Izuku hangs back until every last person leaves the USJ. He’s ready, waiting, for the villains to come back - for something else to go wrong. He watches every camera feed, feels through every sensor, hovers over the controls for each of the rescue zones on the off chance he needs to turn them back on.
But nothing happens.
It’s really over.
The relief leaves him shaking, and in the same second he drops his connection to the USJ’s systems, Izuku flees.
He shoots a small command to his menagerie of helpers, letting them know not to send him any more info unless it’s urgent. He drags every reaching thread of his awareness back into himself as he hops connections and darts down electrical lines to a place he marked months ago for just this kind of scenario. It’s somewhere abandoned. Somewhere quiet.
Izuku slams into place amidst dusty wiring and out-of-date technology, throwing up as many walls as he can between himself and the world outside. Within seconds his emotions flood in after him, howling overhead.
There’s so much, and Izuku wants to gasp under the weight of it all. No matter how hard he tries, though, he can't take in a breath of air - can’t for a second relieve the pressure. Phantom lungs heave, a heart that doesn’t exist hammers against the ghost of ribs, and Izuku can't make it stop. He spent fourteen years reacting in certain ways to certain emotions, and despite whatever happened to unmoor his mind from his body - whatever bound him after to spark and wire and data - he still reaches for those obsolete pathways on automatic.
He'd forced himself into believing he was fine like this - drowning his misgivings under all the ways this new state of his helps people. His instinctive handle on navigating through and observing networks, coupled with his state as something not quite code, allowed him to gather the information necessary to close several ongoing investigations. He'd been able to manipulate security systems to thwart several robberies and assaults. He’d gathered evidence and sent out tips for crimes people couldn’t have known to report.
He's saved people, people he never would have been able to before. He clutches that knowledge to himself as tightly as he can. It was better - he was better like this, and he’ll only keep getting better the longer he goes.
(He always thought he'd give anything to be a hero. He never thought he wouldn't have a choice.)
Today was - it'd been scary, for sure. He hasn't had to deal with anything like it before, with so many lives at stake, but he'd helped. The helper he'd tasked with watching over 1A noticed near instantaneously when the signal around USJ went down and let him know fractions of a second later.
He'd been able to send a mock distress signal to UA proper while slipping past the signal block, unable to make it through the normal way past the mock Faraday cage someone had made of the USJ's exterior, but taking advantage of the fact the villains hadn't blocked off the power lines that kept the interior running. It was a simple matter for Izuku to hitch a ride inside, to stretch himself out and take the systems running each Rescue Zone into his sphere of influence and swiftly make use of them to hamper the invaders.
If he'd been human, he wouldn't have known they needed help. He would never have made it into UA (he'd seen those damned robots at the entrance exam and cursed his own foolish naivety), and even if he had, what would he have been able to do against the small army 1A had to go up against?
Nothing, nothing at all. Today only affirmed what he'd been slowly coming to terms with. Izuku really is better like this. He's finally managed to be useful in a way he never could when he was human (when he was alive). So what if he can't be a conventional hero, won’t ever make it on the rankings, won’t be able to look someone in the face and have them see him save them? He doesn't need that. He’s never chased heroics for fame or glory.
He just wants to help. To make people feel safe, the kind he's only felt in his mother's arms or when watching a hero swoop in to save the day. He can do that now - that’s the only thing that matters.
This is, objectively, better. For him and everyone else involved.
So why doesn’t it feel like it?
The emotions war inside him, finally reaching the breaking point he’s tried to push back for months. His mind reaches for tears, for nerves, for bile, but there’s nothing to grasp, and the dissonance is like missing a step on the stairs. The vertigo of an unexpected drop, stretched into minutes instead of seconds. With each failed attempt, Izuku's anxiety grows and compounds, each missed step a longer drop than the last.
Desperately, Izuku wishes for his mother. He wants her to wrap him in a hug, to comb a hand through his hair, to wipe away his tears or squeeze his hands in hers. Anything to let him feel present, to feel real. He sees millions of people a day like this, helps them, speaks to some even, but except for Hatsume, no one even knows he’s there.
And even Hatsume doesn’t know the whole of him. She thinks he’s on the other side of the screen, a flesh and blood body somewhere in another town. If she knew the truth -
LordExplosion: Nice try asshole, but the owner of that account is dead. Go hack some other hapless fuck.
