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The world around Izuku is spinning like a top. He presses his lips together and squashes his eyes shut as hard as he can; once he feels a bit better, he slowly pries them open. The world is a little bit steadier, now, but it still looks off— sort of like when their TV gets stuck between holo mode and 3D mode, except Izuku can’t turn the world off and on again.

Izuku presses one gloved (gloved? Why is he wearing gloves?) hand to his temple. He knows it won’t actually fix anything, but he feels bad enough that he can’t stop the impulse. This is almost as bad as the time he got so sick he couldn’t even keep down water, and Mom had to fetch him everything because he was too dizzy to stand.

“I’m sorry!” the call of a young voice breaks through Izuku’s foggy mind. He turns carefully to see a young girl who looks a few years younger than him. She’s blonde, with a silver horn set off-center in her forehead, and she’s wearing a loose white dress that looks far too thin for the cold air.

More importantly, she looks really upset; her eyes are glistening with unshed tears, and she’s holding her trembling hands up in front of her in a way that reminds Izuku of a few days ago when his hands were covered with finger paint, and he had to walk with them held out carefully so he wouldn’t stain their apartment’s white walls. That posture, combined with the way that her horn is letting off golden-glowing sparkles, is enough to give Izuku a pretty good idea of what’s happened.

He does his best All Might smile. “It’s okay! Quirk accidents happen to everyone!”

For some reason (maybe his All Might smile turned out really bad?) the girl gasps and presses one hand to her mouth as she tries to choke back a sob. Instinctively, Izuku reaches out and slips his hands under her armpits, resting her against his hip. It’s the same way he always does when he babysits the neighborhood kids— or did, back before all the parents seemed to decide quirklessness was contagious. She squirms in his arms, gasping out something about her quirk. Izuku just pats her soothingly, telling her, “it’ll settle down as you become calmer. Try to take some deep breaths, okay?”

“D—Deku?” an unfamiliar voice stutters out.

Behind him is a hero that Izuku can’t recognize. His eyes are wide, and he’s pale under the golden glow of his tan. Izuku is shocked, too— is this a new hero just making his debut? He can’t be an underground hero with such a flashy costume, but Izuku has long since memorized all of the aboveground heroes. Izuku shakes himself; Kacchan’s right, he’s such a hero nerd! The most important question here is really how he knows Izuku’s name.

Abruptly, the hero’s eyes flick to a spot just behind Izuku’s left shoulder. Izuku turns in time to see… a man in a bird mask and a green coat lined with purple fur? Izuku squints. Auntie Mitsuki tells him he’s got a terrible sense of fashion, but even he dresses better than that.

“Give me back Eri,” the unfashionably dressed man in the bird mask says. Izuku pulls the girl closer. “No,” he replies, mimicking the stubborn, difficult-to-refute tone Kacchan uses with his mother when she tells him that playtime is over.

The unfashionable bird-man lunges forward, reaching out with a hand covered by an impossibly clean white glove. The girl— Eri— flinches closer to Izuku, bunching her small fists in the oversized jumpsuit that Izuku’s wearing.

There’s an instinct that Izuku can’t quite seem to lose. It’s the instinct that has him coaxing Suzuki-san’s cat down from trees even though he always gets scratched. It’s the same instinct that had him reaching out for Kacchan’s hand when he fell off the bridge. It’s that instinct that means he always stands up for the neighborhood kids even though they turn on him afterward. Now, that instinct has his feet moving before he can so much as think.

Izuku cradles Eri close so that her face is pressed safely into his chest where she won’t have to see any of this, and then he leaps forward to meet the man halfway. His jaw closes with a wet snap, and his mouth fills with hot, sticky liquid and a taste like a fistful of pocket change.

As quick as he’d leaped in, Izuku scrambles back, spitting crimson onto the grimy pavement. The bird-man is screaming hoarsely across from him, alternating between clutching his bloodied hands and scratching at the pinkish hives bubbling up over what’s visible of his face. “I’ll kill you!” he shrieks. “I’ll kill you, you incurable fucking brat!”

The bird-man dives towards him once more. This time, the unfamiliar hero is the one who moves to meet him, pulling Izuku out of the way and taking his place in the moment between one breath and the next. The hero settles into a fighting stance, clearly preparing for a fight, but the bird-man simply flings him aside, greedy-gleaming magpie eyes locked on Izuku.

Izuku’s own gaze tracks the hero’s trajectory. With a twist of his stomach and a rising of bile in the back of his throat, Izuku realizes the hero’s about to smash his head open on the wall. It’s childish, but Izuku can’t help the way he desperately wills the hero to somehow save himself, wills something to change.

It must work after all, because suddenly black tentacles are rising from Izuku’s body, curling around the hero and catching him just before his head slams into the wall. The momentum is still enough to snap his head back, and his head lolls, unconscious, into the careful embrace of the black tendrils. Izuku is on his own.

