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Yesterday Upon The Stair

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“Excuse me? Um, excuse me?”

It takes a while for the woman to notice him, and even longer for her to look up. She's sitting crosslegged on the park bench, curled in on herself as she rocks and weeps, and she's been sitting and rocking and weeping since Izuku first arrived ten minutes ago. He can feel a painful pressure in his throat just looking at her, and his eyes sting. He forces the feeling back. It's hard not to cry when other people are crying, and this woman's been sobbing her heart out while Izuku waited for everyone within hearing range of her to leave.

He wishes he could say he was surprised, but just three days ago a supervillain was in the area. Heroes from a local agency took him down, but not before he took a few buildings down with him. The damage still lingers.

Finally, slowly, she raises her head.

“Were you talking to me?” she asks quietly.

Izuku manages a smile. “Yes,” he says. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, not now when there's no one close enough to hear. “S-sorry to bother you. If you want me to leave-”

Her hand closes around his wrist, and Izuku manages to keep still and calm instead of startling. She can't help it, he knows she can't help it, but once in a while he still spooks. “No,” she says. “No, please don't go.”

Izuku sits beside her gingerly. “It's okay,” he says. “What's your name? I'm Midoriya.”

After a moment, she whispers, “Y-Yamamoto.”

“It's nice to meet you, Ms. Yamamoto.” She's still holding his wrist. “Did you need help with something?”

“Yes,” she chokes out, and the sob isn't just for fear and sorrow – there's relief in it, too.

“What is it?” Izuku asks gently, always gently. “What can I help you with?”

“I...” With her free hand, she wipes in vain at the tears coursing down her face. “I... I'm trying. I can't remember. Why can't I remember?”

“It's okay, Ms. Yamamoto,” he repeats. “It's okay. Nothing's going to hurt you. Just... breathe.” It's an absurd thing to tell her, but he can't think of anything else, and going through the motions of inhaling and exhaling seems to calm her anyway.

“I, um,” Ms. Yamamoto sniffles. “It was... it was something important.”

“Do you need to tell someone something?” Izuku asks.

“N-no, not really, I don't... I don't have anyone to tell... there's no one...”

“Okay. Do you need to find something?”

“Yes! Yes, I... um...” She pauses, and her cold grip on his wrist tightens. “Or maybe...”

“Did you lose something?” Izuku presses. “Did you... leave something somewhere?”

“Yes!” Her voice grates oddly in his ears, sending chills up his spine, but she's smiling through her tears. “Yes, yes! That was it! I left... I left...”

“Was it at home? At work? Where did you leave it?”

“Home,” Ms. Yamamoto says. “Home. Take me home.”

Izuku nods, and smiles at her in what he hopes is a reassuring way. “Tell me where.”

She takes him to an apartment building, only a few blocks away. She lives on the fifth floor, she says, and takes the elevator up and down every day. Izuku bypasses it and takes the stairs instead.

There’s no convenient spare key hiding under a doormat, which is a minor hiccup for Izuku. He knocks, just to be sure, but when no one answers, he checks over his shoulders for witnesses or security cameras. When none appear, he picks the lock and enters.

He's only just closed the door behind him when there's a faint, rhythmic jingling, accompanied by a high-pitched trill. Ms. Yamamoto lets out a sob as a small, one-eyed cat comes trotting out of the apartment's hallway, yowling over the ringing of the bell on its collar. As Izuku watches, the cat threads its way around Ms. Yamamoto's ankles and rumbles with a loud purr. The woman’s fingertips ghost over the cat’s fur, barely touching it.

Izuku moves off and creeps through the empty apartment. It's not messy in any way, but it looks cluttered and lived in, and he can tell that Ms. Yamamoto never had any roommates besides her cat. There's a daily calendar on the kitchen counter, showing the page for three days ago. At the foot of the pantry is a cute little mat with the cat's food and water bowls on it. Both are empty, and Izuku winces. He fills them, after hunting and poking through pantries to find the cat food, and moments later the cat comes trotting back in and falls upon the bowls. Izuku checks the tag on her collar; the cat’s name is Mika.

“I left her.”

Izuku looks back at the sound of Ms. Yamamoto's voice. The woman stands at the entrance to the kitchen, hands wringing at her sides. “I left her,” she repeats. “Three days ago, when that man... the building fell… I wasn’t fast enough. She could've...” She flickers, like an old video. For a split second blood runs down her face and her neat clothes are ragged and scorched with dark, wet stains, and then Izuku blinks and she's normal again. “I left her.”

His eyes sting, and when he blinks his vision is blurry. “It wasn't your fault,” he says softly.

“She could've starved.” Her eyes – or the blank white sockets where her eyes would have been, three days ago – turn to him. “She would've died, but you helped me.”

Izuku forces a shaky smile. “Do you need anything else?”

“Make sure – make sure she's okay.” Izuku blinks again, and then Ms. Yamamoto is beside him, stooping to stroke her cat. “Can you do that?”

“Of course.”

Ms. Yamamoto smiles and stops crying. Izuku blinks one last time, and opens his eyes to an empty kitchen with a purring cat at his feet.


“I don't understand,” his mother says, for at least the fifth time. Izuku sits quietly in her lap, brows knitted together in a thoughtful frown. His stomach feels tight and uncomfortable and heavy, and he's not old enough to know what word goes with this feeling. “The X-rays-”

“The X-rays do... throw a wrench into the diagnosis,” the doctor sighs. “It's true, Izuku lacks the extra toe joint that we would normally associate with quirklessness. Statistically, his lack of a quirk is highly unusual, but-”

“The other doctors said it was practically impossible,” Mom interrupts.

“But it's time to face facts,” the doctor continues patiently. “Even if he does have a quirk, you can't register it if you don't know what it is.”

“What do you mean 'even' – he could just be a late bloomer!”

“With all due respect, Mrs. Midoriya.” The doctor's eyes are full of sympathy. “His sixth birthday has come and gone. It's long past the usual window in which a quirk would manifest.” Mom sighs deeply, and the doctor leans forward. “There is a possibility. It's rare, but some people are born with what we call 'invisible quirks'.”

“Invisible quirks?” the boy from the emergency ward echoes. He's a little older than Izuku, sitting over in the corner on the plastic chair where Mom left her purse, dripping water all over the floor. Izuku first saw him while having his height measured, and he'd introduced himself as Takada. “That sounds kind of cool.”

Izuku perks up hopefully.

“With certain people, their quirks are so obscure that they simply aren't noticeable,” the doctor explains. “Or their quirk can only be activated under an extremely specific set of circumstances. Such people can go through their entire lives without even noticing their own quirk, simply because those specific circumstances never occur, and there's no practical use for it.” The doctor shrugs apologetically. “That's the best explanation I can offer.”

Izuku's face falls. Across the room, Takada blows a raspberry. “That's lame,” he remarks. “That's almost as bad as having no quirk at all.”

Mom is quiet for a while, lips pursed. “W-what if he sees things?” she asks at length. “There have been times... I mean, he talks about people who aren't there, he'll talk to himself or stare at the wall for hours – when he was three he said something about his father tucking him in, a-and... and Hisashi died just after he was born-”

“Mrs. Midoriya,” the doctor says patiently. “I know you're worried. And I know you want the best for your son and his dreams, but... it's dangerous to nurse false hope. Children have wild imaginations, and if you encourage them to see something in nothing, it may be harmful in the long run. If he does have an invisible quirk, then it will either show itself or it won't.” He stands up, putting on a smile. “In the meantime, being functionally quirkless will in no way prevent him from living a normal and happy life. He's in excellent health, and well-behaved on top of it.” The doctor ruffles Izuku's hair, but Izuku barely notices. He's too busy watching as Takada rolls his eyes, gets up from the chair, and strolls out of the room, lazily swatting the jar of tongue depressors as he passes.

The jar wobbles and tips over.

The doctor glances over his shoulder with a frown. “Odd,” he mutters, and goes to turn it right-side up again. “Must be a draft in here.”

Izuku stares at the jar and doesn't say a word for the rest of the doctor visit, even as Mom holds back tears, kisses him on the cheek, and takes him by the hand. He barely hears her, barely feels the gentle squeeze of her fingers as she leads him back out. He's too busy thinking, sifting through what he knows and what he thinks and what he remembers, piece by piece as it all falls together.

No one else can see his friends – he knows that much. But that's the first time one of his friends has ever done something that someone else saw.

He saw Dad, back when he was three – he knows he did, he knows he didn't dream it, because Mom remembers him telling her. But Dad was dead.

Takada was dripping wet, but the floor is dry. But Izuku saw him knock over the jar, and the doctor saw the jar fall but didn't see Takada.

Izuku glances up as they pass through the hallway of the doctor's office. The hospital ward is close by, and Izuku looks around and sees

Among the doctors and nurses and patients, people pass by in stained hospital gowns, pale-faced and wandering. Lost. One of them wanders close to Mom, calling for her husband, and Mom doesn't even turn her head. Izuku reaches out, and his fingertips brush cold skin. The woman turns her tearstained face to him, meets his eyes, and vomits blood.

Izuku hides his face in his mother's side and cries. She doesn't see what he sees. She has no way of knowing that he's crying with fear. She thinks it's because he doesn't have a quirk, or because he has a quirk that's so useless that he might as well not have one at all.

He ought to be happy. Because he does have a quirk after all, and it’s not a useless one. And when he's cried all his fears away, when they're safe at home, then he'll tell his mother that she has nothing to be sorry about after all.


He leaves the collar on when he takes Mika to the no-kill shelter he usually goes to for this. They'll call the number on the tags, do their homework, and find out that the cat's owner has passed away. She's a cute cat even with her left eye missing. She's friendly and loving, white with gray-and-orange patchwork fur, and a trilling purr. She has a good chance of being adopted, and then she'll never have to go hungry by herself again.

(He gives the woman behind the counter his cell phone number, just in case.)

The whole incident makes him late getting home, but not late enough to miss dinner. Mom is still busy in the kitchen, so Izuku parks himself in front of the TV and turns it on. The volume is as high as they dare to keep it without disturbing the neighbors. It always is; it drowns out the strange whispering in the pipes, the odd door that slams on its own, and the myriad noises that could be written off as “the house settling” if they weren’t so frequent. Izuku flips the channels listlessly, until coming to rest on the one he’s looking for.

A jingle of faux-ethereal music signals the end of a commercial break, accompanied by a round of applause from the studio audience as the host of the show strides out on stage. His outfit is nothing short of gawdy, a spangled silver waistcoat over a pressed white shirt and bright blue slacks. Rounding off the ensemble is a bolo tie – a bolo tie, for heaven’s sake – with a decorative half-moon clasp. The announcer introduces the flashy host with a moniker that makes Izuku cringe with secondhand embarrassment and purge it immediately from his memory.

There’s a lot of sound effects, wild gesticulations and grandiose announcements in an amplified voice that drags out every vowel. Audience members approach the stage for the chance to be on TV for fifteen minutes, and the garishly-dressed show host proceeds to exorcise demons from one, make contact with another’s deceased husband, and cure another of their recurring nightmares. At one point he swoons, staggering with the “effort” of using his “quirk”. One audience participant is reduced to tears when the host holds an emotional one-sided conversation with her twin sister who died as a child.

The stage is empty but for the host and the crying woman. He’s talking to thin air. He’s been talking to thin air for as long as Izuku has been watching.

“I don’t understand how you can watch things like this.” His mother pauses at the doorway and steps in to stand right behind where Izuku is sitting. She leans on the back of the couch and sighs, shaking her head in disapproval. “Who greenlit this show, I wonder?”

“Why do you think people do this?” Izuku asks. He’s not really expecting an answer, or looking for one. “Just… make up stuff like this and pass it off as real?”

His mother sighs again. “I think, maybe it’s because… even in a world like ours, there are still impossible things. Or, things that everyone thinks is impossible.” She drops a kiss on the top of his head. “Even if they may be wrong. And as long as there are impossible things, there will be people who want those things to be real.” She snorts a little, then. “And as long as people want something, there will be others who use that want to make easy money.”

“But it’s not impossible,” Izuku says quietly. His throat feels tight. “In the world we live in, we can’t even know what impossible is.” He waves a hand vaguely at the screen. “It’s just because of stuff like this that everyone thinks it’s a big joke.”

He’s still staring at the screen, watching the gawdy spectacle of a show, but he can feel his mother’s eyes on him. He knows she worries.

“I know, Izuku,” she says at length. “And of course it’s not impossible – you’re proof of that, aren’t you? And one day… one day people will know that. I may not know much about ghosts, but if anyone can find a way, it’s you.” Another kiss, and Izuku manages a smile. “Thank your lucky stars you got your mother’s brains. Don’t worry about conmen like that. Your quirk is your own and nobody else’s.”

“It’d be nice if it was any good for hero work,” Izuku mutters. “And even if it was, I’m still quirkless on paper, so no school’s gonna want me-”

“Hey.” Mom touches the side of his face gently. He looks up at her automatically, and his heart sinks a little at the pity on her face. “I’m sorry, Izuku. I know it isn’t what you wanted. But you know, you don’t have to be a pro hero to help people. You help people that heroes don’t even know need help.” She smiles again. “And I think that’s really cool, don’t you?”

Izuku changes the channel. When he doesn’t reply, his mother finally leaves the room. His hand is a fist, almost painfully tight around his pencil as he tries to turn back to his homework. In spite of Mom’s encouragement, the show has left him with a gross feeling in the pit of his stomach. It really isn’t fair. It’s like crying wolf, only everyone else has done the crying, and now that there really is a wolf on his hands, he’s at a loss for what to do with it.

Hoping to lift his mood again, Izuku turns to the news to see if he can catch any superhero reports. There's not much – at some point during the afternoon, Kamui Woods stopped a corner store holdup, but beyond that it's been a quiet day. Izuku's interest wanes, and he finally turns his attention to school assignments while the news reports drone on in the background.

He's nearly done with his math homework for the day when the reporter's voice fizzles out. At first he doesn't notice, but then the static blares, and his pencil jerks and scores a dark line on his paper. Grumbling to himself, he shoots the TV a scowl. The screen blinks black, then static. The whiteness falters and shorts out, and for a split second it looks like the picture might be coming back. Or... a picture, anyway. It doesn't look much like the news. It looks like a video of an empty room, but it blinks out too rapidly for Izuku to tell for sure. As he watches, the image breaks up and gives way to static once more.

“Oh dear,” Mom mutters as she passes through the room again. She picks up the remote and tries to change the channel, to no avail, before handing it to Izuku. “You know, this is the third time this week.”

The static gives a violent jerk. As Izuku watches, a pale hand emerges from the screen, clawlike and grasping at empty air. The hand reaches down to the floor, nails scraping for purchase, and a head comes out next. Black hair, tangled and stringy, spills from the white static, followed by shoulders, another groping hand, and finally the pale apparition claws its way out of the screen and onto the living room floor.

“Well, let me know if anything changes,” Mom sighs. “Dinner's almost ready.”

“Okay,” Izuku says. The corpselike figure drags itself across the carpet, face shrouded in dark hair. Izuku finishes the last math problem. His mother leaves the room.

The apparition grabs his ankle.

“I'm pretty sure that's bad for the TV,” Izuku says, twitching his foot. Her hand feels cold, even through his sock.

The noise she makes in response sounds nothing like any noise that a little girl of eight or nine ought to make, but it does sound strikingly similar to the TV static. As if to prove him wrong, the screen blinks again, and the news is back.

“TV's okay, Mom!” he calls toward the kitchen.

“Oh, good! You two play nice, now!”

The couch cushion doesn't dip when the pale ghost sits beside him, but her dark, damp hair does get in the way when she leans over to look at his homework. Izuku scoots over, positioning himself so that he has room to work and she has a better view of it. “It's pretty boring, Rei,” he says, a little apologetically. “Just math.”

More ghostly rattling. Izuku has never heard her speak for as long as he's known her, and she's almost as old a friend as Bakugou was. That's all right, though. She doesn't need to talk to make him feel less lonely.

Chapter Text

Rei follows him to school the next day.

There is nothing odd about this. She's followed him to school ever since that day in the second grade. It won't happen again, Izuku tells her, but she still follows. After years of practice, Izuku is the master of sitting still and perfectly attentive as she scampers to and fro, blowing papers off of desks to watch the students scramble to retrieve them, making the lights flicker so that some of them jump, or standing at the front of the room with the teacher and mimicking his poses and gestures. Izuku used to get in trouble for laughing, but not anymore.

Today, Izuku is silent in the midst of his rowdier classmates, smiling slightly on the outside and cracking up on the inside, as she performs the Hare Hare Yukai dance on Hanamura’s desk three seats down, when his teacher’s voice sends ice water shooting through his veins.

“Now that you mention it, didn’t Midoriya want to go to Yuuei as well?”

Izuku’s been to a lot of cemeteries. The next few seconds of silence makes him remember each one.

Then all at once, the room erupts into roars of laughter. Izuku stares straight ahead, letting his classmates’ scorn lash at him from all sides. Rei gets angry then, her shriek of fury piping above their voices, but Izuku faces the front of the classroom and keeps staring until a miniature explosion blossoms up from his desk and sends him tumbling back to the floor.

“Forget having a weak-ass quirk.” The voice makes Izuku’s limbs lock where they are. He tries to look Bakugou in the eye; he really, really tries. “You don’t even have a fucking quirk! So where do you get off putting yourself on the same level as me?”

Looking at his face is too much, so Izuku goes back to staring straight ahead. “I’m just applying to a school,” he says. “It has nothing to do with you.”

“Fuck that, Deku, I know a challenge when I see one!” A step forward, and Izuku stares straight ahead and waits. “Are you trying to fucking die?”

“No,” Izuku says. “I’m trying to get into a school. That’s all. I’m just… trying. There’s nothing wrong with trying.”

The class jeers with derisive laughter. Rei screams and claws at his tormentor to no avail, and it’s a while before order is restored again.

By the time class is over, Izuku immerses himself in the safety of online news reports. Videos, photographs, and eyewitness accounts of heroics put him at ease, and the gross, ugly feelings die down as he reminds himself of his goals.

But Rei’s warning hiss brings him back to the present, and on instinct he starts grabbing his belongings. As a familiar shadow falls across his desk and his ghostly friend’s hiss becomes a threatening snarl, Izuku grabs his notebook and tries to shove it into his bag. The faster he gets his things together, the easier he can escape.

The notebook is snatched out of his hands and out of his reach. Rei lunges, clawlike fingers outstretched, but she passes harmlessly through Bakugou’s face and chest and arms, and not once does he bat an eye. With a shriek of frustration she sends papers flying from nearby desks, and neither Bakugou nor any of his friends seem to notice.

“We’re not done, Deku.”

Rei’s frustration might be contagious, because Izuku feels it welling up within himself. “It’s just a high school app.” He makes a grab for the notebook, to no avail. Bakugou twitches it out of his reach.

“Here’s the thing, Deku. Try and get this through your tiny little quirkless brain. I’m gonna be the first and only student from this crappy school to get into Yuuei.” A palm-sized explosion rips through the notebook, and Izuku makes a noise like he’s just been punched in the stomach. “So I don’t like it when a useless nobody like you comes along and challenges that.”

He’s too close. Rei doesn’t like that very much, and he can see out of the corner of his eye what she turns into. It's hard to describe, and harder still to look at it for long without feeling his lunch creep back up his esophagus. He turns his eyes away from her and back to his classmates, and his brain immediately starts to scrub itself clean of the image, until all that sticks is dark, writhing hair and black pits where eyes should be. There's no blocking out the sounds, though. Izuku will take those sounds to the grave.

If nothing else, it puts things into perspective a little. The tightness in his chest loosens, and the power of speech returns to him. “If I’m so useless, then why do you think I’m a threat?” he asks.

“You’re not!” The desk takes more abuse with another explosive punch. “Don’t you ever fucking forget that! You’re not a threat to me! You’re nothing and you’ll always be nothing! Try and remember that next time you try to pull shit like this!”

She’s angry, so angry. Sometimes Izuku has to avert his eyes and remind himself that she can't hurt Bakugou, even if she tries. (And she has tried.)

“That’s your problem, Bakugou,” he says softly. “You always think everything is about you.”

He regrets that in the next second, when Bakugou’s hand closes around his shoulder.

There are a number of ways that Izuku can react to this. It is a small number, and does not include things like yelling for help, fighting back, or trying to apologize. The reason for this is that what Izuku does first, automatically, is panic.

To be specific, the number is two. One option is to fold like wet paper, break down crying, and let “flight” take over since “fight” isn’t happening anytime soon. This option presents itself for a split second in Izuku’s mind, and what little remains of the rational part of his brain promptly vetoes it. And so, instead, Izuku lets himself freeze.

A moment after Bakugou grabs him, Izuku goes dead-still. His limbs lock in place, his hands sit as motionless fists in his lap, and he stares blankly up at Bakugou’s angry face.

(One of the fluorescent light panels in the ceiling goes out, and that’s all anyone would be able to see of what Izuku’s friend is up to right now. He can see the rest of it, and it’s still less frightening than the flesh-and-blood teenager who won’t let go of his shoulder.)

There’s nothing he can do to stop Bakugou from squeezing his shoulder and shouting at him, so he does nothing. He simply sits and stares and keeps his mouth tightly shut and his fists in his lap and tells himself again and again, that squeezing and shouting is all that Bakugou is going to do. He tells himself, it won’t happen again.

It won’t.

The anger will pass. All Izuku has to do is wait.

He doesn’t even have to wait long. Bakugou finishes saying his piece, and the ice in Izuku’s blood vanishes the moment Bakugou’s hand leaves his shoulder. Rei is still trying to hurt him. He wishes she wouldn’t.

Still, Izuku is glad she's there, because when Bakugou hurls his notebook out the window, she dives after it. There's no fixing the scorch marks from Bakugou’s quirk, but when Izuku finally makes his way on wobbly legs to the courtyard below, he finds her standing by the koi pond with his notebook on the ground by her bare feet, perfectly dry.

He's also appreciative later.

It's all in vain, but Izuku still appreciates it. They're walking together beneath an overpass, or at least he's walking and she's drifting beside him with her feet floating above the ground. Izuku steps over a manhole and walks on, unaware of his surroundings as he wrestles with his thoughts and fears and hopes. He's not paying attention until she appears before him.

Her face twists and contorts into a sickening mask. She hovers before him, her features dripping and melting in a snarl, her hair twisting and writhing around her like snakes. But she's not staring at him – she's staring past him.

Following her gaze, Izuku turns just as the slime emerges from the sewer. He has time to run, but it's not enough, and the slime is upon him before he even makes it out into the open. It covers him, sticky and clinging, oozing over his mouth and nose until darkness creeps around the edges of his vision. He sees her blinking in and out of view, and his ears ring and throb with her shrieking until his skull feels as if it could split in half, but it's not enough. The thing can't see her, and she can't touch it; her clawing fingers do even less harm than Izuku's.

His quirk really is useless in a fight, some small, barely-rational part of him realizes. He helps people no one else can see, solves problems that no one else knows need fixing, but here he is, suffocating under a criminal with a fancy quirk, and there’s nothing he or any of his friends can do about it.

At times like this, like second grade, like all his middle school years spent getting beat up and shoved into lockers, he’s as good as quirkless.

The panic that clouds his thoughts is purely instinctual, born of raw survival instinct. But as Izuku suffocates slowly, his last thought as his vision goes black is that he's going to join her soon, and maybe that means he might finally learn his best friend’s real name.


Never a dull moment with this big lug, is there?

“You're getting slow,” she tells him fondly. “Time was, you'd have caught him like a rat by the tail before he even made it to the manhole cover.”

Toshi doesn’t reply. He never does.

Truthfully, Shimura Nana is a poor judge of speed these days. He could be outpacing the bullet trains, and still she'd be right at his heels without breaking a sweat. Of course, that's not fair to say; she couldn't sweat if she tried. One can't sweat without skin, or breathe without lungs, or get tired without a body.

One can't do much of anything, really.

So she follows, and watches, and her brilliantly witty commentary falls on deaf ears.

Today, her faithful student has chased a criminal down into the sewer system. It's a petty criminal, hardly worth calling a villain, but Toshi never could ignore a cry for help. Unfortunately he's gotten a bit turned around, and there's little she can do to help or direct him.

No, all Nana can do is drift along behind him, as she's done for years, watching as he races and backtracks and finds the right path. The criminal's body is viscous sludge, and he's left tracks in his haste. Not that Nana was otherwise worried. Toshi always finds his way eventually.

The screaming makes her jump. She’s been around for a while, long enough to know what’s part of her new normal and what isn’t. This isn’t the scream of an innocent in danger; she knows it isn’t, because if it were then Toshi would hear it and Toshi would haul ass straight to the source instead of loping along at the same place, following the patches of goo left by the culprit. This is the sort of scream that nails on chalkboard could only dream of matching, the kind of gut-wrenching noise that feels like screws driven into your ears, the kind that sounds like many voices in one, that shakes walls and rattles windows and becomes the soundtrack of your nightmares for weeks to come.

Not that Nana ever sleeps anymore.

But in spite of Toshi’s obliviousness, he’s still heading right toward it, and that means that Toshi is heading for something that he might not be ready for. And what kind of watchful ghost would she be if she stood by and let it happen?

In a blink she’s ahead of him, following her ears and whatever other senses drive the dead to act. She leaves Toshi behind, and the trail of slime becomes thicker and thicker until she ascends up through a manhole and–

Oh dear God.

The slime villain is there, and he’s not alone. Heaven help them all, there are children here. One of them is caught in his grasp, enveloped in slime like he’s drowning in a living swamp. His movements ebb and slow, getting weaker and weaker by the second as he loses consciousness. And the other…

The other is still screaming, form shifting and twisting as she howls fit to wake the dead. Only her size and the vague impression of a child-sized nightshirt clue Nana in to the fact that she’s looking at a little girl and not some eldritch demon that crawled up from the depths of a fever dream. The rest of her is all writhing, twisting shadows, fingers that stretch like the shadows of branches through a dark window, wild tendrils of black hair, and a face that burns Nana’s memory white.

She screams, howls, not with fear but rage, as her spider-claw fingers rake uselessly at the enveloping sludge. She’s attacking the villain, not the boy; with a jolt Nana realizes that she’s trying to get him free.

And then Toshi is there.

The fight is a blessedly short one, if it can even be called a “fight” at all. In two shakes, the villain is ensnared in a pair of soda bottles, and Toshi is gathering up the unconscious boy and carrying him out into the sunlight. The little girl is calm now, the shadows still, and Nana finds herself looking at a child of eight or nine, all pale skin and thin bones and dark, tangled hair. Her black eyes blink up at Nana, curious but not hostile the way some poltergeists can be. Nana smiles at her, and after a moment’s hesitation and a glance toward the still-living boy, the little ghost smiles back.

It’s an unsettling smile, to be sure, but a sincere one.

“Friend of yours?” Nana asks. The girl nods. “Ah. That’s very loyal of you. Don’t you ever get lonely? He’ll have a long life to live, you know.”

The girl wrinkles her nose with a wry smile, like she finds Nana’s words funny somehow.

It’s a relief when the boy awakens, and highly amusing when he goes into starstruck conniptions over meeting Toshi. Nana wishes she could sneak up and give her old student bunny-ears, something to show this poor kid that he’s the biggest dweeb and there’s nothing to be nervous about, but it’s not like the boy could see her anyway, so she hangs back.

The girl’s fingers are like ice cubes when she takes Nana’s hand. She tugs at it until she has Nana’s attention, and points to her stammering friend with an eager smile.

“What?” Nana looks at him, but beyond making an adorable fool of himself in front of her student, he isn’t doing anything noteworthy.

The girl points, more urgently, but she doesn’t speak, and Nana isn’t fluent in children, much less ghost children.

“I’m sorry, I don’t – oh hell.” Toshi takes off then – literally, like a rocket – with the boy clinging to his leg, and it’s all Nana can do to keep from laughing herself to a second death as she follows.


“Is it possible for me to become a hero like you, even without a quirk?” the boy asks, and isn’t that a trick of a question.

Nana’s a bit distracted from it, though, seeing as how there’s only a rapidly-dissipating cloud of smoke standing between Toshi and an unwanted discovery. She wishes she could wave her arms and cause a distraction, clap her hands over the boy’s eyes, something to help Toshi hide, but it’s no use. A simple gust of wind reveals Toshi’s sickly, gaunt true form, and the boy leaves off his embarrassed rambling to make a noise not unlike a stepped-on mouse.

“Rotten luck,” Nana sighs, though she knows Toshi can’t hear her. “You might as well make a break for it before this kid plasters your sorry mug all over Instagram.”

“W-what – what’s going on – you’re not–” the boy splutters.
“C’mon, just leave already,” Nana urges. It’s like yelling at characters on a movie screen sometimes. “You’ll be back to full strength tomorrow and it’s not like anyone’s gonna believe him if he tells them he saw All-Might deflate like a sad muscly balloon animal.”

The kid’s face tightens, eyes twitching, with what Nana abruptly recognizes as a stifled snort of laughter. She glares at him. Is he… laughing at her student’s misfortune? Before she can get properly angry, he quickly schools his face into a more neutral, curious expression.

“You’re...” he says quietly, eyes wide with alarm. “Did… something happen to you?”

Toshi opens his mouth to reply and vomits blood instead.

Nana winces with sympathy, mostly for Toshi but just a little bit for the boy, too. That must be quite a fright, seeing the Symbol of Peace cough like he’s about to die. She glances at him, idly wondering which category he’ll fall into. Will he be a screamer? A fainting hemophobe? Or will he be one of the responsible quick-thinkers that go for their phones and have to be talked out of calling an ambulance? Ever curious and uninvolved, Nana looks to see his reaction.

And…

There isn’t one.

Wait, no, that’s a blink. He’s blinking at least. Of course, he did just go for an impromptu flight through the city skyline, so maybe he just has dry eyes.

“Are you okay?” the boy asks, and that’s about it.

“Fine,” Toshi answers tersely, wiping his mouth on his arm. “Look… I’m gonna need you to keep this to yourself, all right?”

And that’s that. Toshi changes the subject and… kid just goes with it.

O… kay…

Nana steps closer as Toshi explains his condition and the boy listens. Being dead means being an observer, and being an observer means chasing whatever sparks her interest for the sake of staying sane sometimes. There’s no point in ignoring curiosity; she’s already been thoroughly killed, and while satisfaction might not bring her back, it will certainly keep the threat of tedium at bay.

He’s sort of small, this boy. Thin, even by gawky-teen standards. He’s the sort of kid that blends into the background without even trying. The only remotely unique things about him are the slight greenish sheen to his hair, and the dark circles under his eyes. There’s a pallor to his face, too, which would be unsettling if it didn’t make his sprinkling of freckles stand out.

But his appearance isn’t what’s catching Nana’s attention and holding it – it’s how he’s taking Toshi’s story. Or rather, how he isn’t taking it.

He doesn’t interrupt, beyond polite little noises and responses to show he’s still listening. His face doesn’t change. There’s no surprise, no horror, not even revulsion when Toshi shows him the ugly, gnarled scar on his side. The boy just takes it all in with the same expression of sad, sad sympathy.

“That must have been awful,” he says quietly, when Toshi pauses. “I never realized.”

“That’s good,” Toshi says, adjusting his shirt again. “I haven’t told the public about my condition, and I don’t intend to. I’m the Symbol of Peace, after all. The hero who rescues people with a smile. I can’t succumb to evil or fear.”

“I know,” the boy murmurs, almost too quietly to be heard. “That’s, um. That’s why I want to be a hero. I want to be that kind of hero. Like you.” And oh, Nana wants nothing more than to put this kid in her pocket and take him home.

Toshi sighs heavily. “Look. The truth is, there’s not much behind that smile. Glory and joy don’t enter into it when it’s enough work just to stay alive and save everyone you can. I smile to distract myself from the fear, and the pressure.”

“I… see.” The boy looks thoughtful at this, brow furrowed as he takes in what Toshi’s telling him. “I kind of… know what that’s like.” He shakes his head as if clearing it. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you – this was really stupid of me and – I won’t tell anyone, so you don’t have to worry about that.” The boy manages a nervous, apologetic smile.

“Thank you,” Toshi says, and means it. “And with this in mind, to answer your question... no. I don’t think you can be a hero without a quirk.”

The smile vanishes as if it’s been slapped off his face.

“This is the hazard of the job,” Toshi continues. “And this is what happens with a quirk. Without one, and without a useful one for combat, you don’t have much hope. It’s dangerous, and believe me – however cool it seems, it isn’t worth your life if you don’t have a quirk to protect yourself and others.”

This boy and his face are breaking her heart now. “Little harsh, there, Toshi,” she mutters. “And hypocritical, God.”

Nana remembers when this question came up, the day she tripped over a lanky kid with a surplus of heart and an unfortunate dearth of power to back it up. Why yes, a quirkless kid can become a hero, provided they gain a quirk at some point, but how rare is that? It’s not as if Nana or Toshi could hand out One For All to every hopeful who wants it badly enough.

Doesn’t stop the look on this boy’s face from making her want to hug him. Toshi tosses out the suggestion to take up police work like it’s a consolation prize, and Nana winces because now the kid looks like he’s about to cry.

“Now look what you’ve done,” she says with a flat look at her student. “See? There – there. There’s his heart breaking, that’s the exact moment it shatters. You monster.”

She follows him off the roof, leaving the boy with his eyes welling with tears and a little girl ghost patting him sympathetically. Well, that’s that, she thinks.

Before the day is even over, Midoriya Izuku whacks a slime monster in the eye and sobs as he accepts Toshi’s offer to take on One For All, and Nana has never been so pleased to be wrong.


Izuku’s still in a euphoric daze as he meanders home. His legs are just barely sturdier than jelly, and his mind is an echo chamber for All-Might’s words.

You can become a hero. You can become a hero. You can become a hero.

“I should’ve thrown my schoolbag at a supervillain months ago,” he says out loud. Rei gives a rattling cackle that sends a stray cat spitting into the bushes.

It’s not until he sets foot on his doorstep that the happy, disbelieving fog breaks, and a harsh unforgiving realization hits him like a sunbeam straight to the eyes.

“Oh my God. Oh my God I’m not quirkless.”

She blinks owlishly at him.

“I just lied to All-Might. I just lied to his face.” Izuku’s heart sinks, and he covers his face with both hands. “I just looked the Symbol of Peace in the eye and I lied through my teeth and oh God I’m an awful person and Mom.” The second realization is no less brutal than the first. In a split second, a glaring flaw in his half-baked plan makes itself abruptly known.

He’d said yes. Of course he’d said yes. All-Might, the Symbol of Peace, the Number-One Hero, the greatest active pro that Izuku had ever heard of, the man whose face was plastered all over his bedroom walls, had stretched out a hand and offered to personally train him as a successor and pass a powerful quirk into his keeping. What was he supposed to do, shake his hand and say no thanks?

“Mom’s never gonna agree to this,” he whispers.

She gives him a flat look.

“I can’t just not tell her!” Izuku hisses, checking his surroundings to make sure no one can see or hear him arguing with a ghost. “I already have a quirk. She knows what that quirk is. If I suddenly start growing a new one, she’ll-”

The front door opens, and Izuku could swear he loses at least five years of his lifespan. “Izuku!” He’s pulled into a hug before he has the chance to react. “Izuku, oh my goodness, I saw the news and I was just about to call you. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“Mom I did a stupid thing,” slips out of Izuku’s mouth before he fully knows what he intends to do. “I did several stupid things.”

His ghost friend’s palm makes a faint smacking noise as it meets her forehead.

Mom fusses over him as they go inside, checking and double checking that he really is unhurt. Within minutes, his shoes and jacket are off and they’re sitting down to dinner. Izuku stares down at his plate, his brows knitted together. Somewhere in the walls, a disembodied voice whispers something incoherent before its owner moves on.

“Izuku?” He’s not looking at her face, but he can hear how worried Mom is. “You know, honey… whatever it is, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”

“I met All-Might today,” Izuku says.

“Oh!” his mother squeaks in surprise. “Oh my goodness, you – wow. That’s amazing! I’m so happy for you, sweetheart, but… what’s wrong, then?”

“That’s the thing, nothing’s wrong,” Izuku says, looking up at last. “Everything’s… amazing, actually, it’s just. You might not… feel the same way.”

Mom frowns. “I… don’t understand. I think it’s wonderful that you got to meet your hero.”

“He wants to train me.”

The frown vanishes, and Mom stares at him with an utterly gobsmacked look that would have been funny in any other situation. “I beg your pardon.”

“See, he – I–” Izuku stops, heart plummeting. The words stick in his throat, and before him lies a dilemma.

He has two options. Either he can lie to his mother and eventually scramble to find a way to explain to her when he suddenly gains super strength, or he can tell her the truth and betray All-Might’s confidence by revealing the secret of his quirk, and possibly his injury as well.

This choice sucks. Today is becoming less and less like a dream come true.

“Izuku?” Mom prompts. “Um. I’m going to need a little context, sweetie.”

“He told me something about himself,” Izuku says finally. “Something he doesn’t want people to know. But I can’t do this without telling you about it, and I can’t tell you about it without telling you that thing. So I’m just… stuck.”

“Oh.” Mom’s face falls. “Oh, sweetheart. That’s a tough position to be in.” She frowns, but it’s more of a thoughtful frown as she hunts for a solution. “This thing he doesn’t want people to know about. Does it put you in danger?”

“No,” Izuku says. “Not really.”

“Does it put anyone else in danger?”

“Just him,” Izuku says, remembering the twisted scar.

“Okay.” Mom nods, still looking thoughtful. “If it’s not something that’s going to hurt you, Izuku, then… I guess it’s all right if I don’t know. But only then, hear?” Izuku nods. “Is there a way to tell me the rest without betraying anyone’s confidence?”

“I’ll… try.”

“And if you can’t, then… I’d really rather know about it, Izuku.”

“I know, Mom. Okay.” He takes a deep breath. “All-Might’s… looking for a successor. His quirk… um.” There’s no getting around this one. “He can pass on his quirk, Mom. He asked me if I wanted to take it.”

Mom drops her chopsticks with a clatter. She stares at him, shocked speechless.

“I… I didn’t tell him about my power,” Izuku continues. His eyes move downward to his plate again. “He thinks I’m quirkless. But he – he thinks I have what it takes to take his power.” He pauses, throat bobbing as he swallows. “Mom, I… I told him yes.”

Izuku!

“I know!” Izuku bursts out, dropping his own chopsticks. “I know, I know, it was stupid but – it’s All-Might, Mom! And it’s me! What did you think I was going to say?”

“You should have talked to me first,” Mom brings her hands to her face. From across the table, Izuku can see them shake.

“You weren’t there to talk to,” Izuku says quietly. “So I’m talking to you now. Mom, I really want to do this.”

“I know, Izuku, I know, but-”

“I don’t-” His voice catches in his throat. “I don’t think I’m gonna get another chance like this, Mom. I...” Guilt bubbles up in his throat, and he feels tears prick at his eyes, because his impossible dreams are suddenly within reach but she might say no. “I almost didn’t tell you, but… you know about my quirk already, and I couldn’t have hidden it from you if I suddenly got a new one, and-”

“You always tell me.” Her voice is soft, her face hidden behind her hands. Izuku can’t tell what she’s feeling, and that scares him. “No matter what, you always tell me, because if you don’t and you get in trouble then-”

“I know.”

“Izuku.” Slowly, her hands fall back to her lap, and Izuku finds it hard to look at her face for long. “This is – this is life-changing. And you’re only fourteen. I don’t know if this is a good idea. Do you – do you even know what he has planned?”

“All I know,” Izuku says, “is that All-Might wants to train me, and this is the only chance I’ve ever had to become a hero.”

“Izuku-”

“Mom.” His voice breaks. “I need to – I need to tell you what happened. Mom, it was Bakugou.” He sees her expression turn to stone. “No, I mean – he was in trouble. I was attacked first, and then the guy went after Bakugou, and…” His breath hitches. “M-mom, he was scared.”

The stony look in her eyes breaks.

“He was so scared, Mom. He was just as scared as I was when – and I didn’t even care that he – I didn’t even care about anything he’s done, I just – it had him, and-” Mom’s shape blurs as the tears spill over, and Izuku struggles to speak through the shaking and the tight pain in his throat. “And all I could think was, I didn’t want to see him that way. Not yet. Not ever. I-I don’t ever want to see him that way. So I tried to stop it, and Mom, I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was just – slow it down. I threw my bookbag and that was it. And then it went right back to hurting him a-and I couldn’t do anything else. And then All-Might showed up and – and it was just over.” He sniffles, wiping his tears on his sleeve. “I know I have a quirk and I know it’s special and unique but I can’t save anyone with it. I can’t save people’s lives. All I can do is talk to them after they’re already dead.” Arms wrap around him, warm and soft, and Izuku sobs into his mother’s sweater. “I don’t ever want to feel like that again.”

“Oh, sweetheart.” Her voice wobbles and Izuku wonders if she’s going to cry too. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you were scared and I’m sorry you had to feel like that.” She presses a kiss to the side of his head and rubs his back gently. “You’re good, you hear me? You’re a good person and the world is lucky you’re in it.”

“I can do this,” Izuku tells her softly. “I know I can. And Mom, if I don’t take this, if I don’t try, I’m gonna regret it forever.”

“I...” Her breath hitches a little, and she lets it out in a sigh. “I… I know, sweetheart. I know. And I think...” She pulls back, fussing a little with the hair falling into his eyes. She takes another deep breath. “I think if I stop you, then… I’ll probably regret it, too.”

Izuku blinks, suddenly wide-eyed, tears drying on his face. “You mean...”

“I want you to be safe,” she says. “I want so badly for you to be safe. But I want you to be happy more.” Gently, Mom cups the side of his face in her hand. “Will this make you happy?”

“More than anything,” Izuku whispers.

“Well.” After a moment, she offers a brave little smile, and somehow it seems even brighter than All-Might’s. “All right then. Tell me what I can do to help.”

Rei shrieks in triumph, taking out the kitchen light and sending a metal spatula flying across the room.

Chapter Text

Self-imposed community service is surprisingly difficult with all the screaming.

Izuku’s not the one screaming – well, he does yell a little, like when he barks his shin on the corner of a discarded oven or accidentally drops a microwave oven on his foot. But he’s not getting distracted by the sound of his own voice.

The first time it happens is on the very first day, and Izuku is so exhausted from waking up at the crack of dawn that he’s sure he’s just having a vivid auditory hallucination.

But no, that’s not the case, because the sound of it sends Rei spider-crawling down from her perch on the trash heap, and it makes the ghost woman at All-Might’s side hover closer and look around in alarm. With the woman’s back turned, Rei tugs on his hand and points. He follows the direction of her finger, bleary-eyed, but all he sees are rolling hills of garbage.

Rolling, screaming hills of garbage.

He’s already tired and sore from the heavy lifting he’s done since he got started, but now there’s a buzzing in his nerves. It’s not fear, not yet, but it’s a quietly relentless, anxious energy. It’s a lot like fight or flight, but he can’t yet tell whether he wants to fight or flee more; all he knows is he doesn’t want to stay still. He wants to do something, anything to make the screaming stop.

Before he can stop himself, he groans aloud and massages desperately at his forehead, trying to ward off an oncoming headache.

A hearty pat on the back almost knocks him flat on his face, and his unbalanced staggering hides the fact that it makes him jump like a startled rabbit. “Resting already?” All-Might’s voice booms, momentarily drowning out the disembodied shrieking. “Not giving up so soon, are we, young Midoriya?”

“Nope!” Izuku puts on his brightest, most determined smile, and gets back to hauling trash to the pickup. It doesn’t take much to get him out of breath, but he carries on. As he does so, he tilts his head this way and that, trying to pinpoint where the cries are coming from. His friend keeps close to him, glaring around all the while.

Before long, Izuku determines that the voice isn’t just screaming; it’s crying, as well. His nervousness drops a little, but the buzz of restless energy is still there. Izuku pours it into what he’s doing.

“I don’t like this.”

Izuku shoots a quick glance toward the speaker. Ever since the sludge villain incident, he’s seen her hanging close to All-Might’s side. He has yet to see one without the other.

She’s not someone he recognizes, and that only piques his curiosity. She’s broad and muscular, with dark hair in a half-updo. A lot of ghosts appear in whatever outfit they died in, but most of them can change how they look if they want, and Izuku’s never sure either way unless there’s blood or clothing damage. In this ghost’s case, her tank top and athletic pants make her look like she died on her way to the gym. There doesn’t seem to be a mark on her, though, so she was either poisoned or she’s changed her look.

Izuku wonders what her name is.

He hasn’t spoken to her – not yet. He hasn’t seen her without All-Might around, and there’s no way he’s going to risk talking to her when the Number One Hero might hear him. If All-Might hears him, then he’ll ask who he’s talking to, and Izuku can’t tell him the truth. He absolutely can’t.

Izuku has his chance, his first and only chance to become a hero. There’s no way he’s risking it when he’s barely even started. All-Might doesn’t have to know.

As he watches from the corner of his eye, the woman aims a swat at the back of All-Might’s head that goes right through him. “Welp, I’m gonna go check that mess out and, uh… hopefully figure out a way to clue you two knuckleheads in on a screaming rageghost if I need to. Sit tight, Toshi.” She vanishes then into thin air.

Izuku purses his lips as he stoops and wraps his arms around what looks like the remains of a microwave oven. If it does prove to be dangerous, then he’ll have to find a way to warn All-Might without revealing too much. Can he make up some excuse for them to leave, without making All-Might think he isn’t serious about this?

Before he can think further on the subject, the haunting voice is joined by a second, and that’s when the eerie wails turn into what sounds like the ghostly-shrieking equivalent of the noises cats make when they fight in an alleyway. Izuku certainly isn’t expecting it, because that’s when he drops the microwave oven on his own foot and adds his own high-pitched yelp to the din.

Thanks to disuse and decay, it’s only about half a microwave oven by now, so Izuku avoids a broken foot. He can’t quite dodge All-Might’s attention, though.

“Haha, w-whoops!” Gingerly he pulls his foot out from under the broken appliance. “Silly me, b-butterfingers, haha. No harm done, don’t worry about it, I can just. Pick it back up.” He does so, still chunnering to himself with the faint hope that All-Might will brush this off. “Yup, still going. No problem. Off to the truck.” Except there’s a very good chance that All-Might’s ghost friend is tangling with an unhappy poltergeist at the moment, and Izuku has no way of escaping his attention long enough to defuse the situation.

He loads the broken microwave oven and almost bumps into Rei. Her hair is beginning to stir, without any help from the wind, and that’s usually a good sign that she’s uneasy, too. Izuku chews his lip and dawdles over choosing the next piece of trash to grab. The woman must be someone All-Might knows. She doesn’t look enough like him to be a relative – maybe a friend? A girlfriend? Did All-Might ever even have a girlfriend? He certainly has a lot of female fans – he’s getting off track. The point is, if she’s spending her afterlife following him around, then there was some kind of bond. There had to be. Rei’s different; if it weren’t for the fact that he could see her and hear her and talk to her, Izuku doubts she would have given him a second thought. But if this woman is important to All-Might…

Well, sitting by while she gets in trouble with a poltergeist doesn’t sit right with Izuku.

He can’t risk talking to Rei with All-Might so close, so he stalls a few more seconds to leave his hands free.

“Go check on her?” he signs, turning away from All-Might to hide the movements of his hands. “Make sure she’s okay.” His friend vanishes, and Izuku scoops up an old tire, slings it over his shoulder, and jogs back to the pickup.

The two-toned shrieking is cut off by a blood-curdling screech that churns Izuku’s stomach until he has to pause to let the nausea pass, and for a few glorious seconds, silence falls. Izuku waits on bated breath, before finally the original voice takes up its haunting wail once more.

Rei materializes close by, and a few seconds later Izuku lets out a soft sigh of relief as the dark-haired woman returns to All-Might’s side. She looks a little ragged and faded around the edges, but she seems all right.
“Shit,” he hears her hiss. “Shit. I’ve gotten weak too, Toshi. Time was, I could’ve ended a fight like that with my pinky finger. Now I need little monster girls coming to my rescue – no offense, sweetie, thanks for that. Ow. Okay. Just gotta… stay away from that sedan. For the love of God, Toshi, stay away from that sedan.”

Izuku tosses a glance over his shoulder, frowns a little, and spots the car in question. It’s just as battered and disused as everything else in this shoreline junkyard, bent and warped out of shape, most of its windows smashed, and it’s in the direction that the wailing is coming from. It’s also just within the area All-Might set him to clean, but well out of his reach for now. At this point he’d need climbing gear just to get to it through all the rest of the trash.

The wailing breaks into a sob, just for a moment.

Izuku sets his jaw and steps in the direction of the old sedan. There’s plenty of junk in the way, but he’ll get there. He has to; poltergeist or not, there’s someone who might need help, and he’s not going to consider this job done unless he cleans that up, too.

He sets his shoulder against a broken-down washing machine, digs his heels into the sand, and keeps working.


It takes two and a half weeks for him to reach the sedan. If All-Might notices that he’s moving in a specific direction, he says nothing and Izuku offers neither acknowledgment nor explanation. The woman notices, though – the woman who follows All-Might. She was always nervous, what with the continuous screaming echoing through the trash pile, but a few days before Izuku reaches the car, she realizes that he’s headed straight in that direction.

She tries to stop him. For the better part of that day, Izuku works through her warning shouts on top of the screaming. He tries to signal her when All-Might’s back is turned, but she never notices. And she won’t try to stop him physically, because Rei growls when she gets too close.

(He thinks about taking the risk anyway. All-Might is in his skeletal true form more often than not – is he more or less observant when he isn’t using his quirk?)

It comes to a head the day Izuku finally clears the path. He manages to haul away three bicycles that got warped and tangled together, and that turns out to be something of a keystone in clearing the way to the sedan. After Izuku wrestles the mess into the back of the pickup, he runs back to continue. All-Might watches and waits, gaunt enough to be drowning in the jacket he’s wearing.

The path that Izuku has cleared cuts between two larger piles like a narrow valley of garbage. At the top of the pile on the right, there’s a television set balanced somewhat precariously. It looks stable enough to most, but most don’t take into account the outbursts of anxious ghosts.

“One step at a time, young Midoriya,” All-Might is saying as Izuku comes jogging back. “At your stage, I doubt you’ll be able to move that.” He nods to the broken-down sedan. “Unless, of course, you’d like to try.”

“I’ll get to it,” Izuku says, and resists the urge to rub at his ears. The screaming is almost close enough to hurt at this point.

“No, you won’t.” The ghost who follows All-Might sounds all the more agitated. She blinks in and out of view, ending up perched at the top of the pile on the right. Izuku shoots her a look, but she’s too upset to notice. “Stay away from there! Both of you! Toshi, I mean it!” Izuku’s friend hisses back at her, and the woman’s form flickers. “Can’t we warn them?” she yells back. The force of her frustration rattles Izuku, and she bumps against the television set.

All-Might takes a step closer to the pile. Izuku doesn’t even think about it. His hand shoots out, blocking All-Might from taking a step further. At that moment, the television teeters over, falls, and hits the sand just a few feet in front of them.

Shit-” Izuku hears the ghost woman hiss, before Rei spider-crawls up the pile to shriek her fury right in the woman’s face.

Wordlessly he crouches, lifts up the television, and staggers back to the pickup beneath its weight, while the woman’s frantic apologies mingle with his friend’s furious shrieks and growls.

All-Might surprises him by ruffling his hair when he gets back, and Izuku steers the cleanup away from the sedan once more.

It’s only that night that he dares approach it again. Once he’s eaten and finished his homework, his studying, and daily scheduled exercises, Izuku makes his way back to the beach. All-Might and his protective tagalong are nowhere to be seen. Izuku is alone except for Rei, and free to do whatever he needs.

“Stay back,” he tells her. She scowls at him, and he glares back. “Stay back. I just need to talk to them.”

Sand crunches beneath his shoes as he meanders his way through the garbage. The poltergeist still screams and cries, louder and louder as Izuku creeps through the path he made and approaches the broken sedan. His pace slows until he’s inching forward. Step, then pause. Step, then pause. Step, then pause. Finally, Izuku can reach out and brush the bent door with his fingertips.

A pale hand, bloodied and missing two fingers, thrusts out the window, seizes him by the wrist, and yanks. Izuku catches the edge of the door, and that’s all that keeps him from getting dragged through the broken window. He’s still pulled to the opening, and finds himself almost nose to nose with the wailing ghost.

Her face is battered beyond recognition, her skull caved in and misshapen. Shards from the broken windshield protrude from her throat, and her scream bubbles wetly. Her other hand, mangled and half gone, grasps uselessly at his throat.

Terror rushes him, and for a split second Izuku drowns in it. It fills his chest and moves outward, buzzing just beneath his skin, filling his head like cotton.

Izuku breathes in, breathes out, and continues to do so as he waits for the fear to ebb and recede. Dimly he can still hear the waves lapping at the beach, and he focuses on that sound. The terror washes over him the way the waves wash over the sand, and roils in his stomach for a few seconds before it finally filters out again, leaving him shaky but clear-headed.

(His friend is staying back, technically, but he feels her clutching at his jacket sleeve and hears her soft, high-pitched warning snarl.)

He coughs, swallows the lump in his throat, and shifts his weight in the sand. “Good evening. My name’s Midoriya. What’s yours?”

I lost it!” His ears burn when she wails so close to them. “I lost it, I just lost it! I need to find it before it’s too late!

“I’m sorry,” Izuku answers. “What did you lose?”

He’ll cut the brakes.” The poltergeist sobs as blood trickles from her eyes and nose and spills freely from her mouth. “I lost the ring, and he doesn’t believe me. I was just hiding – here. I hid here. He wouldn’t look for me here. He called me trash so I hid with the garbage. And I lost it!

“A ring? Here, at this beach?”

He thought I threw it away. He thought I was leaving him.” She leaves his throat alone and paws desperately at the front of his jacket. “I was driving here. To this beach. To look for it – it’s here. It’s somewhere. I have to find it – if I don’t find it he’ll think I’m leaving him and he said he’d cut the brakes if I tried to leave!

“I’ll help you,” Izuku says. “I’ll help, I promise. I’m cleaning up the beach. I’ll look for it, and if I find it, I’ll bring it to you.”

Tell him I’ll look for it,” the ghost pleads. “Tell him. Tell him he doesn’t need to cut the brakes.

“I’ll help you,” Izuku repeats, though it feels as if his throat is closing. “It’s going to be all right. I’ll help you.”

The hands on his jacket and wrist vanish. The woman vanishes. Izuku finds himself leaning against the broken sedan, staring through the smashed-in window of an empty car.

Stinging pain in his hand makes itself known. In catching himself on the door, he’d cut his palm on one of the shards left by the window. On his other hand, finger-shaped bruises encircle his wrist.

Before going to bed that night, Izuku does a quick internet search. He finds a news story from just a few months before: after a year-long trial, one Takeshi Matsumoto was convicted of murdering his fiancee by sabotaging her car. Izuku recognizes the car and its trapped driver in the photos, shuts off the computer, and sleeps about as well as you’d expect.


The poltergeist is quieter after that. That’s a good thing, because that means All-Might’s ghost friend is less nervous, Rei is less snappish, television sets are less likely to fall on anyone, and Izuku can focus better on the task at hand.

Or rather, the tasks.

It’s entirely possible (highly improbable) that he’s stumbled across the ring and thrown it away by accident already. But until he’s cleaned up this beach, he has no way of knowing. Which means that, rather than clearing just a section of the horizon like All-Might told him to, he might have to clear the entire damn thing instead.

Oh, well. He was sort of banking on that anyway. This is just extra motivation.

The only real difference it makes is that now he goes out to the beach at night as well, and helps the murdered ghost search the garbage pile for her lost ring. It always leaves him exhausted the next day, and All-Might notices.

“You’re not following the plan, are you?” All-Might chides him when he collapses in the middle of a run. “Overdoing it is just as bad as not working at all, you know. If you exhaust yourself, you’ll only move backwards.”

“Gotta keep going,” Izuku wheezes.

“Within reason, kid.”

Izuku grinds his teeth. It’s not like he can explain why he’s working himself so hard.

“It’s good to push your limits,” All-Might continues. “That’s the entire point of this training in the first place. But you have to know those limits, so we can adjust your abilities in time for the exam.”

“Not about the exam.” Izuku tries to pick himself back up, he really does. “My – I’m not – I just have to be stronger. So I can-” save people, save as many people as I can, stop murderers so people don’t have to worry about cut brake lines and lost rings, stop supervillains so that people can go home and feed their pets instead of dying in hospitals, make a world where there are less ghosts for me to talk to-

He says none of that. What he does say is, “I have to be stronger. As strong as the strongest hero.” He raises his head and meets All-Might’s eyes, willing him to understand, but not understand too much.

A moment later, All-Might is activating his quirk and scooping him right off the ground like a tired cat. “You really are obsessive!” There’s laughter in his voice. “But I can’t say I don’t approve. Still! Impatience with your training won’t help anyone, least of all you. Not to worry, though – this old man will revise the plan for you.”

“Toshi, don’t give me that shit!” the ghost woman yells. “Old my ass!”

In spite of everything, Izuku laughs so hard he almost pukes.


Bit by bit, the beach horizon clears. Trash and junk and litter give way to the white sand beneath, and for every heavy bag of garbage and broken appliance Izuku hauls away, the next gets lighter. He can barely remember how it feels to wake up in the morning without sore muscles, but it gets easier.

The shelter rings him up one day, tells him Ms. Yamamoto’s one-eyed cat hasn’t been adopted yet and may have to be transferred to a different shelter to free up space. Izuku tells his mother, and that night he falls asleep with Mika purring on his chest.

He gives the broken sedan a wide berth during the day. Izuku still hears the poltergeist cry from time to time. She never leaves the car, not during the day and not when Izuku comes at night, even when he talks to her and tries to coax her out. Maybe she can’t come out.

After a while, Izuku stops trying. He won’t risk getting close again, and beyond that there’s only one way he knows how to help her. So he trains, studies, cleans up the beach, and searches every day for the ring. When he’s not doing any of these things, he tries to sleep.

The entrance exam creeps closer. The garbage on the beach dwindles. No rings turn up.

He cleans the beach. He works during the day with All-Might’s supervision, and under the cover of darkness with his best friend, and only the moon and a flashlight to light their search. He cleans far more than All-Might asked of him, clearing the white sand and the horizon.

The entrance exam is a week away by the time Izuku can sling a broken bicycle over one shoulder and tuck a broken air conditioner under his free arm and jog both of them from the beach to the pickup at an easy pace. The ghost in the car wails and weeps day and night. Izuku thinks of her when he’s studying, when he’s jogging, when he’s strengthening his grip under the table, and when he’s lying awake at night, petting his new cat and waiting for sleep to take him.

At six in the morning, on the day of the entrance exam, Izuku stands on clear white sand and drowns out her cries by screaming his frustration at the sunrise, because he hasn’t found a damn ring.

It sticks with him in the back of his mind, persistent as a mosquito in the room. He’s almost glad for the excuse to punch a giant robot in the face(?) because at least that gives him a period of blessed distraction. Even if it does more or less destroy his arm and legs in the process. He comes out of Recovery Girl’s presence half-certain that he’s blown it all, six months of hard work down the drain, and for the first time in at least five of those months, he doesn’t venture out to the beach that night.

All in all, it’s really not Izuku’s day.


Against all odds, he gets in.

All-Might meets him at the Screaming Beach, with the ghostly woman in tow and his hand held up for a high-five. Izuku blinks at it for a moment, bewildered, before summoning up the courage to return it. Who would he be to leave the Number One Hero hanging?

“So, um, my arm,” Izuku says, trying not to talk too loudly over the wails that All-Might can’t even hear. “And my legs. Was that… supposed to happen?”

“Figured it might.”

“What.”

All-Might’s ghost friend heaves a sigh. “You could have at least warned him, Toshi.”

“It can’t be helped,” All-Might goes on. “You’re strong enough to be a vessel, but you’re still a raw beginner at using it.”

“Which you could have warned him about, Toshi,” his ghost grouses at him. “Not everyone can be a big, beefy, man-beef like you.”

Izuku manages, just barely, to disguise a stifled snort of laughter as a cough.

“Something the matter?” All-Might asks.

“Yes. No. Allergies.” Izuku forces his face straight again. “So, my arm? Well, more my legs. I sort of understand my arm, I mean I punched a huge robot in the face – I think it was the face, anyway, it was really hard to tell – but what about my legs? All I did was jump, and I completely wrecked both of them-”

“Like I was saying,” All-Might interrupts. “You have a quirk now, after living your whole life without one. You’re not gonna be an expert at it on Day One – because those six months don’t enter into it, kid. That was your first day of possessing One For All, and that makes it Day One.”

“You could’ve warned me,” Izuku mutters.

