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Complicated Creation

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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.>>

He waits.

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.






Chapter Text

 

-------------

 

Izuku takes stock.

They’re in Tokyo, he’s in the Hisamatsu Police Station in an interrogation room, he isn’t handcuffed or restrained (a plus) but he’s in a room with Sir Nighteye, a detective who introduced himself as Tsukauchi, and Eraserhead. They’re all on the side of the table closest to the door across from him, and Izuku is feeling more than a little trapped.

At least Tamamo-no-Mae is keeping Sir Nighteyes spirit back - he’s huge, a tortoise with a beak that looks like he could take off one of Izuku’s limbs if he wanted to - and he absolutely looks like he wants to.

The cat that drapes itself over the detective’s shoulder is almost comforting in how normal she is in comparison.

“We’re going to ask you some questions,” Sir Nighteye says, elegant fingers shifting from their folded position in front of him to push up his glasses, eyes staring down at Izuku. It’s obvious he already doesn’t like him, Izuku can tell from experience, and the ire rolling off of his spirit isn’t helping the oppressive mood of the room or the uncomfortable tightness in his chest.

The worst part is they’d dragged Sir Nighteye and this detective out of bed for something that wasn’t going to be any use to them and whatever case they’re working on, and they’re going to blame him for it. 

“I’m going to disappoint you,” Izuku’s apologetic, at least a little, because they all have more important work they could be doing. “I really don’t know anything about what you’re investigating.”

“How do you know what we’re investigating?” Nighteye is so sharp and Izuku had always admired him as All Might’s sidekick but up close and in person he’s somehow even more intimidating than All Might ever was. Maybe because when he thinks of All Might he remembers the smile - and Nighteye has none. 

And he’s not thinking straight, Izuku realizes, feeling his chest go even tighter. He has to be smart about this, he can’t get caught up in the fact he’s around heroes, that once upon a time he would have given anything to stand in their presence. He has to think, or this is going to be so very, very bad. “Eraserhead said you’re trying to research the people making the weapons stealing quirks.” It’s true, and believable, while his powers are anything but. “It makes sense that you would, and I get why you’d think I’d be involved, but I’m really not. I just know how to fix what they did.”

They look at Tsukauchi - it's subtle but Izuku catches it, the way they glance at him sidelong. The detective hasn't said anything yet and the cat on his shoulders is watching Izuku with eyes that are entirely black and the room is silent for a moment before Nighteye continues. "And how did you know what heroes had been affected to help them?" 

Izuku takes a breath. This is where he has to be careful; this is where he has to lie: “It’s my quirk.”

Tsukauchi shifts as the cat on his shoulder yowls. Everyone looks at the detective and waits as he sets his pen down on his notepad. “Deku,” he says, voice serious, “I’m afraid we haven’t been entirely honest with you in our introductions. I’m going to correct that now, because I’d like you to be honest with us. You can trust us, do you understand that?” 

Trust them, when he’s trapped in this room, back to a wall, behind how many more walls, where they’re not going to let him go and they lied to get him here? Is that the lie he’s talking about, or something else? Izuku's so used to adults lying and calling him a liar that the idea of trusting anyone is absurd, but whatever this is about, the detective is waiting for an answer. Does he trust them?

Not really, but they won’t want to hear that. “Yes?”

The cat growls and Tsukauchi frowns slightly, and no one says anything as the man looks at Izuku with concern that might actually be a little genuine, but is still dangerous. “Deku,” he says again, pausing every time he says Izuku’s name like he doesn’t like to use it. “ My quirk allows me to know when someone is lying. Do you understand what that means?”

Holy shit. Izuku forgets how to breathe for a moment as he stares at the detective and then everyone blinks and leans back as Izuku sits up and leans forward. He doesn’t care, doesn’t really even register it or the way the cat spirit hisses at him because the detective can tell when he speaks the truth. “How does that work?” he asks, mind already thinking about applications and maybe - finally - help. “Does it understand partial truths? Can you tell if specific statements or true or false in their parts, or only as a whole? How does it deal with empirical truths compared to narrative truths? Or does it only deal in absolutes? What about true statements the speaker doesn’t believe?” 

The three men all stare at him and there’s silence for a second before the cat is laughing at him, laughing so hard she falls off of Tsukauchi shoulder and lands on the table. No one sees her walk up to Izuku and sit in front of him, bushy tail swaying back and forth for a moment before jumping to land on Izuku’s head, claws out.

She yowls again as Izuku ducks, flinching as his personal ward sends her flying. Eraserhead tenses and Izuku realizes he probably looks like he’s just tried to slam his own head into the table. “Sorry,” he says, flushing and trying to deflect. “Quirks are just - they’ve always interested me.” << And I have wards to protect me from spirits like you, >> he tells the cat. << Leave me alone. >>

Her reply is another hiss that is wordless but the meaning is inescapably rude: he ignores her to focus on the humans who look at him worriedly. “It’s all right,” Tsukauchi says, a bit gentler now, concern lining his face. “The specifics of my quirk aren’t something we usually discuss, because it’s important to my work, but those are very good questions. I’d be happy to answer what I can with you when we’re done here.”

“Right, right, can’t tell the kid how it works so he can lie around it.” Izuku shrugs because he can’t blame them. The detective can identify the truth and that’s what’s important, even if he doesn’t quite know the details yet. Out of anyone - if Izuku has any chance at all - this has to be it, right? A detective who can understand the truth and two heroes, one of them who’d worked for All Might and one who talks to vigilantes and street thugs and understands how the world works in the grimy, less pleasant, less easy bits. If anyone might...

Izuku makes himself look up, look them all in the eye, look the detective straight on and fights against too much hope because if this backfires he’s going to really really regret it. “I don’t have a quirk.” That part’s easy. “I was born without one. I have the toe joint and everything. And instead of just being a quirkless nobody with no future, the universe - for some reason - gave me the ability to see the things that give people quirks.” He looks to Eraserhead. “Yours is a nine tailed fox spirit. She’s the one who told me you’d let yourself get shot and that it was a trap. That’s why I knew you’d done it, and why you’d done it, and where you were, and how I got Sir Nighteyes number. His hero agency information is on the front of the folders you were reading.”

There is a very, very long pause. Izuku is pretty sure he could hear a pin drop - he can absolutely hear the racing of his heart in his ears. The spirits in the room are laser focused on him. << Bold,>> says the cat, finally actually speaking to him directly as she climbs the detective's back to settle on his shoulder once more. << It won’t work.>>

“Spirits.” Nighteye finally breaks the silence and he doesn’t make it a question, but a statement. Izuku’s used to the disbelief, is all too familiar with it and with the cold stare that accompanies it but… it never stops hurting.

“Yours is a tortoise,” he presses on, feeling more desperate. “Tsukauchi’s is a cat - a long haired orange one. Everyone with a quirk has one.”

There’s another silence, this time the detective breaks it. “I… see.” His voice is carefully modulated, carefully easy, like Izuku is a wild animal or a violent drunk. “And you’re the only one who can see them, Deku? Do they speak to you? Do they tell you to do things?”

Izuku’s heart sinks to his feet and then through the floor and ice fills the hollow in his chest. They don’t believe him. Even knowing he’s telling the truth, even the detective doesn’t believe him. No one ever believes him, except his mother, and she’s gone and this happens every time and he’s so very very tired of trying and failing and paying for that failure.

He pinches the bridge of his nose to prevent tears. He needs to do damage control. Maybe he could clear the ward he’s wearing and ask the cat to attack him again, but knowing her she’d ignore him - and asking the tortoise would probably actually result in losing a limb which might prove something but would probably just prove how damned desperate he feels. It’s fine. He’s dealt with this his whole life, what’s three more people (heroes) who think he’s crazy? It’s better than the alternative, better than slipping and hurting someone.

“Look,” he begins again, feeling like it’s a lost cause but trapped now. “It’s the truth, but you don’t have to believe it, it doesn’t change -” will they believe him if he can prove something? Is it worth pressing on? He has Eraserhead’s quirk to fix, after all. “I mean - Quirk suppressants don’t work on me, you can check my foot, and - well. I don’t know what your quirk would do,” he tells Eraserhead, “but I doubt it’ll do anything. I’m happy to try once we fix it.”

“Let’s talk about how you fix it,” Eraserhead seems eager to move on, but Izuku can’t tell if it’s because he’s uncomfortable, annoyed, or just tired “You wanted me to sit on the bench. Why?”

“It’s not going to make a lot of sense,” Izuku warns, because usually he’d lie but if he can’t they’re really not going to get it when they won’t believe the basics. “Um, can I borrow your pen and some paper?” he asks the detective. “You took my backpack.” Which he’d planned for, thankfully, and they won’t find anything useful in it, but he’s out of tools unless he cuts himself.

When he has the pen and a scrap of paper from the detective’s notebook it’s easy to write a sigl. “You can see that, but none of you could copy it if you tried, right?” They all examine it like it’s a bomb, which would be hilarious if he wasn’t, you know, in police custody. Nighteye even takes out his phone to take a photo and frowns at the result. “Honestly the easiest answer you’re not going to like is magic, sorry, but it’s magic. It doesn’t exactly work with technology, and you have to have a certain something to read or write it - don’t ask me what the certain something is, because I haven’t met anyone human who can but I have found old books and things written in it, so people must have been able to years ago. Probably back when it was easier to believe in. Anyway,” He’s rambling again but they’re listening and Izuku doesn’t even realize he’s leaning forward over the table, or how much more engaged he sounds. 

“Different sigils work for different things, though I can’t use most of them I can use that one.” Izuku taps the paper - he’s simplifying but he has to. “It lets me… connect? Let’s go with connect. If I have a sigil and you have a sigil, I can connect to you and look closely at how your spirit is connected to you. They’re like - lines? Magic lines? Like a leash between you? Spirits are basically parasites, though a lot have learned to be beneficial over the years but - anyway, um.” He gestures with his hands to try to describe something that he really does not have the right words for. “Once I’m in there I can look at how things are supposed to be connected and re-connect them. It was tricky, the first time, but it’s gotten easier now that I have practice.” And he’s rambling, Izuku realizes, despite his best efforts, and they absolutely must think he’s insane now but it’s a bit too late to swallow his words, even if he wants to swallow his tongue. “I… um. I was pretty sure I could channel into you if I carved my sigl into the bench and you sat on it long enough, so I was waiting a few streets away, but you never sat.” He’d set up a circle to amplify everything and protect him, but without Eraserhead sitting down it didn’t matter.

The room goes back to being silent.

<< Has anyone told you that you talk too much?>> the asks the cat spirit, yawning.

<< You’re not helping, >> says the kitsune. 

<< Who said anything about wanting to help? >> the cat retorts with something suspiciously like a snicker. << This is the most entertainment I’ve had in months.>>

Izuku has to ignore them and focus on the task at hand. Luckily no one’s noticed him being distracted.

“All right,” Nighteye finally says. “so you can repair quirks; how did you learn how to do this?” 

At the same time Eraserhead asks “Can you do it now?”

Izuku shrugs. “I can if you want to watch? And I just learned - when Suneater’s came to me, I was figuring it out then.” 

“You’d told him you’d helped others, however.”

Crap, he had said that, and Suneater had told them. “I… some people’s quirks give them trouble, so I’ve helped them, but not like this. And only when they’ve asked! It’s usually when they can’t turn things off.” 

“You can turn off quirks?” Eraserhead’s eyebrows are in his hairline and that’s the biggest reaction he’s seen from the hero yet.

“Not exactly?” And isn’t that a terrible question he cannot, will not answer. “I can teach them how to turn their own quirk off, though.”

Nighteye sighs and rubs at the bridge of his own nose, under his glasses. “Why don’t you show us how you can fix Eraserhead’s quirk for now?” 

“Well, that is why I’m here,” Izuku agrees. They probably want to stop this and go home and rest; it’s late and he’s been wasting their time. “Can I have your hand?”

Eraserhead holds his hand out across the table. Everyone watches Izuku intently, like he’s going to stab the hero with a ballpoint and make his daring escape past All Might’s former sidekick, a police detective, a steel door, and an entire police station’s night shift. Izuku tries not to feel hurt about that fact. He’d gone to them when he knew what it would mean.

He draws the sigl on the back of Eraserhead’s hand, glad that the pen is nice enough to handle skin without skipping. He adds the same to his own and then folds his hands on the table and closes his eyes and reaches out.

 

---------

 

Shota watches as Deku opens his eyes and for a moment they seem to glow green, the time short enough Shota might wonder if he imagined it, but he’s learned to trust those split-second observations: they’ve saved his life far too often.

“There,” the kid says, and cracks a massive yawn. “You never said it was broken.”

“Eraserhead?” Nighteye asks, and Shota activates his quirk even though he doesn’t need to to know it’s back - he’d felt it, whatever the kid did, it hadn’t felt like anything at all at first and then the sense of emptiness, of loss, an almost cold void that seemed to exist along the whole of his spine suddenly disappeared and he felt whole again. More than just whole, actually. “Eraserhead?”

Shota stares at the kid who hasn’t so much as flinched at the removal of his quirk - and everyone reacts when their quirk is cancelled, but here is a kid who doesn’t. He lets it end, blinking dry eyes that do not hurt. “What did you do?”

And the kid - fuck he’s a kid - goes pale and leans back, all his excitable energy gone and hands suddenly up and defensive like he’s expecting a blow. “Y-your quirk was broken - I mean, it makes sense, because I realized I-I recognized you, you were at the USJ, you got hurt and it affected your quirk, right? Since I was putting it back, I just - I fixed it?” Shota’s eyes narrow: at the USJ? Was this kid there? “Do - do you want me to undo it?” 

He takes a steadying breath. Whoever this kid is, whatever he is, he’s scared - or good at acting - and there’s no decent way to treat him as anything but a scared kid for now. He relaxes with effort and shakes his head, looking to Tsukauchi and Nighteye and nodding to them. “No, it’s fine, you just surprised me.”

“How old are you, Deku?” and that’s Tsukauchi, focusing on the important details.

The kid looks at the detective with a frown, like he knows he can’t lie. “Sixteen.”

“What?” Shota realizes he’s said that out loud. “You don’t look sixteen.”

The eyes Deku turns on him are baleful. “Wow, haven’t heard that one before! You sure are an observant hero, Eraserhead!” Shota figures he probably deserves that, but doesn’t miss how the kid blushes and ducks his head in embarrassment right after, like he only realized what he’d said after the fact. He’s a conundrum.

“All right, well, can you tell us your actual name?” Tsukauchi continues after clearing his throat. “Your parents must be worried about you.”

“That I can’t do,” Deku’s fists clench on the table. “I don’t have a name, not anymore. My mother - she’s dead. No one knows where my father is.” There’s a pause as the kid takes a steadying breath, and he speaks into the tabletop. “I guess asking you to just let me go now that we’re done is pointless?” 

Tsukauchi shakes his head and Shota watches as the kid sags but doesn’t show any anger. “I’m sorry, Deku. We’ll hold you here for tonight and make sure we don’t have any other questions, and then we’ll contact the services for minors, if you don’t have any current legal guardians. It wouldn’t be ethical to just let you go, young man, you must understand that.”

Deku breathes out and stares at Shota with a gaze too dark for comfort. “So that was another logical ruse?”

Ah, Shota thinks. He deserves that too. “It was necessary.”

Deku’s expression doesn’t change and Shota feels like he’s being judged, and harshly, but Deku’s voice is steady as he speaks, the words cutting. “Is it easier, to call it that instead of admitting you lie? I’m just asking for a friend.”

Shota doesn’t get to reply - Nighteye stands up, motions sharp and agitated. “We’re done here,” he declares and marches out without even a farewell. Shota hasn’t seen him this agitated in a long while - the case must be getting to him. 

They lead Deku to a holding cell. He asks for his backpack which proves to hold a beat up novel, a bottle of water, a granola bar, an emergency blanket that’s clearly seen use and a thin green woven blanket that’s somehow even more well-worn. There’s debate before they give him the items, but not the backpack itself. Whatever Deku thinks of that he doesn’t say, just rolls his eyes and settles onto the futon with his blanket wrapped around his shoulders despite the heat.

They find Nighteye pacing by Tsukauchi’s office, moving like a tiger with pent up energy despite the late hour. Shota just wants to sleep. The kid missed his mark by suggesting Nighteye would ever be connected to a tortoise, hah. “What’s set you off?”

“Beyond the obvious?” Nighteye hesitates as Tsukauchi opens his office door and invites them in to debrief. “How much of that did he think was the truth?”

The detective sighs, shoulders slumping. “Essentially? All of it. He believes every word.” He moves to his chair behind his desk and sinks into it. Nighteye sits in the second chair - Eraserhead leans against the wall. “Spirits, age, everything.

“His quirk is something else,” Shota points out. “If anyone finds out about it, they’d take advantage of him.”

“You’re suggesting they haven’t already,” Nighteye steeples his fingers as he leans on his knees. “He was speaking to someone while talking to us. I recognize telepathy when it’s in use, and he was communicating with someone. Couple that with his ability to seek you out and knowledge of your position and the trap, and his ability to find our interns and Fatgum’s assistant, I think it’s safe to assume someone is using him. Perhaps without his understanding of it.”

“You think he’s being conditioned?”

“I think you’ve forgotten how All For One works,” Nighteye’s voice is harsh. “He can give quirks to anyone, including the quirkless. A young boy, without parental figures - he already made Shigaraki, what if he was making another? This child appears right when we need someone to assist us with quirk destroying bullets that were created by an enemy of the League of Villains? It’s like his quirk was made for this, and this sort of long game is exactly what All For One does.”

“The USJ,” Shota feels sick. “He said he recognized me.”

“Exactly,” Nighteye nods. “He may have been involved even then.”

“He might just be a very ill young boy,” Tsukauchi interjects, the voice of reason. “I don’t think we should label him without evidence.”

They all consider that: Shota wants to believe the kid is as he looks - young and unsure and afraid, but there’s something to his eyes that suggests something darker.

“I used my quirk a few hours ago,” Nighteye pushes himself up and sways slightly, but for Nighteye it reads like he’s standing in a gale. Shota moves to his side instantly. “I’ll check him tomorrow in the evening. If he’s connected - to the League or the Shie Hissakai, that will tell us.”

“In the meantime, Sasaki” Shota sets an arm on the man’s shoulder to steady him. “You’re going home to sleep.” 

“You’re one to talk, Aizawa.”

“That’s why I’m saying it. If I can tell you’re sleep deprived, you have a problem. Go home. We all need some sleep. The police can watch the kid for the night, and I’ll sleep at the station just in case he does try something, all right?” Shota heads off that argument before Nighteye can suggest it, and it works - Sasaki sags, which is impressive on a man of his build: it’s a bit like watching some complex piece of origami collapse into itself. “Go. The station is used to me crashing here, I’ve done it enough.” Having an underground hero with an erasure quirk makes for a lot of backup calls when they can’t use suppressants for some reason.

Nighteye leaves, and Tsukauchi looks to Shota, conflicted. “He’s a minor. We have rules - I do need to call social services.”

“It’s going to be difficult to trace him without a name,” Shota points out, but there might be an alternative to that, if he makes a call. “But when you do, we should see if he’s been in the system - if he’s had abusive foster parents, or if they’ve sold him out, it might give us a lead there.” And it wouldn’t be the first time, especially if the kid started quirkless the way he said. “For now, check the system for quirkless kids in care, I know that’s a high percentage of them, but we might lucky. Assuming that part was the truth and not brainwashing, it might make him easier to find.”

“We can hold him for thirty six hours, while we run things,” Tsukauchi is already reaching into a drawer for paperwork. “After that we’ll have to charge him to keep him here.” 

Shota nods because knows the rules all too well. “Let’s see what Nighteye finds tomorrow. Kid or not, it might be the difference between going back to a foster home and ending up in tartarus.” 

Namaossa grimaces but doesn’t argue the point. “Go to sleep,” he tells Shota. “You know where the bunks are.”

“I do,” Shota leaves the man to it. Out of all of them, he knows Tsukauchi will actually go home to sleep when he’s done. 

He gets four hours of sleep, which isn’t the worst but could be better, when his phone rings. It’s Kirishima which causes instant worry that morphs into something like dread as his student speaks. “I think I recognize Deku, Sensei.”

Shota leaves the room with the four emergency bunks - someone is asleep in the other set and he doesn’t want to wake them. “Explain.”

“When we - when we went to rescue Bakugo, and we were going to the warehouse-” and part of Shota still regrets forgiving his students for that dangerous exercise - “remember we told you someone gave us an address? It was him, at least - I’m pretty sure it was, looking at the photo Nighteye sent.” 

And yes, Shota remembers - a kid in a hoodie approaching his students with information on Bakugo, an address on a scrap of paper and then disappearing in front of them. They’d never traced him - the villains they’d captured didn’t seem to have any intel on him either, the assumption had been some vigilante at the time. 

They need to know who this kid is, Shota realizes. For his sake, as well as for everyone involved with the current case, it can’t wait. “All right,” He digs out his eyedrops, but it’s from habit - his eyes don’t burn the way they have for the last few months. “Good work. I’ll take it from here. And what are you even doing up this early? Do I need to lecture you about about proper sleeping habits?” 

“Weight training!” is his student’s far, far too cheerful reply. “I’m always up this early, it’s the best time to use the gym without gettin’ distracted!”

“Right then,” and he can at least give credit where it’s due: Kirishima hasn’t ever neglected his physical education - they just need to get him to put that energy into his other studies. He hangs up, looks at the time, and decides to text Hizashi instead of call. An extra hour of sleep for the man won’t hurt at this point, and based on the circles under Deku’s eyes, Shota can only hope the kid is asleep too. 

 

----------

 

Izuku wakes up uninjured, though not particularly well rested. The blanket is a ward, specially made for times like this at the cost of a major favor, but one that has paid back in dividends in keeping him safe when he can’t set up anything else. He folds it up neatly as he makes the borrowed bed (not so much a bed as a shelf with a futon on it, probably better than a bed would have been) and takes stock. 

He feels worse now than he did yesterday, which isn’t good: the clawing anxiety is getting stronger and now he doesn’t have heroes to distract him from it. It’s also the change in location - the room they’d questioned him in had just been a room, not comfortable or comforting but nothing special either. The holding cell is exactly that: the room has a third of it barred off and that space split in two. The other cell is empty, at least, but there is a guard working a desk next to the door and that feels all too familiar. Everything smells off - like they’ve tried to scrub the space clean but fear and urine are in the walls and paint and floor. The overhead lighting comes from the same harsh buzzing bulbs. It’s at least not cold. He remembers always being so cold.

He knows in theory that he’ll be ok, but it’s hard to tell that to the clawing fear that he’ll be trapped forever, that they’ll put him back into a tiny room and leave him there and call him crazy and make everything so hard -

He makes himself pick up his book. It’s The Stories of Ibis, a book his mother gave him and now so familiar he has it nearly memorized but that doesn’t matter because reading it helps break the cycle, helps him think straight, helps him breathe. He runs his hands over the well worn pages and grounds himself as best he can. The heroes and police are just doing their best with what they have: it isn’t their fault they don’t believe him (even when he tells the truth, they call him a liar, they always do). He’ll sit and be calm and make no fuss and when they transfer him to services he’ll duck out then - if he leaves now they’ll just worry and try to find him, but they won’t care once he’s someone else’s problem: that’s how it’s always been.

They bring him breakfast in the morning and this time a female officer who doesn’t have a spirit at all asks for his name again. He apologizes when he can’t tell her, wishes he could ask her about being a quirkless officer, if she likes her work, if everyone respects her, but it’d be rude to admit he can tell when she hasn’t said anything to him, and it could hurt her. What if she lied about having a quirk? He knew plenty of people who did, who said that their quirk did nothing useful - like having slightly altered taste, or extra salty sweat. Sometimes that worked for people.

Sometimes it backfired terribly. Izuku’s seen the results of that from one too many of the people who live on the streets or in the doya-gai, now, enough that he hates the lie when he tells it himself. 

He’s left to his own devices. The station is busy - the guard at the desk changes but they don’t really speak to him and he doesn’t want to bother them if they’re busy, but he eventually asks if he could have some paper and a pen to write with. Frustratingly they say they have to ask for permission and they’re told no.

He sits on his hands and doesn’t pace the small space, because pacing upsets people and there’s nothing else to do but sit quietly. Thankfully, at least, he’s not alone.

<< You have everyone quite conflicted about you,>> Tamamo-no-Mae sits halfway through the bars, ignoring them. << They think you might be working with the villains. >> 

<< You’d think being unable to lie in front of them would have helped with that,>> Izuku sighs. << I guess I understand it from their perspective, but I wish they’d at least consider mine. If I was lying wouldn’t I have come up with something more believable? Instead I’m back to being labelled as crazy.>>

<< You’re not crazy,>> the kitsune assures him - well, he thinks she’s trying to be assuring. It also sounds a little like she’s making fun of him. 

<< Wonderful. In the world of everything that wants to kill me, at least one of you doesn’t think I’m crazy. I’m so lucky.>>

She laughs. << I also don’t want to kill you. >> 

<< One out of a thousand. Hundred thousand. Yippee.>> Izuku can’t quite look at her, it’s too uncomfortable under her stare, so he lies back on the futon. << Why, though? I think you’re the first to actually keep talking to me after I did whatever needed doing. And we never made a contract. You don’t owe me anything.>> Maybe he should have insisted on one, being able to harmlessly cancel a few quirks might be useful, especially right now, but at the time he’d just wanted to be useful. He’d just wanted to do what he could because no one else could and it was Eraserhead. 

Regrets weren’t useful, but they at least made regular company.

<< You are not what you are made to be,>> the kitsune says, and the statement is so unlike what everyone else says to him he rolls on his side to look at her. “What?”

<< You are not what you are made to be. You are not what you are made out to be. Both things are untrue. You have surprised me,>> she says, like she’s making all the sense in the world. << I look forward to seeing what you become. >>

“What -” he realizes he’s speaking out loud, the guard looking at him funny, and he coughs and focuses. << What do you mean by that? The whole monster defiler thing?>> He knows why they call him that, remembers all too well what the power had felt like and - << I don’t want to be like that, it was an accident. I promised that - >>

He’s interrupted by the door to the room opening and a teenager coming in. It’s unexpected enough to catch his attention and he doesn’t miss how suddenly wary Tamamo-no-Mae is. 

<< Who is he?>>

<< My human’s son, >> she explains as he hands the guard something and then comes to stand in front of the bars. 

The other boy has swept back hair and circles under his eyes that do, actually, remind Izuku of Eraserhead. He’s in a school uniform and looks like it was a rough morning, everything about him is slouched and just a bit messy - it reminds him of Kaachan, years ago now, refusing to wear his tie and always climbing on everything - Izuku shakes the thought away. Why had he suddenly thought of that?

Probably because of Eraserhead the night before. When he’d gone in and fixed his quirk, he’d realized why he seemed familiar: he’d been the teacher who’d spoken up, to the press, after Kaachan had been captured. He was Kaachan’s teacher and he’d understood that Kaachan wasn’t a villain, would never be one, he was going to be such an amazing hero…

The bars ring from someone knocking on them. “Anyone home in there?” 

Izuku flails, realizing he’s zoned out and gets to his feet to approach and realize the newcomer is a full head taller than he is. If he’s Eraserhead’s kid it makes sense, he supposes, that they’d let him in. He’d probably be a hero in training. Maybe Eraserhead thought he’d talk to someone his own age easier? “Um. Hi. Sorry. I was thinking.”

“I could see that,” the newcomer has his hands in his pockets and an easy smile, one that almost looks trustworthy except for the way that Tamamo-no-Mae is watching them both: she hasn’t said anything, but her tails are fanned out and twitching and so far that’s meant she’s agitated. The newcomer’s spirit is a small thing in comparison: a floating blue ball of fire with no distinct features that dives at Izuku’s head just to make him flinch away. It laughs with the sound of tinkling bells while the other boy looks on, confused. “...You ok?”

Izuku shoves his own hands into the front pocket of his hoodie so that he can clench them. << Buzz off!>> “Sorry, I-I thought I saw a wasp. Um. Hi. I’m Deku?”

“Shinsou,” the other boy introduces himself but it’s laid back - no bow or handshake, just a nod of his head. 

“You’re training to be a hero?” Izuku asks, not sure what else he’s supposed to say and uncomfortable standing with bars between them. Shinsou looks past him at the cell and Izuku doesn’t know what he might be looking for - he’s hasn’t exactly been in here long enough to leave an impression on the place. They don’t even have a clock anywhere to check the time, and he hadn’t risked bringing his phone on this trip. “Actually, do you know what time it is?”

That at least gets Shinsou’s attention. “It’s just after nine. How did you know I was training to be a hero?”

Izuku stares for a minute before he realizes the other boy is serious. “Because you’re wearing a UA uniform and at a police station at just after nine am talking to someone they they think is working with villains? I don’t think you’d be a general education student.”

It makes Shinsou laugh, though Izuku gets the feeling it’s despite himself, and the teen seems to relax from the sort of forced-I’m-easygoing pose he had going to something a bit more natural. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. You’re smart - I’ll just cut the crap, if you don’t mind?”

“I mean -

Everything goes away: Izuku feels like he’s wrapped, very suddenly, in a dozen blankets, except the blankets are slowly suffocating him. His chest feels tight, too tight, and the blankets cover his mouth and eyes but he’s cold, he’s so cold and he can’t move, can’t breathe, and he’s screaming, is he screaming? He feels his mouth move but it doesn’t sound like he’s screaming at all, in fact he feels very reasonable, everything is very reasonable, like it’s perfectly fine to be dying, it’s important not to fight back because if he fights back it only ever gets worse and -

He blinks as the pain crashes through everything, cutting the pressure away with a knife but he still can’t breathe and the kitsune has his arm in her mouth and when he yanks it out he can feel the skin tear. “What the hell?!” He stares at Shinso who is looking at him in surprise and the little blue flame spirit is laughing high and sharp and piercing and fuck, he hasn’t been able to redo the wards because they wouldn’t give him a pen, that’s how Tamamo-no-Mae bit him, which means anything else that wants to attack can and Shinso is glaring at him like he’s done something wrong. 

“How did you do that?” 

Izuku clutches his arm to his chest, panting. “ What happened? ” he demands, demands, and there’s power he’s reaching for he never uses he doesn’t even realize he’s using because he feels trapped all over again and the guard moved, when did the guard move, he didn’t see her move one moment they’d been talking and the next she’s by the door and the bars of the cell are warped - “Oh god how long - how long was it? What did I do? What did he do to me?”

Tamamo-no-Mae leans in and puts her forehead right against Izuku’s chest, presses it there hard enough for Izuku to rock with it, and somewhere away from her Shinso is talking and the guard is moving and the lights are flickering and his power is everywhere but all Izuku cares about is the absolute certainty that comes from the kitsune’s words. << He asked you your name. He asked why you could not say it. I stopped you before you could explain. I am sorry. I did not warn you. It has been no time at all, for humans. That is all. I swear it. I swear it. >>

Izuku strokes her, grounding himself, and she allows it and later - so much later - he will cry when he thinks about it, thinks about how kind it was that she let him touch her at all - but for now he looks at Shinso and feels validated when the teen takes a step back. “You have mind control,” he states, mouth full of acid and regretting breakfast. “You used mind control on a minor without his permission? ” And he’s Eraserhead’s son? And if he’s here - if he’s here and he did this -

Eraserhead did it.Eraserhead sent him. Even after he’d come willingly and hadn’t fought and had done everything they’d asked, Eraserhead had sent him.

What was it they said, about meeting your heroes? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

“Deku, you need to sit down and breathe. I - I think you’re having a panic attack,” Shinso backs up again. The guard is trying to open the door, but it seems to be jammed. “You need to breathe.”

“I can’t -” and he can’t, he can’t breathe, even with a weight against him that is comforting and certain and maybe they had good reason, maybe there is some exception to the rule about quirk use, maybe they meant no harm but right now he can’t think can’t care. “I can’t do this,” he admits, voice cracking and shaking and Shinso blinks at him in surprise as Deku, he’s such a fucking useless Deku, feels the tears start and he doesn’t stop their fall because they’ll just keep coming. He squeezes his bleeding arm to put pressure on the bite and the pain is maybe grounding but also doesn’t actually help how he feels right now. “I can’t do this. I was going to stay, I was, I didn’t want to worry anyone -”

Shinso holds out open, empty hands, consoling hands, his expression attempting something gentle but Izuku doesn’t believe it: he’s seen that look before. “What do you mean?”

<< Don’t answer him, >> Tamamo-no-Mae warns. << That is how his power flows. >>

Furious, Izuku reaches with a bloody hand and Shinso flinches but they’re feet apart he’s behind bars and he isn’t reaching for the human at all. He grabs the little blue ball of fire, unthinking, and squeezes until it shrieks. Tamamo-no-Mae yelps and pulls away from him, afraid or disgusted or shocked he doesn’t know. He doesn’t care. He feels cold, ice cold, but he doesn’t let go even when his hand starts to blister because he can;t even do this properly. “I came because I wanted to help,” he tells Shinso as the door to the room opens and Eraserhead enters, hair wild and quirk engaged but it doesn’t matter - Izuku doesn’t have a quirk. “I wanted to help you.

“You still can,” Shinso says, voice uneven. Eraserhead seems to be caught between trying to break through the cell and worrying what Izuku might do if he’s pushed. 

Good.

“Deku,” Eraserhead seems to realize that his quirk isn’t going to help and so he stops trying. “You don’t have to go back to them. You can trust us - we’ll look after you.”

Trust you?” Izuku’s fingers are smoking - he needs to let go. He throws the spirit as far as he can and everyone flinches like he’s throwing a bomb: Eraserhead surges to grab Shinso and ducks down, shielding him as the guard dives behind the desk. 

Izuku can’t help it: he laughs. It isn’t a good laugh, and he knows it and he can’t stop it, even though he tries. Everyone looks confused up at him because nothing has happened : they can’t see anything, they don’t know anything and they never will. He can feel the spirit fleeing, trying to put as much distance between them even though now Izuku will always know where it is.

He makes his way back to the futon and manages to catch his breath as he collects his blanket and book with his other hand. By the time he turns back, the Pro Hero is standing at the cell doors, using his capture weapon to cut through the fused bars. “Is this another logical ruse, Eraserhead? He asks, and his voice sounds high and weak to him, even though he’s trying for cool and collected. “You want me to trust you when you send your kid in to brainwash me?

“We needed to know your name,” is the hero’s tense reply as he stands in the cell, capture weapon loose in his hands and clearly ready to act. “Just your name. We’re trying to help you.”

You’re not, Izuku thinks, maybe says but only the spirits can hear, it doesn’t matter. He looks at Shinso who is still staring at him. “You’re lucky I’m a better person than you or your dad,” he tells him, still burning, still furious, still seeing darkness swim at the corner of his eyes, breath still too short and sharp and high and everything hurts and he’s so angry every word feels like it burns as he speaks it, like his mouth is dripping poison and all he wants to do is reach out and - no. He won’t be that thing, even when it’s so easy, when it’s almost easier to do it than it is to hold himself back.

“You want to be a hero,” and he’s not jealous, or maybe he is, as he stares past Eraserhead entirely to meet Shinso’s gaze unflinching and he wonders what it’s like, to have such a great quirk and a hero like Eraserhead for a father. “I hope you turn out to be good one - I really do! But if you ever do that to me again you won’t get to.” He can let it go, this time. 

He doesn’t think he’ll be able to, if it happens again. He’s just not strong enough.

“Don’t expect help again,” he tells Eraserhead, because he’s also not strong enough to do this again either. He’s a weak useless Deku. “I won’t come.”

Maybe Eraserhead knows he’s moving. Maybe he can tell from his words: Izuku doesn’t know and doesn’t care. The fabric of his capture weapon shoots forward to wrap around him, but Izuku opens his mouth and disappears.









Chapter Text

 

---------



The debriefing is an extremely uncomfortable one. “We should have put him in cuffs,” Nighteye snarls as they go through the footage. The second half is heavily corrupted but combined with the guard, Hitoshi, and Shota’s reports they have a complete picture. It just doesn’t make any sense.  

Shota winces at the exhaustion lining Nighteyes’ face but doesn’t bring it up. “I don’t think they would have made much difference, if I can’t erase his quirk.” 

“Quirks,” Nighteye stares as the video feed once again starts to degrade and Deku’s form becomes unidentifiable, while Hitoshi remains clear. “At this point I think it is safe to assume he has several.”

“Like the Nomu?” Centipeder asks. He sits across from them, the meeting room containing mostly Nighteye’s staff, with Fatgum and his interns and Shota and Hitoshi. “He mentioned an institute.”

“Play the video for everyone,” Fatgum suggests, seeming to notice how on edge his interns both look.  Shota’s glad he’s onto it - he can’t take Kirishima aside right now. “Let’s get everyone up to speed before we assume anything of the kid.”

Nighteye types a few commands into his console and the footage plays. It begins with Deku sitting quietly in the holding cell, shifting occasionally and looking at a specific section of the wall. “Judging on his body language, I suspect he is speaking with someone here,” Nighteye says quietly. “It’s faint, but you can hear him ask what as well.”

Shota agrees - Deku’s clearly focused on something - though whether it’s a hallucination of the boy’s making or a telepathic projection, it’s hard to say.

“He seemed really out of it when I came in,” Hitoshi admits as the feed shows his entrance. The audio here is fine and the conversation is bland as they discuss Hitoshi’s hero status and the time. Then he activates his quirk.

>> ”Tell me your name.”

>> “Deku.”

>> ”Tell me your real name.”

>> “I don’t have one anymore. 

>> “What do you mean, you don’t have one?

>> “I traded it to the crows to escape the institut - OW! What the hell?” the video footage and audio quality, originally clear, start to degrade, specifically around Deku. On the recording Hitoshi asks how did you do that but Deku doesn’t answer him: Deku clutches at his arm and looks to the space beside Hitoshi and asks >>oh god, how long - how long was it? What did I do? What did he do to me?

“He wasn’t looking at me at all,” Hitoshi says, though it’s obvious from the way Deku is standing, from the set in his shoulders, even if the footage looks like it’s from a 300 year old VHS tape. “I’ve never had someone break through my quirk without help, either.”

“What does he grab there?” Suneater asks as the footage continues to play. “I didn’t see anything.”

“None of us did,” Hitoshi’s hands fist on the table. “There was nothing there.  His hand was suddenly bloody and he grabbed a fistful of empty air and then my quirk was gone. ” 

The room takes on a whole new level of tension as Shota watches himself arrive in the holding area. The bars on the cell had warped, somehow, along with the lock - the officer was struggling to open everything and he remembers thinking suddenly that just because Deku had given them no reason to suspect him of violence didn’t mean he was incapable of it. He remembers running in and finding Deku with blood on his hands but no sign of injury and he’d worried for one split second that he’d hurt Hitoshi somehow.

Everyone holds their breath as Deku throws… nothing. Shota remembers that moment of terror; he’d stopped breathing, had thought of nothing but getting Hitoshi out of there.

“Wait - but he wasn’t holding anything?”

“You can’t see it in the video, but his hand was smoking like something was burning in his grip. At the time we reacted like it was a threat.” It had been automatic - an assumption of another quirk, and the throw had seemed aggressive.

“But nothing happened?” Fatgum is watching the footage, perplexed.

“Just that my quirk came back,” Hitoshi admits and none of them know what to make of that even now. “I could feel the difference. And then-”

Then there’s the threat, and the promise, and they all watch as Shota’s capture weapon begins to circle around the kid and then closes on empty air, the audio turning so garbled it sounds a bit like a group of crows have nested next to the microphone for a second and a half, before silence returns.

Nighteye ends the playback. “Any questions?”

Centipeder is the one to break the silence. “What do you think we’re dealing with here?” 

“Based on this, and the information we received this morning from Red Riot, I have a working theory,” Nighteye tells the room at large. “Much of this is intel that will not leave this room. It is not connected to the Shie Hassaikai case directly, and only your current involvement is granting you access.” The gaze he levels at Kirishima and Suneater is probably for insurance and they nod to show they understand. “What we know of the Nomu is this: they are made from the deceased, and a process is used to splice several quirks onto them until the multiplied quirk factor causes extensive mutations. The villains we captured when we rescued Bakugo do not have detailed information, but we have gleaned that much of their own understanding.” It had apparently been a threat carried out against several members - failure could lead to becoming part of All For One’s experiments.  

Nighteye waits to make sure everyone understands and then continues. “What we also know is that there were experiments done on the living,” he does not flinch, but several in the room do. “The result of multiple quirks would leave those who survived the process unstable.”

Fatgum is frowning, hands nervously flexing against the table. “And so young Deku?”

“He knew Bakugo’s location,” Nighteye continues. “He gave that information to Red Riot, before the raid. That was what allowed them to find the correct warehouse to mount their attempted rescue. He disappeared on them at that time, after convincing them of the accuracy of his information. He was able to manipulate and restore the quirks of multiple heroes, and also was able to dampen or restrict Mindblank’s when he was agitated. In addition, I think it is clear that he has secondary effects when upset: the bars warping, the power fluctuations, and the manipulation of recorded data.”

Shota hates this, but it’s the best theory they have. “He has far too much information about us, which could be a quirk, or outside help. Addresses, internal movements, even family status.” Some of that could come from vigilantes, maybe, if Deku isn’t working for the league - but maybe he is. Maybe they have something over him, or just -

“Who did he mean, by your dad?” Kirishima interrupts and looks at Hitoshi. “Is he an officer? Did something happen?” 

“Another reason he is a threat,” Nighteye answers for them, probably to Hitoshi’s relief. “There are no public records that should connect Shinso to Eraserhead, and yet he clearly knew.”

AIZAWA-SENSEI is your DAD?  

“You’re lucky this room is soundproof,” Hitoshi says flatly. “I’m adopted. Can we maybe talk about that later?” 

Kirishima seems to realize the situation and quiets down. “Right! Sorry! Uh - so he knew something no one knows?”

“It’s a very well guarded secret,” Nighteye continues, and damned right it’s well guarded - they’d taken Hitoshi on three years ago and it had been worth every minute of stress and sleepless nights. There was no way in hell was he letting his and Hizashi’s work put his kid at risk. “I think the major clue, however, is his reaction to Mindblank’s quirk.”

Centipeder is the one to nod and lean forward. His expression isn’t exactly readable with mandibles, but his voice is grave. “He asked ‘what did he make me do’. That isn’t what a normal person would say after that experience.”

“He’s been mind controlled before?” There’s something in Hitoshi’s voice that worries Shota - a conversation they need to have later. It isn’t Hitoshi’s fault - he was the one who made the call and brought him in. 

“I believe the evidence points to this: records suggest that All For One has taken multiple quirks that allow him to manipulate memories and emotions. He may have been under his control at one time, or potentially someone else’s.”

“I made the wrong call,” Shota tells the room. “I take responsibility for that. He panicked because I asked Hitoshi to speak to him. I believed that leveraging his real name would be useful in understanding what was going on, despite our suspicions of his background.”  And worst of all they somehow still don’t even have a name.

“Whatever was done to him was thorough,” Nighteye agrees. “His answers to Mindblank were nearly nonsense. The only lead we have is an institute - likely a medical facility of some sort. We uncovered several from the league of villains during the raids.” 

“So… what do we do next?” Kirishima asks, looking around the room. “Do we look for him?”

“No.” Nighteye looks, to Shota’s gaze, a little pained at the admission. He wonders if anyone else would pick up on it. “While I believe he is directly involved with some villains, the specific case we must focus on right now remains the Shie Hassaikai. They are our target. We must stop them before they manage to turn their incidental production into something geared for warfare, and Deku is a dead end in that regard. We do not have much time. I will create a more general warning to issue to heroes on patrol to keep an eye out for this boy and report any sightings. When we have stopped the Shie Hassaikai and Chisaki’s plans, then we can form a plan of action regarding Deku, if we have something more to go on. At this point, he has disappeared and we do not have the manpower to track him down - and we will not risk another hero’s quirk to draw him out.” Nighteye gives Shota a look, which Shota ignores. It was, at the time, worthwhile. 

“He has stated he will not assist us further. We must assume that will be the case and act accordingly. Be cautious when patrolling. Ensure that your costumes have been upgraded to include the new support armor. Do not be caught in a firefight alone. We’ll discuss what our next steps are this evening when the other teams come back in from patrol. Anything else?” 

The meeting disbands after that. Hitoshi has a quiet conversation with Kirishima and Suneater that Shota does not listen in on, just waits, and soon enough his son then makes his way back to Shota’s side as the room empties out. “Sorry.”

“What are you apologizing for?” Hitoshi has grown so much in the last year alone, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t suffer when he thinks he’s somehow failed. 

“Not stopping him? Letting him break out of my quirk?” Hitoshi seems to hear his own words and scratches the back of his neck. “Ok, maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself…”

“You are,” Shota retorts, but he sets a hand on his son’s shoulder. “You’re allowed to, just don’t mope about it. He got away from all of us, and there’s too much we didn’t know and couldn’t predict about him. You did everything right.”

“Did I?” He asks, looking up at Shota, gaze hard. “I used my quirk on a kid who’d probably been tortured and mind fucked before and made him panic. I’m the reason he ran away.”

“I’m the one who asked you to,” Shota says back and the two of them end up in a bit of a staring match. Shota blinks first. “It was a bad call.”

“I don’t want to use my power to abuse people,” Hitoshi looks away. “This… felt like abuse.”

“I know, and I’m sorry.” Deku’s words echo in Shota’s head. “I won’t ask you to do that again.”

“I mean, you’re going to have to?” Hitoshi’s laugh is almost painful to hear, making him younger and reminding Shota of the boy they’d found muzzled and hurt years ago. “That’s the point, isn’t it? That I’ll be a hero who can make the villains talk? I just….” Hitoshi shakes his head and straightens his spine, seeming to find himself once more. “I think we need to make sure they are villains, before I do that. When there is a next time.” Because at the end of the day, they both know… Deku hadn’t done anything explicitly wrong, and maybe he’d needed help - and they’d just made it a lot harder for him to ask for help or trust when it was offered.

The meeting room is empty, so Shota doesn’t mind wrapping Hitoshi in a hug. For one thing, Hitoshi won’t pull away if there’s no one to see him do so. “We’ll figure this out,” Shota promises, so damned proud.

“I know,” Hitoshi says into his chest. “But…”

“But?”

“Did you ever… I mean, has anyone considered he might be telling the truth?” Hitoshi asks, looking up at Shota in the circle of his arms.

“That quirks are actually magical spirits that only he can see and talk to?” 

“...Right,” Hitoshi buries his face against Shota’s chest. “Nevermind.”

 

------

 

They have to leave it at that; the Shie Hassaikai case is too important to be distracted by one lone kid, Shota knows. It eats at him but he has to focus - you get distracted in this line of work and you get hurt, or worse, someone gets hurt because of you. You have to do the job in front of you, and then you worry about the next one. You have to be able to compartmentalize, especially as an underground hero. So, he focuses.

But Hizashi finds him, night after night, staring at the footage of Deku in that holding cell, watching him hold something invisible, watching him rock back from being struck by a weight, watching him flinch back from whatever had broken him from Hitoshi’s quirk, and he has to wonder: was there someone else in the cell the whole time? What are they missing?

 

------

 

Izuku finds himself on the bank of the Takua, one of the many rivers that ebb and flow in the other place, and for a moment he wonders what would happen if he just threw himself in and let it carry him away. He could drown here, he knows that, but if he floated along, where would he arrive? America? England? Somewhere else entirely? 

Maybe he should try to work on his English. Maybe he needed to leave Japan entirely. 

The tears come back, hot and heavy and gods he’s a monster, Izuku can’t even deny it when he stares at his hand. He’d reached and he’d taken and he’d forced and he’d been so angry and so scared and he’d done to Shinso’s spirit what had been done to himself. He was just as bad, he was a villain, a monster, everything they always knew he’d be.

It’s a struggle to get out of his hoodie; his right arm is still bleeding sluggishly from the kitsune’s teeth, and his left hand is a burned wreck from the fire of the blue flame (Zarr-Yerkna-Gooyn, his mind helpfully supplies, he’d not taken the spirit’s whole name but it had been a near thing). He crouches on the stony bank and submerges both wounds and it burns all the more but he deserves that, deserves the pain, deserves everything they say about him because he’d broken his own promise.

He very nearly does fall in - after, he isn’t sure if he just wasn’t paying attention or if it was a subconscious attempt to give up - but teeth grab the back of his shirt and drag him up to the pastel blue-green grass and dump him on his ass to stare up at the unnatural sky and oversized trees and Tamamo-no-Mae staring down at him. << I cannot swim, >> she informs him flatly. << Do not attempt that again.>>

“You shouldn’t be here,” he tells her, feeling stupid and dazed, hiccuping from his tears. “You shouldn’t be near me.”

<<This is my home ,>> she tells him, seemingly unbothered by his outburst and how he’d attacked Zarr. << If anyone should not be here, it is you .>>

And doesn’t he know that all too well? Izuku stares at his hand, now shiny with scars pulled tight, at the terrible sky beyond it and knows, knows, that he isn’t supposed to be anywhere, that he doesn’t belong and never will and one day someone will catch him off guard and -

The tears stop eventually, the way they always do. He scrubs at his face and sniffles and shifts only to realize there’s a warmth at his back. << Do you feel better?>> she asks, as Izuku sits up and registers that Tamamo-no-Mae had curled up alongside him.  

“I… yes,” he has to admit, has to speak his truths, now. “Thank you.”

<<You are not what you think you are, >> she tells him, just as she did before, and here she seems so much larger - he’s seated and so is she and she towers over him, each of her tails the size of his whole body. << You are a kit. I think too many forget what they are like.>>

“I’m a kit?” He’s unfamiliar with the term- no one has used that against him yet, at least.

<<A pup. A young one. A child,>> she explains with seemingly infinite patience. << You have not been taught anything. >>

Izuku laughs so hard that he ends up leaning against her and somehow she allows it. “Oh, I’ve had plenty of spirits teach me,” he assures her, so bitterly that the grass around them wilts at his words. “Every single one of them had me pay them for it, too.”

<<They taught you what they wanted you to know. Not what you needed to know.>> She nudges him with her nose. << You are not a monster.>>

He wants to believe her, but he can’t - not after today. He pulls away from her warmth, afraid of the false kindness and what it will end up costing him this time. “How the hell can you say that?” She’d been there, she’d seen what he did, felt what he did - and she must know what he’d done and knew what he could do.

<<You were scared,>> she says simply. << Instinct is something we all must learn to control.>> 

“It’s not an excuse,” Izuku makes himself get up, get away from the comfort she represents because she’s Eraserhead’s spirit and she’d never made an agreement, there was no contract, and he can’t afford to lose anything else. “It’s never an excuse to hurt someone.” He collects his dirty hoodie, his blanket and his book and clutches them to his chest. “Thank you for staying with me,” he finally settles on, because he has no reason to be rude. “I’m going now.”

<< I could teach you. >>

“No.” Not now, at least, and probably not ever. All he wants is to go home and put up his wards and ignore every spirit who bothers him for the next week at a minimum. “Go back to your human. He has a case to solve.”

She slowly moves to stand and he is faced with her true size, her true power, as she looms over him. << Yes,>> she says, as if unaware of how intimidating she might be. << He has his case, and a child to save, along with many others.>>

Izuku doesn’t rise to the bait. They don’t need him. They wouldn’t even believe him if he tried to help again - they’d lock him up and he’d lose himself all over again and he’s done. Heroes can be heroes - he’ll focus on helping the people they can’t save.

He turns and walks away. He doesn’t have the energy to push his way back through to humanity right now - he’ll have to find a connection to a shrine and then head home from there. Hopefully he won’t end up in Aomori again - he doesn’t have any money for a ticket home.

 

--------

 

Shota hates hospitals. 

Their victory comes at a cost, as so many victories do. He watches from the doorway as Yagi and Mirio say their strangled goodbyes to Sasaki and it never gets easier, it never does. Every time they lose a hero to madmen like Chisaki, to the people who see the flaws in the world and think the solution is to remake it in their own image, it burns. Nighteye was a damned good hero and the world is going to hurt for the loss and no amount of platitudes will make it better, even as said hero’s last words ask them all to strive for more. 

He checks in on the rest of his people, his students and the other pro heroes. He’d helped lead this charge and he takes responsibility for where things went wrong, listens to what went right. Later they’ll properly debrief, but some things are important to get now, while the memories are fresh and unclouded with time. Some horrors you have to bleed out, little by little, before they poison everything.

He makes the rounds, doubling back to meet with those who were asleep the first time. At some point someone sits him down to have some food, but Shota doesn’t remember eating it, just throwing the empty wrapper away. A coffee is likewise offered and disappears without memory, but he carries the empty cup around for more than half an hour.

The hospital goes dark as the evening draws in, but no one suggests that he go home. He settles in a corner of Eri’s room, the pale young girl still unconscious, and makes sure the nurses know where he is in case he’s needed. Hizashi assures him that he understands and promises to keep an eye on Hitoshi and the cats, and Shota closes his eyes and does not expect that he will actually manage to sleep.

It is very early in the morning when he wakes to the sound of someone moving in the room. He thinks it must be a nurse, at first, but his eyes focus to see Mirio standing at the foot of Eri’s bed, bandaged and bruised and looking defeated in the quiet hours. 

Sasaki is his first personal death, Shota suspects. It won’t be Mirio’s last, but the first one - Shota knows - that leaves its own kind of mark. This is the sort of thing he’d usually leave to Inui, but the man’s not here and Shota has a duty to his students, even the third-years. So he shifts, making sure the uncomfortable plastic chair he’s curled in creaks, so that Mirio doesn’t startle and irritate his injuries. 

“You’re supposed to be in your room.” He might be a teacher, but he doesn’t coddle his students. (Mirio wouldn’t want to be coddled, besides: Mirio has a complex about appearing to be at his best no matter what state he’s in, which Shota has opinions about.) 

“Sensei,” Mirio smiles, the same way that Yagi does, brilliant and empty. “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”

“No.” He gets to his feet and stretches, coming to stand at the foot of Eri’s bed, not exactly beside Mirio but next to him nonetheless. “Why are you up?”

“I couldn’t sleep, thought I’d take a bit of a walk and… see how Eri’s doing.” 

“Walking on your injuries I recall you being expressly told not to aggravate?” Shota sighs. “She’s going to be all right.”

Mirio nods and keeps staring at the slow rise and fall of her tiny chest. Her heart monitor and the oxygen are the only sounds in the room, though they simply combine with the entire makeup of the hospital at large. Shota waits.

“Sir was…” Mirio starts, stops, bites his lip. “I keep seeing the fight, over and over in my head. If I’d let go of her, I could have saved Sir.”

And this really is a conversation he’d rather leave to someone else, because Shota knows he’s not exactly the gentlest touch. On the other hand, Mirio Togata is All Might’s heir (and poorly kept secret, as far as he was concerned) and harsh truths might be what he needs.

“You wish you’d saved him instead.”

“No!” Mirio’s voice is rough but the response is instant, and he seems to catch himself, hands slapped across his mouth - but Eri does not stir. “No,” he says again, quieter but stronger. “I don’t. But - but I do. I keep thinking I should have found some way to do both, or if I’d put her down, I could have come back. I could have saved him. I should have saved him.”

“You should be dead.” 

Shota watches Mirio turn to stare at him, eyes large in his pallid face, a look of confused betrayal and yeah, this is why he isn’t the one to give these speeches. 

“S-sensei?”

Shota shrugs. “From Chisaki’s point of view, we both should be dead. That’s the problem with should, it doesn’t do you any favors; should doesn’t mean anything, unless you have something that you can actually do. Should is the excuse. Would. Can. Will. Those are what are more important.” Mirio stares at him still and Shota meets his gaze evenly. “The fight with Chisaki. Is there one thing you think you could have done better, now that you look back at it? Realistically?”

Mirio does him the service of actually thinking about it. “I… I can’t think of a way to save Sir without risking Eri.”

Shota hums. “So are you saying you should have risked her? When she was specifically your mission?”

“No.” Mirio reaches and holds onto the railing at the foot of Eri’s bed. He could dent the metal, Shota thinks, but the grip is careful: Mirio has always been so careful.  

“Suggesting then that Nighteye should have backed off? Should have done anything but fight with everything he had?”

“...No.”

“Should is for when you chose to do something selfish, or stupid. You should have listened to your teachers, you should have woken up earlier, you should have remembered a damned umbrella. Should isn’t for hero fights, unless you think you fucked up.” Shota doesn’t temper his words. “You did what you needed to do, what you were trained to do, what you had to do, and you saved a little girl from a sadist. Should is for guilt, and guilt isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

“Then why do I feel like this?” Mirio bends over the railing and Shota can hear his voice crack. “Why -”

“Because you’re human.” Shota thinks about being Mirio’s age, thinks about someone else’s endless energy and optimism and how easily it had been taken from them. He remembers how that felt, because sometimes he still feels it.

“You’re human, and being a hero doesn’t trump that. So you’re happy Eri’s safe and you’re hurting that Sasaki’s gone and you’re angry at Chisaki and at Eri and at yourself because the situation exists, and you’re angry at yourself for being angry at a little girl who isn’t at all at fault.”

Mirio’s shock is palpable: Shota doesn’t stop. “Despite what you’ve been told, heroes aren’t flawless bastions of self sacrifice. No one is expecting you to just get over this - except, perhaps, you. We have all lost someone or something precious, and if you look at the numbers, the chances of a hero dying to protect a civilian are high, because civilains are stupid and easily panicked and when a ten ton monster or a toxic gas cloud or a maniac with bombs for hair shows up intent on chaos, civilians don’t think. It’s not their fault - the average person isn’t built to handle this. If they were, we wouldn’t need heroes at all.”

Shota leans back on his heels, hands in his pockets and back cracking as he bends as far as it will go. “I’m sure they gave you the line that a hero is someone who moves without even thinking. Someone who goes in and does the job when the rest of the world stays still. And that’s all right for someone like All Might to say, but it’s only half the truth.” 

Mirio waits for him to straighten before he asks, quietly, “Then what’s the other half?”

“The other half is to keep doing it, ” Shota tells him, wants to paint it across the walls of UA but all he can do is teach around the realities his students face because this is something they can’t really grasp until they face it themselves. “It’s to deal with the stupid and the inane and the entitled and remember they deserve to be saved too. It’s to get up in the morning after breaking your arms because a businessman was more worried about saving his briefcase than his life in a fight, and that was the call you had to make to get him out of there, and to do it all over again. It’s to keep moving even when everything you do isn’t enough.” Shota’s hands are fists in his pockets, but Mirio can’t see it.

“It’s to know that even if young Eri weren’t going to be ok, that Nighteye’s death isn’t something you can quantify as worth it or worthless. Death doesn’t work like that. There’s no worthy sacrifice, there’s just sacrifice. ” Shota nods at the bed, at the girl, at the oxygen mask and heart monitor and at so very many bandages and scars. “And there’s no world out there where Marai Sasaki doesn’t do everything he can to save her, no matter what it costs him. Because the man was a hero.”

Mirio is crying in full force now, tears running down his face and shoulders high. “He taught me - he made me who I am.”

Shota doesn’t say no, you made you who you are, he just helped you find your way. He says “And you made him proud.” It’s the truth and what Mirio needs to hear, especially now, especially because - “You also gave him back Yagi. Those two would have never reconciled, without you pushing for it. Don’t think that means nothing.”

Mirio shakes his head. “I - it was always so obvious how much Sir missed him. And when All Might -” he cuts himself off, probably because he doesn’t want to tell. Shota doesn’t bother saying he knows. After all…

“How can I go on now?” Mirio asks, and the heartbreak in his voice makes Shota ache in turn. “How can I be a hero when -”

“I didn’t say it was easy.” It’s like this whenever a student gets hurt, even if Mirio’s case is a bit more than most. “It’s never easy. That’s the point. That’s the second half.” Shota nods at the bed once more. “There’s a girl who’s going to need someone to be her hero,” he points out. “You know we had to pry her hands from you even when she was unconscious.” 

Mirio looks to Eri, and to his own hands. “How can I?”

“Because a little girl who’s been badly abused really needs a kid who can punch things hard or lose his pants at inopportune times,” Shota deadpans. It’s worth it for the way that Mirio laughs, watery as it is. “You know we’ll be working on restoring your quirk. Eri here might have answers for us, and now that the Shie Hassaikai dealt with, we can spend some time trying to track down Deku.” Shota doesn’t know if he’s glad or disappointed that they hadn’t found the kid in the raid.