Izuku’s opponent pauses momentarily, his face crinkled in confusion. Izuku will be confused too once he’s not so busy panicking, he’s sure. For now, the tendrils move on their own once more, wrapping around the man and slam-dunking him into a nearby dumpster, then unceremoniously shutting the lid with a bang behind him.

For a moment, Izuku just stares blankly, his chest fluttering up and down like the rapid, panicked movements of a bird’s wing. He’s always been careful not to pick up Kacchan’s habit of swearing because it would disappoint Mom, but he doesn’t think Mom would blame him if just this once he asked what the fuck that just was.

One black tendril gently taps his cheek, almost like it’s trying to get his attention. Izuku blinks his way back to himself just in time to see it point towards the alleyway’s exit. Right, now isn’t a good time for him to freak out, either.

Izuku shifts Eri a little bit higher in his arms, then leaves the alley, moving as quickly as he can while carrying a girl who’s about two-thirds of his weight. As if realizing his predicament, some of the black tendrils move to help support her.

There’s so much adrenaline pumping through Izuku’s bloodstream that it’s hard to think clearly. He moves as fast as he can, trying to avoid populated areas and taking a winding, roundabout route to hopefully lose any pursuers. At one point he spots a man in a bird mask like the one the man from earlier wore. Izuku snarls, and the black tendrils lift off his body like raised hackles or bristling fur on a cat. I will bite you just like I bit your master, Izuku tries to convey with his eyes alone. The man politely lowers his eyes, lifting his hands in a defensive gesture.

After that, Izuku forces himself to move even faster, even as his arms and legs start aching and he can feel exhaustion starting to make a home in the core of his chest. It’s only when he’s walked long enough that blisters have begun forming where the too-big shoes chafe against his skin that Izuku allows his mind to turn to what just happened. He has so many questions that for a moment he thinks he might get swept away in them like the time he’d almost got swept to sea. This time, Mom isn’t here to dive in and tug him back to shore, either.

In an attempt to not be overwhelmed, Izuku starts picking through the mess slowly, and in chronological order.

The first thing that had happened was that he’d appeared somewhere he didn’t— still doesn’t— recognize. Sometimes, he’ll think that bits of it— the shape of a street, or the location of a tree— is familiar, but when he looks closer at little details like the names of stores, the resemblance slips away like water through cupped hands.

Izuku grasps around for some sort of prior memory, for something before appearing here. He remembers things he knows happened a little while ago— trying to keep finger paint off the white walls of the house, going to school, Kacchan— but all of them are a little while ago. He can’t remember what day of the week it is, or what he was doing before he appeared here— wherever here even is.

Then there’s the dizziness. It had been strong enough that at first, he’d thought it must have been severe dehydration— but after a few minutes, it had disappeared completely without him drinking so much as a sip of water.

That’s not even getting started on what Izuku’s wearing. The only familiar thing is his red sneakers; he’s never had any sort of desire to wear a green jumpsuit or gloves. Plus, all three items are far too big for him— not in the way Auntie Mitsukie tells him is “fashionably oversized”, but so big that he’s in danger of drowning in the jumpsuit, and he’s got to walk kind of funny so that the shoes don’t slip right off his feet.

Plus, what’s with the unknown hero? How had he known Izuku’s name, and how come Izuku hadn’t known his?

For that matter, why did the bird-man want Eri back? Then again, Izuku thinks as he tongues unhappily at the hollow space where he just lost a baby tooth, he probably doesn’t want to know, if the too-thin dress, bare feet, and bandages are any indication.

The most pressing question of all, of course, is the matter of the black tendrils.

Izuku’s first thought is that he’s finally gotten his quirk, but the latest bloomer he’s heard of is the pro hero Super Nova, and she got her quirk at seven, not nearly ten. Plus, she doesn’t have the extra toe joint like Izuku does. That’s not even getting into the fact that sentient transformation-type quirks are really rare— rare enough that Izuku hasn’t heard of any, and he’s the biggest quirk nerd he knows.

Maybe he’s just tricking himself into thinking it’s sentient, and it’s been under his control this entire time?

Izuku focuses and tries to move one of the black tendrils. For a moment, it seems to perk up, and Izuku thinks it might obey him. But then the tendril reaches down and pats Izuku on the top of his head rather condescendingly instead. Izuku frowns and readjusts his hair. That tendril didn’t need to go and pat him like that— like he’s some sort of child

Izuku feels a foreign mixture of amusement, affection, and wry disbelief rise up within him, and the tendril pats him on the head again. This time, an unfamiliar thought bubbles up in him— baby.

Izuku flushes tomato-red. He’s not a baby, and anyway, how the heck is his quirk (?) talking inside his head? He’s pretty sure that even sentient quirks aren’t supposed to that. This whole thing feels like a weird fever dream.