“There wasn’t the time. Besides, it worked out, didn’t it?” All-Might jabs him lightly in the chest, making Izuku look him in the eye. “Remember what you told me, about being stronger? Well, you were right. You do have to be stronger. You’re gonna have to work harder than any of the other students. Them, they’ve been living with extra limbs and laser vision and what have you all their lives. Your first hurdle’s behind you, but you’ve still got a long way to go.” He bends a little, so that they’re eye to eye. “And I promise you, I will help you get there, understand?”

There’s a swelling feeling in his chest as Izuku nods vigorously. Rei jostles his arm excitedly, and he tries not to let his shaking show.

"And on that note," All-Might continues, reaching into his pocket. "There's something I wanted to show you. I wanted to show you earlier, but... well, look." Izuku steps closer, and All-Might holds out a pair of photographs. They're both pictures of Izuku, a before-and-after comparison to show off his progress. In one, he's the skinny kid he remembers being. In the other, taken the morning that he finished cleaning the beach, he's filled out his own frame, replaced scrawny arms with defined musculature.

In both, his pupils are glinting red from the flash.

"I was considering fixing that," All-Might says sheepishly. "But I'm not the best with technology, I'm afraid."

"It's fine," Izuku assures him. "That kind of always happens, actually. My mom says it's a nightmare trying to get my picture taken."

"Well, if it can't be helped... not the point, in any case. Your progress speaks for itself." All-Might pauses to look him carefully in the eye. "Remember, you got to this point through your own hard work. It’s gonna take more hard work to keep you moving forward from here. The stronger you become, the better handle you’ll have on One For All. It will take work, and it will take time. But for now… you’ve earned a break. Enjoy it while it lasts, and keep your strength up. You’re a Yuuei student now, and they don’t let up for beginners.”

“I won’t let you down,” Izuku blurts.

“Good.”

They’re about to leave. The moon is high and bright, and Izuku buzzes with eager energy and glowing pride, and if it weren’t for those two things, it may not have happened. It’s a chance in a million, really. At precisely the right moment, Izuku turns his head to admire his handiwork of six months, and sees moonlight glint on something in the sand.

No.

No, it couldn’t be.

Izuku jogs to the object, sending up sand in his wake, eyes fixed on the tiny glint of reflected moonlight. He slows as he approaches it, not wanting to kick sand over it and lose it again. He stoops, sweeps some of the sand away, and picks up a silver ring from the beach.

It’s a simple band, set with a small diamond-like stone. An engagement ring, by the looks of it. It’s a little dirty from lying on the beach, but it still shines.

All-Might calls to him from across the sand. “Midoriya! Everything all right?”

“Um, go on ahead!” Izuku calls back. “I’ll get home fine!” He stays where he is, under the pretense of admiring the moonlight on the waves, until he’s sure All-Might has gone.

He never did touch the old sedan during his cleanup. It looks a lot lonelier now than it ever did before, one last spot of litter tarnishing the horizon. Izuku comes to a halt a few feet away from the driver’s side door, and holds out the ring in his palm.

Silence falls.

“You found it.”

Izuku turns around carefully. The weeping ghost stands in the sand, looking for a split second just as horrible and mangled as she did the first time Izuku saw her. Then he blinks, and she stands before him whole again, pale and thin in a spotless cardigan and skirt.

“You found it.” Tears well up in her eyes, and she steps forward and reaches for it. “I wanted to look for it… to show him I only lost it. I wasn’t leaving… he’ll cut the brakes if I leave.” An inch away from the ring, her hand halts. Izuku can’t tell whether her form is flickering, or she really is shivering. More tears come, and her voice trembles and cracks. “Only… I don’t really have to worry about that. Do I?” Blank white eyes, shining with ghost light and tears, meet Izuku’s. “Because he already did.”

“I’m sorry.” Izuku’s voice is thick from the ache in his throat. “I’m sorry he did that to you. You didn’t deserve that.” He glances down at the ring. “He’s in jail now, you know. He didn’t get away with it. He won’t be able to hurt anyone else.”

“Good. That’s good.” The woman’s hand is clearly shaking now. “My name’s Sachi. Thank you for finding my ring.”

“Happy to help.”

“I’m sorry.” Sachi sniffles, and lowers her hand back to her side. “I’m sorry, I made you go through all of that trouble for nothing. I don’t want it anymore.”

“That’s okay,” Izuku says. “I don’t think you need it. And it wasn’t for nothing. It really wasn’t.”

“I can’t remember – the last time somebody helped me. Just because.” Sachi lifts her hand again, but only to wipe her eyes. “Thank you. Thank you so much. I won’t forget this.”

Izuku smiles. “I don’t think I will either. I don’t know if I can explain it, but you sort of helped me, too. Thank you.”

Sachi doesn’t reply, but she nods.

“Do you think...” Izuku’s throat bobs as he swallows. “Are you going to be okay now?”

“I think… yes.” Sachi smiles through her tears, and it’s one of the brightest smiles Izuku’s ever seen. “I think… I think I can go now. I’m okay. I’m going to be okay.”

By the time Izuku blinks away the tears in his eyes, she’s gone. The car is empty. The beach is silent.

He sniffles a little and wipes his eyes. A chill in the air makes him look up, to see Rei hovering nearby, beaming.

“How about you, huh?” he asks. “Think you’ll ever…?”

She looks thoughtful at this, then shrugs, and flits closer to give his arm a hug.

“Well, okay,” Izuku says. “If you’re sure.”

He goes home, and his limbs are heavy but his heart is light.

Chapter Text

Izuku is no stranger to fear.

He’s an expert at fear. He breathes through a pounding heart, eats through butterflies in his stomach, and sleeps through creaking doors and moaning in the walls. When fear comes knocking, he greets it like an irritating roommate and goes on with his day.

And yet, when Bakugou’s glare burns a hole in the back of his head, he wants to run. When Bakugou follows him outside, he wants to hide. When Bakugou grabs him by the shoulder and shoves him up against a wall, he wants to curl up and wait for him to go away. But he can’t, not with Bakugou holding him upright. So instead, Izuku feels himself freeze up again. Rei tries to drag Bakugou away from him, but it won’t work. It never does. The noises around him sound oddly muffled, as if he’s wearing ear plugs, but it’s not enough to block out what Bakugou is saying.

“What dirty goddamn trick did you use to pass the exam? Answer me, you little shit!”

Izuku doesn’t answer. He can’t, not when his tongue is locked in his mouth. It’s all he can do just to stare dumbly at Bakugou’s face. It won’t happen. He won’t do it. There’s no way for him to do it even if he wanted to. And he won’t. I’ll he’ll do is yell at me like he always does. It won’t happen. It won’t.

“-you fucking listening to me? I was supposed to be the first to get into Yuuei from this shitty school! And you pissed all over that!”

Izuku stares at him, silent and frozen and as blank as TV static. He won’t do it again. It won’t happen. Bakugou’s grip on his shoulder is tight enough to bruise, just like the ghost on the beach – the beach where he trained, where he bled and puked and sweated for six months until the day of the exam. The mantra fades, and frustration puts new thoughts in his head. It wasn’t a trick. It was me. I earned it. All-Might said so. It’s not about you. It wasn’t a trick.

“I told you to go someplace else, you fuck!” Bakugou shakes him roughly, and the back of Izuku’s head knocks against the wall behind him.

My friends are scarier than you are.

Izuku locks eyes with Bakugou again, unblinking, all his senses muffled.

“Does it make you feel big?” he asks.

And Bakugou is the first to blink.

“What-”

“Does it make you feel big, to hurt someone who won’t fight back?”

Bakugou’s eyes narrow. His lips curl, showing his clenched teeth. “What the fuck are you talking about-”

“Does it make you feel strong, beating on kids who don’t have quirks?” Part of him, a small part, is screaming at him to shut up before he makes Bakugou angry enough to hit him. But what will that do? It’s just a hit. All it can do is leave a bruise or make him bleed. “Does it make you feel brave, when they’re scared of you?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Bakugou snarls, and Izuku sees sparks and smoke in the hand that grips his shoulder.

The worst – the very worst he can do to you, is kill you by accident.

“You’ll have to,” Izuku says without thinking.

“I’ll have to what?” Bakugou spits back.

“Kill me. If you want to stop me.” All-Might smiles to trick the fear inside him, so Izuku smiles at Bakugou. “If you don’t, then I’m going to Yuuei.” Izuku watches Bakugou’s eyes in the same way he’d watch the lights of an oncoming train. “Or do you just want me to cry, Bakugou? Will that make you feel big?”

Bakugou lets go.

It’s weird – for a moment it’s like Bakugou hasn’t even noticed he’s let go. But he does, and he seems almost surprised when it happens.

Movement returns to Izuku’s legs, and he slides away from the wall and out of Bakugou’s reach. He doesn’t run. He walks, and Bakugou doesn’t follow.


Times like these make Izuku painfully aware of how fundamentally useless his quirk is.

Not One For All – One For All is cool and amazing and exactly what he needs to become a pro hero. Or, at least, it will be once he figures out how to use it without completely obliterating his arms and legs. That’s a habit he’d rather break as soon as possible.

But he hasn’t yet, which is a problem when the first order of business on the first day of school turns out to be a quirk assessment test, and he’s liable to get kicked out if he scores low enough. Since he’s not interested in ending his first day of school with a trip to the hospital, he’s going to have to make do with what he had before One For All.

But, as Izuku has long accepted since he was old enough and sufficiently self-aware to navel-gaze about his own quirk, seeing ghosts isn’t going to help him run fast, jump high, or do more squats. So hopefully, his six months of grueling training will pan out and keep him from getting expelled on his first day.

The school athletic field is abuzz with conversation, and not just from his chattier classmates. There are ghosts here, not necessarily tied to the place or haunting anyone, but simply passing through and watching the world around them. As Izuku bounces on the balls of his feet and waits for the tests to start, he happens to glance over and see Rei standing at the sidelines, pale and washed out against the bright green turf, watching him through a part in her hair like she’s peeking through a curtain.

Izuku checks his peripherals to make sure no one notices, and flashes her a quick smile and a wave. She perks up, lifting her head so that more of her hair falls away from her face, and bounces a little as she waves back.

“Hey, did you see that? Did he just wave?” Izuku almost panics, but relaxes when the speaker turns out to be another ghost drifting by, a teenager with a hole in his temple that still leaks blood. “Hey, little girl. Did that guy just wave at you?” She nods vigorously. “Holy shit. Can he – can he see us?”

Oh, why not. Izuku locks eyes with the ghost, grins, and winks. The guy’s face lights up like it’s New Year’s Eve.

Word travels fast among the dead. Before long, Izuku has a little audience at the sidelines. Rei is still at the front, watching eagerly as the quirk assessment tests begin.

He wishes he could have given a better account of himself in front of them, he really does. By all accounts, he should have been able to. Sixth months of training was hardly nothing, right? He’s been eating better, strengthening himself at almost every available moment, building up his stamina to levels he never dared dream of before. But for every test, every race, every assessment of every possible athletic ability under the sun, there is always someone better. There is always someone, or two, or three or more, whose quirks are perfect for blowing his attempts out of the water. Iida’s speed lets him dominate the sprint. Uraraka’s gravity manipulation makes the long jump a joke. Satou does push-ups like a man possessed (so to speak).

Izuku, in the meantime, has… an extra cheering section that no one else can see.

That’s…

Well, it’s not nothing.

“Hey, buddy, you’re doing great!”

“Yeah, c’mon, kid, keep your chin up! You’re faster than I ever was back when I had lungs!”

“Don’t give up!”

“Did you see those other two? You left ‘em in your dust! Keep it up!”

Rei hops up and down, though her feet never actually touch the ground. Her hair twists in an unseen wind and reveals light-swallowing black pits for eyes, and her cheering sounds a little bit like a Ringwraith, but it’s still a nice feeling. The voices of the dead drown out Bakugou’s jeering, and let him focus on something that’s not Aizawa’s cold stare.

In spite of himself, Izuku smiles. His power might not be good for hero work, but it’s nice for not feeling alone sometimes.

Still, his stomach turns as he picks up a ball for the pitching test. He’s almost done with the tests. Maybe what he really needs to do is go all out, just once. He hasn’t gotten the chance to show off his quirk (his second one, at least) and he’s not sure the rest of the tests are good for showing off One For All. Maybe if he blows everything now, it’ll still be okay. Maybe all he has to do is get Aizawa’s attention and prove that he can at least do something. That’s what the point of this assessment is, isn’t it? Showing him where he is, in terms of power?

It’s worth a shot, at least. And by that, it means it’s the only thing Izuku can think of.

One shot of One For All, and he’ll probably be out for the count but at least he’ll have made some kind of an impression.

The ghosts whoop loudly as his throwing arm ripples with energy. Izuku winds up for the pitch, focuses on the cheering, and-

 

Silence.

Izuku is is about to swing his arm for the throw when the voices egging him on vanish. The feeling of cotton-thickness in his ears makes him look up, searching the sidelines for what might have made the ghosts go quiet, and finds himself staring at empty grass. The ghosts are gone, and Rei – his mute, terrifying nightmare of a best friend, who’s hardly strayed from his side since he was seven years old – is nowhere to be seen. The only people left watching are his living, breathing classmates, and there are nineteen of them plus one homeroom teacher but the athletic field feels suddenly so very empty.

The shock of silence, of the split-second powerful feeling of being alone, breaks Izuku’s concentration. He loses his grip on One For All, which throws off the weight of the pitch. The ball sails forward about twenty meters before bouncing pitifully on the ground.

For a moment, panic rushes through Izuku with such force and volume that he can’t even react beyond a blank stare. The ghosts left? Why would they leave? They didn’t just lose interest and decide to, they vanished in the middle of yelling encouragement. And why would Rei leave? Did something happen to them? Could something happen to ghosts?

“I erased your quirk.” Aizawa’s voice cuts through his numb, mute shock, and he startles like a rabbit and doesn’t quite manage to muffle a quiet noise of alarm. Among his classmates, someone giggles.

“W-what?” His heart beats frantically, and Izuku distantly recognizes the fluttery pain in his chest, and the heavy pit in his stomach, as nothing short of fear.

(Isn’t it backwards that he’s frightened because of the absence of ghosts?)

Aizawa’s starting to look like a ghost himself, with the pale face and red-rimmed eyes and dark hair rising as if on an unseen wind. Izuku takes in the scarf, the goggles, and the strange quirk, and the realization of just who his homeroom teacher is hits him full force.

“You have no idea how to use your quirk properly, do you?” Eraserhead says coldly, stepping forward. His scarf ripples around him as if it has a life of its own. “What, did you believe someone would save you if you crippled yourself again?”

Bad judgment call bad judgment call should’ve stuck with the original plan-

The scarf wraps around him, jerking him forward, and another flash of panic turns his vision white for a moment. Fight or flight instinct kicks in, and as Aizawa’s voice fades to the background of his own thunderous pulse in his ears, Izuku manages to glance down at his own hand. He twitches his finger experimentally, and is rewarded by a spark of One For All in his fingertip.

He erased my quirk, he realizes through the pounding in his ears. But he erased the wrong one.

“Face it, Midoriya Izuku.” Aizawa’s voice, flat and cold, brings him out of his panic and back to the present. “With a power like that, you’ll never become a hero.”

A moment passes, and Aizawa’s hair falls back into his face, Izuku’s ears pop as the voices of the dead return and he oh wow that’s where she went.

Rei is no longer watching at the sidelines. Her face is no longer pale, her eyes no longer dark. It’s like the color has been reversed – her entire form, from her skin to her nightdress to her hair, is the kind of black that swallows light and lets nothing reflect back. The only whiteness left is in the eerie pale light that shines out of her eyes and her mouth (mouths are not supposed to be that way, lips are not supposed to stretch that wide, sweet little girls are not supposed to have fangs that bristle like dark thorns against the glow). Her writhing tendrils of hair put the scarf to shame as they whip and slither around his teacher’s arms and throat, and her fingers stretch and curve into hard, spindly claws to rake at him. Her mouth stretches wide like a crocodile, and she gives vent to her fury inches from Aizawa’s face. Izuku’s ears burn with her screaming, and her rage presses him like a hot iron.

Aizawa blinks slowly at him. “Something the matter?”

“Let go,” Izuku blurts out before he can stop himself. Aizawa raises an eyebrow at him. “I mean, um. Please? You should probably… so I can… throw. The ball.”

Aizawa looks bored, but he complies and turns away to watch by the sidelines again. It’s not until the scarf is well away from Izuku that Rei gives one final shriek, swipes at the back of Aizawa’s head, and backs off. The darkness fades, and a pale little girl stands at Izuku’s side once more.

He can’t stop shaking.

Did he give himself away? Did Aizawa notice? How the hell is he going to get through this one? Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe All-Might will speak up for him. Maybe instead of getting expelled, he’ll be transferred to a different class. That’d be okay. That’d be–

Cold fingers close around his free hand. Izuku twitches in surprise and looks down to see his friend clutching at his hand with both of hers, staring up at him with wide, concerned eyes. She makes a soft humming noise, like the distant buzz of flies.

The shaking stops. Izuku takes a deep breath, manages a smile, and tries, as surreptitiously as he can, to give her hands a comforting squeeze.

It must have been scary for her too, if he suddenly couldn’t see her.

He glances to the sidelines to find the crowd of ghosts right where they were last, watching and waiting eagerly. None of them have left.

Well. Whatever the outcome, he might as well give them something worth seeing. Izuku’s fingers curl around the ball, and he remembers how he brought a spark of One For All just to his fingertip. An idea forms in his head, and it might be just crazy enough to work.

He can finish the rest of the tests with just nine fingers, can’t he?


It’s been so long since Nana last walked Yuuei’s halls. The feeling is nostalgic, almost painfully so, and it’s this and only this that makes leaving Toshi’s side bearable.

Ever since the fight with All For One six years back, ever since her faithful successor came within a hair’s breadth of joining her, Nana has kept as close to Toshi’s side as possible. It’s easy; she needs neither sleep nor food nor rest of any kind, and she has existed for long enough that patience is a trifle. Usually, straying too far from him brings a rising note of panic that can’t be calmed by anything but rushing back to his side, checking and double checking that he hasn’t died while her back was turned.

He seems so desperately fragile now. He’s a grown man, of course, weathered and beaten by years of hero work, but no matter how much time passes, part of her will never see anything but the gawky, bright-eyed teenager he was when she first laid eyes on him.

And oh, how he has grown, and gained a student of his own into the bargain.

But for now, Yuuei feels safe. She hasn’t felt this calm and at ease since the last time she set foot in her graveyard and looked upon the earth beneath which she was buried. Yuuei feels like home, and for the first time in many years, Nana feels all right about wandering away from Toshi. There’s hardly any danger in him creeping down to watch Aizawa teach his first class of the year. So she drifts through the place on her own, peeking into classrooms and labs, exploring the school where she came into her own.

It’s different in many ways, and in many others it hasn’t changed a bit.

She loses track of time, and before she knows it, the day is over and she’s ended up circling back to the nurse’s office. Hopefully Toshi hasn’t left yet – probably not. She can catch up fairly easily if he has. Nana turns to leave, just as the door to the nurse’s office opens and shuts.

“Oh! Um, excuse me,” a voice says behind her, but she’s too focused to bother eavesdropping on a conversation that has nothing to do with her anyway.

Rapid footsteps follow her. “W-wait! Um, miss? Excuse me?”

A child blocks her way, and Nana would skid to a halt if her feet actually touched the ground. It’s the little ghost again, the eerie dark-haired girl that follows faithfully in Midoriya Izuku’s shadow. She’s smiling, and it’s all teeth.

“Excuse me,” the now-familiar voice says once more, and Nana glances back to see what the fuss is all about–

–and meets Midoriya’s eyes dead-on.

The moment she’s looking at him, his face breaks out in a freckled smile. He speaks to her.

“Hello.”

Nana shrieks, taking out one of the fluorescent light panels in the ceiling. Without meaning to, she ends up halfway down the hall from him in the blink of an eye. The child ghost laughs, and it sounds like static on a broken television.

“S-sorry!” Midoriya jogs to catch up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you okay?”

“Ebbuh,” is the first thing Nana Shimura ever says to her successor’s student.

His smile softens, and he checks over both shoulders before addressing her again. “I get that a lot. Sorry I didn’t talk to you sooner, it’s just that the past few months have been really busy and you were always really close to All-Might, so it was kind of a mix of me being tired and distracted and just never getting the chance. But I’m glad I caught you now.” He holds out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you! I’m Midoriya Izuku, but I uh, think you know that already. What’s your name?”

Nana gapes at him for another solid fifteen seconds before she finds her voice again. “It’s – um, I’m – it’s Shimura. Shimura Nana. What-”

“Do you need help with anything?”

Whatever Nana was expecting him to say, that wasn’t it. “I’m sorry?”

“Do you need any help?” Midoriya repeats, letting his hand drop to his side again. “It’s fine either way, it’s just, y’know, I usually just. Offer. I mean, do you need me to pass a message? Or find something? Or… are you good?”

“I could really use an explanation, actually,” Nana says faintly. “Um. How?

Midoriya opens his mouth to reply, then glances back at the nurse’s office. “Not here. It’s not safe, I don’t think. Is it okay if we take this outside?”

For a moment Nana’s about to say yes, absolutely, let’s go outside and please explain to me literally everything, but then she remembers the time and her self-imposed duty. “You know what, hold that thought, I need to go back to – to All-Might.” Damn, she thinks. Damn, damn, damn, how many times has she addressed Toshi by name in the boy’s presence? “So I need to go, but later, definitely later, we will have a, a conversation. Of some sort.”

“Sure thing!” Midoriya beams at her. “Maybe we can talk tomorrow, Ms. Shimura? I’ll try to stay clear of the nurse’s office so we have the chance. Have a good evening, then.” And he trots off, pretty as you please, with a stringy-haired ghost girl drifting in his wake.

She stares after him, gobsmacked, long after he’s left.

“What the shit.”

Chapter Text

No one had ever bothered to tell Toshinori that teaching was going to be this… complicated.

From the receiving end, it all seemed so simple. He went in with an empty head, and his teachers filled it. He got things wrong, and they set him rught.

But being a teacher, as it turns out, is far more complicated than being a pro hero.

The Heroes Vs. Villains exercise is, in his humble opinion, a relative success. He’s already gotten a handle on his students’ various quirks from watching Aizawa’s class the previous day, but now he has a better feel for them as potential combatants. There’s a world of difference, after all, between seeing them use their quirks to raise their athletic scores, and seeing them use their quirks in a conflict.

In spite of the overall success of his first class, he spends most of the day pushing aside the little twist of unease in his gut. The first match bothers him, and continues to do so throughout the day. Young Iida and Uraraka seem to be all right, and their performance was exemplary. But as for the other two…

Midoriya spends the rest of class in the nurse’s office, and Toshinori catches it from Recovery Girl when he ducks in to check on his student and hide after his time runs out.

“Why did you let them go so far?” she scolds him. “It’s the second day of school, and this is the third time he’s been in here!”

“My apologies-”

“It’s not me you should be apologizing to!” Recovery Girl’s eyes nearly squinch shut, she’s glaring at him so hard. “What on earth were you thinking?”

“I...” Toshinori’s voice trails off, and he turns his head to look at Midoriya. His right arm is a mess, limp and slightly misshapen, dark with bruises where bandages don’t cover it. One For All is a miracle of a quirk, but it abuses any wielder who isn’t ready for it. For Toshinori, it puts a strain on his wasted form that leaves him retching blood. For Midoriya, one flick breaks his bones.

And yes, he had an inkling that it would end this way, when he was observing. But after how the match had started, Toshinori hadn’t the heart to force the boy to end it on such a note.

“I was thinking I’d made a bit of an error,” Toshinori says at length.

“Oh, an error,” Recovery Girl says acidly. “And when did that occur to you? Before or after he finished things by shattering every bone in his right arm?”

“Shortly after the match started,” Toshinori replies. Recovery Girl blinks, and for a moment her anger gives way to surprise.

“Oh?”

“It’s possible that the first mistake I made was assigning those particular teams to oppose each other,” he explains. “The selection was random and I didn’t know – I’d assumed they were friends, after…” He shakes his head. “Midoriya certainly never said anything.”

“All-Might,” Recovery Girl says with forced patience. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”

“It’s… difficult to explain.”

The match started not with a punch, but a grab. Bakugou ambushed them with an explosion, and the second Midoriya was within range , reached out and closed his hand around Midoriya’s upper arm.

Toshinori expected to see it come to blows. He expected Midoriya to hit back, or worse, for Bakugou to activate his quirk while still holding him. The boy was a bit of a hothead, after all.

But the moment Bakugou’s hand was on him, Midoriya stopped moving.

That wasn’t right – Bakugou was strong, certainly, but he was only holding one part of him. Midoriya wasn’t trapped, not by a long shot.

Toshinori searched the surveillance cameras, hunting for a better angle than the back of his successor’s head, but there was none. Damn it all, if only he could see the boy’s face!

“Thought so.” Bakugou’s voice was smug when Toshinori heard it over the students’ communicators. “What’s the matter, Deku? I thought you had a quirk now. You still gonna freeze up like a corpse?”

Uraraka’s voice rang out, high and worried. “Deku! Deku, what’s the matter?” Her tone turned accusing. “What did you do to him?”

“Nothing. Don’t need to do anything to him. Too bad you got saddled with him as a partner – what, you didn’t know he folds like a wet fucking towel every time somebody grabs him?”

And that’s not true, Toshinori thought. He’d taken the boy by the shoulder multiple times. He’d seen the other students do it – he even saw Aizawa trap him just the day before. But never before has he seen young Midoriya simply stop moving.

Useless Deku’s a weak nerd,” Bakugou added . “Always has been .”

Uraraka save d the day then, by losing her temper and shouting.

“You leave him alone, you big bully!”

Midoriya jolted as if jerked awake, twisting out of Bakugou’s grip. “Not useless-” He leaped back in a retreat, yelling at Uraraka to run. Bakugou lunged again, poised to throw a punch–

This time, Midoriya was ready. It was all Toshinori could do to keep from cheering when he threw Bakugou over his shoulder – mustn’t play favorites, must remain impartial. And then Uraraka was gone and Izuku was off and running again.

“You’ve been lying your ass off this entire time, haven’t you?” Bakugou shouted after him hoarsely. “All this time you’ve had a quirk, and you’ve been feeding everyone bullshit! Get back here, Deku!”

Over the frequency, Toshinori could have sworn he heard a strangled sob.

“I certainly didn’t intend to, but I shouldn’t have set them against each other so soon,” Toshinori says at length. “I don’t know details, but they seem to have a bit of a history. I think young Midoriya had to, ah, resolve some things.” His brow furrows. “Exorcising old ghosts, I suppose.” On the cot, Midoriya mutters and stirs, but does not awaken.

“Well, that’s all well and good.” Recovery Girl harrumphs a little. “But if he’s to be your successor, All-Might, then you mustn’t indulge him when he puts life and limb on the line so early in his development.”

“…Well he did win,” Toshinori points out.

“Not without destroying half a building and every bone in his arm!” she snaps. “All-Might, you should know better than to let a boy so young into such a dangerous practice fight when he’s emotionally vulnerable!”

“If I’d known-”

“You didn’t. But it’s no excuse not to exercise good judgment.” Her glare softens, but only slightly. “You’re a teacher now, All-Might. And in that respect you’re as much a raw beginner as he is. You have a responsibility to children, not just yourself or some nebulous ideal of peace. You won’t get this done by cracking heads and following your heart – it’s time you learned to use some sense, dear.”

And so, Toshinori gives it a try. His emotions, his impulses, and his gut feelings are pushing him to side with his successor, to eye young Bakugou with distrust and suspicion and get to the bottom of things through Midoriya’s side of the story and his side only. But his sense reminds him of the frozen, helpless look on young Bakugou’s face after the match ended. His common sense, quiet and meek but irritatingly right, tells him that Bakugou’s swollen pride does not call for disdain, but correction. He is a boy like any other; he needs to be helped in his shortcomings, not simply punished for them.

He catches up to the boy as Bakugou trudges down the school’s front steps, accidentally scaring the life out of him if the boy’s yell is any indication. Whoops, better back it up, mustn’t scare him off before he’s had the chance to say anything.

“Bakugou!” he begins. “I’ll tell you this once! Self-confidence is indeed a vital thing, and you’re not mistaken in thinking you have talent befitting a pro! But from here on out-”

Bakugou surprises him by rounding on him and yelling back. “Well FAT LOT OF GOOD THAT DID ME, RIGHT?”

Toshinori wastes a moment tripping over his train of thought. “Er.”

“Oh, wonderful.” Sarcasm drips from Bakugou’s voice. “I have talent. How much talent do I have if Deku read me like a goddamn book and made me look like an idiot in front of the entire class?”

Who on earth is Deku, is the first thought that comes to mind, before he remembers Bakugou shouting it earlier, and the kanji that spell his successor’s given name and… oh… well that’s not very nice. “Come now, does it bother you so much?” he asks. “It shouldn’t, you know. It’s your second day, and you have much to learn-”

“You don’t know him!” Bakugou snaps, teeth bared in a grimace. It looks like anger, but that’s only a mask, and it’s a rapidly fraying one. The boy has tasted defeat, and it frightens him. “I’ve known him my entire fucking life, and he’s a weakling! He’s always been a weakling! He’s never had a quirk, and now suddenly he’s-” His words trail off into noises of incoherent frustration.

Understanding dawns then, and he places his hands on his hips. “And now suddenly,” Toshinori finishes for him. “He’s beaten you at something.”

Bakugou’s eyes flash.

“Like it or not,” Toshinori says. “He’s beaten you. You lost today, and unless I miss my guess, you will lose quite a lot by the time you graduate.”

“He must have cheated,” Bakugou hissed. “He cheated, or he’s been tricking me this whole time-”

“And if he has, what difference would it make?” Toshinori asks. “You saw the rest of the matches, same as I did. What do you think of your new classmates, my boy?”

His student doesn’t answer aloud, but he draws his shoulders up and clenches his fists until his quirk pops like a handful of bang snaps. Toshinori can almost hear his jaw creak. After a moment, Bakugou’s answer comes out, muffled and tight and addressed toward the ground. “Can’t beat them.”

“That’s because, young Bakugou, you are starting from the bottom,” Toshinori informs him. “Same as the rest of them. Your pride will get you nowhere. I don’t know what anyone else has been telling you, but this is Yuuei, the alma mater of half the top heroes in the country. You aren’t special here.”

That gets a rise out of him. “Well so what!” Bakugou bursts out, and his eyes snap up to Toshinori’s face. “You haven’t seen anything yet! He just beat me once! That’s all there is to it! And that ponytail girl and the ice guy – fuck it, it doesn’t matter! I don’t care how strong anyone else is, ‘cause I’m gonna get stronger!” His eyes narrow as they meets Toshinori’s. “I’m gonna surpass them, and then I’m gonna surpass you, too. I’m gonna vault straight over you as the top hero.”

Toshinori blinks. Heavens, he sure told me. For a moment he hunts for a proper reply, for some pearl of educational wisdom to bestow on the boy, but his mind is blank. In the end, all he can say is, “I look forward to it.”

The conversation ends there, leaving Bakugou to return home and Toshinori to wander back to the teacher’s lounge to power down and sift through his thoughts. He’s already pushed himself past his limits in order to appear to Bakugou, and he can’t risk being seen by his other students in his emaciated state, so he probably won’t have time to catch Midoriya for a talk before the boy goes home for the day.

Did he do that right? He didn’t mess that up, did he? It didn’t feel like a screw-up.

Time will tell, he decides eventually. He’s lit a fire under young Bakugou, that’s for sure. He only hopes it was the right thing to do, and that he has the chance to do the same for Midoriya and all the rest of them.

“What’s with you?” Aizawa asks as he passes him on the couch.

“Teaching is hard.”

Ha,” Aizawa laughs, but it doesn’t sound like a laugh. “Ha. Ha. Welcome to hell, Number One. You have no one to blame but yourself.”


Nana is equal parts irritated and impressed.

As it happens, Midoriya doesn’t quite manage to stay out of that nurse’s office. In fact, Nana ends up waiting for him to emerge for the entire day before he finally shows his face in the hallway again.

“Nice take-down back there,” she says, and is a little disappointed when he barely acknowledges her, rather than jumping like she hoped he would. His ever-present ghost girl sidekick must have warned him somehow. “Too bad about what you had to do to grab that win, holy shit, kid, be more careful. You keep throwing One For All around like that and you’re gonna turn your skeleton into oatmeal before the year’s out.” If she speaks to him with a level of gusto, she can hardly be blamed. This is the first time in years that she’s been able to be witty in front of a live audience.
To her immense disappointment, he continues to barely acknowledge that she’s there as he keeps walking. Worried, Nana flits to catch up.

“Hey, come on now,” she says, eyeing the sling that currently graces his arm. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Hey. Kiddo. I didn’t just imagine you seeing me yesterday, did I?”

“Oh, uh. No. Sorry.” He has the grace to look sheepish, and as he heads back toward his classroom she notices that he’s taking the long way back.

“You’re gonna be late,” she points out.

“I’m already late,” he says, sounding too tired to force cheerfulness into his voice.

Ever persistent, Nana ducks around to get a better look at his face. It’s blank as an empty chalkboard, but there’s a tightness to his jaw that warrants investigation. “What’s the matter? It was a tough fight back there, but you still technically won.”

Glassy green eyes turn to her briefly before returning to the floor ahead of him. “I know.”

“You’re dawdling on the way back, too. How come?”

He mumbles something.

“Speak up, kiddo, my ears are way up here.”

“I don’t want to see Bakugou.”

“The firecracker kid? Him?” Nana tries to nudge him playfully. “C’mon, Midoriya, you’ve already proven yourself. I mean sure, it was a rough start. You froze up – it happens. Doesn’t mean you didn’t flip him like an omelet, too.”

“I don’t want to talk to him.”

This is getting her nowhere. Nana sighs heavily. “Suit yourself, I guess. You still up to talk to me, then?”

“Oh, right!” He blinks and perks up again, smiling at her, though she questions how genuine it is. “So... you had questions yesterday?”

“I have every question.” Nana shakes her head. “First off, how is this even happening? How are we having this conversation? You’re alive, I’m dead. But you see me. How?”

“How do you think?”

She gives him a sour look.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t be flippant.” Midoriya gingerly adjusts the sling. “Well, short answer is, it’s my quirk.”

The answer doesn’t exactly surprise Nana, but it still twists at her gut – or whatever it is ghosts have. “…Which you said you didn’t have, six months ago,” Nana points out, her tone biting. Her pity and worry are fading fast.

Midoriya looks away, then at the floor again. “...Yeah.”

Nana tries to keep her voice even, but she can’t quite manage it. She’s a little pissed, and why wouldn’t she be? This kid put on his sad, wobbly eyes and fed Toshi some pile of poor-little-quirkless bullshit while keeping him in the dark about the truth. Who does he think he is? “You lied to him,” she says sharply.

“Don’t take it personally. I lie to everyone.”

For a moment Nana’s distracted from her line of questions. She’s only observed him from afar, but what she’s seen of Midoriya has proven him, at least in her eyes, to be… well… not quite sunshine incarnate, but pretty damn close. But right now, he sounds almost… she doesn’t want to use the word “bitter”. It’s not cynical either. Acerbic, maybe? Dry? Tired?

...Those dark circles under his eyes certainly haven’t budged.

Nana sighs, more irritated than angry. “I don’t like that you lied to him,” she says at length. “But I can sort of understand why, with a power like that.” She looks at him again. “Still, I heard everything you said about how much it sucks being quirkless, and I believe you. So it seems to me like you’re missing out on a lot of attention, not shouting a quirk like that from the rooftops.” She pretends not to see him tense. “At the very least you’d probably get that bomber kid to shut up a little.”

No.” It’s forceful enough that it almost echoes in the hallway, and the poltergeist girl gives a low hiss. “I...” Midoriya shakes his head suddenly, as if clearing it. “It’s not that I don’t want to. I do want to. But I can’t. It’s not like anyone would believe me anyway.”

“You can’t know that-”

“Except I can.” Midoriya’s uninjured hand curls into a fist. “There’re these shows, these stupid TV shows. With psychics, you know?”

“Oh,” Nana says acidly. “Those.”

“Right? I mean, some of it’s real. The minor psychic stuff like mind-reading is real. Most of it’s just people with weaker quirks and a lot of showmanship, and that stuff’s fine, it’s harmless. But then – then you have people who say they have a quirk like mine, and… well, they have audiences, but it’s mostly just people laughing at them, or at the people who believe them.” Midoriya stops and turns to her. “And I’ve watched them. All of them. Every episode, even the ones in other countries. My mom thinks I’m crazy for liking that junk, but I don’t like it, I just… I keep thinking maybe…” A flicker of desperate sadness crosses his face and vanishes in the next instant. “But it’s never for real. They use Ouija boards and seances and stuff like that, and they’re either talking to thin air or the ghosts are laughing at them.” He pauses, puddling up, and wipes at his eyes with his good hand. “A-and I know that if I try to tell anyone, that’s what they’ll remember. Just – liars on TV. So I can’t tell anyone. Not even All-Might.” He meets her eyes, and whatever disapproval still lingering in her vanishes in the face of how much he’s absolutely breaking her heart. He looks impossibly young and small and alone. “I’m sorry I lied to him. It – it feels like cheating, having two quirks.”

Nana tries to hold her stern look for a few more seconds, and finally sighs with a shake of her head. “Well… don’t worry about having two,” she says. “God knows you have a lot to worry about, but that’s not worth losing sleep over. It’s not cheating, and you’re not the first.”

She knows she’s not imagining the note of relief in the way his shoulders slump. “It’s pretty useless anyway,” he says. “I mean, for a licensed hero. All I can do is just… see and feel things that can’t affect anyone else. It’s not like I can fight with it, or heal with it. So it’s not too much of an advantage. I’m still doing this under my own power.”

Nana smiles at him with a good old trademark superhero grin, and together they start walking again. “That’s the spirit. Next question, who’s your friend?”

Midoriya glances at the ghost girl. “Oh, her? This is Rei. I mean, I don’t know what her real name is, she’s never told me, so I just call her Rei and she seems fine with it.” The girl beams, as if the nickname is a well-beloved present that she likes to show off. “I met her when I was seven. She hid in my closet and tried to scare me, so I shared my toys with her, and we’ve been friends ever since. I don’t know if she has any unfinished business, but she seems like she’s fine with just following me around for now.” Rei nods vigorously, dark hair spilling over her face. “She can come out of TVs like Sadako.”

“I… see.”

“One time I was ignoring her so she came out of my 3DS.”

“...Neat.” Nana clears her throat awkwardly. “And, last question for now, but you asked me yesterday if I needed help with anything?”

Midoriya perks up again at that. “Yeah! Do you?”

“Nnnnot that I can think of, I was just wondering what you meant by that.”

“It’s that way for a lot of ghosts,” Midoriya explains. “Sometimes the only reason why they stay is because they really, really need to do something that they didn’t get to do before they died. Like, one last thing they need to tell someone, or they lost something, or there’s a problem they know how to fix and they just need an extra set of hands. That’s why I always ask whenever I meet a new ghost. Sometimes I can help. Or sometimes they just need someone to talk to who isn’t another ghost.”

Nana stares at him, momentarily speechless. “That’s… an awful lot for such a young kid to be taking on.”

“Yeah but I can do it.” Midoriya shrugs. “Maybe I’m the only one who can do it. So I’m going to. And I meet a lot of interesting people, which is nice because I never really had any friends before I came to Yuuei. I mean, none that were alive, at least.” He hesitates, frowning a little. “That’s one of the reasons I want to be a hero. I help people who’re already dead all the time. I’d like to stop someone from dying for a change.”

Nana watches his face, and can’t help but shake her head wonderingly. She laughs a little.

“What’s so funny?”

“I was just thinking.” Nana grins. “You’re one weird-ass kid, but I think Toshi made a good choice with you.” Realizing her slip, she looks away and mentally kicks herself. “Uh. I mean All-Might.”

Nana keeps looking forward, but she feels the kid’s eyes on her. He’s a curious one, she realizes with a jolt. A curious kid and an All-Might fan, which is not a good combination for a kid who can see and hear her.

“Soooo, you know All-Might?” Midoriya asks.

Nana heaves a sigh. “Yes I do, but I think you already knew that, which makes that question a little redundant, don’t you think?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“I’m gonna do something unfair,” Nana continues, halting in the hallway to turn and face him. “But I need to ask you not to lob questions at me about this. There are – there are things that I don’t think he’s ready to talk about yet, and I’m a ghost, kid. I’m dead as a doornail and that means–” She has to pause a moment when the words stop coming. “That means I’m not in his story anymore. I’ve kept his secrets because it’s been impossible for me to do otherwise, but now that it is possible, I’d still like to keep them. He’ll tell you these things when he’s ready, I hope, so don’t squeeze me for information before then.”

“That’s… not unfair,” Midoriya says. “And I won’t. I promise. Um. But I will say, um, I know it must be kind of lonely, following him when he can’t see you or hear you, so. If you ever, I don’t know. Need someone to talk to? Even if it’s just… the weather, or a joke you heard. I’ll totally – it’s just an offer. You don’t have to. I just thought I’d say...” His voice trails off awkwardly.

Nana chuckles again, shaking her head. “Hell. That’s one kind heart you’ve got, Midoriya. Don’t you let anyone beat that out of you, got it?”

“Oh, uh, of course.”

“Well, good talk. I’d better go. See you ‘round, kid.” Nana turns to leave.

“Wait, um, Ms. Shimura?”

She pauses. “Yes?”

“I did have one question, and um, you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to.” Midoriya shifts from foot to foot awkwardly. “But… you mentioned One For All, so you must at least know something about it. And I was just wondering if you knew about it before you died? And how much you know about it? Because if the answer’s yes, and a lot, then maybe you could, I dunno, give me some tips?” He cradles his mangled arm. “So this doesn’t keep happening.”

She considers this for a moment. The teacher in her didn’t always exist; Toshi put it there, and now Nana can feel it clamoring to get out. The urge to sweep this little guy under her wing and tell him absolutely everything she knows about One For All is strong. But…

“I really can’t,” she says reluctantly.

He gives her an utterly crestfallen look. “Can’t or won't?”

“Shouldn’t,” she replies. “Like I said, there are… things I can’t talk about, without mentioning things that I know Tosh – All-Might will tell you when he’s ready. Or when you’re ready.” She gives him a rueful look. “I’m dead, kiddo. He’s your teacher, not me.”

“Well… if you’re sure…” Midoriya’s looking at her like he’s a puppy that Nana’s leaving in a soggy cardboard box on the side of the road. “Are you sure you couldn’t just, I don’t know, give me a hint?”

Nana closes her eyes and asks someone for patience. She shouldn’t do this. She shouldn’t usurp a position that isn’t hers anymore – a position that she threw away like an idiot.

Still, though… puppy eyes were always a weakness of hers, and Midoriya’s wielding them with lethal precision.. Maybe just a hint? A little nudge?

“Well…” she says at length. “I’m not sure if I can tell you about One For All, but I guess I could give you a nudge in the right direction. Hmm… Gran could help you.” She smiles, inwardly congratulating herself. Gran could certainly help him. Midoriya might not enjoy how, but he didn’t specify an easy way.

Best let the living handle this one.

“Gran?” Midoriya echoes.

“As in Torino. Old friend of All-Might’s.” Nana winks broadly at him. “He’s as strong a pro as you could ever ask for, but he’s a cagey old dog and hard to find, and he won’t lift a finger unless he thinks it’s worth it.”

“Then how do I get him to help me?” Midoriya presses. “I’ve never even heard of anyone by that name.”

“That’s just how he operates. All you need to do is find a way to get his attention – I have a feeling he’ll know what’s up when he sees it.” She taps her chin thoughtfully. “Sports Festival should do it, so you have some time to find your rhythm.”

“I’m not sure...” Midoriya glances down at his mangled arm again. “It took me six months just to get strong enough to take One For All in the first place. The Sports Festival-”

“-isn’t just about who packs the biggest punch,” Nana interrupts, before she can stop herself. “Thank your lucky stars it isn’t, kid, or else you’d have to sledgehammer yourself all over again just to stand a chance.” He winces. “Hey. An idiot can fling punches around. And you, little Midoriya, are no idiot.”

“That’s debatable,” Midoriya says dryly.

“Is it? I saw the slime monster. That was no lucky shot – you aimed for the eyes, didn’t you. You knew exactly what you were doing.”

“Yeah and a lot of good that did-”

“It did exactly what was needed, and exactly what you need now – it grabbed the right person’s attention.” On an impulse Nana reaches out to ruffle his hair, and is pleasantly surprised when she’s able to do so. Her hand musses up his wild curls instead of passing through it like a mirage, and Nana can feel it. “And it kept you and your little friend alive long enough for help to come, so that’s a plus.”

“Mm.” Midoriya frowns, looking thoughtful and not necessarily in the good way.

“Hey. Kiddo. Any of this getting through? You did ask.” Nana tilts her head, regarding the latest vessel for the power that was once her own. He’s little – even littler than Toshi was back then. He’s shrimpy and weedy and looks like he hasn’t had a proper sleep in a week. And yet, there’s a spark to him that she can’t deny. “You’re new at this, I know. You’re new at being this type of strong. Work on getting used to that, work on getting stronger, but don’t forget about what you already had going for you.” When he blinks up at her, Nana gives him a meaningful poke to the forehead. “Keep exercising that muscle, too. Got it?”

“I… think so,” Midoriya says. “I guess I can figure it out.”

“Good.” Nana places her hands on her hips. “You’re still a raw beginner, kiddo. Sometimes ‘figure it out’ is the best advice you’re gonna get.” She winks. “See you around.”

She vanishes then, flitting off to find Toshi. Guilt nudges at the back of her mind; she’d only wanted to give him a hint, and she’d ended up spilling an entire pep talk on him instead.

Nana tells herself, firmly, that she can’t do that anymore. She has to let Toshi be the teacher, especially since he has no way of knowing she’s still around to help. But the kid asked her to her face, and she couldn’t say no to that face.

But she has to say no. It wouldn’t be fair, otherwise.

Chapter Text

There are few things in this world more awkward than running into your teacher while out doing errands.

Toshinori knows this, because he was a teenager once and he knows full well that at that age he would have wished for an invisibility quirk had he ever crossed paths with, say, Gran Torino at the corner store.

So he certainly doesn’t mean to put young Midoriya on the spot. How was he supposed to know that his student and chosen successor would be spending his first weekend of the school year visiting the same department store Toshinori was?

He’d only meant to pick up a few groceries on the basement floor. The prices are good, and the selection is better than what the corner store offers. It’s a quick, easy trip; it has to be, for him to pull it off in his true form.

People give him a wide berth when they can manage it. Not that it surprises him; even without the bloody vomit, people tend to be put off by his emaciated appearance. He has the kind of look about him that makes mothers point and whisper to their children about the consequences of not eating your vegetables.

The past six years have taught him a lot about tuning people out.

Still, as he gets in the back of the shortest checkout line, he’s not tuning them out enough to miss the familiar mess of green-tinged hair that flashes in the corner of his eye. A few aisles down, young Midoriya is facing forward in his own line and hasn’t seen him. Toshinori doesn’t have a good view of his face, but he seems to be staring off into space. The boy certainly does that a lot.

Should he go up and say hello anyway? Toshinori has been wanting to speak with Midoriya privately ever since the Heroes Vs. Villains exercise, but he just hasn’t had the chance. Even after six months of overseeing his strength training, Toshinori never realized just how slippery the boy is. It just goes to show; the boy never managed to duck out of training simply because he never tried. He was already right where he wanted to be.

Would it be strange to approach him now? Toshinori hesitates; the boy has an unfortunate habit of yelling his name on instinct without any regard for witnesses.

I’ll catch him on the way out, he decides, and the moment the thought has completed in his head, he reaches the front of the line.

He’s just paid for his things when there’s a bit of a commotion at the other line. There’s a man trying to pay for groceries, but it looks as if he’s having problems communicating with the cashier. The customer gesticulates, seemingly ignoring what the cashier is trying to say, or misunderstanding him or… Toshinori can’t tell from the distance. As he steps out of the way of the next customer, he watches and wonders what the matter is.

And then Midoriya is there, pushing his way to the front of the line. He approaches cautiously, waving for the troubled customer’s attention. As Toshinori watches, Midoriya waits until the man is looking at him, and makes a series of gestures with his hands.

The relief on the customer’s face is palpable. He gestures back, and it becomes a silent conversation between the two of them. Midoriya turns, says something to the cashier, signs something to the man, and it goes back and forth between the three of them, with Midoriya mediating the whole conversation.

Well. Toshinori thought the boy was done with surprising him, but it seems that Midoriya has a few left in him.

The customer finishes his transaction and makes another series of emphatic hand signs that Toshinori can only assume are profuse thanks. Midoriya makes his replies and turns to get back in line, but the next customer grins and motions at him to go first. Toshinori sees his student flush with pleasure as he complies. He doesn’t have much to buy, and seems eager to duck bashfully away from the cashier’s gratitude. He makes his way through, and when he looks up, he meets Toshinori’s eyes.

Toshinori braces himself for the possibility of a shouted greeting, but to his relief Midoriya seems to gag himself at the last minute. Rather than calling to him, the boy presses his mouth closed and approaches him with a shy wave.

“Was that sign language?” Toshinori asks once he’s within earshot.

“Oh! You, um, saw that?”
“I did.”

“Yeah, it was, um…” Midoriya shrugs. “He was deaf, and he was having trouble talking to the cashier, so… yeah. What are you doing here?” He blinks, then splutters and backtracks a bit. “I-I mean, not that you don’t have as much of a right to be here as anybody else, I mean it’s a public place and a nice store and I didn’t mean—I’m just surprised to see you, and-”

“Calm down, my boy.” Toshinori claps him lightly on the shoulder. “A happy accident, that’s all. I’m just here for grocery shopping. And you?”

“Oh, uh, my mom sent me.” Midoriya holds up his bag. “We needed a new set of dish towels. I, um, also have to go up to the roof, too.”

Toshinori tilts his head. “To the restaurants?”

“Pet supply store,” Midoriya says. “I, uh, need cat food.”

“Ah. In that case, would you mind terribly, my boy, if I accompanied you?”

“What? I mean, n-not at all. Sure.” Midoriya turns and waits for Toshinori to fall in step with him, and the two of them head toward the elevators.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Toshinori says. “Where did you learn sign language?”

“Oh, it’s just something… I picked it up as a kid.” Midoriya’s voice trails off uneasily, and he doesn’t offer anything more.

“Ah.” It sounds like half an answer, if that. Perhaps it will take a bit of coaxing to get the rest of it out of him. “Well, I suppose we all have to have our hobbies. I do a little gardening from time to time.”

Midoriya looks up at him, shock stamped across his face. “Really? You?”

“Don’t look so surprised, my boy,” Toshinori chuckles. He pauses, tilting his head thoughtfully. “For heroes, it’s good to have things like that. Parts of our lives that have nothing to do with the work. We’d burn out, otherwise. Some take up handicrafts, or learn languages for the fun of it. For me, it’s flowers in window boxes, fresh basil in a pot, that sort of thing. Takes my mind off things. Smiling can’t solve everything, after all.”

Midoriya makes a noise to indicate that he’s listening, but beyond that he’s quiet. He twists the handles of his plastic bag, and finally speaks up again. “Is that really something all heroes do?”

“Of course. Present Mic has his radio show. Aizawa fosters shelter cats—though, you didn’t hear that from me.”

That gets a laugh out of Midoriya, and some of the nervous tension in his shoulders seems to loosen. “Well, there was–” He chews his lip, hunting for the right words. “I went through this weird phase when I was seven where I didn’t want to talk. I was really shy and stuff, so—anyway, my mom didn’t want to push me to talk if I didn’t want to, so she got some books on sign language, and we learned together.” He perks up a little. “It’s still really useful, like if we’re somewhere loud, or if we split up at the supermarket. It beats yelling at each other from across the distance.”

They reach the elevators, and Toshinori presses the button pointing up. Midoriya almost trips as he stops. He bounces a little on the balls of his feet and twists the bag handles again.

“Um,” he begins. “I can meet you up there? I’m gonna take the stairs.”

“To the roof?”

“Well, yeah.” Midoriya grins. “Can’t skip leg day, right?”

Toshinori blinks, then has another chuckle. “You really are obsessive.” The elevator door opens, but Toshinori ignores it and turns toward the door to the stairwell instead. “Let’s get a move on, then.”

“Oh! Um, are you sure you…?” Midoriya trots to catch up to him.

“Don’t you worry about me.” Once the door is closed behind them, Toshinori activates his quirk. “I haven’t engaged in any heroics today. Plenty of time on the clock.”

“Oh, good.” Midoriya sounds relieved.

“Actually, it’s fortunate that I’ve run into you,” Toshinori says. One For All makes nine flights of stairs a cinch. “I was hoping to have a word with you.”

“Okay,” Midoriya says, a little cautiously. “What about?”

“The exercise on the second day of school,” Toshinori answers. “I was a little concerned, to be honest.”

“R-really?” Caution has turned to outright nervousness. “How come?”

Toshinori considers beating around the bush a bit more and coaxing it out of him, but they only have so much empty stairwell. “I noticed you froze up at the beginning,” he says. He hopes he doesn’t sound too critical—wouldn’t want to shame the boy into silence.

“Oh.” Midoriya looks at the wall as they climb the steps. “That.”

“Also, in case you weren’t aware, I could hear what you all were saying,” Toshinori adds. “While I knew that you and young Bakugou were acquainted, I didn’t know that you had that sort of history.”

“Yeah, w-well, that’s all it is,” Midoriya stammers. “It’s history. New school, new beginning, new people. It’s fine, it’s just…”

“I got an earful from Recovery Girl while you were asleep,” Toshinori admits.

This time Midoriya turns to him, eyes wide. “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“Not your fault, my boy,” Toshinori assures him. “It really is mine, and she was right. I should have ended that match before you had the chance to injure yourself like that.”

Midoriya makes a noncommittal noise and turns his attention to the floor again.

“The reason why I didn’t was that… well, you seemed like you had something to prove,” Toshinori goes on.

“Oh,” Midoriya says. He’s been saying that a lot.

“Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Did you prove it?” Toshinori asks. “Did you manage to get your point across?”

“Um, maybe?” Midoriya shrugs. “I don’t know. I think I did. Or I just made him even madder. I don’t think—I mean, I can’t–” He sighs, looking frustrated. “It’s not something I can fix. And if I can, I can’t do it in one day. There’s just too much that went wrong.”

“Would you, er, that is.” Toshinori mentally kicks himself for stumbling over his words. “Would you like to talk about it, or…?”

“Not really.”

“Fair enough.” He’s not sure whether to be disappointed to be brushed off, or worried by how uncomfortable young Midoriya seems. “Just know that if you do, I’m willing to listen.”


“So, sign language, huh?”

Izuku doesn’t reply out loud, but he nods, and Ms. Shimura lets out a thoughtful “huh.”

“Might try to learn myself, then,” she says. “It’d make it easier for you to talk to me without giving yourself away.”

“I can be quiet,” he murmurs, moving his mouth as little as possible. He traces his finger over the stacked cans of cat food until he finds the right brand. All-Might, once more in his true form, is currently distracted by the rabbits. Rei’s sticking close to Izuku’s side, still eyeing Ms. Shimura with wary tolerance.

“Good for you. So, how’re things?”

“Well…” Izuku puts a package of cans into his basket. “I’ve been trying to figure out One For All, like you said. I’ve been practicing calling it up, and I can do it without any trouble. But I can’t use it for anything. Haven’t tried.” He shoots her a quick glance. “You’re sure there’s nothing you can tell me that might help?”

“It’s not my place, kid,” Ms. Shimura tells him softly.

“I’m asking you, though. I’m making it your place.”

A sigh. “Look, kiddo I just… I just can’t. It wouldn’t be fair.” Before Izuku can ask her what she means by that, she adds, “I mean, your actual teacher’s standing right there, you know.”

“I can’t get it when I ask him,” Izuku murmurs. “He’s so good at it that he doesn’t even have to try. It just… doesn’t come to me like it does for him.” A colorful feathered cat toy catches his eye, and Izuku takes it off the rack and makes his way to the cash register.

“Not your fault, kiddo,” Ms. Shimura assures him. “You’re learning. So’s he.”

Izuku glances at All-Might, frowning. All-Might, learning? He knows, logically, that All-Might must have been a student at some point. But that was long past, and injured or not, he’s the top hero and far and away more powerful than all the others. The thought of him needing to learn anything seems almost absurd.

“Even old dogs can learn new tricks,” Ms. Shimura says, as if reading his mind. “I think you two have a lot to teach other.”

“I thought you said he wasn’t old,” Izuku whispers, and smiles when it brings a chuckle out of her.


The second week of school rolls around. Iida and Yaoyorozu, newly instated as class representatives, waver from time to time in their duties, but Iida especially is taking to it like a duck to water. Privately, Izuku is pleased; as much as he would have liked the position himself, he’s sure Iida will do a better job than he could have.

For one thing, Iida isn’t nearly as easily distracted as he is. Iida doesn’t idly watch the walls when he ought to be paying attention in class. Iida doesn’t mutter things to himself that have nothing to do with the math problems on the board. Iida doesn’t stare off into space and grin and laugh under his breath about jokes he remembers.

Of course, Izuku doesn’t do these things either. And it’s not totally his fault that everyone else thinks he does.

“Midoriya. Hey, Midoriya!” It’s not that Izuku doesn’t like Kirishima; Kirishima’s one of the nicest people he knows, probably. (He’s either secretly mean or a saint, seeing as he actually seems to want to be around Bakugou, for no other reason than just because.) But Rei is neck and neck with another ghost that hangs around the classroom, in a contest to see who can make the most grotesque face, and Izuku can’t tear his eyes away from the spectacle. It’s only when Kirishima playfully swats the back of his head with a workbook from Cementoss’s Modern Literature class that he remembers where he is.

Jarred out of his reverie, Izuku finally manages to look away with a vague blink. “Huh?”

“Oh thank God, I thought we lost you there.” Kirishima grins. “Did you fall asleep with your eyes open or something?”

“No. Just people-watching.” Izuku sneaks another look at the ghosts. Narita, the ghost that’s challenging Rei, takes a turn and manages to make his facial features drip and melt like candle wax. Rei cackles and copies him. A few other ghosts are gathered around spectating, and laugh when Narita follows it up by twisting his head to a grotesque angle and gurgling a scream.

“Seriously?” Kirishima asks.

“It’s a legitimate pastime.” He’s done with most of his school work. Aizawa has given them an hour of study hall while he discusses things with some of the other faculty, and he’s been cagey about what’s scheduled for the week. Izuku’s willing to bet it’s something big.

Kirishima scratches the side of his head. “Well yeah but, don’t you usually do that in public, with strangers?”

One of the ghosts watching Narita and Rei’s antics leaves off chuckling to vomit at least a lungful of water on the floor. Rei’s shriek of discordant laughter makes one of the fluorescent lights flicker. “...I can make do,” Izuku says.

“You must be so bored, dude.”

“It’s not so bad.” The contest seems to have reached a draw; Rei would probably win with some of the faces she makes when Bakugou wanders too close, but Izuku guesses that she’s having too much fun right now to get that serious.

Narita catches him looking and gives him a little wave; Izuku doesn’t wave back, but quirks a small smile at him. To tell the truth, Izuku’s a little curious about Narita; most ghosts at Yuuei just pass through, glance in to ease the humdrum of everyday afterlife, and move out again, but Narita has been here since the first day of school. Izuku remembers seeing him spectating at the Quirk Apprehension test, and he’s seen him almost every day since. He’s not the only ghost that Izuku has seen hanging around the classroom—Mrs. Kitayama pops in from time to time, dripping water on the floor that no one else sees—but he is the one Izuku has seen most often.

It’s hard to miss him. Narita’s younger than most ghosts that Izuku sees; he looks like a third-year in high school, at the very oldest. And besides that, he’s one of those ghosts that don’t feel the need to change their appearance. The bullet-sized hole in the side of his head is just as visible now as it probably was the day it killed him.

Lunch rolls around eventually, and Izuku’s still watching Narita horse around in the classroom. He isn’t worried about Narita’s presence at all; Narita’s one of the most harmless, good-natured ghosts he’s ever seen. He’s just curious about what his story is. But there’s never a good time for a conversation, and Narita doesn’t know sign language like Rei does.

He’s a quick study, though. Out in the hallway, Narita’s the one who who approaches Izuku. “Hey, come this way,” he says, drifting ahead. “You want to talk, right? I can see it in your eyes.” Izuku nods. “ C’mon, then. This place has a bunch of spots people don’t pass by too often. I figure you’d want that.”

Izuku smiles gratefully and follows the ghost, with the ever-present Rei tagging along close behind. Narita takes them on a winding path through the hallways, until they come to a halt at a quiet, out-of-the-way nook. Rei breaks away from his side to wander off and have a look at the colorful posters and notices on the bulletin boards.