“The vigilante who helped Tamaki?” Mirio shakes his head. “But Overhaul - he said these ones were permanent.” 

“He said a lot of things.” Shota shrugs again. “The point is, the world isn’t over, you’re still here, and there’s a little girl who’s going to think that everything that’s happened is her fault, because - unfortunately - it is. Even though she’s not to blame, she’s the reason.” Shota has also seen just what kind of damage that can do to a child, and gods only knows what she’s experienced until now. “We’re going to have experts in to talk to her, I’m not laying this all on you - you’re still a student. But I’m going to tell you, Mirio, she’s going to need to see that people don’t blame her for her for what Chisaki did to her, not just hear it. A familiar face will help with that.” 

Mirio wipes at his face with his bandaged arm, and he looks better now, Shota thinks, more solid on his feet. “Sir said - that sometimes, saving someone doesn’t stop when you pull them from the building. That’s why I have to keep smiling.”

“Save everyone with a smile,” and that’s All Might’s thing, and Sir Nighteye’s thing, and maybe it’ll be Lemillion’s thing - maybe. “I think there’s value in smiling for others who need it,” he says, and knows that Mirio knows his thoughts about All Might’s smile. “I think they forgot to teach you something else, though.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re allowed to cry too. Don’t be the hero who never gets hurt. Who never hurts. Who never feels anything and never shows it. At least, that’s my opinion on things.” He heads back to his chair and folds himself into the uncomfortable plastic. “Not if you’re going to be the next Symbol for people, because what kind of symbol are you giving to the next set of kids like you?” Shota leans back, looks into Mirio’s expression, knows that he’s given the kid emotional whiplash but hopefully some of it sinks in. “But most of all? I think you’re going to be a hell of a hero, however you decide to do it.”

“Even without my quirk?”

“Remember who you’re talking to.” 

Mirio laughs, a little less watery this time. “Does that mean you’ll be giving me lessons on using a capture weapon?”

“We’ll wait for your injuries to heal,” Shota nods, proud of this kid. “Then we’ll get you a training schedule.” 

“How long did it take Shinso to learn?”

“He’ll tell you himself - who do you think is going to be your sparring partner?”

Mirio’s expression is finally bright again, the smile on his face earnest and honest, not hollow and empty. He gives Shota a little bow, suddenly formal. “Thank you, Sensei.”

“Go to bed, Mirio,” Shota never feels comfortable with thanks. He doesn’t need thanks to do his job, that’s why he’s underground. That’s’ why he’s a teacher. “Or have the nurse bring in a cot.”

“Sensei?” The big eyed look somehow never ended up forced when it was on Mirio’s face.

“You’ll make your injuries worse sleeping on one of these chairs,” he tells him, already yawning and closing his eyes, even if it’s mostly for show. “So if you’re going to keep watch, at least do it properly.”

He pretends to sleep, which keeps Mirio from thanking him again, but he watches through his eyelashes as another bed is wheeled in - apparently Mirio rates something better than a cot - and he hears when Mirio settles under the covers, and when his breathing evens out into something deep and steady.

Only then does Shota pull out his phone. It’s late - or early - but that doesn’t mean much to the underground and the vigilantes and the people who sometimes fall in between. Overhaul’s dealt with, and while that’ll create another power vacuum, they’ll have some quiet for a while.

He’d put the call out before and now is the time to really push for it. Someone must have laid eyes on Deku somewhere, and once Shota tracks him down he’ll talk to him properly. Get him to come in - for his sake… and Mirio’s.






Chapter Text

 

-------------

 

September nears and the heat doesn’t seem to abate in the slightest, the humidity cloying and heavy and making everyone grumpy and uncomfortable. Bakugo and Todoroki both retake their exams, catching up with their classmates at last and making real progress. Todoroki still needs to work on his flame, and Bakugo his attitude, but they have the time to do so. He’s looking after one of the most promising classes he’s had in years, Shota thinks, though he’d never tell them that.

It’s important to keep them on their toes, important for them to understand how fragile their positions are now, so they can understand how fragile the world is later. So much will hang on their shoulders and it’s his duty to ensure they have the foundation to carry that weight and not crumble, or they’ll die.

This class has surprised him, time and again - reckless, self sacrificing, far too smart for their own good - they’re going to be the heroes this world needs, Shota knows, and he hates how much the world will need them. He dismisses them for the day, after warning that Kayama will be handling them for Friday and Saturday classes, and he tries to tune out their chatter as he heads to the gates of UA.

“You ready?” Tsujii asks as he approaches, offering him a quiet smile. It’s rare to see the reserved man out of his hero costume, but they have to travel and Kesagiriman’s fur suit is a bit much. “Karada arrived an hour ago, says she’s scoping the area out.”

“So by the time we get there, we’ll have a rating of every bar surrounding the place,” Shota retorts. Karada’s a fine underground hero with an amazing grasp of her quirk, but he’s not sure if her drinking habit really is necessary to her quirk, or just a crutch. She isn’t the only underground hero with issues, he’s no hypocrite, but recently her reports have gotten ever so slightly sloppy.

He’s worried. Hopefully this team up will give him a read on her, and maybe remind her she isn’t working alone. It’s the curse of underground heroes all too often, one he’s avoided ever since becoming a teacher at UA. It’s hard to feel alone when dealing with the idiots he shares a staff room with - he’d really rather be alone sometimes.

“You’re not being fair to her,” Tsujii chides him with an even voice. “The point is for us to go in without causing suspicion. With half the ward burned out as it is, she’s only going to manage a limited range.” He gives another easy smile, steady and solid. “We’ll probably just get a top ten list for what’s walking distance.”

“Not sure if that’s better,” Shota points out in what he thinks is a reasonable voice. When he looks to Tsujii there’s worry lining the other hero’s face too, so maybe he’s not the only one concerned about their fellow hero. Tsujii’s a good man, reliable and calm in a crisis. Shota’s glad to have him on the team.

They don’t talk about the case as they walk towards the station to catch the shinkansen to Okayama, and they don’t mention it as they settle in for the four hour ride. Tsujii pulls out his phone, likely to read up on the files one more time. Shota curls up against the window and tries to fall asleep, knowing there won’t be much to have over the next two days.

Taking down the Shie Hassaikai had quieted things down for such a short period of time, it only showed just how tenuous everything was after All Might’s retirement. Too many villains are stepping up to try to take advantage of the void All Might had left behind. He knew it would come to this - had warned about it, over the last few years - but no one took ‘old man Aizawa’s doom and gloom’ seriously while All Might continued to mug for the cameras and pretend like he’d live forever. Still, he can’t pin all the blame on Yagi - the man had been supported by the entire industry, or close enough to it; he hadn’t built the pedestal they placed him on.

At some point between mental grumbling about the state of heroics and Yagi’s personal responsibilities and Okayama station, Shota falls asleep. He knows the others make fun of him for it, teachers and students alike, but he’s unbothered. They like to assume he’s just sleep deprived or lazy or both - it’s a better answer than the truth: that it’s much easier to fall asleep to noise and the knowledge of people around him than it is to try to sleep in silence and wonder what will creep up on him inside of it.

Tsujii wakes him as they approach the station by gently nudging his knee: Shota appreciates how much he never has to explain to the other man. They collect their bags and run to make the transfer to Senoo station. From there they have to walk: the local lines that once fed into Minami ward were destroyed, along with much of the area itself.

Karada meets them dressed in civs, though Karada is both her civ and hero name. “You made it!” she greets, far too bright and loud in the quiet of the neighborhood. “Come on, I made dinner! Well, I bought dinner, but this place has a proper kitchen so I can heat it up!” Cajoling and warm, she grabs both Shota and Tsujii and drags them towards the very edges of the damaged ward. On one side of the street is a school that has been half crushed by a massive foot. On the other is a line of still-intact homes that have seen better days: faded paint and cracked asphalt and weeds growing long. One of them has a clearly new front door and that’s the one Karada drags them into. 

Once inside she relaxes a bit. “The neighbors are nosy, they think I’m house sitting for my aunt and using it as an excuse to party. The walls are thick enough not to carry our voices and I swept the place once I got in, but we should still keep it down.” She does, in fact, head to the kitchen. “Are you hungry? The place up the street does homestyle fried chicken, so I got enough for today and tomorrow at least,” she nods to Tsujii “and some noodles for you if you’re still vegetarian.”

“Thank you,” he says, still standing in the hallway, seemingly overwhelmed by her everything-ness. Shota ignores it with the help of practice: this isn’t his first mission with the aerosol hero and it won’t be his last. 

“Any updates about Demolition?” He asks as they settle at the ancient-looking table to eat. 

“Another sighting this morning,” she offers readily and hands over the report. The villain they’re looking for had been one to escape the yakuza raid and had evaded capture since. Shota doesn’t want to admit he’s personally invested in the man, but Demolition had buried five heroes to get away and it had taken an emergency crew to get them out, battered and half-suffocated. He wanted the man contained in Tataurus as soon as possible.

And now he was hiding here - Minami Ward, site of one of the greatest quirk accidents in recent years, still too unstable to repair and quickly going to the weeds. It’s not a large space in the grand scheme of things, and not completely abandoned, but nearly fifteen square kilometers of ruined buildings and abandoned farmland gives a man with the ability to manipulate concrete and steel and make it explosive both plenty of places to hide, and ample ammunition.

Karada pulls out a map and spreads it across the table. “I’ve done some basic scouting,” she explains as she points out what areas and buildings suffered the worst, and where the plants make passage nearly impossible. “If we start here,” she points to the northern edge of the ward, along the Sasagase river, “We can move through the industrial area first. He’s been sighted here,” she notes with a mark, “here and here, as well as at these two bars.” Her impish expression shifts to something sour. “I took a look at both and there’s no accounting for taste.”

Shota looks at the map and wonders at the timeline they have - he may need Kayama to cover his class for another day or two if this is all they have to go on. “Let’s start there,” he agrees, trusting Karada’s judgement. “Tsuji can take buildings from the bottom up, and I’ll work top down.”

They plan, as best they can, because no plan ever really survives meeting the enemy - and then don their hero costumes and get to work.

 

----

 

Shota doesn’t let himself get distracted on the field, which means he isn’t thinking about Deku at all, which means that when he stumbles on the boy - almost literally - asleep in a tidy corner of the otherwise dilapidated office building, he nearly doesn’t believe it.

Unfortunately Deku seems to believe in him because he wakes with a jolt then screams in abject horror and a moment later Shota is too late to stop him from jumping out the window. There’s no glass to stop him, but it’s still a two story drop onto a metalworking plant that is nothing but rusted metal and Deku had jumped. Shota follows before he even realizes his feet are moving, capture weapon anchored to give him a safer route down. 

“Eraserhead! Report!” Kesagiriman’s voice cuts through the radio. 

“Found someone, not our target but another case,” he explains tersely, searching in the pre-dawn light to see where the problem child had gone. This area is more densely built than the others, but he hears the rattle of scrap metal and focuses in on it. “He’s moving west. Engage carefully, he’s a minor. I want to try to talk to him - he can teleport if he gets spooked.” But Deku hasn’t yet, Shota notices, and he hadn’t when they’d taken him in to the station, not until he’d felt threatened and overwhelmed. Shota doesn’t know if it just takes too much energy, or if he needs an accomplice, or if what Deku had said was true - he’d wanted to help. Now he needs to try to make things right.

“Damn, he’s quick!” Karada exclaims. “He went to the blue building with the caved in roof, climbed up the debris and through the second floor window. Do you want me to follow?”

“No, keep an eye on the exits. Kesagiriman, you too, I don’t want any other surprises to show up, but he’s just a kid. I’ll go in, he’s not a threat.” At least, that’s what Shota tells himself. He doesn’t want to believe Deku is a threat. He could be, when threatened, but Shota isn’t going to threaten him, he just needs to talk him down. And apologize.

He at least has a lot of experience talking down hyperactive teenagers, at this point. 

Apologies are less familiar.

The ground entrances are all boarded up, but true to Karada’s words there’s basically a ramp of debris leading to the second floor, and a window broken open waiting to be taken advantage of. Shota climbs in carefully, keeping his motions slow and his capture weapon around his neck, not in his hands. “Deku?” he calls once inside and his eyes adjust to the very low light. He takes out a flashlight so he doesn’t break his neck tripping over abandoned desks and toppled filing cabinets. “I just want to talk.”

There’s silence and Shota steps inside further, heading upstairs when the second floor proves empty. There’s a gaping hole in the stairwell but he can also see the dust has been disturbed across from it and if he listens very carefully he thinks he can hear Deku’s heavy breathing.

He climbs across the missing stairs and examines the third floor which looks much the same as the second, save for having a few less desks and holding one wide-eyed teenager who looks, Shota thinks in horror, even worse than he had when he’d met him.

“You have to be fucking kidding me, ” Deku croaks, and his voice is rough - dust? Disuse? Or the plant pollen in the area - it’s dangerous, if exposed to it for too long, one of the reasons the area is still mostly uninhabited. “How the hell did you find me?

“We’re looking for someone else, a villain named Demolition. I’m just as surprised to see you here as you are me, I think.” Honesty is probably the best he can do right now. “Look, Deku. I owe you an apology. I’m sorry about before - if we’d known you’d be triggered, I wouldn’t have had Mindblank get involved like that.”

“Mindblank?” Deku is a few feet from the wall of windows and these are mostly intact: Shota really hopes he doesn’t try to make a break through them. “Well that’s an appropriate name.”

“I think so too,” Shota replies, stalling for time: the longer he can keep the kid talking, the better. “We still want to help you. You don’t have to deal with this on your own.”

Deku looks at him - looks past him, then beside him, and Shota instantly throws an arm out trying to see if it will connect with anything at all, whatever invisible accomplice or jailer Deku has. His arm connects with nothing, and Deku laughs in the same pained way that Hitoshi laughed when they’d found him, in the same way Shota had laughed when everything had hurt more than he thought he could bear and there was no one to rely on but himself. 

Deku looks at him and his eyes seem to glow in the dim light of the room and the bright contrast of the flashlight. “And what am I dealing with, Eraserhead?”

Is it a trick question? Shota shakes his head. “I don’t know. We have some guesses, but unless you tell us that’s all they are. I know you’re hurting.” That much is obvious. “And I know you deserve better.” And that’s easy, because every teenager thinks they either are horribly underserved and deserve so much more, or that they are the worst examples of humankind and deserve nothing at all - and that statement covers both.

Shota doesn’t know what to do with the disappointment in Deku’s face, doesn’t know how to translate that into meaning when the kid shakes his head sadly and looks like an ancient old man as he hugs his arms to his chest and sags. “I told you once,” he says, exhaustion coloring every word in a way that makes Shota ache. “I can’t do it again.”

Shota doesn’t get a chance to reply - an explosion breaks the quiet of the morning and rattles the windows though they thankfully do not break. His comm flares to life a moment later. “He’s here!” Karada’s voice is panicked. “He just came up through the -

Her voice is cut off by a scream and Shota can hear Kesagiriman’s quirk as it cuts through something - probably scrap. “Fuck.” He’s torn for a moment. “Deku - you need to get down and away from here, this man is dangerous. But don’t leave, please!” He can’t keep the kid - if he tries to hold him, it’s too likely he’ll disappear, and if he stays he’s putting his teammates at a severe disadvantage. They need him to cancel Demolition’s quirk.

He can’t wait any longer - Karada is calling for help as another explosion goes off too close and Shota heads for one of the windows, calling out for Karada and Kesagiriman to stay out of the way as he tosses a chair through first before anchoring his capture weapon. “Get down and away from here,” he tells Deku once more. “I’ll find you after.”

He hopes like hell that Deku will take it as a promise, not a threat, and then goes to join his team.

 

----

 

“You could have warned me, ” Izuku snaps at Tamamo-no-Mae as he hurries to get outside and away from a wall of glass. “I nearly pissed myself!”

<< I didn’t realize you were here, kit,>> she tells him, sounding defensive. << You had wards to hide yourself.>>

“Do you have any idea how long it took to make those?” he demands as he slides down the garbage ramp. There’s already a fire at the scrapyard and the metal plant is missing a lot more of its structure than it had been when Deku had run past a few minutes prior. Everything is chaos - the villain’s quirk makes the ground shake so much it feels like a constant earthquake and Deku’s ears are already ringing. Worse, he can see the heroes trying to fight but the fires are interfering with Eraserhead’s ability as far as Deku can tell. The unfamiliar woman hero keeps turning into a gas and surrounding the villain but he drives her away with explosive blast after blast. There’s a third hero who Izuku recognizes a moment later as Kesagiriman who gets in a lucky shot, but all it does is enrage the villain more. 

Izuku keeps back but can’t help but watch. When he’d been a kid he’d run towards hero fights, not away, and he knows now how stupid that had been, how dangerous, but he was obsessed at having the chance to see them at work, to see their spirits and how their powers translated into quirks, to understand what it meant to be a hero. 

Now he’s faced with seeing three pro heroes, two certified underground ones at that, facing off against a villain with an explosively powerful quirk. The villain’s spirit is a mid-sized boar with overly large tusks and blood red eyes, and Izuku can’t quite connect the heroes and spirits moving around at first glance - Tamamo-no-Mae is standing with him, not Eraserhead, and there’s a small pixie creature flying around at high speeds his eyes can only barely register and a very large stag hanging back and watching the proceedings with a calm gaze. 

Eraserhead uses his quirk to pause the villain’s explosions and Kesagiriman takes aim and moves so quickly there’s a clap of thunder behind him, but somehow Demolition predicted it; he’s out of range and while he might not be able to cause explosions he’s still immensely strong, Izuku realizes - he picks up an entire car door and uses it as a shield as he charges at Eraserhead.

Izuku doesn’t get to see what transpires next, because two things happen:

One, he realizes they have an audience: more spirits, from various people in Minami Ward have arrived, probably to see what all the commotion is about.

The other is the boar is charging him: he might have wards set against direct harm, but a spirit can still send him flying into a wall, if it has enough power in its push. Izuku hits the metal siding of a shed so hard that it dents under his frame.

“Deku!” Eraserhead calls, and there’s an explosion instantly after and no, no he can’t do this - if he distracts the heroes they’ll get hurt and they need to focus on the villain. He has to get up and get away - get away before they worry about him, get away before they try to help again.

<< You must move,>> Tamamo-no-Mae says with urgency as Izuku staggers upright. << And you will leave the kit alone!>> he has to assume that’s directed at the boar spirit - it screams in anger and Izuku can hardly believe it because no spirit has ever fought for him willingly. He blinks his eyes to try to focus and there’s a hand helping him up. 

“Easy there, tiger,” says the woman - she’s tall and dark skinned with her hair done up in a big ball on top of her head. “My name’s Karada. We need to get you clear of here.”

He gets up with her help, his back aching and neck sore. “I’m ok,” he tries to assure her. “You need to help them.”

“What kind of hero would I be if I let a cute kid like you get hurt?” she asks as she gets her arms under him and he’s being carried and she sounds so sure, it’s such a heroic thing to say as there’s explosions going on around them and he should say no, he should help, but he’ll only get in the way - so he wraps his arms around her so she can carry him easier and they move to get out of range.

They only get a few feet before Tamamo-no-Mae shouts << Look out!>> and they both go down in a tumble of arms and legs and there’s fire all around them now. Izuku can’t hear anything - his ears are ringing from the explosion that rocked the ground and he can barely see or breathe and if he can’t, the heroes can’t. He has to do something.  

Karada is coughing beside him and tugging but he plants his feet and does not move. It takes a second to reach in - he’s been asked to do things for spirits for the last six years, more or less, and he learned to extract a price from them early on. He always keeps it short, limited, and controllable. He will never enslave a spirit against their will.

<< Huanghi >> he calls out. << I need your help.>>

The spirit arrives a moment later - towering over Izuku and looking almost angry until it registers the fire around them. << Well at least you’re not wasting my time >> he says, his green-blue scales glittering in the light.

<< Help me put this out and your debt is paid>> Izuku doesn’t waste any time, and neither does the spirit - he places two webbed hands on Izuku’s shoulders and the power that flows through him is just like water, like a cool river across tired aching feet, like the pull of the tide, growing stronger and stronger until it’s a waterfall.

The fires smoulder around them in quick order and Karada looks at him in appreciation. “That was some quick thinking, kid,” she tells him as there’s a lull in the battle. “But now we have to go -”

Demolition screams in rage and the resulting explosion blows the building behind him up and back. “So much for taking him in quietly,” Karada mutters under her breath. “Kiddo, I need you to go.” She points. This guy’s no player! Now scram!” 

Izuku nods, but he’s not looking at her. He’s looking at Eraserhead fighting Demolition, moving so quick with his capture weapon wrapped around the villain’s arm, but it doesn’t seem to slow him and he uses Eraserhead’s momentum to fling him back and then charges after him and Izuku sees the moment Eraserhead hits the wall of scrap metal. 

He sees the spray of blood as the rebar goes through his chest, above his heart and below his shoulder.

He’s already moving - his feet jumping into action before his head can even think - as the swordsman hero charges and knocks Demolition back.

He can feel when Eraserhead blinks, because the boar spirit howls and so does Demolition and he blasts Kesagiriman back - and then grins monstrously as he simply puts his hands on the rebar jutting out of Eraserhead’s chest and charges it.

Izuku moves. He doesn’t think, not really, though he’d have done it even if he had been thinking. He runs, and while he’s running he pulls.

There is the sound of crows.

 

-----

 

The sky, when Shota opens his eyes, is grey-pink.

It is not pink, he thinks, detached. It isn’t grey either. It isn’t a greyish pink and it isn’t a pinkish grey. It is somehow… both colors at once. Simultaneously. Not a pattern or a gradient. It’s very unnerving. He thinks he is very likely concussed.

He doesn’t think he’s dead, because he’s pretty sure he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and if there was one he doesn’t think it would involve grey-pink skies and also a distant agony that fills every single part of his body from head to toe.

He is probably dying, though.

“Oh god,” a voice - Deku - breaks through his disconnected thoughts. The problem child is panicking, looking down at him, skin pale and eyes blown wide. “Oh my god. I - Ok, you’re awake. Good. Good, you’re awake, I’m sorry, I’m sorry but it was the only thing I could think of, you were pinned and there was so much blood and he was going to use his quirk and -

“Breathe,” Shota knows how to deal with panicking teenagers and he manages his teacher voice now just like he had during the USJ, which is feeling far too familiar for comfort. He is going to die in front of this kid, he thinks, and the last thing Deku needs is to blame himself for it. “Where are the others? I need -” he can’t move his arms or legs at all. He can feel them. That is somehow worse. “You need to get away to safety, you -” Shota stops to hold off a cough: he thinks he might actually pass out if he coughs, right now. His ribs are absolutely broken.

Deku’s breathing is high and thready, but he looks uninjured as he starts pawing through Shota’s pouches. “I need a knife. Which one has it? I know you carry one, you always do in case your weapon gets caught or you get-”

“Kid-”

Which pocket has a knife?” Deku’s voice is high and desperate and Shota thinks he’s on the very edge of a panic attack: not good. 

“Right side at my hip.” He feels the kid get to the pouch and every touch is agony but he tries not to let it show. “You need-”

“Stop it,” and Deku sounds intent, now a little more focused as he moves back into Shota’s line of vision with a weapon in his hand - Shota wonders about that. Did they train him with knives? Is he used to being armed and disarmed himself around the heroes, so they wouldn’t see him with a weapon? “Ok. Ok so - so the good news is that I managed to bring you here and you’re not going to die from an explosion,” he tells Shota, trying to sound comforting while moving to his shoulder and cutting away at his shirt where the rebar had gone through him. “The, uh, bad news is I think I broke every bone in your body to do it.”

“Kid, what?” Shota doesn’t know what the hell is going on, it hurts to even turn his head to try to look at what Deku is doing; somehow the rebar is gone, he realizes, because he’s flat on his back now, not leaning against a pile of trash - did Deku move him? His thoughts being slow could be blood loss, if he was pulled off whatever had pierced him, but the ground feels cool and there’s grass under his hands and the light, he realizes, the light is too bright for dawn - how long has he been out? “Where are we? What time is it? Where are the others?” Everything is unnaturally quiet against the bubble of blood in his chest and the ringing in his ears. He can’t hear explosions any more, and his comm is missing. 

“It’s going to be ok,” Deku says with a terrifying grimace of a smile. “As for where… you could say you’re in my personal hell?” Deku does something - Shota can’t see what but it feels strange and the pain starts to abate slightly. “I usually call it the other place, or when I was a kid it was the spirit realm, and when I’m in a mood it’s just hell because it might as well be, but it’s never told me it’s name, why would it?” The kid does something to his hands - is he drawing on them? - and moves to cut away the bottoms of Shota’s jumpsuit legs and does the same to his aching shins. “The other good news is that your spirit really likes you so you’re not going to die from shock or blood loss either, which is good because I don’t think I can do this on my own at all. Are you ready?”

Shota begins to tell Deku to calm down, that he isn’t making any sense, that he needs to look for the others - it’d be good to get the kid away before he kicked it - but before he can manage to speak another voice curls through the air and shocks him to his bones. << I am ready. >>

He wrenches his head to the side, the movement causing agony even against… whatever it is that Deku is doing. Looking down at him from barely a foot away is a giant white fox.

A giant white fox with far too many tails and somehow an expression of amusement on her giant white fox face.

He doesn’t know why he knows she’s a she, or how he knows she’s the one who spoke, or how that voice had appeared in his head unlike any telepathy he’s ever heard. He doesn’t know why she feels so familiar either, save for a silent nagging feeling he is consciously ignoring at the moment in sheer what the ever loving fuck disbelief. 

Deku, meanwhile, ignores his apparent confusion - or perhaps Deku can’t see this hallucination - perhaps it’s the blood loss, or the plant toxin, those plants in Minami were quirk-made and very dangerous, he remembers that, they’d been warned not to disturb them, the explosions could have done something... Shota tries to think, tries to focus, tries to speak as Deku puts his hands on Shota’s shoulders - bloody hands, Shota thinks, bloody fingers - and then Deku glows.










Chapter Text

---------

Izuku’s never done this before and he’s scared down to his bones.

 He’d been so stupid to bring Eraserhead through, but there’d been no other choice. He’d reached out because if Eraserhead died in front of him, it’d be his fault when he could have done something earlier and now -

<< Calm down, >> Tamamo-no-Mae’s voice soothes him while he channels her power. He could not do this on his own, but then neither could she; her powers have nothing to do with healing and none of his borrowed favors would be enough to put Eraserhead back together again, looking like he does, like a shattered porcelain doll. Instead they work together - the sigils for healing and mending on Eraserhead’s shoulder, hands, and shins all glow as green and white lightning crackles around Izuku and into the pro hero. It probably isn’t particularly comfortable for him but the man doesn’t do anything but grit his teeth, so Izuku has to do the same, even as the power feels like it burns for a moment before it begins to fade.

The sigils - written in his own blood because he has nothing else to write with and he’d read that doing it with someone else’s was a very bad idea - begin to turn to dust and disappear, task complete. Eraserhead’s breathing stops sounding quite so wet and harsh and his eyes close, but it looks like more from relief and exhaustion, not that he’s quite passed out. Izuku sits back on his heels and looks to Tamamo-no-Mae with gratitude, watches as her own glow begins to fade and - Izuku realizes with growing horror - one of her tails is bright, bright white - entirely light. It glows even as the rest of her returns to normal and he watches, transfixed, as it begins to disappear entirely, simply fading from tip to base.

It’s all his fault. He falls in front of her, hands and forehead in the grass as he kneels, breathless and shocked and overwhelmed. He doesn’t have words. There are no words for the power she’d given up - given willingly - given more than he’d ever seen another spirit give anyone for no clear return. Even when Eraserhead dies, she won’t get that returned, and Izuku can’t give her even a fraction of it, what if she expects him to? What if- 

He feels her cold nose against his cheek. << None of that, >> she scolds, voice gentle. << I made my choice, and there is still work to be done. I cannot help him home, you must be the one to guide him.>>

“I don’t understand,” he admits, though he brings his head up as she nudges him again. “You-”

<< Not all spirits are alike, young kit, even if you have met few like me . I know there is a value in saving what can be saved - power will always return, eventually.>>

He shakes his head - he hasn’t met anyone like her, ever - but she nudges him again with her cold nose and he remembers - “Eraserhead!”

The man is trying, and failing, to sit up under his own power. Izuku hurries to his side and helps him, while the kitsune settles behind the man, supporting his back. “Don’t rush it,” Izuku warns him as Eraserhead groans. “You were really hurt, it’s going to take a minute.”  

“Good,” he says, sounding better already, and he fixes Izuku with an attempt at a narrowed glare. “Then we can take that time for you to explain to me what the hell is going on.” 

“Oh.” Izuku has to admit this is probably a lot for the hero to deal with, and he hadn’t given him any warning at all, of course this would be really overwhelming - it had been almost too much when he’d come through the first time. He feels his cheeks heat up, but tries not to flail because he needs to tell Eraserhead everything important, everything he needs to know. He’s dreamed about this happening for years, being able to show someone, being able to tell someone, and now that it’s happened… he’d never really been quite prepared for this.  

And somehow, Izuku realizes, Eraserhead is watching him quietly and waiting for him to speak.  

He takes a breath and tries to think in terms of priorities. Ok. What did he have to learn the hard way? “This isn’t home.” That’s obvious, but good to reaffirm. “This is where magic lives and almost everything here has some magic or power and that means there are rules, really really important rules, that if you don’t follow things worse than death will happen and I don’t know if I’ll be able to save you from them. Right? Right.” He doesn’t let the hero interrupt, just presses on, feeling vaguely like he’s running downhill. “Rule one: your name is Eraserhead. Never tell anyone anything else, no matter what they say or ask or offer you. Just Eraserhead. Don’t touch anything, or take anything, or talk to anyone unless I say you can -” Tamamo-no-Mae clears her throat “- or your spirit does, she’s ok, but no one else is. Don’t make any promises, don’t agree to anything, don’t take anything you’re offered unless one of us says it’s ok.”

He has to take a breath. Somehow, Eraserhead doesn’t interrupt him and Izuku takes that as a tiny blessing to continue. “Um. Rule two: stay with me. This place can change around you if you’re not careful or if you step wrong and if I lose you I may not be able to get back to you in time. You’re going to have to let me guide you to get home, but I promise I will. And, uh. Rule three: you can’t lie here.”

Izuku swallows around the very sharp lump in his throat. “I can’t lie here. No one can lie, which doesn’t mean they can’t trick you, but if you need to test that out you should get it over and done with now, because I need you to understand that I’m telling the truth, even if it seems crazy and impossible, and I need you to not try to lie to me because I really really don’t think I’m going to be able to handle it right now. Ok?” He’s had time to think about what happened and he can accept it but if the hero tries to do anything here and now… Izuku just doesn’t know.

In the following silence, Eraserhead blinks, his flat expression just that; Izuku can’t tell if he doesn’t believe him, or if he still thinks he’s crazy despite everything, or if maybe being brought here and getting banged up and then getting healed has just fried the hero's brain a bit. Hopefully not the last one: if he’s given Eraserhead brain damage he’ll be the worst, the absolute worst, they’d never forgive him and -

“You’re rambling,” Eraserhead says quietly. “And I don’t have brain damage, but thanks for worrying. Are you done?”

“I… think those are the most important things to know right this minute?” Izuku offers, knowing he’s missing so much but they have to start with the basics. “I’m sorry, I didn’t really ever plan for what would really happen if I brought someone through.”

Eraserhead blinks again, like that’s a weird answer. “Why?” 

Why? Izuku fists his hands in the grass, but doesn’t pull. “Because it’s dangerous? I mean, really really dangerous? You’re not supposed to be here. You’re really not supposed to be here and when they find out, some of them are going to come after us.”

“Who are they?” 

<< My kind, >> Tamamo-no-Mae says, and Eraserhead startles ever so slightly. << We might find humans of much use, but we do not welcome them into our world lightly.>>

“We’re going to have a conversation about your kind in a minute,” the hero promises like a threat, seeming to take his spirit’s explanation in stride. “But one step at a time. Why can Deku come in?” 

<< Because he is not human, >> Tamamo-no-Mae says when Izuku feels his throat close up. << Not the way you are: not entirely. And he is likewise not entirely welcome: he is tolerated.>>

“Barely,” Izuku croaks and stares at his dirty shoes and dust-caked jeans. “It takes a lot to go in and out, and it’s always a risk, so I only do it if I don’t have another choice.”

“Like when you left the station,” Eraserhead says. It isn’t a question.

Izuku’s fingers find the hole in the side of his shoe and prod at his foot through it. “I really don’t want to talk about that right now.”

“All right,” Izuku stares up at Eraserhead who seems to be thinking about everything, but not judging. “I have a lot more questions but we were in a fight and I left two heroes to deal with a villain with an explosion quirk. How do we get back?”

 Izuku winces at that. “I… can’t just take you back there.”

 “I’m a hero, kid, I know the risks-”

“No, I mean I can’t, ” he says again. “Literally. I basically pulverized you to get you through to here in the first place, like forcing you through the eye of a needle, and I burned a lot of power to do it. The only reason you’re alive is because your spirit helped me heal you, and even if I could push you back through the barrier, you’d end up the same way or worse and I wouldn’t be able to do anything out there. I can get us home, but we need to find a weak point.”

Eraserhead frowns, his already thin lips disappearing. “What does that mean?”

“We have to move. I don’t know where we are, right now - this is an area I’ve never been to. So we have to get somewhere familiar before I can get us to a place where the barrier between there and here isn’t as strong. Usually that means there’s a shrine on the other side and I can hopefully help you through from there. If we’re lucky there will be one close to Minami.”

“And if we’re not lucky?”

“Then we keep looking,” Izuku swallows at Eraserhead’s glare. “If we just take the first one that shows up, we could end up in America. Or France. I - I ended up somewhere in South America, once, in a rainforest. Usually, though, I’m pretty good at staying in Japan.” 

Eraserhead closes his eyes and Izuku worries as the man sighs, raises his hand, and covers his face. “How is this my life?” he mutters, and Izuku has never felt a more kindred spirit in a set of four words before.

“I don’t know if it helps, but I ask myself the same thing every day.”

The look Eraserhead gives him between his fingers says it doesn’t help, but Izuku feels better anyway.

------

The police have Demolition in custody and the fires are all out, thanks to the kid and Karada’s quirk, but Tsuji cannot relax. 

Karada’s gaseous form collects in front of him, slowly solidifying. “I’ve checked through all of the rubble. There’s no trace of him, besides his scarf.” Her skin glows with the sheen of sweat of her exertion and she sways ever so slightly, but she stands tall. “I think we need to consider that the kid made him disappear.” 

Tsuji nods. “Eraserhead mentioned a teleportation quirk, but it is best to rule out anything else, with the both of us momentarily blinded.

Karada’s expression is worried. “That’s what bugs me. He and Eraserhead are gone, which makes sense for teleportation, but he had a water quirk - a good one. He put out the fires around us when I tried to get him out. There might be someone we missed who helped him out.”

Tsuji feels uncertain. “I do recall that Eraserhead asked us to not engage because he had a teleportation quirk, he did not wish to ‘spook’ him.” He can remember that clearly, in fact.

Karada curses suddenly and reaches for her phone. “Multiple quirks, and a kid that Eraserhead was interested in, of course -” Tsuji doesn’t know what she’s talking about at first, until he listens in to her call.

“Hello, Tsukauchi,” she says, almost too bright, too sharp and, Tsuji realizes, this is Karada worried. “I think we have a lead on that Deku kid, but there’s a problem...”

------

“So,” Shota begins, as he follows Deku through this cotton candy nightmare of a lucid dream. “Spirits. Magic. You were telling the truth, back at the station.” The truth, or somehow Shota has found himself involved in a very very elaborate sort of brainwashing and he just can’t bring himself to think that is the case. Everything is too real. Deku is too earnest. It makes several pieces of the puzzle this kid had given him make a warped sort of sense. 

“Yeah,” Deku glances over his shoulder briefly, expression twisted, unaware of Shota’s internal monologue. “Sorry.”

And seriously, what the hell? “You’re apologizing for telling the truth? That’s new.” 

“No,” Deku shakes his head. “For dragging you into this. Because now you know, and I thought - I thought it’d be good, if someone did, but now you’re here and in danger and it won’t even matter in the end.”

Shota wants to find every adult who’d ever interacted with this kid in his life and just shake them until their teeth rattle - even if that means doing it to himself. What the fuck is even going on in Deku’s head, Shota wants to know, but he’s got to do this right, this time. If he scares him off again something tells him it’ll be for good, and damn it but they need him. “Not sure I follow your logic,” he says, making himself sound as non-judgmental as possible. “Why won’t it matter?”

Deku’s hands go into the pockets of his hoodie, which is in sorry shape as it is. Every line of his tiny frame reads defeat as they walk through an impossible reality that this kid has apparently lived for years. “I didn’t think about it before, not - not properly,   until the thing - a-at the station. When I tried to tell everyone then. I realized, after that… well. I realized that it doesn’t matter.”

“Still not following,” Shota keeps his hands in his own pockets and his voice as teacher as he can make it. Next to him is his… spirit...guardian...fox thing and every so often it gives him a look, but he’s only human and they’ve got to take this one damned thing at a time or he will have an honest to god meltdown. 

“Because it doesn’t change anything,” Deku says explosively, turning to face him, his expression tortured. “Because knowing doesn’t change anything for you, or for anyone else, and it just means they won’t believe you either and if you argue it they’ll call you crazy and take away your hero license. Because knowing won’t make a difference - you can’t stop them, or talk to them, or hear them or affect them in any meaningful way, no one can, so telling people is pointless. ” The kid is breathing hard, his shoulders so hunched they’re up around his earlobes and his whole body radiating tension and self hate and probably, if Shota had to guess, some fear.

He might have to upgrade shaking the adults in this kid’s life to punching.

“You’ve clearly thought this one out,” he looks down at Deku through the fall of his hair. “Shame you missed a point.”

Deku gapes at him like a fish - eyes wide, mouth open, lips flapping. It’s the most childlike thing he’s seen this kid do and Shota is instantly relieved to see he can do it at all. “W-what? I -

“Makes a difference to me,” Shota shrugs, makes sure he doesn’t put too much pressure on the kid, and looks around at this absolutely fucking impossible world that makes his eyes hurt every time he tries to focus on something for too long. “ I know, now, and I believe you. I’m sorry I didn’t before. And you know what? Even if no one else ever knows or believes, you know, and I know, and that’s better than dealing with all of this on your own, isn’t it?”

He looks back at the kid in time to see the naked longing there, and then Deku turns away and starts walking, faster than before, his whole body canted forward like he’s hugging himself. “We shouldn’t stay still for too long,” he says abruptly, but Shota can hear how thick his voice is. “Everyone will worry about where you’ve gone.”

Shota follows not quite beside the kid, giving him enough space without leaving the vague radius Deku had announced was ‘safe’ to move in around him. Beside them the kitsune moves, dropping back to brush against Deku for a moment - and then touches a cold nose to Shota’s wrist.

<< Thank you, >> she says, and Shota somehow understands that he can hear her and Deku can’t. << He has been afraid for a very long time. You will be good for him. >>

Shota doesn’t know how to reply to her in kind, so he just shrugs and keeps going. It’s no good to let the kid dwell, and he seems more than capable of talking his ear off, if given an opportunity. 

“How about you tell me about spirits then, properly this time?” he asks, hiding a smile as Deku nearly trips over nothing in surprise. “I remember you talking about them affecting quirks, but the details are a bit hazy. I was pretty tired that night.” He’s pleased with that: it isn’t a lie. The details of Deku’s crazy-at-the-time claims hadn’t been important enough to expressly memorize, and he had been tired. Two statements, both true. He’d already figured out that any actual lie would twist in his mouth and physically hurt, just as Deku had warned him. 

Not that he wants to lie to the kid, but he needs to know how this place works.

“Right!” Deku settles down a bit at that, relieved to have a shift in topic away from him. “Ok. Well. Um. How should I start?”

<< Generally one starts at the beginning,>> Tamamo-no-Mae suggests, flicking her tails so that they brush the top of Deku’s head and he ducks with the tiniest smile. Her voice is lilting and rich and Shota thinks it is about as far from his own voice as one could get. << I will begin: once, we were worshipped…>>

And it makes sense, Shota admits to himself as the spirit explains, with Deku’s interjections - at least, it makes sense as long as you accept the existence of magic as a truth from the start, which he’s working on. Humankind’s evolution into quirks has always been a contentious one, with theories spanning everything from a virus carried by mice to direct meddling from underground scientists to aliens and everything in between. One of the major reasons no cohesive theory ever really worked was because of just how varied quirks were and continued to become: evolution struggled to explain how one person grew wings while another could psychically manipulate blood while a third could simply negate gravity. There was a lot of pushback against actual genetic research as well, which Shota was on the fence about. On one hand, a better understanding of quirks was, in broad strokes, a good thing, just like any other facet of humanity’s health and well being.

On the other hand, quirk research was the most abused of the sciences, and genetic manipulation had such a bloody history it was very nearly outlawed around the world, and what was allowed was - in theory - closely monitored.

And yet things like the Nomu had still come into existence. 

Still, as Shota listens, things make more sense than they don’t - which also makes the ‘this is all a dream’ hope all the more fleeting. Humanity’s mutation wasn’t for quirks, Deku and the kitsune propose; it was something that allowed spirits - or whatever these creatures were, anyway - to bond with humans and share some of their power.

“It’s definitely a symbiotic relationship, but what kind really depends on how you look at it. I mean, they mostly don’t care what you do with their power, or how it manifests, or if it’s dangerous. They just want you to use it to make it stronger, so that when you die and the power returns to them, they become stronger and they can just repeat the cycle.” Deku’s really engaged now, though Shota notices how his eyes never stop roving around them, constantly aware of their surroundings like he’s waiting for an attack. “So for some people, that’s parasitic - some spirits are awful and they’ll give too much power to someone, or something really destructive, because they want to see them cause harm and use their power a bunch and they don’t care about the costs to the human. But then you have someone who can change their eye color, or turn everything they touch orange, and I’d classify that as a commensal relationship because they’re not getting anything out of it, except a quirk in a society that - uh - really doesn’t like it if you don’t have one.”

Shota doesn’t interrupt, and he barely lets himself breathe: this is the sort of analysis he’d expect in an essay from one of the third-years at minimum , not an off the cusp oral presentation given by an almost-assuredly homeless kid with more issues than Shota has fingers.   

“And then there’s people like All Might, or you, or other pro heroes - or even villains! - where it’s mutualistic. You benefit and your spirit benefits, even if you’re not aware that they’re even there in the first place and they don’t really care what you do with their power exactly.” Deku gestures around them, at the pastel trees and the blue-green grass and the seemingly never ending empty grey-pink horizon. “I think it might be a problem, in the future, if the spirits keep getting stronger and keep putting the same amount, or more, of their power into humans. I used to study heroes,” he pauses, and for a moment his bright exuberance is shuttered as he looks anywhere but near Shota. “When I was a kid, I mean, I wanted to be one. And I-I noticed then that the heroes now were stronger than the heroes before them, and then watching the Sports Festival every year - you can see the students are getting stronger too.” He bites his lip and looks up at Shota almost apologetically. “I don’t know what that will mean, though.”

“Not your problem to solve,” Shota tells him, firmly. This kid is not responsible for the whole god damned world, even if he thinks he is. “And speaking of when you were a kid, are you really sixteen?”

Deku sighs, dejected. “I know I’m short-”

Shota resists the urge to curse: the kid  looks like he’s been malnourished for years. “You’re more than short, kid. Look -” he sees how Deku flinches and he eases his voice quickly. “ - I’m not angry, I promise, but I’m going to ask you something. You don’t have to answer but I’d really like you to if you can: how long have you been living on your own?” 

Deku closes up - Shota watches as he drags his eyes away and his shoulders go back up and his hands are jammed back into that god-awful hoodie. The kid tries to say something - Shota suspects it’s a lie by the way his mouth twists and he gags for a second. They walk in silence and he gives Deku the time to think about how he wants to answer.

“My mom died when I was 11,” Deku’s words are so quiet, Shota can barely hear them even in the surreal silence that surrounds them. “There was an attack, some villain gang, and it tore through our neighborhood.”

There’s no way this kid has been on his own for five years, Shota begs the universe at large. Out loud he simply says “I’m sorry.”

Deku shrugs with one shoulder. “She was the only person who - who believed me. Even if she didn’t understand, even though she couldn’t see. She let me -” he shakes his head and seems to change what he wants to say. “She helped me figure out what to do, to keep them from coming after me. They would - they would come in when I was sleeping and try to hurt me, especially after I - after I was eight.” Another pause, another ragged breath. “I was put in care. Social services. They tried, but I was quirkless, and even after I was in a group home they thought I was making things up, that I ‘wanted attention’ because I didn’t have a quirk.”

And fuck, Shota can see it, everything the kid doesn’t spell out - the world isn’t kind to the quirkless at the best of times. “Couldn’t you pull the disappearing trick on them? Or you stopped Shinso’s quirk, that would have proved-

Deku spins on his heel. “You don’t understand! ” he snaps, angrily. “I had a toe joint! They knew I did, it was in my file, my doctors all said I was quirkless, if you have a joint you don’t have a quirk and I didn’t know how - I don’t know how to get here! I didn’t know how to leave, then, someone had to teach me and I wasn’t going to be a monster, no matter what anyone said, no matter what they did to me.” Deku’s voice cracks and he wrenches his hand from his pocket and holds it out - the hand that had seemed to burn, Shota remembers, in the station. It’s covered in scars. 

“I don’t have a quirk, but I can take their power, if I want to. If I hurt them. If I take their names, I can make them… mine. And it’s wrong. ” His voice cracks on the last word, twisted and hurting. “That’s why I don’t have a quirk, because I won’t take one, even though I could, because no one wants to be my partner, no one wants to be mine, I scare them and I should because if I get angry or scared I hurt them even though it isn’t their fault!”

Deku’s whole body flinches away when Shota kneels and wraps him in a hug, but before Shota can think I’ve fucked this up again Deku is clinging to him so desperately and sobbing huge, gut wrenching sobs, his whole weight against Shota’s frame. He holds onto this damned child like his life depends on it and lets him cry and promises that he’s safe now, damn it and damn everyone who’d hurt him.

The fox - Tamamo-no-Mae - stands off to the side. He’s pretty sure she’s keeping guard.

He’s certain she approves.

------

Izuku’s horrifically embarrassed when he finally gets hold of himself. He wipes his face on his sleeve and pries himself away from Eraserhead’s arms.  “Sorry,” he apologizes, feeling like a dried-out husk and wishing he had something to drink. 

“Don’t know anything you should be apologizing for, Problem Child,” Eraserhead allows him to pull away and they both get to their feet a little unsteadily. “Sounds like you’ve been carrying too much on your own for too long. Part of that is my fault - I’m sorry about Shinso, again.”

Izuku shakes his head emphatically, because he’s had  a lot of time to think about this. “You didn’t know I’d panic. You didn’t know how bad that would be. You didn’t believe me, and of course you’d try your best to find things out. Tamamo-no-Mae told me later that you’d told him only to ask my name, and normal people don’t have panic attacks about their name.” 

“Problem Child,” Something tugs at the back of his mind as Eraserhead looks down at him. “You weren’t panicking about your name.” Izuku forgets about the tug as Eraserhead says, point blank, “You’ve been mind controlled before.”

“I - uh -” Izuku flails a bit. “It’s not - I mean, yes, I have, but it wasn’t just that? It was - well -”

“I’m not going to judge you,” Eraserhead says so plainly and Izuku is struck dumb because he can’t lie here.

Eraserhead waits and Izuku shifts from foot to foot for a moment before Tamamo-no-Mae comes up behind him and nudges him with her nose. << Tell him>> she says, and it’s so gentle, they’ve both been so kind to him and somehow it seems to be because they want to, not because they want something from him. 

And maybe if Eraserhead pushed, he’d close up and change the subject but Eraserhead waits and he listens and Izuku feels the words come so easily, like a dam breaking all over again. “The home wouldn’t let me keep wards up, so sometimes - the spirits would bully me, they’d push me or bite or scratch, because they knew I’d let them. And so I’d always be - I’d be pretty banged up, and the kids thought I was doing it on purpose, so they’d do things and I tried to stop them but then I’d get in trouble for fighting and it was always me against them, and everyone in charge said it was my fault."

Izuku rolls up his sleeve. He's got scars of all sizes along his arms that he tries to keep covered now, but he shows one arm to Eraserhead and turns it so that he can point out the three thin marks that run halfway up the pale skin of his forearm. “When this happened, they thought I did it to myself, and I couldn’t really convince them otherwise.” He might have tried, but the spirits around him all ran away before he could consider breaking his promise. “So they said I was at risk and, um. If people think that, they can put you in a hospital and no one ever has to let you out again."

He can hear Eraserhead take a breath, but he has to keep going, has to get it out.

"There it was pills and nurses and doctors with quirks and they decided I was sick, that the spirits were just something wrong with my brain, and that they could fix me. I mean. They tested everything. They showed me my xrays. They showed me how no one with a toe joint has a quirk, not ever. They gave me quirk suppressants, and put me in cuffs, to, um, ‘prove’ it was all in my head. And when I didn't get better they got angry that I wasn't trying."

Eraserhead looks… unhappy. Izuku is pretty sure it’s about what happened, at least, not at him. “They put you in a psych ward and didn't believe your quirk." It’s not really a question, when he says it that way.

"It’s not a quirk," Izuku reminds him, tired to the bone. "If all quirks are spirits and I don’t have one, and everything that stops quirks doesn’t work on me, I’m pretty sure we can call it something else, right? Anyway,” he presses on. “They didn't let me have wards either and with the pills and their quirks I couldn't think, not properly. Everything started to get… fuzzy. Except I kept getting hurt but I couldn't stop it - stop the spirits from prodding me, and it was getting worse. So then one day one of the, um, one of the old ones, he might be the very oldest I don't know but… He offered to get me out, for a price.” 

“Kid…” Eraserhead sounds wary. “What sort of things do spirits want to be paid in?” 

Well, at least he won’t be completely surprising the man, if he’s got an idea that spirits can’t be paid in money. Izuku knows his grin probably isn’t all that reassuring but he’s learned it’s better to laugh than cry, about this sort of thing. “Spirits mostly want power, but some are collectors, kind of. And I’m limited in what power I can give them, but anything of mine has power so... I've traded things like the color purple, and what mom smelled like, and spicy food, and the first time I ate ice cream. The crows wanted something more than that, though."

"You traded your name."

Izuku’s not expecting that, but maybe he should have: Eraserhead is one of the smartest heroes he knows and he probably made it obvious. "That’s why I can't say it. I can think it but I can't... It's not mine anymore. I think even if you knew it you couldn't use it, but I don't know how it all works. They tried to use it to control me, for a while."

Eraserhead nods, like he’s taking this seriously, and Izuku can’t believe this is real. That he has someone who can see and can believe and it means more than he will probably ever manage to say. “Is that why you warned me about my name here? 

He nods. “Names mean a lot of things, especially for spirits. A name can tell you about them, where they're from and what they can do and even what they're like, sometimes, but they also are what a spirit is, in a lot of ways. They're made up of belief and that starts when they're named, when they become something specific instead of something in general. Like the wind is just the wind but the West Wind is a pretty nice guy all things considered? Because the Greeks worshipped him a long time ago so now he’s… like a spirit.” Spirit, because he’s not ready to introduce Eraserhead to gods yet.

There’s a pause as Eraserhead frowns and looks around them, like he’s taking stock. “So if someone has your name - they can control you.”

He’ll never, ever forget how it felt to be bidden and to have no real ability to disobey - at least not at first. “They tried. I mean - they did, control me.” It had been terrifying, to be commanded and puppeted. “But then they wanted me to use my power against other spirits, and I didn’t want to so I tried to stop and when they tried to force me, um. I figured out I didn’t have to listen to them, even if they had my name? I think maybe it wasn’t my full name. Spirit true names are always four parts, and I only had two, so maybe that was it?” He still doesn’t know. It isn’t like he can ask his mother or father if they’d given him a name not on his birth certificate. “But it meant I could fight back, and I won.”

“Won how?”

Izuku’s relieved that Eraserhead isn’t asking for more details because he really doesn’t want to get into that right now. There’s something comfortable, about the way the man asks things to - he doesn’t sound like he’s judging or disbelieving or upset, he’s just curious. Izuku feels like he’s uncovered a dam inside of him, one that wants to pour itself out straight from his heart. 

“I broke free and, well, we pretty much agree to leave each other alone, now. I don't want to fight them, and they have my name and even if they can’t make me do things it’s still power and I think I might have made them… well. A lot stronger. It probably wasn’t what they wanted from our trade, but it’s what they asked for and I guess I learned a lot from it.” Izuku looks at Tamamo-no-Mae and around them. “Like how to come here.” Getting home took something else entirely, but he’s been depressing enough for one day. “And we should probably keep moving. I think we’re near an edge.” 

“An edge?” Eraserhead looks but the landscape probably seems endless to him. “Is that a way home?”

“It’ll get us closer,” Izuku nods and reaches out to take the hero’s hand. “The rules of this place are weird, it’s not like a planet where everything is one connected piece. It’s a lot of different spaces that sort of bunch up against each other. Like if the tectonic plates all had individual personalities, sometimes played tricks on you, and moved in 4 dimensional space.” 

Eraserhead gives him a look he absolutely cannot read. “How long did it take you to learn all of this?”

Oh, right. He sounds like a walking Wikipedia entry, doesn’t he? “There’s a library here,” Izuku explains, walking forward and feeling for the edge and overlap that hovers nearby but is always an inexact science. “I think I spent about six months there, but I don’t really have a good idea of when I left the hospital, exactly, but when I came back it was spring, and I missed winter completely.”

Whatever Eraserhead wants to say is cut off as Izuku tightens his grip on his hand and they move, from one place to the next, in the space of a step.

------

Hizashi knows not to wait by the phone - even though they don’t have a landline at all, he and Shota and Hitoshi use their cell phones like sane people who want a phone they can put on silent or vibrate and can screen their calls and receive texts and - look, Hizashi thinks landlines are a relic and they remind him too much of work at the station, so there isn’t exactly a phone to wait by at all. Having your cell in your pocket doesn’t count.

He’s still waiting, though, and trying not to. Shota hasn’t checked in and it’s not something to panic about - being an underground hero means your schedule can sometimes be a bit out there - but it’s something to worry a bit about because being an underground hero means if he hasn’t heard from Shota in X amount of time that they’ve set up in advance, he’s allowed to get worried. 

This time, Shota’s following up on something to do with the Yakuza raid and the cops have had the lead on it, so at least he isn’t the one in charge of sounding the alarm if Shota doesn’t get back to him - it’ll mean he hasn’t gotten hold of the police either. 

Still, he’s had to sound more alarms than he’d like, since they graduated.

The point is, Shota’s missed his first call but not his second and Hizashi is worried but not letting it show because he doesn’t want to upset Hitoshi who is far too smart about this sort of thing.

“Something’s burning,” Hitoshi warns as he enters the kitchen and heads straight for the coffee maker. 

“Ack!” Hizashi pulls open the fish oven and is relieved to see tonight’s dinner is a bit dark, but not actually black yet. “Don’t worry! Still totally edible!” he assures, lifting it from the grill and setting it on a plate with a pinch of extra salt. “Probably should have added more water to the pan but it’s fine! And what are you doing drinking coffee this late at night?”

“It’s decaf,” Hitoshi sets the table and keeps glancing over his shoulder at Hizashi. “You know, you do this every time.”

“Do what?” 

“Make shioyaki and pretend everything’s fine?” Hitoshi sits next to him once the table is set and they both begin on their meal. “Did Dad not call?”

Hizashi stares at his son but he hasn’t won a single staring match in this household and Hitoshi isn’t about to let him do so now. “Am I that obvious?”

“There’s a reason you’re not an underground hero,” is his reply but it’s said with what - for Hitoshi - is fondness. “You’re really obvious when you’re worried.”

“Only because you live with me!” Hizashi feels the need to defend his hero cred - he can’t have his kid thinking he’s not capable! “You’ve learned all my tells! You know all my weaknesses! You’re perfectly primed to undercut me at every turn!”

“And you’re being dramatic,” his son smiles, propping his head up on one hand, elbow braced on the table. “Can you tell me anything about it?”

Hizashi considers that for a moment and then nods - the basics that they’d pass along to any hero is safe enough for Hitoshi - he knows the value of a secret. “He’s off at Minami Ward, the one with the creepy plants? They think one of the Yakuza big wigs that ducked the raid is hiding there. He’s there with some quieter heroes because the area’s still a bit rocky and the civilians aren’t too happy about heroes since we didn’t exactly do a stellar job out there, so the cops didn’t want to send in anyone too flashy.”

“In other words, Endeavor would just upset everyone?”

Hizashi snorts, trying to hide it and failing. “When doesn’t he? He’d probably try to burn the plants even after every brief saying they’re basically fireproof and then spread their pollen everywhere in the process. We’d be trying to cut back immortal thorn bushes for years.

The description does it’s job - Shinso laughs. “Well, lucky for us Dad’s handling it then. Hopefully he’ll call soon - he warned you he’d cut off your feet if you paced another hole in the rug.”

“FOR THE LAST TIME!” Hizashi, righteous, bangs his fist on the table. “That was a candle!”

“Sure, sure,” Hitoshi eyes him over his mug and is absolutely laughing at him silently, which Shota totally taught him, and it’s so not fair his kid can be silently smug at him and Hizashi can’t ever get him back. “If that helps you sleep at night.”

His phone rings before Hizashi can figure out the perfect rebuttal and he recognizes the detective’s number in his caller ID. He tries to keep his smile on his face, but he’s pretty sure it’s a horrible grimace based on the way Hitoshi seems to focus on him.

“Present Mic!” he greets, and hopes like hell this is a courtesy call.

“Hello Mic,” says Tsukauchi, sounding grave. That voice is never good, Hizashi knows. He feels his chest go tight. “There’s been an incident with Eraserhead’s current mission. I wanted to give you an update…”

By the time the call is done, Hizashi can’t pretend to smile anymore. He sets his phone down and just buries his face in his hands because this? This is the nightmare. This is one - out of two - bad dreams that keeps him up at night, that follows at the heels of every mission Shota takes, that threatens every time the phone rings and Shota isn’t here.

Hitoshi is beside him with a cup of tea and presses it into his hands. “I heard some of that,” he admits - but it’s no surprise. Hizashi has to keep the volume on his phone up to hear things, after all. “Dad’s been kidnapped?

“Maybe, maybe not,” Hizashi holds the cup and doesn’t drink anything but the heat in his hands feels good. Grounding. Hitoshi just pulls his chair closer so he can sit with his knees very nearly against Hizashi’s. “He - during the fight he was hurt. You remember the kid - Deku?”

“He’d be hard to forget,” is Hitoshi’s deadpan reply.

Right, well, that makes sense. “They think they ran into him, while looking for the villain - Demolition. They don’t think they were working together, but Shota got hurt.” The words feel so wrong to say. “Shota got hurt, and Deku - they think - they’re pretty sure he teleported him away. No one got a good look at it though, because there was an explosion right after. So he might have been helping but…”

Hitoshi nods. “But we don’t know where he is and he hasn’t called.”

Hizashi nods. “He hasn’t contacted anyone, and no one has any idea where Shota might be, because no one’s seen Deku since he disappeared.”

Ashtray takes that moment to jump on the table and head for the fish. “You brat - no! ” Hizashi and Hitoshi both reach for her at the same time and Hitoshi ends up cuddling her to his chest. “I swear she gets worse every time,” he grumbles.

“Dad’s been sneaking her treats when he thinks we’re not looking.”

“WHAT?”

Hitoshi smiles - well, it’s a smirk. It doesn’t reach his eyes. “Make that when he thinks I’m not looking. You’re clearly not paying enough attention at all.”

Hizashi sputters.

“What are they going to do?” his son - their son - asks, still holding Ashtray and maybe she knows, because she curls against him and purrs and doesn’t fight to get away. “How are they going to find him?”

“Tsukauchi is going to call in everyone he can,” Hizashi can report that much at least. “They’ll find him, Hitoshi.”

His son nods once, face half hidden by cat. “They will, or he’ll find us,” he repeats back, with all the conviction he can muster.

Hizashi knows they’re both trying to convince one another. Maybe if they keep repeating it, it’ll be true.







Chapter Text

-------



The world changes.