Izuku stops short. Wait… that would actually explain a lot.

All of the little incongruities, his logic-bending sentient quirk, the way Izuku appeared out of nowhere… all of it can be explained by this being a dream. Izuku looks down at the girl he’s carrying in his arms, who’s started to doze. Maybe… maybe this is actually Eri’s dream or a shared dream between the two of them. Eri could have used her quirk to summon him into the dream— that would fit with his appearance and the accident she’d clearly had with her quirk. Plus, the fear she’d displayed in regards to her quirk and the general… situation she was in would make sense if her quirk caused her to have powerful, ultra-realistic dreams like these.

Probably, her dream had turned into a nightmare, and she’d instinctively summoned him into it. That would explain how guilty she’d seemed to feel, too.

There’s one way Izuku knows for sure to check if he’s in a dream or not. Once he realizes he’s in a dream, all he needs to do in order to fly, or at least float upwards, is just to wish really really hard and totally, unconditionally believe in himself. Izuku squeezes his eyes shut and stubbornly believes.

When he opens his eyes again, he’s floating about ten feet off the ground, Eri still cradled in his arms. Izuku can’t help the beaming smile that bursts across his face or the warm excitement that bubbles up in him. If this is just a dream, neither of them are in any danger, and he can just focus on turning this nightmare into a good dream for Eri, instead of worrying about the strange man after her.

One of the black tendrils loops around a nearby fire escape, keeping him from floating away into the clouds. Now that he’s managed to make himself float, there’s no way this is anything other than a dream. Not only is it practically impossible for a ten-year-old boy with two toe joints to suddenly manifest a quirk, it’s especially impossible for him to suddenly manifest two completely unrelated quirks.

There’s only one person Izuku knows of who can claim that they have two quirks, and Izuku is pretty sure even Todoroki Shouto doesn’t really have two quirks. It makes more sense for them to actually be one temperature manipulation quirk that just tends to manifest as either fire or ice, or for Todoroki Shouto to be the product of one twin absorbing the other twin in the womb.

Just so he can double-check, Izuku wills a third quirk— this time a fire quirk like his dad’s Hisashi’s into being. Heat climbs the back of his throat, and when he breaths out, flames lick harmlessly at the sides of his mouth. He lets out a fiery, whooping laugh.

Eri stirs in his arms, snuffling against his chest. Izuku pets her silky blonde hair and pulls her in closer to his chest, mentally rebuking himself for having been so loud. Even if this is her dream, it’s clear that she’s not enjoying it at all. It doesn’t seem like she has conscious control over her dreamscape, so she’s being plagued by the nightmares conjured up by her own subconscious. It makes sense; few people have the time and willpower to learn how to lucid dream, especially in a world where reality is almost as good as dreamland anyway.

Izuku smiles, and can’t help but indulge himself in whispering, “it’s okay now. Why? Because I am here.” It’s true— he clearly has good control over her dreamscape, so he can protect her from nightmares. He can even conjure up something nice for her— maybe a nice meadow with some flowers and a soft, burbling stream? Or a library with window seats, so she can nap in a pool of sunshine? Or, if she keeps on sleeping so deeply, perhaps a bed of fluffy clouds floating through a star-studded, purple-blue night sky?

The black tendril gently reels him back to the ground as he mumbles all of his ideas into the soft warmth of Eri’s hair. Despite the tendril’s careful efforts, Izuku’s feet hit the ground at a bad angle, and he can feel the jolt of it in his ankles and knees. Plus, he can feel a scratchy roughness in his throat from where he’d breathed fire. It’s strange because usually he can’t get injured or feel pain in dreams.

Maybe the rules are different because it’s not really a dream, or at least not Izuku’s dream? After all, if Izuku’s theory is correct, he’s in an extra-vivid dream supported by Eri’s quirk. Seeing how the dream is so real-seeming that Izuku can feel the odd oversized jumpsuit rubbing against his skin, can smell the salt from the nearby ocean in the air, can hear the distant rush of cars, is it really so surprising that Izuku can feel pain?

It’s just as he has that thought that a huge yawn splits his mouth. It feels like manifesting his two new “quirks” has used up all of his energy— his eyelids are heavy, and his limbs are trembling minutely. He’s only holding up Eri through a combination of sheer willpower, and the silent, steady help of the black tendrils. It makes sense that with the dreamscape being so powerful, it would try to push back against an intruder’s attempts to change it.

Izuku bites his lip, dread rising up in him. That would explain why Eri’s nightmare had been able to fight back and even nearly injure the pro hero figment. He probably shouldn’t try to use his lucid dreaming to manifest anything extra, just because he might need to protect Eri later. He pats Eri’s head gently. “No library or cloud-bed for you right now, I’m afraid.”