“I don’t need anything, if that’s what you’re about to ask,” Narita says. Izuku blinks in surprise, and Narita shrugs and grins. “Some of the other ghosts were saying you asked that. I’m good, though. I don’t need your help.”

“I’m glad,” Izuku says. “I guess… I’m just curious. Were you a Yuuei student?”

Narita snorts. “Me? Nah. My quirk let me un-spoil food. Which was great for, y’know, keeping the fridge fresh. Not so great for hero work.”

“Oh.” Izuku tilts his head, regarding Narita curiously. “What’s so special about this school that makes you stay, then?”

“It’s not the school.” Narita shakes his head. “I’m not even here all the time. Just when Eraserhead is.”

“Aizawa?” Izuku blinks. Of all the answers he could have expected, this wasn’t one of them. “Did you know him, when you were alive?”

“Nope. Never even met him. Hell, he’s super underground and he hates getting hounded by the media; I’d never even heard of him.” Narita taps his temple, where the small round hole still oozes blood. “See this? Not a bullet hole. Got dragged into an alley when I was walking home from school. Nasty bastard had these long claw things, could drill right through your skull with ‘em.” Narita shudders, and for the first time since Izuku has met him, his easy-going demeanor falters. “Dude had serious problems. That was how he got his kicks.”

“That must have been awful,” Izuku says, because there’s really nothing you can say to that that isn’t either insulting or a pointless platitude, and the latter is usually preferable.

“Wasn’t my best Wednesday night, I’ll tell you that much.” Narita shrugs. “So I was following this guy around for a while after that, trying to haunt the shit out of him. Wasn’t working, but it meant I was there when Eraserhead took him down. Easily the most badass thing I’d ever seen. I wish I’d still had my phone.”

“So… you follow Aizawa-sensei because he took down the man who killed you?”

“That’s part of it.” Narita’s smile goes soft. “See, that night? The guy was going after my sister.” Izuku can’t stop the little intake of breath. “Yeah. I was…” Narita bites his lip. “I was pretty sure for a while that she was gonna join me, you know? But then Eraserhead came out of nowhere and kicked the shit out of him. And I mean—he curb-stomped that bastard.” His shoulders roll in a shrug. “And then he hung him from a fire escape by his unmentionables, and talked Kanon through a panic attack til the police got there. He was out the second she’d calmed down and the paramedics had her. She was too out of it to thank him. She still regrets that, I think.” Another shrug. “So, I figure, I’ve got nothing better to do, right? If I stick around, I’ll have a better chance to do it for her. I mean, he saves so many people and takes down so many villains he probably doesn’t even remember it, but still. It’d make me feel better.”

“Sure you don’t want me to pass it on for you?” Izuku offers.

“Nah. Thanks, though. Me and Mrs. Kitayama wanna do it ourselves, right Mrs. Kitayama?” Narita’s blank white eyes look past Izuku suddenly, and he turns his head to find the ever-saturated Mrs. Kitayama drifting in behind him.

“Oh, goodness, are we talking about Mr. Eraserhead?”

“You want to thank him too?” Izuku says.

“Well, yes. Sort of. It’s a little different from Narita. I actually did meet him… somewhat.” She frowns, and twiddles her fingers, looking faintly uncomfortable. “Well. I think he saw me die.”

Izuku’s heart sinks.

“My car was in the water. Some villain was attacking, and destroyed a bridge that I was driving across. He dove after us just as the car filled with water, but my seatbelt jammed, and—well. He tried his best. I know he did.” Mrs. Kitayama’s shoulders slump, but then she squares them again. “But! My son was in the backseat. He was just about to turn five the day the car went under. This year he started middle school, and it’s thanks to Mr. Eraserhead that he gets to do that. But he couldn’t save both of us, poor man, and I think it affected him at the time.”

“...Wow.” Izuku’s chest feels full of… something. It’s a feeling that he can’t quite put a name to. Admiration? Sympathy? Awe? Maybe some combination of the three?

“Plus he’s super underground, right?” Narita says. “So he always takes off before anyone can get in a thank-you. So people like us—we might as well wait for our chance, you know?

“I don’t know for sure if it’s something he needs, or even something he wants,” Mrs. Kitayama says. “But before I go, I’d like to let him know that… that it’s all right with me, what happened. So even if he isn’t well known, he’ll at least know he was appreciated.”

“When his time comes,” Narita adds.

For a moment an image flashes across Izuku’s mind – of Aizawa-sensei, his teacher who very nearly expelled him on the first day, standing before him pale and washed out, his eyes blank and white instead of bloodshot red. Izuku shuts his eyes and shakes his head to clear away the picture.

“It’s gonna happen sometime,” Narita reminds him. “Hopefully not for a long-ass time, but it’s gonna happen. Everybody dies, kid.”

“Yeah.” Izuku takes a deep breath, hoping to quell the churning in his stomach. “I know. It was nice talking to you two. Thanks.”

“Whatever for?” Mrs. Kitayama asks.

“I’m just… glad to know my teacher is that kind of person.” Izuku smiles past the knot of hurt that often forms in his chest when ghosts tell him stories. “I’m glad he’s the kind of person that makes ghosts want to wait for him just to say thank you.”

“Ahhh, get outta here.” Narita brushes him off cheerfully. “Before you rot my nonexistent ghost teeth with that sap.”

Grinning, Izuku complies. Rei trails in his wake, leaving him to wrestle with the sudden unwanted image of Aizawa as one of his ghosts. It’s not a pleasant thought. On the walk to the cafeteria, Izuku thinks of the image, forcing it in front of his mind’s eye until it dulls the sting and he can finally brush it aside.

Aizawa’s a pro, anyway. If he’s been underground and successful for his whole career, then obviously he’s strong and he’s clever and Izuku’s just as lucky to be learning from him as he is to be learning from All-Might. Aizawa doesn’t need Izuku worrying about him.

Besides, tomorrow is Wednesday and there’s something big and exciting planned.

If rumors are true, it might even be a field trip.

Chapter Text

If Izuku had thought he could get away with it, he would have done a little dance of excitement. Only the second week of school, and already they’re going on a field trip. His first field trip at Yuuei – and something tells him it will be different from the field trips he took throughout elementary and middle school. For one thing, they’re only going as far as an off-campus school facility. For another, he’s here to learn more hero skills instead of take a tour of the city or learn about history.

(And for a third, he has actual friends now, so his chances of getting ditched in a bathroom while his group sneaks off to laugh about it with the rest of the class are considerably smaller.)

His costume is still in tatters after the battle exercise, so Izuku gets into his gym uniform and dons his gloves, belt, and the new mouth guard he bought to replace the previous one. Rei whisks around him, admiring the odds and ends, and he holds out his hand and lets her inspect one of the gloves. Inwardly he’s nearly vibrating with excitement. For the first time, they’ll be taught jointly today by All-Might and Aizawa. It’s always a joy learning from All-Might, and even Aizawa seems pretty okay with him ever since he narrowly avoided disaster on the first day of school. The thought is encouraging; after talking to Narita and Mrs. Kitayama yesterday, Izuku knows with little doubt that Aizawa’s approval is something to strive for.

He makes his way outside, chatting with Uraraka. A chilly breath of air passes him by, and a familiar figure falls in step with him.

“Morning, half-pint.”

Izuku blinks up at Ms. Shimura briefly. She’s here, but All-Might isn’t. It’s not as rare to see that when they’re at Yuuei, but it’s still odd.

She must recognize the confusion on his face, because she shrugs and gives him a rueful look. “All-Might’s gonna have to sit this one out. He ended up, uh, running a few too many errands this morning. His three hours are pretty much up, and it looks like Nedzu’s gonna make sure he stays in the teacher’s lounge instead of running off into more trouble. And I swear, that guy could talk villains to an early grave if he put his mind to it, so.” She quirks a half-smile at him. “I think he’s got his babysitter for the day, so I might as well tag along. I’m curious, you know?”

Izuku gives an almost imperceptible nod, but he can’t help pulling a long face at the news. He’d really been looking forward to this joint class, too…

“Deku?” Uraraka’s voice pulls his attention back to his living friend. “Something wrong? You kind of spaced out there.” She follows the direction of his previous gaze, and stares straight at Ms. Shimura without seeing her.

“I’m fine. I, uh, thought I saw a bird or something.”

She takes him at his word. Of course she does; she has no reason to believe that he would lie to her over something so small.

Less than a year ago, Izuku would have been overjoyed to be so easily believed, but now all he can feel is a sharp pang of guilt. For whatever reason, Uraraka trusts him unconditionally. She takes for granted that Izuku is worth trusting, that everything he says to her is true. It makes her so much easier to lie to than his bullying classmates throughout junior high.

Izuku has never felt so desperately uncomfortable with deceiving someone before. Maybe it’s just because no one ever made it so easy by being his friend.

Under Iida’s maximum-efficiency guidance, the class files onto the bus. Izuku passes close to Aizawa on his way in, and tries not to wince when Rei growls and tries to bite him when they get too close. Narita glares at her from where he stands at Aizawa’s flank, but she ignores him.

“Wow,” Ms. Shimura says dryly. “Your little friend there really knows how to hold a grudge.”

Izuku dawdles while stepping onto the bus, mouth barely moving as he murmurs back. “Still hasn’t forgiven him for the first day.”

“Did you say something, Deku?” Uraraka looks over her shoulder.

“Just talking to myself,” he lies again.

Before he has the chance to feel bad about it again, Kirishima gives his shoulder a friendly thump, and they get settled in their seats. “That’s our Midoriya,” Kirishima laughs. “I bet your hero name’ll be the Mumbler.”

Izuku flushes red when the others laugh, but it’s not shame or hurt this time. They aren’t laughing at his expense, or to look down on him, and Kirishima’s teasing comment wasn’t an insult; it was an honest-to-goodness joke. They’re laughing with him, and Kirishima just called him “our” Midoriya. Like he’s honestly one of them.

It’s a lot to take in.

Everything here is backwards, he thinks. His classmates laugh with him, include him, talk to him, and treat him like someone worth befriending. Less than a week ago, when he ended up with three votes in the class rep election, they even seemed… genuinely happy for him? And now Kirishima’s pulling him into a conversation, complimenting his quirk, and beaming when Izuku returns the favor, like Izuku’s opinion is something that matters to him.

They like him. It’s like they’ve mistaken him for someone cool.

“Bakugou’s personality is pretty terrible,” Tsuyu pipes up in the middle of a conversation. “I can’t see him getting popular.” Bakugou explodes, literally, while the others have a chuckle at his expense.

And now, the one getting teased and mocked is Bakugou.

“This is so weird,” he mutters to Rei, who looks like she’s having way too much fun watching.

“What’s weird?” Tsuyu asks. Luckily, she keeps her voice down, and Bakugou’s ranting is loud enough to keep anyone else from hearing their conversation.

“Uh, Bakugou,” Izuku murmurs back. “Bakugou’s getting bullied, and it’s weird.”

“It’s all in fun,” she says.

It’s Bakugou, and that means Izuku has a few mental blocks about feeling sorry for him, but Tsuyu’s specific words still turn his stomach, if only because he’s heard them before, back when he was the one getting bullied. “Is it?”

“Sure.” Tsuyu tilts her head. “We’re not trying to put him down. He just makes it easy to rile him up. See? He’s not hurt or anything.”

And it’s true; he’s not. It’s hard to imagine Bakugou with hurt feelings. And… everyone else seems to think so, too.

What they’re doing isn’t mean-spirited or cruel, the way it was for Izuku. Even when an eloquent, verbose comparison between Bakugou and “crap steeped in sewage” rolls effortlessly off of Kaminari’s tongue, Izuku understands with a jolt that they aren’t doing it to be mean.

“It’s friendly teasing,” Tsuyu says.

“Oh.” Izuku watches as Bakugou pouts, and glares daggers at Kirishima when he tries to reach over and pat him on the shoulder. “I… didn’t know you could do that.”

He’s not sure if Tsuyu hears him. Ms. Shimura does, if the odd look she sends his way is any indication. She doesn’t question him, and neither does Tsuyu.

No, Izuku thinks as he sits on a bus, surrounded by living, breathing friends. This field trip is nothing like the ones he took in middle school.

Definitely nothing like them, he thinks as he tries not to work himself into an excited panic over meeting the Space Hero Thirteen.

Nothing like them, he thinks as he and his classmates gasp in awe and excitement over the Unforeseen Simulation Joint facility.

Nothing like them, he thinks as a black hole opens in the middle of the air, and spirits howl and scream as they pour through.

Izuku takes a step back, and Rei presses close and opens her jaws wide. Beside them, Ms. Shimura steps in front of Izuku, placing herself between him and the oncoming wave of ghosts. “What the hell—”

The howling mass pours forth from the black hole, scattering as they sob and shriek and wail.

Izuku looks to his friends. They’re all staring curiously in the direction of the black hole, and only the black hole. No one looks afraid or alarmed, just curious.

The dead fly over their heads, and their howls form words.

“They’re coming!”

“Run! Run or you’re all dead!”

“Oh God… Oh God there are children here…”

“Get out of here!”

“Run!”

“They can’t hear us!”

Without thinking, Izuku steps forward. “What’s going on?” he calls, trying to get the attention of at least one of them.

He tries to take another step toward the portal and its ghosts, but a firm hand in front of his chest stops him. Rei lets out a growl. Aizawa has moved forward, placing himself between the students and the black hole. Thirteen is doing the same.

Aizawa speaks then, his voice almost lost beneath the cacophony of the dead. “Villains,” he says simply, and a moment later Izuku sees them emerge. They’re very much alive, formed into loose, disorganized ranks, and they’re stepping through the black hole like something out of a nightmare.

“Thirteen and Eraserhead,” a voice booms. “That’s odd. The schedule we received told us that Thirteen and All-Might were supposed to be teaching this class.”

“Where is he?” The unfamiliar voice cuts through the din so cleanly that for a moment Izuku is sure it can only be another ghost. But no—Izuku sees the ghosts turning, hears their voices quieting. They are all looking in the same direction, at the same person.

A man stands at the back of the villains, shoulders hunched, hands hanging loosely at his sides. At least, the hands that belong to him. There are many more pairs of hands, disembodied and pale, hanging from him as if part of a grotesque costume. On his arms, his ribs, around his neck as if strangling him. One hand covers his face like a mask.

“I went through all the trouble of bringing them,” the man with severed hands says. “And he’s not even here. Where is All-Might? They said he would be here.” His head tilts to the side. “I wonder if he’ll come if we kill some kids?”

A sharp intake of breath turns Izuku’s head, and his blood runs cold. Ms. Shimura was standing beside him before, but now she floats several meters back, standing stock-still as if… well, as if she’s seen a ghost. Her eyes are still blank and white, but the outline of her form wavers, and her face is a mask of frozen horror.

Her lips part, and her voice is so, so small. “No.” She’s shaking from head to toe. “No, no, he can’t have—”

Izuku edges closer to her, zeroing in on her so that all other voices fade into the background. “Ms. Shimura?” he says under his breath.

Her hand moves to cover her mouth, and she doesn’t answer.

“Everyone get back to the bus,” Aizawa says. The scarf ripples around him as he walks forward. He reaches for the goggles hanging around his neck. “Thirteen, start the evacuation. Try calling the school. If the sensors are out, then they may have someone with a radio-jamming quirk.”

“Ohhh man,” Narita murmurs, his voice tight with excitement. “You’re gonna see him cut loose now. This is gonna be so cool.”

“He’s outnumbered,” Izuku says under his breath. “His style is ambushing, erasing, and then capturing, not fighting a crowd by himself…”

With the ghosts’ screams burning in his ears, he misjudges how quietly he speaks. Aizawa glances over his shoulder and briefly meets his eyes. “Back to the bus, Midoriya,” he says, and slips the goggles into place.

“But-”

Without a backward glance, Aizawa launches himself off the top of the steps. Narita follows close behind, whooping in excitement. Izuku can only watch, frozen where he is, until Iida shouts at him to flee with the rest of the class.

Ms. Shimura is still standing at the edge of the steps, motionless as she watches the scene below. She only moves when Rei flies in her face, screaming and dragging at her until she lets herself be pulled along.

They almost make it to the doors. Rei shrieks as the same darkness that formed the black hole suddenly appears in their midst. It’s not just a black hole, or moving shadows; it’s a man made of darkness, with only a pair of glowing eyes and the vague impression of clothing to prove that he’s a person at all.

A warp quirk, some tiny little voice says in the back of Izuku’s mind. That’s rare.

The students are in a flurry of frantic energy. Most of them stay dutifully behind Thirteen. Others are frozen either in fear or confusion as the man made of darkness blocks the way and menaces them.

The Villain Alliance, he calls this group. Their purpose is to find All-Might, and kill him.

Ignoring their teacher’s warnings, Bakugou and Kirishima charge forward to fight back. Izuku is too distracted to try to stop them, or join them. Ms. Shimura is in a panic; she flickers and flits about, as if she can barely keep herself together. Rei lets go of him to chase after her and try to corral her.

“Ms. Shimura,” he whisper-shouts. His classmates are too distracted to notice or hear him, and he’s too alarmed to care. “Ms. Shimura, please. What’s wrong? Do you know what’s going on?”

“Let go,” she says, because Rei has her arms wrapped around her waist to keep her from blinking in and out of view. Her face is tight. “I need to go. I need to—” She stops short, casting a glance toward the fight in the center of the facility.

Izuku follows her gaze. His classmates are distracted, fighting off panic or focusing on the warp gates forming around them. They need to escape. “Who are they?” he asks. “Do you know them?”

A strangled sob cuts off whatever answer she might have given him. Izuku feels his heart clench in his chest. “I have to go,” she tells him. “I have to find Toshi.” Her wide, blank eyes turn to him, boring into him as tears gather. “I’ll bring him—he’ll help.”

“But you said—and Aizawa and Thirteen, they were signaling each other. He’s out of time.” An explosion—one of Bakugou’s—shakes the facility and sends up a cloud of thick smoke, and Izuku flinches and speaks through the ringing in his ears. “And he can’t even see you anyway!”

“I know. I know. But I have to try. I have to try. I can’t let this—I can’t let him—” She breaks off, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes before the tears can spill over. After a moment she lowers them and turns to Izuku, pale with desperate fear. She cups the side of his face with a hand that feels like ice.

He tries not to shiver at her touch. “Ms. Shimura,” he whispers.

She rushes forward into an even colder hug. Her whisper brushes by his ear, so softly that he shouldn’t be able to hear it, but he does.

Don’t die, little one. Don’t let them kill you.

The breath catches in his throat. “I won’t,” he whispers back. “I have too much to do.”

And then she’s gone, and the darkness surrounds him like a blinding fog. He runs, but the ground no longer feels solid, and he barely makes it back to the light when he sinks into the pool of darkness with a cry of alarm. More ice-cold hands clutch at his, and he looks up to see Rei’s face twisting and contorting with fear that borders on savagery. She clutches him so tightly that it hurts, but her form is weak and the pull of the warp gate is so much stronger.

Rei—” His hands slip from hers. The last thing he sees before the warp swallows him whole is his friend’s nightmare of a face, jaws opening wide to give vent to her fury.


Little Brother is afraid.

I know this because I see it in his eyes, and I hear it in his breath, and I smell it on him. He is rank with it.

That’s not good. Little Brother is never afraid, not unless the bully comes too close to him. He wasn’t even afraid of me, when I first found him back when he was still little, even littler than me. He’s not so little now but he is still my Little Brother because I will protect him, I will watch him, and if anything tries to hurt him I will tear it to shreds and break it to pieces because he is mine, mine, mine.

But he is afraid now, and I am also afraid, because the darkness is here and it’s not my darkness, it’s not the same, it’s someone else’s. It belongs to someone who wants to hurt him and I won’t let them, Ì̷̟̳̜̤ ͙̜̣͇̗̫̕w̧̜̖͕͍̗̜̠o̷̮͕̕n̴̖͖̜̠͝͝'̴̼̩͉̟̺̦ṯ̷̥̟̟̯ ̴̘̯̗̰͎̜͜l͏̗̼͈͙͇̠̮͎e̵͖̤͉̰̘̫͓̞̳ṭ̯ ͉̞̀t̖̠͉̼̝̀͟ḥ̝͎̦͚͘e͔̣̜͘m̲̖̟̳̜͢͝ͅ.

But it is too fast, and I am dead and I have been dead for so, so long, and I cannot remember being anything else. I cannot touch this dark, I cannot stop it as it surrounds Little Brother and he starts to fall.

I catch his hand in both of mine, and I scream and I want to cry and he looks at me with big, big eyes and he is a f r a i d.

The darkness takes him. It takes him and swallows him whole and he is gone, gone, gone and I cannot find him in the dark.

There are many people here, big people, living people, surrounded by those who are dead. They are killers, they spread death and death follows them. They came and brought dead things with them, and they brought the darkness that stole him away.

They TOOK him.

They took Little Brother they hurt him they took him away and it’s NOT FAIR and they aren’t allowed to take what isn’t theirs.

He is MINE. I found him. I picked him. He talks to me and he gave me a name and he isn’t yours, he’s mine, mine, M̷͕̞͉̰I̝͠N̩̬̬͍̲̤̕͠E̠͔̙̖̞͓.̛͈̘͍͢ͅ

G̶̠̩̯̻̬I̻̮̮͚V̶̲̰̬̯E̼̱̝̩̻̠ ̦̫̹̼H̙̻̜̱̙̜̟͟I̘̤̞̖͎Ḿ ̗̤B҉Á̪̞̠̙̪ͅC̼K̙͇͚̯͡.̹̰̦͔
̞͕͙̥̲
̠G͚͔I̶̭̙̯͉̺͎V̳̻͚͍͓͎E͇͍͇ ̸̫̝̩H̨̫̹̰͇̦̺̯I̩M͏͎̘̬͉ ̣̬͕̕B͇̝̺A̡̮C̛̤̰̜̬̝K͏̗̞̜͚ ̭̹̼O̪̦̪͖̪̖̠R̞̣̼̯ ̛̝̺̩̤͇̦̖Y̞͎̖̣̘̱̼OU̗̲̞’̨̜̣̙͕L͔̥͘L̸̳̳͎ ̥̭̗̻̤̜̜B̹̀E͙͖ ̵͉̼͖̜̫̬̯S̨̤̹O͎̻̦͡R̤͎̰̭͙̟R͏͙̟̭̗̺Y̛͎̣.̘̯̯͔͙
̳͉̱̺͕
͉͔̤͇̬̫H̯E̷͎’S̜ ̕N̶̮͔O̡̳̫͖͈T̼̦̱̟̜͝ ̷̱͖̮͚͈ͅͅYÓ̗̜̖U̩̣R͙̟̻̗͝S̱͓͔̤̹̤̺͘.̦̗̰̹̝
̧̞̰̱
͍̫͟H̫͖̥Ę͍̼̳͖̼ ̥͔̻̥͈̗I̳̲͎̳͔̖Ś͙̳͙̪ͅ ͓̞̳̹M̜̩̖̹̰͔̠͢I̢̹͓̪͕̞̟NE̵͕̫̥̩̘̺͇. ̬ͅM͉̲Y͈̺̹̟̰ L҉̤̮̹͈Í̞̥̞͙T̞̖͙̩T̪̲̣̙ͅL͖̹̣E̳̠̘͠ ̭̘B̳̯͇̙͓̻̀ͅŖ̮̩̫̖̩̠̫O̦̝̥̘̣͔̳Ṭ͍͡H͜E̬̱͕̫̥R̤̹̖.̷͙̺ ̘̭̭͙̦̀Ḿ̫Y̗̘̣͚͍̜ ̣̖F̣̦͎̀R̭̦I̙̭̤̤̫E͓̤͇͈N̛̩̺̺͓D͉̠̫.̘̮͙
̦̳̱̗̣̝
̴͉̦̭͇̙̙ͅM̮I̮Ǹ̞̺̘̣̣̱E̬̳͈̙͎.͝


Izuku would probably be dead without Asui—either drowned, or bitten and left to bleed out in the water. But his classmate’s powerful kick sends the shark-faced villain flying underwater, before her tongue wraps around his chest she tows him back to the surface. Coughing and spluttering, Izuku scrambles to be more helpful than a dead weight as Asui lifts both him and a dripping Mineta to the momentary safety of the boat.

The first thing he hears when his ears are cleared of water is the screaming. He can’t even discern the voice that’s responsible, because it doesn’t sound like a voice at all. There is an almost physical weight to the noise, and it keeps him crouched low to the deck of the boat, clenching his teeth as it rings painfully in his skull. Is this someone’s quirk? Does one of the villains have a vocal power the way Present Mic does? Tears gather in his eyes as his head aches, but thankfully he’s too soaking wet for anyone to notice.

“H-hey,” Mineta says, prodding at him worriedly. “Midoriya, you’re not hurt, are you? What’s the matter?”

“Do we know who’s doing all the screaming?” he manages to gasp out. How can they stand it? Asui doesn’t even seem bothered by the noise at all.

Mineta cocks his head, confused. “What screaming?”

Closer to the railing, Asui tilts her head this way and that. “I think I hear it, a little. You must have really good ears, Midoriya.” She croaks worriedly. “It might be some of our classmates. That villain had warp powers—he must have scattered us all over the facility. I hope they’re all right.”

Izuku forces himself to his feet, swaying a little as the painful noise pervades his bones and vibrates the very marrow at their core. Asui and Mineta are talking to each other, unaffected. They don’t hear it, he realizes dimly. And that can only mean one thing: whoever is doing it is dead.

He makes it to the railing and leans there, focusing his eyes on the scene around them. The warp villain has dropped them in the flood simulation zone; all around, the water surface ripples as various aquatic villains close in on the boat. And beyond that, toward the central plaza of the facility…

Bile rises in his throat, and his breath hitches. “Rei.”

Across the water, in the distance, there is another black hole, far different and far more familiar than the warp villain’s portals. At least the warp gates had some semblance of order and control. This darkness lashes and roils, shifting and heaving like it’s alive. Like it’s angry.

Her threat displays whenever Bakugou comes near cannot compare to this. Her temper tantrum after Aizawa erased his quirk cannot come close.

He’s seen this before. Perhaps not at this scale, but he’s seen it. Rei is angry. She is terrified. And if he doesn’t get to her, she might get angry and terrified enough to hurt someone.

“Mineta,” he hears Tsuyu say. “Don’t you think, if they put together this whole plan to kill All-Might, then it’s probably because they have a way to do it?”

Kill All-Might. Why would they do that? Because he’s the Number One? Is it for renown? Or is it to get rid of the main deterrent against crime?

Rei’s screams reach a fever pitch, and he shakes himself. There’s no time to worry about that anyway; besides, they’re out to kill the man that Izuku has looked up to since before he could read, the very man who gave him his one chance to achieve his lifelong dream. The “why” doesn’t matter. “We have to get over there,” he says, gripping the railing until his knuckles are white. “We have to help them.” He glares fiercely at his classmates. “And if they want to kill All-Might, then we have to do everything we can to make sure they fail.”

Asui—Tsuyu, rather—balks, and Mineta panics, but Izuku’s mind is more than made up. In his mind, he’s already on the other side of the water, finding Rei in the midst of all that darkness, calming her and bringing her back. She’s afraid. She needs him. She needs to know he’s okay.

Their only advantage is surprise, and what they can assume is a lack of knowledge on the part of the villains. It will have to be enough. The three of them compare quirks, Izuku fighting to block out Rei’s cries so that he can hear them. He eyes the villains, and the beginnings of a strategy knit themselves together in his head.

In a matter of moments, he throws a plan together. He’ll have to sacrifice a couple of fingers; there’s no getting around that. But it’s only two fingers. He’s seen ghosts with missing limbs, half-severed heads and slashed throats. He can make it through this with only eight.

He launches himself from the boat, and with one flick he shatters the bones in his thumb and third finger, and sends a shock wave of force straight at the surface of the water. The villains go tumbling helplessly as the water surface rapidly spreads apart from the point of impact; those that aren’t knocked out by the initial strike are left flailing in the current and fighting just to keep their heads above the water. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he yells for his classmates. Tsuyu performs a spectacular leap and catches him around the waist with her tongue. Hanging from her arms, Mineta screams in fear and defiance and hurls sticky balls into the water until blood runs down his face.

The water converges again, bringing villains and sticky orbs with it. In a matter of moments, the menacing force is trapped in a struggling pile, stuck fast to each other as they bob in the still heaving water. Tsuyu carries them clear of the villains. They hit the surface at a safe distance and swim the rest of the way to shore.

“So what do we do?” Tsuyu asks, as they approach the edge of the water. “I mean—Midoriya, we’re just students. What can we do against all these villains?”

“Whatever we can,” Izuku says distractedly. “Look, you don’t have to come with me, there’s just something I need to do.”

“You’re crazy,” Mineta mutters, clinging to Tsuyu with a bit more enthusiasm than their current situation really warrants.

Tsuyu hesitates. She doesn’t quite frown; her mouth isn’t really shaped for frowning. But her brow furrows thoughtfully. “I’ll come with you,” she says. “You’re the one with the plan, Midoriya.”

Izuku bites his lip. He doesn’t have much of a plan now. He’s surrounded by armed villains and screaming, howling ghosts. The presence of the latter pounds a single cold, hard fact into him: these aren’t just criminals he’s dealing with. These are killers, cutthroats, and murderers all. They’re here to kill All-Might, they’re here to kill his classmates if it means drawing All-Might out, and if Izuku is too slow, too weak, or too hesitant, then they’ll kill him too.

He’d rather not die today, if he can avoid it. Ms. Shimura asked him not to, and besides, he has far too much to do.

“I don’t have a plan,” he says.

“You got us out of that,” Tsuyu points out, jerking her head back at the ruined boat in the shipwreck zone.

Rei’s screaming presses against his brain, squeezing the heart in his chest. The darkness lashes; he can’t see where she is, and he can barely see the fighting that’s still going on among all these villains.

He looks back and meets Tsuyu’s eyes, stares at her long and hard until she blinks first. “Tsuyu,” he says quietly, so quietly that he can barely hear his own voice over his friend’s hideous cries. “Don’t follow me.”

Turning, Izuku runs straight toward the battling villains, straight into the thrashing darkness that only he can see.

Chapter Text

Izuku knows he must look strange, if Tsuyu and Mineta are watching him run. He zigzags instead of running in a straight line, weaving his way through the crowd of wailing dead. It’s not as if he can help it. He doesn’t just see and hear ghosts; he feels them too, and that means he can’t simply walk straight through them the way everyone else can.

As he darts toward the central plaza, he can’t help but notice that the ghosts are moving in the opposite direction that he is. They cast fearful glances back at it, at the thrashing darkness that marks where Rei is. She frightens them; they’re all dead and murdered, and she frightens them.

It’s a jolt when he sees a familiar face among the pale, bloodied, washed-out figures. Narita meets him before he can quite reach the plaza. His form is wavering, blinking in and out of view in the way that ghosts do when they’re agitated. Izuku skids to a halt, and Narita nearly crashes into him. Cold, dead hands grip his shoulders, chilling him through the fabric of his gym uniform.

“Make her stop.” Blood runs freely down his face, pouring from the wound in his head. Even without visible eyes, he looks desperate. “Please, Midoriya, you’ve got to make her stop—I can’t reach her, and she’s so angry—” Rei’s screaming leaps in pitch, and he flinches as if it’s a physical blow. “And it’s hurting him.”

“What?” Izuku’s breath catches in his chest. Other ghosts are staring, astonished. None of them realized that he can see them, and now here he is getting gripped and shaken by one of their own.

“Eraserhead.” The deathly cold grip tightens. “She’s crazy enough that he’s feeling it, and it’s throwing him off. I’ve never seen him flinch this much in a fight, and he stumbles every time she touches him.” Blood runs into his eyes, turning his glare red. “Make her stop, Midoriya. Make her stop or he’s going to join us and I won’t forgive you for bringing her to him.”

“Where is she?” Izuku asks, heart pounding in his chest. “I’ll get her out, I promise—she’s just scared, she thinks I’m in trouble—tell me where she is. Is she moving around a lot?”

“No.” Narita turns, letting go of him to point. “There, she’s on the side of the fight, where that pile of downed villains are. She’s been tearing at them this whole time. She only moves if the fight gets close enough. I don’t think she even knows what she’s doing at this point.”

Izuku squints, but he can’t see her.

“Where the darkness is thickest,” Narita says. “That’s where she’ll be.”

And Izuku sees it. He doesn’t see Rei, but he does see what Narita is saying. Luck is with him; the epicenter of Rei’s black hole isn’t in the thick of the fighting. It’s going to be dangerous, and it’s going to be stupid, and two of his fingers are limp and useless, but if he skirts around the battle and doesn’t screw up, he can do it. He can reach her.

“No, what are you—are you crazy?” Another ghost, a middle-aged man with his head hanging at an odd angle. “Don’t send him in there!” He turns to Izuku. “Haven’t you been paying attention? They’ll kill you!”

“Shut up!” Narita snaps. “He’s the only one that can get that poltergeist out of there!”

“I won’t die,” Izuku whispers, half to himself. He can’t stand here much longer; he’s out in the open, and if he lingers then some villain is bound to take advantage of an easy target. “I can do this. I won’t die. I won’t die.”

“Who are you talking to?”

Izuku jumps, whipping around to see Tsuyu standing behind him. Mineta is nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s—”

“He ran toward the entrance,” she says. “It’s for the best—he can’t run as fast on his own, and if I’m going to follow you, I can’t have him hanging off of me.” She turns her head, scanning the scene beyond him. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Midoriya,” she says. “But if we stay out here much longer, they’ll see us.”

“I told you not to follow me,” he almost hisses. It isn’t just nobility driving him to say that, though his main fear is that he’ll lead her into injury and mortal danger. But a smaller fear is that she’ll see him talk to ghosts, or otherwise act in ways that he won’t be able to explain.

“Well I didn’t listen,” she says. “So what’s your plan?”

“I’m not going to get in Aizawa’s way,” Izuku says. “I’m just going to—to see if there’s anything I can do to lighten his load.” It’s not a lie, what he tells her. That is very much what he’s going to do. “Listen, I’m aiming for the other side of the plaza. There’s some serious stuff going on at the entrance still, so we can’t go that way. But if we find a quieter place to catch our breath, then so much the better, right?”

“Are you trying to help Aizawa-sensei, or get somewhere safe?” Tsuyu asks.

“Both. If you have to follow me, then meet me there, okay?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer; if she’s determined to follow him, then there’s no way he can convince her not to. Izuku turns wide, gives Aizawa’s battle a generous berth, and runs like he has never run before. More than anything, he wants to call out to Rei, to let her know as soon as possible that he’s alive and almost unhurt. But if he does, then the villains will hear him, and he won’t be alive for very long after that.


Something is very, very wrong.

Aizawa Shouta has been acutely aware of this ever since the damned warping villain scattered his students across the USJ facility. Instincts scream at him to help them, to gather them up and get them to safety, but he cannot follow those feelings even though he wants to. He’s surrounded, hemmed in, and outnumbered. All he’s capable of right now is subduing as many villains as possible, and keeping the bulk of the fighting and the strongest members of their forces here in the plaza, instead of running off into the facility to go after the students.

His students.

At first, he had mistaken it for simple alarm, the natural dread that he should feel when seeing the children under his charge in danger. But even now, as the battle goes on and adrenaline rushes through his veins, the fear does not fade as it normally does. As it always does. If anything, it escalates with every passing minute.

The feeling chokes him, squeezing the very heart in his chest until he’s sure his pulse will stop altogether. His reaction time suffers for it; he has narrowly missed death more individual times in this single fight than he has in his past year of hero work. And every now and then, chills grip him, the feeling of someone walking over his grave. If they are sudden enough, then they force him to blink, and his quirk-erasing hold fails on whatever villain he looks at. He’s disoriented, bleeding, and unable to breathe properly.

He leaps back and takes a deep breath to try to calm himself and get his rampaging terror under control. The breath makes noise, a quiet inward wheeze as he forces air into his lungs.

This… isn’t right.

No—this isn’t right, he realizes. This fear isn’t natural. It doesn’t feel the way he knows his fear ought to feel. It feels more like someone has plunged deep into his brain, shredded apart consciousness and subconscious, and slammed their fist down on the button marked “Terror”.

An emotion-enhancing quirk? He’s heard of those; they tend to go hand-in-hand with standard empathy. He switches his gaze from one villain to another, trying to find who is responsible, but the gut-churning terror that grips him refuses to fade.

He looks to the ringleader—the pale one in black, whose face is masked by a severed hand. That one has yet to reveal his quirk. Perhaps it’s him?

…No. But who else could it be? Is there another villain on the sidelines, sabotaging him from a safe distance?

He looks. He does not find a villain, but he catches a glimpse of movement. Quick, almost unnoticeable movement.

The fear within him wrenches at his insides—that’s Midoriya Izuku, the boy he almost failed on the first day, skirting the edge of the fighting like a fool. What does he think he’s doing?

Shouta makes sure to keep his face turned away from Midoriya as he fights. If the boy is going to be an idiot, then Shouta can’t afford to give away his presence by looking at him. He tracks Midoriya’s progress from the corner of his eye. To his credit, the boy is fast, and he’s using what little cover there is to his advantage. If Shouta weren’t occupied by being hopelessly outnumbered and artificially scared out of his wits, he might even spare a moment for approval. He settles for relief; it cushions him against the fear, somewhat.

Midoriya ducks out of his line of vision then, and Shouta is too busy dodging a flurry of blows from another villain to keep watching. His scarf wraps around his attacker, and he flings the villain straight into the path of another in mid-pounce. With a meaty thud, they both go down, and Shouta is reeling with terror again and—

All at once, the stranglehold around his heart falls away. Shouta can breathe again, and does so with enough quiet desperation to leave him nearly gasping.

Before he can stop himself, he looks back to find Midoriya not far off, running full pelt away from a group of unconscious villains left in a heap after Shouta had subdued them, toward the beginning of the fight. He could kick himself in irritation. He hadn’t thought to look for the culprit among the villains he had already defeated. One of them must have recovered enough to sabotage him from the sidelines. The lot of them are still lying motionless on the ground, with Midoriya racing away, holding his arm out oddly.

His student looks back, and meets his eyes for only a moment. From the distance, and through his eye-concealing goggles, Shouta catches the flash of desperate hope in his student’s eyes.

He’s not sure what Midoriya has done. By the time the day is over he won’t have the chance to wonder, or to scold the boy for his recklessness. But at least, in this moment, he can spare a moment of gratitude before he turns back to the villains, and finds the ringleader charging at him to attack for the first time.


Izuku’s heart is in his throat as he tears past the battlefield, plunging in an out of the blackness. He sees the darkest point just ahead, hovering in the midst of a heap of unconscious, motionless villains. Other villains battle around him, from the low-level thugs to the hulking, muscular brute with dark blue skin and unblinking eyes. Rei’s darkness lashes at him, chilling him to the bone marrow, but he keeps his feet moving and hurls himself straight into where the shadows are thickest.

He feels her more than he sees her, a floating cold spot in the heart of the black hole. Izuku reaches out, and his fingers brush something that burns like dry ice. He wraps his arms around a familiar small form, and when he breaks through the other side of the darkness, he takes her with him.

She struggles in his arms, clawing at him, lashing out with pure rage.

“Rei,” he whispers. “Rei, it’s me.”

He looks back. The blackness is already scattering, giving him a better view of the battle. He searches it briefly, and finds Aizawa looking in his direction. With the goggles it’s impossible to tell if he’s looking at Izuku.

Izuku skids to a halt some distance from the edge of the fighting, nearly losing his balance. He falls to a kneeling position, clutching Rei with both arms to make sure she doesn’t get loose and go back to her raging.

She’s still struggling. Izuku crouches low and clings to her. “Rei. Rei, stop,” he whispers. “It’s okay. It’s me. I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to scare you like that.” The struggles weaken, and she finally goes limp and cold in his arms. When he feels small, frigid hands clutching at his arm, he finally looks down at her.

Black eyes stare back, wide and terrible with fear.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay, I promise.”

She twists around in his arms and hugs him, burying her face into his chest. The screaming has finally stopped. His friend is silent.

“Midoriya!”

He looks up to find Tsuyu catching up, keeping low to the ground as she darts along. “Tsuyu?”

“Are you okay?” Tsuyu whispers, dropping down beside him. There’s some scant cover here, but not much.

“Fine,” he says tightly. He watches the fight. To anyone who doesn’t see what he does, Aizawa seems to have gained his second wind. He doesn’t stumble or pause as he fights, and Rei’s darkness has vanished so that Izuku can clearly see the whole scene. Narita is back, watching the fight and following Aizawa’s every move. For the first time, Izuku feels the knot in his chest loosen as he just dares to hope. “I think… I think it’s going to be okay. We have a chance now.”

And then, across the way, the man who wears severed hands reaches out and catches Aizawa’s elbow before it can strike him. As Izuku watches, aghast, the black sleeve of Aizawa’s costume crumbles, and the arm beneath it begins to crumble as well before Aizawa breaks free. Rei, raising her head to watch, lets out a low hiss.

“What kind of quirk is that?” Tsuyu whispers, horrified.

Izuku hushes her. “It’s not over yet,” he murmurs desperately. “It’s not over, he’s just hurt, he can still—”

He doesn’t see the hulking dark one move until it’s already on top of Aizawa. It’s fast—far faster than a person that size has any right to be. Their teacher turns to look at it, and has to bend his head back just to look at the face—the misshapen, deformed mess of a face, with its exposed brain and rolling, unblinking eyes.

The brute brings its upraised hand down, and the fight is over before Izuku can blink. Before his eyes, Aizawa’s shattered goggles go flying, and his teacher’s blood spatters the ground. The tide has turned so quickly that Izuku feels sick with vertigo, and he can only watch in helpless horror as his teacher takes the most brutal beating that Izuku has ever witnessed.

A strangled noise escapes him. He doesn’t think—his mind is burned blank with panic. All he sees is Tsuyu horrified beside him, Narita screaming his head off as he hurls his intangible form at the monster, Aizawa limp and broken on the ground—Aizawa pale and washed out and bloodied, standing before him with blank white eyes, just one more ghost for Izuku to talk to.

Even when the beating stops, it doesn’t, not really. The monster—Noumu, Izuku hears the pale villain call it Noumu—pins him down, breaking and crushing his arms until Aizawa cries out with pain. Narita’s scream joins it.

He moves, because in that moment rushing in to certain death is less terrifying to him than cowering and doing nothing as another ghost is made in front of him. His body moves, and he doesn’t think. With Rei following at his side, he ignores his classmates’ warnings and runs.

He makes no sound. The lower-level thugs are either out of commission or watching the beating, the Noumu is busy with Aizawa, and the pale villain’s back is to him. Rei is with him, and she is eager. She wants to hurt them, she wants to terrify them, she wants to make them pay, and the power of her fervor gives him speed. Izuku’s hand curls into a fist, and he calls on One For All as he lunges at the pale villain’s unprotected back.

Sorry, Aizawa-sensei, he thinks. It looks like I’m going to have to cripple myself this time.

He doesn’t want to watch Aizawa become a ghost. He doesn’t want him to talk to Narita and Mrs. Kitayama yet. He wants Aizawa to make them wait longer, as long as possible. It can’t be his time yet, it can’t.

He pulls his arm back, rippling with One For All. He may break his bones again, but if he can take out the leader in the process, then it will be worth it.

At the last moment, the pale villain turns to face him, eyes sparking with a wild, joyful light. At precisely the same moment, Tsuyu’s tongue wraps around his chest with a wet smack and yanks him back out of the villain’s reach, just as one of his pale, bloodless hands lashes out at him. Izuku loses his hold on One For all, and the sparking energy dissipates.

“Oh.” The pale villain’s voice trembles with glee. “What’s this? Did you want to join him?”

Rei shrieks, and her rage seeps into Izuku’s skin. He forces himself blank, just to keep from spitting with fury. Tsuyu drags him farther back, away from the man who wears severed hands. Her tongue releases him, and she dashes forward to catch his arm and drag him back with her full weight.

“Sorry, Midoriya,” she murmurs. “But if I let you get yourself killed, I couldn’t forgive myself.”

Izuku clenches his teeth until his jaw creaks. He looks from the pale villain to where Narita huddles by Aizawa’s prone form, and his eyes burn. “You shouldn’t have—”

Narita’s bloodstained face turns to Izuku, and his jaws open wide to scream again. “RUN!

This time it’s Izuku who catches Tsuyu by the arm and drags her back until she starts running too. Narita’s warning only offers them a split second’s head start, and it’s not enough; the pale villain is already upon them.

A grating scream drives like nails into his skull as Rei throws herself between them. But the villain’s hand plunges straight through her, and Izuku can barely get his arms up to shield himself from the villain’s quirk.

One of the villain’s hands closes around around his wrist. The other catches Tsuyu by the back of her neck. Rei howls, finger-claws dragging at the villain’s hidden face. Izuku stares, transfixed, and waits for the pain to come.

It doesn’t.

They wait on bated breath, frozen with fear, the villain unreadable as he watches their skin fail to crumble and flake off like old paint.

The villain seems to sigh. “Damn,” he says, and his grip loosens as he looks over his shoulder. Izuku follows his gaze, all the way back to where Aizawa lies broken on the ground, head raised, eyes glowing red and suffused with blood as he keeps them fixed on the pale villain. “That was pretty cool, Eraserhead.”

The Noumu smashes Aizawa’s head into the concrete with a sickening thud. Blood spreads across the ground, and Aizawa never makes a sound.

The pale villain’s grip has loosened, enough for them to break free before his quirk can reactivate. They only have a few seconds before he notices and attacks again, but for Izuku, those moments stretch to a miniature eternity.

He doesn’t look at Tsuyu, tense with fear beside him. He doesn’t even look at the pale villain, dressed in black and draped in severed hands. He looks past him, to where his teacher lies still and silent on the ground. To where, slowly, a form flickers into view—transparent, weak, and wavering, like an image with bad reception—beside the body and the Noumu and the silent Narita.

Aizawa stands next to his own body, pale, ragged, and blood-streaked, his form faded and transparent but very much visible.

A scream fills Izuku from toe to tip, threatening to rip itself free, but he keeps his mouth pressed shut, and instead it floods through his veins like pounding adrenaline. He tears his eyes from the apparition and turns them to the villain who caused it, and he has never, ever wished to make a ghost before but in this moment he understands why some people do.

Darkness gathers not far from where they stand, and Rei shrieks in fury as the warp villain appears in their midst. The pale villain straightens up at the sight of him.

“Kurogiri,” he says. “Did you kill Thirteen?”

The distance is not great enough to keep Izuku from hearing the villain’s cold, rumbling voice. “No, Shigaraki Tomura,” he says. “I put Thirteen out of commission, but one of the students escaped the facility.” The glowing eyes narrow. “Once he’s out of range of our signal jammer, he’ll soon be able to call the school for help.”

The hope rises in Izuku’s chest, but he stamps on it viciously. No—he already made the mistake of getting hopeful before. He won’t make it again.

As he watches, the pale ringleader flies into a quiet rage, clawing at the sides of his neck where the disembodies hands don’t cover. He mutters half to himself, snarling threats at his comrade, and Izuku can hear the way the villain’s voice hitches and cracks.

And then, as suddenly as it started, the tirade stops. Slowly his hands sink to his sides, leaving angry red scratches on his own neck. “It’s no use,” he says calmly, as if he wasn’t ranting and spitting just seconds ago. “We can’t fight dozens of pros. So it’s game over for now. Yes…” His hands shake and flex at his sides. “Let’s go home. But first…”

He looks back at them, fingers curling as if he imagines wringing their necks, and Izuku feels his mingled terror and rage rising within him as he takes in the pale, bloodless villain. It fills him from his stomach to his heart to his lungs, drowning him. The villain steps up to him again, fingers twitching eagerly, and the thoughts flee from Izuku’s head.

And so, with no thoughts to distract him, it’s the force of habit and pure instinct that makes him breathe in, and out, again and again until the storm ebbs and flows away again. Slowly, as he watches the villain’s hidden face—pale, washed out, not so different from a ghost—the flood drains away on its own and leaves a silent fog of blank numbness in its wake.

Rei’s distorted form writhes within his line of vision, as she snarls like a beast that crawled from the depths of some dark pit. A stone’s throw away, Narita stands with Aizawa’s spirit, both of them faded and bloodied. As Izuku watches, Narita’s pale hand—solid in his vision—reaches out to Aizawa’s translucent figure, and passes through it in the same way the living pass through the dead. The same way Izuku cannot.

What enters his mind then is not hope, but merely an idea, neither happy nor sad, that clears his head. What he sees of Aizawa is different from what he’s seen of other ghosts. His ghost is nearly but not quite there. Perhaps that means he is nearly but not quite dead.

All around the facility, the dead pass through. Broken, mangled, with no bodies to breathe and no hearts to beat, they wail and weep and follow their murderers and wait, always patient, for their time of reckoning.

Izuku lifts his eyes to the villain’s, and breathes out again.

My friends are scarier than you.

Chapter Text

He’s free.

The crushing weight of the Noumu is gone, and Shouta is free and the pain is gone and his head is clear but for the roaring in his ears, and he’s not sure how this happened but he can’t afford to care.

He broke eye contact. That villain, the one with the disintegrating touch—Midoriya was there, and Asui Tsuyu—they were there, right there, and the villain was on top of them and he broke eye contact

His eyes clear. He’s looking at the villain’s back, just across the way. The pale man hasn’t moved from where he was before, standing over the kids—they’re children—they’re his kids, his students—and Shouta moves before he can properly think. He reaches them far more swiftly than he has ever moved before—he blinks, he just blinks and he’s there—and yells at them to run. He can still move, he can still fight, he can still protect them until he can’t move or fight anymore.

Not one head turns to look at him.

The villain ignores him, still talking to the one with the warp quirk. Shouta stands between the man and his students in far too little space, and no one backs away. He looks over his shoulder and finds Asui speechless with horror as she stares not at him but through him, while Midoriya’s eyes are glassy and blank as if he feels too much for any of it to show.

“Hey. Hey, you need to cool it before you go crazy.”

He doesn’t hear anyone come up, he just hears the voice. A young voice, belonging to another kid, but this is not a face he recognizes. This one is older than his students, pale and blood-streaked with wide eyes.

Wide, blank, dead-white eyes.

Shouta blinks, and finally he looks, and he sees.

The facility is crowded with people. Pale, spectral figures, too many to count. The closest one is a little girl, dark-haired and dressed in white. She watches him silently, one among countless others. Most of them mangled, disfigured, and crying out as the villains ignore them.

No—that isn’t right. They don’t ignore them.

They just don’t see them at all.

Shouta looks down, and sees the ground through his own hands.

“No,” he whispers. “No, no, no-no-no--”

“Hey!” It’s the boy again, the one who bleeds from a hole in his head (and that’s familiar, he recognizes that, he knows what it means but the memory is just beyond his reach) and watches him in quiet awe and horror. “Look, you—you need to calm down, it’s not—

But Shouta stops listening, because that’s when he looks back the way he had come, back to where the Noumu still crouches as it keeps guard over…

As it

holds down

He throws a punch at the man standing before him, vicious in his desperation, and the blow passes through him as if Shouta’s fist is made of fog. He spits a curse that none of them can hear.

Eraserhead.” The boy he doesn’t know tries to catch hold of him to stop him, but he can’t touch Shouta either. “Look, you’re not—if it helps, I don’t think you’re totally dead, just… almost.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Shouta’s words are nearly a snarl, and they sound far away even to his own ears. “I can’t just lie down and let them do this!”

“You don’t have a choice. If we had a choice, I’d’ve stopped them from doing this to you. I’m sorry.” The boy meets his fury and frustration with sadness and pity, and Shouta doesn’t need pity, he doesn’t want pity—

Something warm curls against his wrist.

It’s only because he feels something warm that he realizes with a jolt that he feels nothing when he is like this. No pain, no temperature, not even the ground that should be beneath his feet. He feels nothing, and that is why he notices when he feels something warm.

He looks back.

Midoriya stares straight ahead as his fingers curl around Shouta’s wrist, not quite touching him—he can’t touch him—but trying. Approximating.

His student’s voice is so quiet that he barely hears the words.

“It’s okay,” Midoriya’s eyes are wide and unblinking as he whispers. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Tears gather in his eyes. “It’s going to be okay. Nobody has to die here.”

Midoriya raises his wet, shining eyes, and meets Shouta’s.

“What was that?” The sound of the villain’s voice curls in the air like oily smoke. “Nobody has to die?” His voice shakes with held-back laughter. “Well that’s not really up to you, is it?”

Midoriya doesn’t take his eyes away from Shouta’s face, but when he speaks again, his voice rings cold and clear. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

Shouta doesn’t know what’s happening. He doesn’t understand any of this; none of it makes sense to him, except the fact that his student is mouthing off to a villain instead of running away, and that’s going to get him killed. “What are you doing?” Shouta hisses. He tries to shove Midoriya away, but it’s no use. “Get out of here and run.”

“They wouldn’t get far,” the young ghost tells him. “That one’s fast, and that one warps. They’d be caught in seconds.” Shouta looks sharply at him, and the boy shrugs. “I’m just saying.”

Behind him the villain speaks again, voice dripping with quiet menace. “What… did you just say…?”

Midoriya’s eyes shift then, moving from Shouta’s face to the villain standing behind him. “I said,” Midoriya answers patiently. “I wasn’t talking to you.” His head tilts to one side, blinking slowly as he considers the pale villain before him. “But, since you’re asking… would you like to talk?”

“Midoriya, what are you doing?” Shouta would drag him away if he could, by the hair if need be, but his reaching hands pass through his student uselessly. Midoriya doesn’t react beyond briefly closing his eyes. “Run, you idiot!” There’s a hiss not unlike radio static, and the little girl in white rushes at him with a face that drips and melts into a snarl. He pulls back on instinct, and Midoriya stands before the villain unobstructed.

Midoriya’s eyes briefly meet his, then flicker past him to look at the villain once more. Shouta has never felt so helpless in his life.

The man who wears severed hands stares back. His eyes glitter through the cracks in the fingers.

“If you’re going to kill him, then do it quickly,” the warp villain rumbles urgently.

“It’s… Shigaraki?” Midoriya says. “Is that what he called you?” There’s no reply. “Sorry to interrupt, I was just wondering. Does this mean you’re still going to leave?” For all the tension and terror that Shouta feels sharply, he still has just enough room to approve of the sheer force of Midoriya’s composure. It’s impressive, given the circumstances—eerie, but impressive. And yet, that very same composure gives him pause, because it doesn’t belong on that face. It shouldn’t belong. Where is the boy who stammers and shakes in the face of a challenge? Where is the boy who rallies with a determined smile?

Midoriya… isn’t smiling right now. He isn’t anything. His face is as blank as a doll’s.

“Maybe.” The villain lifts one of his own hands again. “Not that you’ll be alive to see it.”

“Oh.” Midoriya doesn’t step back, but he does lean back, pressing into Asui and pushing her further away from the villain before him, as well. “You’re still going to kill us, too?” He asks so bluntly, so casually, as if the thought of death doesn’t make him panic; it simply makes him cold.

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Shigaraki’s eyes shine with excitement. “If we can’t kill All-Might here, then we may as well hurt his pride instead.” The hand covers most of his face, but Shouta can practically hear the grin.

“Oh, well if that’s what you want to do,” Midoriya says. Shouta sees the way he eyes Shigaraki’s lethal hands. “I think you’ve already done it, plenty. And I don’t know what your plan is, but so far it seems pretty effective.”

This gives the villain pause. He cocks his head, almost birdlike in his curiosity. “…Oh?”

“Shigaraki Tomura,” the warp villain growls. “Why are you wasting time speaking with this child?”

“Well yes,” Midoriya replies, ignoring him. He speaks slowly, unhurriedly, as if they’re chatting out on the street. “I mean, you don’t really need to kill us if you want to hurt All-Might’s pride. I think you already did that just breaking in here at all.” His eyes flicker briefly to Shouta again. One eye twitches, but it’s not a twitch—it’s a wink, on the side that Shigaraki can’t see as well. “And, I don’t know if you know this, but… Aizawa-sensei and All-Might don’t really like each other very much. So it’s already going to hurt his pride that Eraserhead did all the work and gets all the glory for fighting you by himself.” That’s a lie, Shouta knows. All-Might isn’t that petty, and someone who admires him as much as Midoriya does would damn well know that he isn’t that petty. He sees Midoriya’s throat bob a little as he swallows. “And that All-Might didn’t even show up when you beat him up. He’s not going to be very proud about that.”

“Ohh.” There’s an excited tremble in Shigaraki’s voice—he’s buying it, he’s actually listening. “I didn’t know that. I didn’t think of that. That’s very interesting… what was your name?”

“Oh I’m just… some guy,” Midoriya says. “So, I mean… I don’t think anyone’s going to think less of you if you leave now. You’ve already done a lot, breaking in here, and beating Eraserhead, so it’s pretty impressive. Except…”

“Except what?” Shigaraki leans closer. Shouta can smell the chemical preservatives keeping the severed hands from decomposing, and judging by the way Midoriya’s nose wrinkles, so can he. The villain’s fingers dance closer to Midoriya’s face, not quite touching him, just… reminding him. Midoriya blinks, but not much else. “Do go on. You’re a bold, funny little thing, aren’t you?”

“Can you really kill All-Might?” Midoriya asks, his voice blandly curious. “He’s the strongest, you know. I don’t know if anyone can kill him.”

“He’s stalling,” the young ghost whispers, as if there’s any chance of the villains overhearing. The ghost’s voice trembles with excitement. “Holy shit, he’s buying time, fucking go for it, Midoriya.”

“Be careful.” Shouta keeps his voice soft, too. If he startles Midoriya, then Midoriya might startle the villains, or otherwise lose this tenuous hold he has over Shigaraki. It is fragile. The entire situation is fragile, and if his student isn’t careful then he’s going to get all of them killed.

The villain’s voice trembles with amusement at Midoriya’s question. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Shigaraki…” the warp villain warns, and is ignored.

“So you must have something big planned, if you’re here to kill All-Might,” Midoriya says. His voice sounds alien to Shouta’s ears, far away and unnaturally steady. “You must have something big up your sleeve, something you know will kill him. Otherwise you wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble, right? You got so far, and you beat Aizawa-sensei and Thirteen, so you must be smart.”

“Shigaraki!” the warp villain snaps.

“Shut up, Kurogiri,” Shigaraki spits back petulantly. “He’s going to die anyway. You are,” he adds with a glance at Izuku. “And we can kill the Symbol of Peace. And even if we don’t, how much will it hurt him to find children dead when he gets here? Maybe we can still wait for him. It would be nice, after we came all this way.”

“Well that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Midoriya says. “You know you can kill him. …Just like you knew he would be here.” Midoriya tilts his head to the side again, and that’s when Shouta sees his student go for the throat. “Except he isn’t, is he?”

Shigaraki goes still.

“You didn’t know that All-Might wouldn’t be here,” Midoriya says. “You didn’t know that Eraserhead would. You didn’t even know what all our quirks were.” And at that moment, Midoriya finally smiles at Shigaraki Tomura.

“Imagine what else you don’t know, Mr. Shigaraki.”

It’s not a confident smirk, or a happy grin; it’s just a bland, vague smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes because they’re too busy playing host to a storm of fear and cold rage. Shouta can see it as clearly as if it’s written on them, and it’s so alien on a kind face like Midoriya’s that Shouta can imagine chills running up his own spine.

There’s a tremor in the villain’s hand, still half-raised to touch Midoriya and turn him to dust.

“I think,” Midoriya says, “that you were right the first time. You’ve gotten so far, and done so well up to now, and everyone’s going to be very impressed. So… why risk that?” His smile stretches wider. “Imagine how cool it would be, if you just… after you came in here, and did all this, if you just vanished without a trace, before anyone even got here to stop you. Right? That would be pretty cool.”

Shigaraki doesn’t reply out loud, but he does make an eager little noise. He’s like a child, Shouta thinks. Easily distracted. Easily flattered. Easily taken in. And from the looks of it, Midoriya has noticed this. It’s as close to a weak spot as he’s going to get, and Midoriya is digging his nails in for all he’s worth.

“Shigaraki,” the warp villain says sharply. “Stop listening to this child. If you’re going to kill him, do it.”

“Shut up, Kurogiri.” Shigaraki almost whines. “I’m thinking.”

“The brat with the speed quirk already went for help,” the warp villain, Kurogiri, warns him. Relief finds its way into Shouta’s mind—so Iida, at least, is safe. Help is on the way. “We’re running out of time.”

“None of the pro heroes teaching at UA have speed quirks,” Shigaraki says petulantly.

“Unless they do,” Midoriya chips in. “You should listen to him.”

It’s a mistake. Shigaraki rounds on him in a fit of unpredictable temper, hand poised to reach for him again. “Don’t tell me what to do—” he snarls.

Boom.

