’t hate heroes for that fact: he couldn’t. They were a product of the world, the same way that the doya-gai he lived in were, the way the lean-tos and tents set up under the Shinko overpass were, the way doctors had looked at him and shaken their heads at his mother and insisted that he was hallucinating, that what he saw was a lie because he was quirkless. Heroes worked where they’d do good and be recognized for it and that meant they left places like Kotobukicho alone. It wouldn’t help their rankings to stop an assault in an area policed by the yakuza. It wouldn’t look good to save an old man in a wheelchair in a street full of old men in chairs - there’d be no one around to take their photo, for one thing, and the papers wouldn’t want to publish it. No one wanted to admit there were areas like this.
Izuku didn’t blame the heroes for that fact, even if it did leave him jaded against the industry. They were doing their best, and they did help people.
And Eraserhead wasn’t like that.
His feet move before he can even really think. “Where is he?”
The kitsune looks surprised as Izuku crosses the space between them and her tails sweep forward and back. << Just like that?>>
She doesn’t believe him, Izuku realizes, or doesn’t trust him. Of course she wouldn’t - spirits never do anything that doesn’t serve their own interests, after all. He thinks about Eraserhead: he might not be a hero himself, but Izuku still stalks the hero forums and discussion treads. He’d spent a few months trying to be a vigilante, and he’d talked to others doing the same thing. Eraserhead worked with everyone and he looked after everyone and never expected anything back in return, not fame or glory or even credit.
<< If you want to owe me something in turn, I’ll take a favor. His quirk is erasure, right? However that works. But I’ll do it even if you don’t, so long as you help me get to him and get away after. He’s a hero. >>
A real one, Izuku hopes she understands that feeling. He does the work that needs to be done, even if it isn’t glamorous and you don’t get thanked for it. It’s something Izuku feels he understands more than most, maybe. It’s a kinship that’s entirely one sided, but it doesn’t matter.
<< I expected you to bargain. The others said you make demands.>>
Izuku wants to move but she hasn’t indicated where they need to go, not yet. << They expect me to make demands and get nervous when they don’t know what I’ll ask of them. They think I’ll try to claim them and enslave them, or erase them. It’s easier when there are rules.>> He hopes she’ll understand that, as old as she must be. << So if you need assurances, I, Deku, will assist your human in exchange for a use of your power to be called on at any time, and for your assistance in helping him and helping me get away after.>>
She stares at him, her tails moving faster now, almost agitated. He stares back and very suddenly she looks away. If Izuku didn’t know better, he’d think she was embarrassed.
It strikes him, very suddenly, why. “This is a trap, ” he breathes out, the reality a dawning horror. “Fuck me, did they let him get shot just to get to me?” Why? Why would they risk that? Why would one of the best underground heroes risk that when they don’t know him?
<< He volunteered,>> his spirit says, her voice deeply conflicted. << They recovered a weapon and he volunteered to be shot so that you would come. They are afraid and desperate and they want answers.>>
“Answers to what? You can’t want me telling them about you - not that they’d believe me, no one ever does.” And he was not going to dwell on that, because that was a one way ticket to a very bad day and getting nothing useful done at all.
<< The ones who make the bullets. They have a child. They are working with others. It is getting more and more dangerous. My human is worried that his children will be at risk, one was hurt already.>>
Shit, if Eraserhead has kids involved, maybe that would be reason enough for this crazy scheme, but still - “I don’t know anything about that!”
<< They don’t know that,>> she points out patiently. << They only know that you know who has been hurt, every time, and that you undo what was done. They have no other leads.>>
“Why is this my life?” Izuku asks, though he didn’t expect an answer. The best the spirits ever give him is that it’s his own fault - he’s a monster, a horror, defiler of their magic and whatever else they want to label him as. He isn’t supposed to exist, as far as they’re concerned, and they never hesitate to remind him of that. His life has never been entirely his own, and most of the time he’s come to terms with it.
Today is going to suck.
“All right, well…” Izuku takes a breath and sighs. “Where is he?”
<< You will do this?>>
“No, I plan to find him and then point and laugh,” Izuku grits his teeth. “I’ll figure something out. I’ll need a plan, but for that I need to know where he is.”
The kitsune’s head quirks to the side, thinking, before she shakes her head and shifts onto all for legs. << He is in Chiba. There is an apartment with other heroes and surveillance.>>
He can’t walk to Chiba, Izuku knows: it would take most of a day to get there if he tried. The trains are running, but a round trip ticket would run him a day’s pay. At least it isn’t worse - if they’d been trying to test his range and gone further out, he might be choosing between a ticket and next week’s rent. He’s slept rough before, but he’d really really like to avoid it.