A wave of dizziness reminiscent of what he’d felt when he’d first been pulled into the dreamscape rolls over him so powerfully that he sways on his feet. It’s only through the steadying presence of the black tendrils holding him up that he doesn’t crumple to his feet then and there. Sleep, the strange voice from within orders quellingly.

Eyelids drooping, Izuku staggers into a nearby alley and curls up in a corner behind an all-too-realistic-smelling figment of a trash can. He focuses all of his remaining energy into forcing the dream world around him to bend to his will; we will be safe here for the night he orders with the weight of one nine-year-old’s very powerful hoard of stubbornness and spite. For good measure, he reminds the dreamscape in general that this is a dream and I am awake and aware so you have to obey me or else. He mentally sticks his tongue out at the whole dreamscape in general.

One of the black tendrils pats him on the head. Izuku very narrowly resists the urge to bite at it like an angered cat, and only bothers to restrain himself because he’s pretty sure doing so would just make the tendrils pat him more if he did.

The pull of his exhaustion is too strong to resist now. Izuku curls himself protectively around Eri and lets the waiting dark pull him under.

The first thing that Izuku notices when he wakes up is that Eri isn’t in his arms anymore. The second thing he notices is the familiar bite in the air of harsh disinfectants. The third thing he notices are the nearest exits.

There’s the door, of course, but it’s almost certainly locked. There are some windows, too, but they open to a long drop, long enough that Izuku might break his legs in the landing. Anyway, Eri is probably still inside here (wherever here is) and there’s no way he’s leaving her anywhere near her nightmare.

There’s also the vents. Izuku grins as soon as he spots them, because he instinctively knows that they’ll be the perfect exit for him. He doesn’t even have to move any of the furniture around so he can climb up; a little bit of willpower is all it takes to get him floating again. Once he’s got a grip on the inside of the vent, he forces himself to let his weight return, knowing that he really can’t afford to squander his energy when bending the dreamscape to his will is such a big drain on him. As a result, he finds himself hanging from the inside of the vent, his noodle arms trembling as he tries to gather enough strength to pull himself up.

It’s at that moment that the door opens and an unfamiliar man with long, dark hair and an odd-looking white scarf emerges. For a split second Izuku just stares blankly, feeling a lot like a deer caught in headlights, and then the white scarf shoots out and wraps around his waist. It’s at that moment that Izuku realizes who this particular figment is modeled after: Eraserhead!

“Problem Child,” Eraserhead asks, “What, exactly, were you just doing?”

“Look, I just saw that Eri wasn’t with me and everything was creepily sterile and I panicked, okay?” Izuku tells him a bit defensively. How was he to know that he’d been kidnapped by hero-figments and not Eri’s nightmare?

Eraserhead squints. “You thought Overhaul had taken you? Kid, how the hell did you not recognize the hospital wing? You’ve been here often enough you must know it like the back of your—”

The door opens again, and this time, it’s… Izuku blinks. It’s All Might. Now he knows for certain that this is a dream.

“Young Midoriya!” All Might cheers. “I am—” suddenly blood spurts out of his mouth, and he deflates into a much skinnier man.

“Yagi,” Eraserhead sighs. “Midoriya’s in no state to be taking visitors.”

All Might’s perfect bushy eyebrows furrow. “Are you sure? He looks quite lively.” Eraserhead turns to look at Midoriya, who stops struggling in Eraserhead’s capture weapon and tries to look innocent.

“This is exactly why he’s in no state to be taking visitors,” Eraserhead tells All Might (Yagi?) in the voice of someone who has carried on this same argument at least a dozen times already. “Midoriya already has a tendency to do dangerous things— like trying to escape when there’s nothing to even escape from—” He skewers Izuku with a glowing red gaze, “—and that’s without your influence. When you’re around, his reckless tendencies only multiply.”

Once Eraserhead’s gaze has turned away, Izuku returns to struggling. The thin material of the scarf is as stiff and immovable as metal against him, which is fascinating because when it had lashed out to grip him, it had seemed as fluid as the stretchiest of cloth. What’s it made of? How does Eraserhead control it?

Eraserhead and All Might are quickly devolving into an argument, but Izuku’s mind is elsewhere. He’s stopped struggling in favor of running his fingers over the material the capture weapon is made of, tugging it and testing the weave as he mutters theories to himself.

A sigh draws him from his thoughts. He looks up in time to see Eraserhead dumping the rest of the capture weapon around his shoulders. The capture weapon is soft and warm around his shoulders and piles up almost to the bridge of his nose. He peers over the folds of fabric to Eraserhead. Eraserhead’s mouth stays in the slight frown it’s been wearing since he entered to the room just in time to see Izuku trying to escape through the vents, but the corners of Eraserhead’s eyes crinkle and his eyes seem to soften.