The explosion toward the entrance galvanizes Midoriya into action before Shouta even knows what’s caused it. His student springs back, out of Shigaraki’s reach, and catches Tsuyu by the arm to drag her along with him. They don’t need to go far; Shigaraki isn’t pursuing them. He’s too busy whirling around to see what all the commotion is. The Noumu leaves Shouta’s body on the ground and moves to flank him.

The dust settles, and All-Might steps into the facility, his voice booming out so that it reaches almost every corner.

“It’s all right now,” he says, and Shouta is close enough to hear the strangled almost-sob of relief from Midoriya. “Do you know why?”

His teeth are showing, stark white from beneath his lips. But he isn’t smiling. There’s a woman at his side, grim and silent. It’s not Midnight. It’s not anyone that Shouta recognizes. Her skin is pale and her eyes are blank and white—another ghost.

“Because I am here.”

Shouta is watching what happens next, and yet he sees almost nothing. In the space of a blink, villains go flying before All-Might reappears by his body. Another instant, and Shouta feels himself be violently jerked to the side by some invisible force. When he gets his bearings, they’re halfway across the plaza from where they were before. All of them—Midoriya, Asui, and All-Might, who lays his body down with a gentleness that Shouta grudgingly appreciates.

The dead boy reappears next to him, grinning. “Wow. For a second there I thought he’d lassoed you or something. You must really still be alive if you’re tied to your body like that.”

Shouta only half-hears him, too caught up in his own relief. “About time someone got here,” he mutters.

“Give him a break,” the ghostly woman at All-Might’s side snaps. “The principal held him up. I had to short-circuit half the lights in the room and knock tea all over the carpet just to give him the chance to slip off.”

Shouta sees the grin spread across Midoriya’s face, sees the boy look straight at the woman and see her. Thank you, his student mouths silently.

Midoriya can see them. There’s no getting around that; the dead are everywhere, and Midoriya can see them.

“Midoriya, Asui,” All-Might says quietly. “Head to the entrance. Take Aizawa with you—I leave him to you.”

It’s uncomfortably strange, being talked about like he isn’t there. “I’m right here,” Shouta says.

“They can’t see you,” the dead boy reminds him.

“They didn’t kill him?” Asui whispers. Her eyes are fixed on his body, wide with horror.

Midoriya locks eyes with Shouta again. The boy’s stare sharpens, considering him, searching his face. Shouta can only look back, helplessly lost, before Midoriya turns back to Asui.

“No,” he tells her. “He’s still alive.”

“Hurry!” All-Might urges.

They rush to obey, and Shouta would spare a moment to be touched if the situation weren’t so dire. And it is dire, though the students don’t know it. He and Thirteen had signaled each other before; All-Might has spent his time limit already. He must be running on fumes and a prayer at this point.

Midoriya and Asui heave his unconscious form off of the ground, while the dead boy hovers anxiously and the little girl darts around them unseen, gathering up the bloodied, trailing scarf to keep it from getting underfoot and tripping them. It is then that Midoriyahesitates and looks back.

“All-Might,” he says. “There’s something funny about the big one—Noumu. And you…” He’s oddly solemn, Shouta thinks. For a boy who so obviously hero-worships All-Might, he look almost unhappy to see him. Midoriya shoots a furtive glance toward Asui, before his throat bobs and he speaks again. “Is there time?”

He knows, Shouta realizes with a jolt.

“Young Midoriya.” All-Might turns to face him, and the smile is back in place. At his side, the ghost woman’s pale face mirrors it. “It’s going to be all right. Now please, get him to safety.”

Midoriya knows about the time limit. He knows, and All-Might knows that he knows, and what does this mean?


Tsuyu is staring at him.

Izuku can feel the full weight of her attention pressing on his mind. He isn’t looking directly at her, but he can feel her wide eyes boring into him all the same, watching him as if she expects him to sprout fangs and shoot poison.

And why wouldn’t she, after what she just saw him do?

Most people wouldn’t talk that way to a villain. Most people would scream, would run, would shout and curse and threaten and spit defiance. Most people trembled before men who wore severed hands like trophies and crumbled flesh with a touch.

But Tsuyu has seen him look such a man in the eye, and talk to him like an acquaintance. She has seen him flatter and tease and lie with a smile on his face, not half a minute after seeing the villain stand by and laugh while his minion beat their teacher half to death.

This whole time, his classmates have mistaken him for someone normal. Someone cool, even. What will they think of him now, when Tsuyu tells the others what she’s seen him do? What will they do when they find out how creepy and strange he is?

Izuku’s eyes burn, and he ducks his head under the pretense of struggling under the weight of Aizawa’s unconscious body. Friendship was nice while it lasted.

“Ts-Tsu—Asui,” he says quietly, and his classmate starts at the sound of his voice. The burning in his eyes almost brings the blur of tears, but he blinks as hard as he can to fight them back. He turns to her, and tries to read the look in her eyes. Is that fear he sees? Tsuyu’s looking at him like she’s never seen him before. “Can you go on ahead?”

“What?” She croaks in surprise. “And leave you, Midoriya? What for?”

“The two of us are sitting ducks like this,” he says. “I can carry him by myself until you bring back help—some people to help carry him, some to cover the others. Okay?”

She blinks, and the previous unnameable emotion in her eyes is replaced by a sort of worried determination. “Are you sure?”

“I’ll be fine, just hurry back.”

“...Okay.” She slips out from under Aizawa’s limp form, and stays just long enough to help Izuku readjust the weight before she takes off at leaps and bounds.

Finally alone, Izuku raises his head and looks at Aizawa again—not the unconscious body he’s carrying, but the faded almost-ghost who drifts along beside him. “Have you and Narita talked yet?” he asks. It’s nowhere near the most pressing issue at the moment, but Izuku could use a distraction.

“What—”

“Not yet,” Narita says. “I’m still waiting.”

“Oh,” Izuku says. Aizawa’s limp weight isn’t so bad if he just focuses on one step at a time. Tsuyu is fast and strong; she’ll be back with help in no time. He only has so much time to talk. “What for?”

“If he dies, then we’ll talk,” Narita says. “If he wakes up after this, then he’s going to forget everything he’s seen and heard. That’s what always happens with near-death experiences like this. So I won’t waste my breath.”

“You don’t breathe, Narita,” Izuku says.

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” Aizawa says sharply.

“Sorry,” Izuku says automatically. The moment the word is out, his throat feels tight, and the burning in his eyes is back.

“Don’t cry, Midoriya.” Somehow, Aizawa’s voice is gruff but not unkind.

“Sorry,” Izuku chokes out. “I’m sorry, it’s my fault, it’s—and you saved us, me and Tsuyu, and—if you die, it’ll be my fault, and that’s never happened before, and I didn’t want—I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

They did,” Aizawa says.

Izuku blinks up at him, eyes blurring.

“You didn’t mean for it to happen. They did.” Aizawa looks back to the battling villains. “Making it more their fault than yours, wouldn’t you agree?”

Izuku purses his lips to keep from crying. “He’s out of time, isn’t he,” he half-whispers. “All-Might. If help doesn’t come soon, they’ll… he’ll lose.”

“He won’t run out of time,” Aizawa tells him. “He’s stubborn like you. He’ll be fine.”

It takes a liar to spot a lie, and Izuku has been keeping secrets since he was five years old. He doesn’t believe Aizawa, though he’s grateful that his teacher cares enough to try to make him feel better.

“Since we have more pressing things to worry about, I won’t ask you how you know about that,” Aizawa goes on. “But you didn’t answer my question before—you can see me. How?”

“No,” Izuku blurts.

“Excuse me?”

Izuku meets his teacher’s eyes again. “If I told you everything,” he says, his voice shaking. “It would mean that you were dead, and you needed to be told. But you’re not dead.” His vision floods into a wet blur, and he blinks to let the tears fall and clear his eyes. “You’re not dead and you’re not going to die, and that means there’s no point in telling you. Because you’re going to wake up, Aizawa-sensei. And all of this will fade away like a bad dream.” His hands are full, and he can’t wipe his eyes. “I promise, you’re going to wake up.”

Before Aizawa can reply, there’s a raspy, distorted cry, and Rei flickers into view in Izuku’s path. He stumbles, almost dropping Aizawa, but her ice-cold hands steady both him and his burden. Her dark hair parts like a curtain, showing enough of her face for Izuku to see how frantic she is.

“Rei? What’s wrong?”

She releases him to free up her hands so that she can sign. He’s in trouble, she tells him without speaking. Her hands move frantically as they shape the words, one after another into a stream. They trapped him he’s in trouble he needs help he’s hurting.

Izuku stops so abruptly that he almost trips before he looks back. His stomach twists—All-Might is balanced precariously over one of Kurogiri’s warps. The Noumu is visible from the waist up, protruding from the warp gate just far enough to grip All-Might in the ribs. Its fingers dig in, right at the spot where Izuku knows his scar is. Ms. Shimura claws uselessly at the Noumu, jaws open wide as she screams her fury.

Aizawa’s ghost swears quietly.

I smell blood, Rei signs. They’ll kill him.

Izuku sobs as every instinct in him burns to run back and help. But he can’t do that without leaving Aizawa for dead. He can save Aizawa, whose almost-ghost stands before him and might become a real ghost if help doesn’t come soon, or he can help All-Might, who trusted him with his power and his secrets and promised to train him into just as great a hero as Izuku has ever hoped to be.

“Whatever you’re thinking of doing,” Aizawa says. “Don’t. And that’s not just me being selfish. This is so you can save yourself, Midoriya.”

“I don’t want to save myself,” Izuku whispers.

“Damn it, Midoriya, he stayed to fight to give you a chance to get away!” Aizawa snaps. “Don’t throw that away so lightly!”

“I’m the only one who knows!” Izuku chokes out. “Nobody else—they don’t know he’s hurt, they don’t know he’s—”

Deku!

He turns forward again, and hope stabs him in the heart when he sees Tsuyu returning with Uraraka, Sero, and Satou with her. “Hurry!” he yells back, and his voice comes out cracked and raw and broken.

One touch from Uraraka lightens his burden, and he ducks out from under Aizawa’s limp form. “Get him to safety,” he blurts.

“Midoriya, don’t,” Aizawa’s almost-ghost growls at him.

“I have to,” he answers.

“Have to what?” Uraraka asks, but Izuku is already running. Rei keeps pace with him, her hair twisting like dark snakes, and he feels his own desperate fear and anger finally boil over. It lends him strength and speed.

He’ll help. Whatever he can do to help, whatever he can sacrifice, he’ll do it. All-Might will win.


Of course, it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple.

In the end, it’s not so much a close call as it is a string of close calls, one after another. Every time All-Might is nearly beaten, something gets in the villains’ way. First Izuku charging back into the fray after leaving Aizawa in his classmates’ care. He can’t do much on his own, but his other classmates are next to arrive—Bakugou, taking down the warp villain with a well-placed explosion, and Todoroki, freezing the Noumu’s limbs so that All-Might can escape its grip.

And finally, when the battle is truly dire, when One For All ebbs from All-Might’s body and shatters the bones in Izuku’s legs with a single desperate leap, the rest of Yuuei’s faculty arrives, with Iida leading the way.

In the end, two villains escape, and no new ghosts are made that day.

Izuku is left lying injured on the ground. Rei hovers over him, humming anxiously, while Ms. Shimura stands by All-Might’s side like a bodyguard. She’s been strangely quiet this whole time, ever since she came back with him. But there’s time to worry about that later; for now, tears of relief, shame, and leftover fear stream down his face.

He’s okay. All-Might is okay. Izuku couldn’t do much, but he could buy time; he stalled the villains the last few minutes before All-Might could arrive, and bought a precious handful of seconds to keep them from killing him before Iida’s return with reinforcements.

He wasn’t useless. He wasn’t much, but he wasn’t useless.

Only one more thing of note happens that afternoon, before paramedics arrive to take charge of him and All-Might.

“Hey! Midoriya!”

At the sound of Kirishima’s voice, Izuku looks up to see his classmate running toward them with a worried look on his face.

“Are you guys okay?”

Izuku pushes himself up on his elbows. “I’m fine, but I can’t get up,” he calls back. “And—wait!” Realization hits him like a jolt of electricity. There’s only a cloud of steam hiding All-Might’s true form from view. If Kirishima gets too close… “Kirishima, stop! Don’t come any closer!”

Rei leaves his side, blinking out of view to reappear in Kirishima’s path. Her hair ripples, she thrusts her hands out to stop him, and he runs straight through her like he always does.

His face freezes. He stumbles, falling to one knee briefly before recovering his balance. For a moment he stands in place, wide-eyed and blinking hard.

“Are you okay?” Izuku calls.

“Yeah, fine,” Kirishima answers. “Just… felt someone walk over my grave, I guess.”

Cementoss arrives then, and sends Kirishima running back to the entrance. Rei returns to Izuku’s side with a proud smile on her face.

Izuku can only stare at her, speechless. She’s attacked people before, many times. She’s tried to hurt them, or slow them down.

She’s tried. This is the first time that Izuku has ever seen her succeed.

Chapter Text

Thanks to Recovery Girl, Izuku’s legs heal in no time.

It’s a blessing, because Izuku is certain that if he had spent any time in casts or on crutches, his mother would have worried herself into a distraction. She fusses over him as it is, and he lets her without complaint. She’s always there to offer quiet hugs and his favorite foods after a particularly nasty ghost encounter, and after what he’s just been through, Izuku needs nothing less. Even with his legs healed, he can’t stand up for long, not without shaking like a leaf until he’s ready to fall over.

School is closed the following day, and Izuku takes the opportunity to sleep until his brain damn well wants him to wake up. Rei stands guard in his room through the night, humming softly until the buzz lulls him to sleep. He drifts off with Mika curled up on the pillow behind his head, and at some point during the night, she crawls into his arms and sleeps purring against his chest. After all the fighting, panicking, and quirk-facilitated healing he’s done all day, he sleeps like a rock.

In fact, it’s the first night in a very long time that Izuku is able to sleep without any dreams at all.

He wakes up feeling soft and content. Slowly, he lets his heavy eyelids drift open on their own, with his arms full of warm cat and his stomach growling comfortably for breakfast and sunlight shining through his window and Rei hissing and snarling in the distance.

…Wait, what was that last one?

Mika trills softly as he heaves himself out of bed. Rei is nowhere to be seen, but he can hear her; he knows what she sounds like by heart. Yawning, he gets dressed and wanders into the bathroom.

The bathroom is already occupied, by the ghost of a young woman fixing her hair in front of the mirror. There’s little point when she doesn’t cast a reflection, but Izuku’s not about to judge.

“Morning, Ms. Morino.” Izuku swallows a yawn. “Could I have the bathroom real quick? Won’t be two minutes.”

“Oh, of course!” Morino Naoko vanishes, and doesn’t reappear until Izuku’s flushed the toilet and turned on the sink. “You sure slept late.”

“Long day. I almost died.”

She whistles, and goes back to trying to fix her hair in front of the useless mirror. “That would’ve been awful. Is that why Rei’s in a pet this morning? She’s been throwing a tantrum, and it’s making the rest of us a bit edgy. Kurosawa won’t come out of the hall closet until she’s quiet.” She pauses. “Could I borrow your hand? I just need you to hold this for a few seconds.”

“Sure.” Izuku reaches over and holds the braided bun in place while Morino clips it. “Couldn’t you just… make yourself look like this?”

“I guess. I like doing my hair, though. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Thank you, Midoriya.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll go check on Rei.” Izuku splashes water on his face to wake himself up, and walks out into the living room.

“Oh, good, you’re up,” Mom says, and subjects him to a hug and a good-morning kiss on the cheek. “How’re you feeling?”

“I slept… really well,” he says. “Better than I thought I would.”

“I’m glad.” She beams at him. “Are all your friends all right, too?”

“Oh, yeah they’re fine. Nobody got hurt.” Except me, and Aizawa-sensei, and All-Might.

“And your ghost friends?” she asks. “I was afraid something might be wrong; I woke up early this morning because the TV turned on by itself, and I’ve been hearing noises every now and then. And not the normal noises, either.”

As if on cue, Izuku hears Rei shriek in the distance. The lights flicker, and a nearby window rattles against the pane. “Something might be bothering Rei. I’ll go check—I’ll be right back.”

“Be safe, Izuku.”

He slips on his shoes but doesn’t bother tying them before he goes outside. This happens from time to time; once in a while Rei gets territorial and throws a fit if some other ghost tries to move in and start haunting the place without her say-so. She tolerates the quieter ones, like Ms. Morino (grad student, hit by a drunk driver) and Kurosawa (shopkeeper, shot in a robbery gone wrong) and Mrs. Matsuda (retired yoga instructor, heart attack) who do little more than blink the hallway lights, whisper in the walls, or mess with doors, but some ghosts just get on her nerves. It doesn’t take much to defuse these conflicts, though.

Mika trails at his heels as he steps outside. “Rei?” he calls, cautiously. “Rei, what’s the matter?”

A moment later, she blinks into view in front of him, scowling like she’s been denied sweets. She signs to him. She won’t leave, she says.

“Who won’t leave?” he asks.

The words are barely out of his mouth when the source of consternation materializes out of thin air and sends him staggering back in surprise.

“Oh good, you’re up,” Ms. Shimura says without preamble. “I was going to wake you up earlier, but your friend here pitched a fit and wouldn’t let me.”

Rei sticks her tongue out, much farther than any human tongue would be able to stretch.

“And I mean, it’s been hours,” Ms. Shimura continues. “I know I’m dead and time has no meaning anymore, but. Come on.”

“W-what are you doing here?” Izuku fights to keep his voice low. He’s disturbed the neighbors before by accident, and the last thing he wants is to wake anyone up even this late in the morning.

“I wanted to talk to you about—did you eat breakfast?”

There’s enough whiplash in that sentence to give Izuku a sore neck. “I… no? I just woke up. Recovery Girl healed my legs yesterday, so I was really out of it, and…”

“Go eat breakfast,” Ms. Shimura says. “And then come down to the park. I’ll be waiting.”

She vanishes, and Izuku blinks a few times before heading back inside.

“Everything okay?” Mom asks.

“I think so, yeah,” he says. “There’s just a… Is it okay if I go out after breakfast? Someone needs to talk to me.”

“Well… I-I don’t see why not.” She’s still nervous; after what happened yesterday, Izuku doesn’t blame her for wanting him to stay inside all day. Had he stayed injured, he’s sure she would have insisted on it. But thankfully, at least for now, she seems all right with letting things go as normal.

He barely tastes his breakfast, too busy wondering why Ms. Shimura came to visit. She said she was here for hours, even—where’s All-Might? Why isn’t she with him? She never strays far from him, and even if she does, it’s never for very long.

And, after what happened at the USJ, Izuku would have expected her to be glued to his side, at least for a while. And yet, here she is, paying a visit and enduring hours of Rei’s irate scolding just to wait for him to get up.

He takes his dishes to the kitchen when he’s done, only for Mom to take them out of his hands. “You go on,” she says. “Whatever it is, go ahead and take care of it. I’ll wash up.”

“I can—it’ll only take a moment, you don’t have to—”

She won’t take no for an answer, and shoos him out the door. Mika slips out with him.

“Make sure she doesn’t run off, now,” Mom calls after him.

“We’ll be fine,” he replies. “Thanks, Mom.”

The park is only a few blocks away. It’s a nice little spot, with picnic tables and a playground for kids. There are trees further in, for shade or a quiet spot away from the road. The whole place is grassy and well-kept, and at the moment it’s almost empty. Ms. Shimura waits for him away from the road, where trees and shade deflect the attention of passersby. At the sight of her, Izuku breaks into a jog.

“Ms. Shimura!” He slows as he approaches her. “What’s going on? Is All-Might okay? How come you’re so far away from him?”

She doesn’t answer immediately. Her arms are crossed over her chest as she regards him with her blank white eyesockets and starkly pale face. Izuku can’t help but fidget under her scrutiny. Rei is close to his side, silent. Mika rubs against his leg, mewing until he stoops to pet her.

“W-what’s this about?” he asks as he straightens up again.

“This is about you,” she answers. “This is about what happened yesterday. And… this is about me, changing my stance on… certain things.”

He searches her face, his confusion evolving into curiosity. “What kind of things?”

Her form flickers, and she stands before him with her arm outstretched, palm out. “Hit me.”

“W-what?”

“You heard me.” Her face is unreadable. “Throw a punch. Don’t put any One For All behind it—I just want to see your form.”

Mystified, he complies, and feels his fist smack against the flat of her hand.

She shakes her head. “Just as I thought.”

Izuku’s brow furrows. “What was that about my form?”

“You don’t have any, that’s what,” she says. “That’s your biggest problem right now, kiddo. You have the strength—even without One For All, you’re built like a brick shithouse and you have strength in spades—but you don’t know what to do with it.”

“Um.” He feels like he ought to be insulted, but mostly he just knows that she’s right. “I haven’t really…”

“You haven’t learned any basics,” she finishes for him. “It’s not your fault. All-Might’s new at teaching, and Yuuei’s curriculum focuses on strategy, teamwork, and most of all the strengthening of one’s quirk. But you? Your quirk doesn’t need strengthening; you do.”

“I know that,” Izuku replies, trying to ignore the sinking feeling of shame at the statement. He blinks, and the feeling ebbs. “Wait… wait, does this mean…? Are you saying you’re going to—”

“I didn’t want it to come to this,” Ms. Shimura tells him, her face falling. “I wanted to just… stay an observer. I wanted to let All-Might train you—it’s his right to raise you as a hero, and I don’t want to take that away from him.” Her brow furrows, and she looks at him with her face set with determination. “But after what happened yesterday, it’s clear to me that I can’t afford to stay on the sidelines. And if you still can’t use One For All without ending up in the hospital, then the very least I can do is teach you to defend yourself, quirk or no quirk.”

Izuku stands a little taller. “You’re going to teach me how to fight?”

She moves before he has the chance to react, slips past what little defenses he has, and knocks his feet out from under him. The next thing he knows, he’s flat on his back in the grass, staring up into her face as she stands over him. “Here’s what’s gonna happen, half-pint,” she says. “You’ll continue your studies at Yuuei, and your training with All-Might. And in the meantime, I’ll be getting the basics of hand-to-hand combat between your ears by any means necessary.” She leans down toward him. “With any luck, I’ll be able to knock some lessons into you that stick well enough that you have something to show for it at the Sports Festival.” She casts a glance to the side, where Rei is hissing in protest at the rough handling. “So, with that in mind, I’d appreciate it if you told your friend here not to chew on me just because you might be a slow learner.”

Izuku’s heart quickens, and he scrambles to his feet and stands at his tallest height. “She won’t. She’ll behave.” He gives Rei a meaningful look before turning back to Ms. Shimura. “And I won’t be a slow learner.” He bobs his head in a short, grateful bow. “You won’t regret this, I promise. Thank you for teaching me.”

The smile she gives him is a dangerous one. “Don’t thank me yet, shorty.” Her form blinks, and she reappears at his side, hands on his shoulders to shift his stance. “Lesson number one. Here’s the right way to throw a punch.”


By the end of the lesson, Izuku is sore, sweaty, grass-stained, and has had the wind knocked out of him no less than four separate times.

Unless one counts the moment All-Might took him on as a successor, he has never been happier.


Izuku’s feet drag as he makes his way down the hall to his classroom. It’s not just weariness that makes his body feel heavy, though he has plenty of that. The incident at USJ left him exhausted enough to sleep without dreams that night; on the night after, he was not so lucky. After eight hours of bad dreams and cold sweats that not even Mika’s purring could keep away, Izuku feels like death warmed over.

And on top of it all, there are people he has to face. Classmates. Tsuyu.

Aizawa.

The last one, at least, he does not need to fear for long. Narita meets him in the hallway and gives him some good news.

“He doesn’t remember,” is the first thing Narita says to him. “At least, I don’t think he does. And he’s okay. That’s probably more important.”

“Okay,” Izuku whispers. He feels as if he could sink through the floor. That’s one weight off his chest; he didn’t get his homeroom teacher killed, and Aizawa doesn’t remember what he saw.

Still, he braces himself as he opens the door and walks into the classroom. There are things he’s desperately hoped he could leave behind in middle school, but now as he steps in, he can almost hear it already.

What a freak. If he wasn’t quirkless I might actually be scared of him.

You never know. He’s the kind of guy who might snap.

He’s so creepy. I saw him talking to a wall.

He’ll stare at you like you’re not even there. He’s like a walking corpse.

Quirkless creep.

You can’t fix crazy.

“Midoriya!”

Kirishima’s voice cuts through the rest of the classroom conversations, and Izuku freezes in his tracks as his classmate vaults over a desk to get to him. On instinct he grasps Rei’s hand and tries to ground himself when she squeezes back. Everyone else in the room, alerted by Kirishima’s call, is now looking at him. Kaminari, Uraraka, Sero, Iida, Tsuyu—Bakugou, too. Izuku’s ears roar with panic, and it’s all he can do not to turn tail before Kirishima reaches him.

“Dude!” Kirishima’s sharp teeth show in a wide grin. “Tsuyu told us you stared down that creepy hands guy at the USJ! Is that true?”

Izuku blinks. The roaring in his ears cuts off abruptly. “U-um. I… guess?”

Kirishima thumps his shoulder, nearly knocking him off balance. “Man, I never knew you had it in you, dude!”

“I-I… what?”

“I heard he had some kind of disintegrating quirk!” Sero pipes up. “Didn’t he almost grab you?”

“H-he, um, he did grab me,” Izuku stammers. “Both of us, me and Tsuyu. But Aizawa-sensei erased his quirk, and…”

“Damn, dude,” Kaminari shakes his head. “That must’ve been intense.”

“I was so scared I couldn’t move,” Tsuyu says loudly. “I’m pretty sure he was gonna kill us, but then Midoriya just looked him straight in the eye and started talking to him, like it was nothing. And he kept him talking ‘til All-Might got there.”

“That was really clever of you, Deku!” Uraraka calls.

“Weren’t you scared, Midoriya?” Ashido asks.

“Witless.” Izuku isn’t quite sure what to do with this. This is not what he expected. “I just… I got so scared that I came back around to calm, I guess? I-I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just wanted to distract him long enough to keep him from killing us.” He’s close to panic again, but now it’s for a different reason.

“That sounds so cool,” Kirishima gushes. “I wish I could’ve seen that.”

“Y-you think so?” Izuku asks.

“Of course we do!” Kirishima stares at him like it’s the stupidest question he’s ever heard. “Why wouldn’t we? You stared down a villain and you didn’t even flinch.”

“So you...” The words catch in his throat for a moment. “You don’t think it’s… I dunno… creepy?”

“Oh it was super creepy,” Tsuyu calls out again. “Especially the part where you smiled at him.”

Izuku winces.

“No no no, dude, don’t worry.” Kirishima claps him on the shoulder again, jostling him a little. “That’s a good thing.”

“It is?” Izuku gapes at him, bewildered.

“Totally!” Kirishima spreads his hands wide. “We’re all gonna be heroes, right? If you’re creepy, then that just means you can scare the villains, you know?”

“Oh.” Izuku opens and shuts his mouth a few times, too baffled to manage words immediately. “I… never thought about it that way.”

“It’s kinda like All-Might, but different,” Tsuyu muses. “He scares villains by being super strong, and you can scare them by smiling at them like you’re about to eat a baby.”

“Um...” Izuku feels like that’s meant as a compliment, but he’s not quite sure. It’s mind-blowing to be compared to All-Might in any way, but baby-eating is definitely not what he was going for.

“Your quirk’s pretty similar to his already,” Tsuyu adds, and Izuku almost chokes on the air he’s breathing.

“Are you okay, though?” Uraraka asks. “It was super brave what you did, but you also got hurt pretty bad.”

“I’m fine,” Izuku assures her. The weight of everyone’s attention is beginning to overwhelm him, so he grasps desperately for an out. “I-I mean, we can’t forget Iida. He’s the one who went and got help, remember? We would’ve all been in trouble otherwise.”

This deflects attention, at least for the moment, and the conversation shifts to back-slapping Iida while Izuku flees to his seat. He passes by Todoroki’s desk, and almost trips over his feet when he sees that his classmate—the strongest student in his class, no less—is still watching him with an expression that Izuku can’t quite decipher. But Todoroki doesn’t stop him, or say anything, so Izuku moves on and takes his seat.

Beneath the shock, confusion, and burning embarrassment, he can’t deny the tiny spark of unexpected pleasure that this conversation has brought. His classmates have seen him, really seen him. Maybe not enough to know about the ghosts, but they’ve seen what his middle school classmates used to see every day, and they aren’t whispering behind their hands, or scooting away from him, or calling him crazy.

Maybe… maybe they haven’t mistaken him for someone cool. Maybe they just think he’s cool.

He jumps when Aizawa finally appears, face wrapped in bandages like a mummy, but he makes it through the period without any more incidents.

In spite of the attack on the school, business is going on as usual. The Sports Festival is two weeks away; when Aizawa makes that announcement, Izuku absently rubs at one of his many bruises from Ms. Shimura’s training. With her help, hopefully he’ll be ready for whatever his classmates can throw at him.

He’s walking out of the classroom for lunch when Aizawa’s voice stops him. “Midoriya, a word.”

Shit, he thinks, but there’s no avoiding this. His classmates all file out, leaving him alone with his homeroom teacher.

Mostly alone, anyway. Narita’s still there, and Rei is at his side as always. When Aizawa steps closer, Izuku looks instinctively to her, in case she tries to bite him again like she usually does. After she stopped Kirishima in his tracks at the USJ, he isn’t sure he can just let her do that anymore.

But she doesn’t.

She doesn’t snap, or growl, or change her face into a frightening mask. When Aizawa moves within reach, she wanders over to bat at the trailing end of his scarf.

“Y-yes, Sensei?” he answers, remembering where he is. His heart beats in his throat.

“I seem to recall a rather devil-may-care attitude from you, the other day,” Aizawa says.

“Um.”

“Not to mention what I overheard Asui saying,” Aizawa continues.

“O-oh.” He’s not talking about the ghosts, Izuku realizes with a shudder of relief. He’s talking about Izuku’s recklessness. That, he can deal with.

“There’s a saying about the difference between bravery and stupidity,” Aizawa tells him. “It’s only brave if it works. You do understand how close you came to being killed on Wednesday.” It’s not a question.

“Yes.” The floor draws Izuku’s eyes. He remembers, not for the first time, that it’s only because of the man before him that Shigaraki didn’t turn him and Tsuyu to dust.

“You’re not short of nerve, I’ll give you that.” It’s so close to a compliment that Izuku jerks his head up again, surprised. “But I don’t think I need to tell you that if All-Might hadn’t shown up when he did, both you and Asui would be dead right now.”

“I-I know.”

“So in the future,” Aizawa continues. “Don’t run into danger unless there’s a good chance you won’t become another casualty.”

“I understand, Sensei.” He wants to look at the floor again, but he forces himself to keep his head raised. “Thank you.”

He doesn’t see Aizawa raise his eyebrow with the bandages in the way, but he can practically feel it.

“For—” The words catch in Izuku’s throat. “I mean, when you...”

Aizawa sighs and turns back to his desk. “Go to lunch, Midoriya. Before you embarrass both of us.”

Reddening, Izuku mumbles something in reply and obeys.

Ghosts are easy to talk to. The living are not.


Izuku’s two weeks of training take off from there.

It’s a strange balance for Izuku, trying to focus on getting stronger while not spending too much time thinking about why. If he lets his mind fixate on it, then he’ll crack for sure. After the USJ incident, all eyes are on his class. Everyone will be watching. Pro heroes looking to snap up sidekicks will be watching. Most of the other students in their year seem to share a single-minded determination to beat them and show the world that Class 1-A isn’t so tough.

All-Might’s time limit is getting shorter and shorter now that he’s passed on his quirk, and he wants Izuku to use the festival to announce his arrival to the whole world.

No pressure or anything.

And so, Izuku throws himself into getting ready. He strengthens his grip at the dinner table, finds himself reaching for his weights and lifting sets with no memory of starting. Mrs. Matsuda, former yoga teacher during her life, shows him a few useful stretches that he can do while he’s resting, watching TV, or doing homework.

And of course, Ms. Shimura takes him outside every day to teach him how not to get the crap kicked out of him.

“So,” Ms. Shimura says at one training session, after she sends Izuku sprawling to the ground for the hundredth time. “What did you learn from that?”

Izuku spits out grass and picks himself back up. “That you fight dirty?”

She laughs at that. “It’s not fighting dirty if you’re fighting on the same level as the villains you’re trying to take down, half-pint. Because believe you me, they will fight dirty.” She stands over him with her arms akimbo, showing off hard muscle.

Not for the first time, Izuku wonders who she was in her life. He wonders if she was a hero, too. With every session and lesson that leaves Izuku sweaty and aching, it seems more and more likely.She’s only been teaching him for about a week, but he’s learned so much that he finds himself visualizing moves and throws in class, at the dinner table, on the way to school, and when he lies awake in bed. He mentally runs through the defenses she drills into him, even going through motions with his hands whenever he happens to be standing still. It’s not a good combination with his tendency to space out; just the day before, he elbowed Todoroki in the ribs by accident outside the restroom, and nearly knocked Iida’s tray out of his hands while in line for lunch. He only has so much time before the festival, and he’s determined to etch Ms. Shimura’s lessons into his brain and his muscles. If he can’t always trust his mind not to freeze up on him, then at the very least he ought to trust his muscle memory.

Izuku staggers to his feet, panting a little as he catches his breath. “Do I have to stoop to their level, though? I thought the point was that we’re better than that.”

“This isn’t a game, beansprout,” Ms. Shimura tells him, shaking her head. “You can’t afford to keep score when there are civilian lives on the line—lives that you are protecting and the villains are threatening, if you need help with perspective.” She reaches out and clips his chin lightly. “Remember, heroes are trained to act in a crisis, to break things if they have to, and to protect people by taking down whoever or whatever is trying to hurt them. You can’t afford to get dainty when you’re going toe to toe with a villain—especially with a quirk like yours.”

“My quirk is strong, though,” Izuku murmurs.

“Sure is,” Ms. Shimura nods. “It’s strong at close range. You’re not that Todoroki kid, or the one that drops glitter and shoots lasers out of his belly button—you can’t attack from a distance, the way you are. Until you harness that power properly, your only way to fight is to get up close and personal. And when someone’s trying to beat you into unconsciousness, you can’t get squeamish. Aim for weak spots. Throw sand in their eyes. Insult their mothers. Fake a weakness so they drop their guard.”

“That doesn’t sound very heroic.” Izuku brushes uselessly at the green smear on the front of his shirt.

“Heroism isn’t always pretty, short-stack,” Ms. Shimura sighs. “It’s not all fun and glory. Sometimes it’s a sweaty chore. If it helps, don’t think of it like fighting dirty—think of it as fighting smart. You have to be willing to fight this way if you hope to defend yourself against bigger, stronger opponents.” She pauses. “Which might happen, unless you limit yourself to fighting crimes committed by small children. Or large house cats.”

“Hey!”

Rei cackles.

“That’s the hard truth of it, at least until you figure out your quirk.” Ms. Shimura tells him. “’Til then, I’m gonna make sure you know how to navigate a fight.”

“So far, I’ve been navigating my way face-first into the ground,” Izuku says. He’s glad he picked a shirt and pants he didn’t care that much about, because he isn’t sure his mother will be able to get these grass stains out.

“You’re improving, though,” Ms. Shimura assures him with a smile. “You’re getting quicker—I can see it already. I’m starting to have to work hard to knock you off your feet.”

“I don’t think I’ve fought this much in… ever,” Izuku admits. “I mostly… I never used to fight very much. I’d mostly just talk, or run.”

“Well, you’ve been doing a lot less of that ever since you got started,” she says. “I saw you when—when those villains attacked. You stand your ground, and that’s good.”

“Except when my legs broke,” Izuku points out.

“It’s a work in progress.” Ms. Shimura smacks her fist against her palm. “So far, with every fight I’ve seen you get into, the other guy’s been the one with the upper hand. You’re a student, and you’re inexperienced with your quirk, so that’s going to keep happening.”

“Then what do I do about it?” Izuku asks.

“Simple, kiddo.” Ms. Shimura smiles at him, and takes another fighting stance. “If someone thinks they have the upper hand, then you break it. Now, attack me again.”

Chapter Text

“Last school day before the Sports Festival, my boy,” All-Might says. “How do you feel?”

There are a few too many answers to that question for Izuku to pick just one. In the end, his brain is so cluttered with adjectives that his mouth jumps the gun, and what comes out is “Hungry, mostly.”

It’s not his fault All-Might decided to pull him aside for a conversation right when class let out for lunch, but here they are.

Before Izuku has the chance to get embarrassed, All-Might gives a good-natured chuckle that puts him at ease. “I think I walked into that one,” he says. “Don’t worry, I won’t keep you long.”

Izuku tries again. “I’m… nervous, I guess? I’m trying to prepare myself, but I’m also trying not to think about it too hard.”

“Don’t avoid the thought too much, my boy,” All-Might tells him. “That’s a good way to get overwhelmed when you come face to face with it.”

Pursing his lips, Izuku makes a noncommittal noise and tries to ignore the ice-cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. It’s usually easier to ignore; most fear is. But when he thinks too long about the coming Sports Festival, it grips him like cold claws.

“I’ve seen you in training,” All-Might continues. “You’re getting faster, and your reaction time is improving.”

There’s a warm note in All-Might’s voice as he says this, and it melts some of the ice in Izuku’s veins. In spite of himself, he looks up and brightens when he sees that his teacher’s ever-present smile has a hint of approval in it. “I’ve been practicing,” he says, before he has the chance to think better of it.

“Oh?” All-Might sounds interested, and Izuku could kick himself because now he has to elaborate. Not far, Ms. Shimura pauses in the midst of drifting around keeping a lookout to offer up an encouraging grin and a thumbs-up, which is nice of her but not very helpful.

“One of my mom’s friends used to be a yoga teacher,” Izuku says. “She knows some fitness people, and I’ve been getting self-defense advice.” He glances at Ms. Shimura with just a brief flicker of his eyes. “I figure I’m, um, already pretty strong, even without One For All, so if I just. Apply it.” Lies are easy if he includes enough truth in them.

All-Might’s grin widens. “Excellent idea.” For a split second he looked almost sheepish. “I ought to have thought of that sooner—well, in any case, it seems to be working.”

Nearby, Ms. Shimura’s smile fades, and she shifts uncomfortably to a different stance. Izuku blinks at her, hoping he’s conveying his concern to her without catching All-Might’s attention.

“This is good,” All-Might goes on, unaware. “Come to think of it, I’ve been neglecting basic hand-to-hand with you.” His brow furrows thoughtfully. “Hmm. I’ve been hesitant, because of the strength difference between us, especially since you’re still strengthening yourself to use One For All. Still, I’ll have to remedy that. I’ll be in the audience during the festival—I’ll see where you are, how you can improve, and shift my training strategies accordingly.”

Izuku shifts from foot to foot, cringing slightly at the stab of guilt he feels to his gut. He could have asked All-Might for help with this earlier. But instead, he’s been so caught up in the excitement that he’s left his own teacher in the dark, purely by accident. He’ll just have to make it up to him by doing well in the Festival.

A thought occurs to him then. “How much time do you have?” he asks. “You said your time limit went down after what happened at the USJ.”

“Not to worry,” All-Might assures him. “I’ve been keeping to the teacher’s lounge for that reason—I only stepped out to discuss the sports festival with you one last time.”

“It’s still fifty minutes, right?” Izuku can’t help but press the subject. “It went down so fast—”

Ms. Shimura reappears at his side. “The Todoroki kid’s coming,” she warns, and Izuku’s mouth snaps shut on instinct as he turns in the direction she’s just come from.

Sure enough, his classmate rounds the corner a moment later, pausing in mid-step when he catches sight of them. His eyes snap up, and—Izuku is somewhat embarrassed that he’s only just noticed Todoroki’s eyes. They’re mismatched; the one on the right is dark brown, almost black, and the one on the left is pale blue. How has he never noticed that before?

...Probably because Todoroki has literally never talked to him before. Not that that’s a surprise; as far as Izuku can tell, Todoroki doesn’t really talk to anyone.

“Afternoon, young Todoroki,” All-Might greets him. Izuku, still feeling jitters after Todoroki came so close to overhearing, manages a nervous smile and a wave.

Todoroki’s flat expression never changes—for all that he rarely looks in Todoroki’s direction, Izuku has never seen him with any other—and he offers a polite nod in return before moving past them.

“He’s gone,” Ms. Shimura remarks, and Izuku blurts out one of the thoughts at the forefront of his mind.

“He’s the one to beat, isn’t he,” he says. It’s not a question.

“Don’t focus too much on just one of your classmates, my boy,” All-Might reminds him. “Every student in your grade will be competing, after all. You have plenty of competition to beat.”

That certainly doesn’t help his jitters. Izuku takes a deep breath and blinks hard, hoping to ward them off.

“Now’s not the time to get shy, young Midoriya.” All-Might claps his shoulder lightly. Time limits aside, it’s still enough to rock Izuku on his feet. “Unless you don’t feel ready?”

No, he doesn’t feel ready. If he had months to prepare, he wouldn’t feel ready. He has a quirk he can’t control and an army’s worth of classmates looking to crush the competition. And yet…

“I’m doing everything I can to prepare,” he murmurs, half to himself. “I don’t think there’s anything else I can do, aside from what I’m already doing.”

“Then there’s no point in being nervous, now is there?” All-Might says. “Try trusting yourself, Midoriya.”

Izuku takes another deep breath, and lets it out.

“Guess I’ll have to.”


The day of the festival arrives. Izuku wakes that morning to the feeling of Rei tickling his nose, and stumbles his way through getting dressed, eating breakfast, and a hug from Mom.

“I’ll be watching on TV,” she whispers in his ear. “Good luck, sweetheart.”

“Thanks Mom,” he murmurs back, and he’s out the door after that. He’s surprised when Rei doesn’t follow him immediately, but not worried. He’ll be late if he doesn’t get going, and she’ll catch up. She always does.

He makes his way to school in a mental fog. A fog is better than raw nerves and growing panic—just a calm, muted buzz as he goes along. Not for the first time, he wishes his mother could have come, but security is tight and the live seats are more for talent scouts than parents. Besides, she gets just as nervy and panicky as he does; if this festival is going to involve what Izuku thinks it will, then it’s probably a good thing that she’ll be at home.

It would be nice to have Rei along for a distraction. What’s taking her so long?

He reaches the stadium, and his eyes slide up and further up. The facility is huge, and crowds are forming as spectators and pro heroes looking to scout out promising students gather near the entrances. Izuku gives them a wide berth, and heads for the much quieter student entrance. He braces himself, hoping against hope that he won’t run into any of the kids from 1-B, or that one Gen Ed student. What was his name? Shinsou, that was it.

All-Might was right; there are a lot of people to beat in this competition.

A shiver runs through him. He stops, surprised. What was that shiver for? Is he afraid? Nervous?

No. Well, yes. He is, of course he is. It’s impossible not to be. And yet…

He’s excited.

“Hey, Midoriya!”

“Deku!”

The fog in his head begins to lift when he hears Kirishima and Uraraka’s voices. His classmates are coming in from a different direction, waving for his attention, and he jogs to meet them.

Uraraka’s grinning, but it’s not her usual cheerful smile. She’s grinning like she’s ready to punch someone in the teeth. “You ready for today, Deku?” she asks.

He tries to match her smile, but he’s not sure his face was built for an expression like that. (Even though, apparently, he can smile like he’s about to eat a baby.) “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I am so pumped!” Kirishima fist-pumps for emphasis. “I was born ready. Bring it!”

Izuku finds himself laughing, and some of the nervous knots in the pit of his stomach loosen. It’s hard to be anything but comfortable around Kirishima. “Does this make us rivals for the day?”

“Whatever!” Uraraka punches the air. “You can be rivals and friends at the same time!”

“I… guess so…” Izuku’s not really an authority on having friends, so he can’t comment.

“Man, Uraraka, you’re really psyched for this,” Kirishima laughs. “How do you feel, Midoriya?”

“Uh, well, I guess I’m—”

Izuku doesn’t get to finish that sentence, thanks to a high-pitched, trilling wail that cuts him off before he gets another word out. His first thought is ghost, which would be embarrassing because from his friends’ point of view he’s just lost his train of thought mid-sentence. But it’s not a ghost, because Kirishima’s looking around in confusion, and Uraraka looks startled. She glances over his shoulder, and her eyes go a little wider. Izuku follows her gaze, and his mouth drops open.

Rei has finally caught up with him. She’s trotting up to the student entrance, her bare feet not quite touching the ground. At her heels, collar tag jingling, Mika trots along and lets out another bubbly meow of a greeting. The moment she’s close enough, she practically tackles Izuku’s ankles.

“Mika, what—” Izuku bends down and scoops her off the ground. She headbutts his chin and purrs loudly. “Why?” He directs this question with a brief glance at Rei.

She wanted to come, Rei signs, with an unrepentant smile.

“Midoriya, is that your cat?” Kirishima asks. He sounds like he’s trying not to laugh.

Izuku gives them both a helpless look over the purring cat in his arms. “I don’t—she must’ve slipped out and followed me.”

“She’s so cute!” Uraraka coos. She reaches out, and Mika stretches her head forward and meets her halfway for a scratch behind the ears. “What’s her name again?”

“I-it’s Mika.” He doesn’t need this. He was already nervous, and he doesn’t need this. He has to compete in the festival. What on earth is he supposed to do with her while he’s busy? By now, it’s too late to take her back home.

“Hi there, Mika!” Kirishima reaches out to pet her. “Look at you, aren’t you a sweetheart? Oh—her eye. You’ve got a little battle scar there, don’t you?”

“We’d better head in,” Uraraka says, still twirling her finger around Mika’s ear.

“What am I gonna do?” Izuku isn’t quite panicking, but he’s definitely at a loss here. “I can’t take her in to the festival, I have to compete, and—”

“I bet she’d be okay in the waiting room,” Kirishima says. “Also, there’s time to check on her between events. You know. If you get that far.”

“Thanks,” Izuku says dryly.

“Let’s just go in,” Uraraka suggests. “Figure it out as we go. Unless you want to call your mom, or try and take her back home.”

“Can’t,” Izuku sighs. “It’s too far, and my mom doesn’t have a car.”

“Tough luck,” Kirishima says. “Well, like Uraraka said, let’s go in and see what happens. Maybe somebody can watch her for you. Recovery Girl, maybe?”

“I don’t know if she’d want a cat around where she deals with patients.” Izuku frets, while Mika purrs away without a care in the world.

“I bet if you asked Kouda, he could tell her to stay in the waiting room and behave herself,” Uraraka points out. “It’s probably not as bad as you think, Deku.”

“It’s usually worse.” Reluctantly, Izuku follows them in, though not before shooting Rei a glare. He can’t believe his bad luck. He’s spent the past two weeks avoiding his impending anxiety wall, and now he’s going to crash straight into thanks to his cat.

Luckily, the student entrance is a lot quieter than the main one, so they don’t meet a lot of people on the way in. Living people, that is. There are plenty of ghosts for Izuku to look at as he walks through the hallways.

...More than he would have expected, to be honest.

There are dozens of them, of all shapes and sizes and ages, men and women and children alike, constantly on the move, talking amongst themselves in low tones. A few pairs of blank white eyes turn to look at him as he passes, watching them all. Some of them drift closer, only to shy away when Rei growls.

It takes him a few minutes of walking and watching to figure out what’s wrong. It’s not just that there are a lot of them—they’re restless. They’re constantly flitting about, milling around in the hallways, all of them on edge. It makes them look more numerous than they really are.

They’re almost to the Class 1-A waiting room when he catches sight of a familiar face. Mrs. Kitayama spots him from down the hall and reappears at his side. “Oh, Midoriya, we’ve been looking for you.”

“We?” Izuku asks softly.

Uraraka glances at him. “Did you say something, Deku?”

“Nothing. Just talking to myself.”

“Narita and me,” Mrs. Kitayama says. “We wanted to give you a quick heads-up.” This time Izuku simply cocks his head instead of answering out loud. “We’ve been here since early, because of Eraserhead, and it wasn’t this bad then. But something’s happened. It might be another soul who arrived here, though I’m not sure who. Or where, for that matter.” She pauses, fretting. “Whoever it is, they’re in a bit of a temper. It’s enough to make the rest of us nervous.”

Izuku’s eyebrows rise. It’s not uncommon; strictly speaking, the only thing that can hurt a ghost is another ghost. And when they lose their tempers, they tend to lash out at whoever or whatever happens to be within reach. It’s enough to make other ghosts avoid them.

In a place this size, though… the angry one’s either close by, or just really, really angry.

Great, he thinks, as Rei growls softly beside him. One more thing to worry about.

He walks into the waiting room with his one-eyed cat trotting happily at his heels, and finds most of his class already there…

…along with Aizawa.

Izuku stops dead, letting the door swing shut behind him. His teacher glances at him, does a double-take, and lowers his attention to the cat currently twining herself around Izuku’s ankles, all without saying a word.

Izuku wonders desperately why the floor hasn’t opened up and swallowed him yet.

“I can explain,” he says.

“That your cat, Midoriya?” Aizawa asks, stepping closer for a better look. His face is still swathed in bandages from the USJ incident, but it doesn’t make him any less intimidating.

Izuku is abruptly aware of every pair of eyes in the room, because they’re all pointing straight at him. “Uh, y-yeah, but, I swear I didn’t bring her on purpose. She must’ve slipped out and followed me here, and by the time I noticed, I was already outside and it was too late to take her back… so…” His voice trails off.

“Aren’t you pretty.” Hagakure’s voice makes him jump; he hadn’t even noticed her come up. Now she’s crouching in front of Mika and… petting her, Izuku assumes. It’s a little hard to tell when Izuku can only see the position of her clothes. “Midoriya, what’s her name?”

“Uh, Mika, but—”

“Hi there, little Mika.” Hagakure’s thoroughly charmed, and some of the other kids are coming closer.

Ashido pops in, one hand braced on Hagakure’s shoulder. “Ooh ooh, let me pet her next!”

The look that Aizawa gives him is nothing short of long-suffering, and Izuku kind of wants to die, just a little. Rei, Uraraka, and Kirishima certainly aren’t helping by laughing at him.

“Oh you poor thing!” Ashido pipes up again, cooing to Mika as she gives the cat a scratch under the chin. “Midoriya, what happened to her eye?”

“I don’t really know.” Izuku fidgets. “She was like that when I found her? And she was in the shelter for a while, and no one adopted her, so I just…”

This brings a chorus of “aaawww”s from the girls, plus a few of the boys.

“No wonder she loves you so much!” Uraraka adds, and Izuku covers his face with both hands.

A heavy, world-weary sigh forces him to look up again, just in time to see Aizawa stoop, hook one hand under his cat, and scoop her up in a loose, one-armed cradle. She’s immediately enamored with his scarf, batting at it and trying into crawl into the folds. Aizawa shifts her away and, with practiced ease, settles her more comfortably against his chest. He reaches into his pocket, rustles something, pulls out a cat treat, and feeds it to her.

A memory comes to Izuku then, of a conversation he’d once had with All-Might. Aizawa fosters shelter cats.

“The first event starts in less than twenty minutes,” Aizawa says flatly. “There won’t be much of a break before the second event, but there will be between—” Mika interrupts him with the purriest, most musical meow Izuku has ever heard from her. Before Aizawa has the chance to continue, Mika slowly reaches up and, right in front of the entire class, gently boops him on the nose with her paw.

Izuku realizes in that moment that his cat is a giant suck-up.

“—between the second and third,” Aizawa finishes, as if that didn’t just happen. “You can collect your cat then.”

Somehow Izuku finds his voice. “What would I do with her during the third event?” he asks cautiously.

Aizawa gives him a very unimpressed look. “You should probably worry about making it that far first, Midoriya.”

“Right.” The floor draws Izuku’s gaze again, and before he can recover, Aizawa is already walking out the door with Mika comfortable and purring in his arms.

Laughter ripples throughout the rest of the class. Izuku sways a little on his feet and wonders how much a medically-induced coma goes for these days.

“See?” Uraraka gives him a hearty pat on the shoulder. She’s still giggling at him, just a little. “I told you it’d work out!”

“Uraraka,” Izuku says faintly.

“Yeah, Deku?”

“Please launch me into the sun.”

Uraraka only laughs harder.

Miraculously, his classmates return to talking amongst themselves and making final preparations for the festival. Everyone is dressed for gym class; since all departments will be participating, and not just Heroics, hero costumes and gear are banned from the events. Gradually, the minutes tick by, and the last of Class 1-A trickles in. Izuku drifts to the edge of the room for one last word with Rei.

Remember, just watch from the sidelines, he tells her, hoping that his signing looks like nervous hand-wringing to any casual observer.

Rei pouts. Why?

It’s not real fighting, Izuku says. It’s like the entrance exam. It’s a contest. You don’t have to protect me.

What if the bully grabs you?

It’ll be fine, he insists, frowning as he signs. If I do fight him it would just be a sparring match. I’m not in danger, so you don’t have to guard me.

Rei scowls darkly at him. If the bully tries to hurt you, I’ll scare him off.

It’s going to be okay, he says. Just watch, and cheer me on.

Fine, she says, disgruntled. But if I see something I don’t like, I’m going to stop it, no matter what you say. It’s probably the best he’s going to get out of her.

“Midoriya.”

Izuku doesn’t actually recognize the voice addressing him until he turns around and finds himself looking at a familiar scarred face with mismatched eyes. Somewhere in his brain, his fight-or-flight instincts give him a polite little mental nudge. “Uh, what is it, Todoroki?” It’s a little difficult to talk when his throat tightens on instinct, so he has to force the words out. It’s not his fault; Yuuei is miles better than his previous schools, and it’s wonderful to have friends, but when classmates with uncomfortably powerful quirks notice that he exists, it usually doesn’t end well for him.

The first thing Todoroki Shouto ever says to him, besides his name, is “Objectively, I think I’m above you in terms of practical strength.”

For a moment, Izuku can only stare at him blankly, as if Todoroki just spoke to him in Welsh or something. When he finds his voice, he can only stammer defensively. “Well, I don’t know, I mean, I think I’ve been… yeah. Yeah you’re probably right.”

“You’ve managed to get All-Might’s eyes on you, right?” Todoroki says.

Izuku chokes on the air he’s breathing, and tries to disguise it as clearing his throat. He can feel Rei clutching at the hem of his gym shirt.

“I’m not going to pry,” Todoroki continues. His eyes never leave Izuku’s, but for the life of him Izuku can’t read a single thing from him. No anger, no animosity, not even that much determination. He’s just… cold. Everything about him is cold, from his eyes to his face to his voice as he finishes what he means to say. “But I’m going to beat you.”

Izuku feels his stomach drop.

“Whoa-ho!” Kaminari calls over from one of the tables. “Did the strongest kid in class just throw down the gauntlet?”

Izuku would like to sink into the floor again. Even as Kirishima comes to his defense, he can’t help the dread that churns in his stomach.

“What’s with you, man?” Kirishima is saying, nudging Todoroki’s shoulder none too gently. “You can’t just spring this on him right before we go out. Not cool.”

“I’m not here to play nice or make friends, but whatever,” Todoroki says flatly.

“Is this because I elbowed you by accident that one time?” Izuku blurts. “Because I said I was sorry.”

Todoroki gives him a withering look. “No.”

“Oh. Okay. Uh. Good.” For a split second, Izuku is tongue-tied. All his anxieties are crashing in like a wave—after two weeks of keeping his worries at bay, a boy who has never spoken to him and barely looked at him since the start of school has managed to drag him face-first right through them. It really isn’t fair. What does Todoroki have against him?

At that moment, Rei pushes forward. Still clutching the hem of Izuku’s shirt, she scowls up at Todoroki, sticks out her tongue, and blows the loudest, wettest raspberry that Izuku has ever had the pleasure of hearing.

Izuku blinks, and suddenly he doesn’t have to worry about possibly getting his teeth kicked in by Todoroki, because he’s too busy trying not to laugh or look like he might be about to laugh. He bites his lip to keep from grinning as Rei—his own personal invisible cheerleader—pulls rude faces and ruder signs at Todoroki.

He feels, at least for the moment, that he’s been jarred into a better headspace. He’s still nervous, still worried, but—calmer.

“I don’t know what this is about,” he says at length, tearing his eyes away from Rei and back to Todoroki’s face. “I don’t really know you, or what your problem is with me, but I guess that doesn’t really matter, because it’s not like I can do anything about it. All I can do is maybe fight you. Maybe.”

“Little pessimistic there, Midoriya,” Kirishima mutters.

Izuku shrugs. “That’s what I was going to do anyway. So if you’re going to come at me with all your strength, then I hope you’re ready for the same.” And then Izuku tries something. He releases his lower lip from his teeth, digs deep into all his worries and misgivings and constant lingering fear, tilts his head a little, and smiles at Todoroki. “So I guess we’ll see who’s stronger, won’t we?”

There’s a chorus of “oohhhhh” from some of the others, including but not limited to Kirishima, Uraraka, Sero, and Kaminari. For a split second, the cold expression on Todoroki’s face seems to waver.

“I’m definitely seeing it,” Izuku hears Uraraka mutter to Tsuyu. “Baby-eating smile. That was kind of awesome.”

Tsuyu grins. “Right?”

There’s no time to talk after that. Their cue comes to make their way outside, and Izuku ends up near the head of the pack with Iida as they step out into the sunlight in a packed stadium. His heart pounds in his chest, but it’s not fear, and it’s not nerves.

For the first time in his life, he’s surrounded by people who aren’t just gleefully waiting for him to fail. They want to beat him, yes. They all want to win and that means beating him, among other things. But they’re not looking down on him, mocking him as the weak one—they’re eye to eye, and they see him as a rival and a threat. They see him not as someone to beat up, but someone to beat.

His mother is watching from home, his teacher—his idol—is watching from the faculty seats, and his best friend will be watching from the sidelines.

He’s never felt like this before.

It’s definitely something he could get used to.

Chapter Text

By the end of the first and second events of the Yuuei Sports Festival, two things have become abundantly clear to Izuku. First, the universe is out to get him. And second, so is Todoroki Shouto.

Not that he hadn’t already known; Todoroki made his intentions clear, and the universe hasn’t pulled any punches lately. But both points have since been upgraded from educated hypotheses to valid, replicable theories.

To be fair to Todoroki, Izuku manages to place first in the footrace, which earns him the ten-million-point headband in the second event, so by then, everyone is out to get him.

Which really only proves the first point.

As for the second point… well.

Izuku has seen Todoroki in battle exactly once, during the incident at the USJ. It’s not something he’s likely to forget; his classmate froze that monster of a Noumu, so thoroughly that two of its limbs broke off.

Its limbs. Fell off.

The monster had been left writhing and flopping on the ground like an oversized fish before its regeneration quirk regrew the missing arm and leg.

He missed Todoroki’s performance in All-Might’s Heroes Vs. Villains game, but he heard about it plenty from his classmates. In that case, Todoroki had frozen the entire building, trapping both his opponents and winning the exercise single-handed. He hadn’t even needed Shouji’s help.

But not once has Izuku ever seen or heard of Todoroki using fire, until his classmate pulls it out during the cavalry battle. The one time Izuku’s ever seen fire from him, and it’s right in Izuku’s face. In one fell swoop, Izuku almost loses both his eyebrows and the tournament.

But, by some miracle (namely Tokoyami’s quick thinking), he and the rest of his team manage to squeak into the third event. Izuku barely finishes his sigh of relief when a familiar rattling shriek grates in his ears.

No longer content on the sidelines, Rei comes barreling through the rest of his classmates and crashes into his side with an earsplitting wail of glee. Izuku staggers with the impact and manages to keep his footing only by smacking into someone before he can fall over.

“Sorry!” he blurts as he regains his balance and tries to gather the shreds of his dignity. Rei, the little menace, clings to him with her arms around his middle and giggles fit to burst.

“Deku, are you okay?” Uraraka’s at his side in an instant, steadying him with a hand on his shoulder. “Did you get hurt in the cavalry battle? What’s wrong?”

Izuku forces a laugh. “Haha, nothing! Nothing at all, just… ground’s uneven. I slipped. I’m fine. Thanks, Uraraka.”

She beams at him, a little amused now that she knows he isn’t hurt. “Well, be more careful, okay?”

Izuku pastes a smile on his face and forces a laugh. “Haha, right.” At that moment, Iida calls Uraraka’s attention away. Flushed with embarrassment, Izuku cringes and turns to glance at whoever had the misfortune of preventing his fall. “I’m really sorry about that, are you o… kay…?” The smile on his face freezes, and the words die in his throat.

Todoroki’s glaring at him like he’s trying to wield his quirk through his eyes.

Rei’s arms tighten around his midriff, and she offers a quiet warning growl that Todoroki has no way of hearing.