Shota shakes his head to clear it, blinking his eyes to try to force them to adjust to the sudden shift in light. A moment ago, they’d been standing on a gently rolling landscape of pastel colors and soft grass, diffused light and silence.

Now they stand in a small clearing surrounded by a forest so dense he can’t see beyond a few trees. The circle of sky above them is a middling sort of twilight without any hint of moon or stars, and there’s a soft wind that whispers through the leaves and raises the hair on the back of his neck.

Deku is also still holding his hand, gripping it like he’s trying to liquify Shota’s bones.

“Fuck,” the boy says with such feeling that Shota tenses, looking around to see if there’s anything coming. The fox spirit stands behind them on all fours with her tails - eight, he counts- fanned out behind her. The pose is a defensive one, he realizes instantly, and his own hackles rise. 

<< Indeed,>> says Tamamo-no-Mae. << This is less than optimal.>>

“Either of you want to explain why?” Shota’s skin is crawling - the sensation of being watched is oppressive, but it’s impossible to see what direction it’s coming from.

“Let’s say that if there was a worst case scenario for where I could be bringing a human, this is… top two,” Deku is pale, Shota realizes. He’s afraid. “B-but I don’t think we have another choice. I never knew there was something beyond this forest - I guess it’s because spirits just never get through it to say much.” 

“So we need to go around?” Shora’s still not sure how all of this works. “Do we go back and find… another edge?”

Deku shakes his head, frowning. “I don’t know where we’d end up. Tamamo-no-Mae?” he asks the spirit, sounding hopeful. “Did you... Maybe recognize the last place?”

<< No, >> she admits, and her voice carries worry as well. << I have never been there from any other direction. And I have never passed through Aiapaec’s forest.>>

“Do I want to know?” Shota hates the fact they’re having a conversation almost over his head - he’s not used to being the one without information. 

“He’s a god,” Deku says, apologetically. “An old one.”

“A… god.” Does he want to have this conversation? No. Is he going to? It certainly looks like it. “And that’s different from a spirit, how?” 

“Gods are… gods?” Deku shrugs, still looking around at the trees. “They’re a lot more powerful and their power is different. They don’t usually share with humans, they just find a place here and make it theirs. And some of them, um, feed on other spirits for their power?”

<< Or they compel spirits to do their bidding. Aiapaec is known to have several under his control, as the Crows attempted with Deku.>>

“Question,” Shota finds himself asking. “Why are the Crows the Crows and not a name? Everyone else seems to have one.”

Deku blinks in surprise. “Oh! Uh, that’s because they’d hear us if we said it. They have a lot of names that aren’t True Names, actually, because they’re messengers. And uh,” he frowns but mostly looks sheepish and seems to realize a lot of that doesn’t mean much to Shota, because he shakes his head and continues. “They’re complicated, but if we used a name they’d come and investigate, and we really don’t want their attention. They’re… also gods. Well. One god across a lot of crows? Like I said - complicated.

Another thing to investigate later; Shota wants a god damned notebook - and maybe some flash cards. “All right. Do we have a plan?”

“Don’t get eaten?” Deku laughs weakly. “Um, actually I think I have a plan, we’ll just have to be careful, but I’ve been in the forest before, I just-

<< You what? >> Tamamo-no-Mae’s voice is loud enough even Deku flinches. << Why would you ever- >>

“I was doing a favor!” he protests, defensively. “And I only went in so far, I didn’t try to go through! The point is there is a way to ask for passage, if you have something he wants.”

Shota doesn’t get to ask what that means, because Deku follows it up with: “The best thing would be a fight you won. Something you worked hard for, but when you were younger.” He says this thoughtfully, looking up at Shota expectantly. “Maybe your final exam, from when you went to UA?”

“Problem Child,” Shota fixed him with a look that usually works in the classroom. “You’re not making sense. I’m going to need some context.”

“Oh right - um. He’s a god of a few things, but one of the main ones is military victory? Not all of it, there’s more than one god for that!” He adds that hurriedly, like Shota might be worried about the lack. “Spirits will trade in memories, remember, if you don’t have something specific they want? I gave him the first time I went swimming, before, because I didn’t think I had any fights worth sharing then since I usually lost. But you went to UA, so you must have some good ones where you had to do a lot to win, and they’d be old enough you won’t be in trouble for forgetting them.”

“I’m feeding a god a memory of a fight, in exchange for… getting through his forest?”

Deku nods, completely at ease with that statement. “Exactly.”

<< That is… a very cunning plan,>> Tamamo-no-Mae says slowly before Shota can really lean into the what the fuck aspect of things. << But what is to stop him from refusing and simply attacking us for our power?>.

Deku squares his shoulders and meets the spirit head on. “Me,” he says simply, and there is something… there is something Shota can’t place in his tone, in his eyes, in the way the air seems to shift around them. “Just because I really don’t want to fight doesn’t mean I won’t if I have to. If it was just me I’d find another way, but Eraserhead can’t wait forever. He has a family.” 

Shota knows what that doesn’t say - Shota has people looking for him, worried about him, missing him.

Deku doesn’t..

“So it’s a good plan for us, and for Aiapaec. We’ll still have to be careful, though.” He looks away from them and towards the trees. “Aiapaec isn’t the only one who lives here.”

 

------------

 

The forest is just as Izuku remembers it: the trees loom and the path in front of them is narrow and meandering. Safe passage through the trees only means safe from Aiapaec, not his followers, but there’s a world of a difference between pushing a spirit away and staring down a god and Izuku really would prefer to never do that again.

(He’d do it, for Eraserhead. For someone else, it would be ok, but never for himself. It was one thing to use what he could to to protect if no one else could, it was something else entirely to be selfish. )

<< There is something nearby>> Tamamo-no-Mae warns them and Izuku readies the knife he’d borrowed once again from Eraserhead, his sleeves rolled to his elbows in preparation. Eraserhead, meanwhile, readies himself with the ethereal capture weapon the kitsune had dropped around his neck before they’d entered the forest. 

A moment later, a woman appears on the path in front of them. She’s beautiful, in the way that so many spirits with human forms are: her skin very nearly glows and her lips are crimson red, her teeth and her hair black, the latter so long it nearly reaches the ground and is pulled back by a simple red tie. She’s in hōmongi, which Izuku’s had to learn the specifics of only because it’s an easy indicator of a spirit’s power level or sometimes intent: the ones who show up in simple yukata don’t usually mean trouble. (The ones in twelve layered jūnihitoe always try to eat him.)

“You brought a human into our forest?” she asks and her voice sounds like bubbling water. “We haven’t had a human in so very long…”

“We’re just passing through,” Izuku tries. “I’m taking him home.”

She raises her sleeve to cover her mouth as she laughs. Her eyes are completely black and glossy, the only thing expressly other about her, beyond her old fashioned looks and the way she’s making his skin crawl. “I heard your message to our master,” she tells them and takes a step closer.

Izuku doesn’t risk it - he uses the knife to draw a shallow cut across the back of his left arm and ignores the way Eraserhead growls. (He might have not warned the hero, in case he tried to stop him.) The spirit stops moving instantly. “Are you threatening me, corrupted one? ” 

“I don’t want a fight,” Izuku says, voice steady. “I really don’t want to make trouble for Aiapaec. You know that - I think everyone knows I’d rather be a coward, at this point.” And the admission doesn’t hurt to say, even if Eraserhead hears it - he is what he is, and he can’t lie. He puts two fingers on the cut and then draws a ward in mid air between them where it instantly glows. “This human is under my protection,” he says with a twist of power in every word. “I have to bring him safely home. I gave my word.”

The wind picks up around them. “Your word means nothing, defiler,” the spirit hisses at the wards and her beauty warps: her expression goes dark and she frowns except the frown grows and grows until her face splits and mandibles appear, dark and dripping green. Her hair lifts and frees itself from the tie to become long, hinged legs, sharp and deadly on their own and terrifying for the way they lift her form from the ground so that she hangs, the human part of her literally limp as her spider presence looms above them.

Tamamo-no-Mae instantly begins to glow beside him and Izuku hears Eraserhead curse under his breath but the man isn’t panicking - and why would he? He’s a hero, he’s faced all sorts of strange mutations, this is probably just another one to him at this point.

<< You cannot hope to take all of us and win,>> Tamamo-no-Mae warns with a growl. << I will take your power for daring to attack my human. >>

The spider woman - she’s a jorōgumo, Izuku’s brain provides, though it lacks any helpful information on dealing with her - laughs, mandibles clacking and needle-thin legs tapping back and forth, unbothered by the trees as they part for her willingly. Izuku quickly draws a second and third ward to join the first, the sigils coming easily here when they would have fought him in the real world. 

“Don’t make me do this,” Izuku asks, one last time though he knows it’s hopeless. “I don’t want to fight you.”

“Poor pathetic monster child,” the spirit taunts, but she doesn’t approach and so Izuku holds off attacking in turn. “In our forest with a human-lover and a human meal. I’m going to enjoy tearing the flesh from your bones.” Her aura shifts and is oppressive and the forest darkens around them in response. “ Defiler. Too many think you should be feared. We think you should be eaten.

Izuku gets one second to consider ‘we’ before the ground under them explodes.

 

-----

 

Shota leaps out of the way the minute the ground parts under them. He aims to land on a branch above and to the left, but it moves out of his path as his feet come down and the disorientation means he smacks into the trunk instead and has to try to tuck and roll before he hits the ground. When he gets to his feet it’s to face a giant fucking spider - not the woman, she’s behind him fighting Deku - but a brown fuzzy fucking tarantuala that crawled out of the ground with the face of a lion and teeth as big as Shota’s arm and, impossibly, three god damned googley eyes.

He’s never been happier Hizashi isn’t here with them: they’d all be deaf from his screams.

The capture weapon around his shoulders had come from Tamamo-no-Mae. She’d dropped it over his head just before they’d given their ‘offerings’ to the thing that controlled this area (Shota’s working on thinking of it as a god, but that’s a work in progress thank you very much). It feels just like his own, and she’d smiled her smug fox smile when he’d pointed that out. It obeys him just like the real thing now, lashing out and tangling around the larger monster’s legs to topple it as the kitsune grows to a size that matches the beast, her teeth doing impressive damage. Something about her tails - they’re glowing brighter than the rest of her - seems to be hurting the monster as well, making it shrink away as she attacks, so Shota recalls his weapon and leaps to help Deku.

The spider woman looks like the sort of yokai from woodblock prints that Shota never thought he’d regret not paying attention to in art history class. Her body hangs from her hair, which makes up her legs (more than eight, his brain offers, which is not all that helpful and actually all the more unsettling). Said legs move with frightening speed and she keeps trying to pin Deku under them.

Deku is holding his own, and Shota doesn’t know how to feel about that long term but for now he’s relieved because watching the kid paint symbols in the air with his own blood hadn’t exactly been reassuring. Whatever they are, Deku is using them to deflect the creature’s attacks, her legs sliding off of something like a shield he seems to be directing midair and enraging her in the process.

There’s so much Shota doesn’t understand about this place, and he feels like he never will, but hearing the kid call himself a coward - in a place he can’t lie - and then watching him face down this mess like it’s a normal fucking Tuesday makes his blood boil. 

He dives into the fray: it’s harder to topple her with his weapon. Her legs are so thin that they slide from his attacks at first, and she dodges anything he aims at her body with frightening speed. He misjudges an attack and she very nearly gets him through the arm with one of her legs, so he pulls back enough to observe and think. Whatever Deku is doing is mostly defensive, but at least he doesn’t seem to be tiring. If the trees would allow Shota purchase he could get a better angle - he’s not made for fighting on the ground - but every time he aims for a branch it moves out of his way.

Apparently Aiapaec gave them safe passage, but no help if they came under attack. Shota doesn’t know how that works but Deku isn’t shouting about broken promises so he’s running the assumption this falls under the ‘not a lie but a trick’ category of ‘weird shit spirits do’.

(Again, still working on the god thing.) 

After several more attempts Shota finally gets his weapon looped around the woman-thing and drags her to the ground with effort - she’s insanely strong and while her center of balance should be high and narrow, physics doesn’t quite seem to work that way here. Deku is drawing something in the air when they hear Tamamo-no-Mae scream in pain.

The look Shota sees on Deku’s face as he turns towards him makes his blood run cold. It’s a terrific look of horror and then an instant shift to something cold and hard and resigned. Shota turns to see his spirit - pinned under the spider and bloody, somehow spirits have blood - and it means he doesn’t see what Deku does.

He feels it though.

<< Bruennichi. Katsurugi.>> It’s Deku’s voice in his head, but it’s also in his chest and his bones, like standing next to a speaker at a party - or next to Mic when he forgets to modulate his volume. It echoes.

The two spider things both stop moving completely, though the woman howls something that makes Shota’s ears hurt.

The oppressive force stops and Shota looks to see Deku standing just the way he’d met the kid, ages ago now: head down and shoulders high and every part of him radiating hurt and fear and tension, like he’s ready to be hit. “I asked you not to fight us,” he tells the ground, sounding heartbroken. “I warned you. I warned you and I would have begged if you’d wanted that but instead you attacked us and now look at you!” He looks up at the trees at large. “And don’t think I didn’t notice you helping, Aiapaec! I could come after you for this! We had an agreement!”

There’s silence, but Shota feels once again like they’re being watched by something more than the creatures at their feet.

Deku takes a shaky breath. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” he says, sounding far too old for his age. “You two are going to give Tamamo-no-Mae enough power to heal her wound as an apology for attacking us and then I’ll let you go. And Aiapec will make sure the rest of our walk is uninterrupted.”

<< You dare give orders to our lord? >> this comes from the lion-headed one. Shota gets the feeling that talking out loud is reserved for the ones who have human-shaped mouths. 

“I hold one quarter of your true names, ” Deku walks right up to the lion-spider thing, no longer afraid. He doesn’t look confident, though: he looks worn down and tired. “I could take more.”

<< ENOUGH>> this voice makes every other seem like a whisper - Shota flinches, even with all his years of experience with Hizashi because it hurts. He tastes blood - he feels drums - and there’s the smell of saltwater, somehow. Aiapaec had only spoken to Deku before, but now he’s pretty sure they can all hear him.

Shota grits his teeth and breathes out through the sheer overwhelmingness of it all, while Deku just looks up at a particular point in the trees. “I’ve never had to protect someone here before,” he says to the air. “I’ve only ever had myself. Now I have Eraserhead and his spirit, and I am going to get them home. I don’t care what I have to do to make that happen. Do you understand?”

There is a crackle of thunder without lightning and Tamamo-no-Mae’s injury closes as though it never existed. << NOW WE ARE EVEN>> the god says. << GET OUT.>>

There is the very unsettling sensation of the world moving while Shota is staying still, the trees all blending into a mass of green and brown before they are very suddenly standing with the wall of trees behind them, a clearing in front of them with a chasm and a swaying wooden bridge beyond that, and the sky in full night but compete with a moon and stars that Shota does not recognize.

They’ve apparently been kicked out of the forest, which he is pretty sure is a good thing.

He takes one look at Deku though and realizes that he might not agree. “Problem Child…”

The kid looks exhausted, but more than that he looks devastated. He covers his face with both hands and a moment later the kitsune is beside him, around him and letting him hide his face in her fur as he silently shakes. She gives Shota a look.

Right. Time to fix this - whatever this is.

“You’re looking rough for a kid who just saved our skins back there,” he tries to keep his voice casual - this kid is a mess for good reason and he doesn’t want to add to that. 

Deku pulls away to glare at Shota but there’s no fire in it, no real anger, just a self-loathing that he’d like to cut out with a knife and hand the kid to a group of therapists for at least a year to tackle. “I did it again, ” Deku looks away, hands balled at his sides and his whole body a line of hurt. “I promised myself and I did it again.

Shota can make a few educated guesses. “The name thing?”

The kid laughs, short and sharp. “The name thing.

God damn it but this is going to be another pep talk, isn’t it? Shota sighs and sits, cross legged, in front of Deku. It means the kid has to look down at him and can’t hide behind his hair. “Ok. Explain it to me again, because it looked like you were defending yourself. They obviously don’t like you much.” During the fight, despite the kid’s initial worries for Shota, the creatures seemed to focus on Deku and the kitsune. He’s not sure if that’s a slight on his abilities or just a fact of him being human.

Deku looks down at him, clearly uncomfortable at Shota sitting on the ground. He fidgets for a moment until Tamamo-no-Mae nudges him and he sags, like a puppet with the strings cut, and sinks to the grass as well. The kitsune instantly curls behind him so that he can lean back against her side. “I think I said it before but… names are important. Names are what a thing is, here. Sort of. It’s complicated.”

“Problem Child,” Shota intones with every ounce of dry humor he has, “What part of your life isn’t?

It’s worth it for the way that Deku laughs, far more open and with some actual mirth this time. 

Deku’s smiling, lopsided and uncomfortable but smiling as he continues. “There’s a difference between someone’s true name and what you call them. So Eraserhead isn’t your true name, and neither is Tamamo-no-Mae, or Deku. Aiapaec isn’t his name, either. Those are the names we use, but they don’t really have any power except, um. Like a phone number. I could use it to find someone once I know any of their names at all, but that’s about it.”

Shota nods, and waits. One thing about this kid is that when he starts talking on a subject he tends to go at it full-tilt. He wants to see how he’d handle classes and structured learning, when this is over. There’s a hell of a mind here that people let go to waste. 

“Usually here, you have to tell someone your name, or give someone your name. There’s a big difference that, uh, I didn’t know, before, which isn’t the point. The point is that no one really tells their true name because it’s dangerous. You can lose a lot.” Deku swallows and seems to sag again, wretched. “And what I can do - what I did - I went in to who they were and I found their names. Well. The first part. And then I used them. ” Deku sits and blinks rapidly and seems to wait for some sort of condemnation. Like he’s done something wrong.

“And?” The best way forward is through, as far as Shota’s concerned.

“I went in and took their names! Without their permission! I could use that to hurt them!”

“But you didn’t.” Shota pulls a knee up so he can prop his head on it because he’s tired. “Look. As far as I can tell you’re not running around taking everyone’s name just for fun. You’re not collecting an army to fight for you or do your bidding. You have an ability and you’re using it when you’re threatened to protect yourself and others. Would you blame Shinso if he used his quirk on you, if you’d gone after him with a knife?”

“What?” Deku looks down at him shocked. “I’d never! And he’s training to be a hero, so if he uses his quirk-”

“So if someone on the street attacked him even if he wasn’t a hero, would you be upset at him using his quirk to stop that fight?”

“No, but it’s different.” Deku looks, if Shota has to give it a word, panicked. He’s come across this sort of thing before - sometimes you get someone who’s built up a specific worldview they need to be true, even if it doesn’t always make sense.

“How is it different, Problem Child?”

The kid flails. “Because I can hurt them! I could keep using my power, even after the fight! I have hurt them, before I knew how things worked!”

“And we’ve never seen someone get hurt because a kid was learning how to use their quirk,” Shota points out dryly. “We absolutely weren’t just in a whole district covered in immortal plants that no one can weed because someone with a garden quirk had a crisis. Never heard of that happening at all.”

“You’re not helping!” Deku slams his hands on the ground and, Shota notices with interest, the grass around them seems to wilt a bit. “It’s different!”

He’s unphased by the example of teenage angst - he’s seen far better. “I don’t think it is,” he says, still flat as he can make himself sound. “Here’s what I see: I’ve got a kid in front of me who has a powerful quirk - don’t correct me, at the end of the day it’s a quirk - who could use it to fuck people over, and once hurt someone badly enough he’s terrified of using it like that again. So instead of applying it carefully or learning where his limits are, he bottles it up and tries not to use it until he’s scared and overwhelmed and he has to to protect himself or the people around him, and it gets out of his control. And instead of seeing that as a sign of needing to learn how to work with it better, he takes it as a sign that he’s failing to hold it in and is some sort of monster.”

Deku ducks his head down lower and lower into his chest.

“What I think, if I was giving an analysis to Principal Nedzu, just for example, is that here’s a kid who’s so careful about what he can do that even when he’s at his worst he doesn’t do outright harm. The only thing you did to those two back there -” and it’s really damned strange, Shota thinks, that he can’t actually recall their names, but then again maybe that’s the whole tell and give thing at play, maybe overhearing it isn’t enough - “you had them at your mercy and all you did was make them back off. You stopped the fight. Everything you tell me says you could do anything to them when you have their names - that you could take their whole names and really scare the shit out of them just with that. And you don’t.”

He shrugs. Deku keeps peeking up at him through his messy hair. “I’d say here’s a kid with a lot of potential who needs to work on what he can do, but has the sense to limit his harm already. That’s something I usually have to drill into the first years, and they usually don’t do it naturally until their second or third year if we’re lucky.” And then there were heroes like Endevor who never learned - or cared.

“I’m not…” Deku shakes his head furiously. “I’m not that good.”

“Because you made a mistake?” Shota asks. “Because this lot calls you names? Tamamo-no-Mae likes you, and I’ve only known her for however fucking long we’ve been here, but I bet she’s a good judge of character.

<< Thank you. >> She nudges Deku gently but otherwise lets Shota continue this not-as-weird-as-it-could-be pep talk.

“I’m saying for a kid who wanted to be a hero once, you understand something it usually takes our students their entire academic career to learn, and some of them still don’t until they hit the pros.”

That catches his attention and Deku finally raises his head to look at Shota full on. He’s not crying, at least, even if his eyes are bright. “What’s that.”

“It’s that you keep going. Even when everything is shit. When people are shit and when the world isn’t fair, you keep going and you do what you can. Kid, look at what you’ve put up with. ” This Shota can stress. “You’ve been flat out abused, called crazy, ignored, I’m willing to bet starved, you’ve been living rough however you’ve been living and you’re dealing with what seems to be an entire invisible army that doesn’t like you or actively wants to do you harm. You face that every fucking day, alone. And you still came and gave us back our quirks.” Shota wants him to understand this. “You walked into a trap you knew was a trap and you knew we weren’t going to let you go, to give me back my quirk you knew I’d intentionally sacrificed. We treated you like shit and triggered you and I scared the crap out of you today and instead of running away, you helped against a god damned villain and saved my life. If you wanted to be a hero, kid, I don’t see why you couldn’t be.”

Oh. Oh, Shota did not expect tears from that even though he really should have expected tears from that because this kid cries a lot and now he’s crying again as Shota pats him awkwardly on the shoulder. 

“Do you mean it?” he asks while scrubbing at his face. “But I don’t have a-”

“You can teleport. You can apparently stop quirks - I’d want to work on that not hurting you, but if it was for emergencies that’s still a skill. I saw you put out the fires during the fight. You fixed my quirk and you’ve said you’ve helped others with theirs. That’s more than half of my students can lay claim to.” Shota raises an eyebrow as Deku tries to protest and then stops under the force of his glare. “I’d say that counts.”

“But - but the water, that was borrowed. A spirit owed me a favor. I couldn’t do it again.”

“Problem Child,” Shota draws the words out. “One of the students in 1B has a quirk that lets him copy the quirk of whoever he touches. If there’s no one around, or if they have a mutation quirk, or if they just don’t have a useful quirk, he can’t do anything. No one says he can’t be a hero.”

Admittedly, there are conversations to be had about Neito’s personality but that’s for Kan to deal with. 

“Wait, he can?” There’s a light in the kid’s eyes and Shota thinks finally but instead of seeing the brilliance that is his pep talk, Deku goes on. “Is it skin activated? Does it have to be living skin? What if he touched their hair? If it doesn’t have to be alive he could maybe work from hair, or dead skin, or even nails from a person, right? What about blood? Has he tested it with -”

Shota holds up a hand and Deku cuts himself off mid thought. “While those are some good ideas I might mention to him and make sure he has thought of the applications, the point was that your quirk of borrowing favors could be read the same way, and that’s before you consider the rest of what you can do. The point, Problem Child, is that you have value and you aren’t a monster or a demon or anything but a sixteen year old who needs a few solid meals and probably a lifetime supply of hugs.”

Deku blushes, his cheeks bright red, but his smile is whole and for the first time looks a little less broken and Shota’s proud of himself until he realizes - “Problem Child? Why are you glowing?

<< You are as well, >> Tamamo-no-Mae says with such delight she sounds like she’s giggling. << Oh, this is unexpected but somehow so appropriate.>>

Deku stares at his hands and Shota does the same. “What’s going on?” the kid asks, and it’s the first time he hasn’t known what was happening here and that worries Shota more than he’d like, but at least his spirit seems happy about matters.

<< Just a bit of very old magic>> she says, radiating smug mirth. << We were talking about names before, after all, were we not?>>

That seems to mean something to the kid, who stares at Shota with suddenly huge eyes. “Oh my god.”

What?”

“I think… I think you just gave me a name.”

Shota thinks about that for one short second. “Like hell I did? Problem Child isn’t a name, it’s - it’s a title. It’s a description. It’s -”  Names are what a thing is, here. Fucking hell. “I didn’t mean it!” He’s not saddling this kid with Problem Child when he’s already using Deku, for goodness sake!

“It’s ok!” Deku waves his hands in the air eagerly, still smiling. “I know you don’t mean it to be mean! I - I can tell. I don’t think you could give me a name I didn’t, um, want?” He looks over to the kitsune.

She nods, her front paws crossed almost daintily in front of her. << Indeed. You cannot give what will not be received. And you cannot take back what has been given. >> Still smug her tails smack the ground behind them. << I was once given Tamamo-no-Mae, and I cherish it above all others.>>

Deku perks up at that, probably at the chance to get the conversation away from him for a while. “Who gave it to you?”

She blinks slowly and then leans forward until her nose touches Deku’s. << That is a story for another time, >> she says, voice warm. << For now, we should focus on getting my human home, don’t you think?>>

“Oh my god,” Deku shoots up to his feet. “We’ve just been sitting and I’ve been so useless I’m so stupid I -”

“Problem Child,” Shota can feel the title mean something now when he uses it, like the words have weight. “We are going to work on your self flagellation,” later, of course, but it’s good to plant the idea now. “For now let’s just get moving, all right?”

Deku laughs uncertainly, hand on the back of his head, and it looks so much like Shinso’s nervous tic Shota has to smile.

 

------






Chapter Text

----------------- 

Moving is good, Izuku thinks. They need to keep moving - they have to cross the First Bridge and then he knows there’s a waypoint into the Marketplace. It’s a bit of a risk, taking Eraserhead there, but the alternate route would take ages. For now, they need to move forward and Izuku needs to think about what Eraserhead’s said to him.

Was it ok to use his ability? Obviously he couldn’t do what he’d done when he was eight - when he’d clung to his mother’s spirit and desperately tried to make it his instead. That had been what convinced his mother the spirits were real. Well, that and the way they’d come for him after, as the word slowly spread. 

But his favors weren’t like that, and while he’d burnt himself on Zarr, that had been because he’d physically held the spirit and that was his own stupidity - he could have reached out with just his power. And he hadn’t done anything to hurt Hitoshi’s spirit, or the two in Aiapaec’s forest, and he didn’t want to hurt them, everyone just always assumed that he would

Was that like having a villainous quirk? Izuku had always argued that no quirk was bad inherently because he’d seen people with terrible quirks and horrible spirits become great heroes or just perfectly normal people. Was he actually like that? But he never took power, and he only took names if he had no other choice. Was self defence enough?

It is a lot to think about.

Of course, Eraserhead also seemed to have a lot on his mind. “And you’re sure it doesn’t - I haven’t done anything to him, it’s not a control thing, or a power thing, right? Problem Child is supposed to be a nickname.

<< And it is,>> Tamamo-no-Mae assures with great patience. << You have done no harm. As we have said - only that it was given here makes it special. It makes it real.>>

“No one has been able to tell me how real is different from true or any of that,” Eraserhead grumbles, and it’s actually funny - and maybe strangely nice- how worried he is about something so simple. “I don’t want to have made things worse.”

“You didn’t!” Izuku assures all over again as they stop at the edge of the plain, a swaying bridge hanging across the chasm before them. “What Tamamo-no-Mae means is that it’s a name I can give out that has meaning right away. Like Deku, or Eraserhead, or even Tamamo-no-Mae. They’re all basically nicknames, but it being real means it’s a name I actually use and has power to, well, I could make a contract with it. Like with Aiapaec. My agreement with him was with Deku and I could now use Problem Child instead, but I couldn’t use, I don’t know, Nanashi and act like that was my name, because it isn’t.

Names have to have weight, Izuku knows. They have to be something you use and others use for you. 

“The glowing, though? You had me worrying that was the Spirit World version of, I don’t know, I own you now or something.”

“Oh!” Izuku laughs at the idea, though he can see why Eraserhead was worried. “No, no it’s ok! I think the glowing was more… this place is special sometimes, it’s complicated?”

“Complicated,” Eraserhead says, shoulders sagging.”Right. Well, if you’re sure…”

“I promise,” Izuku gives the most reassuring smile he can, and then gestures at the bridge. “We just have to cross here, then I think I’ll be better able to get us somewhere to get home.”

Eraserhead moves to stand beside him. “Problem Child,”  It makes Izuku smile just hearing it. It’s not a mean nickname at all - it’s honestly so true, and it feels good that Eraserhead wanted to call him something special at all. “This thing doesn’t exactly look like it’ll support your weight, nevermind mine.

Izuku looks at the First Bridge and then looks at it like he’s Eraserhead and sees the problem - at least this is an easy fix. “Don’t worry,” he assures. “I’ve taken it before, and so do other spirits. It’s just this old-looking because it’s the First Bridge.”

<< It’s actually the First Wood-and-Rope Bridge,>> Tamamo-no-Mae offers gracefully. << The First Bridge that wasn’t just a log across the river is much less impressive and is quite far away.>>

“Still looks like it’s being held together by luck and a prayer,” Eraserhead sounds uncertain, surprisingly, and Izuku can admit maybe the bridge doesn’t look that reassuring. It probably doesn’t help that the chasm that it crosses is really, really deep and the things at the bottom of it aren’t friendly. “Are those… eyes?”

“It’s the Watching River,” Izuku explains. “It’s pretty nasty, but we’re too far above for it to bother us. You just can’t look down while we cross, or they’ll try to make you jump.”

Eraserhead looks back at him, and again Izuku’s not sure what that expression even is. When the hero doesn’t say anything, Izuku shifts, wondering if he’s said something wrong. “Do, uh, do you not like heights?”

Eraserhead says something under his breath and then turns to Tamamo-no-Mae. “Do I even want to ask why?”

<< The bridge?>> She’s having fun, Izuku knows, but he doesn’t try to stop her. It must be nice for a spirit as good as this one to really be able to communicate with her human, and that will end when they go home. << Oh, when the humans were done with it the gods thought it would do better here. It is the spirit of the bridge. It will hold.>>

Eraserhead says something like ‘of course it will’ and then nods back at Izuku. “So we cross?”

“Y-yeah. Just make sure not to look down. You can cross pretty well if you hold the rope and just stay centered, but if you look down, the river will try to pull you in.”

Eraserhead looks like he wants to say something but he changes his mind and sets his hands on either side of the rope and starts walking. The bridge sways as they walk and Izuku focuses on shifting his weight opposite to the older man as they move along - the wooden slats are close enough together that they don’t have to watch where they’re going, at least.

<< Do you think he’s upset at me?>> Izuku finally caves and asks Tamamo-no-Mae when they’re a quarter of the way across, the kitsune following at his heels.  

<< He is upset at himself. He thinks if you are this unflappable here, he doesn’t know how he’d teach you in your world. He likes to surprise his students.>>

Izuku feels his face burn in embarrassment. << I’m just used to it. I’ve had a long time to get used to everything here, and besides, he teaches at UA!>>

Tamamo-no-Mae laughs. << I know that, and I dare say he would know where he teaches as well, don’t you think?>>

Izuku decides to ignore her because he has no idea what to say about that. He’s never going to get into UA. He hasn’t been to a proper school in years.

They’re halfway across the bridge when there’s a screech from below. Izuku knows not to look down, but it’s exceptionally hard as the sound of wings beat through the air.  A moment later two large women appear, covered in feathers and with wide wings where their arms would be and hooked, black talons for feet. “Oh shit,” Izuku breathes out.

“Human!” The one on the right has ruddy feathers, the other is a soft sort of purplish grey. They weren’t here the last time Izuku had made the trek, but maybe they’d built a nest in the cliffs. Some creatures were immune to the river’s effects. “Human! You brought us a meal, little Deku, how kind.

They’re on a bridge that sways in the air when they move their weight and they can’t look down. This is the worst possible place for a fight. “Please don’t do this,” he pleads. “I’ve already had a fight with Aiapaec and his followers today, I don’t want to have to hurt you too.”

“Then don’t fight us!” They cackle - they’re harpies, Izuku remembers now, he’s only seen their kind a few times - they almost never bond with humans and tend to stick to other areas of the spirit realm. “We just want the human. Call it a toll for using our bridge! Then you two can pass.”

Tamamo-no-Mae bristles. << You will leave us or you will regret what happens next.>>

They fly below the bridge. Izuku knows he can’t wait and risk Eraserhead. As awful as it feels to intentionally and willfully break his promise once more, he reaches for the power he has and toward the bright points of energy that the two spirits represent, reaching and -

The bridge is knocked from below and he loses his balance and looks down.

------

Shota Aizawa knows a few things to be true: 

  1. He is going to have a hell of a time explaining this when he gets back (he’s working on a plan for that).
  2. Deku needs more help than he can probably provide alone, but like fuck if he isn’t going to look after this kid.
  3. Tamamo-no-Mae is terrifying and he never wants to piss her off.

Deku goes down and Shota nearly follows him if not for the way his spirit literally covers his face with one of her tails - looking down is a threat, right - and then the kitsune howls and it chills him to his bones. While whatever they’d fought in the forest might have held its own against her, these two flying women seem to have no hope at all.

For one thing, his spirit can very nearly fly herself. Shota watches as she jumps into the air and seems to run on nothing to twist and turn and attack the spirits before landing so gently on the bridge that it doesn’t so much as tremble under her weight. She glows, which has happened every time he’s seen her fight so far, and Shota tries to keep an eye on her and the monster women and Deku without looking down. It’s a blessing his quirk is eyesight based, at a time like this - not that using it has any effect. It means he’s incredibly skilled at being able to look at something out of the corner of his eye and follow a fight without changing his focus. It means he can tell that his spirit looks to have things well in hand, and that Deku looks like he’s one good shove away from falling through the ropes and right off the side. 

Shota grips the ropes that line the sides and makes his way back to Deku, who’s staring down at the river. “Kid?” he calls, but there’s no response. “Deku?” Still no response. Shota kneels cautiously - he’s figured out that seeing things out of the corner of his eye is fine, as far as the weird river rules are concerned, which is good considering Deku’s still fixated on the water with his eyes glazed. “Problem Child?”

Above him are the sounds of Tamamo-no-Mae and the spirits fighting, far too close. Shota quickly grabs Deku, wrapping his arm firmly around the boy’s skinny chest, and his other hand wraps around the rope railing. He braces just in time as the three spirits crash into the bridge and send it swinging wildly. For a moment he prays and then, realizing he’s praying in a world of spirits and gods, he has to wonder if he’s praying who can hear him and god (god?), what if they answer?

He is so not built for this sort of existential crisis. 

The bridge holds. Shota’s not going to call that a miracle because miracles need gods and still not thinking about it. He focuses instead on making sure Deku doesn’t fall while the bridge sways and creaks like a bad movie prop. He wants to try to cover Deku’s eyes and see if that breaks whatever spell he’s under, but he doesn’t dare change his grip yet.

He hears another screech from the harpies and he looks up just in time to see them dive towards his spirit and for her to flash bright, bright white, blinding him for a moment. His vision is filled with black spots that he has to blink away slowly, but when he does Tamamo-no-Mae has settled behind him and Deku, and the women who attacked them are nowhere to be seen.

The fox spirit licks her lips, showing fang. << They have been dealt with,>> she informs him, clearly satisfied. << I will take the kit. He will not be able to break free of the river’s hold until he is away from it.>>

Shota peels himself away almost warily, but can’t find reason to argue - not when he really wants at least one hand free to hold the rope, and both would be preferable the way the bridge is still swinging.  He trusts her: he can’t not trust her.

“All right,” he says, letting go as she leans in: he wonders for a moment how she’s going to carry Deku, if she can do so with her mouth without her teeth getting in the way. He grips the rope handrails in surprise as she starts to shift and it’s very nearly instant, the change from giant fox to Japanese woman, but it isn’t instant enough and he really wants to forget the strangeness of that inbetween phase. 

She grins up at him, her sharp teeth black against the pale white of her face, and she picks up Deku with ease despite her many layers of kimono. She’s dressed like a heian era reenactor, or like the empress during her enthronement ceremony. She’s awash in silk, white on shades of red and orange on white, and her hem and sleeves spill across the width of the bridge, pooling around her feet. She seems to notice he’s staring, because she gives him an all too knowing smile. “Well?”

He finds himself struck uncomfortably dumb. She’s beautiful: he does not usually think of anyone as beautiful. He wonders if he’s actually thinking it now, or if it’s somehow some part of her spirit-ness, some strange area of effect the way Kayama’s quirk works. He manages to untangle his tongue enough to ask, “Did I know you could do that?”

“Oh, I doubt it,” the laughter is clear in her voice. “You did like to sleep through any class that dipped into mythology. I seem to recall you telling someone that ‘what a bunch of old farts believed a thousand years ago won’t be useful when you’re a hero.’”

That… does sound like something he’d say. “I don’t remember that.”

“Oh, you were still young,” she nudges him forward, making her way along the bridge with Deku in her arms. “Perhaps twelve? I’ll admit, we don’t pay that much attention to age, time moves so differently for us.”

Shota lets that thought settle in the back of his head as he properly heads back towards the other side. “So… you’ve been watching me since I was a kid? Do you… follow me all the time?”

“Oh, all spirits check in on their humans,” she says, very nearly coy. She’s clearly enjoying herself. “Some only occasionally: we don’t need to be around at all, of course, but when your human is a hero it’s so much more interesting than anything else we do. I do sometimes come home, but I always try to return when you use your quirk. I wish to be with you, when you use my power.” 

He gets a moment to ponder that before she adds, her voice lilting and playful, “Don’t worry, Shota, I leave you to your private moments.”

He does not blush. He is a grown ass adult who does not blush.

Instead, he changes the topic. “Why’s the kid still out?”

“The river is made of the memories of Mokumokuren,” the kitsune explains. “It takes the mind and draws you in until it can add you to its collection. He is still under their control.”

Surprisingly, Shota knows this one. “Wait, the eyeballs that live in shoji - those are a river?”

He can’t see her, but somehow her voice seems to shrug. “Our natures can change over time. They had less and less of a home to settle in, as Japan modernized. They found a new purpose here.”

“And Deku handles all of this like it’s normal,” he mutters as they finally cross the last third of the bridge. The closer they are to the anchor, the less it sways, and he really wants to get to solid ground before he loses his lunch. “Kid doesn’t even know how unsettling it is.”

“This is his normal,” she chides, voice firm. “ We have been his normal for years. He has seen the heart of humanity’s fears and hopes and desires, the best and the worst of us, and yet he still helps. He is such a good kit.”

Shota’s feet are on solid ground and he turns to watch Tamnamo-no-Mae step off the bridge behind him. They make their way from the cliff edge and then she settles Deku onto the grass. Shota realizes he’s probably not going to get another chance to ask this. “He’s a good kid,” he agrees, but something still bothers him. “But what is he?” If he’s not entirely human, as the kitsune had said…

She kneels by Deku and shifts, suddenly, that momentary horrifying transition between one shape and another still incredibly unsettling. Her fox face is somehow even more easy to read now, as though he can see her human features superimposed over the contours of her muzzle. << I thought it would be obvious,>> she says, like Shota is a particularly slow student. << He is a bridge. Between us all.>>

-----

Izuku returns to himself with a start; he’s lying on grass, Tamamo-no-Mae and Eraserhead are looking down at him worriedly, and when he scrambles to sit up and look around there’s no sign of the harpies. He tries to ask what happened but all that he manages is a rasped croak.

<< Give yourself a moment,>> Tamamo-no-Mae says gently, nudging him with her nose. << You were knocked down and the river caught you. The harpy women have been taken care of. You are safe.>>

Izuku shudders, the memory of the grasping power of the river and how it had flooded his mind leaving him cold. If they hadn’t been with him, he’d probably have just fallen off the side and been… well. Consumed.

“Thanks,” he says, finding his voice even if it’s raw and hoarse and uneven. He grins at Eraserhead, lopsided as it is. “Looks like you’re an amazing hero even here, huh?”

“Actually, Tam-” the hero starts, but Tamamo-no-Mae interrupts. 

<< We will look after you as you have looked after us,>> she says, nudging Izuku again until he stands. << Are you well enough to lead the way, or shall I?>>

Izuku straightens up. “I can do it!” Better to keep moving and get away from the river and the cliffs. “I know where the edge should be, here, but...” he looks at Eraserhead and thinks of the harpies. He hadn’t wanted to ward him originally in case that caught too much attention, but at this point they’ve already had to deal with two attacks, and the Marketplace might be even worse. He pulls his borrowed knife from his hoodie and rolls up his sleeve.

Eraserhead grabs his wrist in a flash. “What are you doing?”

Izuku blinks up at him in surprise, since the hero had already seen him do this before. “I need to ward you, and I don’t have anything to mark you with? It’s better to make a new cut than make the old one bleed, that’s how I end up with scars.” 

“Problem Child,” Eraserhead sighs. “Shouldn’t you carry a marker or something for this?” 

Izuku flinches at the rebuke. “I usually do!” It isn’t like he wants to cut himself and use blood! It’s messy and hurts and makes people suspicious, and he’s honestly not sure if he could carry a blood borne disease to infect others with, but he can get infections so it seems likely, so he really shouldn’t just be leaving his blood everywhere. “ You’re the one who surprised me when I was asleep! I didn’t have time to grab anything.” 

Eraserhead gives him a look that seems to move between disappointed and resigned. “Will a marker work?”

“Yes?” Izuku looks at the hand around his wrist. “I’d still have to cut myself if I was doing other wards, like I had to use for the Jorōgumo, but to ward you a pen would work, like when we were in the station. I just have to mark skin.”

Eraserhead reaches into one of his pouches and retrieves a mini permanent marker. “Here.”

“Oh!” Embarrassed, Izuku tugs his hand away and accepts the sharpie, the knife going back into his pocket. “I guess I should have asked! Sorry, um. Here. Just let me…” he uncaps the marker and Eraserhead stands still as he tugs on the man’s bloody jumpsuit, where he’d cut it open at the chest originally to mark him with healing sigils

Now he marks out a set of protection wards, the ones he’s the most familiar with because he adds them to his own skin every twelve hours the way he’s done since he was thirteen. “There!” he says with satisfaction, capping the marker. “Can I keep this?”

Eraserhead looks incredulous, pulling at his shirt to look at his new mark. “Of course. Now explain what you did?”

The marker gets tucked with the knife, and Izuku thinks about how they’re basically the entirety of his tools he needs, here and in the real world. If he was a hero, he’d have some really odd support requests. “I uh, so there are wards that can keep a spirit from doing harm, kind of.”

“‘Kind of’ isn’t reassuring, kid.”

“I mean, with those, they can’t do direct harm to you. Biting or scratching or fire or things like that, because the wards protect you. I also couldn’t do anything to you, which is one of the reasons I waited - I wanted to be able to help you if you needed it, but now I think this might be safer. You can protect yourself, you know how to fight, so you just have to be careful not to let anyone hurt you indirectly.”

“And what falls under that?”

<< They can knock you back. The blow will knock them back as well, but the momentum is still transferred and they can send you into walls, or down stairs. They can pick you up, if they do not intend to harm you in the handling. They can crush you. Treat anyone who attacks like a villain and the wards as armor, nothing more,> > says Tamamo-no-Mae, matter-of-factly, then looks at Izuku. << The Marketplace is near, is it not? I can feel it.>>

He nods. The Marketplace is one of the largest ‘hubs’ in this place, where so many other spaces connect to. He half-thinks the river and Aiapaec’s forest sit so close because they can take advantage of younger spirits who don’t know better and feed on them. “There will be a lot of spirits there. It’s supposed to be a neutral place - no one is allowed to fight there, but bringing a human is still a bit risky? But they’re used to me now, and there’s a shrine there I know really well, and we’ll come out in Shizuoka.”

Eraserhead rocks back on his heels. “Shizuoka? That’s - that’s nearly 500 kilometers away.” He pauses and seems to look back at the bridge. “If I point out there’s no way we’ve walked that far, it doesn’t matter, does it? Magic.”

“Magic,” Izuku nods, knowing how the hero must feel, because he’d been in the same place once. He’s honestly just hoping they haven’t been gone too long - time gets weird fast, here. “We should go.”

“Don’t you have to draw those things on yourself?” Eraserhead asks as Izuku reaches for his hand. 

Izuku lifts the hem of his hoodie where his own sigils are still present. “I refreshed them before I went to bed,” he assures. “They actually last a lot longer here. I have to redo them twice a day otherwise.” He grins a little impishly. “I’d get a tattoo, but normal people can’t really read these enough to duplicate them, and I don’t think I have a steady enough hand to do it to myself yet.” Which doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about it - a lot.

Eraserhead looks like he wants to say something and then changes his mind once more, taking Izuku’s offered hand and nodding forward. Ahead is a rice paddy with a long, raised road running through it. “Lead the way.”

At least they don’t have to walk through the paddy, Izuku thinks. He’s taken that road and the insects are terrible.

He leads them towards the start of the road and feels for the edge and pushes them through, Tamamo-no-Mae following at their heels.

----

Shota does not know how this kid is sane, and he’s really really regretting how badly they handled his first interaction with him.

This marketplace looks like something out of a Ghibli film, maybe the one with the dragon if he’s remembering right, but it’s been years since he’s paid any attention to them. The road they’re on is paved with ancient-looking cut bricks, and they’d passed through a huge gate surrounded by massive walls. Everything is made from red lacquered wood and bamboo, beautifully cut stone with ceramic roof tiles. There are paper lanterns and old fashioned oil lamps providing light (they’ve stepped into something like sunset, now) and everywhere there are stalls and carts and painted banners and hand-inked posters advertising wares - food, mostly, but also things Shota doesn’t understand, the words nonsense to him but clearly meaning something to those gathered around various stalls.

And oh yeah, the place is packed with spirits.

“Problem Child,” he forces himself to ask, and to sound calm, as Tamamo-no-Mae comes up next to him, so close her side is against his shoulder. “Is this what you see all the time?

To his left is a 15 foot tall locust. To his right are a group of shadow-things that are transparent save for the masks over their faces, all kabuki-styled. Straight ahead is a woman who has a snake body below her waist and snakes for hair in an electric blue power suit and the sort of gold jewelry that would make Kayama envious, haggling with a vendor that looks to be a chest of drawers. Just… a wooden chest of drawers. And behind and all around them are dozens of others - other spirits, all different sizes and appearances and very few of them close enough to humans to feel right. They’re all… off.

It’s like walking into an anti-mutant’s worst nightmare.

“What?” Deku looks up at him and then to where Shota’s looking and then seems to realize. “Oh! Oh no, not like this,” he assures. It makes Shota feel a little better, until Deku continues. “Most spirits only check in on their humans here and there, so I guess the real world looks about… 20-25% like this? Unless there are a lot of heroes around.”

Right. Heroes were interesting, Deku and Tamamo-no-Mae had said. Then the numbers click in and Shoto stares at Deku again. “So you’re saying when you’re walking down the street, one out of five people has a spirit just… there.”

Deku grins, almost embarrassed. “Uh, pretty much? But I’m used to it.” 

Shota has no idea how to respond to that, when he’s gotten a good sense of how said spirits react to the kid in the first place.

Deku tugs on his hand. “We should keep moving,” he says, voice still bright. “We’re sort of obvious and people are noticing.”

And yes, some of the spirits do seem to be either giving them sidelong looks or staring outright, now. The looks range from curious to hostile to hungry and so Shota follows where Deku leads and doesn’t try to let go of his hand as they weave through the crowd of things that range from very nearly familiar to utterly terrifying. It says a lot, he thinks, that his spirit sticks so close to his side even in an area where there is to be ‘no fighting’.

He suspects spirits can cause a lot of problems that don’t fall directly under ‘fighting’.

They move through twisted paths. They pass a gaggle of spirits that are just… tiny penises with wings and everyone rather pointedly says nothing about them. The crowd thins a bit but the stares continue and get more and more pointed, but Deku doesn’t stop smiling - it just gets more and more sharp and pasted on.

At some point a hand reaches out for Shota and before he can move, Deku’s grabbed it by the wrist. It’s… just a disembodied hand, the fingers wiggling in his grip. “I know you weren’t trying to do anything to Eraserhead here,” Deku says, still bright and friendly - but his voice somehow carries something like a threat. “Because that would be rude.”

The hand finger spells so quickly Shota only catches something about seeing if he was real. When Deku lets go, the hand hangs in midair supported by… nothing. It reminds him of Tezaki in 1B and her disembodied hands - but no one nearby seems to be controlling the things. 

“Yes, well, he’s human and he’s my guest and we’re just passing through,” Deku replies - apparently able to follow the message. “So we’ll just go.”

Shota can fingerspell in both JSL and ASL and knows his way around a fair bit of sign thanks both to his work and Hizashi, but it’s still a stretch to follow how quickly the hand moves; it seems to be suggesting they should pay it something.

Tamamo-no-Mae snaps, teeth just missing the hand - Shota thinks it might be a warning. << Do not test my patience, One-of-Many. Or your tribe will be one less in the result.>>

“I suppose outright eating someone wouldn’t constitute a fight, but just a meal?” Shota asks, doing his best to add to her grandstanding. Somehow the hand seems to flinch back - it makes a rude gesture and then floats away, dodging around a corner.

Deku sighs. “That was one of the Hecatoncheires. They used to be giants with a hundred hands, from Greece, but when people stopped believing in them the giants decided to fade away… but their hands didn’t. They get everywhere and they’re greedy.” He shakes his head, like he’s talking about a particularly bad cicada season, not floating hands, and then tugs Shota along. “We’re nearly there, then you can reassure everyone you’re ok.”

That’s a plan, certainly, but Shota has a lot more than just that to do: he’s not letting Deku run off to live in another abandoned building. He doesn’t know how the kid’s been eating, but it’s clearly not enough. He needs a roof over his head and new clothes and shoes and food and someone who believes in his reality. 

They’re going to have to rearrange the house.

Ahead is a… well, a shrine. It looks like any other, and in this strange brilliant marketplace it actually looks a bit out of place; a bit older and a bit more worn down against the other well-kept spaces. Deku seems to sag in relief as it comes into view. “Shrines tend to stay in one spot,” he explains as they approach. “But sometimes the world around it moves, and then I have to spend hours searching for it again. I think the worlds like playing tricks on me.”

“The fact that the world itself has a personality to you and I don’t think you’re projecting is deeply unsettling,” Shota tells Deku and is rewarded with another one of the boy’s wry, lopsided smiles. “So how does getting home work, exactly?” 

“Shrines are like bridges,” Deku tells him, and Shota feels Tamamo-no-Mae give him a look even from behind him. “You have an anchor on each side, and there’s something between them that lets you… well. Flow. Travel. Follow from one to the other.” He gestures around them, finally releasing his grip on Shota’s hand as they are close enough to be safe, he supposes. “It’s part of why I think everything here moves so much, nothing anchors them to one spot or another. So they sort of move on currents, maybe? I tried to draw it once to make a map and ended up giving myself a headache.”

Still, Deku looks pleased and relieved for there to be an end in sight, so Shota nods and decides to think about this bridge analogy in depth later. “Well, let’s-

The shriek is something distant, but Deku’s head snaps up and he looks away in the direction it is coming from, the sound growing louder and louder with each passing second. Shota readies himself but for some reason Tamamo-no-Mae and Deku don’t seem to be preparing for an attack; Deku looks wary instead. Perhaps resigned.

The sound gets to a piercing level and a white blur appears around a corner and simply crashes into Deku. It’s just as he had warned before - the motion makes Deku stagger back - but even as Shota is reaching to help, he realizes Deku’s holding a trembling rabbit against his chest.

<< help me help us help her help us HELP HER >>

“Calm down,” Deku says, attention on the creature - spirit? It’s white and not a rabbit, on closer inspection: it’s a hare. A white hare with large ears and a grey nose and mouth and blue fire where its eyes should be. 

<< You have to help!>> it pleads - the panic isn’t just in it’s mental voice, Shota can feel it, almost taste it as it trembles. << Please! You’re the bridge, you’re the one, they say you can do it you will help for a price I’ll give anything ->>

“Don’t say that, ” Deku hisses and even Tamamo-no-Mae’s ears go flat against her skull while Deku grabs the spirit by its ears and holds it away from him in clear discomfort. “ Never say that.”

The hare hangs limply in Deku’s hold and looks up at the kid with something that somehow reads as determination on its tiny face. << I’ll give you everything,>> it says, less panicked this time. The weight of the words drop like individual anvils all around them. << All that I am, if you help her. I won’t exist if she dies there: it doesn’t matter.>>

Deku stares at the spirit in his grip and Shota watches as the kid’s face goes through such a range of emotions, each one clear as day: horror, realization, worry, resignation. It’s only a moment but Deku seems to make a decision and the hare is set on one of the short stone plinths that line the path to the shrine. “If your human is in danger, I need to know everything you can tell me first.” 

The hare bobs up and down. << She is trapped. Other children locked her in a box she can’t leave. They took her medicine. No one knows where she is and she is scared. She’s scared and it’s my fault - my power means no one will find her. She’ll die. You have to help! Please!>>

Deku, frowning, asks “What does your power do to her?” It leaves Shota wondering about what the kid had said before, about spirits sometimes not caring how their power might manifest, or intentionally choosing something dangerous for entertainment.

<< I thought it would be good if she could hide,>> the spirit explains, suddenly hunching down. << I thought she would want to be safe, but she is always hiding now. No one can hear her call for help.>>

“Shit.” Shota realizes he’s said that out loud when Deku looks at him and nods, like he’s said something thoughtful. “Where is she?”

The spirit blinks at him. << I don’t know how to explain it. Can’t you just follow me?>>

Deku curses under his breath. “I can’t travel the way you do, and I used a lot of power to get here. I’d have to take a shrine, and she could be anywhere…” He bites his lip in clear worry. “Think, as hard as you can: do you know the name of her school?”

The hare seems to surprise Deku when it nods. << I do! I do! She goes to Miyazaki Nishi Elementary School. She’s a good student!>>

Deku pales. “Miyazaki? That’s - I don’t even know a direct way there. It’s hours away from Shizuoka. You said they took her medicine, do you know what it does for her?”

<< Her breathing. Without it she struggles. You have to help. They said you would help.>>

“If we get to Shizuoka, I can call it in,” Shota offers, but the idea of a kid with a quirk that makes her difficult to find is worrisome, especially with breathing issues. 

Deku looks between the hare to Shota and back again. “No,” he says, and his hands clench into fists. “This is my job, and - and I can’t leave a kid trapped somewhere and scared, especially not if it’s because of her quirk. It’s just - I could maybe go alone, but I can’t take you with me, but if we go to Shizuoka I really won’t have enough to go back but if I leave you here - I can’t do that.” Deku looks at Shota and he looks torn. “I can’t. I promised I’d bring you home.”

Shota tries to reassure Deku - tries being the operative word. He squeezes Deku’s shoulder and goes to say I can handle myself but his tongue twists into a knot so painful he’s left wincing and all he manages is a stained gagging sound. 

Deku’s expression is wry and far too understanding for someone his age. “I told you,” he says, almost gently. “You can’t lie here.” Deku looks back to the hare and he holds out a hand. “You are not going to give up yourself because I’m not like that but you are going to owe me. You’re going to owe me a lot for this, for what I have to do.”

The spirit shudders. Shota doesn’t like the sound of that.

<< I will owe you until you release the debt. I’ll swear it if you save her. I gave her almost all of myself.>>

“She’s your first, isn’t she?” 

The spirit nods. 

“I, Deku, will do all I can to save your human in exchange for your debt that will not be abused,” he says and there’s a formality to the words that crackles in the air

<< I, Nousagi of the Moon Tribe, accept your terms.>>

Shota looks at Tamamo-no-Mae who shudders slightly, her fur on end. Deku steps away from the plinth and looks over his shoulder at the two of them. “Both of you just… stay where you are, please. It’s going to get weird.”

That doesn’t bode well. “What are you doing?”

Deku shakes his head instead of responding and looks up at the sky. Shota sees him say something, but all his ears hear is the call of a million crows in response. 

--------



Chapter Text

 

-------------------

The sky turns black as though a giant curtain is drawn across it. The air is filled with the sound of birds - almost entirely crows, but Izuku knows there are ravens and rooks, jackdaws and magpies and probably more. He’d done all the research he could, when he’d finally found his way back to humanity from the spirit realm the first time. He’d thought that knowing about the crows would help prepare him for this, if it ever had to happen again.

It doesn’t really help. Soon there are black birds on every possible surface and spiraling around them in the sky. The cacophony of sound is nearly overwhelming but Izuku grits his teeth and waits, staring at the roof of the shrine where he could have - would have - just stepped through with Eraserhead and been home, even if he doesn't exactly have a place that is his. The human realm is home in a way this place will never be, and times like this prove why.

A mass of birds congregate on top of the shrine, landing in a pile of bodies that grows and undulates and collapses into itself before surging upwards into one huge bird, one huge crow, glossy black from beak to tail and beady eyes looking down at Izuku and their rag-tag group with curiosity.

<< I did not think you would ever call my name, Izuku Midorya, >> the crow god says, the use of his name twisting in Izuku’s gut. << You and I had an agreement. >>

“We don’t have a lot of time for pleasantries,” Izuku says even as he bows low. He’d never wanted to speak to the crow god ever again. If he’d had a choice, they’d never cross paths. If he had any choice at all - but he doesn’t. He never does. When it’s a choice between letting someone else suffer, or helping, there’s only one thing he can do. 

He straightens from his bow and meets the god’s gaze. “Messenger, I need you to take me and Eraserhead to Nousagi’s human safely, quickly. Before she can’t be saved.”

The crow god shifts his weight, head tilting back and forth so it can take in their party. His beak is large enough to swallow Izuku whole. He’d tried that, when Izuku had finally fought himself free of the god’s control. << Interesting proposition, but I already have your name, unless you have a new one to give me. You don’t have something equal in power I could want in exchange. >>

He doesn’t have the raw power for travel, Izuku knows all too well, but that’s because travel like this isn’t what he does, even if they call him their bridge. He could, he thinks, reach out and just take what he needed from the crow god. He doesn’t know what that might do - to himself, or to the god - but he’s pretty sure he could do it.  

It doesn’t mean he wants to, or even considers it. He will not take, not unless there is absolutely no other option, and even then - to just take makes him something terrible, no matter what Eraserhead has said. He will not be the monster they want him to be, and he will not offer himself as a servant ever again.

“I have something else to trade,” he tells the crow, their collection as a whole, and ignores the way Eraserhead goes tense, ignores the way Tamamo-no-Mae keeps the hero from interrupting. Crows like bright things: they like entertaining things, like the brilliant and the bold. The god of the crows is brash and cunning and powerful and Izuku only has one thing he thinks might be enough, to save a girl trapped because of bullies and afraid because of her quirk. He doesn’t have the right power but he does have the memories.

He holds in his hand what starts as a spark but flickers like a firework and then turns into a flame, bright orange and smelling faintly sweet. Inside of it is determination, a bombastic personality and a drive to be the best, to be a hero, and all the faith Izuku has carried for years that Bakugo Katsuki is going to be amazing. Of course he got into UA. Of course he’s in class 1-A. They’d dreamed about it, when they’d been young, before Izuku was Deku and everything changed. He’d never forgotten, even if he’s sure Bakugo forgotten him. He’d never stopped hoping he’d see Bakugo in his hero costume, maybe training, or when he fully got his license. He’d probably work for All Might. Izuku’s never doubted Kacchan - that he’d always reach his goals.

The flame grows even brighter. In it goes the memories of hearing Bakugo had been kidnapped by the league - the fear and the frustration and the fury as the reporters tried to suggest Bakugo would be a villain, would ever be a villain. Despite all the times Bakugo’s spirit - a snake-like bird with human features but a razor sharp beak - had hurt him, he’d been so happy when it found him to ask for his help. He’d given the hero students the information when he’d realized what they were going to do: they’d be able to help Bakugo more than he could, after all, and Bakugo wouldn’t want to be rescued by a quirkless nobody.