One scarred, calloused hand rises and settles in his curls. Izuku can’t help the way he leans into the touch like a cat asking for more pets. The odd consciousness from earlier bubbles up within him once again, this time expressing a wordless sentiment best translated to, When I pat you, you try to bite me, when he pats you you lean in! Izuku returns an emotion most succinctly translated as a raised middle finger and leans into the touch even more, just to spite the dumb voice who thinks he’s “a baby” and “needs sleep”.

In response, the black tendrils rise from his arms and start making threatening moves towards his head; Izuku ducks away as quickly as he can with reflexes honed from years of dodging Kacchan. Eraserhead’s hair lifts, and the black tentacles suddenly sink back into his arms. “Problem Child,” Eraserhead bites out, “What the fuck was that?”

The shrunken figment version of All Might is looking pretty surprised, too, but when Eraserhead speaks up, he steps in. “I know you must be thinking that Midoriya has somehow received a quirk from All— the man at Kamino, but that’s about as far from the truth as you can get.”

All Might is talking about traitors and transferable quirks and “vestiges”, all of which Izuku would find utterly fascinating if not for the fact that he’s been hit by another wave of intense sleepiness. Anyway, what does any of this matter? It’s not like it’s real; no matter how much he analyzes it, it won’t follow logic. So Izuku shamelessly burrows his way under one of Eraserhead’s warm, heavy arms (he’s touch starved and this is a dream anyway, sue him), tucks his face into the capture weapon, and lets himself doze.

He’s woken up by the same calloused hand from earlier shaking him.

“—definitely injured,” a familiar, gruff voice is saying.

“Maybe he’s just so tired because he’s a child,” All Might says, sounding uncertain. “Children… children need lots of naps, right?” His voice suddenly gains a new wryness as he suggests, “Or he’s just picking up habits from you.”

A slight flush appears on Eraserhead’s upper cheeks. Izuku hides a frown in the capture weapon. How unrealistic of this dream figment; he can’t imagine Eraserhead ever blushing over something as minor as the suggestion of a fanboy picking up his habits.

Eraserhead clears his throat. “Midoriya,” he asks, “How are you feeling? Are you injured?”

“I’m worried about Eri,” Izuku says, “Since she seemed really upset when I last saw her.” It’s a lie; she was asleep when he last saw her. He’s just worried that her nightmare will come back without Izuku’s there to ward him off. Izuku squints hopefully at All Might. “Also, my legs hurt.”

Eraserhead goes pale. “What are you hiding? A stab wound? A broken bone? A—”

“No,” Izuku cuts him off quickly. Even though he knows Eraserhead is just a figment, he can’t help but feel a bit guilty at how worried he seems. “My legs are just kinda sore.” He peers up at All Might through his eyelashes and holds out his arms. “I think you’d better give a piggyback ride there.”

All Might beams. “Of course, my boy!”

“...definitely has the mental state of a nine-year-old, even if he has kept his memories,” Eraserhead grumbles as they leave. Izuku swings his legs happily where they dangle from All Might’s hands. Maybe he is being a bit childish, but it’s not like he’s actually bugging the real All Might into giving him a piggyback ride. This is just a dream, which means it’s the perfect time for these sorts of silly indulgences.

They arrive at the room where Eri’s staying, and All Might lets him slip from his grip. As soon as his toes touch the floor, Izuku dashes over to cradle Eri close. Eri fists her hands in the paper-thin hospital gown and whispers, “they said that they were heroes, but I wasn’t sure.”

“Do you like it here?” Izuku whispers back. “We can leave.”

He doesn’t think Eraserhead would like this plan, considering how he’d reacted when Izuku had tried to escape through the vents, but Izuku’s main priority here is Eri. Izuku examines her face, waiting for her answer.

“...no, we can stay,” Eri decides. “Aizawa-san is nice. He told me about his cats.”

She looks at Eraserhead, who is acting like he can’t hear them even though he probably can. Izuku feels an impulse towards shame rising in him, but he quickly squashes it. Eraserhead and All Might can feel free to be aware that he’s gonna leave if Eri doesn’t like it here. There’s nothing to be ashamed about protecting his little sister. If they fuck up and his leaving somehow upsets them, well, they deserve it.

Plus, they’re not even real. Who cares what figments think?

“Alright,” Izuku tells her, “We won’t leave here.”

“And… and you won’t leave me?” Eri asks, her fist tightening where it’s clenched around his hospital gown.

Izuku smiles softly down at her. “No,” he tells her. “I won’t.”

Eri’s eyes grow glossy and wet, and soon she’s crying into his shoulder, her sobs perfectly silent in a way that makes Izuku’s stomach twist. Izuku carefully lifts her, cradling her close against him, and lays her down on the bed. She’s still clutching onto Izuku, and there’s no way he can break his promise, so he curls up next to her, wiping her tears and letting her snuggle as close as she likes.