“Th-that was an accident,” Izuku blurts, because he doesn’t need any special power to feel the hostility wafting off of Todoroki. It might be cold—too cold to mistake for Bakugou’s hot temper—but Izuku still finds himself shrinking away, still shoves his hands behind his back to hide the shaking. He shouldn’t feel afraid like this, he tells himself. This isn’t Bakugou. However strong Todoroki is, they’re on even ground here. He shouldn’t feel like this. But with Todoroki looking at him like Izuku’s personally affronted him somehow, it’s difficult to feel anything but small.

Rei’s growling gets a little louder.

“L-look, I…” Izuku stammers. “I mean, no hard f—”

“A word, if you don’t mind,” Todoroki cuts him off.

“Uh, sure?” Izuku brushes his hand lightly against Rei’s shoulder, curling and uncurling his fingers so it will look more like a nervous tic. “What is it?”

“Privately,” Todoroki says. With a jerk of his head, he walks off.

For a moment, Izuku considers blowing him off and joining in on the conversation between Iida and Uraraka. He glances down at Rei, and finds her frowning after his classmate. But it’s not the usual scowl she puts on when someone gives him a hard time; she looks like she doesn’t know what to make of Todoroki, either.

With a sigh, Izuku jogs to catch up to him.


My little brother has done well.

I was worried about him and I wanted to help him win the games, but I didn’t need to worry after all. The bully didn’t get a chance to hurt him, and my little brother was very smart, and very strong, and his other friends helped him.

I’m glad. It’s good that he has friends who can help him better than I can. It’s good that the bully couldn’t touch him.

But this one, the one with the scar… I don’t know this one. I don’t like this one. He is cold, colder than me even though I am dead and he has fire on one side. He doesn’t smile, not even a fake smile or a mean smile. The only times he talks, he says things that make my little brother feel afraid.

(Little brother is always afraid, every minute of every day. I can feel it on him, smell it on him. But he usually doesn’t feel it unless the bully comes too close.)

I don’t like it, and I don’t like him. If he does anything bad to my little brother, if he does anything but talk, then I’ll make him feel fear.

He takes my little brother to a quiet place, where no one is around to overhear. He looks at my little brother for a long time, long enough for my little brother to be nervous.

You wanted to tell me something, my little brother says. What was it?

The one with the scar takes a long time to answer, long enough for me to want to ask questions, too. I don’t like the look on his face. At least when the bully glares, I know what it means. I can feel it skin-deep, I’m-angry-I-hate-you-I-want-to-hurt-hurt-hurt, but the one with the scar only feels cold. I try to feel harder and listen harder, but the cold is deep, deeper, deeper and deeper, like ice and death and loneliness—

There.

I don’t like what I find. Anger-hate-spite would be easy. It would mean the one with the scar is cruel and mean, just like the bully. It would mean I can chase him off and make him afraid, even if my little brother doesn’t like it.

But the one with the scar does not have anger-hate-spite inside of him. Instead, there is cold, cold, cold, and then there is hurt.

Not the want to hurt, like the bully. Just hurt. He hurts, he hurts, deep down under all the cold there is pain and fear and loneliness and I cannot hate that because my little brother had that too. There is anger inside him, and hate too, but it is for someone else and he does not hate my little brother.

You blindsided me, the one with the scar says. And I broke my own promise.

That means something to my little brother but not to me. My little brother knows that, and his hands move at his sides, speaking to me. He used his fire. No one felt it but me.

Is that why he’s so cold? He has fire but he promised not to use it?

Hey, the one with the scar says. Are you All-Might’s illegitimate child, or what?

My little brother panics. His hands fly and dance and wave, not saying anything, just like the words out of his mouth don’t say anything, either, That’s not it and You’ve got it all wrong and other things that don’t match what he feels. The things he feels are skin-deep, easy to read—fear and panic and embarrassment and shyness, but those are thin and weak as they float to the top. There are happier things underneath, hope and pleasure, I-wish-I-wish-if-only-it-were-true. There is love there, shy and quiet but warm, always warm. My little brother is always afraid, but if I reach deep enough beneath that fear, he is warm.

The one with the scar isn’t warm like that. If he ever was, then something must have chased it out of him.

The way you said that, the one with the scar says. You said that’s not it. So there is some connection that you can’t talk about.

(My little brother feels the fear again.)

You know about my father, Endeavor, the one with the scar tells him. (He’s right—my little brother does know about him. My little brother told me so. He told me Endeavor has fire powers, just like my little brother’s father does. And a long long long time ago, my little brother hoped and hoped that he might have fire too, and he might be strong like Endeavor. But instead his power is seeing me, and hearing me, and I’m glad my little brother didn’t get his father’s fire.)

He’s been the number two hero for a while now, says the one with the scar. If you’re connected to the number one hero, then that means I need to win all the more.

I think that’s a stupid reason. I think maybe the one with the scar thinks it’s a stupid reason too, but he won’t admit it because maybe there’s so much cold in the way that he can’t feel his own feelings, and he doesn’t know how to dig deep like I can. Maybe I’ll tell my little brother later, so he can tell the one with the scar how stupid he’s being.

He’ll do anything to advance his position, the one with the scar says. He made a name for himself, but it was never enough to surpass All-Might.

The cold is thinning. It’s still deep and dark, but the things underneath are rising.

So he… The one with the scar pauses, and I know it’s because he’s feeling all those things. The cold can’t protect him forever. He devised a plan.

My little brother is nervous now. A… plan? What are you saying, Todoroki?

The one with the scar answers with another question: Do you know what quirk marriages are?

My little brother is easy to read. It feels like his heart is dropping into his stomach. I don’t understand. What are quirk marriages?

Luckily, I don’t need to ask my little brother, because the one with the scar explains. It’s a practice from previous generations, he says, and the pain-fear-anger-hate-disgust-contempt rises through the cold and dark, closer and closer to the top like bile and sick. Choosing mates solely to enhance one’s own quirk, to be inherited down the line, and forcing marriages for that purpose.

I hold on to my little brother’s hand. I feel the churning in his stomach. I don’t blame him. I don’t like this story very much.

It was easy for my father to ingratiate himself to my mother’s family, and take possession of her power. The one with the scar talks like the cold is still there, deep and quiet and still, but it’s not anymore. The pain is at the top. It hurts him to talk about this, and the hurt doesn’t match the cold on his face and in his eyes.

I understand now. I think I understand the one with the scar. He hides behind the cold, just like my little brother hides behind smiles.

That’s why I was born, the one with the scar says, only he’s covering his scar with his hand. He couldn’t beat All-Might, so he decided to make a hero who could. The cold breaks, like ice cracking, and he hurts, hurts, hurts. To hell with him. I’ll never be his tool!

Then why, my little brother tries to say.

In my memories, the one with the scar says, my mother is always crying.

My little brother is very smart. I wonder if he knows how much the one with the scar hurts. His fingers curl against his scar, and he hurts so much that I wonder how his face stays so cold. If I turn my head and listen, if I stay quiet enough, I can feel things in the hurt: loneliness and love and pain and why, why, why?

She told me my left side was ugly, the one with the scar says, and I hide behind my little brother. The pain is so close, so strong that I can feel it too, and it hurts and stings and burns.

And then, says the one with the scar, she poured boiling water on me.

The hurt breaks apart, and there’s love and confusion and It’s-not-her-fault-it-wasn’t-her-fault-she was scared-scared-scared-so-scared-I’m-scared—

My little brother hurts now, too. He always hurts when people tell him their stories. I think it’s because no one who needs to tell him stories ever has happy ones. Not the dead, and not even the living. I hope one day someone will have a happy story for him to hear.

The one with the scar lets his hand drop, and the hurt drops too. It sinks back down, deep deep down below the cold that he hides behind. There’s fear now, along with the cold. He’s scared. Looking at my little brother, he’s scared and I don’t know why.

Todoroki, my little brother whispers, and he doesn’t hide his hurt.

The reason I’m aiming to beat you is as a personal triumph, the one with the scar says. I won’t use his power for it. I’ll become number one without needing to.

And then he turns to walk away. My little brother’s feelings whirl around and around. If the one with the scar is deep and dark and cold like an ocean, then my little brother is like a wind storm, everything swirling together, everything confused, too many feelings to pick just one.

If you can’t tell me anything, that’s fine, the one with the scar says as he walks away. The cold is back, too deep and dark for anyone to see the hurt. Keep being All-Might’s something-or-other. I’ll climb over you using only my right side. Sorry I took your time.

The weird thing is, he is sort of sorry. Just not for taking time. But he isn’t angry with my little brother. He doesn’t hate my little brother. He doesn’t even want to hurt him, not really. And that means I can’t be angry at him or try to chase him off like the bully. He’s too much like my little brother—if I was mean to him, then it wouldn’t feel good.

Todoroki?

My little brother steps forward to follow him, and pity-sadness-hurt-horror swirl around him. There’s… a lot that you don’t know about me. That I couldn’t tell you, even if I wanted. I don’t know why you told me these things, but… thank you. And I’m sorry, for everything that’s happened to you. It must have been awful. Whatever it was, you didn’t deserve it.

The cold cracks again, and surprise leaks through, close enough to the top that it almost maybe shows on the face with the scar.

But there are things I need to do, too, my little brother says. There are people I owe, and I can’t let them down. There are people watching me. People who’ve helped me, and protected me, and I’m grateful but I’m tired of being protected. He looks at me when he says this, and I grin at him, because I’m going to protect him no matter how strong he gets. His hands curl into fists, and the swirling cloud goes still and settles around him like a blanket. He doesn’t smile. There’s nothing to hide here. So, this doesn’t change what I said to you before. I’m going to beat you.

The feelings settle down, back the way they were. The one with the scar and his deep, deep cold and all the hurt that hides underneath it. My little brother and his fear that never quite goes away, because he’s seen too much and heard too much to ever kill it.


Nana is ready to vibrate apart at the seams.

Is it possible for a ghost to simply dissipate into the ether from stress alone? For the first time in years, Nana thinks of her grave—a quiet little spot, calm and silent, probably overgrown by now unless Gran Torino has nothing better to do these days. She thinks of how nice it would be to just sink beneath the earth and sleep—not cross over, no, but simply hide away in the dark and let the world turn without her for a while.

Her problem starts when Toshi first sets foot in the stadium, and Nana is almost trampled by a crowd of restless, dead-eyed spirits. She’s only bewildered at first, but their agitation is contagious enough that she starts to feel it, too.

Watching Izuku keep his head above water in the competition is a welcome distraction, but she’s still spent hours stewing in a positive feedback loop of nerves by the time Part Two of her problem rears its ugly head.

She loves Toshi, she really does. She is so proud of him and it’s a joy to watch him work and fight and live, but sometimes her boy is an oblivious lunk who couldn’t read the atmosphere if it was written on a billboard.

“For God’s sake, Toshi, learn to read body language,” she whispers as Toshi bounds up to Todoroki Enji like he’s greeting an old friend, and Endeavor tenses from head to toe and looks at him like he’s calculating how much fire it will take to burn him to a crisp.

“No use whining about it,” someone scoffs. Nana edges to the side and spots the speaker, the ghost of a man in his late twenties. He’s in a suit, but his tie is loose and his shirt is half untucked. Judging by the frown lines, the sour look on his face is probably permanent.

“What do you mean?” Nana eyes Endeavor suspiciously as Toshi greets him, heedlessly cheery in the face of his fellow hero’s poorly-disguised hostility.

“We’re dead,” the ghost points out. “Not like they can hear us if we yell at them for being stupid. What’re you following him around for?”

Nana bridles a little. “I knew him when I was alive,” she says. “I died when he was a kid, and I’ve been watching over him ever since.” She looks at Endeavor. “What about you? How come you’re following him around?”

“For kicks.”

“What.”

The man gives her a bitter smile. “Lady, I’m dead. There’s nothing left of me but memories and how I feel about them. I’m following him around because he’s an asshole and I am literally made of spite.”

Before Nana can answer, Toshi distracts her by cutting Endeavor off at the bottom of the stairs, just to ask him for teaching tips, of all things.

“I mean it, I want to know,” he says earnestly in the face of Endeavor’s scowl. “I could use some advice on raising the next generation of heroes!”

The ghost laughs raucously. “Trust me, man, you’re asking the wrong person!”

Nana scowls at him as Endeavor blows Toshi off. “What was that you were saying about them not being able to hear us?”

He shrugs sullenly. “Gotta blow off steam somehow. Wouldn’t want to end up like Okumura.”

“Who?”

“The poltergeist.”

“What poltergeist?” Nana has to force patience at this point.

“Pfft.” The ghost scoffs. “You mean you haven’t noticed everybody quietly crapping themselves? Okumura’s been a ticking time bomb ever since he started following this dickhead around.” He jerks a thumb at Endeavor. “Never met a poltergeist before him. When we got here he pissed off somewhere else, and all the dead have been in a tizzy ever since. Suzuki went out to try and find him, but—hell with that. He’s mad enough to rip anyone apart if they get too close. So maybe watch out for him.” The conversation between Toshi and Endeavor is at an end, with Endeavor storming off. “Welp, gotta go. Watch out for Okumura.”

“Sure, thanks,” Nana says sourly. “What’re you gonna do?”

“I’m gonna hope the Dynamic Dickhead orders a drink at some point so I can knock it over the second he puts it down,” the ghost says dryly. “Don’t look at me like that, not everybody gets to follow around their phenomenally successful loved ones. See you around, lady. See if you can get your buddy to find better friends.” With that, both he and Endeavor are gone.

While Toshi takes a moment to collect himself, Nana takes a deep breath and lets it out.

So. Poltergeist on the loose. That explains a lot. The kiddo’s probably going to want to know, but at the same time he’s got a festival to focus on.

...Wouldn’t hurt to warn him a bit, though.


Izuku wanders back to the others in a fog, making it back barely in time to catch the assignments for the festival’s third events. There’s some shuffling in the participants; a few of the winners of the cavalry battle opt out, including Ojiro, and when all is said and done, Midnight displays the placement chart for all to see. Izuku squints to find his name, standing on tiptoe until Rei helpfully whisks herself up to point for him. Then, with a concerned rattling noise, she points to another name nearby.

A lump forms in Izuku’s throat, and it takes a moment or two for him to swallow it. If he wins the first round, he may very well be facing Todoroki in the second.

“That’s sooner than I expected,” he mutters to her when she returns to his side. He takes a deep breath. “No use worrying about him just yet. Looks like my first opponent is… Shinsou. General Education, wasn’t he?” His stomach turns with unease. Ojiro was on Shinsou’s team in the cavalry battle, and he opted out for some reason. Izuku doesn’t know much about Shinsou, besides the fact that he’s one of the many students looking to beat Class 1-A. That means he also doesn’t know what Shinsou’s quirk is.

Rei points, and Izuku follows her finger to see Shinsou passing behind him. The other boy looks tired, his eyes sunken and shadowed, though Izuku supposes that he’s not in any position to judge.

“It’s you, right?” Shinsou says. Somehow his tone of voice is even flatter than Todoroki’s. “Midoriya Izuku?”

Izuku is about to answer when Ojiro comes up from behind and gags him with his tail. The blond tail tuft goes right into his open mouth.

“Midoriya,” Ojiro says sharply, as Shinsou walks away smirking. “Don’t answer anything he says.” Before Izuku can ask what he means by that, Ojiro drags him off to one of the side rooms.

He has to shoulder his way through nervous ghosts. Rei growls and shows her teeth to clear the way for him, but still the hairs on the back of his neck are standing on end by the time he and Ojiro are somewhere quiet. Nervousness makes his mouth quicker, eager to distract himself from whatever has the dead in a panic.

“That was—honest of you,” he blurts out as he sits down by his classmate.

Ojiro blinks. “Huh?”

“Bowing out of the competition like that,” Izuku says. “Instead of just… I don’t know… going with it.”

“I thought about it.” Ojiro looks away, sheepish. “But… really, it didn’t feel right.” He fidgets a little in his seat. “The whole point of the second round was to see who was good enough to advance. If I can’t even remember what I did to pass, then I have no way of knowing if I really was good enough.”

“I understand,” Izuku says. “Sort of. I mean… the only part I don’t understand is why you don’t remember.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Ojiro says. His face turns grim. “It was that kid from Gen Ed. Shinsou. He has some kind of mind control quirk.”

Izuku’s stomach turns. As soon as the recreational events are over, he’s going to have to face this kid in a fight. “Mind control,” he echoes, voice faint.

“That’s why I stopped you from talking to him,” Ojiro goes on. “Like I said, I don’t remember anything from the actual cavalry battle. The last thing I remember was Shinsou talking to me. I answered him, and that’s where my memories stop. I’ll bet you anything that’s how his quirk works—if you answer something he says, he can take control of you.”

Izuku buries his face in his hands, fingers tangling in his own hair. “Okay. All right, so that means—I just have to keep my mouth shut. Shouldn’t be hard, now that I know.”

“That’s not all,” Ojiro continues. “During the battle, one of the kids on another team bumped me pretty hard, enough for it to hurt. That’s where my memories start up again. So if you do get controlled, you’d need something like that to break free.” He sits back. “That’s all I know. …Hope it helps.”

Izuku takes a deep breath that hitches a little. Ojiro is another classmate who barely knows him. But here he is, giving Izuku vital information that could very well save his skin in his first fight. “It does. It really does.” He manages a smile, and this one does reach his eyes. “Thanks, Ojiro. You didn’t have to do this.”

“Sure I did.” Ojiro snorts. “He turned me into a puppet, remember? Call me petty, but I kind of want to see him lose.” He turns to Izuku with a lopsided grin. “So… beat him for me, will you?”

Izuku grins back. “You got it.”

They part ways, and Izuku wanders off to clear his head. Rei vanishes on ahead, and Izuku lets her go. Now that he remembers, he might as well find his way to the booth where Aizawa and Present Mic are, so he can check on Mika and maybe figure out what to do with her if Aizawa doesn’t want to watch her anymore. Plenty of his classmates will be sitting out the next event. Kouda’s one of them; he might not mind.

Izuku is halfway there, tense and hurrying in the midst of nervous ghosts, when a familiar voice rings out and makes him jump.

“There you are!” Ms. Shimura swoops into view, waving to him. All-Might is nowhere to be seen. “I’ve been looking for you. Listen, there’s a poltergeist wandering around.”

“We noticed,” one of the ghostly passersby grouses before moving on. Ms. Shimura ignores him.

“I, uh, sort of figured,” Izuku answers, with a glance around to make sure no one can hear. “Do you know something about them?”

“It’s a him, I think,” Ms. Shimura says. “Did you know that Todoroki Enji has ghosts following him?”

At Endeavor’s name, Izuku’s gut twists. Just the sound of it feels like a punch in the stomach. “I, uh. No.”

“Well, just one ghost right now. Didn’t get his name, but he was kind of a jerk.” Ms. Shimura glances around. “But apparently one of the ghosts on Endeavor was mad enough to go poltergeist, and he’s wandering around scaring everyone.” Her blank eyes turn back to Izuku. “Kiddo, listen. I saw the board—play your cards right, and you’ll be fighting Todoroki in round two, right? You need to watch yourself, because there’s… something funny about his dad.”

“I know,” Izuku says quietly.

“Oh good, then—wait, you do?” Ms. Shimura blinks at him. “Well, anyway, just watch out for that kid. I don’t trust his dad. Can’t quite put my finger on why, beyond him acting like an asshole, but… dunno what the means for his kid.”

Izuku does.

“Do you know where the poltergeist is?” he asks.

“Huh? No. I know his name’s Okumura and he’s probably pissed off because of Endeavor, but beyond that, nothing.”

Izuku checks the time on his phone. “Bet I can find him before I have to go out.”

“Half-pint, are you serious—?”

“I’ve got nothing better to do,” Izuku says. “I just have to go get Mika and then—”

Mrrrow.

Honestly, Izuku’s not sure why he bothers being surprised anymore.

He turns to look in the direction he’d been heading before, and finds his cat once again trotting at Rei’s heels. They both look quite pleased with themselves, and vaguely Izuku wonders if Aizawa knows she wandered off.

Well, nothing for it.

“Thanks, Rei,” he says. “We’ve got some time before the third event. Want to help me find an angry ghost?”

Rei’s smile is a touch wider than a human mouth has any business being. Izuku takes that as a yes.

Chapter Text

 

Ms. Shimura heaves a sigh. “I wonder if Toshi really realizes how much of a handful you are,” she mutters, crossing her arms. “Well, he’s safe enough here that I don’t need to watch him. Lead the way, kiddo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you work before.”

“Oh, well, there isn’t much to it,” Izuku says with a shrug. “Rei, can you find him?”

She nods vigorously.

“Wait, what? That’s it?” Ms. Shimura blinks. “I’m confused, did she go out and look for him before?”

“Uh, no.” Izuku looks to Rei for confirmation. His friend shakes her head and shrugs. “That’s why we have to look for him now.” Rei stands in place for a few moments more, cocking her head this way and that with a frown on her face. Finally, she drifts off down the hall, back in the direction they came. Izuku scoops Mika up off the ground and follows.

“Oh.” Ms. Shimura falls in step with him. “Okay then. So… what’s the process, though? How’s she know where to go?”

Izuku frowns, confused by the question. “Well… it’s a poltergeist.”

“...Yeah?”

“They tend to be pretty angry, as a general rule of thumb,” Izuku goes on.

“...And?”

“It’s… pretty simple,” Izuku says. “She just does that… that sensing thing.”

Ms. Shimura stares at him, looking baffled. “What sensing thing?”

“You know, where you just… feel for emotions?”

“I don’t follow.”

“...Oh.” Izuku turns back to look at Rei. She’s always had a strong level of empathy; he’s never been able to hide his feelings from her. Years of seeing her and communicating with her has shown him that it’s not just a matter of reading the mood; she can sense these things in people. Izuku’s always assumed it was just a ghost thing, but if Ms. Shimura can’t do it, then… maybe it’s just a Rei thing. “Well, it’s something she can do. I just figured… other ghosts are always so nervous when there are poltergeists around, so I thought everyone was doing it.”

“Kiddo, other ghosts are nervous when there are poltergeists around because poltergeists are both strong and usually crazy,” Ms. Shimura says bluntly. “Like that one at the beach, back before you started school. The second I was in reach, it tried to tear me a new asshole.”

“She,” Izuku says.

“What?”

“She.” His voice is much quieter when he repeats it. “Her name was Sachi.”

“Oh.” Ms. Shimura’s face and voice soften. “Right. Is she…?”

“She’s gone,” he says. “She moved on. No one can ever hurt her again.”

Ms. Shimura doesn’t ask him anything after that, so Rei leads them onward in silence. For all that his best friend is quiet, Izuku can’t help but notice how nervous she is. Her hair stirs, as does the hem of her white nightgown. Izuku can feel the tension spiking off her, sending chills up the length of his spine. A quick glance at Ms. Shimura tells him that she’s feeling it too.

Before long, he starts to hear it, and feel it. It’s colder here, so much so that Izuku half expects to start seeing his breath. Incoherent whispering emanates from the walls, sounds that can’t just be noises in the plumbing or the walls. More shivers tell him that they’re headed in the right direction. What’s more, he knows the sounds aren’t coming from anyone living, because by now they’re beyond the hallways and areas that any of the students, faculty, or spectators would use. Living people are avoiding this place.

So are the dead, apparently. Besides the three of them and the cat, there’s no one here.

And then, in a heartbeat, there is.

Rei hisses at the sudden apparition—she doesn’t like surprises. This one comes in the form of a woman that Izuku has never seen before. She doesn’t look much like a poltergeist; mostly she just looks… worried? Scared? Normal, mainly. He can’t tell how she died just by looking at her, and with poltergeists he can always tell. They wear that sort of thing on their sleeve, if there’s anything left of them that remembers who they used to be.

“Oh dear,” she frets. “Oh dear—please go back. Don’t go this way.” She addresses Rei and Ms. Shimura when she talks. “Please, if there’s any way you can warn him—”

“I can hear you,” he tells her, and she lets out a small ‘eep’ in surprise. “There’s a poltergeist this way, isn’t there? Can you tell me what’s wrong? I’d like to help if I can.”

Her blank eyes are as round as saucers as she looks at him. “I… oh.” She hesitates. “I, um.” After a moment of dithering, she looks to Ms. Shimura for help.

“He’s used to this kind of thing, apparently,” Ms. Shimura tells the ghost. “This isn’t his first rodeo.” She pauses, then snaps her fingers. “If you don’t mind me asking, your name wouldn’t happen to be Suzuki, would it?”

“How did you—oh.” Suzuki blinks. “Did you talk to Hino?”

“Who?” Izuku pipes up.

“I think I did,” Ms. Shimura says. “He’s the douche in the suit, right?”

Suzuki winces. “Sorry about him. Anyway—listen. You… don’t want to be here right now. I’ve been warning everyone off so far, just to make sure Okumura doesn’t hurt anyone, but beyond that there’s not much I can do. He won’t listen on the best of days, and right now…” Fear flashes across her face. “I’d really rather not get near him, to be honest with you.”

As if on cue, a shriek rattles the surrounding walls. The voice barely sounds human, and sends prickles spider-crawling along Izuku’s shoulders. He shrugs the feeling away.

“Do you know why he’s upset?” he asks.

The reply comes instantaneously, but not from Suzuki. Something slams, like a door banging open, and Izuku barely has time to blink before something carries him off his feet. His back hits the wall with enough force to rattle his teeth, and he shuts his eyes as a poltergeist howls its fury an inch from his face. Icy, clawlike fingers curl into the fabric of his gym uniform. Off to the side, mostly drowned out by the poltergeist’s yelling, Suzuki cries out for it to leave Izuku alone.

He feels Rei’s familiar answering shriek like a physical pressure on his eardrums, and the poltergeist is abruptly yanked away from him. It—he—Okumura?—had been holding him at least a few inches higher than Izuku’s normal height would have allowed, and once released, he slides down the wall until he touches the floor. He opens his eyes to find that Ms. Shimura has placed herself in front of him while Rei and the unfamiliar poltergeist tousle in the center of the hallway. Shadows twist along the wall, and the nearest lights flicker. One of them sputters out entirely. At his feet, Mika presses herself against his ankles and hisses.

A proper deep breath takes two tries to accomplish, but eventually Izuku manages to get his stuttering chest under control. “Ms. Shimura,” he says, once he can trust his own voice again. “Keep watch, will you? Let me know if someone’s coming. Someone alive.”

“Kiddo, I don’t think—”

Izuku pitches his voice a little louder as he steps around Ms. Shimura. “Rei?” A pale face, features dripping like candle wax, turns away from the equally malformed poltergeist and tilts quizzically to one side. Izuku smiles. “Thanks, Rei, but you can let him go now.” To the poltergeist, he says, “I just want to talk. Please don’t do that again? It upsets my friend, and when she gets upset, I can’t really tell her what to do.”

The twisted form flickers, and for the space of a blink Izuku can see the person that the poltergeist used to be. A few features stick in his head—dark, wavy hair, a pointed nose, and a grayish tint to the dead-pale skin—before it goes back to swelling shadows and nightmares given form. Rei backs off, but she doesn’t exactly back down. Izuku’s glad that no one else is here, because he’d hate to wonder how much of this would be visible to someone who doesn’t have his sight.

“Hello,” Izuku says—maybe he should have opened with that. “My name’s Midoriya. Would you like to talk?”

The reply is a mixture of spectral white noise and curse words.

“Whatever you’re angry about,” Izuku goes on, “I promise it won’t be fixed by yelling at everyone here. It’s Endeavor you’re mad at, right?”

Pressure builds in his skull, as if he’s suddenly been dropped miles beneath the earth. His ears ache from the strain, and he knows he’s touched a nerve.

I’m dead because of him.” Okumura’s voice makes Izuku wince with pain.

“Ow. I’m sorry, that must have been awful—”

Shut the fuck up, you mealy-mouthed brat.” Harsh words skim off of Izuku harmlessly. “If I wanted someone patronizing me, I’d talk to fucking Hino.

“Sorry.”

Don’t get in my way,” Okumura snarls.

“I don’t plan on it,” Izuku tells him, still steady. It’s important to keep calm. Experience has taught him that poltergeists feed off of strong emotions from the living—fear and anger and grudges. “I’d like to help, if I can.”

I don’t need help from a little shit like you,” Okumura snaps. “As soon as that bastard dies, I’ll tear his soul to shreds.” Shadows billow, and for a moment Izuku wonders if the poltergeist will goad Rei into another fight. But then, in an instant, the shadows vanish and take the poltergeist with them, and the hallway is quiet once more.

“Well that could have gone better.” Ms. Shimura sounds… not scared, exactly. Anxious. Maybe even a little frazzled.

“Not really,” Izuku says. “It takes more than one conversation to fix this kind of thing. I’ll keep working at it if I catch any free time.”

“You’ll keep working at it?” Suzuki echoes, sounding incredulous. “You’re joking, right? He almost took your face off!”

“It’s okay,” Izuku assures her, as Rei returns to normal and crouches down to pet Mika. “He’s just mad. It happens. Do you know what his problem is? It’ll take longer to coax it out of him.”

“I don’t really know details,” she says slowly. She’s staring at him like she has no idea what to make of him, which is also pretty normal.

“He said Endeavor killed him,” Izuku says. “Or caused his death, at least.”

“Oh, well… it wasn’t direct, or in cold blood, I don’t think,” Suzuki tells him. “It was… oh, I’d have to talk to Hino. Hino was already with Endeavor when Okumura joined him, I think. I didn’t come into all this until recently.” Her form flickers in and out of view, which is like the ghostly version of fidgeting.

“What about you?” Izuku asks. “If you don’t mind me asking. Why did you join them?” If you’re so scared of Okumura, he doesn’t say.

“Well… it’s…” More fidgeting. “It’s hard to say it out loud without it sounding silly. And—rash.”

“I won’t judge,” Izuku promises her.

“I don’t even know them,” she sighs. “Hardly at all. I babysat some of the older ones once or twice, when I was alive. I must have seen something then, something that didn’t quite register. So after I died, I paid a visit. On a whim. And I just kept coming back.”

“What drew you?”

“It’s—” One last false start, and the ghost seems to steady herself. “Oh, I don’t know why I stay. I don’t know what I’d do if it ever came to it. But it’s that boy of his. His youngest.”

“Todoroki Shouto?” Izuku blinks. “What about him?”

“Like I said,” Suzuki sighs. “I don’t know what I expect to do about it. But part of me can’t help wondering if he won’t kill that boy one day. Either by accident or by driving him to do something reckless, or… I don’t know. It’s such an unhappy place, that house. I should leave—it has nothing to do with me—but that poor boy’s just so alone.”

Izuku’s hands curl into fists at his sides.

“I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” Suzuki sighs. “I’ll try to talk to Hino—talk to me later, maybe? If you can find a way to do something about Okumura, that would be a weight off my head.”

“I’ll do my best,” Izuku says softly. “Thank you, Ms. Suzuki.”

Before he can think of anything else to say, Ms. Shimura appears at his side—he never even noticed her leave. “Voice down, shorty,” she warns. “Toshi’s coming.”

Izuku waves a quick goodbye to Suzuki before she disappears, and familiar footsteps announce All-Might’s arrival. A moment before his teacher appears around the corner, Izuku drops to a crouch and pets Mika.

“Oh, there you are,” All-Might says, upon seeing him. “It’s getting on to the tournament event, my boy. What are you doing back here?”

“Just looking for somewhere quiet,” he says, as Mika pushes her head into his hand. “Lost track of time, sorry.” All-Might steps closer, and his cat trots over to purr like truck engine and wind her way around his ankles.

“Goodness, hello.” All-Might stoops carefully to pet her, before straightening again with a grunt of effort. Izuku wonders how strong his true form is; he has to have some physical power to house One For All, but he looks so… rickety like this. “You aren’t late yet,” All-Might assures him. “There’s still time to walk. I was just a bit worried when you weren’t with any of the others.” He holds out a hand as Izuku scoops up his cat and follows. The hand comes to rest lightly on Izuku’s shoulder. “So. Nervous?”

“A little, yeah,” Izuku says. He remembers the warnings he’s been given—Ojiro’s advice about Shinsou, and his conversation with Todoroki. “But it’s like the entrance exam. There’s no way for me to be any more prepared for it than I already am.”

“Good.” All-Might squeezed lightly.

They walk together in silence through the halls, Rei and Ms. Shimura drifting along with them. Suzuki is nowhere to be seen; she’s probably gone off to find Okumura or Hino. Whether or not he wins this fight, he’s going to have to find her later. Okumura seems to hate Endeavor, but the thought of any one of his classmates living so close to such a volatile spirit doesn’t sit well with Izuku.

“By the way,” All-Might says suddenly. “Awkward question, but—” He points an inquisitive finger at Mika.

Izuku feels his face flush with embarrassment. “Right. Um.” He hugs Mika closer to his chest, adjusting her in his arms when she bats at his chin. “My cat followed me here. Aizawa-sensei was watching her for the first two events, but…” Hesitantly he raises his head to look at All-Might. “I hate to ask this—”

The look on his teacher’s face is one of amusement rather than annoyance, so that’s a relief. “Midoriya, do you need me to watch your cat for you while you compete?”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Izuku says in a small voice. “I’m really sorry—”

All-Might interrupts him by chuckling out loud. The hand leaves his shoulder to give Mika’s ear a scratch, and Izuku feels her purr against his chest. “She’s a friendly little one, isn’t she?”

“I’ve never met a person she doesn’t like.” They’re nearing the central stadium, and Izuku can see people again—living and dead—though All-Might is careful to steer him away from the former. He’s in his true form, and even though his chances of being recognized are low, people might ask uncomfortable questions. “She’s never had a problem with being held, either,” Izuku tells him. He feels shy as he looks up at All-Might. “You’re sure you don’t mind? I could probably find a side room to put her in, or ask Aizawa-sensei again.”

Instead of answering, All-Might holds out his hands. Taking the hint, Izuku gently sets Mika in his arms. Even without his hero form, All-Might’s proportions are way bigger than the average person—Izuku’s only a little taller than his elbow. Mika can fit in his cupped hands, and she seems happy enough to do so. “I’ll keep an eye on her, my boy. You focus on your match.” He chuckles. “Who knows? Maybe if I run into Endeavor again, the sight of her will put him in a better mood.”

“Oh.” It’s almost time for him to go out, but the opening here is too good to pass up. “Was he in a bad mood before?”

“Endeavor can be… difficult.” All-Might shifts his arms to cradle Mika more comfortably, and she slips free of his hands to hook her claws into his jacket and climb to his shoulder. “He’s a fine hero, but not the most personable.”

“I see.” The memory of Todoroki’s tense face flashes at the forefront of Izuku’s mind, and he blinks it away. Todoroki made it sound like Endeavor hated All-Might. “Do you get along with him?” he asks. “I mean, you’re Number One and he’s Number Two, so, do you at least work together a lot?”

“We did, but…” All-Might’s voice trails off. “Well, it was quite a while ago. I’ve been traveling a lot in recent years, so I’ve lost touch with many of my acquaintances.” He reaches up to pet the cat on his shoulder. “One benefit to my current teaching position, I hope—I’d like to reconnect with old colleagues. As for whether or not Endeavor and I get along, well… our positions being what they are, we’re both well-suited to fighting solo, so we haven’t had many opportunities for collaboration. But I respect him a great deal as a hero, and I like to think he does as well, in his own way. I think Japan is lucky to have him.”

“Jesus Christ,” Ms. Shimura mutters. “Hey, short stack? Endeavor hates him. And I mean, hates him. And he’s an asshole.”

Izuku nods in response to both of them. The entrance to the stadium is just up ahead, and All-Might finally comes to a halt.

“Young Midoriya,” he begins. Then he pauses, long enough to fix Izuku with a deep, considering look. Izuku returns it steadily, wondering what his mentor might be thinking. At last, All-Might gives him a little smile and clasps his shoulder one last time. “Show them what you’re capable of, my boy. Make sure they pay attention.”

“Yes, sir.” Steeling himself, he turns toward the stadium entrance and walks.


“Did you hear what the brain-dead monkey said earlier?” Shinsou asks, loudly enough to be heard across the ring. “He talked big about pride, but it was pretty stupid of him throw out his chances like that, huh?”

Izuku opens his mouth to tell Shinsou exactly where he can shove it, and barely catches himself when Rei shrieks at him from the sidelines. He shuts his mouth so quickly that he almost bites his tongue, and shoots Shinsou what feels like the ugliest glare he’s ever given anyone.

“What?” Shinsou smirks. “It’s true. There’re people who’d kill for half the chance I gave him, and he flushed it away without a thought. Pretty high and mighty of him, that’s all.”

That’s his strategy, Izuku thinks. He’s gonna bait me into talking so he can brainwash me right out of the ring. He purses his lips, curls his hands into fists, and takes a step to close the distance between them. It’d be better to end this quickly before he can slip up, but he has no idea what Shinsou’s capable of, physically. Better not underestimate him.

Shinsou’s on his guard now, circling instead of advancing, forcing Izuku to match his movements to keep him from getting behind him. “Must be nice for somebody like you,” he says. “With a quirk like that, you must’ve been born with ‘hero’ stamped across your ass.”

Izuku bites his lip.

“And there’s all of you in heroics, running around like idiots ‘cause you’ve got it made, while the rest of us have to dance and beg just to get noticed.” Shinsou’s shadowed eyes narrow. “What’s that look for? What’re you looking at me like you’re the underdog for?” His teeth flash white as his lip curls back. “You’re the golden boy, you’ve got a quirk like All-Might’s second coming. You’d hardly even have to work to get noticed around here!’

If only you knew, Izuku almost says. It’s a fight just to block Shinsou out.

“Nobody’s ever gonna look at your quirk and say you’re villain material!” Shinsou’s voice rises. “Do you even know what that’s like? Having your one dream thrown in your face just because you were born with the wrong kind of power?”

The words hit like a twisting in his heart.

His mouth moves without a command from his brain. It’s pure habit, a meaningless platitude, a tiny little nothing of a word, but it slips out just as it’s slipped out countless times before.

“Sorry,” he says, before his brain catches up and realizes his mistake. “That must have been awf—”

His tongue locks in his mouth, and his body freezes in place from head to toe. Shit, he tries to say, but his mouth will no longer obey him. All he can do is stare, blankly, at Shinsou’s triumphant smile.

Turn around,” Shinsou tells him, and the command reverberates in his head like an echo bouncing off the inside of his skull. “Turn around and walk out of bounds.

Obediently, his legs respond. His body turns itself around and starts carrying him, step by step, toward the boundaries of the ring.

Izuku’s head is not a fun place to be at the moment. All the vehement swearing he would be doing if he only had control of his mouth, is taking place in the confines of his mind.

Nice going, idiot. You had one job. One job! Just don’t talk. Well, failed Step One. Nice work , Deku.

Maybe he should be worried that his inner voice sounds an awful lot like Bakugou right now.

Frustration wells up uselessly within him. He was supposed to prove himself here. He was supposed to announce his arrival, to attract Gran Torino’s attention. And all he’s going to do now is toddle stupidly out of the contest with a cockeyed look on his face.

Such a shame.

He was doing pretty well.

Too kind, that’s the trouble.

No such thing.

Izuku blinks. That… didn’t sound like any of his thoughts.

He’s young. He’ll learn from this.

Better to make this mistake here, instead of a real battle.

Better now than against my brother.

Anything we can do for him?

Yes.

A vision blooms before his eyes as he walks helplessly forward. Not ghosts—this is too hazy for ghosts. More like a mirage on the horizon, like a heat shimmer mixed with smoke and shadow. Izuku would react, would cry out, but he’s not in control. Dark, indefinite shapes loom over him—eight of them—nine? Two of them look almost familiar.

He won’t thank us.

It’ll be a hard lesson.

But don’t forget, he’s had far worse.

He’s almost to the edge when icy hands catch his arm. Izuku can’t turn his head to look, but he recognizes the size of the hands, and the garbled whining growl. Rei drags at him, slowing his progress but not stopping it.

He focuses. He can’t move his mouth. He can’t speak.

But maybe… maybe if he focuses, and does his best…

The strain sends pain shooting through his head, but he does it. His failing fingers, stiff and sluggish under someone else’s control, just barely form letters.

“Rei hit me,” he finger-spells, and she appears in front of him, shrieking fit to… well, wake the dead. It doesn’t break Shinsou’s control, but she already slowed him down by pulling at him. Rei screams in his face, shoving at him to push him back toward the center of the ring. Black eyes flash up to his face, desperate and apologetic.

“Sorry,” she signs to him, and her hand lashes out.

Rough claws rake his face, and his head snaps to one side with the force of the blow.

—blunt nails, fingers clutch at him in the dark, grasping for his throat. many hands, many voices, harsh breathing on his neck, eerie wails that scrape in his ears. they are angry. he cannot get out. he cannot get away—

He startles awake with a harsh gasp. The shadowy forms in his vision are gone. His feet are right at the edge of the ring, but still within it. Rei hugs his arm, and she still doesn’t speak out loud but he hears the sorrysorrysorry in her quiet whimpering.

Has he stopped? Is he free?

Looks like it.

The boy has good friends.

Now try again, little one.

Izuku bites his lip. His face stings. He glances down at his best friend and smiles. Thank you, he mouths.

Rei smiles back, winks, and mimes zipping her mouth shut.

He takes a deep breath, then turns on his heel and runs back to win.

Chapter Text

“Pretty close one there, Midoriya,” Ojiro laughs.

Izuku winces as he takes a seat in the stands with Ojiro on one side, and Iida and Uraraka on the other. He’s fresh off of a conversation with All-Might with a few things to think about. But that’s okay, because he’s retrieved Mika for the time being, and Mika has this strange ability to make his thoughts less… loud. Now, she settles easily into his lap, purring when Iida reaches over to give her ears a scratch. “Sorry, Ojiro,” he says with a sheepish grin. “Even after all your help, I still almost blew it.”

“It’s cool—what matters is, you pulled through,” his classmate tells him.

“I have to admit, I didn’t catch what you did, Midoriya,” says Iida. “The angle was wrong, and I didn’t have a good view.”

“Yeah, you moved really fast,” Uraraka adds. “It looks like you scratched yourself pretty bad, though. Is your face okay?”

“Does it look bad?” Izuku rubs at his still-tender skin. It still stings a bit from Rei’s nails, but he’s not bleeding and it doesn’t appear to have broken skin, so there was no need for Recovery Girl’s help.

“It’s not too bad,” she assures him. “Mainly just looks like welts.”

“That was pretty cool, though, that you muscled out of that mind control.” Ojiro looks sheepish. “I don’t know if I could have pulled that off.”

“Well I have a pretty thick skull, apparently,” Izuku laughs nervously. The less he says about how he broke free, the better. Eager to change the subject, he turns back to the match about to take place before them. He leans forward eagerly, focusing on the two figures in the ring below. Sero stands on one side, Todoroki on the other.

It’s not that he disrespects Sero in any way. But if he were the betting type, his money would be on Todoroki. Still, though, it’s worth it to see how this match goes, either way. Whoever he ends up facing, he hopes at least that he can get some good data out of watching this match. It’d be nice to see if fighting Sero can expose any weaknesses in Todoroki, or vice ver—

CRACK.

…Or it’ll end in three seconds and wow, Izuku really needs to pee all of a sudden.

There is a glacier jutting out over the top of the stadium, jagged spikes stretching toward the sky. It creaks and groans under its own weight, but aside from that, for a few glorious seconds, the stands are dead quiet.

At the base of the glacier, Sero is almost entirely encased in ice. His voice sails out through the air, shaking with cold.

“That was a little much, doncha think?”

There’s a space of about six feet between the spot where Todoroki’s standing, and the very edge of where the glacier begins. The gap between Todoroki and Sero himself is even wider. Izuku’s close enough to see Todoroki shake as he closes that distance.

He sees Todoroki say something, but the distance coupled with the calls of encouragement from the crowd—all aimed at Sero—make it impossible to hear. Sero responds, and Todoroki starts melting the ice that he just created.

His shoulders slump, and there’s something in his posture, some angle of his spine, that betrays a sense of misery. There’s no triumph here. Not even relief over a quick victory.

He just seems… alone.

Out of the corner of his eye, he’s vaguely aware of Uraraka reaching over Iida to give him a comforting four-fingered pat on the shoulder. “Nice knowing you, Deku,” she says.

Izuku can’t tear his eyes away, for all that there’s nothing helpful that he can glean from this. What can he possibly learn? That his next opponent can one-shot someone from six to nine feet away?

Six to nine feet

Rei’s cold hands clutch at his sleeve, and Mika rolls over in his lap to do paw-presses against his stomach.

Six to nine feet

That is so much room

Izuku shifts forward in his seat so abruptly that he nearly dislodges his cat. He stares, eyes wide, mouth half-open, first at Todoroki, then at the gradually melting glacier, and then down at his own two hands.

“Midoriya?” Iida nudges him gently. “Are you quite all right?”

“Something wrong with your hands?” Ojiro asks.

“Not yet,” he says.

“Not… yet?” Ojiro echoes.

“I’m trying to decide,” Izuku explains, still considering his hands. “Which finger I can fight without.” He pauses, mind racing, and frowns down at the ring and the ice and his next opponent. “Thumbs are right out. I’m gonna need my thumbs.”

“Ooookay,” Ojiro mutters.

“Deku, what’s up?” Uraraka asks. “You look kind of funny right now.”

“I think I know what to do,” he says. He feels a tug at the corners of his mouth. “It’s not foolproof, but.” Piece by piece, some semblance of a plan takes form in his head. He turns to Uraraka, and the tugging is too much to resist, so he smiles until his lips part and he’s half-sure they can see his gums. “I have an idea.”

Iida looks worried. Uraraka looks excited. In his lap, Mika shifts to a more comfortable position and purrs.

The first round of matches goes by. Part of Izuku wants to go out and talk to ghosts again, but mostly he can’t stand the thought of missing any of his classmates’ matches. Rei wanders off to amuse herself, and Izuku settles in to watch his friends and acquaintances face off against each other. He sees Kaminari face off with Ibara from Class B, and then the somewhat baffling match between Iida and Hatsume, and that’s when Uraraka excuses herself to go to a waiting room. Her match is coming up—she’s fighting Bakugou first.

Izuku really, really hopes she can beat him.

Not long after Uraraka leaves, Izuku gathers up his cat and makes his way out of the stands to join his friends. The ghosts are quiet and calm. The poltergeist is nowhere to be found.


Uraraka loses.

It’s hard to watch. Not because Bakugou crushes her—far from it. It hurts because she gets so far, and she gets so close. Her strategy is reckless, desperate, and absolutely ingenious. Izuku would like to think he could have come up with something like that in her place, but he isn’t sure. She gives it her all, and Izuku can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to face her himself.

For now, he’s not going to find out. Because no matter how hard she fights and how smart she fights, her best just isn’t enough against Bakugou.

Izuku’s best has been losing to Bakugou since before Bakugou even had a quirk. He knows it has to hurt. He’s memorized that sting so well that he can feel it himself as Uraraka’s carried out of the stadium on a stretcher.

(Bakugou doesn’t gloat, later. He doesn’t complain about how close she came to winning. Maybe he sees how good she is, too.)

Rei helps him track her down later, after Recovery Girl has released her. On the way, Izuku fumbles with words in his mind, struggling to untangle them and string them together into something that might make things better. He’s shocked when he walks into the room and she greets him with a bright smile that stretches her mouth to its limits. She looks tired but mostly unhurt. Izuku has been bracing himself for crushing disappointment, and is wholly unprepared for her bashful optimism.

“Darn it,” she says. “I guess I lost after all, haha!”

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“I’m so bummed.” She laughs, shaking her fist in an exaggerated way. “I’ll get him next time, though.” She smiles at him, her face pink with embarrassment. She won’t meet his eyes. “Sorry, Deku. I really wanted to be able to face you today.”

“Yeah, me too.” He pauses, arms full of cat. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Of course!” She fist-pumps again. “I just jumped the gun and he got the drop on me, that’s all. I’m really bummed out about it, and I just—gotta work on that, y’know?”

Rei is right next to him, but Izuku doesn’t need to look at her to know Uraraka’s lying. “Yeah—” Present Mic’s commentating reaches his ears. From the sound of it, Kirishima and Tetsutetsu’s match is nearly done. Round two is up, and that means…

“It’s almost time for you to go up again, huh,” Uraraka says. “You’d better hurry. I’ll be out in a minute—” She smiles so hard that her eyes nearly squinch shut. “I wouldn’t miss your match.”

“Sure,” he says.

He’s only a few steps away from the door when he hears her sobbing over the phone.

It’s a good thing he’s that far away. He’s always been far too emotional for his own good. If he were in there with her, he’d probably break down crying, too. As it is, it’s all he can do to stand in the hallway and hug his cat to his chest to ward off the tears.

One deep breath later, then two, then three, and he looks down at Mika. He looks back at the waiting room he’s only just left. Uraraka’s voice is soft, her sobs muffled.

It’s a quick decision, and an easy one. Two birds, one stone.

“Uraraka?” He calls her name a few seconds before he gets back to the doorway, to give her time to wipe her eyes and compose herself. (She’s quieted, but it never hurts to be safe.) It’s easy to pretend he’s distracted; with his next match so near, the nervousness is starting to set in. He walks in quickly, already babbling a stream before she can get a word in.

“I really hate to ask this and it’s pretty short notice but I only have maybe two minutes and I don’t know if I have time to find All-Might and I definitely don’t have time to find Aizawa-sensei so could you watch my cat?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before plopping Mika into Uraraka’s lap.

“Um,” she says, bewildered.

He shoots her a quick smile. “Thanks, Uraraka, you’re the best!” And with that, he doesn’t exactly bolt out of the room, but he does power-walk.


Ochako stares at the empty doorway long after Deku is already gone. Bemusement has stalled her tears for now, and all she can do is blink speechlessly after Deku before looking at the faintly bewildered cat occupying her lap.

“Ochako?” Dad’s voice brings the phone back to her ear. “Ochako, what was that? Did something happen?”

“Y-yeah,” she answers, and squeaks a little when Deku’s cat stands up in her lap, circles a little, and settles down again. “Sorry, Dad, just…” She lowers her free hand to the soft fur, and the low rumble of Mika’s purring is almost immediate.

She can’t help it. Maybe it’s because she’s still sort of crying, maybe her emotions are still all over the map, but Ochako sits in the empty waiting room with a purring cat cuddling up to her, and giggles.

“It was one of my friends,” she says at last. “I think, um… I think he was trying to cheer me up.”

“Well, did it work?” Dad asks.

Mika pushes her head into Ochako’s hand, demanding more petting. Ochako’s eyes still sting, and her face feels stiff with dried tears, but it still makes her smile. “Little bit,” she answers.

“Good. I’m glad you have friends like that, Ochako. I’m proud of you, you hear?”

“Loud and clear, Dad.”

She learns an important lesson that day: that crying your eyes out with your best friend’s cat purring like a plane engine in your lap is a whole lot better than crying your eyes out all alone.


My little brother’s feelings hum like he’s full of bees, that’s how nervous he is. Nervous for the fight, and nervous for what he’s just done, leaving Mika in his friend’s lap. The questions buzz in his head, and I can’t hear those but I can guess what they are—did I do that okay? Did I make it better instead of worse? Was that right?

(He doesn’t need to worry. We’re not so far away from her that I can’t feel it. It was right. He made it better.)

I would tell him that, but there are more important things to tell him. Like how the angry ghost from before is close, and getting closer. And how the reason why he’s close is because—

I tug on my little brother’s arm. I point to the nearest corner, where another hallway meets the one we’re in. He pauses, and his nervousness spikes when the man walks around the corner wreathed in flames.

That’s him. That’s Endeavor. The angry ghost is with him, quiet for now but still in a temper. There’s a second one along with them, and his smile is not a very nice smile, and his laugh is not a very nice laugh.

Oh hey, you’re that kid Suzuki was talking about, he says when he sees my little brother. He nods at Endeavor, smiling his mean smile. Watch out for this asshole, he’s in a mood. He bought a thing of water, and I knocked it into his lap. He chewed out the guy next to him. Funniest fuckin’ thing I’ve seen all day.

The angry one doesn’t say much. But Endeavor does, and I don’t have to dig deep to feel what’s inside of him. He wears his anger like armor and his pride like a second skin. Everything is on the outside, and even if I try to dig deep, it goes on and on and on. He’s mad and mean and he thinks he’s better.

I don’t like him.

If he comes too close to my little brother then I’ll make him a f r a i d.

Clever of you, he says to my little brother. Winning without even using your quirk. I hope you don’t think that will carry you the rest of the way. Especially if you hope to last against my son.

he’s a bully he’s a bully he’s a bully he’s a big, stinking bully

But I’ve heard rumors about you, he says, as my little brother’s fear stirs and twists inside of him. About how your quirk is powerful enough to rival All Might’s.

His anger peaks, and my little brother makes it look like he isn’t strangled by his fear.

“Come away,” I tell him with my hands. I don’t need to urge him. He’s walking faster now. He wants to get away. My little brother doesn’t like bullies.

My Shouto has a duty to surpass All-Might, Endeavor says, before we can escape. His match against you will be an excellent first test.

(You are nothing, is what he really says. You are not a challenge. You are something to be stepped over.

He should hope that he doesn’t die too soon. If he does, then Mr. Okumura will have to wait his turn.

No one talks to my little brother that way.)

So you’d do well to at least try to give him a proper challenge, Endeavor says. I don’t want to see a disgraceful match.

(My little brother’s anger spikes, so strong and white-hot that I mistake it for my own. The fear has to move out of the way because now the anger fills him from his heart to his throat.

He would make a frightening ghost.)

He smiles.

Well now I’m torn, he says.

Endeavor asks him why.

I was going to do that anyway, says my little brother. But now I kind of don’t want to.

What—

I’m bad at doing what I’m told, my little brother goes on. Ask anyone.

Endeavor bristles, anger sharp like thorns. You—

Don’t worry, my little brother says, and keeps walking. I’m not gonna lose out of spite. That’d be stupid.

Endeavor seethes on the inside, but inside or outside doesn’t matter to me. Clearly your quirk isn’t the only thing similar to All-Might, he says.

I am not All-Might, my little brother says, and his anger burns hot but his voice is cold, cold, cold.

That’s obvious, says Endeavor, and he reeks with contempt.

Good, says my little brother. And Todoroki isn’t you. That’s pretty obvious, too.

Endeavor has nothing to say to that, because now it’s his turn to choke on his own anger. I laugh and laugh and laugh.

Better hurry, my little brother says as he walks away. I bet if you’re fast, you can get a new drink before the match starts.

It’s too bad he’s walking away, because he misses the look on Endeavor’s face. Hino laughs with me, and my brother’s anger makes him smile with all his teeth.


Rei stays on the sidelines as Izuku walks into the ring. The walk from the hallways out into the stadium has calmed his anger and at least some of his nerves. It’s hard to quiet all of them with Todoroki watching him intently as they wait for the signal from Midnight.

When it comes, Izuku barely hears Todoroki’s voice over the roaring in his own ears.

“Nothing personal,” Todoroki says, and Izuku is already off and running.

This first part may be the most important. If he messes this up, then it’s all over before it even begins. He’s afraid to blink; he’s afraid that if he shuts his eyes even for a split second, he’ll miss something, or he’ll trip, or he’ll get the timing wrong. And for this, timing is absolutely everything.

He’s maybe nine feet away, and his eyes are on Todoroki’s hands. The sweeping motion of Todoroki’s arm is familiar; Izuku recognizes it from just a split second before Sero lost.

At that moment, his eyes move from Todoroki to the ground between them, and he sees the ice rapidly spreading—not just spreading, but growing. By the time it reaches him it’ll be high enough to encase him and end the match.

Time slows as Izuku steels himself and leaps as high as he can without his quirk. He points his left arm straight down, holding his wrist in his right hand to brace it.

Now or never

He pours One For All into his left pinky and flicks. Adrenaline keeps the burst of pain to a manageable level, and he muffles his cry of pain. The ice below, previously rising up to trap him, explodes beneath a shockwave of air, springboarding him higher into the air. The impact sends ice shards and mist flying, and he lands in the thick of it.

The landing jars his ankles but doesn’t injure him, and he’s already moving again the moment his feet touch the ground. The mist is disorienting but far from blinding, and he can see Todoroki just a few feet away, blinking in surprise.

Izuku comes at him from the left side, arm cocked back, and punches Todoroki straight in the eye.

He’s rewarded by Todoroki’s grunt of pain, and it takes every ounce of self control not to make one of his own. In his mind he can already hear the lecture he’s probably going to get from Ms. Shimura.

If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, short stack, your finger bones are delicate flowers. Skulls have one job, and that job is to keep your squishy little brain from getting splattered. If you introduce one to the other, you won’t need One For All to crunch your hand.

He’s pretty sure his fingers aren’t broken, but if they are then it’s nowhere near what his quirk normally does. So he doesn’t let up. He can’t afford to let up. Todoroki staggers under that first punch, and Izuku aims another toward his ribs before he can recover.

On the left side. Always on the left side.

It doesn’t take long for Todoroki to catch up, but Izuku keeps at it, chasing that left side and aiming blow after blow. If he goes for Todoroki’s right then he might get frozen, but if he goes for the left then he has Todoroki’s own words confirming that there’s a pretty low chance of him getting burned. Todoroki himself is starting to see this; Izuku keeps weaving, keeps going for that left side, so Todoroki throws punches and kicks of his own. They’re mere seconds in, and it’s devolved into a slugfest.

His right fist still aches from the first punch, and his left has one useless finger, but he still has legs and he still has elbows. He still has a perfectly good skull, if it comes to that.

The plan is almost disgustingly simple: aim for the one glaring weakness he knows Todoroki has. Hit hard enough to rattle him and destroy his concentration so he can’t get his head together to use his quirk. And above all, don’t let him get too far away.

He’d realized it when he saw the space between Todoroki and the giant glacier that took out Sero: Todoroki’s ice needs room to grow. It makes him good with long range, and not so good when his opponent’s right up in his face. So Izuku breathes when he can, and stays in his opponent’s face.

Besides that first blast, he hasn’t even activated his quirk. And yet, from the looks of it, it’s working.

He can still sense the gap between them. Todoroki is hard to read; there’s no warning and no time to duck Todoroki’s fist before it splits his lip. He goes in to retaliate and gets a palm to the nose for his trouble. Izuku licks his lip and tastes blood.

And yet…

Landing hits isn’t as hard as it should be, considering that he’s been training for weeks and Todoroki’s been at this since his quirk first manifested. But in the back of Izuku’s mind, what little of his brain isn’t clouded with pain and adrenaline makes the connection. Todoroki focuses on his ice, and his ice works best at a distance. This means he might not have as much practice with close-range fighting, and half of his body is a glaring target that Izuku is taking advantage of for all he’s worth.

If he keeps this up, if his stamina holds out and he doesn’t make a stupid mistake, then…

Maybe he can win, like this.

Maybe he can win, just by aiming for the one place where Todoroki’s weak.

The thought jars him, and Todoroki sees his hesitation and lashes out with his right hand. Izuku sees the ice crystals forming on his classmate’s bare forearm, ducks, and lunges forward with a yell. He hits Todoroki’s ribs with his elbow, as hard as he can. On the left side.

The blow forces a choked cry from Todoroki’s mouth, and suddenly the bad taste in Izuku’s mouth has nothing to do with the blood from his busted lip.

He tells himself that it’s strategy. He reminds himself of what Ms. Shimura said about fighting smart. He reminds himself that Todoroki is the strongest person in class, and that he can’t possibly win a fight against him without using every advantage he can scrape together.

But it doesn’t stop it from feeling gross. It doesn’t change the fact that he’s latching on to his classmate’s fears and insecurities—on something that’s caused Todoroki so much pain—and digging his nails into it for the sake of winning.

It doesn’t stop thoughts like what if this is the only way he can be strong? By taking advantage of other people’s pain?

He doesn’t feel like someone who’s holding his own in a fight.

He feels an awful lot like Bakugou, actually.

The thought doesn’t make him falter. It has the opposite effect—his frustration wells up until it’s indistinguishable from rage, and he slams into Todoroki’s ribs with his elbow again. This time when Todoroki gets knocked back, he falls to one knee.

“Are you kidding me right now?!” Izuku’s voice cracks on the way out. He wonders what he must look like, yelling his head off with blood running from his nose and mouth.

Todoroki blinks up at him, shock registering in his eyes.

“You’re supposed to be the strongest, aren’t you?” Izuku’s voice is ragged as he fights for breath. “After everything I had to go through just to get into this stupid school, I can take the strongest kid in my class without even using my damn quirk?

He feels a breath of cold before he sees ice form, and he lunges again and closes the distance, right before slamming his foot into Todoroki’s face. At the last moment he tries to soften it—and maybe that was stupid, maybe he could have won the fight by knocking him out and dragging him out of bounds by the collar, but he’s too upset to care. It still connects, and the blast of ice goes wide. Some of it crystallizes on Izuku’s left shoulder, but it’s barely a glancing hit, and Izuku breaks it off by slamming his shoulder into his Todoroki’s chest anyway.