The flame is almost too bright to look at now. “Safe transport, Messenger. For myself and Eraserhead. We arrive in time to save her.” Time for the gods of this place means almost nothing. “And I will give you Kacchan in exchange.” He lifts the flame into the air. It’s this or his mother, at this point, and Izuku doesn’t know what he’ll do if he has to choose between her memory and his morals.

A single crow flies forward and is consumed by the flames, but Izuku doesn’t flinch - he knows the god is testing the memory, ensuring the value of their trade. 

“Deku, what-” Eraserhead says and Izuku realizes he’s standing beside him and reaching to touch him and Izuku can’t explain this, not right now, not while there’s a god he must bargain with and a little girl at risk and a precious memory in his hands - but Tamamo-no-Mae takes the scarf she’d made the hero in her teeth and pulls him back and away. Thankfully he doesn’t fight her.

<< This ‘Kacchan’ in exchange for safe passage, timed to save the child. She is very nearly dead as we speak, >> the god intones: there’s acceptance in his words. << You human lovers are all the same, trying to save what always returns to me in the end. >> He raises himself up, wings spread so wide they fill Izuku’s field of view. << I am the messenger of the gods and the god of all messengers. I am Knowledge and Wisdom in all tongues. I agree to your terms. >>

“Kacchan for safe transport for us to save a child,” Izuku agrees and holds his own hand higher, palm flat. He wonders if Bakugo ever missed him. He probably won’t be able to, now. “I am Deku.” It’s not all bad, though - he manages a tiny smile. “I am Problem Child, and I agree to your terms.”

The crow god croaks once and the air fills with the beating of wings as a thousand of his messengers descend upon Izuku. He’s covered for a moment as they peck at the memory until there is nothing left to remember. When they disperse they leave him with tears on his face that he rubs away: he’s crying, and he knows - in theory - why he’s crying. He also knows why he doesn’t know why he’s crying.

He hates forgetting something.

He takes three steps to Eraserhead and Tamamo-no-Mae, both of whom look… stricken. “It’s ok,” he assures them, and he can’t lie here, he is fine. “I’ll be all right. We should go.” He gestures to the hare and it leaps up and lands on his head. It seems a bit subdued despite the state of his human. “Now, please,” he tells the crow god before they can all fuss.  

The crow is the messenger god and the god of messengers - among many of other titles Izuku has learned since their first meeting. He can deliver them with no trouble, moving from one realm to another, or one world, or any other space at all. While Izuku needs power he does not possess and edges and shrines and areas where the world is thin, this god needs nothing. The god of the crows simply goes.

Wings surround the four of them - Izuku hadn’t included Tamamo-no-Mae in the agreement because wherever her human went she could be at will, and the same for Nousagi, but the god includes them nonetheless. The sensation of travel by god is very different than travelling by shrine. Izuku lands on his feet a moment later and feels no different than he had a moment before, instead of the exhaustion and nausea that usually follows. Eraserhead looks likewise whole.  

The hare jumps from his head. They’re in a wooded area and in front of them is a clearly abandoned house, overgrown but still mostly intact. << Here in here in here,>> Nousagi (and what a name, he wonders how old it is, if it simply doesn’t have any other common names yet) leads them inside. Izuku hurries behind the spirit and Eraserhead follows at his heels. The house is a simple one and the decorations inside make it look more than fifty years old, but the interior isn’t particularly terrible considering that - leaves and dirt have blown in and there’s signs of water damage, but there are still photos on the walls and magazines rotting next to the ancient looking armchair. They run past all of that to the stairs, which are warped with age. It’s worrying but Izuku tests them with his weight on the side next to the wall and it holds enough for him to scurry up behind Nousagi and into what was probably the master bedroom, once.

There’s a huge wooden chest at the foot of the decrepit bed, with a very new and shiny padlock on the ancient wood. The room is utterly silent even as Izuku watches the padlock shudder over and over again, as if someone were pounding the chest soundlessly from the inside.

Theres no key to be seen and pulling on the lock does nothing. “What’s her name?” he asks the spirit as Eraserhead thunders in behind him. 

<< Yuna>> he answers without hesitation. << she can hear you please tell her it’s all right!>>

“Yuna, it’s going to be ok,” Izuku calls to assure her as Eraserhead moves him aside. He takes one look at the chest and the lock and then brings his heel down on the metal holding the lock in place. The ancient wood splinters away and they lift the lid to find a girl who can’t be more than eight or nine curled inside crying desperately and silently and so clearly terrified until Izuku points to Eraserhead and says “It’s ok! He’s a hero!”

She throws herself at Eraserhead and he catches her gently. Izuku watches as he pats her back and tries to calm her, but her breathing doesn’t even out. “Nousagi, do you know where her medicine is?” The spirit, running circles around his human, shakes his head. Izuku sighs and kneels next to her. If she has asthma, this could be very bad. Asking the crow god to bring them in time to save her still allowed far too much to go wrong from this point, really, but he hadn’t considered that. He should have.

He reaches through the dozens of small tethers that are connected to him. << Zahira,>> he calls out and also gives the name a mental tug. A moment later the spirit - a tiny sylph, appears. << Hello again. Can you help her?>>

Her wings flutter as she flies around the girl and Eraserhead, unnoticed, examining Yuna with a critical eye. She nods. << In exchange for one of our debts?>>

<< Yes,>> Izuku nods. She’d been caught in an old fashioned spirit trap a year ago and he’d spent the better part of an hour detangling her from it. Her powers were limited to simple fixes and minor healing, but she’d been grateful enough to give him five times to call on her. Now would make the third time. 

She glows and Izuku sets his hand on Yuna’s shoulder to channel her power. “You’re going to feel better in just a second,” he tells her. “Just keep trying to breathe and it’ll get easier, all right?” 

“I think she has asthma,” Eraserhead warns, looking at the girl in concern. “We need to get her to a hospital.”

“I asked a spirit to help,” Izuku assures him - and sure enough a moment later they see her take a deep breath, and then another, and her lips look far less blue. “There we go. It’s all right,” he tells her again. “My name’s Deku, and this is Eraserhead. He’s an amazing hero.”

She begins to sign, which makes sense - if her quirk is so out of control she can’t make noise, she probably can’t speak. “I don’t know much sign,” he admits, but then Eraserhead is nodding and Izuku realizes that he can when he replies.

“Deku has a quirk that lets him sense other quirks and modify them,” the hero tells the girl, lying easily. “That’s how we found you. Are you hurt?”

She holds out her hands and then blinks in surprise at the lack of cuts or bruises on her fingers. Zahira grins and flits about her head. << That one was all me. Know you meant just her lungs but the poor thing had beaten them bloody and how could I leave her like that?>>

<< Thank you,>> Nousagi says and bows low to the sylph. << She’s my first human.>>

<< I can tell,>> the sylph zips around the hare. << Don’t worry, you’ll get better with practice.>> She turns midair and circles Izuku’s head. << Call on me again when you need me, monster-boy. I still owe you!>>

Izuku smiles as she leaves and focuses back on Eraserhead and Yuna who are discussing where she lives in relation to this old house. “If you can walk here from your house,” Eraserhead is saying, “we can take you straight home, you’ll just need to direct us.”

She nods and tries to stand up, but her legs wobble and she struggles to hold up her weight. “She was probably in there a while,” Izuku looks at the broken trunk and the new lock. “They planned that, too.”

“Don’t worry,” Eraserhead says with a tone that implies retribution so clearly Izuku feels a shiver down his spine. “I intend to investigate that. For now, however,” he turns and offers her his back. “Climb up. I might look a bit of a mess, but that’s because we just came from a villain battle. I’m sure Deku here can explain it to you while we take you home.”

“Of course!” Deku can tell the hero is trying to help Yuna feel better. “I don’t really know sign, but I can finger spell!” he tells her as they make their way carefully down the decrepit stairs. 

What’s Eraserhead’s quirk, she asks while they step out into the sunlight. Deku wonders what day it is and is almost afraid to ask. They’ll figure that out later - for now they have to make sure Yuna is looked after and never has to feel afraid like that again. “Eraserhead has an amazing quirk,” he tells her as they follow a well-worn trail back to the street. “Do you know there are three main types of quirks? There’s mutations, emitter, and transformation types, and…”

 

-----

 

Yuna falls asleep on his back about halfway to her home, a combination of exhaustion and her asthma tiring her out, if Shota has to guess. They’re saved from having to wake her by Deku asking her spirit for directions. “That’s how I found you and the others,” the kid says as they head down the street. They must look terrible - Shota’s suit is caked with dried blood and has a hole torn into the shoulder and his pant legs are split halfway up his shins and hang loose, and Deku looks like he’s been sleeping on the streets - which he has. They’re attracting attention but not enough for anyone to call out, yet. “I’m actually amazed her spirit knew her school name, most aren’t good at paying that sort of attention - no, really,” he says to the side: talking to the hare perhaps? Shota sees nothing and feels nothing, now. “You knowing her school was important. Anyway they know where their human is, and they can usually lead me to where their human stays or goes to work, but they’re pretty terrible at things like distances or time or names of things that would be useful when they ask for help.”

“Speaking of spirits,” Shota begins carefully, because Deku seems far too calm after everything that’s just happened. “You gave something to the crows to get us here. It seemed... important.” Which is a god damned understatement but he doesn’t know how else to even begin. Shota hates the fact that this kid had to sacrifice anything for his sake, even if the girl on his back is a testament to why. “What was it?”

“Oh. I don’t remember.” Deku shrugs, but his voice is at least quiet and reserved. “It was a memory of someone. They’re… pretty powerful to trade so I try not to, and I don’t actually have a lot of people who are important enough, but it was an emergency. I think I knew them a while ago, when I was a kid, so they probably don’t even remember me.” He shrugs again. “It’s ok.”

Shota thinks about Kacchan and the way Deku had been crying when he’d returned to them: it leaves him feeling sick. “How do you get it back?” he asks, though he suspects he knows the answer. He’d heard the crow call Deku by another name, but he can’t remember it. It had flowed through his mind like water though open hands and not even the shape of it remains. 

“You don’t get back what you trade,” Deku shrugs once more. “You’d have to trade something else for it, and if I had that kind of power I wouldn’t have had to trade at all.” He points down the street towards a neighborhood made of connected townhouses. “She lives there,” he says and then ducks sharply, moving like he’s dodging a wasp except Shota can’t see anything at all. (It’s frustrating to be able to see why people must have misjudged this kid so badly. )

“Another spirit?” he asks once Deku’s done ducking. 

“Hitoshi’s,” Deku tells him and glares at something a few feet above and to the left. “They’ve been worried about you.”

“Can it hear me?” Shota asks, curious - his spirit can apparently listen in on him, after all. When Deku nods he looks where Deku seems to be staring and offers a glare of his own. “I appreciate your worry, but Deku has been responsible for my wellbeing. We are going to bring this child home and then I will call Hizashi. Do not attack Deku or I will encourage him to defend himself against you.” 

There. It’s the best he can do against something he can’t see or effect. 

Deku gives him a look of surprise at first that morphs into something like quiet happiness as they continue down the street. “Thanks,” he says, looking at his shoes. “You didn’t have to.”

“Shinso’s spirit didn’t need to attack you,” he retorts. “It’s obvious I’m here and whole.”

“Yeah, well… they think I might have kidnapped you?” Deku is somehow far too chagrined for that statement. “Sorry.”

“Stop apologizing for things that aren’t your fault, Problem Child.” Shota will clear things with everyone soon enough. “I recall you saving my life.”

Deku scuffs a foot and doesn’t argue further.

The home they arrive at is simple and well kept and the woman who answers the door takes one look at the girl asleep on Shota’s shoulder and bursts into tears. “My baby! ” she shouts and Shota is the one to take charge at that point because dealing with hysterics is absolutely a training module for second year students and mandatory for any hero worth their salt. They’re hustled inside once Shota explains his credentials and shows his hero license and the family thankfully don’t question his appearance after he explains he’d been dealing with a villain ‘before’. There’s no need to explain the details of that, after all.

What’s more important is informing the girl’s parents that they need to file a police report, and Aizawa doesn’t let them consider brushing it off as bullying - the girl could very well have died, and just because it had hopefully been meant more as a prank than a murder doesn’t change that fact. 

They don’t need much arguing to agree - Yuna’s apparently been the target of a lot considering she can’t speak up for herself. Shota watches as Deku shrinks more and more into himself at the information and he sets a hand on the kid’s shoulder as the parents make the call to ask for an officer. That’s a good step one. Now…

“I need to make a call or two of my own and I lost my cell in the fight,” he tells the parents and they graciously allow him to use their phone. He settles in the kitchen for a bit of privacy while Deku uses the restroom.

“Hello?” Hizashi’s voice is cautious. Probably because he doesn’t recognize the number and Shota called his hero line. Hizashi doesn’t answer anyone on his personal phone he doesn’t recognize. 

“It’s me. I’m fine.”

“SHOTA!”  

“Yes, I’m alive. I’m in Miyazaki with-

“Shota we’ve been looking for you for the last four days ! How are you on Kyushu? Did you get away? You were injured, do you need help? Do we -” 

“Hizashi, breathe, ” Shota says sharply. “I am fine. I called you first but I need to call Tsukauchi and give him a report and also get him to pull us some strings for a flight home because I am not in the mood for seventeen hours of transit. I wasn’t kidnapped, in case you were wondering. You remember the kid from the quirk case, Deku?”

“Tsuji and Karada said he was the one who kid - uh, didn’t kidnap you?”

Shota sighs, but it’s a start. “Right. Well I was injured and he got me out of there. The rest is complicated and I can’t get into it over the phone, but can you get my office set up to look something like a space someone could sleep in?” 

“We adopting another kid, Shota?” Hizashi teases, but Shota can hear the relief in his voice. 

“We might be,” tells him, just for the way that Hizashi sputters. “Now I’m fine. I’m sorry I worried you, I’ll explain it all when I’m home. Tell Hitoshi I’m sorry and warn him we’ll have company.” He can’t imagine how worried they must have been: time with Deku had been strange but hadn’t felt that long - hours, not days. His students must be assuming the worst as well: Shota’s never missed more than a day or two of class without warning.

“Shota, promise me you’re all right,” Hizashi says, quieter now. “ My idea of the word, not yours.”

“I look even more like a vagrant than I usually do,” Shota warns him. “I have a new scar on my chest, but it’s healed like it’s years old, Hizashi, and while I’m tired and angry and want to eat my weight in noodles, I’m fine. I promise.”

Hizashi breathes out. “I’ll tell Hitoshi. You’re going to call the police? You realize we’ve got about twenty different heroes on your case trying to find you two?”

“That’s why I need to call the detective,” Shota agrees. “So I’m going to hang up now. I’ll see you in a few hours - my cell phone is missing, so don’t blow it up any more than you already have.”

“The police have your phone,” Hizashi tells him and Shota can only feel guilty all over again, because that probably made everything seem worse. “I’ll let you call them, just… get home safe.”

“I will,” Shota says and has to smile a little at that. “Deku made a promise to someone important to make sure of it.”

 

----------

 

Izuku drinks from the tap and dries his hands on his pants, rather than risk leaving marks on anything in the Sakamoto bathroom. He knows he looks… well, he knows what he looks like. He’s done his best, since leaving (well, running away from) Kotobukicho, but having to go to pay for public baths and laundry without having steady work meant he’d sometimes be choosing between eating and being clean. The people in Manami Ward are just as poor as people were in Kotobukicho, or worse: it made odd jobs for cash a lot less regular and he’d been stuck with collecting cans and recycling when he felt he could risk going out. Still, he’d thought it was better than getting caught again, and being around so many shrines meant he could get all sorts of regular wards to keep the spirits away. He’d plastered that office building with them.

Lot of good that did him in the end, anyway.

He steps back out into the house that is warm and nicely decorated. It doesn’t look like his old home at all: his mother’s apartment had been cool white walls and golden brown flooring with simple, affordable furniture. The Sakamoto’s home is dark wood and plush couches and even has a second floor… but it still makes him ache in memory.

Yuna’s mother is sitting on the couch with her daughter, holding her hands and speaking quietly, trying not to cry again. Her father is on the balcony, leaning on the railing and smoking a cigarette, body a line of anger Izuku can read even from here. He doesn’t need to be told this has happened before, and he knows - no matter what gets said to the adults - it’s going to happen again.

He can’t stop bullies, not really. He can’t make people be kinder, or wiser, or braver. He can’t be the sort of hero who rescues people and says ‘I’m here!’ with a smile on his face, even though he’d dreamed for so long of just that.

Izuku pulls the marker from his pocket and sits on the floor by Yuna and her mother, the latter looking at him warily. “I have… a quirk,” he lies, the way he usually does when this happens. “It lets me see when someone has a quirk that doesn’t work the right way for them, and sometimes I can fix it.”

Mrs Sakamoto looks dubious, but Yuna seems to sniffle - not that he can hear it - and nods to show she’s listening, so Izuku presses on. “I don’t think your quirk is broken: you have an amazing quirk that could be used for so many awesome things. You could he an amazing hero, of course, especially an underground one like Eraserhead is, but you could also be a special investigator with the police, or you could work with musicians and sound recording stations to be a silent assistant, or you could work in special effects - or you could work with nature, because you could move without making noise and not scare the animals. And that’s if you want to use your quirk, there’s a lot of people who never rely on their quirk at all, and that’s ok too.” The last thing he’s going to tell an eight year old is that she’s broken.

They don’t need another Deku in the world.

“But your quirk is an emitter type,” he tells her. She’s staring at him intently now, leaning forward. “You remember I was talking about quirk types while Eraserhead carried you? Your quirk is the sort that usually has, well. An on off switch. Like a lightbulb. And yours didn’t get one. Some people don’t - but I bet you know people who can use their quirk when they want to, and stop when they don’t, right?”

Auntie Maya, her mother translates for Izuku. And Ito-Sensei. And Chiho.  

“Well,” Izuku takes a breath. “I can - I can sometimes help people who don’t have that switch, well, have one. If you’d like. Then you could make noise when you wanted to, and be quiet when you wanted to.” And you’d be able to call for help, he doesn’t add - though he sees the realization dawn on her mother’s face as she gasps, hand quickly covering her open mouth.”But it’s your choice, ” Izuku stresses. “Only if you want to.”

The flurry of sign is far too fast for him to follow but her mother translates again, voice thick. What do I need to do?

Izuku holds up his marker. “It’s easy. I just have to draw on the back of your hand, then on mine, and you have to stay on the couch for a bit. That’s it. It might not work, but - but I think it will, if you want me to try?”

She nods eagerly but looks to her mother, who eyes Izuku uncertainly. “Is there any danger?” 

He shakes his head. “None. I can’t hurt her quirk,” well, he can but he won’t, he’d have to be doing it intentionally and it won’t happen by accident here. “At best she can control it and at worst nothing will happen.”

It’s a bit risky - he usually does this with kids in playgrounds when their parents aren’t around, or to adults who can make their own decisions. He doesn’t have a license of course, but he’ll never be able to have one.

“All right,” she says, the decision a snap one and her eyes pleading. Yuna eagerly thrusts out her hand and goes a little cross eyed looking at the sigil when Izuku finishes it and adds a matching one to his own hand, tucking his marker away and sitting back on his heels. “I’m just going to meditate,” he tells them. It’s as good a description for what he does as any. “You won’t feel or notice anything at all.”

At least he can be sure about that: going in and changing quirks hasn’t ever had any effect on anyone, unless he’s gone in to try to stop their quirk, and that’s not something he wants to do ever, especially not here. So he closes his eyes and feels for the connection, the matching sigils on their hands a channel he can move between. 

It’s different for every person: Suneater had been like swimming in the ocean, the water dark but his power bioluminescent all around them detached and drifting. He’d gathered it together in his mental arms and pulled it down to the volcanic vents that was Suneater’s self - Izuku doesn’t know what to call the core of people he touches like this. ‘Souls’ makes him feel almost… wrong for doing it. 

Yuna is the opposite of deep water. All around her grows something - wheat, maybe - but it towers over her core, towers over Izuku, glows brilliantly golden all the way through her. Her quirk is beautiful and he can see the care Nousagi put into it. It makes sense, from here: the spirit wanted to give his first human a chance to hide from danger in a world that seemed threatening, a chance to make herself unnoticed and silent. For a hare it would make sense - they fight what they can and hide from what they can’t, after all. He just gave her too much.

He doesn’t try to cut back the golden glow: he’d meant what he said, that her quirk is amazing and there’s nothing wrong with it. She doesn’t need her quirk to be cut away from her, and the spirit’s power had genuinely been meant as a gift. Instead Izuku reaches for her core, the part of her around which the power flows, and he raises it.

It’s more complex than that, of course, but even he doesn’t understand all of what he does when it’s based on feelings and not words, when there are no words for what he sees and feels and does. He lifts her up, inside of herself, and when he’s done the glow that runs through her is no longer obliterating her form in his mind’s eye. When he steps back into himself and opens his eyes he meets her expectant gaze and he smiles. “Try making some noise now?”

Hesitantly - so very hesitantly - she opens her mouth and says “Hi?”

Her mother bursts into tears and Izuku nearly jumps out of his skin when her father pats him on the back with enough force to bowl him over. When he gets to his feet Eraserhead is looking down at him, eyes hard but lips quirked in a tiny smile. “Good work kid.” he says, and he even sounds pleased for a moment before he frowns again. “Even if I should give you hell for quirk use.”

Izuku very nearly panics but Eraserhead puts a hand on his shoulder and while it isn’t a hug, here in front of all these people - that would be really weird - the hero pulls him closer and doesn’t let go. 

 

----- 

 

The police have always been part of his work, and in times like these Tsukauchi is a godsend. (Is he going to be constantly questioning using god in his mental phrases, Shota wonders?) The call to him is straightforward and he promises to pass the information along to the other heroes and to Tsuragamae, who can make the arrangements to get them home. More than anything Shota wants to go home to his kid and husband and eat a meal and have a shower - and give Deku the same. Then they can worry about a debrief and everything that needs to follow. Then he can sleep for a week.

He’d watched Deku sit on the floor of the Sakamoto home and it’s the same as when they’d had him in the precinct, the same as Uraraka and Amajiki had described. Deku simply sits and nothing seems to happen as the world waits in silence around him, and then a little girl who up until this moment could make sounds only she could hear speaks to her parents verbally for the first time.

He will never be able to forgive just how badly society fucked up with this kid. He wonders how many more are like him, out there. Maybe not the spirits - but unknown or misunderstood quirks. Or hell, maybe even spirits. At this point he’s not going to judge anything at all.  

The police arrive and Shota gives his statement, with a bit of handwaving on how they found the girl - stumbling on her during another investigation with help from Deku - and they duck out before anyone can ask too many pointed questions about her sudden ability to control her quirk as the local hero agency sends a car to collect them. The chief of police has pulled strings to get them on a flight home and Shota leaves a business card in case the local police need to follow up.

The way to the airport is tense for several reasons, the largest of which is the fact that Shota sits in the back seat next to Deku, instead of in the front. The kid seems to sink lower and lower into his seat as they drive, until he mutters “I’m not going to run off. I can’t.” 

“I don’t think you will,” Shota tells him. For one thing, he’s pretty sure whatever the kid uses for ‘power’ is out as far as travel goes, based on context clues. For another the kid is tired. He’s tired of being alone and being disbelieved and being hurt for shit he can’t help and he’s clearly tired of trusting and being burnt for it. “I told the detective we’d go in for a debrief after some food and a change of clothes. You’re smaller than Shinso, but I think we can find something that’ll fit. I’ll take you shopping this week for things for yourself.”

Deku looks at him and Shota gets a rare moment of speechlessness from the kid, who finally manages a strangled, uncertain “ What ?”

“Clothes. I’m not saying you have to get rid of the hoodie, but we should get you some other options that don’t make it look like you’ve been dragged behind a truck through farmland for fun. Also new shoes. Those can’t be waterproof. I’ll send someone to collect your stuff from that building as well, unless you’d rather do it yourself?” It would be an annoying trip to make, but they can do it, especially if Deku’s squirreled personal possessions away in hidden spots. 

The kid grips the hem of his hoodie and twists it hard enough Shota thinks it might rip. “I can look after myself.”

“Bet you wouldn’t be able to say that if we took a trip back to the other side?” Shota retorts. “I’m not dumping you in care, Problem Child. You’re coming home with me.”

Deku’s head snaps up so hard he’s surprised he doesn’t hear it crack. “What?”

“You heard me,” Shota meets his gaze and doesn’t flinch away at the way Deku’s emotions are painted all across his face like a terrible modern art piece. “We’ve got space for you, with some moving around. You need food and a bed and new clothes and people who believe you. So I’m offering that. You can stick around - Shinso actually asked me why we didn’t believe you, to begin with - I should have listened to him - and he and Hizashi - that’s Present Mic - will believe me about you, so that’s two more people who will listen to what you say. And if you decide it’s too much and want to go elsewhere, I’ll help you do that, if you let me, but if you run away again at least you’ll know where we are and how to find us.” He smiles. It isn’t his most reassuring smile. “I suspect if you run away Tamamo-no-Mae will give you hell for it though. She seems very stubborn.”

Deku laughs a little watery, a little uncertain. “You don’t have to,” he offers, but Shota can see he wants it.

“You didn’t have to save my life,” Shota points out. “Or trust me a second time, but you did. You didn’t have to give up something precious to save that girl without abandoning me, but you did. Just because you can eke out a life on your own doesn’t mean you’re supposed to. So let me help.”

Deku blinks rapidly and nods, his voice thick as he stares at his knees and says “Thanks” so quietly Shota can barely hear it.

That’s fine. “Thank me after a week of hearing Hizashi snore. And Problem Child?

Deku looks back up at him.

“You can call me Aizawa. I’m Shota Aizawa.”

The smile from Deku is so bright Shota feels like the whole car lights up from it.

 

-----






Chapter Text

------------

 

Izuku’s still not sure about any of this, but Eraserhead - no, Aizawa now, he has a name now - he keeps saying he has it all figured out and it isn’t so much that Izuku wants to trust him as Izuku wants it to be true. If there’s some way to make this… better, he wants it. He doesn’t want to be cold all winter and know how hungry someone can get and smell like cigarette smoke and alcohol when he has a roof over his head and be covered in bug bites when he doesn’t. Those things were always just better than the alternatives, but now Aizawa is offering him something else and Izuku is afraid, sure, but while he isn’t strong he’s not such a coward as to run away from this without trying.  

And besides: he doesn’t have anything like enough power to run right now anyway. It’ll be a few days before he can. Modifying quirks and interacting with spirits doesn’t take much, but fighting and travel are draining as hell, so if Aizawa has a plan he might as well not argue it, right? He’s just… considering his options.

The flight is uneventful - so much so that he falls asleep on it, dozing for an hour before they land and Aizawa puts them in a cab to go home instead of taking the train. Izuku wonders about that, if maybe he’s trying to help him avoid people, but then again Aizawa looks worse than Izuku does so maybe he wants to avoid people for himself. Izuku drifts off once more and wakes in Musutafu. They step out into the late afternoon air and Izuku finds himself looking at an unassuming house across from some low-rise apartments in a quiet looking neighborhood. Tamamo-no-Mae is waiting for him by the front gate - she’d declined to keep pace with the car or plane. << Everyone is waiting for you both,>> she says - and sure enough the front door opens a moment later and Present Mic - though he’s in his civilian clothes - appears and rushes down the path to look at Aizawa over the gate.

The two of them have a moment where they just… stare. Aizawa unblinking, Present Mic looking Aizawa up and down repeatedly before finally sighing in relief. “Thank goodness.”

“You didn’t believe me?” Aizawa motions for Mic to open the gate, which he does. “I’d say I’m hurt, but you’ll just take that literally.”

He’s pretty good at the deadpan - Izuku laughs.

“This is Deku,” Aizawa continues, hand instantly on Izuku’s back. “Deku, this is Hizashi Yamada, though you know him as Present Mic.”

“Hi there little listener,” Yamada says, the voice so familiar it makes Izuku smile. “You can call me Hizashi, if you want.” 

That’s so incredibly informal for a hero Izuku sputters and Aizawa saves him by nudging them all forward. “Let’s get inside before Ashtray makes a break for it.”

“Ashtray?” Izuku follows them up the steps.

“We have cats,” Aizawa says, and adds almost as an afterthought but he’s frowning with worry: “You’re not allergic, are you?”

“I… don’t think so? I never had a cat, but I’ve pet them before and that’s been ok?”

“Well, we’ll find out soon enough.’

Izuku’s offered a pair of house slippers once inside and the home is… nice. Aizawa all but drags him to the kitchen, past Hitoshi who waves and pretends to focus on his phone, but Izuku can tell he’s watching Aizawa intently. The dark circles under his eyes look worse than before, too. 

“Just as you ordered!” Yamada (Hizashi) says, gesturing to the takeout bags on the counter. “Ramen from your favourite place, and enough side dishes to feed a whole class.”

Aizawa nods at the bags next to Izuku. “Help me unpack this, I don’t care if we didn’t get hungry before, I feel like I haven’t eaten in four days.”

“Uh, yeah that gets kind of weird, especially when I stay a while,” Izuku agrees while helping load the table up with an impressive amount of food.

“I didn’t know what you’d like,” Aizawa tells him while he and Yamada unload other bags. “And I know these two probably ignored food while I was gone, so there’ll be enough for all four of us and you can just pick at what you want.”

Izuku’s mouth is watering - everything smells so good - and yet it feels… wrong, somehow. He’d kind-of-sort-of kidnapped Aizawa and left them to worry for four days and he’d attacked Hitoshi at the police station and now they’re sitting around a table with a mound of food and Hitoshi and Yamada are looking at them expectantly and Aizawa is giving him a pointed look at the food and Izuku really wants to eat but he’s suddenly nauseous and -

Hitoshi taps him gently on the shoulder, but he still startles up. The other boy doesn’t seem surprised at all, though, and blinks laconically. “Bathroom is next to the front door.”

Izuku mutters a quick excuse and runs for it before he can forget how to breathe. He doesn’t have anything in his stomach to throw up, so he just sits on the toilet with his face in his hands and gets all of three seconds of peace before a spirit prods his knees with a claw. << If they’re going to let you stay here you better not mess things up, corrupter, >> The mental voice is a genderless croak. Izuku looks up to see a kappa - and oh, it’s Present Mic’s spirit. He’s seen it once before, just a glimpse of it next to the hero when he’d been at a mall reopening his mother had taken him to. It’s short and green and angry looking and wearing a metal cap to protect its sara, turtle-beaked mouth snapping at him menacingly. << I’m not going to put up with you making this place a mess, monster child, I - >>

Tamamo-no-Mae’s head comes through the bathroom wall and she simply takes the kappa by the shell, shakes it a few times like a cat with a kill, and then throws it away. Izuku giggles - more a release of tension than anything else - and Tamamo-no-Mae regards him with baleful eyes, only her head and shoulders fitting in the small bathroom and the rest of her elsewhere. She nudges him in the chest with ner nose. << Why did you run? You must eat.>>

 “I don’t know,” Izuku tentatively reaches to brush a hand against her head, and when she closes her eyes and leans into it he strokes her fur a bit more intentionally. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

<< To eat a meal with friends?>>

“For them to be ok with me?” Izuku shrugs. “I’m not a friend. I don’t belong here.”

There’s a knock on the bathroom door. Eraser- Aizawa’s voice is quiet through the wall. “You all right in there, Problem Child?”

<< At least I live up to my name,>> he tells Tamamo-no-Mae miserably. She nudges him with her snout hard. << Hey!>>

<< Give them a chance, young kit,>> she tells him firmly. << Give them a chance to give you a chance as well. Or my human will chase you all over Japan and I will find a way to help him.>>

“Deku?” Aizawa knocks again.

“I’m ok,” Izuku leans back and stares up at the ceiling. “Um, she’s scolding me at the moment.”

“Sounds like you’re in good hands, then,” Aizawa offers, which makes Izuku laugh. “Still would like you to come and eat, but if you need some space I can make you a plate and we can sit on the balcony?”

“I don’t know what to say to them,” Izuku admits, hands still buried in the kitsune’s soft fur. “What if they don’t believe me?”

“Let me worry about that, I told you I had a plan, didn’t I?” And Aizawa did say that several times and Izuku wants to know but at the same time he’s afraid.

<< Trust him, >> Tamamo-no-Mae says. << But you do not have to do so blindly.>>

“What?”

“I said-”

“No, I was talking to Tamamo-no-Mae, sorry.” Izuku laughs awkwardly again and opens the bathroom door.

<< Ask him,>> the spirit says as she moves out of the way.

Izuku looks up at Aizawa who looks down at him, concerned. Aizawa trusted him when he’d dragged the hero through the spirit realm: he can try to do the same here. “She says I should ask you what your plan is. Because - because I’m scared.”

Aizawa nods slowly. “All right. I was going to run it past you after we ate, but we can talk it over now while we find you a change of clothing. Shinso!” he calls out to be heard. “We’re raiding your closet.”

“Touch my Nyan Cat hoodie and die,” is the response called back as Yamada cackles. 

“Come on, and tell Tamamo-no-Mae we’ll need her too.” Aizawa gestures for Izuku to follow him upstairs. “We can workshop my plan and you can shower and get changed, and then you can eat something. I don’t want you at the precinct on an empty stomach.”

 

-----

 

The quirk suppression cuffs click shut around his wrists and Izuku breathes in and out as steadily as he can.

“Still with me?” Aizawa asks him quietly, and Izuku looks up into his eyes and sees Tamamo-no-Mae behind him, human looking (he didn’t even know she could do that until she’d changed forms in Hitoshi’s room and laughed at his surprise). “We’ll make this quick.”

Izuku nods. He really wishes he’d skipped dinner because they’re back at Hisamatsu Police Station, just like when all this started, and while it isn’t the same interrogation room (this one is bigger) it has the added stress of a lot more people in it. And spirits. 

Everyone is staring at them as Aizawa has him cuffed in the back of the room away from the table where they all sit waiting: there’s the detective from before with the orange cat spirit, Hitoshi and Zarr, Yamada and his kappa, all varying degrees of familiar. There’s also the R-Rated Hero: Midnight, who has an American-style naga (gorgon, he thinks?) as a spirit, draped in silk and hundreds of snakes for hair. That spirit had taken one look at Izuku and hissed with all of her snakes, and then Tamamo-no-Mae had said something to her privately and she just... vanished. Izuku is going to take that as a win. Of course, then there’s Mr. Principal of UA, sipping at a cup of tea, spiritless (at the moment). Izuku’s grateful - he gets the sense his spirit is probably something terrifying and huge. 

“As debriefings go, this is going to be one of the oddest I’ve done,” the detective says - Tsukauchi, Izuku recalls with some effort. “But we’re all here, Eraserhead, and we all want to know what happened and what this is about.”

Aizawa stands beside Deku, hand on his shoulder for support. “Right,” the man nods at the group. “Well, you’re not going to like the answers much, but you’re a man who prides himself on the truth so we’ll start with this: Everything Deku here told us months ago was true. He’s not a Nomu, doesn’t have anything to do with any of the villain groups, and by all accounts quirks really are spirits.”

Izuku ducks his head as Tsukauchi gives Aizawa a look of disbelief. “What?”

“It’s going to be easier if I showed you,” Aizawa says, and nods to Izuku. “Ok, Problem Child?”

Izuku looks to Tamamo-no-Mae, who nods back at him. He holds out his cuffed hands and Aizawa rolls up his sleeve and wipes at the sigil there with an alcohol wipe. It leaves him helpless - a week ago he’d never willingly do this. Last time he’d been here he’d been caught without and it had been bad, but…

But he trusts Aizawa and Tamamo-no-Mae to protect him. He trusts them enough to sound steady when he nods at the hero and even manages a weak smile. “Ready.”

 

------

 

There is so much trust he’s been given, Shota knows, and he’s going to make it count. “Right. Midnight, would you use your quirk on Deku please?”

Her eyebrows rise above her mask but she stands and reaches for the kid, curious but trusting in Shota and the favor he’d called in to have her come in. He owes her a full month of grading at this point, but worth it. He’s got to stack the deck, here.

Deku doesn’t try to fight her quirk and he’s so clearly over-exhausted that he’s asleep in Kayama’s arms in moments, quickly enough that she croons in amusement as he curls in her grip. She runs a thumb under Deku’s bruised eyes for a moment, no doubt she can see just as well as Shota can that the kid’s not in the best shape, and then she looks up at him. “What exactly does all of this have to do with you disappearing for four days?”

“You weren’t involved with our first interaction with Deku,” he tells her and looks instead to Tsukauchi. “But you saw the report we put out after the fact - we thought Deku might be a person of interest. What we actually thought was that he might be the result of genetic or quirk manipulation, an escapee from one of the League’s twisted labs. He tried to tell us the truth, but it was so improbable we assumed he was brainwashed.”

“He told us quirks were the result of magical spirits,” Tsukauchi points out. “You’re suggesting that’s true? ” 

“I’m saying it is true, and it’s provable. Or at least something close enough to it is.” Aizawa points to Deku. “He’s asleep, he’s cuffed, and -” Aizawa activates his own quirk “I’m suppressing his quirk. By any statement he shouldn’t be able to do anything, agreed?”

Hizashi frowns. “Didn’t you think he had an accomplice?”

Shota nods. “We did, but that never entirely made sense to me, and it really isn’t going to make sense now. Tamamo-no-Mae?” he asks and hopes this works the way they tried it in Shinso’s room. “Gently.”

He watches as Deku seems to float out of Kayama’s lap, knees and shoulders high and legs dangling. He knows why - he can imagine the shape of the spirit holding Deku in her arms, a spirit working with them and not against him, even as the whole room stares and Hizashi pushes up from his chair in surprise. 

Tsukauchi is immediately moving in on Deku: he comes around the table and reaches out to find nothing under the kid, or around the kid. “There’s no invisible person,” Shota points out. “Though I did think that, at first. It doesn’t actually make sense - I have an invisible student and I can usually guess where she is, what she’s doing - there’s a sense you have when there’s someone around, even invisibly. We could have an incorporeal person, like Mirio - but how are they also invisible and capable of holding Deku up? And if you’re going to suggest that someone has a telekinesis quirk that works without line of sight and from a distance far enough to be outside the precinct, that’s a stretch but an understandable stretch. Don’t worry, we can go one further.” 

Shota pulls out an empty chair. The spirit carries him to it and settles him down, and Shota pushes the chair in and arranges Deku’s sleeping form to lay forward on the table with his cuffed hands out to the side. “Write a question in your notebook,” he tells Tsukauchi, stepping back. “Then put the notepad and pen by his hands.”

“Aizawa, what-”

Shota sighs. “This is the sort of thing that is going to take time, I’m aware, so let’s just get the basics out of the way first, all right?” He points to Deku. “Just do it.”

Tsukauchi obliges. Shota keeps away from line of sight of the book and what question is written, and the pad is set by Deku’s hands: a moment later they very clumsily pick up the pen and one hand curls around it in the way it might if someone else were moving the fingers. The written response is hardly neat, but the movements are quite definite. 

“Eraserhead,” Nezu has not moved from his seat - neither has Shinso, for that matter. “Are you going to explain matters, or is this simply to be a series of fascinating tests with no clear goal?”

“The point is we could do this in a quirk dampening cell. We could put Deku in a coma, I’m guessing, in Tartarus, and we could do this. At this point we either have to assume he has under his control a teleportation quirk, a recording interference quirk, the ability to modify quirks, the ability to cancel quirks, the ability to float, and the ability to move and hear and read while asleep - with a toe joint, I’ll add, all while wearing quirk suppressing cuffs and while I’ve been cancelling him, or, ” Aizawa blinks dry eyes as his own quirk ends. “There’s something else going on.”

Magic, Aizawa?” Tsukauchi asks, but he doesn’t sound half so disbelieving now - he’s staring at his notebook and whatever was written there. 

“Don’t call it magic if it bugs you, I don’t like it but I don’t have a better name for it yet. Quirks are basically magic we’ve attached the ‘evolution’ label to, even though we barely understand them. The point is this kid isn’t what we thought he was and can do things we thought were impossible yesterday. And he needs help.”

Nedzu’s intelligent eyes seem to light up. “What do you mean by that, exactly?”

“I mean at the end of the day…” Shota shakes his head. “At the end of the day, something he told me at the start of our little adventure is true. That what he can see doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things. What he knows about how quirks work could be important, if we could get enough people to believe it, but at the end of the day it wouldn’t change the vast majority of any of our lives and the process would destroy him. It doesn’t matter where our quirks come from, for most of the world. What matters is if we have them, and if they work.” 

Shota pulls out the chair next to Deku and sits down. Tsukauchi has no choice but to do the same. “This is a kid who has a power that has immense potential for harm who has spent his whole life desperately trying not to. He could have turned against all of us at any time but he didn’t because at his core he wants to do good, and the world hasn’t done him any favors. I’m saying I watched him give a young girl with a broken emitter quirk the ability to turn her quirk on and off at will, then stop her asthma attack, and he didn’t think any of that was anything special.

The whole room stares at Shota. They’re listening: good.

“I’m saying we need to look after him, and that means we need to believe him. Even if that means you have to think of it as ‘his quirk lets him see quirks as manifestations of power and occasionally can use them for himself’ - we have literally faced stranger. All For One, for example.”

“You’re saying this kid has magic? ” Kayama leans into Deku, who’s still sound asleep. Shota figures he probably needs it. “He looks so cute like this, how could anyone think he was a Nomu?

“It was a working theory,” Tsukauchi points out, a little defensive. “Given what we knew at the time.”

“Now we know better, and so we need to do better. The point of all this is to give you an idea of what I’m calling his reality, because it’s different from ours but it’s still very real and if you don’t understand it, the rest of my report is going to sound absolutely insane.” Shota lifts one shoulder at the detective when he’s given a concerned look. “Hizashi and Shinso are here because they need to understand, because I’m keeping Deku with us, for as long as he’ll willingly stay. Kayama: everyone understands your quirk and it’s safer than trying to drug him, especially right now. And Nezu,” Shota meets the Principal’s gaze and suspects he doesn’t need to say anything, he already knows. “Once we know where Deku is and have him caught up, I’m sponsoring him for UA.”

“Excellent!” Nezu presses his fingertips together. “I’m sure he’ll be a very interesting addition to our student body!”

It’s to protect him, ” Shota says with such intensity everyone pauses. “I mean it. We were worried about him being the product of the villains? Well imagine what they could do with someone who can permanently manipulate quirks. We don’t need another All For One.”

Everyone looks at Deku, still asleep. “Are you seriously worried this kid is going to turn into the world’s next big bad while he’s drooling on the table?” Shinso asks, sharply. “Because that seems a bit hypocritical.”

“No,” Shota meets Shinso’s gaze and doesn’t flinch. “I’m saying if Shigaraki or the next Chisaki find out about Deku, he’s going to suffer if we aren’t careful, and the kid’s suffered enough.” 

Tsukauchi leans back in his chair, thoughtful. “So how do you think we should proceed?” 

Shota reaches over and gently shakes Deku awake - which actually takes some effort. While Deku blinks, Shota uncuffs him and hands him a marker, which Deku uses to immediately draw on himself. While he does so, Shota continues his longest pre-debrief in history. “I’m saying we register him with a baseline quirk - call it Quirk Personification, Power Registration, Quirk Analysis, I don’t care, but get him registered so that there’s paperwork and then we close his case and let him be an actual kid again and train him.”

“Do you want to be a hero, Deku?” Nezu asks, warm and interested. “I think someone with your skillset could certainly be an interesting one!”

“I…” Deku looks at the Principal and then back to Shota. “I don’t know. I did, when I was a kid, but a lot of what I can do is limited and hurting, um, spirits because their humans are making trouble… I don’t know.” He shakes his head and looks at his hands. “I thought maybe I could be a quirk therapist. Someone who helps people when their quirks are too much for them, or don’t work in a way that they understand? Or if someone tries to make those bullets again, I could help with that. I can fix things. I want to help people.

Kayama gets a gleam in her eye and Shota glares at her and she doesn’t say what she’d been thinking. He’d warned everyone before they’d arrived not to mention Mirio or Eri. One damned thing at a time.

“Well I’m sure we will have lots of time to discuss your further education later, once you are settled with Eraserhead,” Nezu smiles, all charm even in the face of Deku’s clear uncertainty. “He’s never sponsored a student before.” Only because Shinso wanted to get into UA on his own terms, and Hizashi had fought tooth and nail to be able to be the one to sponsor their kid instead. That had been a long few weeks of debate.

“Anyway,” Shota cuts off more flailing from Deku. “We need to figure out how we handle our report and debrief as well.” At everyone’s look, Shota shrugs again. “If I tell you verbatim I was transported to another dimension filled with spirits and monsters and literal fucking gods you know me well enough to at least consider I might be telling the truth. Yes, we need to have my head checked and get Harigae in to look at my memories for tampering and the whole lot of it, we have due process for this shit for a reason.” He might expect them to give him some benefit of the doubt, but they’re still going to check.  

“We need to think about the official records because if that comes in clear and this report gets filed as is, the next person who sees it won’t necessarily want to believe it - no matter who or what vouches for me - and I don’t want to be dragging Deku through this process or the public bullshit that might follow.” Records aren’t sealed by default, after all - heroes are supposed to have accountability. No one might especially want to look into this case, but if someone does it could make a hell of a mess for all involved. 

There’s silence as everyone seems to process that, and Shinso is the one to laugh. “My god, he’s asking for permission to lie from the police detective with the truth quirk. I think we’ve reached peak irony.” 

“Actually, I think it’s only ironic if Tsukauchi is the one to suggest it,” Hizashi muses. “I’m not sure it’s subversive enough.”

“Do not get into an irony debate during a debriefing, I don’t care how unusual this one is,” Shota cuts them off before they can start. “We have rules.

Kayama puts up a finger. “You have rules about debating irony?”

Shota gives her the most world weary look he can manage. “Don’t even ask. They will go for days.

“I’m certainly not comfortable with this,” Tsukauchi agrees. “Beyond the law there are ethics to consider, and-”

“How about Deku and I tell you just what went on for us while we were gone, you can note that down as a temporary statement pending external review to ensure our memories haven’t been tainted, and we can at least get things moving, ” Shota knows this will take time. They’re not going to believe all at once - he wouldn’t have, without a face-first introduction to Deku’s world. All he needs for now is for them to be willing to humor him and not outright dismiss Deku the way they did at first.

“All right,” Tsukauchi says carefully. “That’s reasonable.”

“Deku?” Shinso says, and for his son the voice is gentle enough that Shota looks at Deku in worry and realizes the kid is clutching his hands together on the table and hunched in on himself. 

“Deku,” Shota echoes, reaching to touch because it seems to help the kid ground himself in the here-and-now. “You all right?”

“I didn’t mean to cause any trouble,” Deku says to the table. “I’m really sorry. I’ve made a mess for everyone and you all think Eraserhead is crazy and it’s my fault.

“Hey now, little listener, no one’s allowed to call Shota crazy except me, ” Hizashi says before Shota can counter Deku’s self-blame party fest. “And if Shota says you’ve got spirits then I’m going to believe him until someone gives me a good reason not to.” 

“Deku, you want a drink?” Shinso asks, seemingly at random but Shota knows his son and random is not one of Shinsho’s character traits. Deku likewise seems surprised and confused. 

“I, uh, um-”

“I’m thirsty,” Shinso says like they’re not in a debriefing, like Deku’s not having a moment of self-pity and panic. “You look like you could use some air. There’s a vending machine.”

Everyone else is staring at Shinso but Shota looks at Deku and sees the almost feral panic there and decides a breather is probably a good idea. “Go get a drink while I give them then rundown. Makes sense,” Shota assures when Deku looks at him in confusion. “Usually you give a statement separate so we don’t color each other’s story. With luck they’ll hear mine and decide they don’t want to drag you through the same.”

Deku shakes his head, but despite his protests he’s already pushing up from his chair. “I promised I wouldn’t run, and what about -” 

“You’ll come back in ten,” Shota nods his head toward the door, Shinso is already on his feet. “Go on, get something to drink and take a breather.” 

Deku hesitates for another moment and then looks up at nothing, probably a spirit now that Shota knows how to recognize the signs, and then he bows to everyone and very nearly runs out the door on Shinso’s heels.

“Aizawa?” Tsukauchi asks, curious.

“Better to let him breathe and get a grip on things, pretty sure this is the largest group of non-aggressive humans he’s dealt with in a long time.” Shota shrugs. “Not like we can hold him if we wanted to even try, besides, and I trust him to come back.” 

“All right,” The detective looks unconvinced but doesn’t argue. “Let’s start with your perspective on tracking down Demolition…”

 

------

 

Shinso leads Deku down the hall of the station and outside, where just across the street there’s a bank of vending machines. He watches Deku out of the corner of his eye and thinks about what he’s heard and overheard since his dad called him into the station months ago.

Deku still doesn’t look like much: he’s in one of Shinso’s plain grey hoodies and a pair of black jogging pants that are rolled up at the cuffs. He isn’t just small, either: he acts small - which is different. Shinso’s learned to look for that, thanks to the training his dads had given him, knows how to look at how people carry themselves and what that might mean.

Deku holds himself like he’s ready to run away and like he’s expecting someone to hit him at any moment. He proves that by hitching a shoulder higher as they stop at the machines and asking Shinso “Are you going to hit me?”

And it’s so fucking sad because it’s less of a question and more of a ‘let’s get this over with’ and isn’t that so achingly familiar? Shinso just jabs an angry finger at the machine and ends up with a cold Boss Coffee he presses against his forehead, against the headache that’s building between his eyes. “Why would I hit you? And what do you want to drink?”

Deku does the open mouth gape thing for a second and then ducks his head. “Because I kidnapped your dad? Because I attacked you before?”

It takes effort not to roll his eyes, mostly because they’d just hurt. “Dad says you saved him, so I think I can forgive you for making us worry about him. And you didn’t attack me? You freaked out when I used my quirk on you, did something to my quirk when you freaked out, then you hurt yourself, I think, and took off?” He leans against the machine and cracks the can open, eyeing Deku who at least looks 10% less terrible. “Everyone looked for you, you know. There was a whole thing.” 

“I was worried about that,” Deku looks at the machines instead of at Shinso. “I might have run away to Minami Ward.”

“With the killer plants? How’d you get through them?” Shinso points at the bottled tea Deku’s staring at. “Want one?”

“Um, the milk tea?” Deku hesitates and points, but Shinso figures it’s a good start. He remembers how hard it had been to ask Shota and Hizashi for anything at first. He hands the bottle over once it drops into the dispenser and Deku clutches at it with both hands. “T-thanks. The plants weren’t really a problem, I avoided the worst areas, and they’d move if I asked them.”

“So you can talk to plants too?” Shinso wonders where on the list of weird shit this kid can do that would fall. “Do they talk back?” 

Deku looks at him sharply, narrowed eyes and shoulders hunched. Shinso just nurses his coffee and stands loose and easy. It’s interesting - Deku’s someone who knows his quirk and doesn’t hesitate to talk to him, unlike some other kids their age. Maybe it’s because he can stop it, however he did before. When Shinso doesn’t say anything else, Deku finally sighs and cracks open his tea. “Are you just checking to see if I’m crazy?”

“No?” Shinso shrugs. “Dad was talking to something, before, and I assume that was a spirit. I was wondering if they talk back.” 

“Yeah?” Deku says, so quietly it’s barely louder than the refrigeration of the machines. “They do. Not - the plants didn’t, exactly, but they’re from a spirit so they listen. Spirits talk, though.”

“So what’s yours like?” Shinso figures that’s a safe question, right up until Deku flinches and hunches up again. “Shit, sorry, sore subject?”

“I don’t have one,” Deku says to his bottle of milk tea. “I don’t have a quirk, even if I can do what I can do. Yours is a ball of blue fire. I don’t know what he was originally -” he pauses and then seems to listen to something before he continues “- he says he’s a Santelmo.

A ball of fire. Huh. “Cool,” Shinso says, clearly to Deku’s surprise because Deku’s eyes go wide. “What?”

“You really think it’s cool?”

“Yeah?” Another shrug, and no wonder his dad wants to look after Deku: he’s more of a wounded animal than Shinso himself was. “I’ve got a ball of fire for a quirk thing, that’s cool. Could have been, I don’t know. A cow. A trash can. A banana.”

Deku snickers, which is good - Shinso was starting to worry that confused sad concerned look was a permanent thing on his face. “I’ve never met a banana spirit!”

“Sounds like I missed the bullet of the trash can then,” which he would not have at all been surprised about, knowing his luck. “What’s Hizashi’s? A parrot? Or that underwater shrimp thing that shoots air bullets?”

“Because he’s loud?” Deku, still smiling, shakes his head. “Quirks don’t always match their spirit, actually. His is, uh, a kappa.”

“What, the cute turtle things?”

Deku frowns. “I don’t think I’d call them cute, actually… they’re pretty creepy looking.” 

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Shinso finishes his coffee and crushes the can in one hand. “So can I ask some more questions?” 

Deku nods, still nursing his milk tea, but the wildness around his eyes seems to be a bit less crazy. “Sure? I mean. It’s good if you want to know things, if Aizawa was serious about me staying with you guys for a bit, I mean. I’m sorry, if you think I’m invading, I didn’t ask, he just insisted and-”

“I’m adopted,” Shinso says to cut off this particular stream of self deprecation. “I get the feeling Dad insisted with you the way he did with me. He promised to chase me down if I ran away.”

Another mouth-open-gape-thing from Deku, and then he laughs. “Really? I’m, um, I’m stuck for a bit. I don’t think I could try to travel out for at least a few days. Getting us to the spirit realm was, uh, a lot.”

“So you’re stuck with us for a while,” Shinso nods. “Tell you what: trade you a question for a question, then.” Maybe it’ll help Deku feel a little less trapped by all this.

“Um. Sure. You go first?”

“How’d you break my quirk?” It still bugged him.

“Oh!” Of all things, Deku blushes. He rolls up his left sleeve and there on his arm are a collection of silvery scars,  but he specifically points to two large puncture-looking ones on his forearm and then rotates his arm to show two more underneath. “I wasn’t warded, because no one would give me anything to write with, so Tamam- uh, Aizawa’s spirit. She bit me, to wake me up.” 

“Wait - she bit you?” Shinso remembers Deku holding his arm and there was blood on the floor after, but he’d thought that had come from the way Deku’s hand had burned. “Well, what about the burn?”

“That was… me not thinking?” Deku shrugs again, looking down. “I might have physically grabbed your spirit as well as, uh, mentally. And he’s made out of fire.”

There probably isn’t an appropriate response to that, especially since Shinso can see the scars on Deku’s palm. “Ouch,” he settles with, which seems to work - Deku laughs. “So, what do you want to know?”

“Do you…” Deku starts, stops, and then gulps at his tea like it’s something stronger. “Do you think that they’ll believe us? I mean, Eras - Aizawa believes me now but, well. He didn’t until he saw and I can’t do that for everyone. I barely did it for him.”

“Don’t know if I can speak for everyone,” Shinso tosses his can into the recycling and Deku follows suit with his bottle. “But we watched you float in midair and then write while you were knocked out, so there’s clearly something going on, and…” Shinso considers it. “I thought about it before. Last time at the station, I mean. Quirks are weird, right? So maybe your quirk is weirder than most. Maybe there aren’t spirits and magic, and like Dad says we just call it how your quirk manifests. Maybe there are spirits and things only you can see. Nobody can tell you how your quirk works, even if you don’t call it a quirk, and calling you crazy seems about as shitty as calling you a villain if you haven’t done anything wrong. You know what’s going on, and it makes sense to you, so I’m going to believe you and Dad, until someone gives me a reason not to. I think everyone else will do the same.” 

Deku shoves his hands in the pockets of his borrowed sweater and Shinso recognizes that as well - he still does it, sometimes, when he feels too exposed and doesn’t want anyone to see him clench his fists enough for the nails to dig in and hurt. Deku then scuffs the sidewalk with one ratty shoe and Shinso watches him pull himself together . It’s an entire process: Deku breathes in, then out, then in. Then his back straightens and he stands tall, blinking until his eyes are clear and determined, expression set into something fierce and steadfast. “Ok,” he says - to Shinso, to the world. He nods. “I think I can do this.”

It’s an impressive act: Shinso is going to give him credit for that, and not call out how he bets Deku’s hands are still clenched in his pockets. Gotta give him his defence mechanisms, after all. “Cool. Let’s head back and see just how bad your adventures went over with the detective. I don’t think he’s paid enough to be our liaison, at this rate.”

Deku smiles at the description. “Can I ask another question?” he ventures, as they head toward the station. 

“Shoot.”

“Why’d you, uh, ask me out here? Since it wasn’t to punch me.”

“Do people punch you a lot?” Shinso has to ask: Dad will want to know.

“Not so much these days?” Deku hunches his shoulders again slightly. “But when I was younger, I think. My memory is a bit...fuzzy in spots.”

“Well I’m not going to punch you, and neither will either of my dads. Hizashi is the world’s biggest pushover if you look at him sadly and Shota’s an expert in making you feel like you’ve been punched just by looking at you disappointedly and maybe making you run laps until you puke, but you’re not in class so he won’t do that and he’s otherwise really great.” Which doesn’t mean he’s not going to end up running laps for Dad when he’s being Aizawa-sensei, but that’s later.

“Anyway, you looked like you were about to panic and needed some air. I figured the adults could do their thing for a few minutes while we got some drinks. You didn’t eat much for dinner.”

“I, uh, thanks?” Deku doesn’t seem nearly as reassured as Shinso thinks he ought to be, but he’s a nervous kid. He’ll figure them out soon enough. He just needs to find Dad asleep with at least three cats on him and it’ll be obvious.

He’d learned that, when he’d been lost and fucked up and very nearly on his own. You could tell a lot about trusting a person, if their animals trusted them.

 

------

 

The adults are all waiting for them and it’s somehow less scary, after talking to Hitoshi. Izuku settles in and gives his version of events with everyone listening and no one calling him crazy, the detective just takes notes and frowns a lot. Probably because everything he says reads as true.

When they finish, Yamada and Midnight both look uncomfortable and the detective looks like he’s trying not to show any emotion, but it’s done and whatever they decide to do is for them to decide. Izuku has to wait and see, sure, but that’s been his whole life in a way. A few more days is all the same to him.

“They’re bringing in an expert, Miyu Harigae, in a day or two,” Aizawa tells him as Midnight gives her farewells. “She’ll be able to get a read on what we’ve told them. You don’t have to see her if you don’t want to - I can do it for the both of us.”

Izuku blinks at him. “What’s her quirk?”

“A type of psychic reading,” Aizawa tells him. “She can tell if someone has had their memories altered, and how, and with permission can share memories with others.” 

“But you gave up a memory to Aiapaec,” Izuku points out, wondering if this would make everything moot. “How nuanced is her quirk?”

“Enough that I trust her to vouch for me,” Aizawa reassures him. “She works for the police mostly in cases dealing with people who are too traumatized to testify or are unable to for medical reasons.”

“As difficult as matters might be to believe, Aizawa has made a strong case, we certainly have no other more concrete alternatives to present at the moment, and you, young man, are not under any form of arrest or charge. As long as you agree to stay with Aizawa and Yamada, I will agree not to overtly bring in services.” Tsukauchi meets Izuku’s gaze evenly. “Simply for protocol, nothing else.”

“We will be looking into the people who were supposed to look after you,” Aizawa intones with such darkness to his voice Izuku finds himself looking up at him in surprise. “Because I want their care to be fully investigated. I’m not going to pretend what you told me didn’t happen - but you don’t have to go back there, or anywhere else. All right, Problem Child?”

And somehow… Izuku believes him. He nods. “All right.”

“That’s for tomorrow,” Aizawa says, then nods at Tsukauchi. “Can you give us a ride to the hospital?”

“Hospital?” All of that certainty and trust evaporates as he suddenly wonders if they’re going to try to lock him up again, even after he’d just heard Aizawa say otherwise. “What for?”

Aizawa looks at him and looks so tired and sad, Izuku feels bad for not trusting in him. “There’s a little girl there who needs my help,” he says quietly, like he knows what Izuku’s thinking. “She could probably use yours too. I’ll explain on the way. Hizashi will take Shinso home.”

Needs help, Izuku thinks, and he straightens himself up and meets Aizawa’s gaze directly. “Right. Let’s go, then.” 