Slowly, her sobs quiet, and as they do, Izuku can feel the familiar exhaustion tugging at him once more. He lets his eyes slip closed. As he does so, he hears the distinct clicking of a photograph being taken.

Eraserhead is saying something, sounding vaguely disapproving, but Izuku can’t make out what it is.

All Might replies, a note of amusement in his smooth voice. “So you don’t want it sent to you?”

Grumbling, Eraserhead concedes. Izuku falls asleep to the sound of All Might laughing.

The next time Izuku wakes up, he’s relieved to feel the warm weight of Eri still in his arms. He shifts slowly, subtly, so that he won’t wake her. Her hair lays out across the bed, a halo of gleaming silver. Sleep has tangled it, so Izuku carefully shifts her so that her head rests in his lap, and he starts running his fingers through the ends of her hair, slowly working his way up until he’s gotten the worst of the knots out.

At some point, Eri wakes up. She goes still under his fingers, but when Izuku asks her softly if he should stop, she shakes her head rapidly. “I was just… I was just surprised because… Chisaki-sama never did that.”

Izuku’s knuckles go white as his hand clenches involuntarily. “Not sama,” he tells her softly. “Never sama. We don’t call people who hurt us sama.”

“We call them…” Eri starts slowly, “... ‘fucker’, right? Chisaki-sa— Chisaki-fucker called Chronostasis-san a fucker when he got bleach in Chisaki-fucker’s cuts.”

Izuku howls with laughter. He futilely tries to muffle it into his elbow, but the more he tries to stifle it, the more he laughs. “No, Eri, you really shouldn’t use that word,” he finally manages once he stops laughing. “It’s not appropriate for someone your age.”

“So I should call him Chisaki-sama after all?”

Izuku’s mouth screws up like he’s eaten a lemon. “I mean,” he says. “If… if you want, you can call Chisaki a fucker.”

Outside the door, he can hear the distinct noise of someone slamming into something, and then a string of mild cursing in Eraserhead’s rough voice. Izuku has a pretty good guess of what just happened; Eraserhead heard what he said and whacked into something in his surprise.

Fuck, Izuku thinks but doesn’t say. He really doesn’t feel like sitting through a lecture today. This is a dream, and dreams aren’t a place for consequences, so it’s perfectly reasonable for him to just. Avoid Eraserhead’s oncoming lecture.

Izuku clasps Eri’s hands. “Eri, what do you say we go exploring?” he whispers.

Eri’s eyes widen, and she nods quickly.

Izuku helps Eri onto his back, and then floats up to the vent. This time, he doesn’t go to the trouble of trying to use his upper body strength; he just floats the whole way up. It’s a good thing, because they’re barely around the dusty first turn of the vents when Izuku can hear the room’s door open below him.

Behind him, Izuku can hear Eraserhead calling out “...problem child?” He crawls faster.

They round another corner, and Izuku can see another vent door set in one of the metal panels below them. Izuku approaches cautiously and, motioning to Eri to be quiet, peers down from above.

The room below them is nicely furnished, with thick taupe carpeting and several cubicles. It seems to be empty, except for Present Mic, who’s got his thick black headphones over his ears and is physically bopping his head up and down, evidently in time with some unheard music.

As the two of them watch, Present Mic bends his head and starts headbanging so hard that his hair actually breaks through its gel and starts whipping back and forth. Then he flips his hair back off one shoulder and falls to his knees, aggressively strumming at an invisible air guitar.

For a minute, Eri and Izuku just watch, stifling their giggles into their hands, but then Izuku remembers that he really should be heading as far away from Eraserhead as they can get, and the two of them continue their journey.

They round a few more corners and come to another vent exit. From this one, they can watch from above as Nezdu lets his tea steep while listening to classical music. It’s surprisingly soothing, at least until Nezdu suddenly lifts his head, makes direct eye contact with them, and smiles placidly. Izuku knows that he’s just a figment of his and Eri’s combined imaginations, but he still can’t help but shudder and pull her closer.

They continue on deeper into the labyrinth of vents. Below them, they see empty hallways, supply closets, an empty classroom with the chairs upside down on the dusty desks. Izuku is just starting to get bored when they come across something even more interesting than Present Mic playing the air guitar, or Nezdu drinking tea. They find a classroom full of young hero trainees.

It’s hard to see the full classroom from this vantage point, but Izuku can spot a girl with her hair in a spiky black ponytail just under the vent. To her right is— Izuku has to stifle a gasp— what looks like an older version of Todoroki Shouto. Both of them are bent studiously over their desks, toiling away at what looks like a packet of work, but the boy in front of them with sticky purple orbs instead of hair is snickering and tapping at his phone. In front of that boy is an empty desk and— Izuku has to crane his neck to see— in front of that is… Kacchan?