MightyBoy: I’m not a hacker! It’s me, Izuku. I know it’s strange, but I promise!
MightyBoy: I don't know what happened, but I'm not dead.
LordExplosion: Don't fucking lie to me!
LordExplosion: I don't know how you got access to his account, or what sick game you think you're playing, but he's dead.
LordExplosion: He's fucking dead and I saw his body! You have NO right to use his memory like that!
MightyBoy: No no don't cry!
MightyBoy: I promise I'm not lying
MightyBoy: I'm fine I'm okay please please believe me Kacchan
LordExplosion: DON’T CALL ME THAT!
LordExplosion: And I don't know what you think you're seeing through your fucking stalker camera or whatever.
LordExplosion: But I'm not crying.
LordExplosion: I'm fucking blocking you. Don't contact me again.
LordExplosion: But if I EVER find out you tried to pull this shit on someone else?
LordExplosion: ESPECIALLY Auntie Inko?
LordExplosion: I'll track you down and make you wish you WERE dead, you hear me?!
LordExplosion: She doesn't deserve this shit.
LordExplosion: And neither does he.
LordExplosion has disconnected.
LordExplosion has blocked you.
She'll never find out.
No one can ever find out.
He wishes it were different. That he could tell someone, anyone , and have them believe him, but he's played the possibilities out ad nauseam at this point, and time and again it can all be explained away. Someone with enough skill, with the right quirk, can do anything he can try to prove. And what’s more likely? That someone experienced is playing a prank, or that a quirkless nobody of a teenager came back from the dead, a ghost riding the electronic highway?
The futility of it all weighs down Izuku’s heart, sick and cloying as it drips its way into his cracks. The memory of his skin prickles. It aches. It yearns. The need for any sort of physical contact, a brush of skin, the heat of another body next to his, sits in the core of him like a deep-set hunger. An emptiness that yawns wider as time marches on. If he dwells in the sensation of someone typing, or if he pretends for a moment that a person is talking to him when they fuss over the phone or laptop he’s passing through, he can almost take the edge off. But in the end, it’s a pale sham of a comparison, and the need lingers.
It irks him, if he’s being honest. He hasn't felt true hunger or thirst since waking up. He misses the taste of food, of course, but the need isn't there in the same way this seems to be. He's lost nearly everything else, both good and bad, so why, out of everything, is this one of the things that stayed?
(Why why why does he still have to feel so lonely ?)
The irritation feeds the grief feeds the need, an ouroboros of anguish, feasting on itself and growing paradoxically larger until it stretches at the edges of him. Feelings carve away at his insides, desperately trying to escape a throat that isn't there, and he can't take it anymore. This black hole in an empty void.
Despite himself, he forces a breath in - ignores the twist that isn't his lungs filling, the dissatisfaction of it - and screams . Were he alive, the sound would have been a ragged, splintering thing. But Izuku is dead, in all eyes but his own and in all ways but this, and there is no sound, no breath to expel.
Just him, grasping at the edges of an absence he might never be able to fill again.
Izuku is nothing if not stubborn, however, and when he puts his mind to something, it’s no easy matter to turn him from it. So he screams, and wails, and cries, long after his lungs should run empty, letting the injustice of it all coalesce. Maybe if he pushes enough, something will change. This can't be what his life will be like from now on, he refuses. He is going to save people, so many people, for as long as he is able. He isn't about to let whatever the hell this is get in his way. He hadn't let his quirklessness stop him, hadn't let his classmates stop him, hadn't let death of all things stop him. Like hell is he going to let anything get in his way after that.
So he rages, twisting and flexing his new form in dizzying patterns in search of some sort of resonance, some function or switch or design that will let him release the storm compounding within him until finally, finally , something clicks. The feeling isn't quite the same - tinny and hollow and too sharp, crackling at the edges like embers off a burning branch - but these days, everything is a little off. After months of bottling things up, Izuku is just ecstatic to feel anything that releases the pressure.
He leans into the feeling, bleeding out every grief, every hurt, every injustice he hasn’t been able to properly express since waking up post-mortem. It’s exhilarating, freeing, and he milks the sensation for everything it’s worth.
It takes minutes, hours, but eventually he manages to exhaust himself. His thoughts slow, losing their grip on him and drifting to the ground in gentle strands. For the first time in a long while, Izuku feels… spent. Like he’s been scrubbed raw from the inside out. It aches, and it isn’t necessarily pleasant , but he feels fresher than he has in quite a while.