They part ways and leave the station far better than the first time Izuku had been inside. Aizawa sits in the back of the car again with him, instead of next to Tsukauchi, which seems maybe rude to the detective but he doesn’t seem to mind? Izuku feels a bit embarrassed about it, but it’s obvious why when Aizawa spends the entire 40 minute ride to the hospital explaining just what happened with the villain known as Overhaul, and just where those quirk destroying bullets came from. From who.

Aizawa looks, somehow, like he’s aged ten years in the car ride by the time he’s done. “I wanted to wait until at least tomorrow, before I dropped this on you,” he tells Izuku, intense in a way that contrasts how he’s usually so flat and laid back. “The last thing I want is you getting this in your head that you’re only important because of this. You saved my life and you are a teenager who needs to be looked after and none of that has anything to do with what you might be able to do. All right?” Aizawa’s glare is so intense that all Izuku can do is nod. “Good. Because I’m not joining the apparently long list of people in your life who have used you for what you can do. I’m going in to help Eri. I’d like it if you took a look at her and see what you think. If you think you can help her. If you want to. That’s your choice and no one will force you.” 

On one hand… Izuku really really appreciates all of this. It means something to have an adult be so intent on him with kindness, to have someone say you have value that isn’t your ability to help us, because that’s the only reason the spirits ever interact with him. It means something that Aizawa worried he’d take it, take this to mean that his offer to help him is just temporary. Izuku can see how he might have gone that way, might have thought that, if Aizawa hadn’t flat out stomped that idea into the ground. It’s… nice.

It’s also kind of pointless. “Eraserhead,” he says, and he uses the name intentionally. “You said there’s a little girl who needs help. That’s all you need to say. Of course I’ll help. If I can - I mean - I’ll do everything I can. It’s what I do. ” There is no choice at all, not really. 

There’s a whole host of expressions that flash across Aizawa’s face and Izuku feels almost sorry for him. He pats him on the knee just once, twice, feeling awkward but not being sure what else to really say. “It’s ok. Even if you did only want me for my help, I’d help? And I believe you. That you don’t. Ok?”

Aizawa’s the one who doesn’t know what to say, it seems, because he just nods. Then they pull into the hospital and they don’t have to say anything else at all.

 

----

 

Checking into the hospital is interesting. It’s part normal hospital, part hero hospital, and there’s a whole second set of security checks and so many spirits around it feels like being in the Marketplace all over again. Tamamo-no-Mae hadn’t followed immediately and Izuku had tucked himself as close to Aizawa’s side as possible as they walked the halls because to his eyes the space was full.

They’re all reacting to him, too. Word probably got around, knowing how spirits talk, and oh - there’s the stag he’d seen before, towering and blocking the whole hallway, antlers and sides trailing moss and vines and bits of faded ribbon. << What are you here for, defiler? >>

Izuku has to stop, because he can’t squeeze by - there’s a cart with bedding on the wall and a pair of nurses to the side and the stag is huge. << Tamamo-no-Mae’s human asked me to look at Eri,>> he explains. << The little girl who needs help with her quirk. I’m not here to start a fight or hurt anyone.>>

“Deku?” Aizawa says when he realizes he’s stopped.

“I’m… blocked,” Izuku admits apologetically. << Please let me by.>> He considers the spirit and frowns, suddenly worried. << Is your human all right?>>

The spirit stares at him for a long moment and then shakes its head. << She is recovering. The pollen from the plants made her ill.>>

Izuku nods. << I’m sorry about that. Do you want me to tell Easerhead?>>

The stag’s head tilts. << Why do you ask for permission?>>

<< Because… it might be private?>> Deku shrugs. << I don’t usually tell anyone anything unless I think it’s important enough to ignore privacy?>>

He doesn’t know what the spirit thinks of that - it simply turns in place, antlers missing Izuku’s head by inches. << Do what you will. You will not find welcome from Mizuchi here.>>

The stag fades away in a few sure steps and the spirits watching them seem to follow his lead. It’s suddenly very, very quiet in the hall.

“Deku?” Izuku blinks and Aizawa is in front of him, worried. “Can I help?” 

“Uh, I think it’s ok?” He wonders who Mizuchi is, because it doesn’t feel like it’s the stag’s name. “Though, the hero - the woman who was at Minami? I think she’s here. Her spirit was.”

Aizawa nods. “Tsukauchi told me, the pollen from the plants affected her more than expected because of her quirk. She’s expected to make a full recovery.” 

“That’s good,” Izuku feels bad for making them stop in the hallway. “She was nice, I’m glad she’ll be all right. Let’s keep going? I think her spirit just wanted to… maybe check I wasn’t here to make trouble or something.”

Aizawa nods and leads them on. The heroes have their own ward, and Eri is there instead of a children’s ward because of her quirk. Hero wards are better set up to deal with destructive quirks that might get out of hand.

Still, there are warning signs all over the door to the room Aizawa leads them to, and he stops in surprise when he sees someone outside the room. “Mirio?”

Izuku looks at the teenager who’s clearly a student - blond, well built, instantly recognizable as the one who’d lost his pants at the Sports Festival. He’s seated on a chair outside the door which Izuku hasn’t ever seen someone do at a hospital before. He looks… tired. The smile that he plasters on his face doesn’t meet his eyes.

“Aizawa-sensei!” Mirio stands up and in the hospital lights he looks like he hasn’t slept properly in days. “You’re all right!”

“Reports of my demise are always exaggerated. What are you doing here? If Eri’s quirk is out of control -”

“When she’s awake it’s not so bad,” Mirio waves his hands in front of him, trying to reassure them. “But when she wakes up alone she panics, and that’s bad, so I promised I’d stay. The nurses let me because they can’t give her any more quirk suppressants, they’re starting to make her worse.” 

Izuku winces at that - quirk suppressants are dangerous in large doses and the girl he sees through the large viewing window looks… tiny. 

“Ah!” a nurse calls quietly, stepping on soft shoes quickly to meet their strange trio. “Aizawa, thank goodness you’re here. Young Eri’s quirk…”

“I’ll cancel it,” Aizawa assures her. “You can get your readings safely.”

“Thank you,” the nurse says with relief. “I think Dr Ogata is happy to suddenly find himself twenty years younger, but some of us aren’t quite old enough for that yet!”

Aizawa opens the door and heads inside, the nurse following. Mirio looks at Izuku for a moment, then brightens - his smile meets his eyes properly this time. “Hey wait, you’re Deku aren’t you!”

“Uh. I- I am?” Izuku doesn’t know how he’s being recognized. “How did you know?”

“Are you kidding?” Mirio chuckles. “Everyone was talking about you when you showed up and started fixing quirks, and then you escaped the heroes at the precinct! There was a call out to try to find you, and then after everything with Overhaul and with Eri, well. I was hoping they’d be able to find you.” 

Izuku looks over his shoulder, where Eri is asleep and Aizawa is standing with his quirk activated, Tamamo-no-Mae appearing at his side once more probably to check on him. The nurse approaches Eri to check her vitals and change her IV. “I’m sorry he was away so long, I didn’t mean to - it was complicated. Is she going to be all right?”

Mirio’s smile falters a bit. “I hope so. She was doing well, for a bit, we were really getting her to open up - and then her quirk started getting out of hand and it hurts her and it’s hard for the doctors to help her. Do you think you can do something?” He asks, all bright intensity and Izuku feels a bit overwhelmed by how eager he is. “You helped my friend, before. Suneater? I’m sure he’d love to thank you again, by the way. And if you can help Eri -”

“Deku?” Aizawa calls. There’s the sound of machinery beeping - he’d stopped his quirk to blink and Eri’s had flared up a moment later. 

“Sorry,” Izuku tells Mirio and dashes inside. Tamamo-no-Mae is settled against the wall out of the way and nods at him but there’s no sign of another spirit - not from the nurse, Mirio, or Eri herself. Still, he can feel her quirk flare up and out when Aizawa has to blink again he reaches out to stop it before it can hurt anyone.

White light flashes in front of his eyes - Izuku feels something slam against his chest, and then feels his back and head slam against the wall to the room. Everything hurts as he tries to pick himself up from the ground only to find he can’t.

He cant, because he’s face to face with a giant white dragon.  

“Deku!” Aizawa calls out and Izuku manages to wave a hand even while his chest is pinned. “I’m ok,” he gasps out, still a little breathless. “Just… caught off guard.”

<< Leave now, >> the dragon - and does Izuku want to bet this is Mizuchi the stag mentioned? - hisses into his face. It tries to bite him, and Izuku is treated to a look at the inside of his huge mouth and rows of teeth, but the wards hold. The dragon pulls back to hiss again. << I will not submit to the likes of you.>>

<< I have… no intention of making you do anything at all?>> Izuku can’t be stabbed or bitten or burnt with the wards but he’s realizing being crushed isn’t on the list of protections - it’s hard to breathe. << I’m just here to help her. She’s  in trouble  - you have to know that. Your power is hurting her.>>

<< Like the humans who have hurt her since the day she was born?>>  the spirit scoffs. << I will kill her before I let you enslave me.>>

Izuku panics, trying to scrabble up. << If you do anything to her I will stop you! Listen to me! We don’t have to do this! I’m here to help her - Please ! >> 

“Deku what’s going on?” Mirio is at his side and trying to help him up, which only makes the dragon - which is bigger than the whole room - bear his weight down harder. “What - why can’t I? Sensei - he’s stuck.”

“It’s her quirk,” Izuku manages, voice thin. “I’m trying to convince him I’m not here to hurt him.”

Tamamo-no-Mae comes to kneel beside him - she’s back in her human form, in beautiful layers of silk kimono and her lips red against her pale face. She sets a hand on his shoulder and Izuku can breathe, even if he can’t move.

The dragon seems to be taken aback by her appearance. << What are you doing here, Lady Kayō? What has he done to you?>>

<< He saved my human and reconnected us when those who abused your human used her power against us,>> Tamamo-no-Mae says, each word precise and perfect. << He speaks the truth. He is here to help her, not harm you.>>

<< You know what he can do!>> The dragon roars - enough for Izuku to flinch, though the kitsune is perfectly still. << You know what was done to Ryūjin!>>

<< I know he is not responsible for others actions and his actions have been only what we could hope of him, and not what we have deserved. You know full well he could cast you off and yet he does not. Why?>>

The pressure on his chest lightens slightly and the dragon’s long maw is back in Izuku’s face, terrifying and huge, but it sounds almost put out - almost childlike when it asks << Why do you not fight?>>

<< Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should!>> Izuku tries to sit up but the dragon still doesn’t seem interested in letting go. << If you really really force my hand I’d do enough to get you to back off, but I’ll never bind you. What I did when I was eight years old was a mistake! I didn’t know!>>

The dragon huffs. Smoke curls from its nostrils and the white scales along its body are pearlescent, the claw at the end of each toe looking like bands of polished silver. It’s the most beautiful spirit Izuku’s ever seen and he’s too overwhelmed to be properly terrified - or maybe it’s the threat to Eri that makes him keep his head. Either way he meets the dragon’s gaze as it stares into him like it can read his soul.

<< I will swear to you that I’m not going to do anything but fix her quirk. That won’t affect you. The worst I could do is disconnect the two of you, I think, and even then your power would still return when she died. I can’t sever you completely, I can just block her use of your power. And I’d only do that if she asked me to.>>

<< And I will vouch for him,>> Tamamo-no-Mae says, elegant and ethereal. << You know me, Mizuchi. Would you insult me now?>>

The dragon considers them both for a moment longer before it pulls away from Izuku and he can finally sit up. << Very well,>> he says, as though the words take great effort to say. << If Lady Kayō vouches for you, I will watch you closely, child. If I feel you even begin to reach for me, you will regret it.>>

That’s so obvious Izuku just nods in agreement and lets Mirio help him up, feeling bad for the fact that this probably looks really really weird to him. He staggers his way to the medical bed with help. The nurse looks just as uncomfortable as Mirio, but he guesses that Aizawa told her this was normal.

Hah. Normal.     

“Ok. That was… a lot,” he admits to Aizawa who’s looking like he expects answers. His chest feels like one big bruise and so does his back and he might actually have a concussion from hitting his head. “I’m just going to… take a look now before anything else goes wrong, ok?”

“Sit down,” Aizawa tells him and Izuku nods, but keeps to his feet for a moment longer. He takes Eri’s bandaged arm and makes the quickest connection sigil in his life on the back of her hand, then his, and then just… sits right where he is on the floor. The floor’s as good a seat as anything else, and her poor quirk feels awful this up close and personal.

He feels Tamamo-no-Mae move behind him and support him, which is a relief. Izuku doesn’t try to think about holding himself up as he throws himself through the connection and into the pulsating, warped and sickly power that is Eri. 

Izuku’s been in dark oceans and fields of golden grass, in towers of books and endless mazes of roses and thorns. Everyone is different, when he feels what they are and how their quirk connects to them, how their spirit and core connect and what that power means.

Eri is the first person who has felt brittle. She’s a field of snow, a desert of dry air and frigid cold and everywhere are razor thin spikes of ice, like an eternal field of porcupine needles. The air sings with the sound of creaking, cracking ice. Everything is white and everything hurts. Izuku brushes against one spike and it burns him, it’s so cold. The bruises in his chest feel a thousand times worse, here, and the air seems too thin to breathe.

No wonder her quirk is hurting her, he thinks, horrified. He does not know what was done to her to make it like this, but it feels almost as though her quirk - her connection to her spirit - has been shattered and remade over and over and over again, until it’s nothing but this field of disconnected threads, dangerous and deadly and overwhelming her.

There is no path forward. Izuku looks at the mess all around him and knows there’s no quick fix - he can’t do this at once. He’s never seen anything like this before but he knows if he tried to do this all at once, he’d die. He’d run empty and even then, it wouldn’t be finished. This will take work.

He sits, mentally, on the tiny bank of ice he’d landed on, a few square feet of safety against the jagged outcrops, and he pours warmth into the ground under him.

 

-------

 

Shota is going to have a lot of explaining to do, but if this stabilizes Eri it will be worth it. When Tsukauchi had told him of Eri’s condition, there had been no time to wait. And now he’s beyond grateful he’d brought Deku along because where before cancelling her quirk had ‘reset’ it for a time, allowing the nurses to do their work, apparently his four day jaunt away and the subsequent reliance on suppressants instead had done more damage than good. When he’d blinked, her quirk had flared so quickly he’d only just managed to keep it from hitting himself or the nurse.

Now he watches as her breathing stabilizes and her blood pressure settles into a far normal range. The nurse runs a hand over the small girl’s forehead and blinks in surprise. “Her fever,” she says - then whips out a thermometer which is placed in Eri’s ear and reads it with clear surprise. “She’s dropped two degrees already. What is he doing?

Deku’s on the floor by Shota’s feet, swaying slightly with his eyes closed and with no indication he’s doing anything at all if not for Eri’s quick recovery. “He’s got a quirk manipulation quirk,” he tells her. “He can fix when a quirk is overactive. I brought him in to consult.”

She frowns, lips pressed flat. “You realize that quirk use like this is supposed to be run past her doctors first?”

“I know,” Shota does, in fact, know how many rules he’s just broken. “I’ll take responsibility later. It was more important to make sure she would recover.”

“Well, if she does it will have been worth it,” the nurse agrees. They wait and watch, with Mirio at the foot of the bed shifting from one foot to the other, and it’s a tableau of silence bracketed by the sounds of the hospital until Deku groans and opens his eyes.

“Ugh,” Deku sways but seems to catch himself before he falls forward. “What happened to her? Who did that?”

Shota doesn’t need to ask what the kid means. “Chisaki. He used his quirk on her repeatedly.” 

Deku looks up at him, eyes glittering and black. “Is he dead?”

Taken aback, Shota actually considers his answer and wonders just what Deku might do if he didn’t like it. Thankfully it isn’t going to be an issue. “Yes.”

Good. ” Deku spits the word with a twisted grimace, then covers his face with his hands and grinds his palms into his eyes. “I - I did my best. I can’t fix her in one go, Aizawa, she’s so - she’s so damaged inside, her quirk is in pieces, I’ve never seen or felt anything like it at all. It’s bad. It’s really bad, ” he blinks up and the green has returned to his irises, which makes Aizawa almost doubt anything had changed before at all. “But I started. How is she?”

“Better,” Aizawa says.

The nurse tsks. “I’m going to bring Dr Ogata in to decide that,” she tells the room. “None of you do anything else - that’s an order!” She leaves and Aizawa leans down to help Deku up, the boy seemingly made of overcooked noodles. Mirio brings a chair forward and they essentially pour him into it. 

“You ok, Problem Child?” Shota asks, worried about how shaky Deku seems. 

“Yeah, I am, I’m just… used a lot to do that. I didn’t know what else to do, but I don’t have - I didn’t have a lot left? I just need to sleep.” He cracks a giant yawn and then looks at Mirio, looks past Mirio, and the yawn turns into an open jawed stare as Deku looks at nothing and then to Mirio and then back to nothing and then back to Mirio once more.

“Why do you have All Might’s spirit? ” Deku asks, voice cracking on the last note in something far too close to hysteria.

Aizawa looks to the ceiling and finds absolutely no answers there. “Fuck.

 -------------

 




Chapter Text

-------------

Izuku comes to awareness slowly. He’s been sleeping a lot, he knows: he’s been so tired as of late, and he’s comfortable and doesn’t want to shake this softness off to face another day. This softness isn’t real, but he’ll cling to it as long as he can and -

The smell of antiseptic cuts through the fog of sleep. The softness is suddenly an oppressive weight: blankets pulled tight across his chest, coldness against his left hand and a pressure that implies a bandage. The smell of metal. Mostly female voices drift in from a distance and then the ring of a phone. Izuku will never forget those sounds, these smells, this feeling. 

His eyes open and confirm he’s in a hospital bed. He’s not restrained as he throws himself forward, yanking at the blankets, grabbing at the IV pole to shut off the feed of whatever they’re putting into him. He doesn’t realize he’s keening, breath short and sharp and painful, doesn’t realize he’s not alone as he reaches for the power to get out of here and realizes he doesn’t have enough, not yet, not yet and if they drug him again will he even remember how to and -

“Deku!” Solid hands touch him from behind and Izuku flails out and lands a solid punch on the nurse - which is stupid they’ll think he’s a threat now they’ll restrain him now they’ll -

It’s not a nurse.

Eraserhead has both hands up and empty and moves more towards the foot of the bed. “It’s all right, Deku, I’m right here, I didn’t leave. You passed out last night. You’re safe. I’m here. Just breathe.” 

It’s a litany, and one Izuku realizes he’s been hearing and ignoring since he first woke up. He wheezes as the tension in his chest lets go and he falls forward on the bed, gasping for air. Aizawa puts his hands on the bed in front of Izuku, lets him see them, then gently rubs his back in small circles. “You’ve been asleep for eleven hours. I’ve been with you, or had Mirio with you when they called me to look in on Eri. You had a concussion: the doctor treated that, and then they ran some blood tests because you didn’t wake up. The IV is just fluids: I asked them to only do what was absolutely necessary until you woke up.” 

Izuku tries his best to breathe, each gasp coming a little easier than the last. Aizawa keeps going. “You’re not crazy, Deku. I promise you that. No one here will sedate you or use their quirk against you. You have my word.”

Izuku manages to sit up and rubs at his face. The IV tugs at his hand but Aizawa is more important: Aizawa looks exhausted and his hair is messy and his expression is worn but his voice is kind and his hands are gentle and he stayed with Izuku all night and Izuku doesn’t want to cry but he feels his vision swimming anyway. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice hitching. “I’m -”

“Nothing you need to apologize for,” Aizawa cuts him off. He reaches for the roller clamp on the IV line and Izuku winces, but Aizawa just checks it to make sure it’s shut. “Thanks for not just yanking that out,” he intones, so dry Izuku has to chuckle wetly. 

“I might have done that before,” he admits, trying not to think about that memory too hard, eyeing the drip to make sure it’s really stopped. “It makes a mess.” 

“I’ll check with the nurse if we can take it out as soon as you’re settled,” Aizawa promises, and Izuku is so grateful his eyes well up again and he has to scrub his face to try to keep them from taking over. “How do you feel?”

Izuku takes stock. “Like I’ve been hit by a truck?”

Aizawa nods slowly, looking thoughtful. “And you’ve been hit by a truck before, have you?”

That makes him laugh. “No! No, just a bike, but... it feels like that but if it was a really big bike?” He shivers, less from the cold than from the shock and adrenaline. “Sorry,” he winces as he says it because Aizawa glares at him. “For freaking out, I-”

“I know,” Aizawa cuts him off again. “That’s why I stayed with you. I wasn’t going to have you wake up alone. It doesn’t matter.” He reaches and collects the blanket and pulls it firmly over Izuku’s lap, nudging him to settle while raising the bed to support his back. “What do you remember from last night?”

“Eri!” The memory hits him hard and he’s looking around, but there’s no sign of any spirit nearby and Aizawa puts a hand on his chest before he can try to get up. “Is she all right?” No wonder he’s so tired: he’d poured everything he had into fixing her - warming her up - and it had felt like trying to melt a glacier with his breath.

“Stable,” Aizawa says quickly. “Her quirk hasn’t flared up since you did… whatever it is you did.”

“I didn’t fix it,” Izuku admits, looking at his hands as they grip the blanket in his lap. “It’s really damaged. Shattered. I’ve never felt anything like it. I have to do a lot more.” He drags his eyes up and takes a breath and does his best not to look away from Aizawa’s gaze. “I’m going to have to keep helping her. For a while. I don’t know how long, but I can’t - I won’t leave her like that.” He doesn’t want to seem ungrateful or pushy but no one is going to be able to undo what was done except for him. 

“Tell me about it?” Aizawa doesn’t seem surprised at his declaration. “What’s wrong with Eri’s quirk?”

Izuku winces. “It’s been… shattered. Everyone else has been - you and Suneater and Uravity, you were… disconnected. Your spirit was there and you were there and it was like someone had just gone in with a knife and cut you apart. The power they gave you was there but you couldn’t use it any more. I had to…” He gestures with his hands, trying to symbolize it. “I tied you back together.” Like a bridge, Izuku thinks to himself, not sure if the thought makes him want to laugh or sigh. “But her power is there and all tangled up like it’s been cut and reconnected a hundred thousand times. It felt so brittle.”

“Chisaki’s quirk allowed him to disassemble and reassemble her,” Aizawa says, tonelessly, “Would that-”

“He killed her and then brought her back to life?”

Aizawa blinks like he hadn’t intended to phrase it quite that way, but he nods once. “Yes.”

“Gods,” Izuku covers his face with a hand and just rubs at his eyes, digging his fingers in at his temples. He feels ill at the thought. “When you die, your power is supposed to go back to the spirit who gave it to you, and then they… move on if they want another human, or do their own thing. Not… not that.

“That explains why her spirit seemed to take offence at you helping?” Aizawa suggests, and Izuku is just… so grateful that this man understands now. 

“He thought I was going to attack him,” Izuku is still a little sore from being thrown around. “I think he thought I’d take his name and just keep him for myself. I… I did that, once. I was eight and I didn’t know any better!” He knows Aizawa isn’t likely to judge him, after everything that he’s said, but it’s still something he’s ashamed of. “When I was small, when I realized I could, I tried to take Mom’s quirk. I wanted a quirk, a spirit, of my own so badly and I thought -” he’d thought a lot of things, but it had spent two days terrified, fighting against him, and when Izuku had finally let it go it never returned to the house, not once. “I’d never do that now. They always think I will, no matter what I say, they think what I did to Toga was just the start, but - “ He doesn’t need to whine about how unfair the spirits are, they’re spirits and they’ve always been this way. “Tamamo-no-Mae helped and convinced Eri’s spirit I was here for Eri, which is good because, uh, he’s a dragon. ” And he’d called Tamamo-no-Mae something else. Their conversation pretty obviously showed they knew one another, which might have maybe saved Izuku’s life. “I’ve never met a dragon before, they’re so rare.”

“So she convinced him to let you help, and you did,” Aizawa nods. “You passed out not long after that.”

“I might have used up most of my power,” Izuku agrees, feeling like he’s forgetting something. “It seemed like the best choice I could make at the time, I knew you and Tamamo-no-Mae would look after me.” Aizawa looks at him in surprise that turns into something soft and he smiles, just a little, and Izuku feels his cheeks warm. “I’m going to have to do more for her, I think, at least a few more times, but I think her spirit won’t attack me again and -”

The rest of the night before he’d passed out hits him in a sudden flash of so many teeth and Izuku stiffens as he remembers the spirit who’d appeared next to Mirio, familiar and yet not, and the way Mirio had stiffened and the way Aizawa had cursed and… “Oh.” 

“Oh?”

“I think you were hoping I didn’t remember the last bit?” he winces, looking through his bangs at Aizawa. “About Mirio?”

Aizawa’s lips go thin as he frowns and then sighs. “You sure you didn’t just see a spirit that looked like All Might’s?”

Izuku considers that but… “Spirits aren’t just how they look,” he admits, picking his words carefully. “They can change how they look, a lot of the time. It’s how he felt. I never met a spirit that had two humans before.” 

Aizawa blinks in surprise at that and then nods, like Izuku’s figured something out. “I can’t say much about it,” the man says after a moment, shifting to sit at the foot of Izuku’s hospital bed. “But Mirio is All Might’s successor.”

Izuku thinks about All Might, deflated and small. He’d wanted to help so badly but he’d been too late and so far away - he’d run away from the hero students in Kamino Ward, in case they’d tried to chase him, moving into the spirit realm and then out again at a shrine in Hamamatsu. By the time he could make his way back it would have been far too late, and so he’d made his way to Mustafu and camped outside UA’s walls instead, waiting for All Might to return to teaching. 

His spirit had been one of the most intimidating ones Izuku had met in appearance alone - a lion’s body with scaled legs and taloned feet, a segmented tail like a scorpion, leathery wings it kept close to its body and a lion’s head with rows and rows upon rows of teeth. It had met him outside UA’s walls, aggressive and angry, and rebuffed him at first until Izuku had broken down.

He would have given anything to save All Might, and said as much, and the spirit had finally taken pity on him and told him that All Might’s quirk wasn’t the thing that was broken - his body was. Izuku didn’t have anything he could do to fix that.

Izuku shakes himself from the memory and looks up at Aizawa. “Maybe his spirit is looking after Mirio, since All Might retired? I’ve never seen it happen, but I don’t know everything.”

“And here I took you for an expert,” Aizawa says with such a dry voice that Izuku grins. “I wanted to wait on this,” he continues, raising a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. “The plan wasn’t to just dump Eri on you first thing either, but… Mirio lost his quirk during the raid. The bullet that hit him was apparently a permanent type - the ones that hit us were theoretically short term.”

Izuku winces at the thought of Mirio losing his quirk and remembers how he’d stood in the station and proclaimed loudly that he wouldn’t help anymore - he’d been panicked but it was still so selfish - and then has to process the statement of short term and how maybe none of this would have happened if he’d just…. waited it out? He might have to think about that more, later, because he’s really not sure how to feel about it. 

There’s more important things to focus on, anyway. It’s been more than a month since the raid, which means Mirio’s been without his quirk for that long, which has to be terrible. Izuku tries to push himself off of the bed only for Aizawa to set a hand against his chest and push him back firmly. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Is Mirio here?” He’d said something about looking after Eri, so it’d make sense if he was by her room. He wonders why Mirio’s spirit - or maybe spirits? - aren’t banging down his theoretical door. “I can look and see -”

“Problem Child,” Aizawa pushes him back again. “You will do no such thing. May I remind you that you were unconscious last night. You gave us all a scare. You need to recover. Mirio has waited this long, he can wait a few days longer.” 

“But I might be able to help,” Izuku protests, uncomfortable with the idea of just lying back and waiting.

“You may well be able to. I hope you can, in fact, but it can wait, ” Aizawa intones in a voice that for the first time actually invites no argument. “You need to rest, unless you can tell me truthfully that you’re completely back to your normal, whatever that is.”

Izuku looks away, because Aizawa is right - he still feels hollowed out, even if he isn’t exactly empty. “Maybe not normal,” he admits grudgingly. “But I still need to help Eri.”

“We’ll talk about making a reasonable plan for that,” Aizawa says, a little gentler. “It’s good that you want to help but you’re not supposed to run yourself dry to do so, all right? We’ll take it one step at a time. I don’t know enough about your power, but I know teenagers and I know heroes, and you look like someone suffering from quirk exhaustion, so we’re going to treat it like that, all right?” 

“I… all right,” Izuku can recognize that this is an argument he can’t win. “So what… do we do?”

“Will you be all right if I go speak to the nurses and see if your doctor is back yet?” Aizawa looks around their small room and then shakes his head, seemingly at himself. Izuku realizes it’s because he was looking for spirits when he asks “Anyone here to keep you company?” 

“Not right now, but you can go. I’ll be ok as long as it’s not… too long?” Izuku’s hands fist in the blankets over his lap again. “It’s not… great being here, but it’s not too bad.” He’s not restrained, for one. He’s not being drugged. He can handle a few minutes alone.

“All right,” Aizawa nods and pats his clenched hands. “It’ll be quick. You still have your marker?”

Izuku blinks up at him, then checks the pocket of his borrowed hoodie, where the sharpie is still tucked next to the knife Aizawa had let him keep. “Yes?” he shows it.

“Then redo your marks,” Aizawa tells him. “It’s been more than 12 hours since your shower.”

Izuku stares at the man and knows he looks surprised, because he is surprised, but the surprise turns into something… warm and soft inside his chest, so different than the usual anxiety and tension that lives there. Aizawa had remembered. Aizawa had reminded him.

Aizawa had sat by his bed while he’d been unconscious and looked after him and Izuku feels a little misty eyed as he nods and reaches for his shirt hem to work on the sigils to ward him for the next 12 hours. 

Aizawa doesn’t say anything else, he just pats Izuku on the shoulder and promises he’ll be back as quickly as he can.

 

-----

 

“He’s anemic, like I suspected.” Dr Ogata says without preamble when Shota finds him and they can move to a quiet corner of the hospital floor. This isn’t a conversation Shota wants to have with Deku overhearing, at least not yet. “I spoke to my colleague about what to test for, and he’s negative for TB and diabetes and we’re running a drug test just to be sure, but if you’re worried about use, we should do a full screen. He needs more vitamins in general, but that’s to be expected with the brief history you gave, especially D and B and Thiamine. You can fix that by getting him to eat a properly balanced diet and some supplements, and I don’t think I need to point out he’s underweight.” 

Shota appreciates Ogata a lot - the man understands him well enough not to sugar coat anything, and gets right to the point. He continues: “Nurse Ito checked him over with her quirk and reports he has healed fractures in his wrists and forearms, healed breaks in three fingers that are several years old at this point, a fractured collarbone that happened when he was young, very mild scoliosis, and that he does in fact have a toe joint. She only does bones, but she suspects if someone were to check his joints and soft tissue we’d see similar evidence of trauma.” 

Shota isn’t surprised, it’s frankly less of a list than he feared. “He’s not going to handle hospitals well: I think he’d have teleported straight out, IV and all, if he’d had the power to when he woke up. Blind panic. I want to take him home as soon as we can. I’m not worried about drug use, and I can work on getting a full history from him before we run more tests.”

Ogata nods. “Tsukauchi sent the paperwork over so we can release him into your custody. We’ve gotten fluids into him and I’d like to give him a full physical, but treatment can start with you if you think it will keep him from running away again.” 

Shota thinks about the keening panic Deku had woke with. There’s no way in hell they’re going to be able to rush this. “I’ll get us started. He trusts me at the moment, so I’ll work on warming him up to the idea of a proper physical in a week or two. If you can ask the nurse to get a baseline of his vitals now, and we can see how that compares to what we saw last night and the next time he works with Eri, it’ll be a good start.”

Ogata pushes his glasses up on his nose. The man had been far more wrinkled when Shota had seen him last - Eri’s quirk had put a lot more youthful elasticity back into his skin. “Speaking of which, I want the rest of his sessions with Eri monitored.” He’s glaring, but it’s nowhere near his usual force. “It’s dangerous to have someone with an unknown, untested quirk work on someone so fragile.” 

“Notice how you’re not suggesting we stop.”

Ogata sighs and shakes his head. “Considering our options, I am willing to be more lax in protocol if you are vouching for the boy. Simply put, Aizawa, we can’t do much for her here. Frankly, I am going to suggest they pull you from active duty until she’s more stable.”

“What?” Shota blinks in surprise, because the doctor hasn’t ever mentioned this before.

“You were gone for five days by our count, more than five hours away if something had happened on Friday, and then completely lost to us for four days more. In that time Eri’s quirk ate through larger and larger doses of suppressant medication until we were trying to balance between sedating her, controlling her quirk, and not stopping her heart. Cuffs cause her such panic that her quirk turns inward and reset her to a point where she was bleeding internally when we last tried them. Mirio has been an asset, but he is also at great risk. I can’t just keep older nurses and doctors on hand who are willing to chance being hit by her quirk. It must be monitored.” Ogata looks up at Shota and his eyes are tired. It’s testament to the fact that what felt like hours in Deku’s ‘personal hell’ was far longer for everyone else. 

“What do you suggest?” Shota finds himself asking, even though he has a sinking suspicion to what the rest of this conversation is going to entail.

----

Deku’s curled on the bed with his knees high against his chest and staring at the door as Shota walks in. The way the kid instantly relaxes is both heartwarming and sad as hell, but he doesn’t comment on it. Instead he gestures to the nurse next to him. “They’re going to disconnect the IV and I’ve already got your paperwork. You’re going to be good to go.” 

“You look… worried?” Deku admits, even as he watches the nurse with a hawk-like gaze. She simply sets to work, rolling a cart next to the bed and reaching for Deku’s hand, removing the tape and bandage and then the IV, tsking at the fact it had been clamped shut in advance but saying nothing. She moves to take his blood pressure and Deku thankfully lets her without complaint.

“I believe the line you would use is that things have become complicated, but I will explain on the way. We’re going to be escorting Eri to UA.”

“We are?” Deku sits up straighter as the nurse presses a stethoscope above the cuff. “Is she all right?”

“Stable,” Shota says, which isn’t a yes, and Deku frowns in a way that suggests he knows that much himself. Thankfully the kid doesn’t fight him - the nurse gets the rest of his baseline readings that will go into the scant file they’ve started on Deku that will hopefully help Shota look after this kid properly, and then she rolls the cart away after making Deku promise to listen to Shota and not overexert himself for at least another day.

Deku looks frighteningly confused as she leaves, right hand covering the bandage on his left and quiet as Shota comes up to the bed. “You all right, Problem Child?”

Deku nods and looks up at him with an uneven smile. “Been a long time since… um. I’m just used to nurses being a bit more…” he doesn’t finish the thought, and Shota doesn’t need him to. 

“Tell me if you’re not up to walking and we’ll get you a chair,” Shota says rather than pressing, but Deku gets up to his feet and seems more stable than he’d have expected. 

“Really, I’m ok,” he says, hands instantly hiding in the pockets of Shinso’s hoodie. “I don’t have a lot of power, but that’s not directly connected to me being able to be… normal, I guess?”

“Something we can hammer out when we get home,” Shota agrees, setting a hand across Deku’s back and guiding him to the door. Better to get them moving now, but… “We’ll be riding with Mirio,” he adds before they’re out. “For now, don’t mention his quirk or what it might look like. That’s a conversation he needs to have with you later in private, all right?”

“Sure?” Deku shrugs under his hand. “I can do that.”

“Thought you could,” Shota agrees, and decides the rest can wait until they’re on the road.

The doctors move quick - Ogata’s set up matters with UA, Nedzu and Shuzenji before even speaking to Shota, and so they follow as a sleeping Eri is bundled into an ambulance with a nurse, Mirio sitting up front with the EMT driving, and Shota and Deku strapped into fold out seats in the back across from the nurse.  

“Any company with us?” Shota asks as the doors close and Deku spends time just staring around at the interior of the ambulance. 

“No,” Deku shakes his head. Makes sense: he’d mentioned spirits didn’t like vehicles much and tended to just follow along with their human. He wonders about how speed works for them, if they have different abilities depending on power and type - but that’s a conversation for later. If he winds Deku up on that now, it might last the whole ride.

“So I know I said you had a place with us,” Shota begins - and fuck but Deku tenses before he’s even finished saying that much. “Which is still the case. I meant what I said. It’s not much to start with but we can change that, and the offer’s open full stop. I also meant what I said about sponsoring you for UA.”

Deku hunches in on himself. “I can’t go to UA,” he says, voice small. “I haven’t even gone to school properly in… in years, and I don’t…”

“I think your quirk has a lot of potential,” Shota says, gentling his voice at how small Deku’s made himself at the suggestion. “I think you are incredibly intelligent and could become a hero if you wanted to focus on that, or a quirk counselor, or anything else with the right support. We’re going to make sure you can get that.” 

Deku looks up at him, eyes bright. “I always dreamed of going to UA,” he admits, voice hushed. “Do you really think?”

“I do,” Shota nods. “You’ll have catching up to do, but we can work on that. But the reason I bring it up is Eri.”

“Eri?”

“The hospital doesn’t feel comfortable keeping her in the hero ward when they can’t control her quirk. I can, but it’s too far from campus or the apartment to get there quickly. I can’t stay away from campus - I’ve already been away for far too long.”

“Sorry.”

“Not your fault,” Shota continues smoothly. “So while I am still offering you a place with us in our apartment, I am going to be spending however long is needed on campus to monitor Eri. Shinso stays in the dorms already, so you’d be home with Hizashi in the evenings if you stayed at the apartment, which I know wasn’t what I implied.” Shota had intended to at least spend a week or two at the apartment in the evenings with the kid and get him settled before returning to the dorms. “Would you be all right staying at UA while we look after Eri?”

Deku looks at Eri and seems to be torn. “I… don’t know?” he admits as he watches the rise and fall of her tiny chest. “On one hand it’s UA, but a school will have a lot of people and spirits…”

“Whatever you need to do to be comfortable,” Shota assures him. “You said something about setting wards. Can we do that?”

“Not for the whole school!” Deku actually laughs at the suggestion. “That’d be - wow, that’d be a lot, and then I’d be keeping spirits from being able to watch their humans… but if I can set up a room maybe?”

“Whatever you need,” Shota assures him as Eri begins to stir. “And look who’s waking up.”

Eri blinks into awareness, worried for a moment probably at the motion of the ambulance, until her eyes find Aizawa and she sits up weakly. “Aizawa-sensei! You’re back!” 

He reaches to smooth down her hair: at first it had been one of the few places he could touch her without causing hurt, and now it’s just a habit that she seems to appreciate based on the way she leans into it. “I’m sorry if I worried you,” he tells her. “I was fighting a villain and needed rescue. This is Deku.”

She turns wide eyes to Deku, who looks at her with a smile that starts soft but grows and grows in brilliance. It’s the happiest Shota’s ever seen the kid look, and weirdly it also seems to be genuine. “Hello Eri,” Deku tells her. “It’s nice to meet you properly. Aizawa-sensei has told me so much about you.” 

“Deku’s got a quirk that lets him repair quirks like yours,” Shota tells her. “We’re going to be staying at UA for the next few days so that we can look after you while I ensure my class doesn’t burn the building down.”

Eri giggles at him almost silently but it’s still an achievement: when he’d first said anything similar to her, she’d simply assumed he was telling the truth and stared at him. Now she looks around the ambulance and says hello to the quiet nurse before looking back to Shota. “Where’s Mirio?”

“I’m just sitting up front Eri!” he calls from the passenger seat. “Are you doing ok?”

“Yes,” she says quietly, then looks up at Shota. “I hurt someone again.”

“Dr Ogata?” he asks, and she nods. “You didn’t hurt him. Your quirk activated and he’s a bit younger than he was last week, but he isn’t hurt or upset at you for it.”

She doesn’t look like she believes him, and Shota makes a note to get the doctor to video call them as soon as they have her settled. Deku, meanwhile, points out the stickers that adorn Eri’s IV and asks her what they’re from.

When he admits he’s never heard of Idol Heart Mermaid Stars and asks her to tell him about it, Shota thinks… well. He thinks Eri’s going to have another stout supporter. Good. She needs all the help she can get, and looking after her might keep Deku from panicking too much about UA.

 

-------

 

UA is everything Izuku ever dreamed of and also kind of terrifying.

Aizawa offers him a room in the dorms with the other first year students and Izuku instantly says no to that, that’s too much, he’s not a student and he’s not a hero and he’d stick out like a sore thumb. He considers the offer to just stay in the apartment with Present Mic but he doesn’t really know him, not really, and it feels too much like he’ll be interfering and just be a pain. He doesn’t want to cause trouble.

The compromise is a room next to Eri’s, next to the infirmary. Aizawa warns him he’ll probably hear a lot because a hero school employs someone like Recovery Girl for a reason, but Izuku reminds him he’s stayed in rented rooms for a while now and he’s used to all sorts of things, and Aizawa just does the frown-not-frown thing where he’s trying not to look conflicted about something that’s normal for Izuku and he lets it go. 

He’d worried that the room would remind him too much of the care facility he’d been placed in, but Aizawa had actually thought of that too. The hospital bed is instantly wheeled out and a dorm room bed is brought in. The white bedsheets are replaced with dark green, same with the pillows, and someone brings in a plant in a pot - not a little bunch of flowers to go in the window sill - an actual potted plant as tall as Izuku. And then they’d given him his backpack.

Izuku still can’t believe it, really, but they’d apparently checked the buildings and found his stuff and just… brought it all back in case it had clues to where he’d taken Aizawa. And they hadn’t damaged anything - all his gofu are there, stacked and waiting, and his spare clothes and his notebooks (which they probably read, which is really embarrassing) and his little first aid kit and his emergency blanket and his actual woven blanket. They’d left the futon, which was… probably for the best, really, and his water bottle was missing, but that’s it.

Now he sets up the wards all around the room. Aizawa had given him tape and said it was ok to use that on the walls, and Izuku takes him at his word. By the time he’s done his thumbs hurt a bit (adding blood to the paper prayers makes them a lot stronger, he’d found) and every corner and wall of the room is warded. Izuku feels safe for the first time in days. Nothing has ever broken through his wards as long as they’re maintained. He thinks they’ll hold even against Eri’s spirit.

He hopes Tamamo-no-Mae doesn’t take offence. He hasn’t seen her since she helped with Mizuchi. He kind of hopes the two of them are catching up, since Eri’s spirit also hasn’t made an appearance since last night. 

He curls on the bed to rest a bit, marveling at clean sheets and soft pillows that aren’t at all the hard dense foam he remembers from the facility, and he doesn’t even realize he’s fallen asleep until Aizawa knocks on his door that evening with a plate of food and a promise to give Izuku a tour of the school now that classes are done.

Touring the school is amazing and Aizawa seems to enjoy watching Izuku flail because he never tells him to be quiet or stop talking, even as Izuku goes off on tangent after tangent about the various heroes who graduated from UA or teach here. It’s actually really nice, to get to just walk and talk with Aizawa and for it to be relaxed, even as the hero points out the teacher’s lounge and Nedzu’s office and the auditorium and the east training gymnasium and the west training grounds and where the USJ is in the distance, and Izuku is too happy to be inside UA to dwell too hard on why he’d never been able to even apply to it when he’d turned fifteen. 

Aizawa prods him gently on his not-a-quirk and they set up a plan for looking after Eri, with sessions every evening after classes, because Aizawa wants to be there to supervise with the nurse but he needs to get back to his actual job teaching 1A, of course. Izuku wants to try for more but the look Aizawa gives him says he’s going to get scolded if he suggests it.

“What about Mirio?” he asks as they head back to his borrowed room. 

“Mirio will speak to you and we’ll see how you feel after your session with Eri tomorrow, all right?”

Izuku nods and yawns as Aizawa puts him to bed. “I’ll be in the dorms, but the nurse next door can call me if you need me,” he tells Izuku as Izuku fights to keep his eyes open. He hasn’t had someone put him to bed since his mother died, and his whole chest feels warm as Aizawa tucks blankets around him with gentle hands. “I’ll drop by at lunch tomorrow, all right? And we’ll go shopping Sunday to get you more necessities. Try to stay out of trouble until then.”

Izuku manages to grin. “But then I wouldn’t be Problem Child?”

“You’d be Problem Child even if you sat quietly in a corner all day with your hands in your lap,” Aizawa tells him, but he says it with warmth and a smile in his eyes, so it makes Izuku feel good, not sad. “Just do your best.”

“All right,” Izuku promises, and Aizawa brushes his hand through his messy hair and it’s so warm that Izuku falls asleep thinking that maybe things will actually, finally, maybe, be ok.

-----

The next few days take on a pattern, except for one thing: Mirio is totally avoiding him.  

Eri says that Mirio visits, but Friday passes and Izuku catches no sight of him, and Saturday he waits with his door open and still sees nothing and he starts to think he’s done something wrong when he finally hears Eri’s quiet whisper of a giggle coming from her room in the late afternoon. 

He creeps over and feels almost bad for not knocking, but he peeks inside and there’s Eri, in Mirio’s lap in the bed, the two of them reading a giant book and Mirio making animal noises.

“Where's my cow? Is that my cow?” Mirio reads, expressions exaggerated. “ It goes, ‘Hruuugh!’ It is a hippopotamus! That's not my cow!” The hruuugh line is said with such effort that Mirio’s face turns red. Eri giggles all the more.

Izuku decides to leave them to it, but also might decide to park himself on the floor outside Eri’s room and wait for him to emerge. He sits with his brand new notebook, legs crossed, and leans against the doorframe and jots down everything he knows about his quirk and how it works with other quirks and what he’s been able to do. Aizawa had called it ‘homework’ and Izuku is honestly pretty excited to turn jumbled thoughts into something cohesive, especially with proper materials to do so. Aizawa had shown up the day before with handfuls of school supplies and a promise to let Izuku pick out his own on Sunday, but he wants to get started now. 

It’s probably a solid hour before the door opens and Mirio literally tries to creep out. Izuku looks up at him and waves. “Hi.”  

Mirio jumps four feet in the air. “Ahhhrgle!”

Izuku scrambles to his feet. “Sorry!” he says as Mirio clutches at his chest dramatically. “I just - I really wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t want to interrupt your time with Eri, she really seems to enjoy it and she needs to relax and not worry, but I wanted to talk to you, I was worried you might be upset and -”

Mirio holds up his hands just the way Izuku does when he’s trying to calm someone down and it’s so familiar Izuku stops long enough for Mirio to interject. “I’m not upset!” he assures, worried but warm. “You didn’t do anything wrong, I just wanted to give you time! I didn’t want to pressure you, or push, and uh. My quirk’s…” Mirio sags and a hand goes behind his head to tug at the hair at the nape of his neck. “It kind of surprised me, what you said before, and it’s complicated.” 

Complicated makes Izuku laugh. “Well, everything about me is complicated, and I want to help? So if you want to get your quirk back, would it be ok if I tried?”

“Are you sure?” Mirio hesitates, but there’s open longing in his expression. “I know you’ve been helping Eri and it leaves you tired…”

“I’m sure!” Warming up the ice field that was Eri’s quirk was already easier after a day, there’s already grass growing in the little space he sits in, and Izuku doesn’t think reconnecting a quirk will be like repairing Eri’s, they’ve never really taken much energy. “I want to at least try? If I think it’ll take a lot, we can decide if I should keep going or if I should stop and wait?”

Mirio shifts from one foot to the other. “If you’re sure?”

Izuku gestures next door. “Do you want to do it in my room? Aizawa said you’d need to talk about it.”

Mirio nods and the two of them troop inside. Izuku shuts the door as Mirio sits in the desk chair, and Izuku takes a moment to pull down three of the wards that protect the wall by the door, and the door itself. Mirio looks at him in confusion as he holds the gofu in one hand, and Izuku flushes a bit as he sets them on the desk. “They keep your spirit out, and that’d be rude if I’m working on your quirk.” he explains, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. “Um. I mean, what did Aizawa tell you about how I see things?”

“That quirks manifest to you as creatures you can see and manipulate,” Mirio answers easily. “Prayers keep them out?”

“Complicated,” Izuku decides to go with, rather than explain all the details right now, even if Mirio seems really nice. “It’s complicated but yeah, they listen to wards so I don’t have to worry about them. Sometimes they, uh, get upset when I’m around because they don’t like that I can see them. That’s what happened the other night with Eri.”

Mirio nods, frowning in thought. “You told Sir they spoke to you. It must be hard hearing and seeing something no one else can!”

Izuku blinks. “Ah. Um. Yes? Yes it’s… hard.” Understatement of the year but also he’s far too surprised at Mirio just…. believing him. He doesn’t even sound doubtful. “But there’s some good things! I get to help people when their quirks don’t quite work right.”

“Aizawa-sensei told me about the little girl you helped!” Mirio enthuses, smiling brightly. “And of course Eri, and all the heroes you helped already!”

Izuku has to laugh at how bright Mirio is. “This… is a pretty nice change from everyone thinking I’m a villain or a weird experiment.”

Mirio looks away at that. “I’m sorry,” he offers, so suddenly sad that Izuku has to flail, palms out. 

“You don’t need to apologize! I was mostly joking! It was just a misunderstanding! And I think I would have thought the same, in their place, I mean, I’m really weird...” He trails off as Mirio’s shoulders sag more.

“Sir was the one who thought that, and he’s the one who told all the other heroes about you,” Mirio’s voice is quiet and sad. “I think he would have liked to meet you properly. He’d like you, once he understood.”

Sir finally clicks as Sir Nighteye and Izuku thinks he might doubt the idea that the hero would trust him, but he also can’t bring himself to argue with Mirio over the hero when he’d died to help save Eri. It’s obvious Mirio liked him a lot, and might even have been there when Nighteye was killed from what Aizawa had said.

“I’m sorry he’s gone,” Izuku tells him, and means it even if Nighteye had frightened him, he’d still been an amazing hero. 

“Me too,” Mirio nods, but then he forces himself to smile (it doesn’t reach his eyes) and he makes a fist. “That’s why I want to be the best hero I can be! Plus Ultra! I want to live up to everything he taught me!”

“Well then, let’s fix your quirk!” Izuku pastes a smile on his face to match and digs out his ever-present marker. Aizawa had given him five, all different colors. “I just need to mark your hand.”

“I, um. First, Aizawa said you recognized All Might’s quirk?”

Izuku nods. “His spirit was next to you when I finished helping Eri. At first I thought it was yours, somehow, but then I realized he was probably just looking after you. Aizawa’s spirit’s looked after me, and you’re All Might’s successor, Aizawa said?”

Mirio’s smile falters for a moment and then he looks at the door. “Aizawa said I should tell you, because you can keep secrets…”

Izuku blinks. “Of course. I wouldn’t share anything you didn’t want me to, unless I thought I really had to, I mean, if it was dangerous or someone was going to get hurt.”

Mirio laughs awkwardly, hand behind his head. “The weird thing is Aizawa technically doesn’t even know, though I guess he’s guessed? All Might didn’t tell him, I asked, but…” Mirio trails off and Izuku waits: if Mirio wants to tell him, he can be patient, and if he changes his mind that’s ok too.

Eventually Mirio takes a breath and his smile turns into something a lot more wry and less brilliant. “When Aizawa-sensei said I was All Might’s successor, he was right.”

Izuku nods, and waits.

“I have his quirk,” he continues. “I mean, he gave me his quirk. It can be passed down from hero to hero, and that’s why it’s a secret, because if anyone knew -”

“You’d have all sorts of villains after you,” Izuku breathes out in instant, sympathetic horror. “Wow, I’ve never heard of a quirk like that, I mean, I wonder how it started - do you know how many people have had it before you? I wonder if the spirit meant for that to happen originally. He never said anything when I met him before, oh - when did All Might give you his quirk? Was it after the fight in Kamino? I know he retired after that so -”

Mirio cuts him off, which is maybe good because Izuku’s mind is going a mile a minute. “It was before Kamino,” he says, looking a bit overwhelmed at Izuku’s questions and whoops, he should probably be more careful, but at least Mirio isn’t yelling. “I… don’t know how much I should tell you.”

<< We would prefer he told you nothing at all>> Mirio - All Might’s? - spirit says, walking through the unwarded wall. << We want nothing to do with you.>>

Izuku hesitates, because Mirio believes him but Mirio also might second guess that if he hears him just talking to thin air. << I just want to fix his connection to… you? You and his other spirit? I haven’t seen them, yet.>>

<< Because they are we and we are us.>> The spirit pads closer but it at least isn’t being aggressive. Which isn’t that much of a reassurance when it very nearly fills the front half of the room. << We are one and all and all in one. >>  He’s never met a spirit quite like this before, with a voice layered and echoing in his head.

“Deku?” Mirio says, cautiously. “Are you ok?”

“Uh… yeah um. Your spirit showed up. Sorry.”

“Oh!” Mirio looks around but obviously sees nothing. “Um. Could you tell them I’m sorry about getting shot?”

The spirit gives the biggest sigh Izuku has ever heard and he can’t help it: he laughs. “Sorry!” he admits as the spirit and Mirio both look at him. “I mean, I don’t think anyone thinks you got shot on purpose, Mirio.”

It takes some of the tension out of the room as Mirio ducks his head and his spirit sits on the floor in front of them, tucking his legs under his body like a big cat - which he is, just with a lot of… extras. He doesn’t remember him having horns, before, but maybe it just liked wearing various things like accessories. << You may call me One for All,>> the spirit says, unaware of Izuku’s mental catalog of his parts. << Mirio will understand what that means.>>

“Ok… he says his name is One for All?” Izuku repeats, and Mirio reels back in surprise. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No! No, not at all, just - uh, hah, don’t say that anywhere someone else can hear? It’s a secret.” Mirio looks a little panicked.

“How did you know his name? Have you seen him - your spirit - before? Or All Might?” It’s the first time Izuku’s ever met someone who knew their spirit’s name.

“It’s the name of my quirk - All Might’s, I mean. One for All is the name of the quirk that gets passed down, and it’s a secret. Please. ” Mirio looks pained.

It’s hard to make someone who’s only just met you trust that you’ll keep their secrets, but Izuku does his best.  “I won’t say anything, I promise. I think, actually, from what he’s saying is that, well, whatever spirit your quirk was before, it’s now part of him?” He looks to the lion-creature and it nods its giant head slowly. “But when you - when All Might gave you his quirk, did it take away your original quirk? It was permeation, right?”

Mirio frowns. “My quirk got stronger, but mostly I just got All Might’s strength. I was learning how to use it, use both, without using too much, but they both worked fine until the bullet.” Mirio looks towards the closed door, thoughtful. “We’d hoped maybe Eri could use her quirk to help me, but she’s so afraid of her quirk, of hurting people, I don’t know if she’d ever even want to try.”

From what Eri’s said to him already, Izuku can understand that. “Hopefully it won’t come to that. I’ll try - that is, if One for All doesn’t mind?”

“Wait, does he not want to?” Mirio straightens up and looks around the room. “Because if he doesn’t, I don’t know if we should…” 

It’s Izuku’s turn to be surprised and taken aback as Mirio worries about something that… no one else before this week had ever really believed were real (besides his mom) and here Mirio is worrying about if he should get his quirk back. Said spirit sighs again, heavily, and actually rolls its eyes at Mirio. << Tell this child I am angry at those who created the bullets, not at him. As for you , I know what you are.>>

Izuku sighs to echo the spirit. “I’m the bridge, yes, but I really haven’t earned any of the other names everyone calls me. I really don’t want to hurt you or take your power or anything like that. I told Mizuchi the same thing I tell everyone. I want to help humans, and I help spirits who ask me. That’s it.” 

One for All snorts and smoke trails from his nose. Izuku wonders if he can breathe fire as well - he really wants to ask what kind of spirit he is, but this isn’t really the time or place for it. << That remains to be seen. You are young: age makes monsters out of men.>>

Izuku doesn’t mean to get upset, he really doesn’t, but it’s just not fair. “Don’t you think treating me like I’m some villain and beating me up and calling me names all the time might maybe be a self fulfilling prophecy? Why does everyone think I’m just going to rip out your names and use you when I did it once to one spirit when I didn’t know what I was doing and any other time it’s been in self defence and I never keep anyone for myself! It’s just! Argh!” His hands fist in his bedspread and then he remembers Mirio is watching him and gods he’s making a fool of himself and Izuku covers his face with his hands for a moment and just breathes deeply. “You know what, nevermind. Nevermind. Mirio, he isn’t angry at you. One for All, I just need to know if you’ll let me fix this.”

“Are you ok?” Mirio asks, gently.

“Spirits don’t like me,” Izuku tells him, without any energy to try to soften the fact. He rubs at his forehead and around his temples because it lets go of some of the tension there. “They usually assume I’m going to try to enslave them and it’s just - it’s a thing. I’m fine.” He’d had two spirits one after another, Tamamo-no-Mae and Nousagi, be kind to him and understand that he just wanted to help. Apparently that was going to be his max for the foreseeable future. “He just needs to say if he’s going to fight me.”

<< Why? You can force me even if I say no - would you withhold his power from him?>>

“Oh for-” Izuku bites at his palm so he doesn’t scream. It helps him sound sane and stable when he snaps out a reply. “Yes. In fact - Mirio - if your quirk didn’t want to come back, would you expect me to force it?”

Mirio recoils back from him. “Of course not! Why would I do that?”

“Yeah, me neither and yet we’re having this conversation,” Izuku glares at One for All. “So yes, no, or say if you need more time and we’ll wait.” 

The scorpion tail flicks back and forth like a cat’s, but Izuku is too tired of this to be intimidated. He stares and waits and the spirit stares and waits and finally it’s the one to look away. <<    Fix us, if you can.>>

Not the most glowing of acceptances but he’ll take it. Izuku gestures to Mirio for his hand. “Ok, he’s stopped sulking,” he says - which makes the spirit bristle and Mirio grin so Izuku takes it as a win. “Let’s see what we can do.”

“It’s ok if it doesn’t work,” Mirio assures, even though Izuku can tell it would be very much not ok, he appreciates how hard Mirio is trying for his sake. 

“I’m going to do my best,” Izuku promises him as he adds the sigil to his own hand. He’s done this more in the last few months than he’s done in the previous twelve. It’s actually nice, being able to do something good for people with what he can do. He closes his eyes and reaches out toward the connection with Mirio and his disconnected power.

Fields of wheat, shelves of books, deep black oceans and mazes of tall dead hedges, Izuku’s seen all sorts of echoes of a person’s self. This is the first time he’s looked at someone’s core and felt like his face was about to melt off.  

He rocks back into himself, blinking sunspots from his eyes that aren’t really there but somehow are at the same time. “Ouch.”

“What happened?” Mirio’s instantly leaning in, looking him over and worried. “Are you ok? Did something attack you?”

Izuku almost wants to hug Mirio, or at least give him something really very nice, for the fact that he’s the first person to take Izuku’s explanations  at face value like this. Instead he shakes his head and drags up a smile. “No, I’m ok, your power just, uh surprised me. You’re very… bright.”

“Bright?”

“It felt like looking into the sun,” Izuku admits.

He has no idea why Mirio laughs so hard, but he accepts the invitation out to dinner later with Mirio and his classmates - including Suneater - when Mirio promises he’ll understand better to meet them.

Reaching back, he’s better prepared for the intensity, this time, and can find the looming darkness that seems to separate Mirio’s bright light and his spirit’s power. And what power - Mirio’s brilliant as a sun but One for All feels like Izuku’s discovered a supernova. He can’t even imagine trying to tap into that power for himself even if he wanted to - he thinks he’d melt.

When he comes back into himself properly the second time, after clearing away the darkness and ensuring that Mirio’s spirit is properly tethered to his human, new or otherwise, Izuku opens his eyes and instantly slaps his hands over them. “Your - your clothes!” he tells Mirio, feeling his face heat up.

Mirio’s laughing though, phased halfway through the chair and whooping with joy, and Izuku can’t help but laugh as well.

----

Aizawa, true to his word, takes Izuku shopping on Sunday.

It passes in a bit of a blur: the initial plan of going to a mall works for two stores before Izuku is constantly being tripped, pushed, or knocked around. There’s just too many people which means too many spirits and if he apologizes to Aizawa one more time he thinks the man might actually yell at him for it. Instead, Aizawa takes them outside with what purchases they had managed: some t-shirts, some track pants, some shorts because it’s still hot, plus socks and underwear. (Izuku does not want to admit he’s the most excited about the new socks and underwear.)

They move to smaller stores after that - though Aizawa has to call someone to ask for advice on where to go - and then Aizawa uses his quirk, just randomly and aimed at no one in specific.