“You can use your whole quirk!” Izuku yells. “You could’ve taken me down in seconds if you just used your whole—”

Todoroki’s eyes flash. “I will not—” he snarls, and Izuku retches when Todoroki’s knee crashes into his stomach. “You heard me, Midoriya!” Izuku’s ears ring as he tries not to bring up what little there is in his stomach. “I told you—I’m going to climb over you with my right side only.”

“Great job so far,” Izuku chokes out.

“I don’t need—” Another blow to the ribs. “—that bastard’s power!” Izuku ducks a right hook and aims a punch at Todoroki’s stomach, but his classmate braces himself for it. “I’m going to climb to the top without it!”

Izuku’s crouched low at this point, and when he thrusts himself upward, his forehead meets Todoroki’s chin. It hurts, but judging by the choking sound Todoroki’s making, he made his classmate bite his tongue. “Without his power?” he snaps. His temper makes him stupid. It makes him cruel. “You’re kidding me, right? It’s a little late to be saying that, don’t you think?”

Todoroki’s bared teeth look bloody. “I will not—”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Izuku yells, as Todoroki turns to head to spit out bloody saliva. “Remind me—which one of us got in on whose recommendation again?”

It’s cruel. The words taste filthy as he says them, but he spits them out anyway, and retribution is immediate.

He takes the punch to his left eye, but it’s different this time. It doesn’t just hurt; it stings and burns, and he staggers back with a cry of pain. His neck hurts from the whiplash, but that’s not the most pressing issue. The most pressing issue is that his hand is coming away stained with red. He opens his eye, and blood stings when it runs in. He closes it. He’ll have to make do without depth perception.

His vision is narrow when he looks at Todoroki and finds his classmate staring at him, wide eyed, with his right fist encased in blood-smeared ice. They recover at the same time, and Izuku notices in the back of his mind that there’s an awful lot of space between them.

There’s no time for plans as the wave of ice comes at him, so Izuku doesn’t think. He just moves, and his right arm shatters when he calls on One For All to block.

The ice explodes with a thunderous crack, and it’s just about loud enough to drown out Izuku’s yell of pain. It’s not just the impact that hurts; there’s kickback from the punch, and when all is said and done, his arm hangs limp and useless at his side.

Dimly, he hears Present Mic and Aizawa’s voices through the speakers, but he’s past paying attention and he is not finished.

“Can you understand why that pisses me off so much?” His voice cracks as he gets in Todoroki’s face again. It’s hard to deal damage when he only has one working arm, and that one arm has a broken finger. But this can’t end now. He’s come too far.

He wants to win. But even if he doesn’t, he’d like to feel like he did something.

“It took everything I had!” Todoroki flinches away from a punch, and he uses the distraction to kick out at his leading foot. “Everything! Just to get into this school!” He sucks in a breath. “Do you have any idea how annoying it is to see you literally half-assing it?!” Blood from his nose and lip runs into his mouth again, and he spits it out to the side. “What, do you think we’re all so weak that you can come out on top without giving it your all?!”

“Well I am beating you,” Todoroki says through clenched teeth. “Do you really think you can win with that arm?”

“Yeah, congratulations.” Izuku’s voice drips with sarcasm. “Sure, you can beat me, when I have one working arm and one working eye. Good for you, Todoroki! If you use half your power, you can beat half a person!” He thinks of Uraraka, whose best still lost against Bakugou, and Ojiro who bowed out because he hadn’t been given the chance to try for his own victory. “God, you’re so annoying! Everyone here is giving their all!” He thinks of Shinsou, whose quirk is perfect for taking out villains but missed his chance because it’s useless for taking out training robots. “Kids who aren’t even in Heroics are giving it their all!”

“I can’t—”

“Quit playing around!” Izuku yells. “Do you really think you can beat B-Bakugou like this? Do you really think you can half-ass being a hero? Saving actual people?”

Todoroki kicks him back, until he has just barely enough room to throw more ice. “I can’t!” Even when Izuku sacrifices another finger on his left hand to take out the frozen wave, Todoroki’s voice still pitches above the blast.

“What do you mean you can’t—”

“Do you even know what it’s like?!” Todoroki cuts him off. Another wave of ice, and Izuku repeats the maneuver he’d pulled at the start of the match. The only fingers he has left are his thumb and index finger, but it takes him in close again. He catches himself with his back to Todoroki, and he feels the cold reaching for him. On pure instinct, his elbow snaps back. He whips around at the waist, putting the full force of his body behind the blow, and he’s rewarded when it makes contact, and he feels something give beneath it. Spinning around the rest of the way, he’s met with the sight of Todoroki with blood fountaining from his newly broken nose. Tears glisten in his classmate’s eyes, and he’s not sure if they’re a pain reflex from getting hit in the face, or his classmate is just that upset.

“What what’s like?”

“Did you see me, when you first looked at me?” Todoroki hisses, as blood runs freely from his nose. “Or did you just see Endeavor’s son?”

Izuku stares at him, still half blind. “W-what?”

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” Todoroki grits out. “That’s all they ever see. If I use my fire, that’s all anyone will see! They won’t see me—they’ll just see the man who made my mom suffer, and threw her away when she broke.” His breath hisses through his teeth. “I’m not going to give them any reason to see that bastard in me.”

And for a split second, Izuku gapes at him through one open eye.

Oh.

And the answer is—yes. Yes, he does know what that’s like. How many hours has he spent suffering over stupid fraud psychics?

How much time has he spent agonizing over the knowledge that a fraud psychic is all anyone will see if he ever reveals his original quirk?

Oh.

He sees ice forming at Todoroki’s right arm when he says, “Bullshit.”

It’s a miracle that Todoroki hears him. “What.”

“I said that’s bullshit and you know it.” His teeth clench. His voice shakes. “You’re crippling yourself for spite and it’s stupid and insulting. All you’re doing is wasting something that—that some people would give anything to have.”

“Didn’t you hear me?” Todoroki sways on his feet. He looks almost as exhausted as Izuku feels. “All they’ll see is—”

“Then show them they’re wrong!” Izuku yells. “At least you can. If they don’t see you then make them see you!

“But—”

What was it that Mom had said, about his quirk? “But nothing,” Izuku grits out. “Now stop messing with me already so we can finish this!”

“My father—”

I’m not fighting your fucking father right now!

His voice cracks and scrapes raw in his throat, and for a moment Todoroki stares at him. He would be wide-eyed if one of them weren’t swelling shut.

Izuku’s temper is frayed thin. " And neither are you! He's not standing in this ring right now, we are!” Now both eyes sting, not with blood but tears, and his mother’s words finally come to him. “Your quirk is your own, and no one else’s. So hurry up and use it already.

He catches sight of Todoroki’s wide eyes one last time, before his classmate bursts into flame.

Well, he thinks, as the blast kicks up a wind that blows his hair back. The match was fun while it lasted.

“You’re damn crazy, you know that?” comes Todoroki’s voice out of the mess of power before him—fire on one side, ice on the other. “You might’ve won that. But no, you just had to run your mouth. And go out of your way to—” He sees his classmate at the heart of the storm, staring at him with eyes blazing. “Why?”

Izuku can’t tell if Todoroki can even hear him. “You looked like you needed help.”

“You can’t win this,” Todoroki tells him.

“Probably not,” Izuku says, shrugging his one good shoulder. “But we can at least make it look cool, right?”

This time, when he bares his teeth in a grin, Todoroki smiles back.

The world goes white for a while.

When it comes back, Izuku is flat on his back, outside of the ring, with Rei’s hair tickling his nose as she leans over his face. Everything hurts, and defeat has never tasted so much like victory.

Chapter Text

Midoriya Izuku has to be carried off the field. Shouto doesn’t, but it’s only by that much.

He vaguely recalls Midoriya kicking him in the face at some point. It must have happened, because why else would his left eye be swollen shut? He might have blamed the elbow, but no, the elbow was what smashed his nose. That’s fun—the slightest gust of wind sends pain shooting through his entire face.

To say nothing of the fact that he feels incredibly lopsided at the moment. He’s fine on the right, but the left side of his body is spotty with aches and pains. His left foot feels sprained, and he has to favor it to keep from falling over. He’s at least eighty-percent sure his wrist is broken. The main reason he’s still upright is that he’s already icing his ribs on the left side.

This has been… something of a learning experience.

He’s only recently started paying much attention to Midoriya, and his general impression of his classmate has thus far consisted of a short list of adjectives including but not limited to “excessively chatty,” “way too cheerful,” and “creepy beyond all reason.”

Now, he can add “pretty goddamn vicious”.

Oh, and his tongue is still bleeding. That’s uncomfortable.

Shouto shoots another quick glance at Midoriya, and grinds his teeth against the lurching feeling in his stomach. As terrible as he feels, Midoriya looks worse. His classmate’s left eye is still shut, crusted over with blood.

Midoriya catches him looking, and shows his teeth in another smile that would already be unsettling without the eye injury and streaks of dried blood. “Hey, Todoroki,” he says, before he’s carried off out of Shouto’s hearing range. “Tell your dad I said—how’s that for a disgraceful match?”

…He’s still creepy.


Needless to say, Recovery Girl is fit to be tied.

“I have had it up to here with you!” The school’s formidable nurse has worked herself into a tirade, and Izuku doesn’t blame her. He’s starting to lose count of how many broken bones she’s had to fix on him. “Of all the reckless, empty-headed, foolish, careless stunts—”

“I’m not sorry,” Izuku says.

That does nothing to help Recovery Girl’s temper, and it’s not meant to. It’s the truth, and no amount of her scolding—whether it’s aimed at him, or at a meek-looking Todoroki carefully rinsing his mouth with warm salt water by the sink—is going to change that.

“I didn’t say I was happy about it,” he admits. There’s gauze plastered over his left eye and blood still congealing on much of his face. His hands are a mess, and his right arm is bleeding as well as broken. Izuku isn’t sure if the ice tore into it, or he hit hard enough to literally explode his arm. He’s trying not to think too hard about it. Recovery Girl’s doing more than enough fussing and tongue-lashing for all three of them. (He half-expects Rei to get snippy with her for yelling at him, but so far all she’s been doing is staring at the tiny old lady with wide eyes.) “But honestly I’d do it again. Except try harder, probably.”

Recovery Girl glares daggers at him, and then leaves his side to finish tending to Todoroki. She’s already fixed his eye—it’s no longer swollen shut, though it still looks a bit purple.

“I think I’m fine,” Todoroki says softly.

“Todoroki, I am really not in the mood.”

“No, I mean your quirk uses my stamina, right?” Todoroki says. “I still have to fight, so—”

“If you expect me to send you back out there with hairline fractures in your wrist and your ribcage, then you have another think coming, young man,” Recovery Girl snaps.

“Okay,” Todoroki concedes. “But I still need all the stamina I can keep.”

“Spare me from reckless boys who think I’m a miracle worker,” Recovery Girl mutters. “Fine, I’ll leave your nose alone, provided you at least let me splint it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’d like to give that Present Mic a piece of my mind,” Recovery Girl goes on as she carefully examines Todoroki’s nose. “Egging you children on, making more work for me… Hold still—can you breathe normally?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good. And as long as you aren’t fighting, you might as well put your quirk to good use and ice this while you can.” Todoroki winces as she fixes a small splint in place. “And speaking of your quirk—in the future, be more careful about how you use it on your classmates! A little harder, and you could have caused serious damage to Midoriya’s eye—and believe me, eyes are tricky, especially when he already has a shattered arm to worry about.”

Izuku sees Todoroki shrink in on himself, just a little, and speaks up. “It’s not his fault—”

“Oh, believe me, I’m not finished scolding you, either,” Recovery Girl grumbles. “There,” she says to Todoroki. “That will do for now.” She motions for him to leave. “Go on, now—I have at least thirty bones to rebuild in your classmate’s arm.”

Todoroki leaves without a word. On his way out he’s nearly trampled when Uraraka, Iida, Tsuyu, and Mineta come barging in, but he manages to slip past them and out of sight.

“Deku that was so intense, what the heck!” Uraraka’s voice pitches above the rest, though she’s hanging behind the other three. Mika’s wrapped in her arms, so she probably isn’t sure a cat is allowed in Recovery Girl’s medical ward.

“That was extremely reckless, Midoriya!” Iida adds. “What on earth were you thinking, continuing the fight in that condition?”

“Seriously,” says Tsuyu. “You two ripped up the arena so bad they’ve called a break to do repairs.”

“It was freaking scary!” Mineta pipes up.

But Recovery Girl is having none of it. “Out, all of you,” she says imperiously. “I’ll send him out when he’s fit to be walking around again, but until then, I need all of you out.”

His friends call out quick goodbyes before they’re shooed from the room. The only one of his friends who’s still with him is Rei, though she’s keeping well away from any medical equipment. All-Might isn’t here, though considering that both he and Todoroki got dragged in, that makes sense.

True to her word, she has to put him under while she fixes his arm. His dreams are unsettling and strange as always, and he wakes up groggy to find Rei in his face like a cat. Startled, he yelps, and feels Recovery Girl’s hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t move too much,” she warns. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Weird dream.” Blinking, he looks around and sees that the room is a touch more crowded than before. All-Might and Ms. Shimura came in at some point.

“That was… quite the show, my boy,” All-Might sighs. He looks weary as he steps forward, giving Recovery Girl a generous berth. There’s a browbeaten look on his face, and Izuku is abruptly aware of how he’s probably spent the last few minutes.

“You missed it, shorty,” Ms. Shimura says, confirming his guess. “She really chewed him out.”

Izuku makes a noncommittal noise as he sits up and Recovery Girl helps him gingerly put on a shirt. He notes that his left eye is still bandaged.

“How do you feel, my boy?” All-Might asks him.

“Like I got hit by a train,” Izuku answers. “But I derailed the first car in the process, so who’s the real winner?” He winces as Recovery Girl fits a sling onto him. “I mean, it’s the train, obviously, but at least there’s a dent on the bumper. Is that the right word? Do trains have bumpers?”

“It’s called the pilot,” Ms. Shimura supplies helpfully. “Or the cowcatcher.”

“Right, cowcatcher, that’s it.”

All-Might heaves a sigh. “I can’t praise you for going so far, my boy,” he says. “I don’t want to see you destroying yourself anymore. Especially not in a mock fight.”

With his good arm, he reaches up and gently touches the gauze on his face. “Didn’t feel very ‘mock’.”

Recovery Girl lightly swats his hand away. “Your eye is fine,” she assures him gruffly. “I didn’t use my quirk on it because considering the state of the rest of you, I had to prioritize. It’s going to scar, because that’s what happens when you heal the slow way—and that’s not the only thing.” She points to his injured arm, and he looks. For the first time, he notices the scarring on his arm and hand. His fingers look slightly crooked. “There’s only so much that my quirk can do. Your arm is still perfectly functional, but permanently warped.” She glares at him, holding his gaze so that he can’t look away. “Now you listen to me. I’m not going to be healing any more injuries like this, understand?” She glares at All-Might. “This isn’t working for him. You will find another way for him to learn how to use that quirk.”

All-Might nods.

Izuku is quiet as they leave. His arm still aches, and Rei is careful to avoid touching it.

“First part of the fight was pretty damn good, though,” Ms. Shimura tells him. “It was nice to see that the past couple of weeks’ training stuck.” She pats his good shoulder. “You did good up to the part where you exploded your own arm. Really waled on that kid.”

Izuku stops in the hallway. All-Might notices immediately and pauses with him.

“The fault is mine,” All-Might says, before Izuku has the chance to speak. “True, you went too far, but if I were a better teacher, I would probably have found a way—”

“It’s not just that,” Izuku interrupts. “It’s just…” His throat feels tight. Part of him wants to cry a little, but not so much that he’s actually going to. “I feel bad for thinking this, but I just—sometimes I just wish I had a useful quirk for fighting. I mean, without One For All. Because then I could actually hold my own without…” He shoots an apologetic look at Rei. She looks sad, so he reaches over surreptitiously and gives her hand a squeeze. These are stupid, useless thoughts that he can’t help having in his low moments, and truthfully he wouldn’t trade her friendship for anything. But still.

“That isn’t your fault.”

“I know,” Izuku says. “I know, and there’s nothing I can do about it, I just…”

“Let me tell you something.” All-Might’s hand comes to rest on his shoulder. “Before I received One For All from my predecessor, I was also quirkless.”

He twitches at the ‘also’, and slowly raises his head to look at All-Might. “Really?”

“Yes.” All-Might smiles a little. “It wasn’t as rare as it is now, but it still wasn’t common.”

“You never said.” He’s not sure if he’s saying this to All-Might, or to Ms. Shimura. Did she even know? How long did she know All-Might before she died?

“You never asked.” All-Might presses his shoulder gently. “So I can understand your frustration, my boy. And, in spite of your difficulties, you have a good start. I saw you at the beginning of the match—with or without your quirk, you put up a good fight.”

Izuku grinds his teeth. “Yeah, but…”

“What’s wrong, my boy?”

“Is… is it stupid that…” He curls his left hand into a fist. “That I didn’t like how I was fighting?”

A pause. “How do you mean?”

“I mean, it felt—part of it felt good,” Izuku admits. “Because that’s the first time I’ve ever been in a straight fight where I felt like I was actually holding my own. But I had to get mean just to pull that off. I had to take advantage of things that I didn’t want to.” He points to his face. “That’s how this happened. I said something to him that was—really just cruel. I knew it was going to hurt him and I said it anyway, and that’s why he hit me like that. And that’s why I have that stupid wish sometimes, because maybe then I wouldn’t have to do stuff like that.” He shakes his head. “And it didn’t even work anyway. I wanted to win so bad. I wanted to beat him more than anything but I couldn’t just…”

“You knew something was wrong,” All-Might says. “And you couldn’t leave it be.”

“I can never leave it be,” Izuku says softly.

“I saw. Toward the end, your goal changed,” All-Might continues. “Didn’t it? You wanted to help him.”

Someone had to.” Izuku’s voice comes out harsher than he intends. “Who else was gonna do it? Bakugou?” He grits his teeth until his head hurts. “And that’s why I can’t be sorry about how it turned out. Even if I wanted to win, even if you don’t approve, even if it was a stupid thing to do and none of his problems had anything to do with me. Because—if you know something’s wrong and you know you can do something about it, isn’t it your responsibility to help?”

All-Might is quiet for a moment. “You know,” he says at last. “I think you just summed up what it means to be a hero in one sentence.” Izuku looks up to find All-Might shaking his head with a smile. “Butting in to problems that have nothing to do with you is a cornerstone of heroics. So… while I can scold you for being reckless, and for hurting yourself so badly in the process, I can’t scold you for your reasons. I might have done the same in your place.”

“Hey, beansprout?” Ms. Shimura adds. “When he says ‘might have’, he means ‘definitely would have, in a heartbeat.’ Just thought you should know.”

Izuku smiles. His feelings on this whole mess are confusing and contradictory and hopelessly snarled, but at least he can smile when Ms. Shimura makes a joke.

They’re almost to the stadium again when he hears Rei’s warning hiss. He turns to find her stopped at the entrance to an adjoining hallway, glaring down it with her hair stirring as if in a breeze. White ghost light emanates from within her mouth.

He’s nearby, she signs, and a familiar rumbling voice drifts down the hall. There’s too much distance for Izuku to make out words, or feel the heavy pressure in his skull that he’d felt when that voice was shouting in his face. The angry one’s yelling at him. He can’t hear, but it still hurts him.

Movement flashes at one of the doorways in the connecting hall, and a familiar ghostly woman appears as if she’s been thrown out. Suzuki looks about as disheveled as an incorporeal spirit projection can look.

“Okumura, stop it!” she calls into the room. “He hasn’t done anything to you!”

“Midoriya?” All-Might’s voice draws his attention, and he realizes he’s stopped in the middle of the hallway, too. “Are you—?”

“I’ll catch up,” Izuku says. “You go on ahead, I’ll be out in a bit. I just need to check something.”

“Are you sure you—?”

“Yup.” Izuku’s already walking into the hallway, signing to Rei as he goes. Make sure he doesn’t follow me.

He’s not, is her answer. He’s walking away.

“Kiddo, what do you think you’re doing?” All-Might isn’t following him, but Ms. Shimura is. “If this is about what I think this is about, keep in mind your arm’s useless and this guy wall-slammed you less than an hour ago.”

Rei snarls at this. Suzuki hears them coming and startles a little. Izuku doesn’t blame her; it’s hard not to startle when Rei’s in a temper.

“It’s—he’s just—” Suzuki catches sight of Izuku’s face, and her own face falls. “Oh.” She wrings her hands. “You—you know the poor boy didn’t mean it, don’t you? He just…”

Izuku touches the gauze on his face and shrugs.

He steps past her to the doorway, and immediately Okumura’s voice reverberates in his eardrums.

—and maybe this whole fucking family’s toxic. Your dad poisons everything he touches, doesn’t he?

Todoroki’s sitting in the waiting room, frowning listlessly at the wall. He doesn’t look up when Izuku stands in the doorway, and Izuku doubts his classmate has noticed him. His nose is splinted, his face blotched purple with bruises, and he’s staring off into the middle distance as a nightmare hovers over him and spits verbal poison at him.

Even for a snot-nosed kid, you’re pathetic,” Okumura snarls. “You, different from him? Don’t make me laugh. You run your mouth, and then ten minutes later you’re throwing your weight around just like him. Hey—did you need to take out that one kid with a fucking iceberg, or did you do it just to show everybody how big and tough you are?” He leans in close, face twisting. “And how about that kid you punched? Maybe you’ll leave him a pretty little scar just like yours.

The tickle of fear in Izuku’s spine vanishes, consumed by white-hot anger.


Shouto’s thoughts are dark.

It’s unavoidable, sitting by himself in an empty room with no one to talk to, no distractions, nothing to drown out the chaos in his head. At this point he’d almost welcome another talk with his father. At least he knows to treat everything he hears from that bastard’s mouth as trash. He can’t do the same with the things that his own brain has to say about him.

He doesn’t feel like he’s in control anymore.

His mind ties itself in knots just trying to remember when he stopped feeling in control. His first thought is that it was right before he stopped thinking and nearly gouged out Midoriya’s eye. Or was it before that, with the first punch Midoriya threw? Or maybe even earlier, when he lost control and hurled an iceberg at Sero.

Or maybe, he hasn’t felt in control since… ever.

Maybe he’s never been in control.

Maybe Endeavor poisons everything he touches, and Shouto’s just been living with him long enough to absorb it.

He’s pathetic. Different from his father? What a joke. After all his talk, after all his stupid vows and promises, he throws his weight around just like the old bastard. That fight with Sero—ha, “fight,” that’s a laugh. All he did was panic and lose his temper and take out his own frustration with his own problems out on someone who had nothing to do with them. How was that any different from what Endeavor was doing, dragging his family into his stupid rivalry?

And Midoriya.

He’d hit Midoriya, and that wasn’t the issue; the issue was that he hadn’t meant to. He hadn’t planned on it. It’d just happened, his body just moved, because he was angry and terrified and Midoriya’s words cut extra deep when he knew that he couldn’t say his classmate was wrong.

Maybe he’ll end up with a scar, just like me.

It’s getting hard to breathe.

Stop it.”

Shouto starts, leaving a patch of ice on the table beneath his right hand. He looks up, caught off guard, to find Midoriya Izuku staring in his direction with the ugliest look of fury Shouto’s ever seen on him. And considering the range of expressions he saw over the course of their fight, that’s saying something. His spine crawls, and he’s caught between squirming uncomfortably in the face of that piercing glare, and being unable to look away.

Midoriya’s left eye is bandaged. It’s not quite to the same extent that Shouto’s once was, years ago, but it’s enough to be unsettlingly familiar.

It’s enough for Shouto to understand why Midoriya would look at him like that.

The crawling on his back turns to chills so cold they almost burn. His head aches with building pressure as he fidgets in his seat and finally manages to tear his eyes away. His broken nose sends twinges of pain through his skull.

“Stop what,” he says.

For a moment, Midoriya doesn’t answer him. There’s a tension in the air, thick as ice, and Shouto has to clench his fists and force himself not to fidget.

What is he supposed to say? Sorry for almost gouging your eye out, I didn’t like that you pointed out that my asshole father got me into this school and I was maybe making your hard work look pointless, my bad.

“You’re moping,” Midoriya says at last. “Which is fine. Nothing wrong with that.” He pauses. “Unless it’s about me. Is it?”

Shouto doesn’t answer. He hopes that’s enough of an answer by itself.

Another stretch of silence passes between them. Shouto keeps his eyes fixed on the table top, and doesn’t look at Midoriya’s face again.

“What do you want, Midoriya.”

He doesn’t even need to look at Midoriya’s face; he can feel his classmate’s eyes (or just one eye, now) burning a hole in the back of his head. “Just looking for my cat,” he answers, after far too long a pause.

“Oh,” Shouto says. “Well. It’s not in here.”

Midoriya lingers at the doorway a moment longer before answering. “I’ll leave you alone,” he says stiffly, and Shouto doesn’t move again until Midoriya’s footsteps are already fading away.


Okumura was angry enough that it made him strong. Izuku could tell, because it had taken both Rei and Ms. Shimura working together to drag him away from Todoroki. He could tell, because when they did, and when Okumura had lashed out at them and at Todoroki and anything that moved within his reach, Todoroki had felt it. He’d felt something, at least, and it looked like it had hurt.

It’s a miracle that Izuku kept his temper as well as he did.

Izuku hadn’t watched Rei haul Okumura out of the room with Ms. Shimura’s help, but he wouldn’t have needed to. Okumura is making enough of a racket to lead him right to them. All he has to do is follow the screams of rage and the trail of blinking lights.

The hallway is empty of life when he catches up to them. Rei’s gone all eldritch-horror again, writhing with darkness and terror and ghost lights and twisting tendrils of black hair. The fluorescent panels nearest to them are more like strobe lights as they face off. Ms. Shimura keeps well back, with Suzuki hiding behind her.

If Okumura was in a mood before, then he’s boiling mad now. Tangling with Rei slows him down, but he still throws himself toward Izuku, trying to claw at him while Rei bites at his heels. “How dare you.” Izuku keeps walking forward.

“Midoriya,” Ms. Shimura mutters, but Izuku doesn’t stop until he’s almost nose to nose with Okumura and hissing his own venom in the poltergeist’s distorted face.

“How dare you.”

Izuku can get mad, too. He can get so mad that his eyes get hot and his heart goes stony and his voice gets cold, colder, and even colder.

“I don’t care what you have against Endeavor,” he says, and his voice doesn’t shake. He’s too angry to be anything but dead-still and calm. “I don’t care what he did to you, or how he hurt you.” His voice lowers, harsh and quiet but as steady as a headman’s axe. “I don’t care if he spat in your face in murdered you in cold blood. Don’t you ever use me as an excuse to hurt one of my classmates.”

You’d side with that bastard’s brat?” Okumura snarls. The fear does its best to creep up Izuku’s back, but his anger turns his insides to ice, and the cold makes him numb.

“He has nothing to do with your grudge,” Izuku spits back. “Our match had nothing to do with your grudge. So don’t you dare use it to bully him.”

Okumura gives a wordless growl.

“Why do you hate him so much?” Izuku demands. “Endeavor. What did he do? How did he cause your death?”

At first, the furious ghost doesn’t answer beyond more twisted screaming. Izuku waits until he gets some of that rage out of his system. He’s a patient person, and after a minute or so, it pays off.

They had us cornered,” Okumura replies, his voice choked and raspy. “The police had us cornered. What we did was stupid, and we knew it. We knew it.” His voice changes. The shadows settle. His face settles. For a moment, Izuku sees a man—he’s young, even younger than Aizawa-sensei. He looks less angry than frustrated. Sad. “We were desperate. We were tired. We were…” He stiffens and twists, as if the memory causes him physical pain. Maybe it does. “We were scared. We wanted to stop. We were ready to stop. We were ready to give up, turn ourselves in.” His voice catches, and he steels himself again. The shadows gather around him once more, and his face flickers and melts back into a nightmare. “And then he showed up.

“Endeavor,” Izuku says softly.

It took too long for him. He got impatient. He broke the standoff, and everyone spooked. He turned it into a shootout. I ran away, and someone shot me in the back.” His form flickers, and for an instant Izuku can see the hole in his chest where the bullet punched right through. “I don’t know who shot me. Maybe it was some cop. Maybe it was one of my buddies. But I don’t care. I’m dead because of him.

“But not because of Todoroki,” Izuku says flatly. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair to you. You should’ve had the chance to surrender, and he was wrong to take that away from you. But Todoroki had nothing to do with what happened to you.”

Like father, like son. It’ll happen again. The bastard raised his brat to hurt people.

“I don’t believe that,” Izuku retorts. “And even if that was true, it’s none of your business what he does. It has nothing to do with you, and you have no right to talk about him like that when you’re mad at Endeavor for taking away your second chance.” He is angry still, and he lets it burn in his eyes while his mouth stretches into a smile that shows all his teeth. “Leave him alone, or I’ll make you sorry you didn’t move on the second you died.”

A growl rumbles deep within the poltergeist, and he vanishes the moment Izuku blinks.

On instinct, he checks his surroundings. His classmates thus far have been more tolerant than the ones in his previous schools, but the last thing he wants is for someone to walk in on him spitting threats into empty air.

The hallway around him is devoid of life.

Izuku takes a deep breath, and lets it out again.

“Holy shit, kid,” Ms. Shimura whispers.

“That was…” Suzuki’s voice trails off.

“Ballsy,” Ms. Shimura finishes for her.

Izuku rubs his face with his good hand, careful not to disturb the bandaging over his eye. He feels tired. “I’m going out to the bleachers,” he says. Maybe Uraraka or Iida won’t mind if he dozes off on one of their shoulders.

Or maybe the excitement of the matches will wake him back up, or at least distract him from everything and let him forget for a while how heavy the dead can be.

Chapter Text

He makes it just in time to see Iida face off against Todoroki. His classmates greet him. He’s treated to jokes and gentle teasing, careful back-slaps that avoid his injuries. Mineta asks him loudly if Todoroki literally punched his eye out, until Tsuyu shoves him under his seat. If any of them notice how quiet he is, they don’t say anything.

Uraraka sets Mika back in his lap. “Rotten luck,” she says softly. Down below, the match is a quick one. Iida comes close to winning, but Todoroki freezes his engines and snatches the victory—without fire, Izuku can’t help but notice.

He’s only half listening. “Huh?”

“We could’ve lasted longer, you and me,” she says. “But we got paired up with the two strongest right at the start.”

“Guess so.” Izuku pets Mika absentmindedly. “Not a good enough excuse, though. It’s not like villains would throw the weak ones at us first just so we can level up.”

Uraraka laughs. “That’s a nerdy way of putting it. I like it.” She’s sitting on his uninjured side, and gently shoulder-checks him. “We’ll just have to get stronger.”

“Yup.”

Iida rejoins them to a chorus of goodnatured congratulations. He’s red-faced with embarrassment, but still smiles as he greets everyone. As far as Izuku can tell, he isn’t near tears the way Uraraka was, but Izuku still lifts Mika carefully with one arm and offers her. Iida doesn’t take her, but his grin widens as he gives her ears a scratch.

“I’m a bit sheepish,” he admits. “I tried to learn from your match against him, but I guess it still wasn’t enough. You probably got more out of his match with Sero than I got from his match with you.”

“You sure look better than I do right now, though,” Izuku answers.

“I suppose so—and really, Midoriya, you ought to have exercised more caution.” And now Izuku knows for sure that his friend is feeling all right, because nothing screams “high spirits” in Iida quite like an officious tirade about proper safety, complete with vigorous hand gestures. “You know, everyone saw that you gave your best and put up a good fight, and there would have been no shame—absolutely no shame—in forfeiting when you were no longer able to continue!”

Sitting back, Izuku grins and shakes his head. “You still got pretty close, Iida,” he says.

“I suppose so.” Iida’s smile turns sheepish again. “I wish my brother could have seen this, but he couldn’t make it.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Yes, unfortunately, he’s been busy with hero work lately.” Iida frowns. “There’s some villain on the loose, making trouble, and everyone’s on the alert.”

“I’ve heard,” Izuku says with a nod. “Somebody called Stain?” What a name, Stain. The reports that Izuku has seen make him sound pretty dangerous, though.

“Yeah, he’s come up on the news, hasn’t he?” Kirishima says. “Sounds like a real piece of work. Some people call him the Hero Killer.”

“He’ll be brought down soon enough,” Iida says with a shrug. “If nothing else, All-Might himself won’t allow him to continue much longer.”

The next match draws their attention once more. The Sports Festival is drawing closer to its end, and the contestants have dwindled down to three.

Izuku isn’t surprised when Bakugou beats Tokoyami. He’s kind of glad Tokoyami made it that far, though. He deserves it; he’s pretty much the only reason Izuku’s team pulled into the running at the end of the cavalry battle.

The final round is Bakugou against Todoroki. Izuku already knows who he’s rooting for.

Bakugou’s explosions make him jump nearly every time they detonate. His ears ring, his fingers are nearly numb from gripping his seat, and he’s clenching his teeth together so hard that his jaw aches. It’s a close fight—closer than his match against Todoroki, as close as what the others are saying about Kirishima’s fight against Tetsutetsu.

His vision is spotty from the bright flashing of Bakugou’s explosions, but that’s the only light he sees. Not a single spark of flame comes from Todoroki.

Izuku could hold his own against Todoroki without even using One For All. But Bakugou has a powerful quirk, and he’s a strong and vicious fighter even without it. Ice alone isn’t going to be enough, but Todoroki still doesn’t bring forth his fire the way he did against Izuku.

“Do you think something’s wrong with him?” He can barely hear Uraraka murmuring beside him; Bakugou’s quirk nearly drowns her out entirely. “I bet he’d do better if he used his fire, don’t you think?”

“He could still be injured,” Tsuyu spoke up, pitching her voice above the din. “Pretty sure there’s still a splint on his nose.”

Kirishima nudges Izuku lightly from behind. “Yeah, you guys really messed up each other’s faces. Your eye okay?”

“It’s fine,” Izuku replies. Down in the field, Todoroki takes a bad hit from Bakugou. It’s a vicious punch to the gut, with an extra kick from the explosion detonating in Bakugou’s palm, and it sends Todoroki flying back. When it makes contact, Izuku shuts his eyes and flinches. He’s felt that one before. It’s not fun.

Beside him, Rei growls softly.

“I think it might be over pretty soon,” Uraraka says softly. “Todoroki’s only on half power, and Bakugou…”

“Bakugou looks pissed,” Kirishima says.

“He always looks pissed,” Tsuyu points out.

“Yeah, but… I dunno, it seems different.”

Izuku can see what Kirishima means, but he’s trying not to think too hard about it. Bakugou’s anger is not something he’s eager to keep in mind. It’s bad enough that he has to see it, and remember all the times that he’s felt it before.

“He’s hardly used his fire, though,” Uraraka says. “Deku, you’re the only one who saw it up close. Do you think something’s the matter?”

The answer, of course, is no. He doesn’t think, he knows that something’s wrong. It would be harder to name something that’s right.

It’s depressingly simple, really. All this means is that it takes more than one conversation in the middle of a fistfight to fix what’s broken.

Izuku’s fingers tighten in Mika’s warm, silky fur, and he watches through one stinging eye as Bakugou roars and blasts his way to victory. When Midnight calls the match, his resolve finally cracks. He can’t watch any more. He can’t watch the medal ceremony, either.

“Deku?” Uraraka says when he gets up from his seat. “What’s the matter?”

He’s already walking to the nearest exit from the stands.

He takes refuge in a waiting room, far enough away from the stadium that the cheers and noise from the spectators is a dull roar in the distance, muffled by a separation of thick steel walls. All he has for company are a cat, a ghost, and the occasional drifting spirit that pays him no mind, and that suits him just fine. Settling into a chair, he curls around his cat and breathes in and out and in and out until he stops feeling phantom gut-punches in his memory.

It’s probably petty. It’s probably a little pathetic. But he really, really didn’t want Bakugou to win.

Of course, he’d started the whole Sports Festival with the burning desire to win. But in the (admittedly likely) event that he didn’t, he’d known that at least there were several classes full of kids who weren’t Bakugou and might win, and that would have been a consolation. But no. Bakugou wins, again. Like always. He won against Todoroki who was fighting with half his power, and Izuku could just barely keep up with Todoroki fighting with half his power.

He wonders, for a wild moment, if this is what Endeavor’s felt like, staring at All-Might’s back for years and years.

It can’t be, though. Izuku isn’t angry that he lost. He knows why he lost, and he knows he traded his chance to win for something just as worthwhile. This isn’t about him winning or losing. This isn’t just about Bakugou winning (again, again, over and over, might makes right, like winning erases all the things he’s done). This is an old sting, a hopeless loop rinsing and repeating in which Bakugou wins and wins and wins and because he wins, he never thinks he’s wrong. He never thinks that just because he wins, it doesn’t make him a great person or even a good one or even a decent one.

He just wins and wins, everyone sings his praises and turns a blind eye to his temper and his selfish mean streak, and Izuku is sick of watching it happen and sick of feeling like a petulant child for letting it hurt so much.

Izuku’s eyes burn, but this time he holds back the tears. This isn’t worth crying over. He’d feel that way even if he weren’t sick and tired of letting Bakugou make him cry.

Mika purrs against his belly, and Rei’s cold hug wraps around his uninjured arm. Izuku breathes in and out, slowly and steadily, until he feels better.

By the time he uncurls, ready to face the world again, it looks as if he’s missed the medal ceremony. There are voices and footsteps in the halls. Not many—Izuku picked a waiting room that was out of the way of the main paths of foot traffic. Quietly he slips out into the hallway again. Maybe his friends will be wondering where he is.

“Um, excuse me? I hate to bother you again…”

Izuku looks up to see Suzuki standing not far off, twiddling her pale thumbs.

“It’s just, I don’t know who else to ask,” she says. “I’ve never met anyone like you before.”

“Is Okumura bothering him again?” Izuku asks.

“No, it’s just…” Her voice trails off sheepishly. Her blank eyes implore him to understand.

And he does, a little.

“Where is he?” he asks.

She vanishes after giving him directions, and Izuku tucks his cat against his chest with one arm and strides off to see what he can do.

He finds Todoroki exactly where Suzuki said he would be. It’s another waiting room well out of the way of the main hallways, quiet and empty aside from the odd spectator who took a wrong turn, or spirits passing through disinterestedly. Izuku pauses at the doorway and peeks in, not wanting to be noticed quite yet. Todoroki’s in much the same state as Izuku’s been in for the past ten minutes. He’s hunched, almost curled in on himself, fingers tangled in his hair. He’s not too badly hurt, but he still looks wrecked.

The only difference between him and Izuku right now is that he doesn’t have anyone offering him comfort.

For the moment, Izuku pulls away from the doorway. He feels like he’s being pulled two ways. On the one hand, he wants to help. He’s started down this road of helping Todoroki, and it would be stupid of him to leave it hanging now. But on the other, he’s not sure if Todoroki would accept his help right now—or anyone’s for that matter.

Well. Maybe anyone except…

Izuku takes a deep breath, backs further away from the waiting room, and hoists his cat up until they’re almost eye to eye. It’s hard to do with one arm, but he manages, and Mika’s always been an agreeable cat.

“Alright, you,” he whispers. “I’ve got another job for you. I need your A-game, got it?”

Mika presses her paw to his chin.

“I don’t have any treats right now,” he says. “Treats when you’re done. Do your best, okay?” He plants a kiss between her ears. “Make me proud, Mika.”

“Oh hey,” he says as he steps back into the waiting room, as if he’s completely surprised to find Todoroki sitting there. Todoroki straightens up as if someone’s sent an electric shock up his spine, and Izuku pretends not to notice. “I hate to ask this but everybody’s leaving so could you watch my cat real quick please because I have to go do—” He isn’t really thinking about what he tells Todoroki he has to go do, and from the bewildered look on Todoroki’s face he’s probably not listening anyway, so he plops Mika into his classmate’s lap and hurries out again with a “Thanks, I’ll be right back.”

A few minutes and he’ll come back. Five minutes. Maybe ten.

He’s not two steps from the doorway when he looks up and catches Aizawa-sensei’s eye.

His homeroom teacher is in the hallway, out of sight from within the waiting room but well within hearing range. Narita still flanks him, patiently waiting as always.

Even with the bandages on his face, Izuku can see when Aizawa’s eyebrow rises gently.

He shrugs at his teacher and keeps walking. It’s really not something he can explain away with words.


There is a cat in Shouto’s lap and he’s not entirely certain how he ended up in this situation.

He hasn’t kept track of how long he’s sat by himself in this room, dreading hearing his father’s voice and feeling like the emotional equivalent of getting hit by a truck. He’s been punched halfway across the stadium and back twice in one day and been shouted at by several different people, all for different reasons.

He wonders if anyone is really happy with the results of the festival. He knows he isn’t. He’s willing to bet his worthless father isn’t. Aside from this sudden non sequitur outburst, Midoriya’s been acting like someone kicked a puppy in front of him, so he knows he isn’t.

Bakugou isn’t happy with how it turned out, and he’s the one who won.

And who’s fault is that? Maybe if you’d just used fire instead of fighting like a coward, you could have given him a decent fight instead of half-assing it and leaving everyone dissatisfied

The press of paws on his thigh startles him out of his train of thought. Shouto holds still as Midoriya’s cat turns circles in his lap before shifting over and settling down.

On his left side.

Shouto isn’t sure why he does it. He’s cautious, not sure if Midoriya’s cat is the scratching type, as he gently lifts the cat up and shifts it over so it’s lying more evenly in his lap. Its head turns, and—oh, it’s only got one eye. The left one is missing, the fur dinted with scars.

The cat lets out a soft, trilling meow, and shifts over again so it’s curled up on his left thigh. He tries it again a couple more times, just to be sure, and each time, the cat moves back to its preferred spot. When he leaves it alone long enough, it shifts further so that it’s pressed up against his stomach.

Cats like warm things—the thought comes to him unbidden. That’s why you always see pictures of them lying in sunlight, or on people’s laptops. Of course it likes his left side better than his right.

He checks the tag on the cat’s purple collar. It’s a she, and her name is Mika. When he lowers his hand again to pet her, she responds with a bone-deep purr. Maybe he’s imagining it, but it almost feels like the lingering aches in the spot where she’s sitting are starting to fade.

“Hello,” he says softly, as she pushes her head into his hand—the left one. She rolls over on her side and presses her paws to his stomach. “I’m wondering—what does he have to do that’s so important that he’d give you to me? Do you know?”

The cat doesn’t answer, of course, unless circling around so that she’s leaning against his stomach again can be considered an answer.

Sadly, it isn’t long before his father finds his hiding place. By the time he does, Shouto is dangling a shoelace for Mika to bat at. She isn’t trying very hard, because she’s more interested in draping herself bonelessly against his left side, but he dangles it low enough for her to catch between her paws.

“If you have time to be mucking around with stray cats, then you have time to come home and train,” Endeavor snaps. “After today’s showing, you clearly need it—especially if you’re finally giving your rebellious little temper tantrum a rest.”

“She isn’t a stray,” he says, ignoring the rest of what the old bastard tells him.

“What?”

“She’s my classmate’s cat,” he says, without looking up. Mika pulls the end of the shoelace down and chews at the plastic casing until he tugs it out of her grip again. “They asked me to watch her for them. So obviously, I can’t move from this spot.”

From across the room, he feels his father’s temper pulse.

“My hands are tied,” he says flatly. “You might as well go home without me. I’ll catch up.”

His father’s boots scrape on the floor as he steps closer. Startled, Mika shifts so that her paws are beneath her again, and she’s facing Endeavor. His father’s voice is a growl, and Shouto focuses on the cat in his lap—as far as he’s concerned, the most worthwhile thing in the room right now. “I have had enough of your petty, worthless little tantrums—” He reaches for the cat, and Shouto tenses to pull away.

Thorn-sharp claws dig through his pant leg and prick at his skin. The fur on Mika’s back stands on end, and she lays back her ears and hisses loudly enough to make his father stop talking, which is frankly impressive. Her tail switches back and forth, and when Endeavor’s hand comes too close, the hiss becomes a bubbling yowl as she lashes out at it.

Endeavor yanks his hand back, at the same time as Shouto scoots his chair further away. Mika, apparently unaware of how closely she’s courting danger, keeps her ears flat against her head and spits. Her single eye is narrowed, and her mouth is open in what bears only a passing resemblance to a smile.

(He’s reminded, just for a moment, of her owner.)

“I think,” he says calmly, as he refrains from petting her again until her temper calms, “I should just. Wait for my classmate to get back.”

He doesn’t need to see his father’s glare to feel the force of it. But glaring is all Endeavor does. Apparently he doesn’t find the argument worth the trouble, or he’s not interested in possibly losing a finger, because he storms out without another word. Mika settles down again, though it takes quite a bit of petting to get her purring again.

Not that Shouto’s complaining.


Izuku does find a way to keep busy, while he gives his cat time to work her magic. He hates leaving things unfinished.

So, Rei helps him find Okumura again. Luckily, the poltergeist isn’t hanging close to Endeavor at the moment. He probably figures that Endeavor’s not likely to drop dead anytime soon here. So for now he’s just drifting and sulking and making all the nearby ghosts skittish.

Okumura notices him right off, and his steps waver when the ghost drifts closer. This is his cross to bear, with an ability like this. At the very least, he’s a novelty. At most, he’s—for lack of a better term—a lifeline. And as far as he knows, he’s the only one there is.

He doesn’t speak at first—he just leads Okumura off, to somewhere they can talk in private without anyone with a pulse walking in and finding Izuku arguing with a wall.

Just to be safe, he puts his special little trick to good use. He takes out an old earpiece—one of those Bluetooth devices that have fallen out of style. It’s old and useless and isn’t connected to anything, but at the very least it’ll make him look less strange if anyone finds him conversing with empty air.

“What do you want?” he asks, looking directly at the poltergeist’s face. Okumura looks vaguely like the person he used to be, just… off. His death wound is gruesomely visible—not that Izuku isn’t used to blood.

Stop getting in my way,” Okumura snarls. Rei doesn’t like his tone, and Okumura recoils when she growls right back.

“What do you want with Endeavor?” Izuku asks. “Why are you following him? What do you intend to do?”

I’m going to make him pay.

“How?” Izuku presses. “What do you actually mean to do?” He checks his surroundings again. “And bothering Todoroki? What’s that supposed to accomplish?”

You know nothing,” Okumura rumbles dangerously.

“You’re right,” Izuku tells him. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to do.” His fists clench. “Do you think it will bring you back, if you tear his soul apart?”

Shut up.

“Do you think putting ugly thoughts in Todoroki’s head will will get all the ugly thoughts out of yours?” he asks. “Do you think it’ll stop hurting, then? It won’t.”

You don’t know that!

“It’s like scratching a bug bite,” Izuku says, ignoring him. “You think you’re making it better, but you’re only making it worse so you can’t stop.”

I don’t care!” Okumura’s voice scrapes like knives in his ears. “He has to pay.

“Why does it matter so much to you?

He killed me!” Okumura roars. “I didn’t want to fight anymore… I didn’t want to die.” His form flickers back and forth, between the man he was and the nightmare he now is. “I didn’t have to die, he didn’t have to do that! Is it so wrong to just want him to know that?

Izuku considers that for a moment. “Yes,” he answers.

Okumura’s eyes flash. “You—

“It’s wrong for you,” Izuku tells him.

You don’t know anything about me!” Okumura lashes out, and Izuku hops back out of reach as Rei shoves herself between them. Okumura rages on, heedless. “Don’t you understand? All I want—all I want is for him to know what he did. To know it was wrong.” He shrinks in on himself. “It was wrong. Wasn’t it? I didn’t have to die.

“He’s the one who hurt you,” Izuku says softly.

That’s what I’ve been saying!

“Then why are you trusting him to make you feel better?”

I don’t trust him!

“Then why’d you make it so the only way you’ll feel better is if he does something for you?” Izuku demands.

Okumura goes quiet at that. He seems to settle, and for the first time he looks more man than monster. “I didn’t I didn’t make it this way.”

“Maybe,” Izuku says, trying to sound firm. “But you don’t have to keep it this way. You shouldn’t keep it this way.”

Okumura stares at him. His face keeps shifting, as if he can’t decide whether he wants to look angry or sad or frustrated or helpless.

“You can’t wait around for him to be sorry,” Izuku says. He’s quiet now. This isn’t something that’s meant to be shouted. “Maybe he’ll never be sorry. Maybe he doesn’t know he did anything wrong, or he doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter.” Cautiously he takes a step forward. “You can’t depend on the people who hurt you to be the ones to make it better, or it’s never going to get better. They’ll only disappoint you, or hurt you even worse, and then they’ll be gone and you’ll be waiting forever.”

Okumura doesn’t move away. He’s quiet for long enough that Izuku isn’t sure he’ll answer at all, but finally he shifts, like he’s taking a deep breath that he doesn’t need. “I don’t want to wait forever,” he whispers.

Izuku touches his arm. It’s as cold as any ghost’s, and Okumura twitches but doesn’t pull away. “Then don’t. Move on by yourself. Leave him behind. Can you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you can do it,” Izuku tells him. “You don’t have to pass on. Not if you aren’t ready. But I think you can leave him behind. I think you can be happy again, without his help.”

Okumura stares at him like Izuku is the strangest thing he’s ever seen in his life—and death. “I’ll… I can try,” he says at length. “I think? I’ll try.”

“Thank you,” Izuku says, and means it.

“I think…” Okumura’s form wavers, and finally settles. He looks younger like this, without all the rage twisting him into something monstrous. “I need to think about this.”

“That’s fine. You should.” Izuku tilts his head to the side. “Just leave Todoroki alone, okay? He didn’t do anything to you.”

“…All right.” Okumura slumps. “All right, fine. You win.” He vanishes before Izuku can get another word out.

Rei’s floating high enough off the ground that she can reach out and touch his face. Her fingertips are ice-cold as they brush his cheek, and Izuku notices, for the first time, the wet salty track down the right side of his face. There might have been an identical one down the other, if it weren’t for the bandages.

“It’s okay,” Izuku whispers. “I’m okay. Just crying again. You know me. Happens all the time.”

Rei hugs him tightly all the same.

Chapter Text

 

The tears are just beginning to subside when Ms. Shimura pops into view abruptly in their midst, startling both of them.

“Heya, kiddo,” she greets him. Her voice is light, extra-gentle when she sees his tears. “Just wanted to give you a heads-up in case you were doing something important—Toshi’s coming.” She claps Izuku on the back. “Hey, I dunno if I said it loud enough earlier, but you did good out there.”

“Thanks,” he says, sniffling. “Do you think it got your friend’s attention? Gran Torino?”

“If your little brawl in the ring didn’t, then the finale certainly did.” Ms. Shimura chuckles. “Don’t you worry about ol’ Gran. He’s a crotchety old bastard but he knows when he needs to shift himself. He’ll turn up.”

“Good,” Izuku murmurs, right as he hears his teacher’s familiar footsteps approach. He’s still crying a little when All-Might appears around the corner, and he hears his mentor sigh as he finishes wiping his face on his arm.

“You really do cry too much, my boy,” All-Might says, gently chiding. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Izuku says. “Just got a little emotional.” He sniffs one last time and stands taller. Now that he thinks of it, he does have one more order of business. “I was about to grab my cat and head home, but I wanted to ask you something.”

They start walking together, Izuku heading in the direction of the room where he left Mika with Todoroki. All-Might walks at his side, hunched and slightly unsteady in his true form. “What was it, my boy?”

“How do you think I did?” Izuku asks. “Before the part where my arm broke—I know everything after that was a mess.”

A smile plays about All-Might’s gaunt face. “Not too badly,” he says. “Not too badly at all. You have speed and power even without your quirk, and you have an eye for finding openings. That’s good.” Izuku nods, paying close attention. “On the other hand, you’re not quite fast enough that you don’t telegraph your movements. You have a tendency to swing wide—an experienced fighter could predict you just by watching your chest.”

“My chest?” Izuku glances down.

“Exactly. It’s not quite as much of a problem with full access to One For All—your speed and strength increase to an even greater extent. But in this world, when strength and speed and prescience and what have you are par for the course, it’s better not to rely on quirks alone.” His teeth flash in a grin, and he winks. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Izuku finds himself smiling back.

All-Might hangs back out of sight when Izuku darts in to retrieve Mika. Todoroki is quiet, watching him through his bangs like he isn’t sure where they stand, but he looks a lot less wretched than he did before. Mika’s claws catch in Todoroki’s shirt when Izuku takes her back, and he mutters out a sheepish apology.

“Thanks,” he says, at the same time as Todoroki says the exact same thing. He nods, tucks Mika under his good arm again, and leaves.

All-Might spends the rest of their time together carefully critiquing his fighting style, with Ms. Shimura chiming in unseen and unheard, whenever he pauses long enough for her to get a word in edgewise. Izuku listens, taking in their advice hungrily. He doesn’t have anything to write with, and his dominant hand is out of commission anyway; he takes out his phone and types notes into an e-mail draft, just to remind himself so he can write it all down later. The sun is starting to go down by the time they finally part ways. Izuku trades goodbye texts with Uraraka, Kirishima, Tsuyu, and a few of his other classmates.

Iida is strangely silent, though. He must be busy with something.

Izuku is finally leaving for home, with a cat on his shoulder and Rei clinging to his hand, when a breath of cold air makes him glance back.

“Don’t know what you said to him,” Hino drawls. “But you actually got him to pipe down so good job. Okumura, I mean. So. Point to you, I guess.” He drifts along, slightly behind and to the side of Izuku. “Oh, and you threw shade at Endeavor. Another point to you. Most people, they see anything, they mind their damn business. But you? You’ve got stones.”

“Not really,” Izuku says. “Just no shame.”

Hino laughs. “Well aren’t you a kid after my own heart. Nothing to say about me and my harmless little pranks, I hope?”

Izuku stops and turns to face him. “Not really,” he says. “As long as you aren’t hurting anyone.”

“Who, me?” Hino puts on an expression of pure innocence. “Not a fly. I just like to make the bastard’s life a little harder, that’s all.”

“And that’s fine,” Izuku says. “I can understand that.”

“Cool. Why the serious face, then?”

“Don’t get Todoroki in trouble with him,” Izuku says. “If you make him angry and he takes it out on Todoroki, I won’t be happy.”

Hino rolls his eyes. “Don’t lose sleep over it, kid. I already have Suzuki on my case about that—and unlike you, I can’t get away from her, and she doesn’t have lungs so she doesn’t need to take a breath or a break when she talks to me.” He scowls. “Besides, I’m not like Okumura. My beef is with Endeavor, and his kids have nothing to do with it. And before you ask, no, it’s none of your damn business, so don’t ask.”

“Okay.” Izuku can roll his eyes, too. “Wasn’t going to. I don’t really care.” That’s not quite true, but something about Hino makes Izuku feel like being flippant. It must work, because he gets the last word, and Hino leaves him to a quiet trip home.

Mom all but tackles him when he walks through the door. He expects a worried scolding, and receives one. It’s all he can do to talk her down from an absolute conniption fit when she sees the bandaging over his eye. The ghosts are a little more sedate about things; Ms. Morino and Mrs. Matsuda greet him cheerfully as he comes in, and even Kurosawa peeks out from the hallway before vanishing back to who knows where. To most ghosts, if you aren’t dead then everything else can be fixed and isn’t worth worrying about.

“My eye’s fine,” he assures his mother for at least the fifth time, as he offers what help he can with setting the table. “My face just got a little scratched up, that’s all.”

She huffs at him, still not convinced even when dinner is in front of them. She fills his plate for him, ignoring his protests that he can manage with one arm. “But why did you keep fighting?” she asks, her voice pitched with disapproval. “Even on the TV I could see that you couldn’t use your arm anymore! Couldn’t you have stopped? Forfeited before it got any worse?”

“No—well.” Izuku hesitates, pretending that using chopsticks with his left hand is more of a problem than it really is. “I mean. Yeah, but…”

“Then why didn’t you? It was only a contest, wasn’t it? Why didn’t you stop?”

Izuku pokes at his food as he tries to think of a way to explain himself without blurting out Todoroki’s life story at the dinner table. Something tells him Todoroki doesn’t want him shooting his mouth off about it. “You know how sometimes, when I’m talking to ghosts, I’ll meet some who’re… troublesome?”

She blanches a little at this. “Y-yes…?” She hasn’t seen the worst of them, but she’s seen how skittish he gets when the dead get pushy and mean. And beyond that, there are some things that can’t and won’t be forgotten.

“But sometimes—well, always—when they’re like that, it means they just… need help,” Izuku goes on. “Even if it’s scary to help them. That’s what I do, remember? Like you said… when I talk to ghosts, I can help people that nobody else knows to help.” He looks down at his food again. “It was sort of like that. He needed help. And when my arm broke, I couldn’t stop because I wasn’t done.”

She sighs heavily. “Izuku… I know you like helping people.”

“Like” is probably the wrong word. He does enjoy it most of the time, and he’s never regretted helping anyone before, but saying he likes it makes it sound more like a hobby than the nearly physical need it really is.

“And I’m proud of you,” she goes on. “Never forget that I’m proud of you for that. And I know being a hero is all you’ve ever wanted. But… you can’t always put others before yourself.”

“Heroes have to be selfless, don’t they?” Izuku asks softly.

Her hand thumps sharply on the table. “It’s not about being selfish,” she says, her voice surprisingly sharp. “It’s just about staying healthy. It’s about taking proper care of yourself so you can do things like—like leap tall buildings and rescue people and what have you. How are you supposed to do all that if you keep injuring yourself right off?”

Izuku blinks, and finds that he doesn’t have an answer for that. All he has is a weird sense of deja vu before he remembers—Aizawa scolded him for this exact thing on the first day of school. And they’re right—he can’t save anyone if his first resort makes him one more casualty.

“I’ll be more careful,” he says quietly. “I promise, Mom.” He feels his face flush with embarrassment. “All-Might kind of wasn’t happy about it, either.”

“Thank goodness for that,” she says.

“He gave me some good advice,” Izuku goes on. “On fighting, and stuff.”

“Yes, I noticed—at the beginning, when you were fighting that boy,” she says. “Who—did I hear right? Was that Endeavor’s son?”

Rei growls softly, and the lights flicker. Izuku tries not to bristle. “His name’s Todoroki,” he says.

“Well, I have to say,” his mother says. “I’ve never seen you fight like that.”

Izuku looks up from his plate. “In… in a good way, or a bad way?”

“A good way, I suppose.” She smiles ruefully. “You really held your own out there, for a while. Have you been learning that at school?”

“Some,” Izuku says. “Mostly Ms. Shimura’s been helping me.”

“Oh.” Mom sounds surprised. “Is that one of your teachers?”

With a jolt, he realizes that he’s never actually mentioned Ms. Shimura to her. It’s not out of any desire to keep things from her; the subject just hasn’t ever come up. “Not officially,” he says. “Actually, she’s one of my ghosts.” He pauses. “Well, not really my ghost?” With another moment of hesitation, he wonders how much he should reveal, and shrugs inwardly. This is mostly his secret, and Mom has been in on it for years already. “She’s sort of All-Might’s ghost, actually.”

Mom’s eyes widen at this. “All-Might has a ghost?”

“I was kind of surprised, too,” he admits. “She was there when I first met him, and I’ve hardly ever seen him without seeing her, too. I still don’t really know who she was—she won’t tell me, and All-Might’s never mentioned her. But I think she might’ve been a friend of his.” His voice trails off. He’s fairly sure she was a hero herself, and if she is and she died in the line of duty, well… that’s just more evidence of how dangerous the hero life really is. “Anyway, she’s pretty tough, and she’s been showing me how to fight.”

“Well, I’m glad she’s so helpful,” Mom says. “Does she know anything about… about your quirk? Your new one, I mean.”

“I think so. I mean, if she’s been following All-Might around then she has to. But I don’t know if she can really teach me how to use it.”

“Too bad,” she sighs. “You’ll just have to pick All-Might’s brain a little more.”

“Oh, I plan to. I’ll try and pick Ms. Shimura’s brains, too. I’ll bet anything she knows something.”

“Well, she sounds nice.”

Izuku snorts around his mouthful. “She keeps ragging on me for being short.”

Mom giggles at this, and the laughter eases her worry lines.


Elsewhere, another tired young student has a somewhat less pleasant evening.

It’s late when Shouto can finally collapse into bed. Unfortunately, he’s just exhausted enough to do so facedown, only to flip over with a groan of pain, both hands pressed gingerly against his face. The splint is still in place, and he’s under strict orders from Recovery Girl to leave his nose alone and ice it if it starts swelling again.

He’s also under strict orders to rest, and honestly he would have loved to, but after his loss today, his father saw fit to squeeze in one more training session after he got home.