He seems to have been aged up, just like Todoroki Shouto has, but it’s still very clearly him; Izuku would recognize that spiky blond hair anywhere. For a moment, Izuku grins in genuine delight— Kacchan got into UA! He knew that he could do it!— but then his grin turns sharper, and he thinks, I should take this opportunity to prank him, since this is a dream anyway.

No sooner has he had that thought than a black tendril lifts from one shoulder and snakes through the air, past the spiky-haired girl, over the distracted purple-orb boy, and beyond the empty desk to tap gently on Kacchan’s left shoulder.

Kacchan spins to the left, barking out an irritated “HAH?” As he does so, the black tendril weaves to his right side.

“Bakubro!” A red-haired student calls. “On your right!”

Traitor, Izuku thinks. The black tendril tries to duck out of the way, but Kacchan is too quick; he spins and grabs onto the tendril, then yanks with all of his might. Izuku has to spin mid-air so that he cushions Eri’s fall with his own body, and as a result, he ends up hitting the ground tail-bone first. Groaning, he lays on the floor staring at the ceiling and wondering why on earth he can feel so much pain in a dream.

“Oh my god, Midoribro, are you alright?” the red-haired student asks.

“You knocked him so hard he shrunk,” A pink-skinned girl with little beige horns nestled among her curls accuses Kacchan.

Kacchan’s chest puffs up. “That shitty nerd was making fun of me,” he says defensively. He turns his glare onto Izuku. “You wanna go, Deku?!”

Izuku grins. “Yes!”

Kacchan stops short, staring. “W—what?” He asks.

The entire class is staring now. The pink-skinned girl is laughing hysterically, a blue-haired boy is ranting furiously and chopping his hand up and down, and the spiky-haired girl from earlier has gone pale. Izuku takes the opportunity afforded to him by the near-silence and blows a raspberry at Kacchan. “Unless you’re too chicken, that is!” He shifts Eri a little bit higher on his back and prepares to run.

Kacchan charges at him, pulling back his arm as he prepares for his signature right hook. Izuku kicks off the ground and floats both him and Eri out of the way, leaving Kacchan to flounder, his excessive momentum leaving him off-balance and confused.

“...did Uraraka slap you or something?” a student with a tail peeking out from their uniform asks aloud.

Todoroki Shouto’s mismatched eyes widen. “This is just more evidence for my theory! A secondary aspect to the familial quirk allowing for floatation would explain All Might’s ability to jump so high!”

The pink-skinned girl’s hysterical laughter just grows louder.

Kacchan snarls and propels himself upwards using his explosions. Izuku’s eyes widened. He’d theorized about this possibility, but he’s never seen Kacchan actually do it. “Wow!” he gasps. “That’s so cool!” he rolls out of the way of Kacchan’s right hook with the help of one of the black tendrils.

This just makes Kacchan even angrier— so angry, in fact, that his red eyes almost looking like they’re glowing with Eraserhead’s quirk. Izuku decides that now is time to leave. Waving to the class, he heads back up into the vents.

It’s a good thing, too, because he can hear the door slam open behind him.

“Where’s Midoriya?” Eraserhead demands.

“How did you know he was here?” An unfamiliar student asks.

“I can recognize Bakugou’s shouts of Problem-Child-related-rage from miles away,” Eraserhead deadpans in response.

“I hope that wasn’t scary,” Izuku whispers to Eri as they sneak past what looks like Eraserhead’s office. Izuku can feel Eri shake her head in response. “No,” she whispers back, “I knew you’d keep me safe.”

“That’s good,” Izuku hums. Something occurs to him. “Your voice sounds a little bit dry. Do you want to get some water?”

Eri hesitates. “I don’t mind stopping for water,” Izuku encourages her. “It would be good for me to stay hydrated, too.”

“Okay,” Eri whispers.

Izuku backtracks partway through the vents, heading towards a vent that opens onto a hallway where he’d seen the door to a bathroom. Once they arrive at that particular vent, he carefully looks both ways, then drops from above and sprints for the cover of the bathroom.

Unfortunately, he had not taken into account the possibility that someone might already be inside the bathroom. Thus, he ends up running right into a tall, tired-looking boy with purple hair that seems to defy gravity.

“...Midoriya?” The purple boy asks, brows furrowing. “Why are you…” he makes a vague gesture to indicate Izuku’s height.

Izuku glares. “I am not short,” he tells the purple boy sharply. “I’ll have you know I’m actually two centimeters taller than most other boys my age.”

The purple boy stares at him blankly for a long moment, then blinks in a manner that is oddly reminiscent of a cat. “...what,” he finally deadpans.

Izuku rolls his eyes, taking a deep breath. “I said—”

“—no, I heard you the first time,” the purple boy cuts him off.

“Then why did you say you couldn’t hear me?” Izuku can’t help but ask.

“...I give up,” the purple boy says, shaking his head. “I’m just going to go back to class and pretend this was all an insomnia-induced hallucination.” With that, he moves to the door.