“Aizawa?” Izuku asks, looking around in confusion.

“She show up yet?” he replies, and Izuku realizes he’s calling for Tamamo-no-Mae.

A moment later she does appear, in her fox form, and she looks up at Aizawa and then to Izuku curiously. “Uh, she’s here,” Izuku tells the man.

“Good. Can she keep the spirits around you from bugging you while we shop?”

“I, uh, that’s not - she’s not -” Izuku starts because this is not what spirits do and Aizawa could at least ask nicely!

<< Tell him I will watch out for you,>> Tamamo-no-Mae laughs. << Though if you avoid more crowded areas that would help. I can feel the ire directed at you from here and even I have my limits.>> 

Izuku relays the information and Aizawa just nods at where Izuku had been looking. “Good. Thanks. Let’s go - Hizashi says there’s shops down the street that should be quieter.”

‘Quieter’ is still busy for a city so close to Tokyo, but it’s better than a mall and Izuku finds himself with new shoes and a new backpack, more stationary and notebooks, toiletries so he isn’t using tiny sample ones from Midnight, and then Aizawa takes them to a cell phone dealer and Izuku… panics. “You don’t need to!” he says, flailing a bit. “I have a phone! I just - um, a sim card? I usually only use it for wifi at hotspots because it doesn’t have a connection…”

Aizawa gives him the most dismissive look Izuku’s seen from him. “The phone with the crack through the screen? That one?”

“It mostly works?” Izuku tries.

That doesn’t work.

At least, he tells himself, Aizawa is buying one of the lower end, less expensive phones, and it isn’t on a contract. At least Aizawa knows better than to plan for Izuku staying forever, because, well, what if things change? What if the spirits get too annoying and they can’t deal with him? What if Hitoshi doesn’t like sharing his parents? Izuku wants this but he’s also going to be realistic. It’s better to plan for when things go wrong, so that he can land on his feet and keep going. He doesn’t want to cause anyone trouble. He doesn’t want to be a bother.

He doesn’t want Aizawa to regret giving him even this much.

Yamada too has a surprise for him when they get back to UA, just in time to do another session with Eri who’s quirk is improving in leaps and bounds. The teacher is dressed in casual clothes with his hair tied back and in a comfortable looking long sleeved shirt, holding a box that he pushes into Izuku’s hands the minute they appear in the corridor. “There you are!” he says, and Izuku’s already gotten used to the volume that Yamada speaks in. “Shota here asked me to run my own errand for you while you two were out - there ya go! Let me know if anything doesn’t work, I gotta jet, it’s game night with Nemuri and Sekijiro and they’re going to eat all the snacks if I’m late!”

Izuku stares down at the box as Yamada pats Aizawa on the shoulder and dashes off down the hall. 

It’s a laptop. It’s a laptop. They are giving him a laptop.

Aizawa sighs. “It’s only logical, Problem Child, now don’t cry we needed something for you to do schoolwork on…”

------

On Tuesday, Izuku gets called to Mr Principal’s office for some ‘testing’ which Aizawa had assured him was just a way to see where Izuku stood on standardized levels, so that they knew where to start with getting him back up to speed. Izuku’s not sure it’s worth it - he’s probably way too far behind to ever qualify for UA even with help - but he can’t say he doesn’t want it. He’d technically had online schooling, once he’d been put in the facility, and when he’d escaped they’d never deactivated his account. He’d tried to spend as much time as he could in the library working on assignments, trying to keep up on the off chance that he’d maybe one day be able to get off the streets and get a proper job somewhere. Math had been the hardest, but he’d actually liked most subjects, and the librarians never bothered him when they saw what he was working on. 

He has no idea if it’s going to be of any help, but all he can do is try his best and he does. There’s written tests, those are familiar, and oral tests, Izuku’s English isn’t very good he knows, and then Mr Principal asks him questions - questions about spirits, questions about quirks, questions about heroes, questions about hero laws and vigilantes and All Might’s rise and the hero scoring system and meal plans and what the economy of Kotobukicho had been like compared to Minami Ward and Izuku’s head is spinning by the time he’s done, and the the clock reads well past 4 - class is out for the day.

“Good work!” Principal Nedzu says, his dark eyes so sharp in his small face. Above him is his quirk that he’d asked Izuku about - a giant burning mandala that had said nothing the entire time, even when Izuku had greeted it. Intimidating, but after meeting Mizuchi and One for All, not nearly as intimidating as it could be. 

The principal dismisses Izuku without any real indication of how well he’s done, and sends him off to meet with Aizawa. He’s glad that the hallways are empty - Izuku’s tried to avoid anywhere where the students might be because their spirits sometimes like to just get in his way and he doesn’t want to look even stranger than he already must, the weird kid with a visitor’s badge around a lanyard on his neck, not even in any uniform. Thankfully he’s been able to hide in his room when class is in session, and he and Eri have lunch together brought up to them by a teacher so he can avoid the cafeteria. He  really hasn’t needed to cross paths with anyone much and so he’s relaxed as he heads back from Nedzu’s office, lost in thought as he makes his way toward the teacher’s lounge. He’s very nearly there when a voice shouts out “Deku!?”

He turns and is faced with a taller blonde boy with a scowl on his face, a sloppy uniform, and a vaguely familiar looking spirit. One Izuku thinks he’s seen in passing at least, though that doesn’t say much. “Hey! Deku! What the fuck!” The last word is emphasized by a small explosion in the other boy’s hands, flaring loud and bright but brief. Some sort of explosive quirk? Izuku doesn’t remember seeing that in the Sports Festival, but maybe the student had to abstain. 

He backs up as the other boy storms closer and Izuku has to duck and dodge away as the blonde tries to pin him against the wall. “What are you doing? ” Izuku has to ask, flabbergasted. He’s been in the school for days, everyone should know that he’s no longer a ‘person of interest’ by now. “Did you not get the memo? Aizawa brought me here.”

“What the hell do you think you’re even doing here, shitty Deku!” The explosions pop off again and Izuku tries to dodge from the hands but the other boy is fast and trained - he catches him and slams Izuku against the wall hard. One hand stays balled in his shirt, the other sparks dangerously close to his face. The boy’s spirit, surprisingly, keeps its distance. “I don’t know what the fuck you think you were doing getting involved with villains, ” the boy growls with a voice like gravel. “I knew you were a desperate idiot, but I never thought you’d be that desperate. ” 

Izuku stares into blood red eyes and tries to think about who he might be able to call on to help, right now. He takes a chance - feeling guilty as he does so - and tugs on the name Tamamo-no-Mae.

To the boy in front of him, he says, “Who are you, exactly?”

He does not expect the punch, which he really probably should have braced for. He’s no stranger to fights - there were plenty of bullies growing up, and then the spirits, and then being a skinny homeless kid without a gang or any real affiliation. He ought to know he’s dealing with someone violent when they advertise it this loudly, but he’s gotten soft, staying in the school with Aizawa and his family.

He’s going to have to be careful about that, going forward.

For now, Izuku picks himself up. He doesn’t get far before there’s a hand on his shoulder, peppering it with tiny burns. It’s burning through his shirt. His new shirt that Aizawa bought for him. It had been a gift and this - this bully is burning it. Tamamo-no-Mae appears in that instant and Izuku is so furious he barely uses words - later he’ll realize that they did something in seconds that usually takes him far longer - but he reaches out and she accepts and the burning stops, the snap and crackle of explosions stop, and the blonde asshole kid steps back in shock and horror. “What the fuck did you do?

“You’re using your quirk on a civilian in your school unlawfully in front of the teacher’s lounge against someone who can manipulate quirks.” Izuku spits out each word as he checks his shirt for damage, more dismayed by the pockmarked holes than the blisters on his skin. “What do you think I did? Are you stupid?” Izuku wonders why the teachers haven’t appeared yet, they have to be hearing this. Are they actually like his old school, where student fighting wasn’t their problem after school hours? “Because this seems really stupid.”

The blond screams and it’s guttural and full of rage and both frightening and, if Izuku has to admit, a little pathetic. It’s a bit like watching a toddler throw a fit, just scaled up, except then the blonde throws himself forward and while Izuku’s got a basic knowledge of hard knocks and a borrowed power that lets him stop quirks, he sure as hell can’t hold his own against someone actually trained to do harm.

He goes down hard and the boy gets another punch in, screaming about All for One and quirks, fist crashing into Izuku’s cheek so hard he tastes blood. Izuku‘s ready to call on something bigger for help and burn a favor for it, but before he can the boy is yanked back suddenly, his weight flying away from Izuku’s chest so that Izuku can scramble back to try to get away.

The other boy is wrapped in Aizawa’s capture cloth, fighting back even as the fabric tightens around him. Aizawa’s looming over them both, quirk activated and expression furious and Izuku suddenly can’t breathe all over again because he’s in trouble, he’s going to get kicked out, it was always his fault when a fight happened, always.

Aizawa shakes the boy in his grip. “Bakugo,” he intones in cold fury. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Sensei!” The blonde - ok, Bakugo, Izuku files that away - stops struggling. “Deku’s quirkless or he was when we were kids, his quirk now has to come from - from him. ” His eyes are wide and Izuku realizes, now that he’s not, you know, fighting him off, that this Bakugo doesn’t look entirely well. He’s sweating, for one thing, and his eyes wide in a pale face. “He’s working with them!”

Oh. So this is the villain thing again. Somehow. Though… “I don’t know who you are,” he admits, and then wonders if he should. His memory is full of holes for a reason…

“Like fuck you forgot,” Bakugo starts.

“How do you know Deku?” Aizawa says before Bakugo can continue, still furious. Izuku realizes the door to the teacher’s lounge is open a crack - they’re probably all pressed to it listening in. 

“He was a shitty quirkless kid who followed me around for fucking years, crying every time he stubbed his toe!” Bakugo shouts - Izuku thinks he might be a bit like Yamada, just always set to top volume. “He fucking called me Kacchan!” Then he sneers at Izuku, not seeing the way Aizawa goes stiff at the revelation. “Who the fuck do you think gave you the name shitty deku?”

“Wait,” Izuku gets up. “You’re the one who gave me a terrible nickname and you’re the one who’s upset I forgot about you? You’re really full of yourself.”

That sets Bakugo off again, even while still wrapped in Aizawa’s weapon. Aizawa has to flare his quirk once more and his next sentence strikes Bakugo dead still and horrified.

“This is grounds for expulsion, Katsuki.” 

Bakugo (Bakugo Katsuki? Katsuki Bakugo? Izuku will ask later) gapes like a fish. Izuku actually feels bad for him, even while rubbing at his bruised jaw. At least he can see Recovery Girl for this, instead of just waiting for it to heal up or spending another favor with Zahira.

“Sensei,” Bakugo pleads, but he doesn’t seem to know what to say. Typical, Izuku thinks. The few times anyone had ever confronted bullies for him they’d never known what to say back about that besides ‘fuck off’ or ‘mind your own business’ and this clearly is Aizawa’s business. Still…

“What would expelling him prove?” Izuku asks as he runs his tongue over his teeth and the inside of his cheek. Aizawa and Bakugo both look at him and Izuku shrugs, even if the motion hurts. “I mean, I guess if he’s done this a lot before and you’ve talked to him, I don’t know, but I thought UA is supposed to teach you to be better? Not to…” he looks at the wide eyed kid. “Not throw a whole person out even if they’re actually jerks?”

“Deku!” Bakugo snaps, but it doesn’t have as much force to it. “I don’t need your shitty help!”

“While he’s arguing that I shouldn’t expel you?” And at least Aizawa no longer sounds like he’s about to erupt. He also starts to relax the capture weapon and Bakugo is smart enough not to launch at Izuku again. “Do you know Deku’s name?”

Bakugo sputters for a moment, rolling his eyes. “Of course I know the idiot’s name, it’s - ” and he stops, making a face, and then staring at Izuku. “Why the fuck can’t I remember it? I know it, it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t - Argh!” Explosions pop from his hands again, though clearly just as emphasis, not as a threat. “Did you do this?” he glares at Izuku, demanding. “You did this!” He declares, almost instantly afterwords.

Izuku has to laugh, because of course he comes across an old bully who knew him before, and of course it would be all his fault. Aizawa maybe sees that the laughter isn’t exactly a happy sort because he puts a hand on Bakugo’s shoulder and turns him around to face him directly, while Izuku tries to collect himself. “You’re under house arrest for attacking a guest and using your quirk offensively. We will be talking about this. I want you to write an essay on Mitchell’s treatise on quirk rarity and include three current quirks that do not fit on that scale and extrapolate how they may evolve through the next generation. Due Friday.”  

Bakugo seems to know when he’s lost. He stares at the ground, hands jammed into the pockets of his baggy pants. “Yes Sensei.”

“And you’re benched from all hero training for a week,” Aizawa adds, which is probably an insult to injury.

Bakugo starts but then just hunkers down more. “Tch. Yes, Sensei.” 

“Go to the dorms. We’ll talk later,” Aizawa directs, and nudges Bakugo out and along the hall. He waits until he disappears before coming up to Izuku, apologetic. “Are you all right?”

“He burnt the shirt you bought me,” Izuku points out, but he’s a little calmer about it now. “He seemed… beyond the knowing me part, he was afraid?”

Aizawa gives him a long look, lips pressed in a thin line. “Do you remember helping rescue him from the League of Villains?”

“No?” Izuku frowns, then puts two and two together, considering the timing. “Oh. Wow. I guess he was the memory I gave up to get us home?” He wonders if Aizawa remembers what he’d said - probably, based on the way Aizawa looks sad and sympathetic and angry all at once.

“I…” Aizawa shakes his head, clearly bothered by this. “I think so.”

Izuku reaches up and pats him on the arm in awkward sympathy. “It’s ok,” he assures him, because obviously he’d been right to give that up to get them back in one piece. “It was worth it.”

 

 



Chapter Text

-----------

 

Shota takes Deku to Recovery Girl, who’s currently checking in on Eri. It says far too much about matters that Deku’s more upset about the holes in his new shirt than the burns under it and his split lip, or how he’s so calm about Bakugo and their apparent history, the lost memory that had saved young Yuna’s life and gotten them out of the spirit realm in one piece. 

It doesn’t add up, either - Bakugo’s attitude certainly doesn’t indicate friendship, but Deku had cried when he’d given up the memory. Was it just the action of doing so? Had they been closer once? Was Bakugo reacting more because of a false belief that Deku was working with the League? Bakugo had been showing some improvement recently regarding his temper, but attacking someone outright was grounds for expulsion, suspension at minimum. And yet Aizawa had backed down from both almost instantly, only in part because of Deku.

Said boy is also still trying to reassure him. “I’m all right,” he says again they head to his room, Shota trailing at his heels. “I had a lot of bullies, he must have just been the biggest one if I thought he was worth trading.” 

Shota can’t even begin to argue that - he doesn’t have enough information. Instead he leans on the doorframe as Deku enters his room and does something Shota’s seen him do every time he’s walked inside: he checks the paper prayers pasted everywhere. He checks every one. Then he sits down on the foot of his bed and looks up at Shota. “Are you going to expel him?”

“He attacked you,” Shota points out, reasonably, because he could. “I should have responded faster, I’m sorry.” He’d been dozing in the lounge, head in Hizashi’s lap since the lounge was otherwise empty at the end of the day. He’d taken too long to realize that Bakugo’s ranting wasn’t his usual tone, that he’d been targeting Deku. 

“I mean, I’m pretty sure he thought I was a villain? Though -” Deku stops and seems to think better of whatever he was going to say. “I don’t think you should expel him unless you think he’s completely terrible, and even then, expelling him won’t teach him anything? Kicking people out doesn’t help them.” Deku puts on his serious face, something Shota’s beginning to recognize as a thing his kid does whenever he thinks something is a Big Deal. He’d worn it a lot during their adventures through magic hell, and donned it every time he talked about the state of Eri’s quirk. “A lot of people who have problems end up with no one to help them when they’re too old, and then they can’t do anything to fix it,” he says with enough feeling that Shota thinks Deku doesn’t just know this offhand: he’s seen it. Considering what he’s said about where else he’s lived since escaping whatever facility they had him in, Shota doesn’t need to guess to know it’s lived experience.

“He was scared, and angry. I don’t think he was trying to kill me, or even hurt me that badly, if you think about it. He’s a hero student, and he obviously controls his explosions. He could have blinded me, for one thing, or grabbed my neck. If he’d covered my face and made me inhale he could have burned my esophagus, which could kill me pretty quickly, actually.” Shota listens in growing horror as Deku details the way that Bakugo ‘didn’t kill him’ and all the ways his quirk might be used to do so - based on the assumption of power of Bakugo’s smallest explosions. 

Shota thinks about the time Bakugo had blown the head off of a training dummy by accident (Kaminari had misjudged his discharge nearby and Bakugo had recoiled while aiming) and he has to agree with Deku’s flawed assessment that Bakugo hadn’t been intending to kill him or do extreme harm, but he’d still attacked a visitor in the school halls.

Deku’s not done, however. “He’s still a kid,” he points out, all reason. “If he’s going to get better, the best chance is now, right? So he can’t have teachers give up on him, because that just tells him it’s ok to give up on himself and on other people. A lot of people on the streets say that - that someone gave up on them, and they gave up on themselves. And you said he was kidnapped by the League of Villains?”

“They held him for three days.”

Deku winces. “So if he thinks I was working with them, he’d probably want to take me out. I mean, he should have gone to you and talked to you about it, obviously, but I’m ok, and Recovery Girl fixed me up.”

Shota hates to admit that Deku’s got a point, but the kid has a point. “Anyone tell you that you’re too forgiving, Problem Child?” Fuck, but he hopes Nedzu’s serious about helping tutor Deku. He’s a kid with so much potential that’s gone to waste. “He’s still being punished for this.”

“Of course he is,” Deku nods. “I mean, obviously he shouldn’t have done it, but it should be something that makes him think about what to do better next time, not something that just makes him more bitter or afraid.”

And that’s the thing - Bakugo had been afraid and Deku had picked up on that, possibly before Shota himself had. He’d been furious about Bakugo attacking someone outright - breaking multiple rules that Shota has explicitly reminded him of time and again - but after the initial anger and defence of Deku had faded, there had been no mistaking that Bakugo was off. This wasn’t just a loose temper flaring, this was something deeper.

“So, are you going to be a teacher next?” Shota deadpans, and it’s funny in his head - hilarious, really, because he thinks Deku might be the only kid he’s met who’s had the guts to outright give him teaching advice. Of course funny in his own head backfires when Deku flinches and ducks down and stutters, flailing empty hands.

“No! N-No, I mean, you can do what you want, you’re the teacher, his teacher, I mean, I think you’re his teacher, right? I didn’t even check, but he’s a hero student and I didn’t mean to tell you how to do your job and -”

“Enough, Deku, it’s fine. I was joking.” Shota needs to work on his delivery, and probably work to acclimatize Deku to his humor. Though, they also need to work on the whole Deku thing. “You know, I’d wondered about the name Deku.”

The kid stops flailing at least and sighs. “I know, useless isn’t exactly the nicest name, but I’ve been Deku for years.”

“We could change it,” Shota points out, not bothering to beat around the point. “Pick a name you want and we can use that instead.”

“I’ve thought about it,” Deku says, in the sort of tones that suggest the thoughts haven’t ever gotten far. “I guess I can think about it some more?”

“You don’t have to,” Shota doesn’t want him thinking this is mandatory. “But you’ve got a new school, new friends, new people to look after you,” he knows better than to say family too early - he’d learned that the hard way with Shinso. “So if you want a new name, this would be a good time to start.”

“Ok,” Deku smiles softly, not one of his usual brilliant grins or the wry, sardonic grimaces, but something quiet and thoughtful. “I’ll think about it.”

“Good. I’m going to go deal with Bakugo - we can do your session with Eri when we’re done.”

Deku nods in affirmation and Shota leaves him as he reaches for his new laptop (and really, how could they not set him up with a proper computer?) and Shota heads to find Bakugo and see what his version of the events of today are. 

 

-------

 

Izuku shakes off the encounter and loads up Google to do something he’s meant to do for a while now, as all of this has unintentionally reminded him. It’s been a niggling thought, really, just in the back of his head, and he types kitsune into the search engine. A few minutes later he’s found a link for a name: Tamamo-no-Mae. He can’t tell if he’s surprised or not. Everyone has a name, after all, and maybe it’s a coincidence but… he doubts it.

After the third retelling he realizes he’s probably not going to find out anything more specific online, and he doesn’t have the time or inclination to try to find older translations. Not when he can ask someone who was there. He sets the computer aside and gets to his feet, opening the door to his room and tugging on her name once more, though less desperate this time. << Can we talk?>>

She appears a few moments later: she’d disappeared after Aizawa had sent Bakugo back to the dorms, but she comes when Izuku calls and he’s so genuinely appreciative of that fact, when there’s no contract between them. She has no obligation - she chooses to. 

<< Is everything all right?>> She asks him, pressing her nose to his chest.

<< I think you should come in,>> Izuku admits, and doesn’t try to hide what he’s found out. << I looked up your name. I know why Mizuchi called you Lady Kayō.>>

Tamamo-no-Mae blinks at him with her fox eyes, once, twice, and then she shifts - body pulling into itself, tails swooping low to become the hem of her kimono, whole body warping in a moment until she’s human, beautiful and tall and intimidating except now he knows her, and he’s known her for such a short time but it’s felt like so long that Izuku smiles as he bows, a bit silly but he means it, and he loves the way she smiles in turn at him. “You’re such a good kit,” she tells him as she sweeps inside. She settles on the floor at the foot of his bed, folding herself gracefully until she looks like an artfully arranged painting. 

Izuku closes the door and sits on the floor across from her, rather than taking a spot where he’d be looking down - it seems far too rude. She waits for him, and he’s grateful, because he’s not really sure how to even start. He wants to ask about the Emperor, maybe, or how she’d escaped from the priests, but in the end he ends up blurting the thing that feels the most pressing, somehow.

“Did you really get an Indian prince to cut off the heads of a thousand men for you?” 

“Oh dear,” Tamamo-no-Mae shakes her head, and Izuku breathes a sigh of relief but it only lasts until she continues, “The number always grows in the retelling, but it was one hundred men, not a thousand.”

“Oh,” Izuku stares at her and swallows. She’s a spirit, after all. He knows what they can be like… he just might have started to think of her as different from the rest. “Why?”

“I was young, and times were different then, of course. Oh Deku,” she sighs at his expression and folds her hands together in her lap. “It was almost ten thousand years ago, kit. The world was just a bit different, and so was I.”

He chews on his lower lip, because she’s right - that’s a long time for a spirit - but “That’s not the only story they tell about you,” he offers, not sure what else has grown in the retelling. 

“I suppose I might be blamed for the fall of a few dynasties,” she says with a tiny shrug. “I am a kitsune, it was in our nature, and it never occurred to me to be anything else, at the time.” 

“And Emperor Toba?” Izuku wonders, because that’s where her story tends to end in the retellings.

The kitsune lowers her eyes and looks at her hands, long fingers topped with fine pointed nails. They tremble, Izuku realizes. They’re shaking.

“Would it be so strange,” she says, voice soft, “for a kitsune to fall in love with a man, once in her life?”

Izuku shifts forward on his knees until he’s touching the hem of her kimono, and then reaches for her hands to hold them. It’s different from leaning against her side when she’s a spirit. Her fingers are cold but they warm in his grasp, as rude and inappropriate as it feels to be touching her like this. “I’m sorry,” he says, earnest and apologetic. “I shouldn’t be asking anything you don’t want to talk about, I just saw the stories and - and it got to my head. I’m sorry.” The stories say so many things - that she’d been trying to kill the Emperor, that she’d bewitched his mind, that she was evil - and he hadn’t really thought. He hadn’t set it against the spirit who’d let him cry against her shoulder more than once, who just lent him her power without a price. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry, or assume anything.”

She curls her fingers around his and her gaze grows distant, her voice thoughtful as she tells him her story. “The Emperor was a handsome man,” she begins, looking away. “He was wise and patient, and most of all, he was curious. Our power came differently, then: from those who worshipped us, or from the tales of our deeds, or from deeds we had done for the gods. I’d done quite a bit for myself,” her head tilts so she can smile at him, eyes glinting mischievously through her lashes “I had two tails, then, and was very proud of myself. I thought catching the eye of another emperor would be fun. So I set out to do that, to see if I could win him over, but…” She shakes her head and her hair falls forward around her shoulders. “I was the one who was won, in the end.”

Izuku squeezes her fingers. “You fell in love?” 

Her smile grows deeper. “I did. Enough that… I thought perhaps I’d stay. I could hardly be an Empress without bringing in too many questions about my heritage, but a consort would have been acceptable, I thought. My name then was Lady Kayō, but he called me his Empress of his heart and I was… happy.” She takes a breath. It’s always interesting, when spirits have human forms, how much more human they are. He can’t remember seeing her wolf self ever really breathe.

“There was a storm, during a recital he’d arranged for my benefit. The god of the dragons flew overhead and the wind blew the lights out, and I feared for us. I thought that the god himself was angry and so I…” She blushes, and as if to explain her whole form starts to glow, kimono and all, the same warm glow she’s had before when she’d helped fight off other spirits. “His court saw me like this, my power showing. It was foolish - Ryujin continued on his way, ignoring us completely, and there was nothing needed but to relight the lamps and right what had been knocked over, but from then on the court was suspicious.” Her smile now shifts to something sad and her voice grows even quieter. “Toba gave me the name, then, Tamamo-no-Mae. Lady Tamamo, in the old way. For my light.” 

The name I cherish above all others, Izuku remembers. “It suits you,” he says, earnestly. “I’m glad he gave you such a beautiful name.”

She nods, and the light fades as she takes another breath and continues, tone becoming almost light and dismissive, as if to get through the rest of the tale as quickly as possible. “His physician was suspicious, his geomancer somehow saw right through my glamor. And they… To this day I don’t know if they poisoned him to convince the Emperor of my existence, or if they intended to  place his son on the throne. I was stupid with love and did not see the threat. They poisoned him, and whispered in his ear that it was my doing, as he grew weaker and weaker. I knew no medicine, and my power has never been in healing. But he never believed them,” she tugs her hands away from Izuku, and wipes at the corner of her eyes. “He never believed them, and as he became more and more ill I thought - I didn’t know they were the ones behind it, so I thought I’d remain with him, and take his spirit with me. I didn’t want to leave him alone.”

Izuku suspects he knows how the rest of the tale goes.

“The priests and the courtiers set a trap for me. During a ceremony for his health I was very suddenly in my true form, and could not change back - all I could do was run away.” She wipes at her eyes again and dredges forth a smile and a tiny shrug. “After that, the Emperor believed that I was to be blamed. He cursed me, and sent men to kill me.”

Izuku’s heart breaks for her, in the face of her grief when it’s so clear she still loves a man who has been dead for more than two thousand years. “I’m so sorry,” he says again, because there is nothing else that can be said.

She reaches out and hugs him, pulling him across her crisp silks and unbothered by the closeness as she wraps her arms around him and Izuku hugs her in turn, fiercely. “I never blamed him for what they did,” she admits into Izuku’s ear, two thousand years of loyalty and love remaining strong enough Izuku aches for it and loves her for it all the more. 

“I will always remember him, and I will forever be Tamamo-no-Mae in his memory.” 

 

--------

 

Shota finds Bakugo in his dorm room, which is at least a good sign: he’d worried he’d find him trying to goad Kirishima or Todoroki into a sparring match, which is often his way of dealing with excess emotions. 

Instead Bakugo’s sitting on the edge of his bed and staring at the door as Shota comes in. “Sensei,” the boy says in greeting, and Shota takes a moment to take stock. Bakugo’s hair is wilder than usual and looks like he’s run his hands through it a few dozen times, his knuckles are raw - he’s been spending time every evening in one of the training gyms and Shota now wonders how much time was spent physically fighting instead of working on his quirk. There are shadows under Bakugo’s eyes that are rarely ever there, but all of his students shared a similar look when he’d returned. Bakugo’s don’t show any signs of fading, however. 

Bakugo’s sitting hunched, with his arms leaning on his thighs, and Shota thinks he’s missed the signs of this - he should have noticed something was wrong before now, there’s no good excuse as to why he hasn’t. 

“Mind if I sit?” he asks, gesturing to Bakugo’s desk chair. When the boy nods, he pulls it out and sits down, then decides fuck it and leans forward onto his arms, mirroring Bakugo’s position. “Want to talk about it?”

“What are you, my therapist?” Bakugo snaps back, instantly defensive.

“No, though we need to have a conversation about your sessions with her,” Shota keeps his voice even and doesn’t raise to Bakugo’s tone. “But I’d like to know what you were thinking, and why. You knew Deku. When did you realize?”

“When Kirishima showed me the fucking photo they’d released after he fucking kidnapped you? ” Bakugo meets his gaze and glares. “I tried to tell someone but ‘I know that kid from school but I don’t remember his name and he didn’t have a quirk then’ didn’t help much when no one could find you.” 

Shota needs to follow up on that later - if Bakugo had told someone that he’d recognized Deku, it should have been brought to his attention already. As it is… “Why didn’t you say anything to me?”

“Because you seem to think he’s fine!” Bakugo’s palms sparks. “Because someone got into his head, Sensei, and he got into yours!

Fuck, this is worse than Shota thought. He sighs, and Bakugo hides a flinch. “When was the last time you slept properly?” Shota asks, in part to unsettle the boy, and partly because he wonders how much of this paranoia is self-fulfilling.

“Like I can sleep well when my teacher’s been kidnapped, or when I found out the idiot kid who used to cry when you looked at him was the one who did it, or after you brought him here? You think I can sleep?”

“All right,” Shota leans back, genuinely sorry for the state Bakugo’s in. “There’s a lot we’re going to have to unpack here, so why don’t we start from the beginning. What do you remember about Deku? When did you know him? What was he like?”

Bakugo bares his teeth. “Quirkless. Weak. Pathetic. He worshipped heroes. He couldn’t keep from tripping over his own feet, and he’d always blame it on ghosts, like they made him clumsy. He was always in trouble for something.” Bakugo’s hands make fists that shake even as they hang between his knees. “He was quirkless, Sensei. He was quirkless. Everyone knew it. Everyone knew and now he has a quirk and there’s only one person who could do that. I wasn’t going to just sit around this time! I had to do something!

Bakugo had spent three days in the care of the League of Villains. He blamed himself for Ragdoll’s quirk being lost, blamed himself for All Might’s retirement. From what Shota read of the reports, All for One had directly threatened to take Bakugo’s quirk as well. 

The scars from that were going to take longer than a few therapy sessions to wipe away. 

“When was the last time you saw Deku,” Shota presses, trying to build up a better picture of who his Problem Child was. “Was he in your class?”

“Yeah. We were classmates until his mom died.”

Shit, there’s an idea he should have thought of before now. “Do you remember his mother’s name? Or details about the attack that killed her?”

“The Hammerhead Villains,” Bakugo raises a hand and it grips his hair - Shota knows he’s trained himself not to touch his face unless absolutely necessary, so he has different physical tics instead. “They crashed through the neighborhood, Aunt Inko was crushed under rubble.” 

Ok, Inko, they could try to use that to follow that thread and maybe find something about who Deku was. “Inko?”

“Inko Midoriya,” Bakugo nods, then blinks. “Fuck, why couldn’t I remember that before? He was -” he tries to say something and then stops, frowning. “What the fuck?”

“What the fuck what?”

“What the fuck, I can’t say               , but I can say Midoriya if I’m thinking of Aunt Inko?” He glares, face going through a series of expressions as he tries to reshape his mouth. “Fucking shitty Deku was              , but every time I try to say it it doesn’t work? Like I forget it the minute I try to say it?” He growls in frustration. “What sort of shitty quirk is this?”

And of course he’d think it was a quirk - hell, Shota would have assumed the same, a week ago. Now he knows better, but he doesn’t think it’s something he can really cover with Bakugo at the moment. “I know it looks to you that Deku worked with All for One and the League to get his quirk,” he begins.

Multiple quirks, Sensei. Like the fucking nomu. Like he fucking bragged about.”

Shota doesn’t have to ask who ‘he’ was. “Last week,” he says instead, “I was fighting the villain Demolition. Do you remember the files on him?” When Bakugo nods, Shota continues. “We were caught off guard, and found him in an area where he had plenty of ammunition. I caught some scrap through my shoulder,” he taps where the rebar had gone through, “I was pinned down. Demolition had a clear shot at me. The others were too far away - Deku saved me.” 

“That’s just it!” Bakugo pushes himself to his feet in one smooth movement, pacing the length of his dorm. “Why the hell does no one see that he must have been working with him? He’s fixing quirks from Overhaul’s bullets, and then he’s with the one villain who got away from the raid? We know the League was working with Overhaul.”

“And I know that Deku wasn’t working with Demolition,” Shota counters. When Bakugo gives him a look of pure disbelief he shrugs slightly: he’d prefer not to expose all of Deku’s personal details, but this is important. “He was living in Minami Ward. He was living in one of the abandoned buildings: Demolition’s appearance was a surprise to him as well.”

Bakugo still doesn’t look like he believes him, but Shota presses on. “Deku has a quirk, and it wasn’t given to him by All for One. The thing about his quirk is that it’s very, very different than most, and it was unidentified for a long time. I’ve seen it work firsthand, I’ve seen him demonstrate it to Detective Tsukauchi, and most importantly I’ve had my memories checked for meddling, Bakugo, by an expert. We don’t just trust Deku blindly: he’s proven time and again that he is what he has said he is, and does what he says he can do, and that he wants to help. He’s been vetted by multiple heroes, at this point, and he’s being watched by even more. He’s not a threat.”

Bakugo stands with his fists clenched so hard his hands shake. “What if you’re wrong?”

“I don’t think we are,” Shota says, simply. “But if we are wrong? If he becomes a threat to my students, or to this school, I will deal with him, the same way I would deal with any threat to you or this school. You have my word.” 

Bakugo exhales and relaxes his hands enough that he looks a little less wound up, a little less likely to explode. “You’d better,” he says in that tone of voice that is actually - for Bakugo - thank you. Shota takes that for what it is and nods, pushing up to stand. Bakugo doesn’t do well with long, involved conversations - better to let him stew on this for a while and check in again in a day or two. “You’re still benched for a week, and I still expect that essay, and you’re going to talk with your therapist about this,” he warns - because while Bakugo’s actions might have had reasons, they don’t excuse what he did. “I’m also going to find out why no one mentioned what you told them to me earlier, or followed up with you.”

“Tch,” Bakugo looks away, but he manages a “yes, Sensei,” which is enough for Shota.

“And I’ll remind you again,” he says, because reinforcement is key for things like this, or so he’s been told. “You’re not responsible for what the League did. You’re not responsible for All Might’s retirement. Those things were set into place before you ever came to UA. You’re responsible for your actions, no one else’s. All right?”

Bakugo doesn’t meet his eyes. He shrugs, and shoves his hands into his pockets. “Yes, Sensei,” he says again, with even less enthusiasm this time.

They’re working on it. It’ll be a process, Shota knows. This is just one more step along the way.

 

------  

 

“There was something,” Izuku says, head in Tamamo-no-Mae’s lap. It still feels so horrifically rude to do so: it’s one thing when she’s a fox and he’s a mess and they’re in the spirit realm. It’s another when she’s dressed like an empress and they’re in his borrowed room, but she’d tugged him down and runs her nails through his hair and it’s nice. It’s so strange to let a spirit touch him like this, but he’s unafraid.

It feels a little bit like what his mother would do, after bad days at school, when he’d lay on the couch and she’d put his head in her lap and ask him about the last hero fight or who should team up with All Might next and why. She’d make him talk about something, anything, and he’d unwind while she combed through his hair, patient and warm and there.

He knows better than to want anything, even now, but this is the first time he’s been touched like this since he was eleven and part of him never wants to leave.

“Yes?” Tamamo-no-Mae prods, when he drifts off without continuing.

“Oh. Um… You lent me your power,” he says, thinking back to the boy in the hallway. “But we didn’t have a contract. I should owe you something. I’m sorry I called on you at all, I should have just used a favor, but I needed something that could stop him without hurting him and I -”

She quiets him by pressing a finger to his lips. “And you don’t think that I could possibly feel I might owe you a favor or two, after all you’ve done?” She taps his nose, making him squint. “Or that I might even be willing to lend you my power because I wish to, without incurring a debt?”

He stares up at her in disbelief. “ No one does that,” he points out, reasonably. “There are rules. I used to try to do things just to be nice, but everyone got worried and thought I was being sneaky somehow, or was going to doublecross them. Everyone insists on contracts.”

“I am not everyone,” Tamamo-no-Mae points out, which - ok, fair, Izuku can agree to that. “And I suspect it is more that everyone else does not know you. Give the ones here time to understand you and learn that you will do them no harm and some may then offer the same to you.”

Izuku’s breath catches in his throat. He could, maybe, one day, have an actual quirk.

He breathes out. “Maybe,” he says, heart aching but knowing better than to hope for anything more than this. “That’d be nice.” He closes his eyes as she strokes his forehead. “Can I ask you another question?” 

“Of course.”

“Why didn’t you show you could be human until now? Not now, now, but at Aizawa’s home. You stayed a fox all the time, before. A human might have been easier for Aizawa, too.”

“Because I am not a human,” she taps his nose again, and he opens his eyes to find her looking over him with a mischievous smile. “I am not human, and you would know that, and you would have wondered why I appeared as human to try to win your trust. Better to be who I am, at the start. Better for you to trust me in my true form, before you thought I was trying to charm you, like this.”

“Oh,” Izuku nods. “That makes sense. You’re actually the first spirit in jūnihitoe that hasn’t tried to eat me in some way. I don’t know why, they always end up doing that. Except for you.”

Tamamo-no-Mae laughs. In her human form it sounds brilliant, with a strange, bell-like quality to it. He’s always wondered about that description - how someone could laugh like a bell - and now he knows. It’s a nice sound. 

“The older the spirit, the stronger they tend to be, and the more likely they’ll view you as a threat,” she says, stroking his cheek. Her voice shifts to something more apologetic as she adds, “This you know, I suppose, but I hope that what you do here will carry to them so they can learn who you are.”

They’re back to maybe one day spirits won’t spit in his face - it’s a nice thought, but he doesn’t really want to dwell on it, especially not after having a human do the same thing. Time for a change of subject. “How long have you known Mizuchi?”

“Oh, thousands of years. The dragon gods used to be so much more active, of course, and I may have fallen into Mizuchi’s domain once… when I could not swim.” Her impish smile makes her eyes sparkle.

Izuku grins in turn. “You did not!” he counters in half disbelief, half a way to goad her to tell the rest of the story.

“I did! Wearing the finest silks, dragged into the current, saved by the most handsome dragon of the land - or so he would call himself.” She covers her mouth with a sleeve to laugh. “He and I were friends, of a fashion, but I haven’t seen him in years. It’s been nice to catch up.”

Izuku can only imagine. “Is he all right?”

Tamamo-no-Mae blinks down at him. “Why?”

“Well, with what happened to Eri, that was happening to his connection to her, and their power. It probably - well, I don’t know what it must have felt like, but it was probably strange at least? Is he all right? I’d offer to help but I don’t think he wants anything to do with me.” The dragon had not made another appearance since the first.

Tamamo-no-Mae covers Izuku’s forehead with her whole hand. “Good kit,” she says, fond and soft. “He is well enough. He has his reasons to stay away.” Izuku almost asks why, but she continues before he can. “He will come around, I am sure of it. You’ve done so much for Eri as it is.”

Eri’s core looks more and more like it should - Izuku thinks they only need one or two more sessions before she’s an expansive garden of wildflowers, not cracked ice. He wishes he could show her what she looks like inside - she’s so afraid of herself, so convinced she’s cursed.  

“Well, when you see him, tell him if I can help him at all, I’d like to?” He can at least make the offer, even if it will probably be rejected. “Did he tell you Eri asked me to take away her quirk?”

Tamamo-no-Mae looks surprised. “No. What did you say?”

“I told her not yet,” he admits, because he won’t lie. “Once she’s fixed up, and Aizawa has finished teaching her how to use it, and she spends a bit of time with it working properly, if she wants me to do it then, I will. I can’t take it away, of course, but I can cut the connection, which is the same thing for humans. I told her if she really wanted me to, I would, but that I’d give it back if she asked me to. She deserves to be able to make that choice.” He holds his breath and wonders what Tamamo-no-Mae will say.

The kitsune sighs. “I think, for anyone else I might argue that,” she says softly. “But I could not possibly, for her. It would be such a waste of his power but you’re right - after all she’s been through, she has the right to choose.”

Izuku nods. “So she can. When she’s ready. I just hope no one else will be upset if it comes to that.”

“Have you told Aizawa?” 

Izuku shifts a little. “Maybe not in so many words,” he admits at last. “I don’t know if he’d agree.” Tamamo-no-Mae sighs, and he feels guilty when she doesn’t even say a word. “Ok, ok! I’ll tell him.” 

Later, Izuku thinks. Maybe only if Eri asks.

 

-----

 

All around him are flowers - not like a garden, with careful rows and groups and sculpted lines, but a field of them, growing wild and free, reaching towards the sun and swaying gently in the breeze. Everything is warm: everything is right. Izuku pulls away from the field and falls back to himself the way he’s done every day since arriving in UA, but this time there’s a difference.  

“All done!” He declares, as much for Eri as he does for their small audience.

Eri blinks up at him, eyes wide in her pale face and hands folded together in her lap. “Are you sure?” she asks, biting her bottom lip and looking over Izuku’s shoulder to Aizawa and Mirio, the former leaning back in a chair with his eyes half closed, the latter grinning from ear to ear. 

“As sure as I can be,” Izuku tells her, keeping his voice light and bright. He’s been so careful with her, to make sure that she feels comfortable with him when he’s been basically a stranger. She doesn’t like serious voices, she likes it when he talks the way Mirio does, and it’s easy to oblige her. “Your quirk shouldn’t ever work without you telling it to, unless someone else does something to make it, and no one here would ever do that.” Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Mirio nodding emphatically. “Now you can choose to use it, when you want to.”

“And if I don’t want to?”

“Then you don’t have to,” Aizawa says from the chair, slumped and speaking into his scarf. “And no one will force you.”

Eri looks like she doesn’t know what to say, and Izuku can’t blame her. He shifts his weight from side to side, not sure if he should offer her a hug or not - sometimes she really likes being touched, and sometimes she flinches away, scared. It’s only been ten days, so he’s still learning how to read her moods.

“Thank you, Deku,” she says finally, offering the smallest of smiles but it’s genuine and Izuku can cherish it. 

“I’d like to work on your quirk, once you feel up to it, because knowing how to use it is as important as choosing if you want to use it or not. Just in case,” Aizawa tells her. “But that doesn’t have to start today.”

“Ok,” Eri nods and looks at Mirio. They’ve developed a pattern to their days - Izuku works on her quirk, and then Mirio sits with Eri and reads to her until she falls asleep. It’s clear she wants the comfort of the routine, because she lights up when Mirio holds out the book he’s brought. “This one’s called The Paper Bag Princess, ” he tells her as he comes around to her bed. Izuku gives up his spot and Mirio slides easily into place and soon he has Eri fully wrapped up in the story, forgetting about her worries about her quirk for the moment.

Izuku and Aizawa sneak out. “Is she going to be ok, now?” he asks, because she still seems so pale and is still weak when she climbs out of her bed. “Are you going to wait until she’s stronger to train her quirk?”

“Yes. Pushing her to use her quirk right away will only exhaust her further, she needs to fully recover from what she’s been through. She still needs to learn how to use it, though.” Aizawa seems half lost in thought, talking to himself as much as he’s speaking to Izuku. “Just because her quirk can be activated at will doesn’t mean it can’t overwhelm her if she’s trying to use it and doesn’t know how. Once she knows how to, she can choose what she wants to do. Otherwise we’re setting her up to be hurt again.”

Izuku can’t argue with that. “You’re a good teacher,” he tells the hero as they walk down the hall. “You’ll teach her a lot. You’re good at teaching different types of students.”

“Oh?” Aizawa looks down at him, one eyebrow raised. “Why do you say that? Have you been spying on my classes?” 

Izuku sputters, thinking of the secret viewing platforms he’s been taken to. “Not spying! Just - watching! Just sometimes, um, Principal Nedzu took me to watch one of your training sessions and asked me about everyone’s quirks.” It had been thrilling, and also only enforced Izuku’s belief that he couldn’t possibly join a hero class. General education, maybe, but they were all so good with their quirks and they all had such versatile abilities. 

“I didn’t see you,” Aizawa points out, sounding unhappy about that fact.

Izuku ducks his head. “I think Principal Nedzu would say ‘that was the point?’”

“Hrn.”

Izuku peeks up through his bangs at Aizawa, who looks caught horribly between annoyance and amusement. He looks like that a lot with his students. It’s fun to see it on him now. 

Aizawa, of course, uses that time to completely catch him off guard: Tamamo-no-Mae was right, he really does like doing that. “You should audit my class.” 

Izuku bluescreens. He stops walking, feeling like he’s slammed into an invisible wall, trying to make sense of audit my class as the words just cycle over and over and over again in his head until Aizawa raps his knuckles against the top of Izuku’s head, concerned. “You in there, Problem Child?” 

Izuku tries to say something coherent but all that comes out is a constricted squeak of “ Ican’taudityourclass!”

“Why not?” Aizawa asks, so reasonably that Izuku wants the floor to open up and swallow him whole anytime now. “I’d like your opinions on their quirks.” 

“Oh!” That was ok, well, maybe not ok, but better. If Aizawa wants his help, Izuku can understand that more than the idea that he ought to sit in on a class everyone else has worked so hard to get into! The tightness in his chest relaxes a little. “I can do that, I mean, if you’re sure?”

“I don’t suggest things I’m not sure about. The point should be if you’re sure about it. I don’t want you worrying about getting attacked by someone’s quirk.” 

“I mean, they shouldn’t be so obvious about it in a class?” Izuku offers, remembering the last time he’d been in school. The spirits who’d bothered him then had found it far more entertaining to make him react in more subtle ways. If they’d all picked him up and thrown him around a teacher might have at least believed someone was doing something to him, instead of blaming Izuku for being clumsy and disruptive. It had been a pretty shitty time in his life when he’d wished they’d hurt him more, just to prove it was real, but every time he’d considered maybe breaking his promise and hurting them back, they seemed to sense he was at the end of his rope and would leave him alone.

Then he just had to deal with the kids in his class and the way the teachers never bothered to stop them.

“Wouldn’t I be… disruptive?” he asks, not sure how to ask Aizawa if he should be prepared for people to bother him. “Will Bakugo make trouble?” He’d asked Mirio for the other boy’s family name, which had been an awkward conversation. Apparently Bakugo was the school’s rising hotshot star. Mirio had been surprised Izuku didn’t recognize him - Izuku didn’t have the energy to explain why. 

“I’ll deal with him and anyone else,” Aizawa says so severely that Izuku has to grin and feel a little more comfortable with it. “If and only if you think it will be safe for you to do so.”

“I can ward myself,” Izuku promises. “And I’ll ask Tamamo-no-Mae if she wouldn’t mind keeping me company.”

“Good,” Aizawa seems to catch himself as they’re heading down the hall towards the exit. “Where are you going, anyway?” 

“For a walk!” Izuku laughs, amused at the way Aizawa blinks at him. “I want some fresh air, and if I go the hour before curfew everyone else is usually inside already, so no one bothers me.”

“You need company, Problem Child?”

Izuku pushes open the doors toward the back quad, where to the left, Heights Alliance rises up and glitters in the setting sun. “I’m just going to walk around the track,” Izuku promises. “I’ll be back before curfew.”

“You’d better be,” Aizawa intones. He seems to hesitate for a moment, like he feels like Izuku needs a guard just to walk around the campus, but Izuku kind of wants the time to think while he walks, so he doesn’t let Aizawa have time to change his mind - he waves and heads off.

It’s been a hell of a few days? Weeks? Izuku can’t even really separate out the time in his head, everything’s just such a rush. He’s got homework assignments now, from Principal Nedzu of all people, and Ectoplasm has agreed to tutor him on math, so he can catch up. Everyone talks like he’ll be ready to join third term when it starts, which seems unlikely: it’s only three and a half months away. It all feels so impossible, but everyone has faith and it’s strange but nice, to have people believe in him - not just about the spirits, but in him. He’d been quirkless and useless for so long, sometimes he’d wondered if there was even a point to his existence. If things wouldn’t have just been better if he’d tried to… start over.

Having spirits hate him never helped those thoughts, even if his mother repeated time and again that they were wrong. Losing her had been so hard and only the fact that she’d have been so disappointed in him for giving up - that she’d made him promise to never give up - had kept him going for those years after.

And now, because - and Izuku can’t help but feel guilty about it - because of a villain and because of his weird not-quirk and his insistence in helping and some really random luck, he’s got a home and a guardian of sorts and a school and a scholarship and people who believe him and believe in him.

He hopes his mother can see him, somehow. He’s never met a ghost, and he’s glad for that - he doesn’t know how he’d handle a real person being dead, instead of a spirit being a real person - they’re somehow different in his head. If he ever sees his mother as a ghost or spirit… well. He never wants to, simple as that. He just hopes she can see him. He thinks she’d be proud.

He walks because he really needs to just think about everything he’s been putting off - like the Bakugo kid and how he ought to handle that going forward (will telling him the truth help, he wonders) and also how he feels about Mirio and All Might and their spirit, and he should really call in on Nousagi and ask how Yuna is doing, and maybe talk with Aizawa about the class idea and if he’s allowed to offer help to the students and - 

Mizuchi appears in front of him and Izuku very nearly walks right into him, the dragon at his full size and sprawled across the running track, coiled and looped around himself and still just giant. Izuku stops and stares up at the dragon’s face, notes the way his nostrils are vaguely smoking and the color shift the sunset gives his pearly white scales. 

He… really just wanted some time alone with his thoughts. That’s it. That’s why he’s maybe less polite than he usually is when he meets piercing blue eyes with his own. “Yes?” 

The dragon continues to stare down at him. Izuku waits. In his pocket is a marker and a knife, and he has a few favors he can call in if he has to, if Mizuchi is going to try something, but he’s really hoping not. If he gets tossed around here there’s no handy walls to stop him. The dragon continues to say nothing and Izuku sighs and turns around. He can just walk the other way around the track. “All right then.”

<< You repaired our connection,>> Mizuchi finally speaks. Despite his size and general ability to intimidate, he sounds like he’s trying to be quiet. He also sounds, if Izuku had to put a finger on it, confused. Or maybe just conflicted.

“I said I would,” Izuku points out, turning back and glad that there’s no one around to hear him. “I said I would, I’m pretty sure Tamamo-no-Mae told you I would, and I did. You were putting way too much power into her while her quirk was disconnected. You could have killed her.”

<< Humans killed her over and over again. >> The dragon… shrinks, ever so slightly, though Izuku doesn’t know if it’s because of the rebuke or the admission.

“And that’s horrific, and it probably fucked you up too, I know.” He can’t even imagine what that must have felt like for the spirit. “But Chisaki is dead. No one will be able to hurt her like that again, and she has a world of heroes who want to look after her. I will too.” 

<< There was no contract,>> and oh, there it is, Izuku thinks. That’s why an ancient dragon god is trying to be vaguely nice to him. It feels guilty.  

He sighs, feeling just so tired. “Look, I don’t need anything from you for helping her. I’d like things, but I don’t work that way - I would have helped her even if you swore you’d attack me every time I stepped into that room. You don’t owe me anything.” 

<< Lady Kayō would not agree.>>

“Then you can talk to her about it.” Izuku knows he’s sounding snappish and forces himself to take a breath and calm his voice. “Look, if you decide you want to give me something, fine. I won’t reject that because I’m quirkless and favors help me function and to honestly just… deal with everything.” Izuku’s no idiot, to look a gift horse in the mouth as it were.  “But I don’t expect anything, I’m making no demands, and I take no debt. Maybe you could just... pass the word around that what I did when I was eight shouldn’t be how everyone judges me? Because honestly that would… that could help a lot.” Especially coming from something as powerful and respected as a dragon.

<< What do you mean?>> Mizuchi asks, leaning down now to study Izuku closer. << What did you do when you were eight?>>

It’s Izuku’s turn to be confused. “My mother’s spirit, Toga. When I was eight, I tried to keep her for myself because I was eight and I didn’t know what it would mean? I let her go, after, but since then it’s been ‘defiler’ and ‘demon’ and ‘corrupted one’ and whatever other names spirits come up with? You did too?”

Mizuchi rears back, head tilted to the side. It’s a quizzical look, and incredibly strange on something that size. << I do not know this Toga. I know you are the bridge. I know what you can do. That is enough.>> 

“What?” Izuku feels like the ground is turning to quicksand under his feet. “Enough what? Everyone started attacking me after I hurt Toga.”

The dragon shrugs. << Perhaps that was what warned others of your abilities. We have met your kind before.>>

“Right, but centuries ago?” Though maybe that doesn’t matter as much when you’re a spirit and you live for thousands of years. “Humans haven’t understood magic since before quirks came, as far as I can tell from everything, and I barely know what they did! I mean, I’ve read some books? But there’s a lot we’ve lost over the years, and it still doesn’t mean I’d do whatever they did that everyone is… I guess assuming?” Do they think he’d be like some sort of monk, trying to seal them away? Except the one spirit who could maybe actually worry about that the most is Tamamo-no-Mae and she’s never even suggested he could.

There’s another weighty pause. << I meant, Deku,>> and hearing his name, even if grudgingly, makes Izuku take notice because spirits so rarely use it. << That you are not the only one like you now. There are others. The one they call All for One, now, and his terrible legacy. The world made him first. >>

The words sink into his skin like poison: Izuku feels like he’s barely breathing. “All for One? The villain that Bakugo mentioned? He’s like me?

<< He was the first, since we found a way to bond to humans with our power,>> Mizuchi says, unaware or uncaring of the way Izuku’s heart is racing. << It was said he was made to bring balance, but instead he enslaved us and created his monsters.>>

“How?” There’s a villain who can see spirits, like him? “What monsters? Who made him, made me? Why did no one say anything?

<< I assumed you would know,>> is the spirit’s answer, and he’s back to sounding as confused as Izuku feels. << You were made to be a bridge. You know this. We do not understand why.>>

“I know I’m ‘the bridge’ only because that’s what everyone’s told me for eight years!” Izuku can’t tell if he wants to tear his hair out, punch something, or just cry. He’s not sure if any of it would help, but he’s tempted to try all three at once just to see. He’s spent years trying to understand and everyone’s been just… assuming? “Since I was eight - since Toga - that was what everyone called me! No one told me anything! I had to spend six months in the great library trading memories for books just so I knew anything at all!” Six months learning whatever he could, including how to get home. The crows had only given him the route in, not out, after all. “They never mentioned All for One, I only heard his name yesterday! I don’t know anything!”

<< One would assume that the bridge would know why he is a bridge.>>  

Izuku growls, teeth and fists clenched. “Well I don’t! No one told me why I could see you, or why I could touch you, or change things, or help spirits or people! I had to learn it on my own! Every single step! While you called me names and pushed me around and threw me into walls for things I don’t know and now maybe even you don’t know!” It’s so incredibly unfair he feels sick. Why did no one ever say anything? Did they all just assume he knew what was going on, that he was pretending to be confused?    

Did Tamamo-no-Mae know? 

“Ah! There you are!” A voice calls out from a distance, deep and rolling and Izuku turns to see a tall, skinny figure approaching along the track. He realizes he’s been shouting into empty space for a while now and probably looks crazy right around the time he realizes this skeleton of a man is All Might jogging up to him. 

On one hand, this is the first real chance he’s had to see All Might, the hero of his childhood dreams, up close and personal since arriving at UA.

On the other hand, just… fuck everything why now?  

He scrubs at his face as All Might draws close and tries to smile but it feels terribly fractured and uneven. “Can I help you, All Might, uh, Sir?”

“Well, you’re young Deku, aren’t you?” The man looms over him, but it isn’t intimidating - Izuku’s seen All Might in passing, mostly from the windows of UA or Nedzu’s secret viewing portals, and of course he’d watched the footage of that fateful fight over and over again. This All Might wears an oversized yellow suit and has hollows under his cheeks that are thrown in sharp relief with the setting sun behind him. 

Izuku wants to wheeze because All Might knows his name but also of course All Might knows his name the heroes thought he’d kidnapped Aizawa for four days! He manages a very coherent “Yeah,” and tries not to swallow his tongue. Even after the horrific conversation of the last few minutes, eleven years of pure hero worship is hard to forget. “I’m Deku.”

“Am I interrupting something?” All Might looks around, but of course there’s no one there. Then he surprises Izuku by adding “I’m sorry if I am, to you and your friends, but we need you back in the teacher’s lounge.”

It warms him, just a sliver, that All Might doesn’t sound like he’s pandering when he says ‘friends’, the way the nurses would sometimes talk to him, saccharine and syrupy and sweet. All Might sounds uncertain, but more like he’s not sure if he’s being rude, not like he thinks Izuku’s crazy.

Of course, All Might also says he’s needed. “Is everything all right?” Izuku makes himself ask. He wants to keep talking to Mizuchi, wants to find out what he is and what the spirits expect of him, but it can wait. They’re not going anywhere. It might honestly be good to calm down a bit before he asks any more questions anyway.

“I think it would be best if they explain it to you,” All Might admits, setting a huge hand on Izuku’s shoulder. 

Great, like that ever ends well. It’s like when his foster family would say ‘we should talk’ and then let it hang over his head for hours before they told him how he was in trouble this time, complete with the hand on his shoulder so he can’t run away and Izuku wonders what’s wrong now, what he did wrong, why he can’t just catch a break.   

<< I need to do this, >> he tells Mizuchi. << Can I call on you later to… figure this out?>>

<< I… need to speak to others as well,>> is the dragon’s response. << This was unexpected.>>

“You and me both,” Izuku mutters under his breath as Mizuchi fades away and he and All Might turn back towards UA.

“What was that?”

“Oh, um. Just talking to myself.”

All Might nods. “I’d wonder if that could get confusing, between talking to yourself and talking to your friends.”

And there it is again. All Might believing in him, without it sounding superficial. Izuku knows he’s unbalanced from everything - he’d come out here to think not have his worldview partially destroyed - but the idea that All Might might take him seriously seems like a dream. 

It was a dream, once. He’d imagine finding All Might and helping him with something - finding people trapped in rubble with a wind spirit, or using a villain’s spirit to track their hiding place down - and then All Might would ask him how and he’d tell the truth and All Might would believe him, and everyone would believe All Might. He’d laid in bed and wrote fantasies in his head like that for years. Even designed his own hero costume so he could maybe one day be All Might’s sidekick. It makes this feel unreal.

“Young Mirio told me what you did for him,” All Might breaks the silence as they walk, unaware of the thoughts in Izuku’s head, his voice a little raspy. Izuku wonders if that’s just what he sounds like in this form, or if his public persona voice was intentionally different. “And Aizawa has explained to us how your quirk works.” 

It’s not a quirk, Izuku wants to point out but he’s too tired to argue about it right now. He wonders what All Might wants for a half second before his mind drags itself away from dwelling on Mizuchi’s words and reminds him that he knows Mirios - and therefore All Might’s secret.

“You don’t have to worry about me telling anyone,” Izuku promises. “And don’t be mad at Mirio for telling me, I think he only said something because I recognized your spirit hanging around him first and I think he realized I’d be confused if he didn’t explain.”

“I’m glad you understand how important keeping our secret is,” All Might coughs, which makes him cough blood, which is terrifying. Izuku remembers what his spirit had told him before - how badly All Might had been hurt. He wipes at his face with a bloody handkerchief and continues without skipping a beat. “I was curious about what he told me about my - well, I suppose his, ‘spirit’.”

Of course All Might wants to know what he knows, Izuku thinks. Otherwise he could say the wrong thing and reveal more, maybe, than he wants to, assuming there’s more secrets and there probably is. “I know your quirk was passed down from someone else to you and given to him, and it didn’t get rid of his quirk, but it did, um, fuse with his spirit? So they’re one now, and they call themselves One for All and that’s what you call the quirk, and you don’t want anyone to know because you’d have everyone trying to get you - or now Mirio - to give it to them.” He digs his nails into his palms hard enough to hurt, which makes thinking easier. “I know you don’t have any reason to believe me, but I won’t tell anyone.” 