Simply put, he’s exhausted, though at least his aching body is finally balanced—he hurts on both sides now. Everything hurts, and it’s a good thing there’s one more weekend day left because it’s only going to be worse tomorrow.

He’s not sure where his silver medal is. Probably in the trash somewhere; the old man’s pretty sore about him coming in second. But that’s fine. It didn’t mean much to him. He didn’t really want it anyway.

There are things that feel more important to him. Like having a good night’s sleep, and trying to figure himself out all over again, after today.

Like maybe, visiting his mother tomorrow.

Sleep first, if he can manage it. He’s exhausted, but the thoughts in his head are tied into messy Gordian knots that may very well keep him up no matter how heavy his entire body is, never mind his eyelids.

Tap tap.

Shouto sits bolt upright on his futon. He’s on his feet in half a second, cold air gathering at his right hand as he whips around to face the would-be intruder.

He sees the face watching him from outside his bedroom window, and his mouth drops open. His hand falls to his side.

It takes a moment for his mouth to start working again.

“What.”

Tap tap tap. It’s the sound of a padded paw rapping at his window as its owner stares at him expectantly through a single blue eye.

It can’t be.

Shouto crosses the room, hesitates as he listens for any sounds indicating that his father might be coming to check on him, and finally opens the window.

It can’t be anyone else. Shouto doubts there are a lot of cats in the city with one blue eye, faded calico fur, and a bright purple collar with a familiar silver tag. She steps daintily through his open window and leaps down to land lightly on his bedroom floor, before immediately turning around to rub herself against his ankle.

“What are you doing here?” he hisses as quietly as he can, which is pointless and stupid because he’s risking alerting his father in order to talk to an animal that isn’t about to talk back. “He’ll skin you alive if he catches you in here!”

Mika seats herself at his feet and gazes up at him, and that’s just not fair. A one-eyed cat should not be that cute. There must be some kind of rule that’s breaking.

Shouto stares back, at a complete loss for what to do with this. When it becomes clear to Mika that there’s no petting forthcoming, she turns and pads over to make herself at home on his pillow.

He covers his face—carefully, so as not to press his injured nose—and ponders his life and his choices that have led up to this moment. It’s official. He’s lost control of his life.

Sleep is, sadly, postponed. Shouto fumbles out his phone, and realizes belatedly that he has no idea how to contact Midoriya.

Luckily, both class reps traded numbers with everyone shortly after the election. Text messages to Iida yield no results, but he gets lucky when Yaoyorozu gets back to him and offers up the phone number without asking for too many details.

[11:28] Shouto:
Where is your cat right now.

[11:29] Midoriya:
??????

[11: 29] Shouto:
This is Todoroki. Do you know where your cat is right now.

[11: 31] Midoriya:
no??? i’ve been looking for her for like an hour, she slips out sometimes.
wait why

[11:32] Shouto:
Photo sent.

[11:32] Midoriya:
??????!!!!!???

[11:32] Shouto:
Midoriya why is your cat commandeering my futon.
How did your cat find out where I live.

[11:33] Midoriya:
that
is an excellent question that i dont know the answer to
i am so sorry wait this isn’t going to get you int rouble is it??

[11: 34] Shouto:
I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure he’s done with me for the day.
My door has a lock so at least if he tries to bother me in the morning I’ll have time to hide her or get her back out the window.

[11:35] Midoriya:
i am so, so sorry about this.

[11:36] Shouto:
Just text me your address so I can bring her tomorrow morning. I’ll be there by 8.

Midoriya does so, and Shouto turns back to the interloper sprawled comfortably over his pillow. Thank God she isn’t making too much noise. He carefully locks his door. His father won’t be happy if he tries to open it, but he’ll be a lot less happy if he barges in and finds Shouto hiding a cat in his room.

“You’re causing me a lot of trouble,” he mutters as he sits back down on his futon, legs crossed. Mika responds by climbing into his lap and making herself comfortable in the V of his left leg. Resigned, he pets her. “Weird cat. Guess that makes sense, if you’re Midoriya’s.” She purrs at him, and he wonders if she recognizes her owner’s name.

In the end, he’s forced to share the futon. There’s no arguing with a cat, especially a small, very soft cat sprawled over the left side of his chest and dulling the bone-deep ache with a steady purr. She’s mostly hidden by the comforter, and his bedroom door is locked, so that’s about all he can do for precautions. At this point, he’s too tired to care.

There’s an upside to this. As it turns out, it’s impossible to stay awake with a cat rumbling softly on his chest.


Shouto almost wakes up to a gentle, rhythmic pressing against his chest. It’s not quite enough to wake him fully; the feeling is muffled through the comforter. He stirs, still mostly asleep, until the pressing stops, and a light headbutt to the chin brings him around. His eyes flutter open for a moment, only to stubbornly shut again.

The paw on his cheek is much more insistent. He opens his eyes, and finds Midoriya’s one-eyed cat staring at him from inches away.

The moment she sees he’s awake, she’s immediately rubbing her head against the side of his face, rumbling softly all the while. Shouto knows his classmate Kouda can talk to animals, but he doesn’t need a quirk like that to hear Get up, get up, in her insistent purring.

Still, getting woken up by a cat is a new experience, and it’s certainly a better one than getting woken up by Endeavor abruptly opening his bedroom door, or knocking imperiously.

He sits up, all but dumping the cat into his lap in the process. She doesn’t seem to mind, and continues to get underfoot as he gets up to change into fresh clothes. He checks his phone; his alarm’s set to go off seven minutes from now. Apparently, Mika has other plans for him.

His body still aches from the previous day, though not as much as he was dreading. The worst of it is in his ribs and his still-healing nose, but at least he isn’t tearing up with every move—he used to do that early on in his training.

Once dressed, he scoops up the thankfully quiet cat and deposits her on the other side of his dresser. Then, listening carefully, he unlocks his door, cracks it open just enough to fit his head through, and checks the hallway outside.

Muted footsteps reach his ears, but they don’t alarm him; the sound of his sister’s approach is vastly different from his father’s. He’d much rather Fuyumi catch him than Endeavor; she keeps her mouth shut.

“Morning, Shouto.” Fuyumi yawns as she pads down the hallway. “Coast is clear—dad went out early today, so you’re in the clear.”

Shouto physically sags. “Oh thank God.”

His sister pauses, blinking at him. She considers him for a moment. “Okay, what did you do?”

“Nee-san—”

“Look, just tell me what you did so we can come up with a good alibi before he gets home.”

I didn’t do anything,” Shouto says acidly, and at that moment he feels claws catch in his pant leg against his calf. Before he can get another word out, Mika scales him like a tree trunk and perches on his left shoulder.

Fuyumi blinks again, and then bursts out laughing.

With a sigh, Shouto straightens up and opens his door fully. He can feel Mika vibrating on his shoulder, her tail curling against the back of his neck. “I can explain,” he says, once Fuyumi isn’t laughing too hard to listen to him.

“Oh, please do,” Fuyumi giggles, her hand pressed to her mouth. “I want to hear about this.”

“For some reason, one of my classmates brought his cat to the Sports Festival,” he says. “Though—considering the circumstances, I guess she followed him. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Naturally.” Fuyumi’s voice shakes with held-back mirth.

He doesn’t bother glaring at her. “After all the events were over, he dropped his cat in my lap and vanished for about fifteen minutes before coming back for her. And then last night, she showed up at my window.”

“Aww, you’ve been adopted.” Fuyumi steps closer. “Is she friendly?”

“I think so,” he says, remembering how she she tried to take a finger when Endeavor came too close.

But Mika lets Fuyumi pet her, and his sister is instantly charmed. “Oh aren’t you pretty,” she says softly. “Poor thing, what happened to your eye?”

“And anyway, I need to take her back,” Shouto finishes. “If he calls or comes back, don’t tell him where I am.”

“Of course.” Fuyumi smiles, and steps aside when he moves past her to get his shoes. “Hey, Shouto?”

He looks back. “Yeah?”

“I’m glad you’re making friends.”

“…I wouldn’t go that far,” he says. It’s hard to consider someone a friend after you’ve nearly beaten each other into unconsciousness, without feeling presumptuous.

Thankfully, the trip isn’t too far, and Mika behaves herself on the way. She’s pretty content to glue herself to his left side and purr. A few people on the train compliment “his” cat, and he’s frankly too emotionally tired to correct them.

He sends a text to Midoriya when he’s nearly there.

[7:25] Shouto:
Are you awake? I have your cat.

He half expects his classmate to still be asleep; it’s almost seven-thirty by now, and he’s well aware that not everyone is willing to get up early on a Sunday. But no, Midoriya answers promptly.

[7:25] Midoriya:
yes! thanks for doing this! and again im really sorry i have no idea how she found you

Shouto double-checks the address to make sure he’s at the right building. It’s… normal-looking. He’s not sure what he expected. Midoriya was normal-looking, too, but that didn’t stop him from turning out to be… well, Midoriya. He’s never been to a classmate’s house before, and the fact that his first time is going to be this particular classmate under these particular circumstances is… he’s not sure how to describe it. Or how to feel about it, beyond “unreasonably nervous”. Still, he walks up the steps to the right door and raises his hand to knock.

A feeling takes him, like cold air on the back of his neck. Behind him, the steps creak, and a soft whispery noise reaches his ears. There’s a feeling he gets whenever he’s not the only person in a room, and he’s getting that feeling now. He tenses on instinct, and looks over his shoulder to see who’s sneaking up on him.

No one there.

He shakes his head, annoyed with himself. Why is he getting skittish in broad daylight in a perfectly good neighborhood like this? Just because Midoriya’s a little odd doesn’t mean he lives in a haunted building or something. Mentally shaking himself, he knocks.

The door opens, and Midoriya stands there with his arm still bandaged, and what looks like fresh gauze on his face. The shadows under his eyes are deep and dark, though Shouto’s pretty sure that’s how they normally are.

“Hello,” Shouto says, and Mika wriggles in his arms until he carefully holds her out.

“Hey. Uh, thanks.” Midoriya hooks his good arm under his cat and takes her back. “And—sorry, again.”

“It’s fine,” Shouto says. He’s lost count of how many times Midoriya has apologized to him. “My father left early this morning without noticing her, so… no harm done.”

“That’s good.” Somewhere within the apartment behind Midoriya, a door slams. His classmate barely bats an eye, tosses a cursory glance over his shoulder, and shrugs.

“Is this a bad time, or…?” Shouto’s voice trails off.

“Nah, that was a draft.”

“Oh.”

They stand there awkwardly for a few moments. Shouto can’t stop shooting glances at Midoriya’s bandaged eye, and Midoriya keeps looking at Shouto’s face, too. His nose is still in its splint. He feels unreasonably skittish, being here. The atmosphere feels tense and heavy, and Shouto wracks his brain frantically for a way to excuse himself. Maybe if he’d practiced this on the way and come up with a working script in his head, it wouldn’t have been so awkward

Midoriya snorts with quiet laughter.

It takes Shouto by surprise, and he can only stare openly as Midoriya tries and fails to hold it back, and then resorts to snickering quietly into his cat’s fur.

It’s a moment before the outburst subsides. “Sorry.” Midoriya clears his throat and coughs, but the corners of his mouth are still twitching. “I just—we really messed each other up, didn’t we?”

Shouto blinks at him. “And that’s… funny?”

Midoriya sobers. “Well… maybe not. It kind of is… if you think about it.”

“Oh.” Shouto stares. Is this a good time to leave?

“I mean—” Midoriya shuts his eyes. “Okay, look. I just wanted to say that, um, things got a little… personal. During the match. And, um.” He cringes a little. “I said some things that were probably kind of, um, hurtful? Like that thing about you, g-getting in on a recommendation, a-and that was a really… not a good thing to say? So I don’t really blame you for losing your temper, it was completely—”

“It still isn’t good to lose my temper during a fight,” Shouto interrupts him. “And besides, you didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”

“I-I guess.” Midoriya gives Mika’s ears a scratch. “Still felt kind of wrong to say it, so… yeah.” His eyes flicker up to Shouto’s face for a moment. “Um, are we… cool?”

“What?”

“I-I’m just asking, because, you know, like I said we really messed each other up, and I’d rather it didn’t, um… make us… enemies or anything.” Midoriya shifts from foot to foot.

“I don’t think of you as an enemy,” Shouto tells him. Maybe a rival at one point, but… now he’s not so sure. It makes his head spin, trying to balance between not being the person his father is, and making his choices without thinking of the old bastard at every fork in the road.

“Oh. Uh, good.” Midoriya lets Mika climb onto his shoulders. “…Do you ever have free time after school?”

The question catches him off guard. “What?” Shouto blinks. “Well… sometimes, yes. Mondays and Wednesdays are usually active for pro heroes, so my father’s too busy to pull me into a training session. Why?”

“Want to spar?”

Shouto gapes at him.

“I-it’s fine if you say no!” Midoriya says quickly. “I was just thinking… well, I’m pretty new to, um. Fighting. And I’m learning, but, y’know, practice makes perfect and everything, and you’re really good at it, so maybe… you could… help me?” He looks a little less eerily pale, but only because he’s flushing with embarrassment.

Shouto raises an eyebrow at him. “Are you sure?”

His classmate shrugs. “Should I not be?”

“We might get in trouble for training without supervision.”

Midoriya looks at him like that’s the densest thing Shouto could have said. “Not if we don’t use our quirks.”

“True.” It takes him a little by surprise, hearing that. His father’s spent so much time pushing him to strengthen his quirk that practicing fighting without it is an odd thought.

Could be useful, though. Aizawa-sensei can’t be the only one out there with quirk-disrupting powers.

“My arm should finish healing up pretty soon,” Midoriya says. “So maybe, if you’re interested?”

“All right,” Shouto says.

Midoriya’s eye lights up. “Really?”

“Sure.” Shouto shrugs. “I could always use the practice.” Low-stakes practice, he thinks. Without the constant pressure to meet the old bastard’s standards.

It would be a relief.

“Oh, cool!” Midoriya grins at him. For the first time, it looks like an actual smile, rather than a thin disguise over something deeply unsettling. “I’ll, uh, I guess we’ll talk more about that later, but, thanks. And thanks for bringing my cat back.”

“It was no trouble.” Shouto steps back, seeing a chance to end the conversation smoothly. “I’ll see you in class.”

“Yeah. See you around, Todoroki.”

The door shuts gently behind Shouto as he leaves. Something cold brushes by him, like an errant breeze. It almost sounds like a whisper by his ear, or several, but when he looks around, there’s no one there.


“Hey, come on,” Izuku scolds Rei gently when she comes back inside, and the air shimmers with her susurrant laughter. “Leave him alone—it’s not nice to tease someone who can’t see you.

Chapter Text

 

Izuku sits on his bed, breathes, and thinks.

He hasn’t had the chance to do this yet—sit and be silent and think. It’s not always an easy thing for him. In years past, he has been on the move constantly, chasing after hero battles or favors to the dead, following the news feed on his phone or the whispers of ghosts. Most recently he has added training to his life, and in the past few weeks he has lived and breathed with the Sports Festival hovering in the back of his mind. But it’s over now; after two days, it’s over, and he’s home and it’s quiet. So Izuku turns his mind to something he hasn’t had time to think about since yesterday.

That’s not his fault—yesterday never paused. He was fighting, then chasing ghosts, then fighting again, then chasing and worrying and spitting threats and dropping cats in his classmates’ laps. And then he was home, Mika vanished, Todoroki contacted him, and even now he barely remembers crashing into bed.

But now, it’s quiet. Now, Rei sits quietly nearby and plays with Mika. His phone is off, the news feed cut to keep out distractions. Izuku thinks about his fight the previous day.

Not his fight with Todoroki. The one before that.

He thinks of the limb-locking nightmare that is Shinsou’s quirk. He thinks of that prison, of knowing even for those briefest of moments exactly what it means to be someone’s puppet.

He thinks of words in his head. Not like the voices of the dead—those he can hear the same as any other. These were like thoughts that weren't his, words forming in his mind as he fought to break free.

He thinks, Hello?

The only answering noise in his mind is his own.

Are you still there? Can you hear me? Can you let me hear you?

No answer. None at all.

“Rei,” he says softly. She looks up. “Before you broke me out of Shinsou’s control, did you… hear anything? Like voices?” He hesitates. “Not the voices of the crowd. But like… people talking to me?”

She shakes her head. Her dark eyes are wide.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” He sits back, legs crossed. “I heard something. Like people talking to each other—I’m not sure how many. It was quiet, though. Quieter than most ghosts. I don’t know if they knew I could hear them.”

Her hands move to speak. “What did they say?” she asks.

“Not much. Mostly commenting on how I got myself mind-controlled.” Izuku snorts quietly. “About how it was a hard lesson. And a good thing it happened in a contest instead of a real fight.” He goes quietly thoughtful again, brows knitted together in a frown. “And one of them… one of them said something strange.”

Rei leans forward curiously.

“He said something like, ‘Better now than against my brother.’ Or she. It was hard to tell, it could’ve been anyone. Too quiet to tell the difference. I couldn’t even tell how many there were.” The words are scarcely out of his mouth when he remembers—smoke and haze in his vision, forming vague shapes. “Wait… seven of them, maybe. Or… eight? Somewhere around there. I saw something, too. I saw something and heard something, and they were talking about me. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Or heard.”

With a sigh, he flops backward on his bed and nearly knocks his head into the wall.

“And that’s crazy,” he says. “I’ve been living with his power my whole life. You’d think it couldn’t surprise me anymore.”

And then Rei is hovering into view, her dark hair hanging down toward his face. “Then maybe it isn’t,” her hands say.

“Isn’t what?”

“What if it’s not the power you’ve had your whole life?” she asks. “What if it’s the one you just got?”

Izuku stares up at her, speechless. For a moment he thinks, no, that can’t be it. What does a quirk that enhances his strength and speed have to do with seeing visions and hearing voices? And it’s not like he’s flying blind; All-Might would know about it, and wouldn’t he have mentioned something? This is a quirk that’s passed down, and…

It’s passed down. It amasses power from its wielders.

Oh.

“One For All,” he whispers, half to himself. “It accumulates the strength of each person who has it, and then…” His mouth hangs half open. “What if strength isn’t the only thing that gets passed down?”

“Ask him?” Rei suggests.

“Who?” He looks at her again. “All-Might? I… I don’t know, Rei.” He stares past her at the ceiling. “It could be both of my quirks working at the same time. Maybe it comes from One For All, but I can only hear it because of…” His voice trails off. He’s never bothered to name his quirk before. “If this is because of my original quirk, then this isn’t something he can help me with. But…” Thoughtfully he presses his lips together. “I think I should ask him about the people who have held One For All in the past, at least. That could shed some light. And maybe Ms. Shimura’s heard something. She’s been following him for long enough, I bet.”

He watches the ceiling, and he looks at Rei, deep in thought even as Mika walks across his stomach to curl up on his chest. “I wonder what that means, though. ‘Better now than against my brother.’ Whose brother?”

Rei shrugs.

He’s anxious for Monday now. His arm will be better by then, and maybe he can take this stupid gauze off his face, too. There are people he can talk to, both living and dead. There are questions he can ask, and hopefully answers he can find. All-Might has promised to help him understand One For All, and that ought to help with half of this mystery. For the rest, well… no one knows Izuku’s original quirk better than Izuku does. It’s not like mysterious voices and visions are anything new.

But at the same time, he knows this isn’t ghosts. Even spirits have more substance than this. But… but it’s something. Maybe. If he’s right.

Am I right? he thinks.

Nothing answers.


The apartment building has seen better days.

At least, Nana assumes it has. Every building was new at some point. There has to be something there first, for it to reach the point of shabby.

Torino always did pride himself on humility. Which, now that she thinks of it, is a bit of an oxymoron.

She enters unhindered. Legends about the power of thresholds are a bit exaggerated to her knowledge, but it wouldn’t matter anyway. This isn’t the kind of place anyone would call home. It’s the sort of quiet place that’s only quiet because anyone in hearing range is too scared to make a lot of noise. At best, it’s a place to sleep.

He isn’t hard to find, as small as he is. He used to cut at least as imposing a figure as Toshi does now, but age has shrunken him. He’s as tough as a gnarled snag, wrinkled and scarred but too stubborn to crack or blow over. He used to scowl when she grinned and grumble when she joked, a bullheaded old curmudgeon with a tough outer layer covering his well-hidden mushy little heart.

Very well hidden. But that didn’t make it any less real.

Take now, for instance.

Now, he sits on the couch with a plate of cold taiyaki and a sheet of paper on the table in front of him. His phone is in his hands but from the looks of it he’s already hung up, and he’s only toying with it now. His teeth are clenched, his jaw set. She can almost see veins pulsing in his forehead.

“That bastard,” he says under his breath to an empty apartment. “That…” A short sigh, sharp and angry in the quiet. He grips the phone with white knuckles. The way he tosses it aside is an aggressive sort of carelessness. “Did it again. Poor young bastard.” He shakes his head, and some of the anger in him gives way. It always does when he thinks no one’s watching. It parts like a curtain, and sadness peeks through with no one but a dead woman to see it. “Son of a bitch.”

“Hey, old friend.” He’s deaf to her greeting, but it makes her feel better to say it anyway. “What’s got you in a tiff, I wonder?” She sits beside him, and the couch doesn’t dip beneath her. “Hope you won’t take it out on the kid too bad.”

No answer, of course. Nana looks to the coffee table again, and the paper is close enough that she can identify it. It’s a form for official nomination—agencies use them when scouting out hero trainees who show promise. They always come out after the Yuuei Sports Festivals. This one’s blank, but the pen is well within Gran Torino’s reach.

Nana lets herself have a quiet little chuckle. “So you were paying attention after all, huh? Good. Thought you might.” She glances sidelong at her old friend. “Did you notice? Did you see the way he fought?” His face gives nothing away. “Did you see anything of me in it?”

Her old friend picks up the pen. His brow furrows, and he glares down at the form.

Nana watches him, watches the pen that he grips in his fingers. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I feel like it isn’t fair to you, pulling you back into this again. Arm-twisting you from beyond the grave. But… Toshi needs your help again.” Spectral fingers curl into fists in her lap. “Izuku could use it too.”

“I know what you’re going to say,” she goes on, though really he isn’t going to say anything. “I should be doing this myself, if I can. I should be more helpful. I should… I should tell him.” She feels her eyes fill with tears. “I should. I would, if I were just a little less pitiful. But I just… I’ve left it too long, and now I don’t know how to tell him. What will he say when he finds out?” Her vision blurs. “You think it’s nothing to worry about?” she asks, and shakes her head. “You should see him, Gran. You should see how he loves. When he loves, he does it with all his heart, and that boy loves Toshi. What will he think of the pitiful woman who went and abandoned him?”

She smiles through her tears, bright and painful. “I can’t spit it out myself. All I can do is just… not stop him from asking you. I guess that’s one more thing I’m leaving in your hands instead of taking care of myself, isn’t it? I’m sorry.” Her voice hitches. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Her apologies fall on deaf ears. The only sound that the living can hear is the quiet scratch of a pen on paper.


Izuku steps onto the train an hour earlier than normal.

His arm is out of the sling but still bandaged, and a good portion of the left side of his face is still covered in gauze. Recovery Girl left him with sternly-worded orders to pay her a visit before class, and after the blistering scolding he’s already been subjected to, the last thing he wants to do is… well, anything besides exactly what she told him.

People are staring at him as he takes a seat. Not that they’re being blatant about it—Izuku only catches quick, brief glances from the surrounding passengers. He doesn’t blame them; the bandaging on his arm is just visible where his jacket sleeve doesn’t cover his wrist, and for all they know he could be missing an eye.

Izuku takes out his phone.

As early as it is, he can’t really be sure anyone else is up yet. Only one of his friends is remotely likely to be awake right now.

 

[6:41] Izuku:
morning iida :P
might actually beat you to class today

 

He waits, but there’s no answer forthcoming.

Weird, he thinks, and then he mentally shakes himself. Because it’s not weird at all for someone to still be asleep at ass o’clock in the morning. It’s not like Iida got beat up bad enough to need an appointment with Recovery Girl. Izuku only hopes he hasn’t woken him up by accident.

He’s about to switch to a news app when a throat clears somewhere above him. He looks up, instantly wary for no reason he can articulate, and finds a sleepy-eyed salaryman holding on to a suspended handle and looking straight at him.

“You’re a Yuuei student, aren’t you?” the man asks.

Izuku double-checks that he’s alive before answering out loud. “Er, yes,” he says. Rei doesn’t seem bothered by him, so he deems it safe.

The man’s face breaks out in a grin. “Thought so. I recognized you from the Sports Festival.” More people are looking now. Izuku does a quick scan around at the faces watching openly or shooting glances. Most of them seem friendly. No one’s hostile, that he can tell. But still, he feels his nerves kick in. It’s not fear (well, it is—it’s always fear) but more of a heightened sense of everything around him. There’s no reason to feel so fenced in and wary, but he does. For a moment the walls and ceiling of the train car seem closer, and he has to take a moment to blink and shake himself free.

“Oh yeah, I recognize you!” someone else pipes up. “Weren’t you the one that punched Endeavor’s kid in the face?” Quiet laughter ripples through everyone within hearing range.

“Looks like he got you a good one too, didn’t he?” the first speaker remarks. Izuku shrugs, and his face feels hot.

“Don’t worry about it,” one woman says, seeing the discomfort on his face. “I’m pretty sure a lot of people were rooting for you.”

“I know I was.”

“You’re a tough kid, lasting that long against the son of the number-two hero.”

“Everybody loves an underdog. You did good!”

“What was your name again? Midorima?”

“Midoriya,” he corrects the last speaker. “Um. Thank you. You’re very kind.”

“You’re a scrappy little thing, Midoriya,” says the man who first mentioned the punch. “Endeavor’s son took out that one kid in five seconds flat, and you still almost beat him.”

Izuku puts on a smile. He tries to make it a normal, friendly smile, and not the eerily fixed one that he forces when he’s upset. No one gives him any weird looks, beyond a few sheepishly sympathetic grins, so he must be doing all right.

He can’t help but notice, in the back of his mind, that none of them bothered referring to Todoroki by name. It continues, as he bends an ear and listens in on side conversations. It’s always Endeavor’s son and Endeavor’s kid and the son of the number-two hero; it’s never Todoroki, and it’s certainly never Todoroki Shouto.

He’s starting to understand his classmate—friend?—just a little more.

It’s still early when he gets to school, and his pass lets him through the school’s security barrier without any trouble. There are a few other students on campus—dedicated class reps, early-morning tutoring students, and the like—but no one he recognizes. He catches a few stares, and assumes it’s the gauze.

If he’s a little timid when knocking on the door to Recovery Girl’s office, he can hardly be blamed.

“Oh good, you’re early,” she says as he steps inside. He breathes a sigh of relief; she seems to be in a much better mood. Less angry, at least. She takes a moment or two to fiddle with things at her desk before finally turning to him. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was distracted.

On instinct, he looks to Rei. She’s always been sensitive to how people feel. And now, she’s frowning at the school nurse. She doesn’t look hostile, or even particularly upset. Just… thoughtful.

Briskly Recovery Girl checks over his arm, mouth twisting thoughtfully. She reapplies her quirk once more, and any lingering aches in his newly-healed bones vanish. “Hm. Well, it’s healed about as well as can be expected,” she remarks when she’s finished her assessment. “And luckily, you have a mostly-tame day today, if Aizawa is to be believed. Hold still while I check your eye.” He stoops a little to give her easier access to his face, and she gently peels the gauze off of it. Izuku tries not to wince at the itch-sting that comes when air touches his injury. A quick touch of Recovery Girl’s quirk wipes it away in a heartbeat. “There we are. Good as… well. Good as it’s going to get, I suppose.”

Izuku reaches up to touch the skin beneath his eye without thinking. It doesn’t hurt, but…

“I did tell you it was going to scar.” Recovery Girl’s voice is gently chiding. She moves back to her desk and sets about shuffling things on it. “It’s not too bad. Noticeable, but you’re hardly disfigured.”

Curiosity overtakes him. Izuku glances around for the nearest mirror, and leans over to see his own face. True to Recovery Girl’s word, Todoroki’s ice punch has left its mark on him. The worst of it is the pale, jagged scarring right beneath his left eye. There’s a little more on the side of his nose level with the eye, and his eyebrow has two nicks in it.

It’s not terrible to look at. Certainly not as vivid as the burn scar on Todoroki’s face. It’s something he can live with.

“Don’t preen too much,” Recovery Girl says dryly. “Believe me, girls aren’t nearly as keen on scars as some seem to think.”

Rei tugs on his sleeve to get his attention. “She’s worried about something,” his friend signs to him. “She’s hiding it, but she’s worried.”

“Is something wrong?” he asks softly.

“Hm?” Recovery Girl glances at him, still busying herself around the office. “Oh, just… news reports, you know. That… that Stain fellow has been… about.”

Rei’s hair stirs. Izuku is tempted to question her further, but something tells him he isn’t going to get much out of her. “Oh. Well, do you need me for anything else?”

“No, you’re free to go,” she says. “And remember what I said to you before—I meant it. No more injuries like this, do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Izuku slips out of the office again and into the hall.

It’s still quite early, but he might as well get to class. Iida will probably be there by now, and it’ll be nice to catch up with him after a weekend of radio silence. As he makes his way through the halls, Izuku pulls out his phone and checks his news app for reports of Stain. There are quite a few of them, though details are fuzzy. Apparently he struck again sometime over the weekend, but reporters are still waiting on definitive details.

That’s… worrying. Usually, if the press is being held back from reporting on big hero-related stories, there’s a reason for it. No wonder Recovery Girl’s worried.

He reaches the 1-A class room and pushes the door open. “Morning, Iida—” His voice trails off when he finds himself talking to an empty room. “Huh. Well that’s a first,” he remarks to Rei. “I must be pretty early if I beat Iida to class.” His voice is light, and there’s no reason for it not to be light, but his heart feels heavy with dread and he doesn’t know why.

Nothing for it. All he can do is set his bag down at his desk and wait for everyone else to arrive.


The news story breaks today.

Tenya wants to count himself lucky, really. Not everyone is this fortunate.

The story could have broken yesterday, or on Saturday. But the agency has been fighting tooth and nail to hold back the press, giving his family the time they need to brace themselves, shore up their defenses for the coming publicity storm.

Publicity. As if that’s their biggest concern. As if privacy and convenience even register in Tenya’s mind as something worth worrying about.

No, he has far greater concerns. Like coming to school, facing a bombardment of familiar faces and voices after turning off his phone for the past two days. Like limping through his duties as class representative—because nothing can get in the way of those. He can’t let responsibility fall to the wayside just because—

Just because…

No.

He can do this. He can make it through the day. He can function like a human being and pretend that he isn’t falling apart, that the sky isn’t crumbling and his world isn’t coming to an end. He can pretend that it… that it doesn’t…

At least he still managed to arrive early. At least he has that. He can sit by himself in an empty classroom and gird himself to get through the day and get through the storm that will hit when the story breaks. He can do this.

He opens the door and steps into the classroom.

It’s not empty.

Part of him screams silently, Turn and run. Leave before he sees. Hide it before you give it away.

The rest of him whispers, It’s just Midoriya.

“Good morning, Iida!” his friend turns to look at him with a smile so bright that Tenya almost doesn’t notice the scars around his eye. Before Tenya can properly steel himself and put on the front that he needs, their eyes meet, and he sees his friend’s smile freeze.

He sees. He sees. Just one look and you already gave it away—

“Ah, good morning, Midoriya!” he greets, and forces a boisterous tone into his voice like his life depends on it. Midoriya is staring at him, smile gone cold and rapidly slipping from his face. His friend is on his feet, stepping away from his desk. “Sorry if I look a little under the weather! I had—a-a busy morning!” He smiles, and it hurts. “And goodness, I wasn’t expecting you here so early! Is it a special occasion, or…?” Midoriya crosses the room, nearly kicking a desk out of the way. “Midoriya, is something—?”

He doesn’t get any further, because Midoriya closes the distance between them in four more steps, and his arms are around Tenya’s shoulders and pulling him into a rough hug before Tenya knows quite what is happening.

“M-Midoriya?” His heart gives a painful lurch. He freezes, not knowing what to do, what to say, how to react. “I-I… what are you…?”

Midoriya doesn’t reply, unless tightening his arms around Tenya can be considered an answer.

How does he know?

How could he possibly—?

“I’m all right, you know,” Tenya says, and he’s a terrible liar. He can’t even keep his voice from cracking. “I’m quite… I’m…”

His vision blurs. He feels Midoriya’s hand against the back of his head, and he doesn’t know, he don’t know how he could have possibly given himself away so easily, but there are arms around him for the first time in what feels like far too long. He should pull back and step away before this goes on any longer, before someone else walks into class and sees, but there are arms around him and he can’t.

But he will. He’ll step back. He’ll brush Midoriya away and maybe, just maybe, ask his friend how he could possibly have known.

He will.

Just… later.


It’s a moment before Izuku feels Iida’s arms wrap hesitantly around him, like he isn’t sure it’s allowed. People are funny like that, when they’re hurting. They’re shy. You could take them in your arms, bend an ear to all their pain, and they’ll still shrink away like they think you’ll hate them for doing what you’ve invited them to do.

He should say something. Anything. There must be something he can say, something he can think of that…

No.

There really is nothing, is there.

He can’t talk anyway, because he knows that if he tries to talk, he’ll start crying. It’s bad enough that he’s done this much. It’s bad enough that Iida may ask questions that Izuku doesn’t know how to answer.

But he couldn’t do nothing. He can’t do nothing.

Even if all he can do for now is hug his friend as tight as he can, as tears gather and ready themselves to fall, and stare over Iida’s shoulder to meet Iida Tensei’s blank white eyes.

Chapter Text

“You can see me. Right?”

Izuku nods—barely. Class won’t start for another fifteen minutes are so, and the room is still only half full. Iida is nearly a perfect image of poise right now, sitting straight-backed at his desk like he always is, as if there aren’t barely-noticeable wet spots on Izuku’s school blazer right now.

Iida Tensei is no longer hovering over his brother’s shoulder, because he’s moved to hover over Izuku’s instead. He looks pretty normal, as ghosts go, and Izuku’s privately glad of that. He doesn’t really want to know what a murder victim of Stain’s might look like.

“I don’t understand,” Tensei says. “You’re—you’re Midoriya, right? Tenya’s told me about you. He said your quirk was strength, and…”

Izuku takes out his notebook and a pencil. It’s complicated, he writes. Seeing ghosts is the power I was born with. The strength came later.

The air around him drops a little in temperature when Iida’s brother leans in to read over his shoulder. “Oh,” he says, and sounds confused.

Izuku keeps writing. I’m sorry that this happened to you.

“It’s… It’s my own fault,” Tensei says softly. “I shouldn’t have been alone. Especially against an enemy with a reputation like that. But I wasn’t thinking straight. I wasn’t thinking at all. And now…” Izuku looks up to see Tensei looking across the room to where Iida sits.

Gently he nudges Tensei for attention and writes another note. Is there anything I can do to help?

“H-huh?”

If there’s anything you want to say to him, I can try to pass the message along.

“Pass the—does he know?” Tensei asks. “About what you can do?”

Izuku shakes his head. I can find a way. I always do.

The ghost of Ingenium is quiet for a moment. “I… thank you. For offering. And thank you for—when Tenya walked in—well. It means a lot to me. And I’ll think about it, but for now… not yet.” His hands wring at his sides. He looks fuzzy around the edges; he’s not unstable, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still upset.

Offer’s always open, Izuku writes. He looks again, pursing his lips, and takes in Tensei’s quiet misery. He’s watching Iida again, but not yet moving back to him—swaying forward, but not quite taking the steps. Izuku has seen pictures of Ingenium, videos of his heroics and the like, and he never imagined him looking so hopelessly lost.

Mindful of how close Bakugou is in front of him, he barely moves his mouth as he says under his breath, “Do you want to talk? If you do, I’ll listen.”

Tensei moves closer, either to catch Izuku’s words or because the offer tempts him. He wavers. “I don’t want to burden you with it. It… it isn’t nice, what happened to me.”

“Try me,” Izuku murmurs back. “You wouldn’t be the first. I can handle—”

Bakugou whirls around in his seat, spitting with rage. “For fuck’s sake, Deku, stop goddamn muttering!” he snaps. Izuku shuts his mouth and shrugs at Tensei.

The ghost is quiet for a moment. Izuku waits patiently.

“There isn’t even that much to tell,” Tensei bursts out in a sudden rush, like it’s something he’s been dying (ha, ha) to get off his chest. “It wasn’t—it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I mean—fuck.” Izuku blinks, vaguely surprised to hear language like that from his straitlaced friend’s older brother. “You get these visions in your head, you know? When you’re a pro, or—God, you don’t even have to be a pro, I bet you get little fantasies like that, too. Putting your life on the line for others. Dying like a martyr in the line of duty. Going down fighting. Bravery and sacrifice and glory, and—” He stops short, and one glance tells Izuku that it’s because he’s trying not to cry. “But it’s not like that. He just—I—I shouldn’t have been there. I shouldn’t have taken him on alone, because he—I couldn’t even tell what he did. I couldn’t move. Haha. Ha.” A bitter little laugh tumbles out of his mouth. “Me, the hero that relies on speed. I couldn’t move. No one knew that I was there. He could take his time. He could talk, and gloat, and watch me squirm. And then… I don’t know if he ran out of things to say, or he got bored, or…” The ghost’s voice trails off. “I didn’t die right away. I was still sort of… there… when he left. And when he was gone, I thought maybe I’d get lucky. Maybe someone would find me. Maybe I could get out of it alive, and see my brother again.”

Izuku hears his next words as loud and clear as if Tensei were whispering them in an empty room.

But nobody came.”

The empty desk next to him scrapes out of the way, and suddenly Kirishima’s there. In a moment of mild panic, Izuku slaps his notebook shut.

“Midoriya! Heya, I didn’t get to talk to you after the Festival, and I just wanted to tell youwhoooaaaa.” Izuku looks up at him, and finds Kirishima inches away from his face, staring goggle-eyed at him. “Dude! Your face looks rad!”

Izuku’s mind is a noisy mess. “Um.”

“I’m serious!” Kirishima’s sharp teeth show in a wide grin. “I’m not making fun of you, I promise, I really think you’re scar looks awesome! It’s, like, the halfway point between me and Todoroki!” His eyes widen further, which shouldn’t even be possible. “Dude. That’s from Todoroki’s ice punch, isn’t it?”

“W-well, uh…”

Todoroki picks that moment to slip in and take his seat, and Kirishima sees Izuku’s line of vision move. He looks over his shoulder and gives a cheery grin and wave. Todoroki’s nose, Izuku notices, is still visibly crooked.

Luckily, class starts soon after, forcing Izuku into something resembling a better headspace once he has other things to focus on. Aizawa’s bandages are off, but that just means everyone can see the scarring on his face. If even Recovery Girl couldn’t fix that, then that probably means those marks are going to stick with him for good.

(When Aizawa passes by Iida’s desk on the way in, does he surreptitiously rest his hand on Iida’s shoulder, just for a moment? It’s too quick to catch.)

Izuku can’t help it; his mouth drops open when Aizawa puts the draft nomination numbers up on the board. Bakugou and Todoroki have far and away the most, both of them numbering in the thousands. Uraraka and Iida are both up there, too, and even Sero managed to grab a few nominations for himself.

And as for Izuku…

He spots his name at the bottom. He’s tied with Sero.

Beside him, Rei pats his shoulder excitedly and dances in place, and in spite of himself, he sits a little taller. Uraraka twists around in her seat to grin at him, and he smiles back.

Midnight-sensei joins the class shortly after that, to help with the other focus for today:

Hero names.

The class descends into a brainstorming session, and Izuku is hard-pressed not to knock his head repeatedly against his desk. He’s dreamed of this for years. He’s imagined having his own hero code name practically since he first learned to talk. But whenever he tried to brainstorm before… all he ever came up with were variations on All-Might.

Of course he did. He was a kid, and All-Might was who he wanted to be like. But now…

It just feels too childish. Too embarrassing. If he can’t measure up to All-Might yet, then it’d be way too presumptuous to name himself after him.

Not to mention a little on-the-nose—his connection to All-Might is supposed to be a secret, after all.

Mind blank, Izuku looks around at his classmates. Everyone’s murmuring together, laughing at each other’s attempts, bouncing ideas off each other… It seems like everyone has more ideas, and better ideas, than he does.

The only ones who are being remotely quiet about it are Todoroki, and Iida. Todoroki’s always quiet, and Iida…

“I didn’t get to tell him.”

Tensei’s back.

Izuku looks up at him and tilts his head, asking his question silently.

“I didn’t—I didn’t get to tell him…” Tensei’s pale hands curl into fists. “There is something, Midoriya. I don’t know if you can find a way to tell him, in a way that… that won’t hurt him. So you don’t have to tell him yet. But…” The devastation on his face is raw. “I realized something, right at the last minute. I-I mean, when I—when Stain was—” He stops short, shutting his eyes tight for a moment. “There was a moment when I realized, ‘This is it. This is where I die. The last thing I ever said to Tenya really is the last thing.’” Tears leak out from between his eyelids. “And I realized there was one more thing I wanted to tell him. So if you can—if you ever find a way to tell him the truth about what you can do…” The dead hero’s blank eyes turn to him, desperate and pleading. “Tell him I want him to have my name. Tell him I want Ingenium to live on through him.”

Izuku’s heart lurches, and he gives the smallest nod he can manage. “I’ll try,” he whispers.

“Deku!” Uraraka hops into his space, hands braced on his desk with the pinkies raised to keep from activating her quirk. “Any ideas? I think I’ve got mine.”

“I’m coming up empty,” Izuku admits. His voice cracks on the way out, and he coughs a little.

“You okay?” Uraraka cocks her head to the side, almost birdlike. “Is something going on with you and Iida? You both have been sort of weird today.”

“I can’t say,” Izuku says, which is a wonderful phrase because of how ambiguous and misleading it is. “This name thing is sort of taking all my thoughts right now.”

“I’m kind of surprised. You’re the biggest hero fanboy I know—did you really never imagine what your name might be if you ever became one?”

“Well, yeah.” Izuku pulls a wry face. “Doesn’t mean any of them were usable.”

Uraraka giggles. “Oh c’mon, I bet you can’t think of anything worse than Bakugou,” she says, as if he isn’t sitting in the desk right in front of them.

Bakugou hears it and twists around in his own seat, face thunderous. “Deku, I swear to fuck,” he snarls. “One word, and I’ll make your right eye match your left.”

And—

As Rei responds with a challenging hiss, Izuku blinks at him, shocked. It’s not that he isn’t used to Bakugou’s threats and insults. But he’s also used to the feelings that come with them. He’s used to the spike in fear, and the sickening dread that fouls his stomach. He’s used to feeling small whenever he hears his old nickname in Bakugou’s voice.

And… he doesn’t, this time.

Bakugou’s tone and temper make him tense, but the word Deku falls effortlessly on his ears and skims off of him harmlessly. When did that start happening?

Maybe, he thinks, it started when ‘Deku’ stopped meaning ‘useless’ and started meaning ‘I can do it.’

“Deku?” Uraraka ducks into his line of vision. “You sort of spaced out there, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he blurts out. “I’m… yeah, I’m okay.”


It’s no small thing, reclaiming a name that has been used to grind him under someone’s heel since he was small. But he does it, and the look on Bakugou’s face is priceless.

(Iida doesn’t take a hero name. Izuku wrestles with the message locked behind his tongue, and feels Tensei’s eyes bore into him from across the room.)


Izuku knows it’s coming when Iida doesn’t join him and Uraraka for lunch. He feels the dread gathering like syrupy storm clouds in his stomach, and he knows Uraraka suspects something. She’s too smart to have missed the way he dodged her question earlier, and she sees through his carefully noncommittal noises when she wonders aloud where Iida’s gone.

It happens when lunch is maybe half over. Izuku feels jittery, enough to burn off excess nervous energy by browsing his phone. He hits the news app, refreshes it a few time, and there it is.

Iida Tensei, the hero Ingenium, was found dead on Saturday. The Hero Killer made no attempt to hide his involvement; Stain was behind this, and he wanted everyone to know about it.

Of course, this is not news to Izuku. He’s been talking to Tensei’s ghost out of the corner of his mouth all morning.

He imagines, for a moment, that the buzz of the cafeteria hall gets a little quiet. Not all at once, just in fits and spurts, sections at a time as people check their own news feeds and share with the people around them. He imagines eyes on them, people looking instinctively to their table, where Ingenium’s younger brother always sits. He has no idea if that’s really happening or not, and there’s no real way to tell.

Beside him, he hears Uraraka’s soft gasp.

Oh no.” The quiet horror in her voice wrenches his head back into the space it was in when Tensei was telling him how he died. Izuku puts down his chopsticks. Suddenly, the thought of food makes his stomach roil. “Oh, Iida…”

Izuku is out of his seat in a flash, barely registering Uraraka’s voice. “Deku? Deku, wait a minute—”

“Bathroom,” he says, and walks out of the cafeteria before he can say or do something embarrassing. Or worse, incriminating.

He walks, turning corners at random until he finds an empty section of the hallway where he can lean against the wall and slide down to the floor. Dimly he’s aware of Rei hovering nearby, not close enough to crowd him, but close enough that he knows she’s there. He puts his head between his knees and breathes.

He’s always known that a hero’s life is dangerous. He never knew the hero Ingenium before he showed up as a ghost.

But—

This is the first time that the danger has fully struck him. The USJ came close, because he nearly died and Aizawa nearly died, but they still got out of it.

And

This is the first time he’s ever seen a ghost with a face he recognized.

And it isn’t fear building and churning in his chest, because the fear’s always been there and it’s more like an annoying roommate than a weakness, but the roiling pressure won’t go away. It’s not fear, but it’s a lot of things, sadness and anger and so many other things that he can’t put a name to.

“Kiddo?”

He jolts, but he knows the voice. Ms. Shimura stands over him, and then she crouches by him, not keeping her distance quite as well as Rei does.

“Hey. Kiddo, hey.” Cool hands press the sides of his head, and Izuku half-chokes on a sob and hopes that no one living walks by and sees him. “Toshi’s on his way, I think. Just hang tight, okay?”

And that’s fine, he thinks. He’s not sure what he’d do if one of his classmates showed up, or some stranger who doesn’t know him. But if it’s just All-Might… then that’s okay.

Hastily he struggles to his feet and wipes his eyes on instinct, even though they technically aren’t wet yet. True to Ms. Shimura’s word, he hears his mentor’s distinctive heavy footsteps, and All-Might steps around the corner in his hero form. He isn’t smiling.

“I was hoping for a word, my boy,” he says. His voice is oddly gentle, and that sounds strange when it comes from him in this form. “Just a quick one. I’m sure you saw the news.”

Izuku nods shakily.

“I saw you hurrying out of the cafeteria just now,” All-Might says. “I thought that might have been what spooked you.”

“I’m not,” Izuku rasps out. His throat feels like sandpaper. “I’m not—I’m not scared. I-I mean, I am, but…” He sucks in a breath. “That’s not… that’s not why…”

All-Might is quiet for a moment, and Izuku privately wonders how much time he has in this form. “Do you want to talk about it? I’m not sure how much help I can be, but—”

I’m mad.” It comes out as a hiss, spat out through his teeth even as he feels tears well up in his eyes. “Or I’m sad. I’m both and I don’t know what to do with it.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, because he can’t get the damn things to stop shaking.

“That’s understandable, my boy.” All-Might rests a hand lightly on his shoulder. In the back of his mind, Izuku wonders at how gentle a hand that size can be. “And believe you me, the Hero Killer will be stopped—”

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Izuku blurted. He’s not sure why the words are spilling out; it’s not like he has anything to prove. It’s not like All-Might is likely to disagree. “It shouldn’t have—everyone says he preaches about phony heroes—” The words taste foul as he spits them out. “And nobody deserves that but this was Ingenium, and he was good and—” The tears that come out feel so hot with anger that they nearly scald on their way down his face. He thinks of Tensei telling him but nobody came. “And I’m mad because he was Iida’s brother and Iida loved him and Stain left him in an alley like he was trash.”

The hand on his shoulder moves to his head, ruffling his hair gently as if he’s a little kid, and in spite of himself, Izuku leans into the touch.

“You’re right to be angry,” All-Might tells him.

Izuku wipes his face on his sleeve. “Sorry I’m crying again.”

“I think the situation calls for it, don’t you?” All-Might says gently. “Because like you said—you’re angry, and you’re sad, and you have every right to be.”

“I’m worried about Iida,” Izuku sniffles. “And I feel really useless, and that just makes the worrying worse.”

“You aren’t useless,” All-Might informs him. “But if you feel that way, and you are worried for your friend, then why not put the two together? Be there for your classmate. Ask him what he needs. Make sure he knows that he is not alone.” He lifts his hand away. “I’ll do what I can, of course, as his teacher. But at times like these, young Iida needs his friends.”

Izuku nods. “Okay.”

All-Might’s phone chimes in his pocket, and he startles a little. “Ah—I’d better get back to the lounge. Will you be all right from here, my boy?”

“I’ll be fine,” Izuku says. “Thanks, All-Might.”

“Anytime, my boy.” His steps are hurried as he leaves.

Ms. Shimura lingers a while longer. “I can’t speak for your friend,” she says. “No one can, really. I think your best bet is to ask, always. Don’t push.”

“I know,” Izuku says, wiping his eyes again. “I just—I wish I could do more.”

“You’re just like Toshi,” Ms. Shimura sighs. “Sometimes I stop to wonder why he picked you, but I never wonder very long. You’re like peas in a pod.”

Izuku laughs softly. “Hey, Ms. Shimura?”

She pauses, looking like she’s about to move off. “Yeah, beansprout? What is it?”

“Are you ever going to tell me who you are?”

Rei moves in the corner of his vision, catching his attention for a split second. When he looks back, Ms. Shimura is gone.


A stroke of luck comes his way by the end of the school day, in the form of a ghost. More specifically, this ghost is not a pro hero, or anyone recognizable. He’s an elderly man, clutching at Izuku’s arm with cold, wrinkled hands and a frantic plea. Izuku listens, and finds both a problem and, possibly, a solution.


If one more well-wisher comes up to him with condolences, Tenya is going to scream.

The story broke during lunch, and it feels as if half the school has trooped by him over the course of the day, with I’m-sorry’s and My-thoughts-are-with-you’s and more platitudes that do little more than burn in Tenya’s ears. He doesn’t want to walk around and absorb strangers’ sympathies like a passive waste of space; he wants to go out and do something, but there’s nothing he can do. He’s not a hero, and he can’t track down Stain by himself, which is what the dark, ugly part of his heart desperately wants. Even his family has been treating him with kid gloves, taking away every possible burden he could take on, and that’s kind of them but it leaves him nothing to do.

Even Yaoyorozu has offered to shoulder more responsibilities as assistant class rep, and Tenya had to argue with her just to get her to let him continue as normal.

If anyone comes up to him to take away more things for him to do, then he’s only going to feel more helpless. And he’s been drowning in helplessness since Saturday.

“Iida?”

“What.” It comes out much, much harsher than he intended, because it’s the end of the day and he’s almost free to go home and do absolutely nothing. Mortified, he turns to find Midoriya looking at him with his newly scarred face, and wishes for a moment that he had a quirk that would let him sink into the floor. “I-I—Midoriya, forgive me—”

“Are you free today?” Midoriya asks, without preamble. “I could use your help with something, if you have time after school.”

Tenya gapes at him.

“It’s fine if you don’t,” Midoriya adds. “I was just wondering—”

“I do,” Tenya says quickly. “I mean—I would be happy to assist you, Midoriya. And I’m grateful—er. I’m glad you trust me enough to ask.” Was that an odd way to phrase it?

“Oh, good. So you’re sure you’re not busy?”

Tenya thinks for a moment of his mother, shooing away his offers to help shoulder the fallout of Tensei’s death, and encouraging him to ‘take time to himself.’ “Not particularly.”

Midoriya grins. “That’s good. It’s just—someone asked me for a favor and it’s gonna take me to another part of town, and I could use your help if that’s okay with you.”

For one wild moment, Tenya strongly considers hugging his friend, or maybe asking if he doesn’t have an extra quirk that lets him read minds and somehow know exactly what to say. He decides against both. “I would love to.”

And so, Tenya finds himself tagging after Midoriya once the final bell rings. They take the train together, and Midoriya gives him an apologetic look beforehand; Tenya doesn’t understand why until he realizes they’re stuck in a crowded train car full of people liable to recognize him. Tenya keeps his head down, and Midoriya holds him in conversation to discourage anyone from rudely interrupting.

Midoriya is… cautious. Unsure of himself. Hesitant, even. But it manifests as a sort of general awkwardness, rather than handling Tenya with kid gloves.

“A department store?” Tenya says when they walk up to their first stop.

“Yeah,” Midoriya says. “There’s a pet supply store up top, and I need to pick up a couple things.”

“For your cat, I presume?”

“No, for, uh… this thing we’re doing,” Midoriya says as they enter the building. “Basically, uh, someone abandoned a dog and now it’s under someone’s house and won’t leave, so… yeah. We’re gonna get it out and take it to a shelter, if that’s cool with you.”

Tenya blinks at him, surprised. “I didn’t know you did animal rescue.”

“I-I don’t, I mean… not regularly,” Midoriya says cautiously. “But, well… I’ve done stuff like this a couple of times, and word gets around, and… yeah.” He shrugs.

“I see,” Tenya says, pausing at the elevator. “Top floor, you said?”

“Yeah. Um, I’m gonna take the stairs.” Midoriya points to the door by the elevators. “If you wanna come too, or if you just wanna meet me up there, that’s fine.”

“Oh,” Tenya says, faintly surprised. “All the way to the top?”

“Can’t skip leg day,” Midoriya says simply.

Was that a dig at Tenya’s quirk? If it is, then it’s the first time anyone’s tried joking with him since this afternoon. It actually kind of makes him want to laugh. “I’m right behind you,” he says, and follows Midoriya into the stairwell.

“Also,” Midoriya says, when they’re about halfway up. “Elevators are awkward. I figured… maybe you wouldn’t want to get stuck in one with people who might know your face.”

For a moment, Tenya stares at him, touched. “I… thank you, Midoriya,” he says. “That’s very thoughtful of you.”

“Well I’m a thoughtful person. That’s what I’m good at, thinking. Sometimes way too much, and out loud.”

Tenya manages a short, quiet little laugh at that. It’s the most he’s done since Saturday.

Midoriya purchases a small bag of dog treats and the cheapest leash, and another short train ride takes them to a residential neighborhood. They make conversation along the way—from casual, meaningless small talk to discussions of class topics. Midoriya is strangely easy to talk to, mostly because he does so much talking himself that Tenya’s tired brain doesn’t have to work much to participate. It’s restful, almost. That Midoriya gives the subject of Tensei and Stain a wide berth is an extra courtesy.

He has to wonder, a few times, if Midoriya isn’t distracted by something. He keeps getting these odd looks, as if he’s thinking about something else. Or he’ll seem to look at something over Tenya’s shoulder, but when Tenya tries to follow his gaze, he doesn’t see anything.

Ah, well. It’s not as if this is anything new. Midoriya has always been an odd one.

“Midoriya,” Tenya says at one point, when his friend pauses. “May I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

Tenya braces himself. “How did you know?”

Midoriya looks at him blankly. “Know what?”

“This morning,” Tenya continues. “The news story hadn’t broke yet. It didn’t until lunch. So this morning, when I walked in and you saw me… how did you know?”

It takes Midoriya a while to answer. Tenya’s starting to wonder if he’ll answer at all when Midoriya gives a little shrug. “Something about the look on your face.”

“I thought I was being so careful,” Tenya says. “It fooled everyone else all day.”

“I have good instincts.”

There’s a note in Midoriya’s voice that sounds… off, somehow. Tenya knows damned well how to tell when he’s being brushed off. “Midoriya…”

“You just looked like you needed a hug,” Midoriya says. “I wasn’t gonna press you for details.”

Except, that sounds wrong. That sounds too uncertain to match up with the look that Tenya remembers seeing on Midoriya’s face—that cold, dawning horror. Midoriya talks as if it was a vague feeling with no context, no details, nothing concrete. But that dismay in his eyes had been a little too sharp for that to make sense.

“Midoriya, I consider you a good friend,” Tenya says carefully. “I trust you a great deal, and I don’t want to accuse you of anything. If you’re not comfortable talking about it, then that’s fine. But… that sounds like a lie.”

He expects Midoriya to brush it off, or backpedal, or get defensive about it. But instead Midoriya hums softly to himself, a thoughtful little sound, and stares forward into the middle distance.

“Don’t take it personally,” he says. “I lie to everyone.”


Izuku finds the house that the elderly ghost had directed him to, and knocks politely at the door. A woman answers promptly. “Hello!” he says. “I, uh, called earlier? I heard about the dog, so…”

She looks relieved. “Oh, right. Well, you’re welcome to try and get it out—here, it’s in the side yard, let me show you…”

The woman leads them to the side of the house, where there’s a small gap that can just barely fit a person through, leading into the dark space beneath the house. “It’s down there,” she says, stooping a little, but it’s hard to see beyond the first few feet. “We just bought the house and moved in a couple of weeks ago. I think the previous owner died and his dog must have gotten out.”

She isn’t wrong, Izuku knows. The previous owner did die; he’s the one who asked Izuku to come. What this lady doesn’t know is that his family sold the house and left without bothering to rehome his dog.

“How very irresponsible,” Iida remarks. The woman looks at him, surprised, and Izuku sees recognition flicker in her eyes.

“Um, aren’t you—” she begins.

“Is it okay if we take a while with this?” Izuku asks. “It might take a few hours to convince her to come out.”

“Oh, well, that’s all right,” she says, apparently unperturbed by his interruption. “As long as you can take care of the poor thing. I’d take it myself, but my husband’s allergic, and neither of us have the time anyway.”

“Okay, well, thank you.” Izuku gives her a polite smile.

“Oh no, thank you,” she says.

She leaves them to it, and Izuku seats himself by the gap that leads to the crawl space beneath the house. It’s dark and cramped further in, but Izuku holds out his phone to illuminate it. Toward the back of the space, he sees the light reflect off a pair of eyes.

“Ah, I saw it!” Iida crouches by him. “Do you think one of us can fit under there?”

“Might not be a good idea,” Izuku says. “It’s pretty small and cramped, and if we crowd her she might panic.”

“Good point. What would you suggest, then?”

Izuku shrugs. “Talk quietly, throw in some treats every now and then, and see if she gets used to us being here. Might take a while.”

“That’s fine.” Iida shifts to sit more comfortably in the dirt beside him. “My mother hasn’t been letting me help much with…” His voice trails off.

“He finds things to do when he’s upset,” Tensei explains. He’s off to the side, where Rei is teaching him clapping games. “It’s how he copes. If he can’t keep busy in a crisis, he stresses himself to death.”

Izuku nods. “Well, thanks for coming,” he says. “Stuff like this… it gets pretty boring sometimes.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Iida says. He takes a treat out of the bag, aims carefully, and tosses it toward the back of the space. Silence follows, and then rustling and crunching.

“Well, that’s a start,” Izuku says.

Sure enough, they’re there for a while, sitting and talking, plying the dog under the house with a treat every now and then. Izuku’s eyes start to adjust to the dark, and he watches as the mound of fur gradually moves closer.

It’s a quiet day. Izuku could be doing other things, like training, or focusing on his hero studies. They both could. But there’s plenty of time for that tomorrow. And besides—there’s a dog that needs help, and an elderly ghost worrying about the poor thing, and that’s reason enough to stick around.

The dog is a little over halfway to the opening when Izuku’s phone vibrates in his pocket. He wrestles it out and checks his latest text message.

 

[4:42] Todoroki:
I’m free today, in case you’re still interested in what we were talking about earlier.

 

Izuku winces a little. Todoroki had said Mondays and Wednesdays were good for him, and it had been Izuku’s idea. But he can hardly leave Iida now, when they’re wrist-deep in dirt and making very slow progress that still counts as progress. The last thing he wants to do is give up. If he gives up, it will just be one more heavy thing following him around until he takes care of it.

Besides, after today… he’s not sure he’s in the right state of mind to be throwing punches at people.

 

[4:43] Izuku:
i’m kinda in the middle of something rn
i’m sorry! It just kinda came up
i’m close by 2-3-1 kiyashi if you wanna hang out tho

 

He means it as a joke, and is therefore very surprised when Todoroki actually shows up.


Shouto isn’t sure what he expects, but this definitely isn’t it. The neighborhood is a nice one, very quiet and respectable-looking, and also nowhere near where Midoriya or Iida actually live. So that’s why he’s a little confused to find his classmates here on a school day.

It takes a moment or two of searching to find them, but he eventually catches sight of Midoriya’s distinctive hair on the other side of a low fence. He’s not alone, either; Shouto’s spent enough time in class to know what the back of Iida’s head looks like. He walks over, and—it’s something of a point of pride for him, that he’s trained himself to move noiselessly when he wants to. It’s useful for avoiding his father’s attention, and for avoiding attention in general. But Midoriya looks up and meets his eyes well before Shouto even reaches the fence.