Izuku needs a plan, and a good one, but at least he’s dealing with a spirit who seems to understand human things more than most - like cities and apartments and surveillance. “What do I call you, to start with?”
She doesn’t hesitate. << Tamamo-no-Mae.>>
The name comes almost as a shock because while it isn’t her name, not her true one, it’s still a name with power attached. It’s old, and means something to her and she offers it to Izuku without hesitation.
He swallows around the lump in his throat. “I’ll head to Chiba, but I’ll need to get some things first. Can you check on Eraserhead and see if you can get his phone number, or one from any of the heroes watching him?” If the spirit could manage locations, it can hopefully manage numbers.
<< I can try. How will you find him if I leave?>>
“I can call you,” he assures her. “If I have a name, any name, that’s enough to send you a sort of mental tug. Once I get to Chiba I’ll let you know, and we can make plans from there.”
She walks around him once, tails passing so close he could touch them if he wanted to, and then she nods and bounds off without a word.
Eraserhead, Izuku thinks as he heads back to his rented room to get some things, a plan already formulating in his head. If he’s going to risk his neck for a hero, at least it’s someone he genuinely likes.
Shota’s eyes hurt from staring at paperwork and screens for too long, but he ignores it with practice borne of years of ignoring discomfort. It isn’t like he has much else to do, at the moment: he has the case files for the Eight Precepts and the Shie Hassaikai memorized at this point and it still doesn’t make their options any easier. The League of Villains are clearly involved now, but cooperatively or absorbed into the larger group? Is Shigaraki playing a long game, and if he is do they have time to stop it? Has the little shit learned patience, or is someone else guiding him along? All For One had mentioned making sure Shigaraki was looked after, but he’d been intentionally vague on what that meant, only that he expected great things from his disciple, and great things when AFO was involved always meant great chaos for heroes.
He looks up at the monitors in front of him. One has additional files - the other shows the security monitors for the building, which remains unchanged. Deku’s current MO suggests he’ll arrive in the next three hours, and they’ll be ready for him.
It’s a risk. No one had liked it, and Hizashi still isn’t speaking to him, but Shota knows it’s a necessary tactic, and one he’s uniquely capable of taking. Out of everyone involved in the case, of everyone who knows about this kid, Shota’s the one with the most expendable power. His quirk hasn’t even worked all that well since the USJ incident and he’s still more than capable of holding his own without it. If it means this kid will show up, that they can find out what the hell he’s doing, who he’s been caught up with, what they’re making him do -
He tries to shake the train of thought away but it’s difficult. Out of the reports they have - from Amajiki, Takagi, and Uraraka, all hit with the erasure bullets - they’ve painted an uncomfortable picture. Deku’s a child, twelve or thirteen at best guess, and ill looked after. He’s had some combat training - Uraraka had described how he’d avoided her attempts to secure him which included jumping off of the balcony of the dorms she and Asui were sharing for their internship. It had been a three story fall and he’d taken it without any apparent injury, which was suspicious in itself, as was however he’d managed to enter the building in the first place. It looked like he’d scaled the building, which wouldn’t be easy for someone of his apparent height and build. He hadn’t planted any bugs, or even asked anything of Uraraka save that she let him go for helping, which implied he was genuinely trying to help, but he clearly knew who was shot and when, which implied that he was involved with the bullets. Everything about him didn’t quite add up.
His phone rings and he picks it up instantly, the number Nighteye’s private line. “What?”
“We may have a leak,” Nighteye doesn’t waste time. “He knows this is a trap.”
“What makes you say that? Has there been movement?”
Nighteye’s voice is tense on the line, annoyance and frustration slipping through when he rarely allows it to show. “No. He called my office - from a payphone inside an internet cafe, they don’t have cameras for us to pull from, apparently. He spoke with Bubble Girl first before she put him through to me. His message was ‘I’m not walking into a trap, but it’s stupid that Eraserhead took out his own quirk, what are you even thinking? If you want him to get it back, he can meet me alone at Matsugaoka park.’ He gave details for a specific bench along the northern edge of the park.”
“Fuck,” Shota says with feeling. “This was supposed to be closed circle. How the hell does he know?”
“A mole, someone with a very specific quirk, or we’ve been bugged,” Nighteye answers at once. “It could be on Tsukauchi’s end as well, we have to be careful not to point fingers.”