All Might stops to turn to him, still towering over him. The sunset casts their shadows in long relief. “Young Deku, Aizawa tells me you can be trusted, and I have learned to trust his judgement. Mirio has told me he trusts you, and if I cannot trust my successor, I have chosen badly. If you tell me you understand the importance of our secret, I will believe you.”

Izuku feels his face heat up, to know Aizawa and Mirio both have spoken well of him when they barely know him. Of course he’d keep their secret, but… well. It’s amazing to hear All Might believes he will as well, because All Might sounds so certain.  

“Thanks,” he manages, knowing his cheeks are bright red. “Um. Well - I’ve never seen a spirit that could be passed on before, so that makes yours pretty unique.” All Might still has some power, Izuku can feel it, but it’s weak, now, and the connection to his spirit seems as thin as a spider thread. “I had to look it up, but it looks like a manticore. Made up of all sorts of parts to make one thing. Like a lion, with a lot of extra bits.” Izuku wonders about that, now that he thinks about it - the way One for All had spoken was like a sum of parts. Did the spirits get any say in that?

And then there’s the names and that’s probably a coincidence, right? There are so many names for quirks that sound similar but are different, after all, and yet…

“Can I ask a question?” Izuku ventures as they start walking back towards UA once more.

“Of course!”

“Are you, I mean, is there a connection at all, between One for All, and All for One?”

All Might spins on his heels and coughs, clutching at his bloody handkerchief, brows furrowed as he glares at Izuku between hacked breaths. In some ways, that’s answer enough.

Izuku thinks about Minami Ward and the overgrown plants and his shitty futon and how simple things were there and misses it, at this exact moment. It’s probably stupid and he can’t, really, but he thinks he’d maybe give all of this up in a heartbeat if the whole world would just leave him alone.

All Might finally gets his voice back to rasp, “What - did my - Mirio’s - did a spirit tell you that?”  

Izuku bites his lip. “Bakugo said his name, because he thought I was working with him - the villain. And then Eri’s spirit mentioned him.” Izuku can’t quite venture the fact that he and All for One are apparently similar. “Who is he?”

All Might seems to debate on an answer for a moment before he sighs and - surprising Izuku - puts his hands in his pants pockets and sags a bit. “Do you remember the battle at Kamino Ward?”

“Of course. That was him?” The unnamed villain had never been named, and no spirits around him seemed inclined to answer when Izuku asked and maybe that was why.

“Understand I am only telling you this because, well, it’s part of why we’re going to the lounge,” All Might continues. “All for One has been a villain for a - a very long time. He has been the sworn enemy of those who hold One for All from the very beginning. He’s in Tartarus now, and that is where he will stay, but… he has a very frightening quirk.”

Not entirely like him if he has a quirk, Izuku thinks, but then remembers how much everyone just assumes what he can do is a quirk. 

All Might seems to realize he’s waiting for him to continue, so he clears his throat. “All for One can steal quirks.”

Izuku feels his blood turn cold, like a knife of ice has fallen through his skull, down his throat, sliced straight through his heart. He rocks back on his heels and his mind spins and he grips his knife and marker in his pockets so hard he can feel the plastic creak. “Steal quirks?” he manages, voice thin.

All Might just nods, unaware of his internal crisis. “Indeed. And since you were able to assist with young Eri and Mirio, there’s some talk that you might be able to help another Pro Hero.”

Izuku fills in the blanks. “Who had their quirk stolen.”

The frown on All Might’s face is deep, the shadows echoing his former self’s features. “Indeed.”

“Ok,” Izuku says, staring at the doors of UA as they grow larger and larger as they resume their approach. 

Ok, because that’s all he can think of to say. Defiler, Corruptor. How many spirits has All for One hurt? No wonder they think he’s a villain. No wonder they hate him. Is All for One - whoever he is - will that be who he becomes, if he stops keeping his promises?

All Might leaves him to his thoughts as they head inside, up the two flights of stairs and down the hall toward the teacher’s lounge. The school is dark, now, the sun fully set, the lights in the hallway set to half power to conserve energy when no one is supposed to still be here.

They’re still down the hall when they hear Aizawa’s voice raised to carry. “And I said absolutely not!”

All Might winces and Izuku looks at him, but he shakes his head and just gestures to the door. People are talking loudly still, but Izuku can’t pick out actual words until he knocks and enters.

“...aware that you want to look after him, but with proper security in place there should be no danger to - ah!” principal Nedzu perks up from his position behind a desk. “Hello Deku, thank you All Might for fetching him, please come in and take a seat.” 

Izuku swallows around the lump in his throat and sits down on an unoccupied chair. The room feels wrong: thick with tension. There are spirits everywhere, and they all have their eyes on him. Nedzu’s burning mandala doesn’t even have eyes and he can feel its gaze. Kayama’s gorgon is sitting on the table next to the hero, snakes raised, and Yamada’s kappa (who has refused to give Izuku any name to call him) is hanging from the ceiling with his clawed feet. Tamamo-no-Mae is behind Aizawa, and mirroring his clear anger and frustration - her tails are spread and her position is aggressive while Aizawa leans on the table in front of him with both arms, hair falling forward onto his shoulders. 

The one person he doesn’t recognize is a tall and broad shouldered man, with a large wild cat behind him in a pose just as aggressive as Tamamo-no-Mae’s. Izuku’s about to ask them what’s going on when Aizawa’s voice, sharp and angry, cuts through everything. 

“This is unethical and dangerous. We have no idea what danger we would be putting Deku in.”

“Which is why we would mitigate it as much as possible,” Nedzu says. “I have seen the proposal Chatora and the police have made, and it -”

“It ignores the part where Deku’s power is magic, ” Aizawa snaps. “It ignores the point that we can’t predict what All for One might be able to do to him if this process brings them together in any way.”

“And that is why young Deku is here,” Nedzu turns his black eyes to Izuku and Izuku meets them evenly. “There is a hero who had her quirk stolen by the villain known as All for One, and we would like to see if your abilities would allow you to restore hers, at a safe distance of course.”

Izuku looks around the room, feeling lost and a bit overwhelmed by the miasma of anger and uncertainty. His gaze falls on the stranger and he wonders how he’s related to all of this, and then feels sick when the man bows in half in front of him, ridiculously low, hands clamped to his sides. “Please help Tomoko!” He barks out, voice low and rasping and pleading. Begging.

( Help us help us help us help us, they always demand, when they come to him.)

“Tomoko?” Izuku has to ask, because it feels like everyone here knows what’s going on and keeps forgetting that he doesn’t, really. 

“Ragdoll,” the man straightens up. “I’m Yawara Chatora - Tiger from the Wild Wild Pussycats. Ragdoll’s quirk was stolen, and I’ve heard about what you can do. Can you help her? Please.”

“For fuck sake he’s a child, ” Aizawa’s hands slam on the desk. “He hasn’t had a day to himself yet since he got here. This can wait until we have some idea of the process!”

“The best way to understand his process is to study it,” Nedzu counters. “But it is up for Deku to decide.” The principal turns to him once more, nose twitching. “All for One is a formidable villain, of course, but he is also in Tartarus, under strict observation, and unable to use any of his stolen quirks. We would like you to examine Ms. Tomoko, Deku, not engage with a villain. There are a few quirk specialists who would like to see how your abilities work, and by studying that - whether or not you can help Ms Tomoko, it may allow us to better understand how your abilities work and how we might be able to examine All for One safely later.”

So now even the heroes think he’s like All for One, Izuku has to swallow around another lump in his throat at that thought. 

“And I keep telling them you need to rest and -”

“Would you really keep her quirk from her? ” Chatora demands, flexing his shoulders and arms so that they stretch out his suit. 

“For a few more weeks? Absolutely, ” Aizawa snaps back. “She’s a grown woman, and a pro hero. She’s waited for answers this long, she can wait -”

Izuku sees the anguish in Chatora’s eyes. Ragdoll - he knows her, from his hero worshipping days. She’s a rescue specialist, along with the rest of the Wild Wild Pussycats. Someone who did the work that needed doing because it was important, not to be famous. 

<< Please.>> That comes from Chatora’s spirit, and if Chatora’s eyes are anguished, the spirit’s voice sounds like it’s being flayed alive. << Please save her.>>

They always need him, when it comes to dealing with other humans. It’s what he was made to do - or at least - it’s what he thought he was meant to do. Now he doesn’t know. He’d wished for years that he could meet someone, anyone like him, and now…

“I’ll do it,” Izuku stands up, stares up into Chatora’s eyes and then looks past him, to his spirit, and nods. He ignores the glare at his back from Aizawa and the soft ‘ kit no’ from Tamama-no-Mae.

“If I can help her, I will.” 

He’s not a villain. 

And if this is what he has to do to see what he might become, there are far worse prices he has paid.

 




Chapter Text

CHAPTER 12 : terrible legacy




Hizashi watches as Shota storms out of the room. There’s a pause as everyone takes stock. Deku looks carefully blank. Chatora’s upset but keeping a stiff upper lip. Nedzu is unreadable as always, Kayama is rubbing at her temple, lips pursed, and Yagi looks… well. Yagi looks like he’s considering going after Shota, and that is going to go over like a house on fire. Hizashi pushes himself up. “I’ll go after him,” he tells the room, still echoing from Shota’s outburst. “You lot had better come up with a foolproof way to keep Deku safe, because if he gets hurt in the process of all of this,” he waves a hand in a vague circle of ‘this’, “I don’t think Shota’s going to forgive you.”

 “I’ll be ok,” Deku insists as Hizashi heads for the door. “Tell him… I’m sorry. But I’m going to do this.”

 Hizashi hesitates and looks over his shoulder at the kid and well fuck, Deku’s got that look he’s seen before - not on this kid, but on others. On Shinso. On Aizawa. Hizashi is not the feelings guy out of their group, but he crouches down in front of Deku and prods him on the arm gently until Deku looks at him. “Shota’s upset, but it isn’t your fault,” he says, hating the audience but refusing to let Deku just stand there and think Shota might throw him away for one disagreement. “He lost his cool, but he’ll come around. He’s worried about keeping you safe,” and about people taking advantage of you, he thinks but doesn’t say out loud, because unlike some people might suggest he does, in fact, have tact. “I’ll talk to him, but don’t think he’s giving up on you yet. He’s both way too much of a stubborn asshole and someone who cares too much to do that, and if you tell him I said that, I will deny it and call you a bald faced liar. Got it?” He winks, and behind him Yagi snorts a quiet laugh.

“Ok,” Deku smiles. It’s a little lopsided and it doesn’t meet his eyes, but it’s something better than the blank expression he had moments before. 

“Good. Now you… make plans about whatever you have to do to be safe, and Shota will talk to you again tomorrow.” Hizashi needs to take his husband home, really, but that’s not going to happen - a quiet night in 1A’s dorms is the best he can manage right now. 

Deku nods, and Hizashi takes that as the best he’ll get as he turns and heads out to find Shota, preferably before he breaks something. He has to at least be glad that Shota can’t go out on patrol right now: an angry Eraserhead tended to bring back villains in more pieces than they started with.

He checks Shota’s usual haunts, including his classroom, the supply closet he likes to nap in, the small training gym that was usually used for independent study and staff purposes, all to no avail. He’s heading towards the dorms when he sees Shota coming out from behind them, hands in his pockets and head tucked down into his scarf, shoulders hunched, his whole form just radiating anger and frustration.

He sees Hizashi and sighs loud enough to be heard in the quiet of the night, and Hizashi jogs forward before Shota tries to take off on him. “You’re taking this harder than I think anyone expected,” Hizashi offers once he’s close enough not to need to shout.

“Oh really?” is Shota’s response, and the tone itself carries layers of derision. “What was your first indication?”

“Come on, Shota. Don’t be like that.” Hizashi nudges him, trying to get him to lighten up. “They’re not bringing the kid into Tartarus! They want to do it at the hospital! He’ll have heroes there, you can be there, he says he’ll be fine.”

“Fine, like he was fine living on the streets, or fine like when he was living in a flophouse? Or fine like when he gave up a childhood memory to get me home in one piece?” Hizashi knows Shota’s angry, but this level of vitriol is surprising even for him. “Because I have known this kid for two weeks and fine is not something I trust him to make a god damned judgement call on!”

Hizashi has to lean back, because Shota’s so upset  that his hair’s starting to lift. “That’s what we’re going to be there for, then, to look after him.”

“That’s just it!” Shota snaps. Hizashi has seen him this angry on very few occasions and it hasn’t been directed at him in a very long time. “None of you actually believe him, or me, do you?”

“What?”

“The spirits,” Shota scowls. “You don’t believe they’re real, independent creatures that can fuck that kid up.” 

“I never said that!” Hizashi holds his hands up, placating. “I believe you went through something that none of us can really get, and I mean, I don’t know about spirits, but it’s obvious it has something to do with quirks, right? Like you said - personification! But if All for One could cause trouble for us outside of Tartarus, he’d be doing it, wouldn’t he? You can’t really think he’d cause problems for Deku under all of our noses.” Hizashi wants to believe Shota, of course he does, but magic is still a little hard to wrap his head around. A weird quirk makes way more sense, and Harigae had confirmed that Shota’s memories hadn’t been really played with, but some quirks could still create things that were real when you experienced them. No one thinks Deku’s a villain at this point, but having his quirk properly tested with like, machines and things, that’d be good, right?

“Hitoshi’s quirk found us in Miyazaki. If he can do that, there’s no reason All for One’s quirk couldn’t do the same. I watched Eri’s quirk give Deku a concussion and pinned him to the floor.” Shota runs a hand through his hair to pull it away from his eyes, which are more bloodshot than usual. “Do you really think we can fight something invisible, intangible, that can only harm Deku? Because I don’t think we can.

“You think his… spirit could do that? Why wouldn’t he try now, then?”

“I don’t know!” Shota rocks back on his heels. “I don’t know! Maybe he doesn’t know about Deku, maybe he’s avoiding Deku because the kid’s got some serious power and whatever his spirit is doesn’t want to mess with him. Maybe he’s waiting for a chance to do something when our backs are turned, I don’t know and I can’t protect this kid from an invisible enemy and I can barely protect this kid from himself! He literally just finished helping Eri, he helped Mirio, Chiyo says he hasn’t gained weight yet and he should have, we should be protecting him, not throwing him at a problem the minute we think he can solve it for us!” Shota’s chest is heaving and Hizashi realizes he’s misjudged this. 

He thought Shota was just upset about no one listening to him about Deku, because he was having Parental Feelings even if he didn’t have much legal say yet. He thought Shota was upset at them going over his head.

Shota’s not pissed at them for undermining him.

Shota’s afraid.  

Hizashi steps in close and takes Shota’s hands, about the most he can do out in the open like this - Shota only shuts down when he tries to be demonstrative in public. He squeezes them and it makes things a tiny bit better when Shota doesn’t yank away from his grasp. “I’m sorry,” he says, because first and foremost he fucked up here and Shota’s wired to listen when someone says they’re sorry, as fucked up as that can sometimes be. “I’m sorry I don’t entirely believe you yet - I want to, and I’m trying, but it’s hard.” But he can try harder; he can damn well try harder. “I don’t think Chatora would have asked on a whim, Shota. I get the feeling that Tomoko’s in bad shape if he came here to ask when Deku’s barely gotten settled, right? And if we’re going to protect him, maybe the best way to start is to get him under the eye of some experts so they can see… what happens around him. The first way to defend him is to understand what’s going on. If it’s magic…” Hizashi has to stretch his memory as far as it will go, “then we cover him in those wards he has, or sew salt packets into all of his clothes, or have a dozen priests come and purify the school and our apartment and his uniforms. Whatever it takes,” Hizashi promises. 

Shota glares at him through his bangs, but it’s a much more familiar sort of glare, tired instead of angry. It means he’s listening. Good.

“If you really think he’s going to be in danger like this, we should find out everything we can now, so we can work on looking after him. Otherwise, maybe you’re right and something will come after him when we’re not prepared.” He takes a risk and smiles, just a little. “Don’t you always teach your students that proper intel is the first step to any mission, Mr. I Work In The Dead Of The Night Who The Fuck Supplied These Blueprints?”

It drags a huff from Shota, which might as well be a full bellied laugh, the state he’s in. Hizashi curls his fingers, and Shota returns the gesture, breathing evening out as he sighs. “You might have a point.”

“Oh ho! Might have a point, that’s pretty close to saying I’m right, you know.”

“Don’t get too cocky,” Shota’s grip gets tighter for just a moment, and then he lets go. “I still don’t like this.”

“I know,” Hizashi nods and nudges Shota towards the dorms. “I promised him you’d check in tomorrow and promised him you weren’t angry at him. Told the others they’d need to come up with a plan to keep him safe. Tomorrow we can tear it apart and see what else we can add to it. Besides,” Hizashi adds as they stop at the stairs leading to the dorms front doors, “I’ve only known him for like, two weeks, and I get the feeling he wouldn’t have said no to Chatora no matter what we decided. Kid’s basically a hero in training already.” 

Shota sighs and shakes his head and surprises Hizashi by leaning in, just a little, pressing their shoulders together. “That’s the problem,” he admits, talking to the door more than to Hizashi. “He’s not in training yet.” 

----------------

Preparing to face his possible future is actually pretty anticlimactic. They aren’t taking him to Tartarus, not even near it. He’s heading back to the hero hospital where Eri was kept, and everyone seems to think that he probably won’t be able to fix Ragdoll’s quirk exactly, but that he might be able to either tell them more about what happened to it, or give them research to further study it and study All for One. He isn’t even going to meet the man himself, just maybe - possibly - his spirit. 

Aizawa isn’t happy about it, obviously, and Tamamo-no-Mae hasn’t shown up at all since Aizawa stormed out the night before, even though Izuku’s called for her. He doesn’t know what to think about that, except maybe that maybe she thinks… well. Maybe she knows what he’s going to find out and is afraid for him. Or afraid of him. She probably doesn’t want to be around for it, either way.

Aizawa, at least, doesn’t avoid him. Instead he takes Izuku to get supplies: if he’s going to do this, he wants to do it right, and if All for One’s spirit does try to come after him, he tells Aizawa, he can prepare for it a lot easier if the adults will let him and not think he’s crazy.

Aizawa at least stops looking so angry when Izuku explains what that entails, and walks with him to the nearest shrine where they buy a dozen new gofu. “Chatora’s spirit says he will guard me,” he tells Aizawa on their way back. “And that he’ll bring the other spirits from the Wild Wild Pussycats, in case anything does try to be aggressive, and I was going to use Suneater’s quirkto make myself armor, just to be extra sure.”

Aizawa looks at him with tired, red-rimmed eyes. Izuku’s pretty sure he didn’t sleep much last night, and it’s entirely his fault. “What?”

“Well, I traded helping Suneater for using his quirk - I get to call on it three times. So I was thinking I can eat some clams in advance, and that way if I need to I can make body armor.” He’d studied videos of Suneater in the Sports Festival late last night just to be sure that would work, and it seemed reasonable. Suneater used it only for parts of his body like a shield, but Izuku was pretty sure he could make it a keratin shell for his important bits.

Aizawa is still looking at him while they walk. He seems about to say something, then stops and presses his lips together in a frown, then shakes his head. “Just how easy is it for you to use these ‘favors’, exactly?”

“It’s pretty straightforward, as long as I know what to expect. The spirit channels with me, so I can’t...” Izuku gestures with a hand, “just do it now. I have to call on them, and they have to appear, and then I ask, and then they have to agree and actually lend me the power. They could ignore me or refuse, but that would go against the contract, and that’s… a really big deal, for spirits.” He thinks about Tamamo-no-Mae and how easy that had been, how she hadn’t even been touching him at the time. “I usually try to be careful about what I use, since some favors are one time only, though I usually try to ask for a few.”

“Just what sort of spirits owe you, exactly?” Aizawa asks, and Izuku still can’t quite tell if he’s annoyed at his answer or just tired.

The question makes him pause, though, because… “Is it ok if I don’t say?” he asks in turn, a little unsure. “It feels… rude. It’s their secrets, their debts, and a lot of them aren’t happy to owe me at all, I only mentioned Oku because he knows I’ll be calling on him later.”

Aizawa frowns a little more, but he shrugs and doesn’t get upset, which Izuku can be glad for. “It’s fine,” he says, in a voice that implies it isn’t fine and they’ll be talking about it later, but Izuku can… well, deal with it later. “At least you’re taking this seriously.” 

“Of course I am,” Izuku doesn’t understand the statement. “You think the others aren’t?” 

“I think that if your precautions fail us, we’re going to be in trouble,” Aizawa tells him, point blank. “I’m worried about what happens if something with a grudge comes after you here. At least I could fight them in the other place.”  

“I’ll fight them off,” Izuku promises, touched by how worried Aizawa is. “You saw before, I know how to look after myself.”

“Eri’s spirit gave you a concussion and nearly cracked your ribs,” he points out, voice flat.

“Well, yes, but I could have stopped him if it got worse, I was trying to convince him to stop before I had to.” And he really had been on the cusp of having to fight back, before Tamamo-no-Mae had arrived.

Aizawa stops and puts a hand on his shoulder and turns him so that they’re face to face. “Why didn’t you, Deku? If you could stop him before he hurt you, why did you - why do you let them hurt you?”

Izuku looks up at Aizawa, Eraserhead, the Hero - and thinks of all the lies he could tell, the ones he would have told, two weeks ago. He swallows them down. “Because it always makes things worse, in the end,” he admits, as Aizawa’s grip on his shoulder tightens. “Because it proves them right.”

“No,” Aizawa says, short and sharp and fierce. “Protecting yourself against others doesn’t prove them right, even if you have to take their names to do it. That’s like suggesting All Might is a violent and dangerous man because he is constantly punching villains.”

Izuku doesn’t know about that. You could argue that All Might is - well, was - dangerous, depending on how you framed things. You couldn’t suggest he was dangerous to civilians, unlike some other pro heroes, but - Aizawa makes an exasperated sound and glares through his bangs. “Are you trying to come up with ways to declare All Might dangerous?”

“No?” Izuku lies, badly.

“Just - just this once, kid, I want you to promise me. If something comes after you today, you will fight back. Don’t let them walk all over you, don’t let them hurt you. Fight back to protect yourself.” 

And become a monster? Izuku thinks, as Aizawa’s grip gets almost painful before he lets go. “I’ll try,” he says, because he thinks if he lies outright, Aizawa will be able to tell and will try to stop him and he wants to do this. He needs to do this. Aizawa doesn’t look convinced, though, so he takes a breath and straightens his back. “I don’t want to get hurt,” he says, more firmly - that’s the truth, after all. “I’ll protect myself.” 

Also true: it’s defending himself he has trouble with.

“Good,” Aizawa seems to sag a little in relief. “Just… good. Let’s get back and see if everyone else has done their part.” 

---------

In the space between the human world and the realm of the spirits, there is nothing. It is a special sort of nothing - it is time and space compressed, the place where spirits go to move from one point on earth to another without boundaries. It is a space that exists in the margins, quite literally, and as a result many travel through it without understanding it, without even knowing what they are accessing as they do. Only the oldest know what the space truly is, and only the wisest can access it directly, to use it as more than a thoroughfare.

Mizuchi sits, and because he wills it, there is something to sit on in this nothingness. He has his human form here because it is polite to keep himself to a scale with his companions, and he prefers this to simply shrinking his true form down. Lady Kayō, dressed in silks, paces back and forth in a froth of motion, unbound by the theoretical weight of her layers, hair rippling around her shoulders and down her back. 

“You knew he did not understand,” Mizuchi asks, though it is more of a statement, an attempt to understand. “You have been with him. Why did you not explain?”

“Explain what?” She turns, and everything about her ripples, even if there is no breeze. “That he is being judged not on his own actions, but on the actions of a man nearly two centuries his senior? That the reason our kind thinks of him as a monster is entirely out of his control? That his existence points to a greater duty than simply digging sylphs out of old wards?” She is angry, and she is beautiful in her anger. He has admired her ferocity ever since she first fell into his domain. 

He is, however, unphased by her fury. “You could explain that he is capable of making monsters, and that is why we find him monstrous. That the legacy before him is one that haunts many of us. He has seen what became of Madanbashi.” Years ago, Mizuchi had known the shisa spirit when it had been solely itself, a great lion and protector of Naha Bay, long before it had become the terrible fusion of souls it now was. “How long until he makes another like him? Or worse ?” He still mourns for his brother, and will never be able to forgive the humans for what horror had been done to him. Even if Deku seems to mean well - and truly, he does - it can not last. Humans are fickle, after all. They change too much, with the seasons. Deku will be their ally only until it suits him to be otherwise, and the damage he will do then is immense.

“I notice you didn’t tell him anything?” Lady Kayō ceases in her movements to glare at him directly. “He is a child, Mizuchi.”

“I am aware,” and truly, he is aware of this. The child seems more than simply good and kind, he is thoughtful and intelligent. “But human children do not remain as they are. They become men.”

“Not all men are evil.”

“Not all men can control us at their whim. The human they call All For One was a child, once. He was kind, once. I remember, even if you do not.” He watches Lady Kayō frown at him, but the expression is brief across her delicate features, morphing into something like pity. He does not want her pity: he wants her to be safe. “I lost Ryūjin. We have both lost too many to the monster the world gave us blindly. Please,” he pleads, hands flat on his knees. “For our friendship, if nothing else, do not give this boy the chance to claim you for himself.”

“And that is how you will repay him?” She steps back and he realizes she is disappointed in him by the set of her brow and the curl of her lip. “After what he has done for you? You will pay him in suspicion and nothing else?”

She is right: There is still honor to be considered. “I will find a way to make good for what he has done,” he tells her with a slight bow of acceptance. “But I will not place myself in the path of becoming his slave.” She sighs, and perhaps he is put out by her disappointment, at the implication of his failure despite his reasons. Perhaps he has lost her faith.

Perhaps he is petty when he meets her gaze and holds it. “Have you at least told him the truth, then? About your part in all of this?”

“My part is often grossly exaggerated,” she snaps, angry all over again. “Because if it had more meaning, I would be owed more than a reminder of my part!” Her silks swirl as she steps away, moving to leave, slicing the reality around them thin enough to pass through. 

Mizuchi regrets his words. “Please don’t go,” he stands and offers a hand. “Stay, at least for a while, we still have so much to speak on.”

“Deku is going to try to restore what All for One has taken,” she tells him, and watches as he finds himself shocked into place. “I don’t know if he can. I don’t know what harm will fall to him in the attempt. But I do know I will not stand idly by and leave him to fate. Not when he has refused to do so for any of us in turn.” She turns her back on him and he feels very suddenly too old and too young at once, despite his true age. She does not wait for his rebuttal - she slices through time and disappears from their space between, and leaves him alone with his thoughts.

They do not make good company.

----------

Nedzu surveys the examination room they have been assigned for this process with a careful eye. It’s a decently sized space meant for observation: one wall has a large glass partition where additional machinery is kept, and there is room for more than simply doctor and patient. 

Two beds have been arranged in the centre of the room, crisp linens waiting occupation. Next to them sit two EEG devices, wired and ready, and Nedzu recognizes the standard arrangement of pulse and oximeter monitors with the ephemera of things used to ascertain that human baseline is, in fact, remaining so. Behind the glass are machines and computers that will use the room’s sensors to judge quirk activation, judge power output, and even read the radius of Deku’s power. 

The walls are lined with gofu, marked - Nedzu’s nose is sensitive enough to pick up on it - with blood. It’s subtly done as well: he doubts the humans around him have noticed the fact, or he is sure they could comment. It further adds weight to Deku’s beliefs, if he is willing to add something like blood for vermissilitude. It could be subterfuge, of course, designed to convince others, but the subtlety of the markings leads him to suspect it was done in earnest. 

(Of course, there is the consideration to be made that Deku has done so knowing that Nedzu himself would read the blood on the papers and make the same judgement about his dedication to this cause. Nedzu does not negate the possibility: it is simply a far less likely option based on current parameters.)

In the corner of the room Aizawa speaks with Deku, quietly. Nedzu can hear the words, even though he knows he is not meant to: they are reassurances, traded between one another. Deku promising to protect himself from his spirits, Aizawa promising to protect Deku from humanity. It is heartening, to see the two of them so clearly bonded. It makes things easier.

Easier, because magic should not exist, certainly, but part of his intelligence means that Nedzu himself is aware of how much he still does not know, and how much humanity has still yet to learn. There are gaps, large ones, in quirk knowledge. Too much quirk theory stands on weak foundations and studies that were old fifty years ago, and now creak on ancient legs. Humanity is too squeamish, in his personal and private opinion. It is probably a good thing he did not go into quirk studies himself. 

Ethics are of course important, but they can be such a roadblock to progress.

There are people moving around inside the partitioned room, assistants to the specialists he’s called in for this exercise. Ayuki stands beside him and has been a lifelong friend and confidante, or at least for as long as his life of freedom has existed, and an expert in atypical quirk expression and a steadfast and logical mind. Roku is speaking with Chatora, and is likewise an expert in quirk factor. He has been the lead specialist dealing with the aftermath of both the Shie Hassaikai, and those who have survived falling under All for One’s attention. 

A nurse brings in Tomoko, who looks around the room with a quiet, nervous energy she tries valiantly to hide. She would look well, if you did not know her, he thinks to himself. You could consider her color natural, if you did not note how valiantly her makeup has been applied to adjust for it. The lines and bruises around her eyes have been deftly concealed, and her smile is the practiced, comforting expression of a rescue hero. She could be well, if you did not account for the weight loss, the lethargy, the unexplained chronic pain, the moments of confusion. She could be well, if you did not hear Chatora explain the inability to handle groups or crowds, the fear of being alone, the nightmares and cataplexy. 

He does not know what Deku sees when he walks up to her, but there is something. The boy is brilliant at reading others in very short periods of time, and Nedzu watches as he first almost bounds up to the older woman and then softens himself, in the space between two breaths, and he speaks to her more as he does Eri, more as he does to the spirit he calls Tamamo-no-Mae, than the way he addresses Aizawa.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Deku tells her with a genuine smile. “I don’t know what everyone’s told you…”

“You’re going to see if you can help with my quirk.” Her smile nearly matches his. “Chatora told me, because you fixed Mirio’s quirk.” 

“I’m going to try!” Deku nods, and explains what limitations they might have, since he hasn’t dealt with quite this situation before. Of course he’s apparently dealt with quite a few different situations over the last few years. 

Nedzu had sat with him and carefully drawn out story after story about ‘fixing’ quirks, up to and including removing them. Deku calls it ‘disconnecting’, of course, but the result is the same. Most of the cases are hard to follow up on, of course - Deku rarely had names to offer - but a few of the descriptions of quirks and ages, especially regarding children, had brought some result, and money, especially in a place like Kotobukicho, could encourage all sorts of memories to surface. There is no real understanding of Deku’s ability or limits, not even from the boy himself. And then of course there is the case of young Yuna to consider, or what he has done for Eri and Mirio: both happened under Nedzu’s careful gaze and UA’s sensors, what little they have been able to pick up, and still they do not know anything near enough.

Really, when faced with an ability like Deku’s, Tomoko’s condition - as regrettable as it is - is the perfect chance to study what he can do, and potentially examine the limits. They are miles from Tartarus, All for One is well and truly contained, and the machinery here is far better at picking up nuance than the more simple machinery at UA, as this is not obligated to be hidden. As unethical as it might be, Deku’s quirk or ability works needs to be studied, and the sooner the better. If he can be influenced by outside quirks, or ‘spirits’, then they need a solid plan of action to protect him.

And if he is, in the unlikely event, playing a very long game, or falls into the hands of those less scrupulous than UA’s staff, then they need a better idea of how to stop someone with his kind of power.

----------------

Izuku sits on the medical bed with his legs hanging over the side, while everyone moves in organized chaos around him. There is a plastic band around his forehead that sits behind his ears, and wires trail down from it. Other wires are stuck to his temples and the back of his neck and even in his hair, the adhesive a little itchy, and they all trail to a machine at the side of his bed. There’s a monitor on his finger for his pulse, and a few other things on his arms and chest that he honestly doesn’t recognize. Tomoko has the same treatment, looking nervous and bouncing slightly, leaning into Chatora while the doctors make sure everything is working. 

The spirits all around him are reassuring. He’s met the three spirits of the Wild WIld Pussycats - all of them cat themed, which makes him wonder if they’d always had that form or chose it to match their humans - and Suneater’s octopus Oku is hovering in the corner just in case. Izuku’s not calling on his power now just in case it makes the process of all these machines harder, but he’d eaten some canned clams before they started to show Aizawa that he really could armor himself, just in case, and that had worked out well.  Tamamo-no-Mae didn’t say very much at all when she arrived but she’d given him a smile, so maybe she doesn’t hate him after all. He’s not brave enough to ask her yet, though: it’s enough that she’s here to help.

“All right,” Dr. Ayuki says, and it’s frightening to be here and to be dealing with doctors and to be on this bed, but it’s not too much. He’s doing it for Tomoko and he’s doing it for himself, and no one has called him crazy yet and Aizawa promised no one would. “Now, from my understanding you use your quirk to reach and read someone else’s quirk factor, through a mark on your hands. Can you give us a brief example so we can ensure that everything is calibrated?”

Izuku nods, but Nedzu interrupts. “Actually,” he says from his position, standing on a chair so that he’s of the same height as everyone else which would look silly on anyone else but just makes perfect sense for him. “Deku, if you would, could you simply reach for a spirit first, not Ms. Tomoko?”

“Ok?” Izuku looks at his options and hesitates because he doesn’t want to overstep and he and Tamamo-no-Mae haven’t talked so… he settles on Oku. “How about I just armor my legs?”

“What?”

Izuku just asks and receives the spirit’s power as it floats down to him, his lower legs gaining a thick layer of hard calcium around them, though not so much to rip his pants. The plan is to tug up his pants leg to show them, but of course the minute he actually starts to channel Oku’s power everything starts to scream. 

He stops and the machines save for one all stop blaring alarms, but the one that keeps alarming is so loud he has to cover his ears against it, and his heart is pounding and he can smell antiseptic and he’s cold and it’s suddenly very, very hard to breathe.

Warm hands cover his and someone shouts and the noise stops. Izuku smells… cologne. No one wore cologne at the institute, there were rules against it - and he looks up and Aizawa is in front of him, covering his ears still and giving him a worried look. You all right? he asks, lips moving slowly enough for Izuku to read them. He doesn’t take his hands off of Izuku’s own, off of his ears, blocking out the sound. 

Izuku shudders and breathes in deep - the cologne is stronger than the smell of hospital, this close, and smells fresh. Like Aizawa just put it on. He feels his eyes water. << Did he seriously put on cologne for me?>> he asks Tamamo-no-Mae.

<< He is prepared for you, kit. If you are doing this, you are doing it as protected as he can make you.>>

Izuku would give anything to be alone with Aizawa for five minutes just to ask for a hug, but there are too many people, too many spirits, so he breathes again and nods, tugging his hands free. “Sorry,” he says, to Aizawa (but really to the whole room). “That was… loud.”

“It startled me too!” Tomoko says instantly, and Izuku notices she’s clutching her hands together, so it probably isn’t just her trying to make him feel better. “What - what was it?”

“Told you it was going to be a problem,” Aizawa says, hand on Izuku’s shoulder now and glaring at Nedzu. “If he disappears from camera feeds, he’s going to interrupt things here.”

“But not audio recordings,” Nedzu points out. “We should not proceed assuming that nothing will work, Aizawa, but rather that everything should work, and then calibrate based on actual empirical evidence, should we not?”

Aizawa says something under his breath that Izuku catches as ‘We shouldn’t be doing this at all’, but he doesn’t say it loud enough for Nedzu to respond, so everyone pretends he didn’t say anything at all. 

They have to fiddle with the machinery which makes Izuku nervous which makes Aizawa hover closer and squeeze his shoulder more. Everyone waits until Dr Ayuki nods and says ‘try again’.

Less screaming machinery, but the one that’s connected to all the wires in his head still just goes off and keeps going until they unplug it. It takes three separate tries before Izuku can use Oku’s power - showing off his armored shins to frustratingly annoying surprise from the doctors - and he feels jumpy and wound tight like a spring when they finally declare themselves ready for him to try to do something more, like, you know, actually help Tomoko.

He’s too wound up to even ask what the heck has been going wrong - he’ll ask later, if he has the energy to. He just wants this to be done with, wants answers for himself and to chase away the empty look in Ragdoll’s eyes.

So it’s maybe with a bit stubbornness, a bit of pride, and a bit of desperation when he marks Tomoko’s hand with the borrowed sharpie he’s kept from the other place, and then his own. It’s a bit of determination to do this and do this right that when he reaches towards her and hears the machinery scream again, he decides to ignore it and just keep going.

Tomoko is a jungle at first glance, but one that looks - Izuku has to search for the word - desiccated. It looks like a bomb has gone off, all at once, and everything around him is dead. Her core exists and thrums under his feet, but everything he can see is just…. empty. When he reaches to touch a vine that hangs down over his head it turns to dust and collapses into itself, disintegrating into nothing.

It is unlike anything he has ever seen before. Even when a spirit dies while connected to someone - rare but it does happen - their human keeps a pool of their power. That pool empties, eventually, without the spirit’s connection, but it is there. Even All Might, who had his spirit move on, still has power within him, however weakened. 

Ragdoll is empty. There is nothing inside of her, nothing of her spirit or its power or her quirk except -

Izuku doesn’t see the spiderweb thin line. There would be no way to see it with his eyes, a thread in this place of death, but he can feel it. He walks, trying to disturb as little as he can, ignoring the way someone is trying to tug on his body, pushing that sensation away as unimportant. He’s somewhere safe, for the moment, and Aizawa is looking after him.

He tugs on the thread. It feels solid. It feels like a spirit’s connection, just spun impossibly thin. He knows - somehow, just by touching it - that it cannot be broken by his touch but that he could break it, if he chose to.

He knows, without knowing quite how - that it leads somewhere wrong.

Like this, inside of Ragdoll, he is grounded and centered and contained. The thread leads outside of her. The thread, he knows, leads to All for One. He’s never tried to be anywhere but inside himself, or inside of someone else. He’s never wanted to leave his body at risk like that. There were plenty of stories in the grand library about spirit walking, or monks projecting their spirit far and wide, and all sorts of stories about what could happen if your body was left as an empty shell for anything else to enter.

But the hospital room is warded, and he is protected, and he has to know.

Izuku lets his grip on Ragdoll go, but does not follow the firm band of power behind him back to his body. He floats, and tugs on the spiderweb experimentally - and flies. It is breathtaking - he can’t breathe, which he doesn’t need to do like this but always tries to because it’s more comfortable to pretend to have a body. He passes through the ceiling, through several floors and people and things and then the roof and then he’s scrambling to hold onto the thread as he is pulled away from the hospital, heading east. He’s moving too fast - he tries to slow himself down, but he can’t. The line in his hand is vibrating and he can’t let go - it’s pulling him now, away from his body, away from the safety of his wards and protections, away from Aizawa and the spirits who had agreed to protect him - terrifyingly away from it all.

And dragged towards the giant shape of Tartarus that looms on the horizon and gets closer as the world around him blurs with speed.

-------

The Greeks thought of Tartarus as a dank and desolate place, where those who had crossed the gods and done the unthinkable were held. For most of its occupants it stood as a sentence of eternity, of toil and despair and futility. A place even the gods themselves would not wish to visit, a place of the eternally damned and the morally corrupt, where Sysiphus endlessly pushed his burden and where Ixion lies forever strapped to a burning wheel.

The walls of Tartarus are meant to keep everyone and everything in, or out, depending on their position. It is a building made by quirks: quirked construction to make a fortress that can withstand tsunami, flooding, earthquakes, and mere mortal attempts to enter or leave. Security installed by quirked individuals, fine tuned by them, and watched by them. Sensors monitor every living being inside of the building - their heart rate, their temperature, their power levels, their REM sleep and their bowel movements. There is no privacy, there is no freedom, there is no doubt that every prisoner deserves their fate. Tartarus stands as an impenetrable fortress where only the truly despicable and truly dangerous are placed and kept under constant, unblinking surveillance. 

Izuku flies ever closer overhead, struggling to free himself to no avail. Inexorable force holds him in its grip and he stops for a moment only when he is hovering a few dozen feet above the centre of the cold, grey prison.

He tries once more to pull away, to hold onto his sense of self and return to his own body, but the grip around him refuses to let go.

They drag him down.

------

Izuku lands in chaos.

It’s loud, too loud, impossibly overwhelmingly awful and oppressive and he hurts he’s suffocating he’s pressed down and smothered and there is screaming - no, not screaming, wailing - begging cries and his voice joins them without thought, without reason, just pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease -

h̶̻͒͗̆̆͊̈́̽͆̇͋ͅe̸͓̝̦̊͗͝ļ̵̛͕̦͕̝̓̔̃̓̅̓̚p̸̢̰̦̦͕̗͔̅̒́̿ ̵̩̞̭̗̐̅̇̿̌͝ủ̶̡̯̰̝̾̒͝͝s̸̨̟̙̗͔̼̘̽̈́̒̑ͅ

He doesn’t know how long he’s lost in the sensation, but at some point the line in his hand - that is still attached to his hand - tugs and tugs and drags him along the ground. The sensation (of sorts) reminds him of where he is, reminds him of who he is, and that these feelings are not his own.

It is hard, incredibly hard, to find the space where he ends and the thoughts of so many spirits begin, but he finds that edge and rebuilds his mental walls until the cacophony is only a dull roar, until he can scrape himself up, dizzy and uneasy and afraid of what he’ll find, where he’ll be. He staggers upright in a room that is bright and circular, with a man strapped vertically to a medical bed like a horrific Frankenstein’s monster, hooked up to tubes and wires and machinery, with what looks like machine guns lining the ceiling of the room aimed at him, and part of Izuku’s brain thinks that’s All for One, that’s All Might’s nemesis, that’s what you are going to become - but it’s a very quiet part of his brain, because the rest of his head is screaming in gibbering, horrified, point blank disgusted terror.

Wrapped around the human, for only Izuku’s eyes to see, is something that, once upon a time, was a dragon.

ḫ̶̙̳͔̩͐̆̽͂̃e̴̡̪̎́͌l̸̖͒̄͑͗̕p̴̧̫̥̠͍͖̻͊̅ ̸̛͔̪̮̓͗ú̸̯̙̬̻̯̀͊́š̸͚̗͆͛̾̚̚ͅ

If this mental sense of himself could throw up, it would.

The dragon is huge, maybe three times the size of Mizuchi, blue and silver and gold. Izuku doesn’t doubt that he was beautiful - once. Now…

ş̵̩̭̗̑á̸̼̭̣̲v̶̹̬̟̅ḛ̴̦̰͒̒ ̸̧̭͔͍̳̉ṵ̶̓̌̀s̵̹͇͚̺̃̃̐̋̐

Now there is the bloated, bulging, disfigured shape of something that can only be identified as a dragon because it’s head is mostly intact and Izuku can’t think of anything else with a body that long with legs, but gods. By all of the gods.

<< I smell you,>> it says, menacingly, and as Izuku takes an unwilling step forward he realizes the dragon is blind, or at least its one eye is clouded over and unblinking - the other is nothing but a tumor. << I smell you, human. I know you are here. Do you think you can hide? Do you think I would not recognize you?>> the voice is male, but tired in a way Izuku has not ever heard from a spirit ever. It makes him feel exhausted just hearing it - he has to shake the feeling off, strengthen the difference between it - them - and himself.

“What happened to you?” he asks, even as he takes in everything and knows the answer to that fact. The dragon’s form is littered with growths, tumors, bulges - many scaled over, many just part of its body, distorted as it is, but not all. No. Not all.

The line in his hand tugs once more and Izuku walks before he is dragged closer to one of the dragon’s front legs, this one stuck in position because there is another spirit merged into his side next to and across the top of the leg, preventing it from moving. It’s a large cat with huge ears and spotted fur, and half of it is just… merged into the dragon. It’s front legs are free, but it’s back and bottom half are just… covered by scales. The dragon is absorbing it. Slowly. 

The cat’s front paws reach out and the line tugs him in and Izuku touches fur and the walls around his mind collapse. 

h̵̨̟͚̄́̇e̴͍̿̊̇l̴͕̹̮͘p̴̣̱̠͂͗ ̴̡̙̎̈̓ǔ̵͈͆̏s̶̗̩̃̒̓͜ ̵̍sa̸̱͈̿̓̎͌̆̽v̸̱̪̺̗̜̼͔͑̄ë̷̖͖̝̒͌̆ ̴̬͉̂͆̅̀̍̚͝ͅṳ̷̧̣͔̬͚͕͐̃̓͋͝s̷̻̙͙̉̉͊͗̅̂͝ ̸̱̟̝͛̒̌̂ ̷̳̕r̵̛͉͓̚ẽ̸͕̅l̷̲e̷̟͓͌a̵͕̅ş̵̺͔́͗͠ḙ̷͖̃ ̷̢̼̓̊m̵͓͖͍͝e̸̖͝ G̴E̸T̸ ̵M̷E̵ ̸O̵U̴T̶ ̴O̴F̶ ̷H̵E̸R̸E ̷̱̃o̸̗͙̙̯̜̹̐̕h̴̛̗͊̿͌̃ ̴̠͔͗͑̒̕͘g̵͇̒̄͌̕͝o̶̞̱̩̻͌͑̅͐d̴̖͖̘̟̹̈́̃͝ͅŝ̸̠͉͗ ̶̠̜̀ͅp̶̧̝͐̎͘͠l̸̰̥̬̬̰͇̅e̶̪̳͊͊̆͝ã̴̩̖͔̲͇̪̅͐̔̊s̶̻͎̍ę̴̨͚̜̟͖̥̿͝ ̵̥̘̼̋Ī̶̯͎'̶̛̝̊̉l̵̰̫̉̈͜l̵̝̋ ̷̛͈̈́̋p̸͓̗̿͐̕a̴̯͗͗̕y̶͎̫̟̓͌ a̵n̶y̷t̵h̵i̶n̶g̸ ̷̦̻͈̒à̵̬̈́͌n̸̝̈́y̷̥̤̼͋t̴̛̥̂̍h̵̭̔ị̷̹͗͐̇ṋ̷̫͊̌̃g̷̢͕̣̓͂͠ ̷̧̗̟̮̈́̇̑͋̄g̸̥̟̹̻̫̫̹͠ĩ̴̝͍̠̏̉͐͆̋̾v̸̮̹͉̥͐͘͝e̷̗̠̦̣̽̊̔̅ ̷̜̻̘́̉̐̃͋͝ͅa̸͔̤̱͎̝̦̦̋͒n̵̬̫̮͇͋͐̃͌͜ͅÿ̶͙̖̹͎́̐͂t̸̹̮͈̿͆̊̚h̶̡͉͈͉̑͋i̶̡͊̊̈́̎̈́͆̾n̸̡̨͚̗͠g̷̲͈̰͊͋͊͊̕̕̚ ̸̜̃̍̋̂͘ẖ̸̢̥̆̂̿͆̓̒è̵̢̆͊l̴̼̉̿̈́̑̀p̵̟̮̗̫̲̻̒͌͘͘ ̴̧̼̫͔̺͖̤̆ư̴̙͇̖̲͌̽̒̈́̄͝s̸̯̯̭͈͔͑̓̄̅̌͛͠ ̷̡͈̼̗͋ ḧ̶̘͔͓̞̼̼́̋̈́ẽ̶̪̦̀̐l̶̺̼̈́͜͝p̵̡̬̳̈͜ ̵̧̻̲͈͑͛̆̐̎͘m̷̩̏ë̸̠̝́̈́͜/ Ḯ̵͚̾͂ ̵͈̪̄͗c̵̢̡̩͝a̷̝̫̐ṅ̸̼͉̱̃̕ͅ'̴̗̕t̷̳͓͕͋̄̈́ ̵̥̆Ḯ̴̘̠̌ ̵̼̌͒̇C̸̭̩͍̈́̕Ȁ̷̧̢̛͍N̵̯̮͚̉͜Ţ̶̙̘̩̆̃

Izuku feels himself bend under the pressure, feels the fractures spread across his mental frame, feels himself begin to fragment under the power of a hundred, two hundred, how many voices, some loud and thunderous and some sputtering like a dying flame and every one of them desperate and hurting and clawing and demanding and afraid, so very, very afraid. 

For a moment, he loses himself. For a moment, he is adrift in a sea of noise and pain, a speck of dust in a storm. For a moment he feels his edges start to warp, and if he could see he would realize his hands are beginning to sink into the cat, his whole body following inexorably forward.

He can not give up here, some small, furious part of himself protests. He will not lose himself. 

His power flares - explosively filling him from his chest to his fingertips and then further, brighter, making him bigger. The voices scream and Izuku screams back but this time it echoes with his power, his magic, his very soul.

<< SHUT UP!!! >> 

The world goes white. Izuku feels spread out, thin and brittle in pieces until he pulls himself together, like gathering a giant blanket and bundling it up against his chest. By the time he feels like himself - his ‘mental’ self, at least, the world around them has resolved, at least… somewhat.

It is white. Everything is white - there is no floor or walls or ceiling - but he’s standing on a surface nonetheless and there seems to be gravity and it doesn’t feel like the real world, but it doesn’t feel like the other place either.  In front of him curls the spirit of All for One, but - but the human is nowhere to be found.

“Where’s All for One?” he asks before he realizes he’s speaking, looking around and wondering if he’ll be attacked - if the human was elsewhere, like Izuku is now, and might come back now that they’ve made a fuss. The spirits - the other spirits - are at least quieter.

<< Why?>> the dragon asks, and then there’s a mental laugh from it that hurts what Izuku would think of as his bones, if this form had them, a deep and powerful ache. << Did you think he and you would meet?>> It - he, if Izuku judges by his voice - asks. << That you would kill him, and take us as your rightful prize?>>

Izuku takes a step back, confused. “I - I don’t - no? I thought - Mizuchi said we were-”

The whole body of the dragon thrashes and the ache in Izuku’s arms and legs grows.. << Is it not enough to claim one of us that you must have two! How much more can you glut yourself? How dare ->>

t̸̝̂̿ḩ̴̢̭̪͑e̸̱̟̿̾ ̷͙̰͖̈b̵̦̋̃ŗ̵̝͂͂͛̓̇͜ḭ̸̱̣̈́̅d̶̲̘̲͚̕ǧ̵̥̯͙̳̟͌͌͌̌ę̵̛̠̥̠̤̓͑̌ ̴̛͇̇͛̀̿ẖ̶̐̃͆̐͛͐̑̚e̵͕͂̑̒'̸͈̯͋̃̃̅̔̍͝s̸̭̝͓̥̩̤͋͂̆́̀̊͘͜ ̶͓̂̿̒̾̅a̸̧̙̝͈̤̼͂́̋̓̋̆͂ ̴͈͎̾́b̶̢͍͔̭͓̻̰͙͗̂͗̈̎̚r̸̳͔͚̃̋͑̐͘i̷̦̭̻͖̲̭͊͂ͅd̵̫̙͎̯̙͉͌̊͑̏̚g̷̝̯̟̒̿̂̍͊e̵̡̢̖̭̥͂ ̸͈͎̺͈̤̏̈́̇̈́ȁ̵̛̛̰̞͘͝n̵̨̟̠͇̗̾̂̂̃o̸͖̔̆̆̈́̆t̶̪̤̖̪̏̚͠͝ḥ̵̨̱̫̍̈́ę̵̹͉̒̎̄͝ŗ̴͈͖̫̻̍͝ ̴̥̟͚͇͛̂͝͝͝l̶͉̤̦̠̗̔i̵̟̗̊ḳ̸͙̚ę̶̳̇ ̶̫̜̰̋́̊̓b̷̥̯e̴͓̘͇̼͌̅̈͜f̴̮͈̀̅̋͋ö̸͚̟̹͙̟́̑r̵̤̖̱̼̞͌̓̽͝ê̶̘̼̰̰͕̋͝  ̵̱̯͆͊͆͗̓͋̚͜ş̸̺̱̱͇̪͑̅̋͝ͅa̶̰̪̙̍͑͑̌͒̕v̶̢̛̭̦̝̹̣͇͆̅̃̄͝͠͝ē̵̱̥͎̱̪̙̌̐̎̏̅̾ ̷̢̭͈̯̝͒͌ǔ̷̖͙̓͊͐ŝ̶̤̉͂̆̈͠ ̸̝̓s̶̠̈́̊̔̚a̶̖̖̐̇v̷͔͈̬͌̈́͗ę̴̖̟̻͎̑́͗̐̄ ̴̛͚̱̖̜̓͂͒m̶̀͜ẽ̵͚͔̓͝ ̶̮͓̈̑̏̑k̴̡̇ĩ̵̭l̴͙͒l̷̫̂ ̸̪̽h̴̥͝i̶̹̋m̴̫̒

The voices begin to grow louder and Izuku can’t take it a second time. << Stop it!>> He demands, putting power in the words. He can’t - he won’t deal with being blamed for things he has not done here. “I haven’t done anything to Mizuchi,” he tells the stunned dragon as the other spirits quiet. “He’s in the world with his human right now, I came here -” he takes a breath, even though he doesn’t need one, and puts truth into his words. “I came here because I’m the bridge, or a bridge, that’s what everyone says, and… and I don’t really know what that means. I came because they told me that Ragdoll’s quirk - her spirit - was here and I wanted to save her and see… see what Mizuchi meant. That I was like All for One. Is he…” In the space of being able to think and not simply react, Izuku realizes something: If One for All is a complete melding, multiple spirits becoming one, All for One is… “He did this to you,” he breathes out, horrified all over again when he comprehends just what his horrible legacy is supposed to be.  

This is… this is what they think of, when they see him, Izuku realizes. This is why the spirits are so afraid. Maybe they never wanted him to ever truly know, to try to prevent him from doing exactly this. And yet this is a dragon, and Izuku knows how powerful he should be. “Why couldn’t you stop him?” 

The dragon turns, struggling for a moment until warped and disfigured legs can tuck under his form, until he can turn his giant snout in Izuku’s direction, until said snout is inches away from Izuku’s face, breath hot and repugnant. << By the time I thought I should, child, I was too late. I was as trapped as any of the others and he would not die . >>

Izuku stares at the tumor on the side of the dragon’s mouth. If he looks closely with more than his eyes, he can see the spirit, curled inside and slowly being crushed. “This is wrong,” he says it, knows it, feels it even in this strange nothing space. “Can I help them? If I’m like him, can I… can I undo it?”

There’s silence and then a roar of 

                                                 H̵̯͌̓E̵̛͚͎̤̿̀̃̅͆L̷̰̮̭̗̬̬̇̔̕͠P̴̱̠̓̇̈́ ̴͈̟̥̱̫͊̆͛̔ͅU̵̢̬̩͙̬̥̎͊̿S̴͔̖̰͗̀̀͋͒

                                                           that staggers Izuku back, hands covering his ears even if it doesn’t actually help against the sound.

This time, it’s the dragon that quiets them in turn, and Izuku looks up to see one cloudy eye staring at him, the dragon’s whole head moving to try to get a view of some sort. << Who are you, child?>>

And isn’t that the question of the hour? Izuku laughs, softly. “My name’s Deku. I don’t enslave spirits, not even the ones who hurt me. I… if I can help you, I’d like to. I will, if you let me. You look like you’re hurting, and I can feel everyone else is. I… I don’t know if I can, but there has to be something I can do?” 

The dragon’s tongue flicks out and runs over swollen gums, considering or tasting the air, Izuku isn’t sure, but eventually it lets its head head down on the invisible floor and Izuku finally gets a solid idea of how exhausted it must be, carrying the extra weight and the screaming minds of spirits for centuries.

<< I do not know if you can help,>> he says, the aggression bleeding out of him.  << I do not know if anything save his death would help, but if you can free them, you would free me. Do what you can. Do what you must. I cannot stop you, >> he admits, then pauses, thoughtful. << Mizuchi sent you?>> he sighs. << That was reckless.>>

Izuku, now that he can, walks around the dragon. “He didn’t exactly send me, we… it was a weird conversation we had when he realized I didn’t know why everyone hated me, because they thought I was like your human. Um. Speaking of - will he - All for One - will he show up here, wherever here is? I don’t want to start and have him come in, or hurt you more. If he’s stronger than me we should make a plan.”

The dragon huffs, a confused sound before he shakes his head. << He cannot come here. He cannot see or hear us any longer. He shut us out, years ago.>>

Izuku’s initial reaction of wait I could shut you out? Does not, at this exact moment, sound like the right thing to say. Maybe something to investigate later, but for the moment there are more important things to worry about. 

He heads back towards Ragdoll’s spirit, which looks at him with wide, dark, pleading eyes. She’s - he’s pretty sure the cat is a she - paws at the air as he approaches. “Everyone needs to stay calm,” he tells her, and hopefully the rest of the spirits that are listening. “If you overwhelm me I can’t do anything.” 

The sound of agreement is a susurration instead of a cacophony. A good start. “How do you know Mizuchi?” Izuku asks the dragon while trying to examine where the spirits are joined. Usually he’d just reach with his power but right now he’s pretty sure he is his power and that’s not confusing at all, of course not. 

<< He is my brother,>> the dragon answers. << I forbade him from ever seeing me like this.>>

Well, no wonder Mizuchi hated him at first sight, Izuku thinks. It would have helped if someone had said so, but saying so and spirits seem to be a shitty combination. “He’s probably worried about you,” Izuku offers, but he’s not really focused on the conversation. His hands itch. Everything about the dragon is wrong to him and the longer he stands in its presence the worse he feels and all he really wants to do is -

He sets his hands on the cat spirit once more, this time under her front legs. He isn’t exactly thinking about things, and maybe that’s for the best, because all he wants to do is save her and the others and reunite her with Ragdoll and he pulls.  

The cat - Hashi, he suddenly knows - tears away from the dragon’s side. Literally.

Izuku stares at the gaping hole in horror even as Hashi licks a terribly rough tongue up his cheek. << Thank you!>> she says, and then she disappears. Back to Ragdoll, he can only hope, but his attention is still on the open wound in the dragon’s side where the cat spirit had been. It doesn’t bleed, but that’s the only saving grace it has. Izuku sets his hands on either side and tries to see if he can maybe heal it, but the dragon rolls out of his reach.

<< Leave it,>> the dragon orders, rolling back a moment later. << It’s a flesh wound, I am far stronger than that. Cut out the rest, child.>> That is said with a bit more force and, if Izuku wants to label anything, desperation. << Save your energy to deal with them and free me from this curse. Quickly!>>

The words echo in his head. He’s sure the other spirits are clamoring again, but Izuku doesn’t quite hear them - he has to free them, has to free this dragon, has to keep working as quickly as he can. He reaches for the next spirit, a tiny ball of white flame, buried directly under the dragon’s thick hide. The scales split under his hands but he doesn’t stop to think about it. Doesn’t stop to think about anything. 

(Later, much later, he’ll realize that a human with the power of a hundred or more spirits might mean a spirit with such power as well, but it is far too late to change things, by then.)

He has a job. He has a duty. This was what he was made for - to set things right.

-------

Shota watches Deku with genuine fear. Whatever he’s done - whatever he’s doing - Deku’s not responding to any of them and apparently half of the monitoring devices have just stopped even trying to do their jobs. He does not say I told you so again, because there is no point, but he is glaring at Nedzu with all his power.

He keeps it to Nedzu, however, because he has to at least admit that Ragdoll - Tomoko - looks about as bad as had been implied, and while he’s angry about all of this he’s not going to be the one to make her worse. This could have been done better in a dozen different ways but they’re here now and all he can do is wait and hope that the help Deku had promised he’d have would be enough.

He waits. He waits and waits and the clock ticks by and nothing changes. Tomoko and Chatora speak quietly, the doctors flurry around the machinery, Shota keeps himself firmly planted two feet away from Deku, leaning against the wall but in plain sight because Deku sometimes comes back disoriented and he doesn’t want the kid to see hospital whites and panic. 

They wait.

The first sign something is wrong is just a shadow in the corner of his eye that Aizawa looks at directly only to have it disappear. The first time means nothing, could be anything at all, but the sixth time it happens is a problem. He wonders if anyone else is picking up on it and realizes Nedzu’s sharp gaze is slowly canvassing the room from one side to the other. “You seeing things too?”

“I am picking up the impression of something, certainly, but it is a visual cue only,” says the Principal, his nose doing that scrunch thing when he tests the air. “You have a fine taste in cologne, Aizawa.”