Slowly, he pulls himself together, slotting the disparate pieces of himself back into place as he mulls over the sensations, etching into his mind the exact twist and nudge he’d made to uncork some of his errant emotions. He’ll have to practice, but if he can get used to the feeling, make it a habit to vent that way when the thoughts that plague him become too much, then maybe it can become his new normal. Maybe the phantom sensations of a body that’s no longer his will fade completely.
From when he woke from that haze of pain and half-remembered nightmares until now, Izuku wrestled with the weight of his emotions. Anger. Grief. Fear. Even joy became uncomfortable when there was enough of it. In humans, emotions are a chemical thing, something that can build up and be released when there’s more of it than the body can handle. Izuku still isn’t sure what, exactly, he is, but he knows for certain that there are no chemicals governing his emotions and, up until now, there was no way to release them when they became too much. It left him exhausted, trying to dance around his own thoughts in an attempt to avoid falling too deep in emotions he didn’t have a way to handle.
It’s almost bittersweet, knowing he’s taking another step away from his old life. But Izuku knew early on there was no going back to being human. Maybe it’s time to truly let go.
Turning the thought over in his mind, Izuku gathers himself and lets down the firewalls keeping the room isolated. A long string of notifications immediately rise from his messaging app, and he navigates to the program as he notifies his helpers that he’s once again open for communication and darts back out into the world at large.
Parts of him begin sorting through the news the helpers stream him, searching for any updates on the USJ attack or the perpetrators, but his foremost focus is on the pile of messages from Hatsume.
She’d tried to contact him almost immediately after he’d closed off, talking about how her teacher had left the room earlier that day, the inventions she’d worked on in the meantime, her speculations about what might have happened. He scans through the conversation, watching her go from eager to curious to concerned when he doesn’t respond, and guilt washes in like the tide.
Ever since he met Hatsume, he’s answered her messages with perhaps an overabundance of eagerness, starved for conversation as he is. Sometimes he waits a few minutes, just to keep up the illusion of a person with a life on the other end of the line, but he’s never gone longer than thirty minutes without responding, regardless of the time of day (a fact Hatsume occasionally teases him about), and he'd been in that room for… well over three hours at this point.
That was, apparently, enough of a break from his usual pattern to warrant Hatsume setting a bot to ping him every 3 minutes until he responded.
Scrolling to the bottom of their conversation, Izuku sends a profuse apology, making up a lie about losing his phone while out grocery shopping and asking for further elaboration about her day. He doubts she’s been given any more information than what’s available online, but there’s still a chance she knows evidence or rumours that haven’t been logged somewhere he can access just yet.
While he waits for her reply, Izuku tries to settle back into his usual routine. His helpers are flitting back and forth, feeding him information about the various trouble spots he’s pinned, keeping him up to date on cases of interest, letting him know if there’s any suspicious activity that needs his attention.
Before he can try to do much of anything, however, his messenger pings again. He shifts his attention back quickly, not wanting to worry Hatsume even more than he already has -
But it isn’t from Hatsume. It’s from a user he doesn’t know, and that can’t be right because no one else has any reason to talk to him here. Izuku whirls and twists over himself, perplexed, and something like foreboding curdles within him. It can’t be a bot, he has a filter to keep those out. Maybe it’s a case of mistaken identity?
Well, it isn’t as if Izuku has anything to lose by checking. He can always block whoever it is if he needs to, and they can’t really do anything to him like this, right?
(The thought is more bitter than Izuku would like, but not quite as biting as it has been the past few months.)
He opens the message.
Labyrinthine: Hello! My apologies for contacting you out of the blue, but this is a rather urgent matter.
Labyrinthine: I am Nedzu, the Principal of UA high school. This afternoon, we encountered an unprecedented security breach. Upon reviewing our systems, we’ve noticed a pattern of unusual activity starting at the beginning of the school year. In particular, the activity seems abnormally centered around both class 1A, who were targeted in the attack, and one Hatsume Mei.
Labyrinthine: Ms. Hatsume, who was in contact with you any time said activity spiked. I find that quite an interesting coincidence, wouldn’t you say?
Labyrinthine: At your earliest convenience, I insist you come meet with me and have a cup or two of tea.
Labyrinthine: We have much to discuss :)