“It still doesn’t bode well if we’re working on the Shie Hassaikai. If they can predict our movements, know what we know…” Shota scrubbed at his face, hoping against hope he could ward off the headache forming between his eyes. “So, now he wants me to walk into a trap instead.”
“It’s an odd choice for one,” Nighteye admits. “I’ve sent you the coordinates - if you look, it’s backed by a pond, the buildings are entirely residential, and the tallest building is across from the bench which could be used as a vantage point, but it’s only five stories tall. The trees are dense beyond the water, but less than a hundred meters deep.”
Shota does stare at the map, satellite imagery telling the same story as Nighteye does - it adds to the layers of mystery. What is the kid planning? A water ambush, possibly, with another villain? The water was unconnected to any other system, they wouldn’t have a clean getaway there. Why the park? “Did he say anything else? Give a time?”
“He said he’d be there all night,” And is that supposed to be a warning or a threat? If he’s already monitoring the location, how long has he had to set up his trap? Would he know if Shota went with backup? “I don’t like this.”
“I don’t either,” Shota agrees but he’s already standing up and closing the files to lock away for the night. “I’ll head over alone. Let’s keep this to ourselves, as much as we can.”
“You’re not going alone.”
“I’m going to be pretty obvious if I’m not, at a park bench,” his capture weapon is at least a comfort around his shoulders, he isn’t helpless. “Take Mirio with you, and Bubble Girl. Tell no one else the details, but get a few others ready to move if we need them. He hasn’t given any indication of dragging civilians into this, but if he’s working with an accomplice I don’t want to risk it.” And the park would give the potential for hostages, nevermind if they attacked the homes nearby. “Keep your distance so we don’t spook him and I’ll keep my radio on. I don’t want this to have been for nothing.”
“It won’t be,” and it isn’t Nighteye who says that, because Nighteye doesn’t let himself sound that pained. Sasaki on the other hand, sounds like he’s a minute from punching a wall. “I know you have feelings because he’s a kid, Eraserhead, but don’t take unnecessary risks.”
“When we decided taking out my quirk was a necessary risk, everything is still just part of that plan,” Shota retorts, hating how everyone keeps acting like he’s less, now, like he needs to be coddled. “I know what I’m doing.” He does: he’s talked vigilantes down before, too many kids who think their only chance to do something is to take the law in their own hands because the world had failed them. Deku might just be one more, but he won’t be foolish. If this is a trap, so be it: he can handle it if it gives them something concrete to follow up on.
He heads out. The park is nearly a 2 hour walk, but only a few stops on the Keisei-Chihara Line, and that will give Nighteye and his team time to arrive. No one takes any notice of him on the train, and Shota watches for anything unusual as he leaves the station and takes his time heading towards the park.
“I’m about five minutes away,” he says into the radio hidden in his collar. “Status?”
“We haven’t had much time to sweep without being obvious,” is Nighteyes’ tense response, “but nothing obvious so far. The apartment seems the most likely staging point, but Mirio checked the roof. If he has someone inside one of the units we won’t know until it’s too late.”
“You think they’d set a sniper on me?” Shota finds the idea ridiculous. “I’m quirkless. That’s an odd target.”
“And since you’re doing this without my quirk, we can’t predict anything,” is the other man’s terse reply. “Be careful.”
If he mutters obviously loud enough to be picked up, Nighteye doesn’t comment on it. Shota stops at the corner store to pick up a can of iced coffee before making his way to his destination. It’s exactly as expected: a park bench. It’s seen better days, the wood grey from age and weather and bearing numerous scars where young hopefuls had carved their initials, others writing messages in various forms. Behind the bench is a low wall that separates the road and the somewhat steep hill that leads down towards the pond, the bench situated on the bank of grass between them.
Around him is a residential area in the process of winding down for the evening. The sun is setting and everything is lit by the red-orange glow. The pond has ducks. There is an older man walking a pair of small, fluffy dogs, who bark when they see a young woman walking towards them with a much larger dog, tail wagging. He can hear children playing in the distance. There are cars on the road that pass by and turn down the street without taking note of him. He’d say he has the sense of being watched, but he doesn’t: the sense he has, strangely, is one of calm certainty.
“There might be someone here capable of manipulating emotions,” he hides his face behind his drink as he leans against the wall next to the bench. “I’m feeling surprisingly content right now.”