Shota decides to let that slide for now. The flickering gets stronger and he stops trying to look at it head on. It’s been almost half an hour, twice as long as any of Deku’s other sessions, and still he hasn’t twitched, not even when Dr. Ayuki pricked his finger. Shota does not want to think about what that might mean, exactly, so he focuses on the shadow shapes. If he doesn’t look directly, they don’t seem to disappear.

Tomoko gasps, her whole body jerking with a start and her monitors go off in various loud, beeping ways. Chatora gathers her to his chest and she shakes, looking around at the doctors and then to Shota who - hell, she can probably read how frustrated and upset he is right now, if he’s guessing right.

“It’s back, ” she says, tears glittering in her eyes but they do not spill. “It’s back, I can feel - I can feel everyone I can -” she blinks and stares at Deku, expression shifting from relief to a worried frown as her lips press together. “He’s… “

“What’s wrong?” Shota demands, sharper than he ought to be.

 Tomoko shakes her head. “He’s not inside himself. I don’t know where he is but -”

Deku glows. It is a flash for only a moment, but it fills the room with light that has a physical presence. When it passes Shota blinks and the shadows that had hovered just out of sight resolve themselves into spirits. A lot of spirits. 

To say that everyone reacts badly is a bit of an understatement: both doctors jump back, possibly because of their proximity to a quartet of wild cats (a tiger, some sort of desert looking cat, something huge and white, something smaller with far too sharp looking teeth) all standing around Chatora and Tomoko - who at least seem to take their namesake in some sort of stride: they just freeze up.

Nedzu, however, only freezes after he has managed a deathhold on Shota’s scarf, tucked into the folds of it and tiny back paws digging sharply into Shota’s back. All things considered, Shota has to grant that it is probably the Principal’s best course of action.

Of course, those aren’t the only spirits - there’s a strange multicolored octopus thing floating above their heads, and there’s - thank everything - Tamamo-no-Mae. Seriously. “Thank fuck,” he says to her directly, despite the fact that he knows she should not be visible, he’s not going to question it yet. “Is Deku ok? What’s happening?”

She says… something. He doesn’t hear her. Well fuck. “We’ve got visual but no sound,” he tells her, as she seems to realize he can see her, shifting back and forth, half phased through a chair. “So we’re playing charades - do you know where Deku is?” 

She shakes her head, human shaped at the moment so at least she isn’t taking up too much space. Another flash of light and a ball of white fire appears, flying around the room frantically, followed by a one-eyed, 2d black shadow… thing, followed by what Shota is pretty sure is a porcupine. “Oh…. fuck, ” he breathes out, staring at Deku and then to Tamamo-no-Mae. “He’s… he’s freeing spirits, isn’t he.” Because - because how did they not see it, it’s so fucking obvious - if he was doing something to find Tomoko’s spirit then if there were others that needed help…

Fuck. Even he’d forgotten the finer points of how Deku’s world worked. It was easy to think that distance made space for people and that Deku would be safe with guardians - well maybe not easy, he’d been worried about something coming after Deku this whole time.

He hadn’t considered Deku going to them.

Tamamo-no-Mae nods, and then winces as a series of lights - like fireflies, tiny balls that slam into the walls and doors and windows over and over again - appear. She says something, but Shota still can’t hear her and his lip reading is good but not that good, when he doesn’t have context clues at all, and then one of the fairy lights slam into Tamamo-no-Mae from the back. She staggers - and so does Shota. He very nearly falls, but he catches himself on the wall - literally.

He catches himself with the six inch metal claw-nails he now has extending from the ends of his fingers.

Nedzu peers out from over his shoulder. “Interesting,” he says, in a voice that Shota thinks is the most unnerved that he has ever heard from his Principal.

Aizawa looks over at Chatora and Tomoko, the two of them staring at Chatora’s now flaming hair and Tomoko’s glittering skin. Dr. Ayuki and Dr. Roku are staring in equal horror and scholarly fascination as they try to keep Dr Ayuki’s feet on the ground instead of floating a few inches away from it. 

“I’m just going to say it,” Aizawa says as he yanks on his left hand until he can free his new claws from the wall. They seem exceptionally sharp, when he tests them gently with the pad of his thumb. Hopefully this is short term or retractable, otherwise marking is going to be hell. “I told you this was a bad idea.”

-----------

Izuku feels like he’s floating. Separating out the hundreds of spirits is draining, but he can’t stop. He can’t stop because the dragon will not allow him to stop. The dragon - and somewhere in all of this, with blood on his hands, Izuku knows that this is Ryūjin, has learned this name the way he’s already gathered hundreds of others - has him under a command. Ryūjin orders him to cut out the spirits that plague his frame and so he does: their common names pass through Izuku’s hands and their true names echo behind, offering themselves up for the taking, floating tantalizingly close.

He does not reach for them. He moves on to the next spirit, the next cry for help, the overwhelming noise of everyone together slowly growing weaker as more and more voices leave them, to go… somewhere else.

Some of the spirits are so weak they can’t find their way out - they cling to him, lost and afraid, afraid of him and yet more afraid of going back to where they were. They are not truly themselves anymore, Izuku thinks: they’ve been drained nearly dry until they are just echoes of what they had once been, until they are a single power - a quirk - and nothing else. Those he nudges along, only paying half a mind to them in the process, telling them to use his tether back to himself as a guide, the way he’d used Hashi’s connection to Ragdoll to come here. (The way Hashi had used her connection to pull Izuku along.)

He doesn’t know how long he works, how many names he’s learned or how many spirits he’s freed. There is no real sense of anything but the next cry for help and the next and the next, and 

Ryūjin twisting himself for Izuku to have access to the countless bodies that litter his sides.

When Izuku’s hands reach for the next and find nothing, he blinks into awareness. There is silence. The spirits are gone: the pressure of their demands, their needs, their cries for help all soothed into nothingness. He stands and stares at his hands and realizes they are covered in blood.

Ryūjin lays on his side, head curled towards Izuku, his one eye half lidded, the other a gaping wound where a spirit had been - to match the hundreds of others, some deep, some shallow, that carve up the dragon from nose to tail. Izuku wavers - he feels himself sway and it’s as though his own shape is hard to hold, like his edges are blurry, and he wants to cry. 

<< I am sorry,>> Ryūjin says, voice quiet. << I did not want to risk that you would stop halfway, but you’ve used too much.>>

Izuku goes from standing to sitting without any motion between. His form simply… changes. He leans against Ryūjin’s neck, one small bare space without injury. “I need…” he says, the words slow, like they’re made out of syrup. “I need to… fix you. You’re hurt.” He knows how to heal. He doesn’t have much power, though, and this is… this is terrible. He did this. He has to fix this. It’s his job to fix things. That’s what he’s good for. That’s all he’s good for. “I hurt you.”

<< Child,>> Ryūjin’s voice is like water, Izuku thinks, cool and calming. Mzuchi’s voice is like a raging river but Ryūjin’s is nice… << Child. I bade you, and you obeyed, and that you did not fight me tells me all too much. I have seen your mind, child. I have seen your heart. Listen to me. Listen to the words I say.>>

Izuku nods. He can do that. He can listen.

<< A bridge not simply the path between two points, child. A bridge can also be the anchor on each side, that connects them. A bridge is not just the stones it is made of - it is the purpose it serves.>>

Izuku nods again. “Ok,” he says, so tired, now, so empty. It takes energy to hold himself together and there’s almost no one left he has to hold together for. If he lets go… he doesn’t know what would happen. Perhaps he’ll drift away like the spirits. That sounds… nice.

<< Thank you, child.>> Ryūjin shifts, even though he shouldn’t, even though it must hurt him to do so. He shifts and Izuku falls from leaning against his neck and lays on the strange not-ground and stares up at the endless white of the not-sky and wonders if he’ll become a spirit when he dies, or if he’ll be able to see his mother again.

A giant, bloodied snout covers his whole chest. The breath from it is so hot it almost burns, and then it does burn - Izuku screams as power floods him, more than he’s ever held in his life, more than he’s ever known. He pushes himself up, suddenly clear-headed and aware and cries out a second time when he realizes Ryūjin is fading.

“Don’t!” Izuku demands, hands outstretched, trying and failing to give the power back. “Don’t! I don’t need this - I was supposed to free you! Let me heal you! Don’t give up now!” He is, in fact crying, even though he wasn’t sure this sense of himself could. “Please!”

He doesn’t want to be responsible for the death of a spirit, of a dragon, of someone important. He doesn’t want Ryūjin to die. He doesn’t want to be blamed for it. He doesn’t want the one person who might possibly be able to explain things to leave him.

He doesn’t want to admit how selfish he is.

“Please,” he begs, knowing it’s hopeless when half of the dragon’s form is already gone from sight. “Please don’t go.”

<< You freed me,>> Ryūjin says gently. << You have given me the death I craved, even if I used you to accomplish it. Thank you, child. You will forever have my gratitude.>>

Izuku doesn’t get to argue further. Ryūjin fades into nothingness and leaves him alone.  

 

 



Chapter Text

-------




Shota watches Izuku open his eyes, turn his head, and be sick over the side of the bed. At about the same time, every spirit in the room - and there are too many to count - becomes physically present.

It’s an explosion of chaos, literally. Everything goes flying - chairs, beds, machinery - anything they had been partially phased through is pushed away as the spirits suddenly have matter that they did not before.

They also have voices.

Shota ignores the noise to catch Deku before the kid topples off of the bed, awkward as it is to manage with six inch knives coming out of his fingers. “Deku, are you all right?” Everything else can wait. His kid looks shaken.

“Aizawa…” Deku meets his gaze and shudders, tears collecting at the corners of his eyes. “It was - I - oh no -” he looks past Shota to the chaos around them and fucking hell but Shota watches as the kid pulls himself together and slides off the edge of the bed. Aizawa can’t stop him, not when he has fucking knives for hands, and so Deku is surveying chaos with a pained expression and Shota doesn’t know what’s happening. Deku gestures and it’s like he’s painting with light - the way he’d done in the other place with his blood, only this time his hands are clean - and a moment later, every single paper prayer they’d tacked to the walls and windows and ceiling and floor flame up and out in an instant, turning to ash and leaving a scorch on the wall but nothing else. Another glowing sign is sketched into the air above them and a wave of calm floods the space, almost oppressively, and Shota has to struggle to stay upright. 

“Deku,” Shota keeps his hands down so that he doesn’t accidentally carve into someone or something. “What’s going on?

“I’m sorry,” Deku looks over at him, eyes wet and expression drawn. “I’m so sorry, I just have to fix this.” 

‘This’, Shota discovers, is shooing out a zoo’s worth of spirits in all shapes and sizes, gently assuring them that they’re safe and they can go anywhere and that he’s not going to keep them. They seem to struggle with figuring out how to become incorporeal again, but they start to filter and fade away with Deku's urging. 

Then Shota watches Deku approach Tamamo-no-Mae, shoulders slumped and hands held out, every part of him an apology.  “I didn’t know,” Deku tells her, sounding broken.

“It’s all right,” she replies, gently patting his outstretched hands.

“I can fix it.” He’s looking not at her but at her kimono - now featuring green tucked into the layers and mixed into the scrollwork embroidery across the hem. “They were just lost. I can - I can find a way to help them out.” 

“Kit,” The kitsune shakes her head and Shota manages a few unsteady steps closer, using the wall as support when all he wants to do is sit down. Nedzu is curled against the back of his head and mumbling about something unimportant. Chatora and Tomoko are likewise curled on the ground leaning against one another at the foot of her bed. “Kit,” Tamamo-no-Mae repeats, voice gentle, “I don’t think you can, right now. We’re very fragile. I’m sure it’s the same for the others.”

Shota doesn’t understand, but Deku clings to Tamamo-no-Mae and shakes and all Shota can do is cross the space between them - everyone else is dazed with whatever he did. “Deku,” he says again, fighting against the - spell? Magic? Whatever it is that’s made everything feel soft and slow and all right when it very much is not. “Please, what’s going on?”

Deku turns to face him, one arm raised to wipe the tears from his face. “I’m sorry,” he says to Shota, voice cracking. “I’m so, so sorry. I killed him. I killed him and - and they’re going to hate me, I can’t. I can’t stay.” He bows, and Shota stares, unseeing, into the crown of Deku’s messy head of hair. “You’ve been so - thank you, Aizawa.”

“Kid,” Shota reaches out - but his hands close on air. Deku’s just gone, this time without even the sound of crows around them.

The symbol in the air fades away and the feeling of calm dissipates as suddenly as it had come. The remaining spirits begin to do the same, but Tamamo-no-Mae looks at him before she does, expression fierce. “I will find him,” she promises, already starting to shift from human to kitsune. “I will find him, Shota, I promise.

And then she’s gone, the cats are gone, the octopus thing is gone, and Deku is gone.

“What was that?” Chatora asks, the single most useless question he could possibly posit at this exact moment. Shota gives a strangled growl that makes everyone look at him, while a handful of staff - orderlies, if Shota has to guess - all crowd around the now opened door to the room.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Nedzu says into Shota’s ear from his perch, still tucked into his scarf.

Shota would like to punch someone, and Nedzu is at the top of a very short list. Punching a wall would be an acceptable alternative, but currently he is rather certain that if he attempted to do so, he’d only end up slicing his hands open. Still, the fury that is building in him is too much to contain. He cannot scream, he has enough sense not to do that, but his blood is vibrating in his veins. Deku is out there - his kid is out there - alone and in danger and he’d purposefully held them back, kept him away, and Shota had told them all this would happen.

He kicks at the bed Deku had vacated, sending it crashing back into the other wall. It takes the edge off.

Fuck, ” he finally manages, shaking in rage. 

Then he tries to shove his hands into his pockets, forgetting why he can’t, and it feels fucking fitting that he’s just stabbed himself because he feels like it’s the least he deserves.

 

------------  

 

Izuku lies on the bank of the Takua river once more. There’s a willow tree above him that sways in the wind and he matches his breathing to the tempo of the leaves. It’s quiet. He can hear his own thoughts here, and no one else’s. It had taken time - he’s not sure just how much - for the power Ryujin had given him to fade, at least somewhat. It’s no longer overpowering, no longer more than he can hold on to. 

It’s now a pleasant buzz under his skin. He could use it, he knows - maybe go back to the library. Maybe he could find a way to separate those scared spirits who had jumped onto the first human they’d seen. That had been his fault - poor Tamamo-no-Mae, and the others - they’d come because he’d asked them to look after him. They hadn’t agreed to be forced to hold another spirit inside themselves. He’d saved Ryujin and still hurt others. 

He should have stayed. He should have done something, but he couldn’t - couldn’t bear to look them in the eye and admit the truth. Couldn’t tell Aizawa and the others what he was, or tell Tamamo-no-Mae and Oku and the others that he’d killed a dragon. Mizuchi’s own brother. Dragons were sacred. Dragons were - are - gods.

There will be a reckoning, he knows. There will always be a cost because there is always a cost, always a price to pay - he just can’t let it happen where Aizawa will feel responsible. It wasn’t his fault, after all. It wasn’t Ragdoll’s fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but Izuku’s own. He should have done better. He should have known. It’s his fault.

He’s been waiting, but he still tenses when he senses Mizuchi fly overhead. He doesn’t move. The dragon circles over the river and eventually lands. Izuku closes his eyes and waits.

It’s silent for too long. He swallows around the lump in his throat. Eventually he hears - footsteps. Mizuchi has become human. Why? It seems like a waste of effort, really.

The footsteps stop. Izuku doesn’t need his eyes to feel the dragon spirit standing next to him. “Deku,” he intones.

“I know,” Izuku feels his voice crack. He’s not scared - he’s not scared - he’s just. Tired. Sad. It’s been too much for so long and he just…

There’s a pause. “You do?”

“I’m not warded,” Izuku’s hands are folded behind his head. They fist in his hair, close to his scalp. It hurts. It’s grounding. What he used Ryujin’s power for, mostly, was to hide from everyone but Mizuchi. He’d crafted the wards specifically when he realized Tamamo-no-Mae was looking for him, and then the other spirits too.

He could hide from them, maybe, but not Ryujin’s family.   “I’m sorry.”

There’s another, longer pause. Then an exasperated sigh and a sharp fingernail prodding Izuku’s bicep. “You are an idiot child.”

Izuku’s eyes fly open against his better judgement. “What?”

“Why are you here?” Mizuchi asks, instead of answering. “Hiding. There are many looking for you, and you’ve hidden yourself from all of them.” There’s a pause as Mizuchi looks around. “But not me. Why?” 

Izuku stares, uncomprehendingly at the spirit, speechless. 

“Deku…” Mizuchi’s expression becomes surprisingly soft, and his voice is worried. “Were you really waiting here, unguarded, for me?

“It makes sense,” Izuku protests, shoulders slowly rising up to his ears, wondering if maybe he’s made a mistake, miscalculated. “I saw. I saw what he did, what - why everyone is afraid of me, why everyone attacks me. They’re all waiting for me to be the same thing, and I could! Maybe - maybe something bad will happen, or I really will go crazy, or just because I killed your brother but… but I shouldn’t be alive.” Izuku’s had a lot of time alone to think about this. “I did what I was supposed to do. All for One is in jail, he won’t be able to hurt anyone else, and Ryujin is free. I don’t need to exist any more.”

He looks up through his bangs to see Mizuchi frown and look away. Izuku knows he’s right. Knows that it’s only a matter of time, really. He’s done what he was made for, and now he’s just a threat to everyone.

“I came here to give you something,” Mizuchi says, still looking away. “I cannot give you a debt to call upon because of what happened to Ryujin. It makes me ill to think about it, but Lady - Tamamo-no-Mae pointed out I owed you nonetheless, for what you did for my human, and now my brother. I came to give you something in turn.”

“I told you, you don’t owe me -”

“I do.” Mizuchi cuts him off. “But if you think you owe me for Ryujin’s fate, then I call on you thusly: come with me.”

Izuku looks up properly and sees Mizuchi is now looking down at him, expression fierce. “What?”

The spirit steps back several steps until there is space between them for him to shift. He’s a dragon once more in an instant and he curls around the willow, under the low-swept branches. << Come with me. Climb on.>>

Izuku’s back to staring uncomprehendingly. “I can’t climb on you!”

<< Why not?>>

“You’re a dragon!”

<< And you are very observant,>> Mizuchi says, droll. << Are you telling me your legs won’t work? That you won’t do this for me that I ask of you?>>

That makes Izuku force his legs to stand, but he approaches cautiously. “This is just… it’s rude! You’re not an animal I should ride.”

<< I see you have read Jinsai’s treatise on proper behavior for spirits. I always thought he was a bit full of himself.>> Mizuchi cranes his head around to point his snout at the dip in his back just in front of his forelegs. << If you are invited, you are rude to refuse. Get on.>>

Izuku almost refuses again, but Mizuchi is right: if he refuses, he is being rude, and he owes the dragon whatever he wants. He climbs carefully atop the back and is surprised to find that he fits snugly there up until he remembers the spirit can change his shape at will. There’s even a bony ridge in front of him to hold onto.

<< Do not fall,>> Mizuchi says as Izuku feels muscles ripple and shift beneath him. He doesn’t get a chance to respond before Mizuchi leaps up and takes to the air.

The world goes white around them. “Where is this?” Izuku has to ask, recognizing the nothingness from before. 

<< The space between spaces,>> Mizuchi says, and Izuku can tell he’s not trying to be cryptic - it’s just what this is. << The world between worlds. This is how we travel as fast as we do. Space is smaller here - it is time distilled into an arc.>>

Izuku has no idea what that means, but he nods anyway and a moment later they burst out of the whiteness into a clear blue sky. Izuku might cheer a bit. It’s an instinctual response.

Mizuchi laughs. << Enjoying yourself, are you?>>

Izuku knows better than to try to be heard over the wind. It’s frigidly cold and he curls closer to the warmth of the dragon’s back. << I’m sorry, it’s just - this is amazing!>>

<< Thank you, I am,>> Mizuchi preens, apparently unbothered by Izuku’s inappropriate joy. They bank towards what Izuku realizes is a storm, one with terrible swirling clouds and a clear haze of rain. He can see that they’re approaching home - Japan - but much of it is hidden behind the raging tempest. Closer to them, over the water, the storm is a vortex that looms ominously over the water.

<< Where are we going?>> Izuku asks, some of the exhilaration fading and shifting into concern as they draw closer and closer to the eye of the storm.

<< It will be obvious soon enough,>> Mizuchi gives no other clue and undulates as he flies on. Izuku clings to what grip he has as they pick up speed and dive into the clouds.

Flying into a storm is exactly as uncomfortable and terrifying as Izuku thinks it should be - he’s soaked to the skin in an instant and the wind whips around him, strong enough to blow his hair into his eyes even when it’s plastered to his head. Lightning cracks around them, shimmering sheets of it bracketed by long, jagged daggers, and Izuku flinches as one strikes Mizuchi - but nothing happens. Sparks gather around the dragon, crawl up and down his scales and gather on Izuku’s hands and he tastes tin, but they’re unhurt as they circle lower and lower towards the water. 

<< Here,>> Mizuchi says, as they stop over a bit of rolling water that looks just like any other bit of water.

<< What’s here?>> Izuku’s grip tightens.

<< Dragons do not die, Deku,>> Mizuchi intones, with the weight of history in his words. << They simply go back to the place they were born. This is where Ryujin’s soul waits to return.>>

<< Do I…. have to find it?>> Izuku stares down at the frothing water. He can swim, but this is no public pool. << Does it need help? He gave me his power - too much of it.>>

<< Would you find him?>> Mizuchi asks, and Izuku almost can’t believe the way the dragon sounds disbelieving. << Would you give it back?>>

He looks down into the water again and - there is something there. There is something below them, an echo that is familiar the longer he looks and if this is what he has to do… so be it. Spirits always collect what they are owed, after all. Better now than later. Better to be his own choice, than someone else’s.

He slides off of Mizuchi’s back. It’s not too far to fall, he thinks: he doesn’t have to worry about hitting the water too badly.

<< Deku! >> Mizuchi calls after him, but Izuku’s already under the water and this was a terrible idea, this was a very, very terrible idea. The water rolls and carries him to and fro and he barely knows up from down and it’s so cold but none of that matters. He doesn’t try to find the surface: he looks for the echo that is Ryujin and swims towards that.

The dragon is… small. It’s the strangest word to use but he feels small as Izuku finds him, feels his beating heart in the swell of the water and the crash of lightning overhead. He is small and asleep and Izuku reaches out and tries to give back what he never wanted in the first place. << Please,>> he begs, for Mizuchi’s sake, for his own sake. << Please wake up.>>

Ryujin pulses under his hands, once, twice, but then cold bands of iron close around his chest, squeezing tightly, and something hurts and he gasps and it’s cold water, cold cold water that floods his lungs. He’s going to drown, he realizes in blind terror - but then he’s wrenched upwards, vomiting water the moment he’s able, coughing so hard there are tears and snot and sea water all streaming from his face and he can’t see a thing, can’t see at all.

<< You’re impossible!>> Mizuchi sounds, between Izuku’s pained, heaving coughs, like he’s panicked and upset. << I cannot believe you!>>

<< Brother?>> Izuku wants to cry when he hears Ryujin’s voice, quiet as it is over the storm that rages around them. 

<< Ryujin!>> Mizuchi - Izuku’s being held in one of his giant claws - roars in delight and the lightning seems to explode everywhere in response, blinding Izuku all the more. << Brother, my brother, I am here.>>

<< I can see that,>> Ryujin’s voice might be quiet but it is not weak, it is not tired the way it had sounded before, and it is somehow… very wry. << Why am I awake? What did you do ? >>

<< I did nothing. The human thought he ought to dive in and wake you himself!>>

<< Child?>> Izuku can feel Ryujin reaching for him, through the power he still has in his bones - he didn’t have time to give all of it back. << Child… When I gave you my power to use this was not what I meant!>>

Izuku’s not angry or scared, not at all. << How was I supposed to know that!>> he snaps, chest heaving and hurting and hands numb. << How was I supposed to know anything when the one person who might know died and it was my fault!>>

<< He thought I was going to kill him, Brother, >> Mizuchi says, like Izuku can’t even hear him. << I brought him to show that you would be reborn and he jumped.>>

<<...stars above he thought what ? >>

<< He is not what any of us expected, is he?>> The two of them just let that hang in the air between them while Izuku pants before Mizuchi continues. << Brother, he is painfully uninformed. No one has taken up his education.>>

Well, at least they’re not blaming him for being ignorant, Izuku thinks bitterly, hanging in a dragon’s grasp in the center of a storm. At least they can admit that he was left to do this on his own.

<< No one wanted to find themselves in my position, I suppose,>> Ryujin sighs. << Well, we will have to fix this.>>

Considering Izuku has just had the violent realization that he does not want to die, he likewise doesn’t want to be ‘dealt with’. He’s tired and done with dragons and spirits and he just wants to hide for a while, to stop hurting  - both himself and others. He manages to raise his head, finally, and think enough to speak. << I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to be what he was. I don’t want anyone to have to do anything for me. I can manage on my own. I have managed on my own. Can you please just… let me go? I want to go home.>>

<< I am sorry,>> Ryujin says, and Izuku knows he means it - the words ache inside his own chest. << I am sorry you were not properly guided, child. I am sorry you think so little of yourself you can’t even see you need to keep what I gave you.>>

<< Why? So everyone can blame me that you died?>> Even if Ryujin is speaking to him now, Izuku can recognize that he’s… he’s not back. He’s tethered to that spot for who knows how long.

<< I had to die to be reborn, child. You gave me my freedom. They will understand that.>>

<<Oh, because spirits have been so understanding in my life so far.>> Izuku’s aware that he might be a little bit hysterical but he’s still flying and hanging above the ocean high enough that if he’s dropped this time he won’t slip into the water so much as splatter. He’s never been afraid of heights before and yet this is the worst thing ever in a series of very bad things to happen. 

<< I’m a defiler,>> he reminds them, because now he knows why everyone has feared him from day one. << That’s why everyone hates me.>>

<<I do not hate you,>> Ryujin counters, sounding surprised at the suggestion. << Clearly your assumptions cannot be entirely correct. And if anyone chooses to have issue with you after I speak for you, then I will deal with them.>>

<< What?>>

<< You heard me.>> Mizuchi climbs into the air and then turns toward land, but Ryujin’s voice doesn’t waver over the distance. Below them everything is a sea of tiny homes and swaths of fields and deep green forests, everything grey and wet as the storm covers all. Izuku can’t stop shivering, the wind against his wet clothing stealing away his breath and heat. << You made your choice,>> Ryujin continues, << and you have proven that you should not be held to what he was. You should not have been held to that at all, but some of our kind hold grudges.>>

<< Brother, I was completely justified!>>

<< I’m sure you were,>> Ryujin’s voice is so dry it reminds Izuku of Aizawa, and that makes him ache all over again because Aizawa made him feel safe. << I do not have it in me to bind myself to you, child, I hope you understand that.>> He almost sounds sad about it, but Izuku does not understand because why would he ever think that at all? << I am weak, and to regain my former glory will take time. This is where my soul belongs, for now, and where I must remain. But I hope you will allow me to teach you, and lend you my aid.>>

Nothing makes sense. None of this makes any sense. Izuku must make some sound - some noise to indicate that because Ryujin continues on, steadfast and certain. << You need a teacher. You need a guardian. Mizuchi tells me you have a human one, but not a spirit. I cannot offer you my bonding but I feel… responsible for what has happened. To my kind, to you. I was once his spirit, after all. I should have seen what he would become and acted quicker. It was my responsibility and I was blind.>>

They fly in silence, Izuku too overwhelmed to even process what he’s being told.

<< You have touched my core,>> Ryujin continues. << You held my whole self in your hands and let it free. I have seen your heart, child, and I know you are true. I cannot be your spirit, but I can be your guide.>> 

It’s everything Izuku’s wanted for years - or nearly everything, really. Someone to answer his questions. Someone to make sense of it all. Someone to help. It feels impossible. It feels too good to be true.

<< How can you trust me? After everything he did to you?>>

The question hangs in the air. << I will stop you,>> Ryujin finally says after a long, pointed silence. << I won’t allow you to become what he was if you start down that path, but only if you start down that path, child. Deku.>>

Relief, gratitude, exhaustion, fear - it’s a combination of all of that at once that leaves him sobbing, trapped in a band of iron where he can’t even wipe his face. << I just want to go home,>> he admits, cold to his very core. << Can you take me home?>>

<< Of course,>> Mizuchi shifts and Izuku feels the world drop away and go white around them. 

<< I meant - UA. Not the spirit realm, >> Izuku swallows around the lump in his throat. << Somewhere I’ll be safe for a while. I need to think. About - about everything. >>

Mizuchi’s laugh is gentle as it echoes around them. << I am taking you there now,>> he says, finally twisting in this nothing space, his leg elongating and his spine turning until Izuku is placed summarily down on the dragon’s back once more. He clings to it instantly, glad for the reprieve from the cold and the vertigo in this nothing space. 

<< Mizuchi will guard you while you rest and consider,>> Ryujin says, his voice able to follow even here. << You may take all the time you need. You have a piece of me, now, in my power. Reach for me and I will hear you, no matter where you are. I must sleep here, but I will do my best to wake for you, so long as you call on me.>> And that explains, Izuku thinks, how they’re even having this impossible conversation at all. << Speaking of power,>> Ryujin continues, voice suddenly almost scolding in tone, << I am ordering you to use the power I gave you for your needs, child, not others. Your mind feels like - like ->>

<< The phrase you are looking for, Brother, is ‘swiss cheese’.>>

Izuku finds himself laughing through damp eyes, pained but amused, finally able to clean his face on his sleeve and see. << I didn’t exactly have a lot of choice, >> he points out. << Memories were the only thing I had to trade for a long time. >>

<< Which reminds me,>> Mizuchi’s back grows warm and a scale in front of Deku begins to glow a brilliant green against a sea of white, beaconing to him. << This is yours.>>

Izuku doesn’t really think as he reaches out to touch it. Warmth, so much warmth floods him, filling him up in a way he had forgotten how to feel and Izuku can hardly believe it. “I didn’t think -” he says out loud, voice cracking - but then they appear back in the real world and the wind tears away the rest of his words.

 

--------

 

It’s been raining for three days. 

Aizawa is in the dorms, currently seated at the kitchen island with a mug of coffee that is not helping his exhaustion nor his pounding headache, but he can at least pretend it is keeping things from getting worse.

Class is subdued, at the moment - he knows it’s only time before someone starts something and they’ll forget he’s keeping an eye on them long enough to make a mess or start a fight - so he’ll be grateful for the quiet while it lasts. 

Everyone’s gathered in the main lounge because UA is conserving as much power as possible. School itself is out - those generators have been turned to putting power back into the grid, to support the surrounding areas most hurt by the outages. Kaminari’s working with Higari, channeling his own power into the reserves, keeping himself from overloading while the storm rages on.

Lightning strikes and thunder crashes, bright enough to fill the room even in midday, loud enough to shake the windows. Everyone flinches, but it’s muted. They’re all numb to it, at this point - it’s been three days of lightning and rain across 2/3rds of Honshu and if it doesn’t let up soon they’re going to have flooding to worry about on top of the lightning damage. As it is, eight people are dead, two dozen more are injured, and the rain is the only thing that has kept fires to a minimum.

Everywhere affected is shut down. Not from the rain, which is bad but everyone knows how to handle rain - but because the lightning will not stop and seems to ignore all laws of nature and physics. Ignoring, for example, lightning rods specifically designed to protect buildings, or even the tallest structure in the area, to strike randomly. Everyone is scrambling to repair generators, car pools are being run to try to support essential workers and services, but it’s still hard going.

Everyone has theories about why - someone’s quirk on a rampage is an easy guess, of course - but whoever is responsible has yet to claim responsibility. Yet to be seen.

Shota suspects they cannot be seen.

The storm is a blessing and a curse: no one braves going outside unnecessarily, and so calls for heroes have been for rescues and support work, but Shota can’t go on patrol. He has kids to look after and it’s a stupid risk, everyone has told him, when it seems like the lightning aims at people. It’d be one thing if he knew where Deku was, or even had an idea of where to look, but the truth is…

The truth is he didn’t have time to get a read on the kid, not enough of one. Not to properly learn his bolt holes and his habits, not to figure out where he’d go to ground - and that’s forgetting the fact that all of fucking Japan could be his hiding place - and, Shota thinks bitterly, didn’t he mention ending up in France or something at some point? 

The truth is Deku could be anywhere and as desperately as Shota wants to find him, drag him back to UA and tell him everything is fine, everyone is safe, he didn’t have to run…

He has 20 students who are looking at him to keep them safe too.

“Can you open this?” Hitoshi asks, standing across from him and holding out a bag of chips. 

Shota squints. “Are you still running bets on getting me to use my new quirk? No.”

“But Sensei, ” Hitoshi manages to be both singsong and deadpan at the same time. Shota can hear smothered laughter coming from the couches as they no doubt have an audience. “How will you learn how to use it if you don’t practice?” 

He looks at his smooth, shiny silver nails. He’s been complimented on his nail polish several times now: it’s getting old quick. “When I have a reliable way to retract them or it won’t inconvenience me for an entire day cutting and filing them down, then I will practice. We have more important things to focus on.”

“I don’t know,” Hitoshi takes his mug away and Shota doesn’t even argue - it’s cold, and his son empties it in the sink and pours him a new cup without a comment, sliding it back into Shota’s waiting hands before pouring a mug for himself. “If this keeps up, we’re not going to have much else to do.”

“Nedzu’s arranging for a lesson schedule and teacher rotation,” Shota counters, but he knows that isn’t quite what Hitoshi means, either. He takes the seat across the island and sits and Shota knows they’re not exactly mirror images of one another, but he also knows there’s enough resemblance that Hizashi would probably comment, if he was here.

“Do you think this is because of Deku?” Hitoshi asks, after they’ve both made a dent in their beverage of choice. In the sitting area around the television there is an argument about proper fort building and the necessity of such for optimal scary movie viewing. Ashido is leading the charge, and Shota doesn’t even consider stopping them. 

“I don’t know,” he admits, because Hitoshi will wait forever for an answer and never forget that he’s asked it. You can’t outwait him, or ever think you’ve talked him into forgetting or being distracted. Directness is the only thing that works. “I have my suspicions.” 

“They say he killed All for One,” Hitoshi puts forward. 

Shota narrows his eyes. “They say that, do they?” He wonders who’s opened their big damned mouth. No one was supposed to know that information until they were ready to let it go public - and especially not during a storm where idiots on the press would always try to turn something into a Story.™

Hitoshi nods over the lip of his mug. “You know how kids on the internet are,” he shrugs, one shouldered. And fuck, but this is Hitoshi’s way of telling him he’s missed something, because even Nedzu can overlook the difference between a random fad and an actual bit of real information that hits whatever social media platform is popular that week. Hizashi keeps up with them for his radio and hero work, but Shota’s never had the attention span for any of them. He uses Instagram because he can post photos of the cats and no one needs to know who he is. 

“Well, let me know if they say anything else noteworthy,” he asks, a nod over his cup in an acknowledgement that in this his son is miles ahead of him. “And if anyone… sees him.”

“Nothing official?” 

“No.” Shota sighs. “And with this storm we’re limited.”

Hitoshi nods and stares at his mug. It’s one he brought from home, one they’d given him two birthdays ago. It was originally thermal reactive, black with the white outline of a cat that had raised middle fingers on his paws when the mug was warm. Absolutely ridiculous and Iida had gasped when he’d seen it and been equally scandalized when Shota had suggested that since a cat’s paw did not, by any real judgement, have a middle finger, the mug wasn’t offensive unless you were anthropomorphizing the cat and suggesting it understood the gesture to make it.

That had derailed into a conversation from several of his class, first suggesting that Iida was a furry, to much confused protests. Then they realized half their class didn’t know what a furry was and Shota had left them to it and had gone to get drinks with Hizashi before he tendered his resignation. He’d never been prepared to have dorm duty.

The mug’s been through the dishwasher a few times too many and so the paws are a permanent fixture.

“It’s not your fault,” Hitoshi says, while the windows rattle, the thunder almost omnipresent now. “Deku. You can’t… you’ve said it before. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, and you did a lot to try.” Hitoshi’s keeping his voice down, maybe because he doesn’t want folks to hear them talking about Deku - maybe because he gets personal when he adds. “I know. I know how hard it is, and I know you did your best, and I think he did - does - too. I don’t know what happened, but I hope he’ll come back. I promised him to take him to that cat cafe we like, the one with the boba.”

Hitoshi’d done his best to make Deku feel welcome, and Shota’s been so self absorbed he’s barely had the time to thank him when they’d literally thrown Deku into Hitoshi’s life without even a word of warning. “I should thank you,” he admits, watching as Hitoshi’s eyes snap up to meet his. “I’ve been so preoccupied with everyone, but you‘ve gone out of your way to welcome Deku, without any warning. I noticed, even if I didn’t-”

“Sensei?” Tokoyami is one of the only members of his class who can regularly sneak up on Shota and the worst part is that he very rarely means to and Shota has to do his best to never appear spooked or he’ll lose his edge. 

“Yes?” he turns in his seat to look at his student who had been spending most of the early evening reading in the corner, taking advantage of the lights in the main room instead of siphoning energy to his personal dorm. “What is it?”

“Ah…” Shota’s surprised at the pause: Tokoyami does not, as a rule, speak to him until he has formulated exactly what it is he wants to say, and how he wants to say it. “Apologies, Sensei. Dark Shadow wished to speak to you.”

Another surprise, but one that this time makes Shota pause. “Dark Shadow?”

The quirk appears from Tokoyami’s collar. “Something’s coming,” it says, beady eyes staring straight into Shota, sharp and almost… familiar. “Think you wanna be outside for this.”

Shota slides off of the stool instantly, but something makes him pause. “Dark Shadow,” he says, while the shadow - the quirk - the thing he has always thought of as simply being an extension of Tokoyami’s subconscious and not, in any way, his own thing, looks at him with intelligent eyes. The question dies at the tip of his tongue - what is he supposed to ask - are you a spirit? Except…why the hell not?

“Are you a spirit like the ones Deku can see?” Hitoshi asks, reading Shota’s mind.

“What do you think?” Dark Shadow cackles and caws and then disappears into Tokoyami’s form once more.

The student bows slightly. “Apologies, Sensei. He would not tell me what this was about at all.”

“It’s fine,” the warning hadn’t been urgent or even sounded threatening - it had been amused, like the quirk - spirit - creature was laughing at them. “Iida,” Shota calls as he heads to the door. “Keep everyone downstairs, I’m stepping out for a moment.”

“Yes, Sensei!”

He trades his house slippers for shoes and heads outside where everything is grey, dull and overcast. The sun is already beginning to set but the thick clouds make it feel like hours later. They only have the one lamp directly at the dorm’s stairs lit, everything else  dark to conserve power. There is no one to be seen, no traffic to be heard, just the roll of thunder, the crash of lightning, and the sheeting rain.

Shota waits.

Thunder rolls overhead, rumbling deep enough to be felt in his bones, and sparks gather across the stones of the quad. Shota doesn’t hesitate as he slides his heels together and crouches down just in case. This is foolish and dangerous, he knows he’s being foolhardy, but something is telling him to wait, not to run inside.

He’s rewarded by a dragon landing heavily on the front quad. A dragon. A… dragon. It is silver and white and he wonders if this means it is Eri’s dragon by description but it really does not matter because Deku is on its back. The dragon’s claws are digging furrows in the stone underneath it but Shota doesn’t care - he’s already running before Deku can take off again.

“Aizawa?” and the kid sounds surprised that he’s here, that he’s come out, that Shota’s reaching up and dragging him off the back of a fucking dragon (he will deal with that fact later, he will deal with a lot of this later) and holding him by the shoulders in the rain and staring him down to make sure he’s all right.

Deku… does not look all right.

Shota swallows down a dozen questions and demands and the burning need to just pick Deku up and carry him bodily inside, but it’s hard. He can’t get this wrong. He can’t fuck this up again. “Welcome back,” he says, trying to put everything he wants to say into those words and into the grip on Deku’s shoulders. “I wish you hadn’t run off.”

Deku flinches and Shota curses himself because he’s so fucking bad at this and that wasn’t what he meant - “I meant - I’m sorry, Problem Child, I shouldn’t have let them drag you into any of that. Are you all right?”

Deku shocks the fuck out of him when he shakes his head. It shocks Shota enough that he drops to his knees and ignores the rain soaking his clothes and hair and the stares they are probably receiving from his students through the large bay windows because this is the first time Deku’s not shrugged something off as fine. “Problem Child, what -”

“I almost drowned,” Deku says, voice raw. “And I think I bruised my ribs, and I haven’t eaten in three days and I haven’t slept and I’m so cold -”

The kid’s clothing is soaked through and freezing and when Shota grabs Deku’s hands, they feel like ice. Even in this grey, dim light, the scar on Deku’s cheek stands out in sharp relief and his lips look - upon closer inspection - bluish as his teeth chatter. Shota gives up on doing things slowly once more - Deku’s going to have to tolerate a bit of speed and efficacy right now. He scoops the kid up in one motion that is still too fucking easy - and then glares at the spirit in front of him. “I’m taking him inside. You had better not bother him,” he declares, having no god damned clue if they’re actually a friend at the moment or just a foe waiting for a shot at the kid.

The dragon nods. << I will guard this place for him,>> he intones, in a voice that sounds like the crash of thunder and lightning and the roar of the waves. 

‘For him’ is good, so is ‘guard’, but Shota is still suspicious of spirits and how they work and he’s learned enough to pay attention to those suspicions, now. He doesn’t think the way the dragon sounds is a coincidence, for example. “Are you the one responsible for this storm?”

There’s a pause. The dragon blinks. It attempts to look baleful. << No. It is the epoch of my brother’s rebirth. He is gathering his power once more.>>

“Well, tell him to tone it down,” Shota has no idea where this is coming from, where this gibbering insanity of yelling at a goddamned dragon is coming from, but he hasn’t slept properly in three days and Deku is curled in his arms and holding on, not fighting it, shivering. He’s going to have so much to explain because there is no fucking way his kids aren’t watching this and so he just puts every ounce of his years of teaching into his voice as he continues. “He needs to tone it down, people are getting hurt and if your lot flood this place I’ll find some way to make you pay for the damages.”

The dragon stares at him, head pulled back in affront before he laughs out loud. << You will be an excellent guardian,>> he tells Shota, like he’s passed some sort of test. << You will keep him safe.>>

“I sure as hell plan to, but it’d be easier if your lot would leave him the hell alone.”

<< I will ensure he has time to rest,>>  the dragon nods and curls into a pose that Shota feels like he’s seen on a million frescoes through his life and never once considered how odd that might look in real life, in three dimensions. << I will ask Ryujin to… quiet his efforts.>>

The rumble of thunder in the distance stops. Shota decides to take that as a win before something bad happens, like he gets punted across the quad by a dragon tail because he’s run his mouth off. He’d always thought dragons were gods and he is absolutely not going to think about that too hard. 

The dragon bows at him, and then starts to fade from sight. He’s actually a bit relieved - as nice as seeing physical proof that they’re not all crazy is, they can probably all do without being in the presence of something as long as a football field in front of the school. Of course, the claw marks remain. Of course they do.

Fuck but they need another long conversation about all of this and how the fuck spirits are now physical, don’t they? Later. It can be done later. Deku comes first. 

Shota retreats back inside the dorms and of course, his class is absolutely pretending not to hover as he gets inside. “Sensei!” they cry as a group the moment the door closes behind him. At least they don’t swarm. If he gives orders now he can keep them from asking too many questions. He flares his quirk for effect, and to hopefully tell Tamamo-no-Mae to return, in case she hasn’t yet.

“Yaoyorozu, can you make a heating blanket?” He kicks off his wet shoes but the rest is going to just have to drip for now. “Shinso, we’ll need to borrow a change of clothes. Clear off a space on the couch, one of you. Iida, call Recovery Girl, we’re going to need her here; when that’s done call Principal Nedzu. Tell him I need Deku’s emergency bag.” Chiyo is staying with Eri and Mirio in the third year dorm, but one of the material manipulation students will be able to tunnel her here safely. Nedzu has all of his secret tunnels and who knows what else - and Shota knows Deku’s backpack has been prepped as his getaway bag since they came to UA. Those paper prayers are going to be important now: he’s not going to leave everything to a dragon. “As for the rest of you, give us some space. Shinso, you’re with me.” 

They get Deku into the bathroom and out of his wet clothes - Shota ducks out to let Hitoshi help with that, because he doesn’t want to end up walking over a trigger on the kid without knowing it, using the time to quickly strip out of his own soaked things and into his spares. Then they bundle Deku onto the couch with blankets - including a heating blanket, thank everything for Yaoyorozu’s abilities coming through once more - and Shota gets a good look at the aforementioned bruised ribs. “How’d you do this one, Problem Child?” he asks while they get Deku comfortable and wait for Chiyo to arrive. 

“Dragon claws. They’re bad at judging pressure, I think.” Deku winces. “It honestly didn’t hurt at first but I think maybe that was the adrenaline…” 

“Dude, so that really was a dragon outside? That’s so manly!”

“There’s no such thing as dragons!”

“Tell that to Ryukyu!”

“That’s different!”

Quiet, please, all of you, and give us some space,” Shota reminds his class who are hovering. Someone pushes into the crowd anyway and hands him a thermos with a lid. Shota looks up into Bakugo’s scowling face.

“Tea,” he barks out, like it’s an offence to admit it, instantly stepping back. 

“Thank you,” Shota presses it into Deku’s shaking hands, then gives the rest of the room a significant look.

His students scatter, even if there’s only so far they can go while remaining on the main floor. Still, it affords Deku some privacy. “Recovery Girl will be here soon,” he tells him, crouched on the floor so he’s at Deku’s eye level. “You said you almost drowned - when was that? What happened?”

“I…” Deku flushes. “I fell off Mizuchi into the sea to find Ryūjin and that was actually very stupid in hindsight?” He looks up over Shota’s shoulder, eyes unfocused. “I know! I wasn’t… I wasn’t thinking right, it was stupid.”

Shota keeps his expression neutral because he almost wants to smile at the aggrieved tone and yet he’d fallen into the sea was hardly worthy of humor. “I take it Tamamo-no-Mae is giving you a scolding?”

“She’s fussing! It’s not like I wanted to fall! I was just -” he coughs, wincing. “It was dumb.” 

Shota’s not even sure how else he could reply, so he settles for “At least you know not to repeat that.”

Hitoshi’s obviously listening, because Shota hears him snicker. 

It drags a weak grin from Deku as well and Shota brushes his still damp hair back out of his eyes. “You had me worried,” he admits, now that they have at least some space and Deku’s looking a little less like death. “You didn’t need to run. It was all right - we’re all safe. You gave Ragdoll her quirk back. Nothing was your fault.”

Deku nods, but there’s still tension in his small frame. “I made a mess of things, though. And now you -” he looks at Shota’s new, shiny quirk nails. “That is my fault.”

“Why do I think it was an accident that you’re blaming yourself for?” Shota wiggles his fingers. “I can live with this, so can the rest who were affected. It’s a change, and it’s going to take some getting used to, but we’re all capable of dealing with change, Problem Child.”

Deku flinches and looks away. “It isn’t - I mean, it is you, but it’s not just you. It’s your spirits. I…” he swallows. “All for One - his spirit was Ryūjin - the dragon - and he…” Deku closes his eyes and shudders. “It was awful.

Shota almost asks how. Then he remembers this is the kid who took the hanging body spider hair woman, lion faced googley eyed giant spider thing and a river of disembodied eyeballs without flinching. He does not, in fact, need to find out what Deku thinks of as awful at this exact moment in time.

“There were so many and they were trapped, and I should have thought of that - I should have realized the wards would keep everything in as well as out when they followed me back, but they were screaming, begging for help, and so I just - I didn’t think. Didn’t know that they’d cling to the first thing, first person who wasn’t me. ” Deku blinks away tears. “I did the same thing to the others - they’re all mixed up now. I have to - I have to find a way to fix it.”

“Deku,” Shota nudges the thermos of tea in the boy’s hands closer. “We can wait. They can wait. You don’t have to save the world today. No one in their right mind is going to blame you for what happened,” even if Shota doesn’t entirely understand what’s happened at all, he knows this much. “Humans or spirits. If they do, they can deal with me. Even Tamamo-no-Mae.”

Deku takes the world’s longest shaking breath and smiles up at him lopsidedly. “She’s saying the same thing. I guess Mizuchi was right,” he admits, clutching the thermos to his chest. “He said I - that you were my human guardian, and Ryūjin said he’d be my spirit one. If I wanted him to.”

Shota feels like he’s been punched in the chest. He sets his hands on Deku’s covered knees, for a moment reminded of a chasm and a rope and wood bridge and how impossible everything had seemed - had it really only been three weeks?

This is too fast, and yet - the idea of letting anyone else try to look after Deku is impossible to fathom. Everything has been too fast, with this kid, and if he puts it off who the fuck even knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? They can’t wait for normal. This is his normal. “Well, it sounds like Mizuchi has the right of it then,” he gentles his voice as Deku looks at him quizzically. “I’m your guardian. You’re my kid. If you want to be.”

“But I -” Deku shakes his head in disbelief. “I’m too much trouble.” 

“Pretty sure you’re exactly the right amount of trouble,” Shota tells him, ignoring the way he can hear several of his female students stifling sounds.  

“You can’t,” Deku ducks his head and drops his voice to a pained whisper. “I’m a monster.”

Well… at least Shota’s had to handle that particular train of thought often enough to know how to handle it. “Because of what you can do?”

Deku nods, not meeting his gaze at all. “I’m like - All for One is like me. He’s a bridge. I can do what he can do. We’re the same.”

He says it like it’s a death sentence, tense and balled up. On one hand, it’s an incredibly informative few words - Deku thinks All for One is alive, Deku did meet him in some shape or form and learned about him, All for One had some sort of spirit power, and Deku thinks they’re the same. Shota already knows the latter isn’t true - he’s seen Deku work without needing physical contact with someone, for example, and All for One relied on others to teleport him,. Similar, certainly, and that wasn’t a surprise - they’d considered that already. Same? Hardly. If anything, Shota suspects Deku might be the evolution of whatever the hell All for One was, or was trying to be, at least.

Still, the kid doesn’t need to hear all of that when what he means is something far simpler, and far easier to combat. “No, you’re not.”

“I am,” Deku protests. “Ryūjin explained it, before - before he died. The only difference is All for One had a spirit, had Ryūjin first, and he - he found out how to… shut them out so he couldn’t hear or see them, anymore.”

“Oh really?” And that was certainly an interesting piece of the puzzle - for later. “Seems to me there are a few things you’re missing.”

“What?”

“It isn’t what you can do with your quirk that makes someone a hero, or a villain, Deku. It’s what you choose to do with it that makes you who you are. You are not a monster because someone similar to you did terrible things, any more than Eri is a monster because of what Overhaul did with her quirk against her will. And I have heard you explain to her exactly why that doesn’t make her a monster, so do you want to try to explain to me why you’re so different?”

“It’s not a quirk,” Deku protests - but it’s weak and he knows it. “I saw what he did, Aizawa, I can’t… I can’t let myself do that to anyone else.”

“So don’t,” Shota tucks the blankets a little closer around Deku’s shoulders. They’re still speaking lowly, heads very nearly pressed together. “And trust that we won’t let you. Remember that you don’t have to deal with all of this on your own, not any more. I promised you I’d help, and I meant it. Not just with school and food and clothes, Deku, but with your power and your friends. You don’t have to run off every time you’re afraid. I’m not afraid of you.”

Deku looks away. “I’m not… I’m not good at asking for help.”

Shota prods him gently in the chest as he hears Chiyo arrive at the main door. “Good thing you’re going to the best school I know of, then,” he says, watching as the idea chases some of the darkness out of Deku’s gaze. “How else are you going to learn?”

Deku’s lower lip wavers but he doesn’t cry, probably more because of the audience and Chiyo’s presence, if Shota has to guess - the kid looks exhausted. He steps back to let Chiyo do her best with her mobile kit and her quirk and is relieved to hear that Deku needs observation just-in-case but they don’t have to try to take him to emergency unless he shows any new symptoms. 

Meanwhile, Nedzu arrives with Deku’s backpack and the stack of prayers Shota knows he’d stashed aside (along with a not subtle amount of other emergency items) just in case he had to leave in a hurry. Shota knows that he can’t break Deku of the habit all at once, but they can make a dedicated effort - that if Deku runs, he remembers he can come back.  

He hands the papers to Sero. “My dorm room: one on each wall, one on the door, one on the window, one on the ceiling, one on the floor. Don’t have them overlap or touch anything else.”

“Sensei?” Sero blinks. 

“I’ll explain later.” When Deku’s up for it, they’re going to need a long talk with his class. “When you’re done, do the same thing to the bathroom: make sure they’re somewhere they won’t get wet. 

Tokoyami comes up and nods at Sero. “I can show you the best way to place them,” he says, formal as ever. He looks at Shota, expressionless. “I have more should he need them.”

Shota… files that away for later. “Thank you.”

Tokoyami turns Sero towards the dorm rooms and Shota turns back to Deku, which is a good way of ensuring the rest of his students don’t ask what the fuck, at least not quite yet.

They get Deku set up in Shota’s room once it’s warded, propped up on pillows so that he’s not horizontal per Chiyo’s orders. Deku’s sound asleep within five minutes, still pale and chill but no longer frighteningly so. 

“I’ll sit with him,” Hitoshi says from the doorway. “I can keep watch, and you have to give everyone else some sort of answer, I think they’re going to implode if you make them wait on everything.”

Shota sighs and nods. Hitoshi pulls up the desk chair and pulls out his phone and slumps into position next to the bed. It’s not quite sitting vigil, which Shota finds himself eternally grateful for. 

He heads down to the shared main space and, as expected the majority of his students are waiting for answers while attempting to look like they’re not.

“So was that really a dragon, Sensei?” Ashido asks, leaning over the back of the couch so far he’d worry she’d fall, except if she does it will be a learning experience. Next to her, Uraraka is poised, nervously tapping her fingers together but staring Shota down like she can simply glean information straight from his gaze.

Shota sighs. This is going to be a long one - and of course Nedzu’s still here, seated with Yaoyorozu and drinking tea from her personal tea set that Shota cannot believe she’d willingly risk in this dorm of all places, acting like this is normal. 

“All right,” he says, and suddenly every head is turned to him. “I’m only going to explain this once.”

 

---------

 

Very nearly drowning is exhausting, but maybe it’s also the bruised ribs and all the magic and the spirits and the knowledge of All for One and One for All and his nightmares that keep sleep from being restful. Izuku dreams about his mother, and her gentle spirit, dreams of taking the sylph as his own and then just stuffing more and more spirits into it until it is a monstrosity that drags itself along at his feet. In some dreams it looks like All for One, oozing lesions. In some dreams it looks like One for All, a fusion of parts that accept their whole but forget themselves. He wakes from every version in a cold sweat.

He spends a few days mostly sleeping in his dorm room, with occasional visits from Mirio and Shinso and Aizawa, and even Eri and Uravity who’s real name is Uraraka. The school hums with energy, everyone repairing the storm damage and getting things back in order and that’s all right - he needs time to think, and to process, and to accept that he does want help and he doesn’t want to keep running, and that he… 

He believes Aizawa, and the promises he makes.

It’s still hard, very, very hard, but everything in his life has been hard and he’s never expected it to be easy, not for a long time. And it is easier with friends like Mirio and Shinso, and with support from Aizawa and Hizashi and the other teachers. It’s easier when he asks for help from people, not spirits, because finally he has people who will say yes.

Of course… he has spirits too.

<< Your hair is a mess,>> says Kaze, a sylph so like his mother’s spirit she sometimes hurts to look at. She’s a dainty slip of a thing, almost transparent, weak after a century of being held but almost never called upon by All for One. She doesn’t have much to offer Izuku, but she still checks on him every morning.

“My hair’s always a mess,” he admits, but he tries to neaten it up a little bit. Aizawa promised him a haircut this weekend that he’s actually looking forward to. 

<< He’s introducing you,>> she says, fluttering around his head. << Are you sure you don’t need more help? There’s a lot of spirits in there.>>

Over the last few days he hasn’t been exactly alone. Tamamo-no-Mae had apologized, holding his hands and shifting between weeping and raging, angry at him for running and apologetic for not telling him about All for One or Ryujin before. She’d wanted to give him time, she’d said, and he believed her. She’d thought that he was still learning to understand his power and that Ryujin and All for One were too strong. He can at least understand that, even if he can’t agree with it. It was so obviously his duty, what he’d been made to fix, and she’d held it back from him - but she’d done so for his sake and he can’t find it in him to be angry about it. It is nice to have someone worry and care.  

She’d kept him plenty of company after that, but it hadn’t been just her. They’d had to take the wards down, in fact, because there was a constant stream of spirits coming to visit him while he recovered. Spirits he’d rescued. Spirits who had passed under his hands and he’d freed. Spirits he could greet by name, and they did not flinch away from him when he did.

It was strange, to not be hated. It still wasn’t every spirit - Tamamo-no-Mae said that she and Mizuchi were spreading the word, along with the others he’d saved, but it would still take time and not every spirit would want to give him the benefit even now. 

That was ok.

He didn’t need every spirit to like him. He didn’t need every human to believe him. What he needed was… was what he had.

A family, maybe, but friends for sure. Support. Belief from the people he cared about, who cared about him, and spirits who would protect him if he needed it.

Ryūjin, of course, was always just a thought away.

<< If they don’t believe you,>> he says, as if reading Izuku’s mind. << Then give Tamamo-no-Mae power to be physical and she will teach them a lesson.>>

Izuku has to shake his head. << If it really comes to that, all right, but the point is Aizawa is supposed to teach the lessons, not spirits, and it’s better if they can believe what he says after everything else that’s happened, I think. Besides, making everyone physical at the hospital was… a lot.>>

<< A bit too much power with nowhere to go,>> Ryujin’s mental voice shrugs. << That might happen again if you end up overwhelmed. You are different than the first.>>

<< Good,>> Izuku doesn’t feel so bad, these days, when Ryujin compares him to All for One. Ryujin is teaching him, not making comparisons and assuming the worst. It helps.

He might not have a bonded spirit that gives him a quirk, but for the first time in his life that doesn’t feel like the end of the world. He has a spirit guardian and a human guardian and they’re both going to teach him how to live with who he is and what he can do.

And even if he doesn’t have a quirk exactly, he has dozens of spirits who have offered him their help: all he has to do is ask. He’d cried a lot, the first day he’d spent properly awake, as spirit after spirit came to check on him and give thanks.

It means something amazing to be given trust, by so many. It means something amazing to not have to bargain and barter for it, giving away pieces of himself every time. For gifts to be given freely, not grudgingly, and to call a dozen new spirits something almost like friends.

<< Are you coming?>> Tamamo-no-Mae asks, head sticking out of the door. << Kit, did you get lost in your own head again?>>

Izuku swallows the last of his fear and slides the huge classroom door open and steps inside.

“Glad you made it. Worried you were having second thoughts,” Aizawa says from behind his podium. 

Izuku steps up to the space next to Aizawa and surveys the class that he’d...well, he can’t exactly say being feverishly adopted in their living room counts as ‘meeting’ before, but he’s seen them. He recognizes them all from the Sports Festival and the USJ coverage and Nedzu’s observation lessons, and there’s Uraraka, and the ones he’d met in… somewhere, Yokohama he thinks, but the details have the fuzziness he usually associates with memory loss and he doesn’t try to force it, he’ll only give himself a headache.

Bakugo is glaring daggers at him, but the rest of the class at least have open expressions - some are blank, a lot are curious, and there’s smiles enough to make him feel a little bit at ease.

Tamamo-no-Mae at his back helps a lot to make the various spirits sprawled around the space feel much less intimidating as well.

“Hi,” he says, his voice a bit of a squeak, still sore from all the coughing he’s done. “I’m - I’m auditing your class, before next semester, I mean, Aizawa probably already told you that, but I -” he catches himself before he can ramble or stutter too badly. As first impressions go he’s not making the best one. “You know me as Deku,” he starts again. “And uh, Aizawa calls me Problem Child,” Izuku looks over his shoulder and smiles at his - his teacher.

In his chest, Mizuchi’s gift glows warm and bright and Izuku feels whole. “But my name’s actually Izuku. Izuku Midoriya. I can see quirks, and sometimes I can modify them. It’s nice to meet you all.”

He bows, and for once in his life the tears in his eyes are from happiness and are all too easy to blink away before anyone else can see them.




~~~Fin~~~~