As the door closes behind him, a new hand clutches onto the edge of it, and someone else steps into the bathroom; a blond stranger in the hero class uniform, with a smug smirk clinging to his face. For some reason, he actually stops cold when he sees Izuku. Then he visibly gathers himself.

“It’s just like Class 1-A, to get themselves carelessly deaged!” He crows. “How irresponsible! A member of class 1-B would never do anything like that!”

“Actually,” Izuku speaks up, “Kacchan once got hit by a quirk because he was too close to the borders of a hero fight. It made him speak in rhyme for a full month.”

The blond stranger’s face scrunches with confusion. “Kacchan… got… what?”

“Bakugou Katsuki?” Izuku says. “Spiky blond guy in Class 1-B?”

The blond stranger’s face twists even further, this time with amusement. “You must have gotten knocked on the head or something, Midoriya,” he huffs out between laughs. “Bakugou is in Class 1-A, with all the other self-important, entitled year one hero students.”

Izuku blinks. “Really? Kacchan always said he wanted to be in Class 1-B?”

“Wait, wait, wait,” The blond stranger smirks, “Bakugou Katsuki wanted to be in 1-B?”

Izuku nods hesitantly.

The blond stranger’s smirk turns into a sharp, mischievous grin. “Midoriya,” he says. “Why don’t you sit down and tell me all about your friend Kacchan?”

Izuku obediently sits down, letting Eri slide off of his back so she can go get a drink of water from one of the sinks. While he talks, the blond stranger starts rapidly noting down everything he says in a little notebook, occasionally stifling chuckles into a fist whenever he finds a story particularly funny.

By the time Izuku’s run out of things to say, Izuku’s throat is so dry he needs to get a drink of water from the sink. The blond stranger packs his notebook away, then says, “now that you’re an honorary member of Class 1-B, you need to learn the secret handshake.”

It takes Izuku a few tries, but he manages to pick it up. They finish by saluting each other, and then the blond stranger bows and exits the bathroom, whistling smugly to himself as he pats the pocket with his notebook in it happily.

Eri, who had been drawing on spare pages from the blond stranger’s notebook and listening quietly to Izuku’s stories, climbs back onto Izuku’s back. She seems quieter now, as though she’s worn out by all their exploring, and Izuku feels tired, too. He’s not sure where to go from here.

It’s at that moment, as both of them are feeling about ready to tucker out, that Principal Nezdu’s voice reaches them from a nearby loudspeaker in the hallway below them.

“While I am glad that you and Eri have enjoyed your time exploring UA, Recovery Girl believes that lack of sufficient rest could lead to Eri reactivating her quirk, and we don’t want you growing even younger.”

“...growing… even younger?” Izuku blinks. “But… Eri’s quirk is… dreams…”

Eri shakes her head. Her big eyes glisten with tears as she whispers, “no… my quirk is a curse that turns back time… Chisaki-sama called it Rewind.”

“Your quirk is not a curse,” Izuku says automatically. His mind is blue-screening, unable to process this realization. “This… this wasn’t a dream?” he whispers. “I… I actually bit a real villain? And that was really Eraserhead? Wait, are you telling me—” his voice is steadily lifting to a hysterical shriek, “—that I bugged the real, actual All Might into giving me a piggyback ride?”

“In your defense,” comes Eraserhead’s tired voice from below, “All Might didn’t seem to mind.” His capture weapon wraps around Izuku and Eri, and Izuku finds himself being pulled down into the hallway. He doesn’t even bother trying to resist, too busy still processing this.

“...so that was actually the real Kacchan that I teased… and that purple student I talked to was right to think that I was weirdly short, it was because I had gotten shrunk… and when I told that guy from 1-B all of Kacchan’s embarrassing stories it was real—

Present Mic, who’d been laughing the entire time, activated his quirk when he heard the last part about embarrassing stories. For a moment his hysterical laughter booms through the school, and then Eraserhead glares, his quirk activating.

“I can’t—” Izuku is cut off by a huge yawn, “I can’t believe all of that was real… that I’m really… at UA and this isn’t just a dream…”

Eraserhead pats him gently on the head, ruffling his curls. “Come on, Problem Child, let’s get the two of you back to the hospital wing.” He lifts Eri, who’s long since conked out, from Izuku’s back and turns his capture weapon into a sort of child-carrier that he uses to tie Eri to his front. Then he kneels and gestures for Izuku to climb onto his back.

Izuku lets his head rest on Eraserhead’s shoulder, drinking in the actually-real-and-not-a-dream at all warmth of his body and the steady, soothing thump-thump of his heartbeat. He’s still embarrassed to realize how much of a fool he’s made of himself, but with Eraserhead here, he can’t feel too bad. He lets himself drift off; everything will be better in the morning.