“Noted,” is all he gets in turn. Shota waits. The old man and the dogs pass behind him. The younger woman jogs on ahead. More cars drive by. Lights go on inside the apartments. An older woman takes a rug out onto her balcony and shakes it before returning inside. A pair of young women step out onto their balcony holding matching mugs and stare out at the park, speaking quietly. Their laughter is bright and echoes down. Nighteye checks in: nothing to report. Shota waits. The street lights turn on as the stars come out. The sound of children fades away. His drink is empty and the caffeine doesn’t seem to help, but when does it ever? Traffic begins to fade. An elderly man on a bicycle smiles at him as he rides by. The minutes tick on and become hours. He tells Nighteye to pull further back. Maybe they’re being watched.
It’s nearly midnight and he’s ready to leave, about to call it when there’s a scuffle of feet beside him. Training keeps him from jumping as a young voice, caked in frustration, breaks the otherwise calm of the night. “You were supposed to sit on the damned bench!”
Shota gets a good look at Deku and sees the reports are accurate: he’s short, young, and looks underweight despite his oversized hoodie. His hood is up and his hair falls in his eyes, but there are bruises under them that speak of poor sleep, and a scar that runs across one cheek that looks like the wound didn’t heal correctly or was never properly tended to. His clothing is clean, but well worn - either owned forever or purchased secondhand. His shoes are just as broken in, and there wear at the sides suggest that his feet will be too large for them soon.
He’s as expected, except that on his back is a drawstring bag, not the backpack he’s been reported with previously. And while his voice is angry, his shoulders are high: his body is tense, ready to flee, his hands are flexing at his side, and his eyes roam everywhere but constantly come to rest not on Shota, but to a point a foot or so to his right, almost behind him.
All of that registers in an instant: he doesn’t take his eyes off of the child. “I’m sorry?” He isn’t at all - he’d checked the bench just in case and while nothing looked suspicious, he didn’t want to risk it. “I was worried I’d fall asleep if I sat down.”
That seems to throw the kid - good. It’s not what he expected and Shota can see his brows furrow and his lips move silently before he speaks again, seeming to choose his words more carefully. “The whole point was that you’d sit and I’d fix your quirk at a distance. I shouldn't even be here.”
“But you are,” Shota keeps his hands open and easy at his sides, his body language open, knows that Nighteye and his team can hear every word of this. “You came to help.”
“It’s not going to do any good,” Deku won’t look at him - fear of making eye contact? Uncertainty on how Shota would react? Shota shifts his weight, slightly, and Deku mirrors it. He’s skittish. “I mean it. I’m not involved with whatever you think I am, and you’re wasting time. I can’t believe you took your own quirk! That was stupid !” The kid does look up at him and Shota is surprised at how fierce his expression is - he’s angry, he thinks. The kid’s angry at him for more than not just sitting down. “You had no idea if I would come! What if you scared me off! What if I got hurt before I could come?” Deku’s hands are fists and he’s more in Shota’s personal space than almost anyone else would dare. It isn’t particularly threatening when he doesn’t reach Shota’s chin, though “You’re Eraserhead and you’re one of the few heroes who looks after everyone. We can’t afford to lose you!”
And… that is not how he expected that little rant to go, honestly. “It was a logical ruse on our part,” he very carefully sets a hand on the boy’s shoulder, keeping it light. When Deku flinches he takes it away, but notes how the boy is trembling slightly. “We had no other way of reaching you and I was the best choice.”
“That’s bullshit,” Deku looks away from him again. “But it doesn’t matter because you did it and here I am and I don’t know anything, so can I just fix you and go home already?”
“I’m going to ask you to come with me,” Shota watches the boy tense all the more and he’s prepared in case he runs, but doesn’t allow himself to look anything but entirely relaxed. He puts his hands in his pockets and slouches a little more. “It will help us if we talk to you somewhere private. Even if you don’t know anything, what you don’t know might help us. And if you can tell us how you ‘fix’ our quirks, we can use that to make sure the people developing these weapons can’t hurt others with it.”
“Do I have a choice?” Deku asks him bitterly. Shota wishes he didn’t recognize it, hadn’t heard that tone from far too many former heroes and current villains. Whatever conspired to put this child here in front of him, it wasn’t good.
“You’ll be free to go when we’re done with you,” he lies. He’s not letting a twelve year old back out onto the streets.
“Yeah, I thought as much,” is the reply, just as bitter, and Shota wonders if the kid knows - but they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it. Deku waits with him silently as Nighteye pulls up with the car and the drive to the precinct is just as quiet, the kid curled as far into the corner of the back seat as possible, eyes so distant they look almost clouded over when Shota peeks at him along the way.