“What are you doing?” Shouto asks.

Midoriya stares at him owlishly from where he and Iida are sitting in a patch of dirt in front of a dark hole leading under the house. “I didn’t think you’d actually show up,” he blurts.

Todoroki blinks at him, stuffing the sudden feeling of embarrassment deep, deep down inside. Midoriya must have meant the invitation as a joke, and he’d taken it literally. “Should I leave?”

“Nah,” Midoriya says. His voice is strangely quiet. “Unless you want to.”

“Just try to keep quiet,” Iida adds, and it’s odd to hear him talk so softly. “You might scare her.” He reaches into the bag sitting between him and Midoriya, and tosses something under the house. Shouto’s sharp ears pick up the sound of rustling from somewhere in the darkness. Curiosity overtakes him, and he carefully hops the fence and goes to sit down on Midoriya’s other side.

“So what exactly—?”

“There’s a dog,” Midoriya says, gesturing vaguely to the space under the house.

“She was just left here.” There’s a note of disgust in Iida’s voice. “Who would do that, to a dog?” He shakes his head. “She’s apparently been here a couple weeks. The homeowners have been feeding her, but she’s scared.”

“We’ve been trying to get her to trust us,” Midoriya says. “She’s a lot closer than she was two hours ago.”

Shouto cranes his neck, and catches sight of what looks like a dirty pile of fur, just barely visible in the dark, about three feet in. “Why not go in after it?”

“It might startle the dog,” Iida says. “She’s not very big, but she can still bite.”

“Oh.” Shouto hesitates, and eyes the bag of dog treats. “Can I try?”

They sit there for another twenty minutes before the dog finally wanders within reach. It’s Iida who reaches in first, muttering “Good dog, please don’t bite me, please don’t bite me,” before gently brushing his fingers along the dog’s muzzle. It pulls away at first, but another treat calms it, and it lets Iida touch it again.

Finally, it crawls out of the darkness and approaches them, tail between its legs. It’s a fluffy little white spitz, or at least it was at one point. It’s now a mess of matted, dirty, probably flea-infested fur, and when Midoriya gingerly coaxes its head through a looped leash, it shivers. It’s another ten minutes before it finally relaxes enough to lie down and eat another treat.

“I know a rescue that can take her,” Midoriya says. “They’ll take care of her, clean her up and have a vet look at her and stuff.”

“How often do you do this?” Shouto asks.

“Do what? This specifically, or…?”

Iida gives him a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, sometimes,” Midoriya says. “It’s not always this, but it is sometimes. It’s just… favors, I guess.”

“To anyone in particular?” Iida asks.

“Not really. Just anyone who asks. Sometimes animals are involved. More often than I’d like.”

Shouto blinks at him, mildly baffled.

They take the dog out of the yard and out to the sidewalk.. “Well, I was happy to help,” Iida says. “Even though—to be honest, Midoriya, I’m not sure you really needed me. If you’ve done this before, then you probably had this well in hand.”

“Oh, I did,” Midoriya replies.

“Then why—?”

“Sometimes everything’s awful,” Midoriya says, as the smudged white dog trembles at his feet. He stoops to offer another treat, and the dog takes it gently from his hand. “Or it feels like it, anyway. And you think, what’s the point of everything if it’s just going to come back around to awful again?” He runs his fingers lightly over the dog’s ear. “And when that happens—when I feel like that, I just find something… useful to do. Something that helps someone, and doesn’t have anything to do with what upset me. Doesn’t matter who, doesn’t matter why. If I can do it, then anyone can do it, and anyone will do it.” He shrugs. “I dunno. I guess it just reminds me that if I can do things that matter to someone, then maybe everything doesn’t have to be hopeless bullshit.” Iida blinks in surprise, but Shouto has already heard Midoriya curse before.

“It still feels like it,” Iida says quietly.

“I know,” Midoriya says. “I don’t know if that goes away.”

“It doesn’t,” Shouto says bluntly. He knows it doesn’t, because he’s still waiting.

“I was just trying to help,” Midoriya says. “It helps me to be helpful, sometimes. I don’t know if you’re the same, but I thought it was worth a try.”

“I… to be honest, I’m not sure if it worked, either,” Iida admits. “But… thank you, Midoriya. For trying.”

“You’re welcome.” Midoriya stands up and dusts himself off, or tries to. “It’s just—you can’t fix everything, but just because things are awful doesn’t mean you can’t do something about them.”

For a moment, there’s a steely glint in Iida’s eyes, but it’s gone in the next. “I suppose you’re right,” he says. He checks his phone. “Ah—I should head home. My parents will be worrying.”

“Alright,” Midoriya says. “See you tomorrow, Iida.”

Shouto watches his classmate go, only to glance over at Midoriya when the latter starts bouncing a little on the balls of his feet.

“I’m worried about him,” Midoriya says. “I hope he talks to someone. Doesn’t have to be me, just someone.”

“Do you always drag people’s problems out into the open?” Shouto asks, because he never did get a straight answer when he tried asking Bakugou.

“I’m nosy, sneaky, and I can’t mind my own business,” Midoriya replies.

“That’s probably why you got three votes in the class election,” Shouto tells him. Midoriya blinks and stares at him for a moment, and Shouto shrugs. He’s glad he voted for Yaoyorozu, but if he had known what kind of person Midoriya was at the time, it might have at least taken him longer to decide. “After you deal with the dog, would you be up for a spar?”

Midoriya takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “You know what? Yes. Yes I am.”

You can learn a lot about a person just from their fighting style.

For example, he learns that day that when Midoriya calls himself sneaky, he means it.

Chapter Text

Lunch with Uraraka and Iida the next day is a quiet affair.

Usually they’re animated, with Uraraka and Izuku competing to see who can dominate the conversation with chatter, interspersed with Iida’s booming voice and vigorous gesturing. But now, their little group is a muted pocket in the midst of the cafeteria’s general buzz of activity.

It’s not an uncomfortable atmosphere, but it is a somber one. Uraraka’s finally stopped looking like she desperately wants to say something but can’t think of what. Iida, ironically, is doing most of the talking; the main reason why they aren’t totally silent is that he’s making calm small talk—safe, day-to-day topics like school work and class schedules and training.

Izuku, for his part, is just trying not to stare at Tensei too much while he worries about things. Rei’s taken a liking to him, but Izuku can’t bring himself to enjoy the sight of her scampering around at his heels or hanging off his shoulders like a monkey. There’s far too much on his mind. He has a message to deliver and no idea how to do so. There’s a hero killer on the loose. His friend is sad and it’s going to take more than a pep talk and a dirty dog to make things better. He has a short list of hero agencies to choose from and only a few days to make his decision, and Ms. Shimura’s promised “Gran Torino” is not on that list.

(“Be patient,” Ms. Shimura has told him. “You grabbed his attention. He’s just taking a while because he’s making it out to be more complicated than it is. He’ll probably send his nomination in a little late.”)

There’s only a few days before the deadline for his decision, and Izuku isn’t sure how long he can afford to wait.

Eventually, even Iida runs out of topics, and their table lapses into silence. It’s only a brief one, but Izuku sees the way Iida’s hands curl and uncurl in his lap.

“I do apologize,” Iida says. “I’ve been out of sorts, and if I’m making things awkward—”

“Of course you’re not!” Uraraka cuts him off. “And—Iida, even if you were, it’s not your fault.”

“Th-thank you, Uraraka, but… even still.” Iida’s knuckles are nearly white. “In spite of everything, I still have responsibilities, a-and obligations that I mustn’t let fall to the wayside—”

“No one’s expecting you to snap back to normal,” Izuku says, with a quick glance at Tensei. “Iida… you lost someone important.”

“Yeah,” Uraraka says softly. “I don’t have any siblings, so I don’t know what that’s like, but… you know it’s okay to not be okay, right?” She tries a smile, and it comes out a little wobbly. “I-I mean, I know you have engines in your legs, but you’re not a robot.”

Iida manages a smile of his own at that. “I suppose not…” He leans his chin on his palm, and his eyes lose a bit of their focus. “It’s just… there’s this one thing, and it’s—it’s such a petty thing, but it bothers me. Just thinking about it makes me feel ill, but…”

“What is it?” Izuku asks cautiously. Tensei looks up from where Rei is eagerly showing him how to finger-spell.

“It feels like the end of an era,” Iida replies. “And—I know he wasn’t top ranked, he was no All-Might or Endeavor or Best Jeanist, but… it bothers me to see the sun rise and everyone go on with their lives, even though the hero Ingenium is gone. It’s over.”

Uraraka makes a quiet, sympathetic little noise. Izuku feels Tensei’s eyes on him, and sees an opportunity to fulfill an obligation.

He hesitates for a moment. He knows he’s treading on treacherous ground here; he knows that one verbal misstep will make him look foolish at best and horribly disrespectful at worst. So he hesitates, cudgeling his brain for the right words.

“W-well… maybe it doesn’t have to be?” he says at last.

Iida looks up at him, and the fog in his eyes clears and sharpens. “What?”

Izuku swallows the urge to backtrack, because he did make a promise and he’s not likely to have an opening like this again anytime soon. “I mean…” He takes a deep breath, shoots one last glance at Tensei, and takes the plunge. “You’re his little brother, aren’t you? And… you haven’t really picked a hero name.” He sees Iida’s face and bearing change, shifting from wary confusion to white-knuckled comprehension. His nerve nearly fails him then and there, but it’s too late to backpedal now. “I just think, if anyone has a right to carry that torch, it’s you.”

The pounding of his pulse in his ears is almost deafening. Iida gapes at him, rigid with shock, unaware of the way his older brother is watching him intently.

“I…”

“It’s just a thought,” Izuku says quietly, which isn’t quite the same as backpedaling. “I just… I think, if you don’t want that to die, then—then that part, at least, that one thing… you can still protect that.”

“I’m… not sure that’s true.” Iida’s nearly whispering, which is something Izuku has never heard him do before.

It’s what he’d want, Izuku wants to say, but he doesn’t. He has no right to say that, as far as Iida knows. And Izuku doubts that there will ever be a right time to tell Iida the truth, but it certainly wouldn’t be here and now. “Just think about it,” he murmurs, and says no more on the subject.

Iida gives him a curt nod, and nothing more.


True to Ms. Shimura’s prediction, Gran Torino’s nomination comes through at the very last minute. Izuku finds out when All-Might pulls him aside for a conversation on the subject, looking like someone just walked over his grave. Ms. Shimura, as close to his side as always, looks like she’s not sure whether to give him a hug or burst out laughing.

“Sorry, bean sprout, I didn’t think he’d take it quite like that,” she says, a little shamefaced. “But I guess, considering how things went, I shouldn’t really be that surprised.”

“His name is Gran Torino,” All-Might says, and there’s a strange tension in the smile on his face. He walks further down the hall from the classroom, keeping his back to Izuku. “He’s taught at UA before, but only for one year. ...He was my homeroom teacher, in fact.”

“Wait. What?” Izuku blurts out, darting to catch up. “He taught at UA? He taught you?” He shoots a wide-eyed look at Ms. Shimura, who gives him an innocent smile in return. The word she had used was friend. He’d never thought—he’d never even imagined

Well, it was hard to imagine. All-Might was the greatest. The strongest hero, with no one equal to him, much less anyone better. Logically he had to have started out as a student, but… still.

“He knows about One For All, as well,” All-Might continues. “That’s probably why he gave you that nomination.”

“Does he not usually, um, take on students?” Izuku asks, choosing his words carefully. Fishing for information from All-Might is not something he ever could have prepared himself for.

“N-no…” All-Might’s hands wring at his sides. “I was… a special case. I think he was doing it as a favor to… well, anyway. He retired many years ago, and I haven’t known him to be active otherwise.”

“When’s the last you heard from him?” Izuku presses.

All-Might’s steps go uneven for a moment, and he pauses. “I… can’t recall.”

“Did something—”

“Midoriya,” Ms. Shimura says sharply, and Izuku’s tongue locks in place.

“Um… n-never mind,” he murmurs.

All-Might, fortunately, barely seems to notice anything amiss. He’s still speaking, but it’s as if he’s talking to himself. “I wonder… did he nominate you because my teaching is inadequate?” There’s no denying it now; he’s shaking. “I have to admit, the thought of him taking up his name again and nominating you is… a little terrifying.” He holds up a folded piece of paper, and it crinkles in his shaking hand. “B-but in any case, while training you is my responsibility—well, you were nominated, so… i-it’s not as if any of the other agencies can show you how to use—well. Ahem. You should g-go. Learn what you can from him. H-he’s… you’ll do fine. I’m sure of it.”

Izuku takes the paper, feeling his breakfast creep back up his stomach. What kind of person is Gran Torino, if just hearing from him is enough to throw All-Might for a loop?

“Oh! And one more thing,” All-Might says, grasping eagerly at a chance to change the subject. “Your costume! It just got back from being repaired. You can pick it up after school—you’ll need it for next week’s training.”

Izuku’s heart leaps. He’d missed having it when villains attacked the USJ; it would have been nice to be able to fight in it instead of his gym clothes. He’ll just have to take better care of it this time. “Okay. Thanks, All-Might.” He hesitates. “Any… any advice? For learning from Gran Torino?”

All-Might’s hand falls heavily on his shoulder. Izuku can feel it still shaking. Without a word, All-Might squeezes his shoulder, pats it lightly, and walks off.

“Okay then.” Taking advantage of the fact that All-Might has his back to him, Izuku shoots one hand out and catches Ms. Shimura by the wrist, stopping her from following. Once All-Might is out of sight, and his footsteps have faded to silence, Izuku raises his eyes to Ms. Shimura’s pale face.

“There are things he’s not ready to talk about yet,” Ms. Shimura tells him quietly.

“Ms. Shimura, did you stop me because he’s not ready to talk yet, or because you’re not ready for me to know?”

Her face tightens.

“I’m going to find out,” Izuku tells her. “One way or another. You can’t force me to put it off forever.” He glares up at her, still gripping her wrist. “I may not know how you fit into all of this, but I’m in this up to my neck. I can’t force you to tell me anything. I can’t force anyone to tell me anything. But if all you’re going to do is stonewall me whenever I need answers, that’s not fair.”

Ms. Shimura can’t look him in the eye for long, and soon turns her head away. “…You’re right. You’re right, I’m sorry. That was… I wasn’t thinking.”

“What do you think is going to happen when I find out who you are?” Izuku presses. “Why are you so afraid of that?”

“Because you love him,” Ms. Shimura blurts out.

Izuku blinks.

“You love Toshi,” she says quietly. “You love him with all your heart, and I’m glad, Izuku, I’m—I’m so happy that he found you.” The smile that curls at her mouth is a bitter one; there’s not a drop of joy to be found in it. “And that’s why I know you won’t forgive me when you find out what I did to him.”

He blinks, and suddenly he’s alone in the hallway, holding on to nothing.

“I hate it when they do that,” he says to Rei. She heaves a sigh and shrugs.

He returns to the classroom without arousing anyone’s curiosity. If nothing else, the tension he’s felt over nominations is more or less resolved. Almost everyone has already made their choice, and is happy to discuss it when there’s a free moment in class. Uraraka’s choice focuses on hand-to-hand combat. Iida’s picking a more average agency to get a feel for the general work environment. Mineta picked Mount Lady, and Izuku isn’t sure whether to pray for Mount Lady’s sanity or Mineta’s physical safety.

Even Todoroki has come to a decision, which is frankly a miracle considering how many nominations he had to choose from.

“You’re picking Endeavor’s agency?” Izuku asks, not long before the lunch bell is about to ring. “You got more nominations than anyone. You could have your pick of any top agency in the city.”

Todoroki shrugs. “I can. So I’m picking the highest one.”

“Well, yeah, but…” Izuku’s voice trails off. His own newly updated nomination list is in his hand, less than half a page long, unlike the veritable ream of papers in front of Todoroki. “I dunno, I figured you’d have had your fill of learning from him.”

“Maybe I feel that way,” Todoroki says. “But regardless of how I might personally feel, he’s still the second-strongest hero, and the most prolific. He knows the industry forward and backward.” The volume of his voice drops. “He’s a bastard, but he still has his uses.”

“Mm.” The noise Izuku makes is noncommittal at best. Rei’s apparently feeling mischievous, because she casually blows at the list on Todoroki’s desk, sending the top two pages flying. Seeing the prank coming, Izuku snatches them back out of the air without looking and puts them down again. “Still, though.”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Todoroki says flatly. “What I learn this week will have nothing to do with my father or how I feel about him. I’m not so weak-minded that I can’t focus on what needs to be done.”

“Didn’t mean to imply you were,” Izuku says. “But… for the record, Todoroki?” He pauses, one finger on the stack to keep Rei from blowing it away again. “Avoiding things that hurt you doesn’t count as weakness.”

Todoroki raises an eyebrow at him. “Doesn’t it?”

“Not if there’s a choice. And, uh.” Izuku looks at the list. “You do have loads of choices. But it’s not really weakness. It’s more just… taking care of yourself.” He shrugs, feeling awkward. “I dunno. It’s up to you. I just don’t think you have to prove anything.”

“I understand. And thank you—for your concern.” Todoroki straightens the papers, his face set. “But honestly, I think this will take me where I need to go.” He glances up. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Do you know who you’re choosing?”

“Yeah.” Izuku glances down at the page, eyeing the name at the very bottom of the list. “I had one recommended to me, so that’s what I’m gonna go with.”

It’s high time he got some answers.


The week of on-the-job training arrives. The class splits up at the train station, everyone laden with cases containing their hero costumes. Aizawa sends them all off, and Izuku can already feel his nerves buzzing.

It’s not just for himself, either. He doesn’t like the look on Todoroki’s face, or the way his classmate—friend, Todoroki’s his friend—avoids talking to anyone. He knows full well that Todoroki skimmed details when they spoke at the Sports Festival, and he can’t help but worry about Endeavor’s idea of training. And Todoroki’s not the only who’s quiet.

“Hey, Midoriya?” Izuku looks up to find Tensei standing by him. “Listen… I just wanted to say thanks. For being there for him. I’ve been worried about him lately, so…”

Izuku grins, and signs a quick “you’re welcome.” He’s seen Rei teaching him simple signs when she gets bored during school hours.

“I’m still worried,” Tensei says. “In the past couple of days… I don’t know, it’s like he’s got his energy back, but I don’t know if it’ll last. So just… thanks for looking out for him.”

Nodding, Izuku looks past him to where Iida is already walking away. Uraraka catches on, as well—silence is hard to miss when it’s coming from Iida.

“Hey, Iida?”

His friend pauses. Izuku hesitates, not quite sure what to say. Since their conversation at lunch, he hasn’t mentioned Stain or Tensei once—nor has the latter left his side. Izuku would like to think that this is because Iida is grieving privately, or gradually coming to terms with it, but he can’t be sure.

“You know you can talk to us, right?” he says at last, as Uraraka stands beside him and nods along. “If you need to. We’re your friends.”

“We’re here for you, Iida,” Uraraka adds.

Izuku doesn’t quite see what flits across Iida’s face in that moment; it passes too quickly for him to be sure whether or not he sees anything at all. But in the next moment, Iida’s smiling back.

“Sure,” he says. “Thank you, both of you.”

As Iida turns away, Izuku considers bringing up their conversation from earlier, and his suggestion on Tensei’s behalf, but he decides against it.

Watching Iida leave with his ghostly brother close by his side, he considers quite a few things that he doesn’t go through with.

(If only foresight were as clear as hindsight.)

The train ride gives Izuku forty-five minutes to stew alone in his nerves as he watches the landscape go by. Well—not quite alone. Rei distracts him by signing things she sees out the window, or with silent impressions of the other passengers on the train. Izuku has to take his phone out and pretend to browse his texts to keep from looking like he’s laughing at nothing.

From the train station, the address takes him to a building that looks less like a hero agency and more like a condemned apartment complex. The front door has a broken neon ‘Welcome’ sign hanging over it, almost mockingly. Izuku… isn’t sure what he was expecting, but it sure as hell isn’t this.

He comes to a halt and casts a dubious eye over the place. “Um…” He glances at Rei, who cocks her head this way and that as if the slight change in angle will reveal more information.

I’ll check if it’s safe, she signs to him, and vanishes from his side. Izuku counts in his head and makes it to ten before she reappears, and she looks no less confused than he feels.

“Well?” he asks.

There’s a man in there, she tells him. He’s lying on the floor in a puddle of ketchup.

“I-is he okay?”

He’s completely fine, and he’s awake. He’s just lying there covered in ketchup.

Izuku wishes with all his heart that Ms. Shimura were here. Then maybe he could turn to her and ask Hey Maybe What The Hell? But she’s not here, and this is probably all the information he’s going to get (which is more information than this mysterious Gran Torino expects him to have) so there’s really nothing for it. With a shrug at his friend, Izuku walks into the building.

With Rei’s guidance, he finds the ketchup-covered man in question. As it turns out, “lying there covered in ketchup” is… a bit of an understatement.The floor is a mess of spilled food and shattered crockery. The trailing end of the string of sausage links that protrudes out from underneath the man has a passing resemblance to intestines. The whole scene might have made the little old man look eviscerated, if not for the fact that Izuku already knows what actual evisceration looks like.

And he really is a little old man. He’s a lot shorter than Izuku expected, especially if he’s the Gran Torino that All-Might quietly fears, and that Ms. Shimura has been talking up this whole time. In fact, he’s not just short; he’s tiny. Izuku has more than a head and a half on him—or at least he would, if he were standing up.

From this distance, if Izuku squints a bit, he can see the man breathing. “Um. Hello?” he starts. “Are you oka—”

The man’s head shoots up, and he screams. “I’M ALIVE!”

Izuku startles badly enough to drop the case with his costume in it, right as Rei tries to leap into his arms. It doesn’t quite work, and she ends up scrambling up onto his shoulders instead. It takes all of his self-control to stay still while she does that, while also fighting to get his heart rate back to a more reasonable level.

“Um,” he says, as Gran Torino gets to his feet. “Is… is this hazing? Is that what’s going on? Am I being hazed?”

“WHO’RE YOU?” Gran Torino asks, by shouting it in his face.

“Oh, I’m from U.A.,” Izuku answers, relieved that maybe this is moving forward. “I’m Midoriya Izuku.”

“WHAT?” Gran Torino shouts again.

“Midoriya Izuku!” Izuku repeats, enunciating as clearly as he can. Slowly, Rei starts climbing down off of him. “You nominated me, remember?”

“WHO’RE YOU?”

“I’m—”

Either he’s talking too quietly or the man isn’t paying attention, because Gran Torino cuts him off with, “You know, I’m starving. I wanna eat something!” and plops back down in the puddle of ketchup.

Two thoughts occur to him. The first is the recollection that All-Might has not seen this man in years, and a simple logical leap takes him to the fact that if All-Might hasn’t seen him, then Ms. Shimura hasn’t, either. The second is Oh God help him the man is senile. It’s not as much of a shock as it could be; Ms. Shimura did imply that he was getting on in years, and if she hasn’t seen him in a long time, then there’s probably a lot that she doesn’t know about him.

“W-well, okay,” Izuku says. Senile doesn’t mean wrong, nor does it mean useless; it just means he needs a little more creativity and patience than he would have predicted. “That’s fine, but I was actually hoping you could help me. Do you remember nominating me, at least?”

The old man looks him in the eye, frowning as if trying to recall a name. And then he does—recall a name, that is. It isn’t the correct one, but Izuku can’t find it in himself to complain because the name he says is “Toshinori.”

Izuku goes still and silent.


So this is the student that Nana’s little golden boy has taken a shine to. He ain’t much to look at, if Gran Torino is any judge. But then, neither was Toshinori when he first laid eyes on the brat. Of course, even Toshinori was taller than this one. This kid looks soft and doe-eyed, and a drunk monkey could tie a necktie better than that. But mostly he looks like he hasn’t had a proper sleep in at least a week.

On the other hand… there is something to him, something besides the scar on his face and the weird way that the light hits his eyes in the dimness. It’s the sort of something that he wouldn’t have expected Toshinori to pick up on, because it isn’t the same blinding-brightness that Toshinori himself practically sweats. No—this particular ankle-biter has something different.

Maybe it’s the fact that he barely blinked at Torino’s little prank, which could just mean he’s dense, or it could mean he’s too sharp to be fooled by a ketchup puddle and a few sausage links.

…Well. Either way, he can work with that.

The senile act has thrown this kid off balance already—not as much as he’d like, though, so he throws out Toshinori’s name, just to gauge his reaction.

He expects confusion, or at least for the kid to write it off as the ‘dementia’ talking. But instead the kid freezes, and his eyes lose that glazed look of patient confusion. He blinks, and for a split second he looks like he’s seen or heard a ghost.

“Toshi…nori?” the kid echoes, and steps forward with a sharp look in his eye like Gran Torino holds all the answers to his questions—which, let’s face it, he probably does. “Is that his name? Is that All-Might’s name?”

Gran Torino blinks, and the boy steps forward again.

“I have questions for you,” he says. “Lots of them. And someone—well. I’ve been told you can help me. With my power?”

Now they’re getting somewhere. He could still use a little more information on this kid, though—after decades of radio silence from Nana’s brat, he figured asking Toshinori himself was probably a no-go. Torino watches the boy out of the corner of his eye, pretending to ignore him as he turns to the case that the kid dropped earlier. Casually he opens it, and finds a neatly folded green jumpsuit inside. This is his hero costume, from the looks of it. “One For All, huh,” he cackles, and sees the boy’s eyes light up almost literally. “I’d like to see how well you can handle it.”
The eagerness dims then, and if Torino were any judge he’d say the kid was shrinking back a little. “Er, well…”

“You got a nice costume here,” Torino continues, and he does, just judging by a cursory glance. Not too bad, for a Mark 1. “So why don’t you put it on and come at me.” Before the kid can answer, Torino barks out another “WHO ARE YOU?” because it is damn funny to see him jump.

“I can’t control it yet,” the kid answers, and there’s an edge to his voice—ohoho, he’s starting to try the brat’s patience now. “That’s why I came. I need to learn how to deal with these powers, because All-Might doesn’t have much time left.” His hands curl into fists—Torino can see scars on the right one. “Can you help me?”

Torino keeps quiet just long enough to let the boy squirm a little. Then he moves.

His quirk’s just like riding a bike, really. He’s not one to let excess fat grow on his bones, but he imagines that even if he went years without using his power, it would still come back to him like an old friend. In the blink of an eye, he ricochets off the ceiling, walls, and floor—so he’s showing off a little, sue him—and ends up staring down into Midoriya Izuku’s shocked eyes. There’s a grin that Torino can’t keep off his face, and he tosses the facade to the side because they are in business.

“Remains to be seen,” he says, and commits the dumbstruck look on the kid’s face to memory, just in case he ever needs a private chuckle. “Can’t help ya if I’ve got nothing useful to work with. Think you’re big, kid? You’re barely a twinkle in your mother’s eye. Now—if you meant all those pretty words, then get over here and come at me.”

The boy blinks, and his eyes flicker to the side. “A ruse,” he says, like he’s talking to himself. “What is it with teachers and logical ruses? Would it kill them to just say what they mean?”

So, he’s not just a brat—he’s a mouthy brat. In a heartbeat, Torino knocks him off his feet and makes it up to the opposite wall. “I said my bit already, boy,” he says. “You wanna learn a thing or two, or are you all talk?”

When the boy’s eyes meet his, they’re shining with eagerness, lingering confusion, and just a little bit of relief. Those are busy eyes; he looks like he’s not sure what to think, and that suits Torino just fine. Better to keep him guessing. Just for a moment, there’s an almost knowing look in those eyes, like the brat’s got some private joke that he’s not about to share.

“I still have questions for you,” he says.

“That’s nice, boy,” Torino replies. “Tell ya what. I’ll give ‘em a listen once you prove to me you’re worth wastin’ my breath on answers.”

“Fair enough,” the brat says, as his eyes search Torino’s face as if he can find his answers written in the wrinkles. And then he smiles.

Gran Torino takes that smile and locks it away for later, for any future moments where he needs to remind himself that this wide-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears rookie isn’t another Toshinori. ‘Cause Nana’s brat smiles a hell of a lot, but he ain’t hardly ever smiled like that.

Toshinori’s smile is mask and a symbol, an inseparable part of what makes All-Might, All-Might. He puts his smile on like it’s part of his costume.

This kid brandishes it like a weapon.

Chapter Text

Izuku is becoming increasingly familiar with the taste of Gran Torino’s hardwood floors, and he’s not entirely sure how he feels about that.

He would have said mortified, because that was how it felt the first time a tiny old man sent him somersaulting straight into the floor, but it’s happened often enough now that he’s almost numb to it. He certainly doesn’t have to wonder why All-Might was so scared of this guy anymore.

Every trick that Ms. Shimura has shown him thus far, every feint and maneuver that’s gotten him through his previous fights, even the few tricks Todoroki has had the chance to show him, are next to useless against Gran Torino. He even tried a few cheap shots out of desperation, and… well. He’s not in a hurry to make that mistake again.

At least Rei doesn’t look so offended anymore whenever he hits the floor. She’s far too busy laughing at him, the traitor.

“You’re a scrappy little thing, that’s for sure,” Gran Torino remarks at one point, charitably giving Izuku a chance to catch his breath. “But scrappy won’t get you far if you won’t even use your damn quirk.”

“It’s not that simple,” Izuku says, gritting his teeth in frustration. “If I use it, I either break myself or you or both of us, and—” He’s flat on his face again before he can finish the thought.

Recovery Girl’s warnings are fresh in his mind as he focuses his power. He concentrates, remembering how he’d brought it out against Todoroki in the cavalry battle. It hurts, but his arm stays unbroken, and for a moment it looks like he’s finally going to land a proper hit.

Thud.

And there’s the floor again. There’s a lovely dent in the ceiling, though.

“Damn it, boy, if you were any more rigid, I’d paint you neon and use you for a Welcome sign!” Gran Torino tells him.

“Almost had it,” Izuku mutters, trying to hide the fact that the wind has been knocked out of him.

“Don’t flatter yourself, boy.” Gran Torino doesn’t move to let him up. “You’re problem’s plain as day to me. Maybe it is to you too, by now—you’ve stuck All-Might on a pedestal so high you need five stepladders just to reach it. And you’ve stuck your own quirk up there with him, haven’t you?” He leans closer. “You’ve shackled yourself, boy. And until you shake ‘em off, there’s only so much I can do.”

Gran Torino leaves him to chew over his failures (and clean up the mess they’ve made of his living room) and Izuku thinks.

Silently and aloud, he thinks. He’s new to hero training, to having this kind of quirk. But if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s thinking.

And slowly, as the aches fade and Rei lets him bounce ideas off of her, things slowly start to fall into place. He scribbles notes, cudgels his brain back and forth, changes the angle of his thoughts several times. That night, he finds a secluded alley to put his tangled thoughts into practice. He isn't worried; there isn't much crime in this area, and he's always had pretty good night vision. With Rei keeping watch for trouble, he flings himself against the walls, wrestling with the power inside him. It leaves him exhausted and battered the following day—more than usual—and still he has nothing to show for it.

“It ain’t your fault,” Torino tells him, which isn’t really a compliment at all—at best it’s a very charitable comment—but Izuku will take what he can get. “That power always came naturally to All-Might. I’d say that’s why his way of training ain’t working for you.” He barks out a laugh. “His body was all he had going for him. Didn’t stop me from making him spew, back in the day.”

Izuku winces in retroactive sympathy. He hums thoughtfully. “Um… Mr. Torino? Yesterday… I know you were sort of messing with me at the beginning, but you didn’t answer my question.” He hesitates. “Is that his name? Toshinori?”

The old hero considers him for a moment, then shrugs. “Ah, hell. You’ve been workin’ hard, I guess I can give you this one. Yeah. That’s his given name—Toshinori. And you didn’t hear that from—heh. What am I talking about. What do I care if he knows I told ya? I’d like to see him complain!”

They’re interrupted then by a package at the door.

In the end, it takes a microwave and an extremely mundane metaphor for everything to click.

Like a switch, really, if he’s going to be thinking in boring analogies from here on out. His upper limit is still only five percent of his power, but that five percent means a whole lot more if it’s spread evenly to every inch of his body.

How could he have been so dense? This whole time he’s been limiting himself, and limiting his new quirk—only for special occasions, only for certain parts of his body, only as an absolute last resort. But this—this feels right. This feels…

“Can you move like that?” Torino asks him, as One For All courses through him from head to toe.

“Good question,” Izuku grits out through clenched teeth. Too rigid, he thinks, and relaxes his jaw. He feels a cold poke from Rei’s finger on his arm, and carefully turns his head to look at her. “I think so. Maybe.”

Even over the hum of power and the pulse pounding in his ears, Izuku can hear Torino’s knuckles crack. “Would you like me to test that?”

He feels another smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. He wonders how he must look, with his teeth bared and lightning in his veins. “Please do.”

Torino quirks a grin back at him. “If you can maintain that, and still move with One For All coursing through you, that’ll be a pretty big step. So I’ll tell you what, kid.” He takes out a stopwatch. “You said you had questions, didn’t ya? Hold that for three minutes, and I’ll answer one. Anything your little heart desires.” The grin widens. “Land a clean hit on me, and I’ll answer all of ‘em.”


The kid grazes him. Grazes him. Torino dodges like he means it, and he still feels the brat’s knuckles skim against his face. It’s not a clean hit, but it’s something, and that means two things. One, Toshinori’s judgment is maybe a little better than he thought. Two, there may be hope for this kid yet.

They sit down to a breakfast of microwaved taiyaki. Even without looking up, Torino can feel those busy little eyes fixed on him. He sighs.

“Welp. I’m a man of my word. So.” He meets the kid’s eyes. “Pick a question, and ask away.”

Those eyes search his face again, watchful and wary, like their owner isn’t sure whether to believe him. How cagey has Toshinori been with this kid, if a simple offer to answer a question gets a look like that? “Is there anything you won’t talk about?” he asks. “I don’t want to waste a question on an answer you won’t give me.”

“I’ve got thick skin, kid,” Torino says dryly. “I said anything your little heart desires, and I meant it. Hurry up and ask.”

It seems to take a moment for the kid to decide to believe him. Finally, face carefully blank, he asks.

“Who is Shimura Nana?”

The taiyaki crumbles into three pieces in his hand.

What. No—no, that’s impossible. Toshinori never even told this kid his name, so how the hell—?

“You hear that name from All-Might?” Torino asks.

“Well,” the kid says. “He… I…” His hands slowly clench into fists in his lap. “Let’s just say—I don’t think that name was something he meant for me to hear.” He bites his lip. “I don’t know anything about her. I just know she’s important.”

Torino heaves a sigh. Toshinori slipped up, from the sound of it. Spoke her name and the kid overheard. Though Torino has to wonder why Toshinori mentioned her, and to whom. Eh, he was always a mumbler, just like the kid he picked. Might be the death of them someday, if they don’t get a handle on it.

Well. He’s a man of his word.

“She was a good friend of mine,” he says. He has to pause, there. It’s been years. Decades. It doesn’t hurt any less. “A damn good friend. We fought together, back in the day. Couldn’t tell you how many times she saved my life and I saved—” His voice catches. “We had each other’s backs, is what I’m getting at.”

“So she was a hero,” the kid murmurs.

“Huh. You really don’t know anything.” There’s no trace of deception on the kid’s face. “She wasn’t just a hero, kid. She wielded One For All before All-Might did.”

For a moment, he’s half convinced the kid is about to launch himself across the table. “She—what?” He’s gone dead white.

“Yup.”

“But she—I—” He clamps his mouth shut for a few moments, staring down at the table in front of him. His eyes are shining a little too much for it to be anything but tears. “You said she was your friend.”

“I did.”

“…She died, didn’t she.”

“…She did.”

“How—”

“Eat,” Torino says shortly. “Four minutes and you get another question.”

The kid frowns, looks ready to argue with him, but then his eyes soften. It’s all Torino can do not to snap at him for looking like that—like Torino’s somebody who needs his sympathy. “Yes sir.”

This kid has a long couple of days ahead of him.


“How did she die?”

“Killed in the line of duty. Not every hero gets to live long enough to look like me.”


“Do you know any details about… about how she died?”

“…If you want to ask me if I was there, then just say it.”

“…”

“I wasn’t. …No one was.”


“When did she die?”

“Decades ago. Can’t remember the exact year. Only time I ever drank in my life was to forget it.”


“Were she and All-Might close?”

It’s the following day when the kid finally gets to this question. Torino takes a little while longer to answer this one. “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe they might’ve been.”

“What do you mean?” Even looking away, he can feel those wide eyes boring into him, like this kid’s trying to read the answer off his brain cells before Torino has the chance to say it out loud. “Did something… happen between them?”

“No. Nothing happened. That was the whole problem.” Torino meets his stare. “There was never a chance. Kid, did he tell you how he used to know me?”

“He said you were his homeroom teacher, his first year at UA.”

“I sure as hell was,” Torino tells him. “And there’s a reason I was the one training him back then.”

He already knows the kid’s a sharp one. He can see the exact instant that the answer hits home, without any help from him. “You mean…”

Torino heaves a sigh. He’s been doing that a lot in the past couple of days. “I think he was a little younger than you are now, when she died,” he says. “She’d gotten him started, passed the torch, and… well. She dragged a promise out of me, that I’d train him if anything happened to her. Practically made me swear in blood. Sometimes I wonder if she didn’t know she was on her way out.”

The next training bout between them seems extra-vicious, extra-desperate. It seems the kid doesn’t like those answers. By this point Torino is sick of questions and sick of waling on this kid, and sharply aware that he’ll pick up bad habits if he only trains against one person using the same battle tactics.

“I think that’s it for practical training,” he says, as the boy staggers up and wipes his nose. “Any more, and both of us’ll start getting predictable.”

“I think I can keep going, but all right,” the boy says. “So what now, then?”

“What now? It’s time to do what you came here for. On-the-job training, remember?” Torino pushes down the old creeping thoughts and feelings, things that he tried to make himself forget years ago. He shows his teeth in another grin. “Get dressed, kid. We’re gonna do some villain clean-up.”

The boy carefully rolls a crick out of his shoulders. “So soon?” he asks.

“Whaddaya mean, soon?” Torino snorts. “Work experience was the whole point of this from the beginning, remember? You just needed a few days to play catch-up.”

“Right.”

“Hope you’re able to stay awake.”

“Huh?” The boy blinks owlishly at him, and the dark circles under his eyes stand out like bruises.

Torino sighs. “Never mind. Gearup, I’m calling us a cab.”

The kid joins him outside shortly, dressed for work and still looking like he hasn’t slept in weeks. Torino’s starting to wonder if he actively cultivates that look on purpose to throw people off. It hasn’t seemed to slow him down much during combat training. And if Torino weren’t as observant as he is, he would make the mistake of thinking the kid looks too tired to be paying attention. One look at his eyes, especially the way they never waver long from looking at Torino, tells him that thinking like that is the wrong way to go.

It’s… certainly not useless, if the kid’s doing it on purpose. A villain could make that mistake easily, and pay for it. If there’s one thing Torino knows, it’s the value of being underestimated.

“So where are we going?” his pupil asks.

“Heading back to the main Tokyo metropolitan area,” Torino replies. “Because—well. Can you think of why?”

The kid’s eyes narrow in thought. “Well… it’s more urban. More people there than here. It’s the kind of place I used to go to look for hero battles.”

Torino shoots him a glance. “Skirmish chaser, are ya? Why am I not surprised.” He had this kid pegged as a fanboy, but this confirms it.

“I didn’t… have a quirk, before One For All,” the boy replies quietly as the two of them get in the cab. “I figured my best bet for, um, being a hero without one, was figuring out strategies.”

Torino grunts in acknowledgment, chewing over this new bit of information. Toshinori passed the torch to another quirkless kid—also not surprising. “Well, you’re right, more or less. Higher population density means higher crime rate. In places like Shibuya, that means you have skirmishes happening every day of the week.”

“We’re going to Shibuya?”

“Yep.”

“By bullet train?” the boy asks. “For Shinjuku from Koufu, right?”

“That’s the one,” Torino answers. “Why do you ask? Worried about it getting dark?”

“Not really, I have pretty good night vision.” The boy shrugs. “We’ll be passing through Hosu, that's all. One of my friends is there.”

“Well, that’s all fine and good, but you just focus on where you are, got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

Torino regards him for a moment more, but says nothing until they’re getting out of the cab at the train station. “So. Any more questions?”

This gets a startled blink out of his tagalong, before a more thoughtful look crosses his face. “No,” he says at length. “Not for you, anyway.”

Sounds like Toshinori has a proper grilling to look forward to. “I see,” he says. “Makes me wonder why you bothered asking me all of this, instead of the man himself.” He shot a glance toward the kid. “He dodge your questions, or what?”

“Sort of,” the boy says, with a shallow little sigh. “I guess… I get the feeling there’re things he’s not ready to talk about.”

“Some of these ‘things’ are decades old, boy,” Torino told him. “An excuse like ‘not ready’ can only carry you so far.”

“I don’t want to press him,” he says. “I can relate.”

“So you press me instead?”

“I’m sure you could’ve shut me up if you really wanted to.”

Torino leads the way to the appropriate train, shaking his head. Hell, Toshinori. What on earth have you brought me?

As it turns out, the answer to that is “a typical teenager.” The second they’re seated on the train, out comes the smartphone. Torino’s eyes roll heavenward. Kids these days and their texting and memes.

He does look worried about something, frowning down at that bright little screen. Won’t do—Torino needs this brat focused if he hopes to teach him anything useful.

Before Torino has the chance to scold him for getting distracted, the kid’s spine goes ramrod-straight, and he looks around, wide-eyed and startled like he’s heard something. His mouth opens like he’s about to say something, but the train slams into an emergency stop before he has the chance, sending the kid face-first into the seat in front of him. Torino would normally be thoroughly amused by this, but the half-conscious pro hero that comes crashing through the train not three seconds later puts a bit of a damper on things.


There’s a hole in the train.

Izuku can feel the evening breeze wafting into the damaged car. Torino gives him an order, and Izuku forgets it the moment he hears it. Not that it matters—the old hero doesn’t stick around long enough to enforce it anyway.

“Rei,” he hisses through clenched teeth. “Find Iida. Now.”

Her dark hair billows in a breeze of her own making, and she vanishes from his side without a sound. Izuku braces himself at the gaping hole in the train, pays no mind to the hapless employee shouting at him, and launches himself out into empty space.


There are quite a few things that Iida Tensei regrets.

He regrets not kissing his mother goodbye, that last day. He’d been in a hurry, with the Hero Killer on his mind, and he hadn’t thought he’d need to.

He regrets walking into that alley alone, with no backup and no one knowing he was there.

He regrets not fighting harder.

He regrets giving up, letting himself slip away on the cold, dirty ground with a slashed spine and blood in his eyes, before he could give his mother that kiss or tell Tenya to inherit his name.

And now, he regrets letting Midoriya Izuku walk away in the train station, instead of dragging him back to Tenya and saying Something is wrong, I don’t know what, please help me fix this.

He’d misread his little brother. He’d misread everything—willfully so, even. Maybe he knew, deep down, what was going through Tenya’s head. Maybe he knew exactly what was happening, and he’d been simply unwilling to accept that Tenya would really do something like that.

He’s just in it for the general experience. No one’s better for that than Manual.

He misses you. He’s upset and hurting. He’s finally taking Mom’s advice and Midoriya’s advice and taking the time he needs to heal.

But it’s not until the hero Manual turns to Tenya and says, “This is kind of awkward to ask, but… you’re after the Hero Killer, aren’t you?” that Tensei realizes just how badly he’s screwed up, how absurdly he’s fooled himself.

He’s an idiot. They’re in Hosu. Tenya picked one of the most boring options for training. He’s not taking it easy—since when has Tenya ever taken anything easy in his life?

What the hell else would he be doing here?!

Tensei has only a few minutes to panic and wonder before everything promptly goes to hell. There are creatures everywhere—those staring empty things, Noumu—villains are attacking, Hosu is in chaos, and Tenya slips away in the confusion.

“Don’t.” He trails after his little brother, pleading with him as if that’s going to make a difference. “Tenya, please go back. Don’t go looking for him. Don’t make that mistake.”

His words fall on deaf ears.

The dead are what give it away, in the end. Men like Stain are never as alone as they think they are, not with their victims always following, always watching. The other seventeen don’t have little brothers to watch over, so they follow their killer, waiting for the day that he can finally see them and hear them. Tensei hears them before Tenya reaches the alley. He hears their shouts, their warnings, their desperate urging and cursing. Stain must have found another victim.

If Tensei doesn’t do something, he’s about to find another.

“Tenya, stop this.” He stands in his little brother’s path, for all the good that will do. “I don’t want this. You know I don’t want this—”

Tenya walks through him as if he isn’t even there.

Tensei doesn’t recognize the hero that Stain is poised to kill. It’s selfish, but he barely sees them—he barely sees the seventeen pale figures that surround Stain and watch and wait. His little brother’s voice is ringing raw against the close walls of the alley, and Tensei’s desperate hands pass through him like mist.

Please!” His voice is useless, almost drowned out by Tenya’s challenge. “Tenya, please! Don’t do this! You can’t fight him—just run!”

Stain shrugs his little brother off, knocking back his furious attacks with open contempt. His blades hum through the air, and Tensei hasn’t had a pulse for over a week but he can feel his heart in his throat.

“I know you,” one of the dead heroes whispers. “You’re Ingenium, right? We were wondering when you were gonna show up. Thought you’d maybe moved on.” Sad, blank eyes turn back to his struggling brother. “Guess you had somebody else to look out for, huh?”

Tenya loses his helmet in the scuffle, and the other ghosts wince at his young face.

“Poor kid.”

“Not long now.”

One of the dead heroes nudges her neighbor. “Hey, you’re good with kids, aren’t you? Think you can calm him down when he joins us?”

“I’ll try. They never train you for this.”

“He’s still alive!” Tensei snaps. Terror makes his temper short. “Don’t just write him off—he isn’t dead yet!”

The first hero that spoke to him looks at him with a face filled with sympathy. “How much of a chance do you think he stands?”

“One cut, and it’s over.”

Tensei’s eyes burn with tears.

Tenya is speaking again. “I got some advice from a friend,” he says. “He told me to do something useful. Something helpful. Something that matters to someone.” His hands curl into fists. “I can’t think of anything that matters more than this.”

“Damn it, no!” Tensei shouts. “That wasn’t what he meant, and you know it!”

“But you aren’t doing this to be useful, now, are you?” Stain drawls. His voice sends chills like crawling insects up Tensei’s back. “Otherwise you would have saved him already, don’t you think?” He nods toward the injured hero, whose murder Tenya interrupted.

“I’m here for my brother,” Tenya snarls. “Do you remember him, Hero Killer? You murdered him just a week ago.” Tensei has never seen his brother shake with rage before. “They said you ran off like a coward, and left him to die.”

“Thought you looked familiar.” Stain’s tongue flicks to one side. “Yeah, I remember him. It was nothing personal, you know. I wasn’t even trying to kill him.”

Tensei goes still.

“I meant to leave him alive. To fuel rumors. I figured he had backup coming anyway—imagine my surprise when no one came.” Tensei trembles, and he remembers sticky blood and cold brick and creeping darkness in his head. “Must’ve come after me on his own—another fake hero hoarding all the glory for himself. People like that always get what they deserve, in the end. I’m just here to help it along.”

“Shut up!” Tenya’s shout ricochets off the walls like a bullet.

“Tenya, don’t listen to him!” Tensei voice cracks, raw with desperation. “He’s baiting you—don’t fall for it! Just run away! Just this once! You have to live!”

But Tenya can’t hear him. Tensei wonders if Tenya would care even if he could.

“The hero Ingenium.” His little brother speaks the name in a snarl. Stain’s eyes narrow in amusement. “That was the name of the hero you killed. And it’s the name of the hero who’s going to take you down.”

Until this point, Tensei has been frozen in horror, feet rooted to the spot. But the sound of that name—of his name, now Tenya’s—changes that. He wants to stay—he can’t leave Tenya, not like this. But staying… staying means doing nothing. Staying means waiting for his little brother to die, watching it happen, letting it happen—

And he can’t. God help him, he can’t.

But if he leaves—if Tenya dies, and he’s not there—

One of the dead heroes sees his struggle, sees the way he looks desperately toward the streets beyond this alley. “Got somewhere to be, Ingenium?”

“I—I can’t leave him.” Not here, not with that monster. “He’s my little brother—he’ll die—”

“He’ll die if you stay, too.” The hero who tells him this speaks in a rasp, his throat laid open. “Not like you can do anything for him now.”

And that’s what does it, for Tensei. That’s what gives him the strength—or weakness—to turn away from Stain, turn his back on Tenya, and move.

It barely occurs to him that there may be no point to all this. It barely even enters into his mind that Midoriya’s assignment was nowhere near Hosu, and this could all be for nothing, and Tenya could die all alone while he’s gone.

Because there’s a chance. As long as Midoriya Izuku exists, there is a chance that he can get the message to someone and maybe, just maybe, he won’t have to regret letting his baby brother die all alone in an alley like he did.

The streets of Hosu are a battleground, battered by heroes’ quirks and torn apart by disfigured monsters. Evening darkens overhead, lit by city lights and spreading fires. Heedless, Tensei flies through it. Not long ago, he would have joined the fighting, thrown himself into protecting civilians and beating back the creatures that threaten them. But he is not a hero anymore—just a dead man who has nothing left to fear but seeing his family follow him too soon.

The living scream, the dead wail, and Tensei pitches his voice above the rest, calling the name of his brother’s friend. Maybe someone will hear. Maybe the dead will hear, and pass the message along—find Midoriya Izuku—find the only person in the world who can hear us—

A scream rends the air.

At least, “scream” is the best word Tensei can guess for it. Most human throats could never make a sound like that, quirk or no quirk. Tensei turns toward it, wavering, and finds himself looking at a black hole writhing in the middle of the street.

No one, dead or alive, will go near it—only those twisted creatures, Noumu, don’t seem to mind. The blackness thrashes, ever shifting like a living, angry thing.

Villain, Tensei thinks. Or Noumu. Some terrifying, destructive quirk, sending fear like driven nails into even Tensei’s dead heart.

Except he’s wrong. In the next instant the darkness shifts, and Tensei sees the very heart of it. He sees a pale face, and a child’s white nightdress.

Not living. Not angry. Dead, surrounded by Noumu and very, very frightened.

Tensei is frightened, too. The creatures are frightening, Stain is frightening, and Rei herself is frightening. But even if his heart no longer beats, even if his title of hero ended the moment his life did, there are some things that simply will not die. And deep in Tensei’s heart the desire remains, ever-burning and strong.

When faced with a lost, frightened child, Iida Tensei will never walk away.

Deafened by her screaming, Tensei plunges into the darkness and finds the little girl at its heart. He gathers her in his arms and carries her away, even as she twists and struggles and claws at him.

“It’s all right! It’s all right. It’s just me. Tensei, remember? You know me. You were teaching me how to sign.” He spells her name with his hands, and she stills in his arms. “I need your help, Rei. Where is Midoriya?” She squirms again until she’s free of him and facing him. Desperate hope fills him at the sight of her. He can feel himself fraying at the edges, torn apart by fear and worry and guilt, and he fights to keep himself together. “Is he close? Rei, please—please take me to him. It’s Tenya. He’s in danger—he’ll die—”

She makes no sound, but grabs his hand and yanks.

What else can he do now, but follow?


Izuku has next to nothing to go on. Iida hasn’t answered his messages since they last parted ways at the train station, two days ago. All he knows is that Iida is somewhere in this ward, and Stain’s victims always show up in alleys.

Well that’s useful, isn’t it. How many alleys could one city possibly have?

The ghosts won’t answer him. They’re too busy watching the carnage, or running from it out of some leftover sense of self-preservation that they don’t need anymore. At this point his only hope is Rei, and maybe, if he can find him—

Midoriya!

Or, Izuku thinks with a leaping heart, Tensei will find him.

His relief dies as quickly as it comes, when Tensei’s scream reaches him again. Iida’s brother catches up to him as he ducks into yet another empty alley, and when Izuku turns to greet him, he finds icy fingers clawing at him, driving him back against the wall. Rei is with him, her black eyes wild.

Tensei… doesn’t look like Tensei anymore. He looks like what Izuku imagines the hero Ingenium looked like, on the day he died. The armor is there—not sleek and polished chrome like it ought to be, but dented, grimy, and torn open. Everyone in Tokyo knows that distinctive helmet—few have ever seen it like this, caved in as if with a blade or an axe, smeared with blood around the slits nearest the mouth.

The sound of Ingenium’s breath rattles harshly in Izuku’s ears. It’s only through years of practice listening to voices like this that he can even understand the words.

Save him.”

The brick wall is cold against his back. His blood feels colder. “Iida?”

Stain—in an alley—he’s alone!” The helmet falls away, and Tensei’s ruined face chokes on blood as the ghost pleads with him. “I left him alone—he’ll kill him—help me!

“Show me where,” Izuku chokes out.

Fear is an old friend, but he has never known terror like this. With One For All coursing through him, he chases Tensei through the ravaged streets, ignoring heroes and villains alike. He may as well be deaf and blind, trailing after his friend’s dead brother as he drowns in fear and runs.

The Hero Killer killed Tensei, and now he has Iida, and how much time has been lost? How long has Tensei been looking for him? How long would it take for Ingenium’s murderer to kill Iida?

Stain left him in an alley to die, like he was trash. Tensei died all alone, waiting and waiting for someone to help, but nobody came.

How long has Iida been waiting?

I’m coming, Izuku thinks as his eyes sting and his lungs burn. It’s not going to be like that, because I’m coming. I’m coming I’m coming I’m coming Iida hold on just stay alive hold on keep breathing don’t die don’t die don’t die!

He’s slow. Damn it, he’s so slow!

He chases Tensei’s back, and his terror makes him see Iida’s back instead—pale, washed out, bloody and spectral, blank white eyes, just one more dead face among thousands—

I won’t let it happen. I’m coming.

“There!”

They reach the alley, and Izuku sees the hunched figure of Stain standing poised over over a crumpled motionless body on the ground. His world goes red.

When it comes back, he stands on his own two feet, one fist smarting, and realizes two things as he faces the Hero Killer.

The first is that the alley is crowded.

Tensei and Rei are beside him or behind him, out of his line of vision, but of course the Hero Killer would be surrounded by ghosts. Izuku counts seventeen in all. Some of them are faces he recognizes from news reports, others are unknown to him. Some of them wear the wounds they died with, others do not. The one thing they have in common is death, at the hands of the sole living man who stands before him.

And Izuku’s eyes well up to the brim with tears, because the second thing he realizes is that Iida is not among them.

He’s almost afraid to look over his shoulder, but this is a fear that he is used to. Trembling, he forces his head to turn so that he can look down at the figure lying on the ground.

Iida stares back at him, wide-eyed and motionless and very much alive.

His eyes spill over.

No, not yet. He’s still in danger.

You’re both in danger now.

“Midoriya,” Iida’s voice is hoarse, as if he’s been yelling—has he been calling for help? “You—how?

Izuku faces forward again, and finds the Hero Killer watching him through narrowed eyes. Izuku meets his gaze in the dim light from a far-off street lamp, and he could swear he sees a look of surprise flash across Stain's face, but it's brief enough that it could just be his imagination. “It’s okay, Iida,” he hears himself say. It’s not true in the slightest, but Izuku is no stranger to lying. “I won’t let him kill you.”

“Midoriya,” Iida growls, and Izuku has never heard his friend sound like that. “You need to get out of here, now!

Stain cocks his head, almost birdlike in his curiosity. “Huh. You must be the friend he mentioned.”

“You must be the Hero Killer,” Izuku says, trying to match the Hero Killer’s frigid composure.

“The one who told him… what was it?” Stain’s tone is light and thoughtful. “Be useful? Do something that matters? That’s what he told me, before he attacked.”

Izuku feels cold. “W-what?”

“Go!” Iida shouts at him. “Don’t get involved! This is my fight!”

But Izuku does not. He doubts he could even if he wanted to, because now he can’t stop shaking.

It ought to be fear that makes him shake, but it isn’t. Fear is for keeping him out of danger, and since he’s already in danger, it’s useless to him. So instead, it hardens and twists up inside him until it feels less like fear and more like anger. He takes in a breath that hisses through grinding teeth.

“Can you move, Iida?” he asks. “We can make it back out to the main street if we’re quick.”

It takes his friend a moment to answer. “No. It must be his quirk—Midoriya, just go.”

“He cuts you, Midoriya,” Tensei whispers. “Whatever happens, don’t let his blades touch you.”

“Wait, he can see us?” one of the dead heroes murmurs.

“Get out of here, kid!” another shouts to him. “Get help!”

“I can’t,” Izuku says out loud.

“Yes you can!” Iida yells. “I told you, this has nothing to do with you!”

Tension grips his shoulders, running from his clenched teeth to his clenched hands.

“If you’re going to talk,” he grits out, at Iida or at the dead heroes crowding the alley. “Then tell me something I can use.”

“It’s not just cutting!” another hero pipes up. “He swallows the blood! That’s how he gets you!”

“I don’t want you rescuing me!” Iida yells. “This is my fight! Do you understand me? He killed my brother!”

And it happens again—the anger wells up and turns his thoughts black. It makes him cruel. “If you don’t want me rescuing you,” he says, in a quiet voice that chills even him. “Then you can come over and stop me whenever you feel like it.”

Iida goes quiet. Stain laughs out loud. The blade in the murderer’s hands twitches as if it has life and eagerness of its own. “You see what I have to deal with,” he says. “I have a duty to kill these men.” Izuku blinks, looks further into the alley, and sees another hero sitting slumped—wounded but alive—against the wall. Stain steps forward, tongue flicking out as if tasting the air. “If you wish to stand in my way, then so be it. The weak shall be culled either way. So what will it be?”

Izuku curses himself silently. He should have found a pro to come with him, instead of rushing in blindly like a fool. Even if it was hard to explain, he could have come up with some excuse or lie. Too little too late, now.

Buy time, he thinks. Buy time, and call for help. He slips his phone out of its pouch, behind his back. He knows that screen like the back of his hand.

“Stop it!” Iida shouts at him again, and the ugly anger roils and twists within him, threatening to throw him off. “Run away, Midoriya! I told you, this has nothing to do with you!”

“Hey Iida,” he says, with a level of calm that he does not feel. “If you’re still looking for ways to be helpful, you can stop talking any time.”

“Midoriya—!”

His head whips around, eyes scalding with unshed tears. He can almost see the words die in his friend’s throat as he spits out his anger like venom. “I said shut the fuck up, Iida.

A low chuckle reaches his ears, and he turns his burning eyes back to Stain. “Very well, then. I won’t say no to another sacrifice.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Izuku replies, and his voice is calm but cold. The cajoling and affability that he used with Shigaraki will be useless here; this is no man-child that will bend an ear to flattery. This is a murderer with an agenda. “You’ve got no good reason to kill anyone in this alley.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Stain answers coldly. “I don’t expect a kid like you to understand what I have to do. This world is rotten with false heroes that are only in it for the paycheck, or the spotlight, and yet the people treat them as idols. It’s time they learned what true heroes ought to look like.”

As Stain talks, Izuku takes the time to send his message and palm his phone back into his pocket. “What, like you?” he asks. He looks for Rei, but she’s vanished from the alley.

Another laugh. “No. I’m the necessary evil—I cull the weak and the greedy, until only the worthy remain. Selfless heroes, who follow All-Might’s path. Who aren’t slaves to their own egos. Those are the only heroes worth existing.”

“Yeah, I don’t really care,” Izuku answers.

The alley goes dead-quiet. Iida is silent. Even the ghosts say nothing.

Stain’s eyes bore into him. “What?”

“I don’t actually care about why you’re doing this,” Izuku replies, and suddenly it’s a fight to keep the trembling out of his voice. “It doesn’t really matter to me, because… from what I can parse out, what you’re doing is killing people who save lives, just because you don’t like their reasons for saving lives.”

“Ah… A hero fan, are you?” Stain’s blistering scorn lashes at him. “A bright-eyed up-and-comer who thinks they can do no wrong. So naive.”

I’m naive?” slips out before Izuku can stop it. His fists ache. “Y-You’re imagining a world where all heroes are perfect and never do anything for their own reasons! How is that not naive?”

“That’s what separates the real heroes from the rest of these pathetic phonies!” Stain snarls. “A proper ‘hero’ doesn’t act for his own benefit.”

“Why not? You do.” Izuku can tell he’s starting to get under Stain’s skin. He’s not sure if that’s a good thing or not. “Take now, for instance. You benefit from doing this because you get to pat yourself on the back without actually doing anything helpful.”

“...What.”

“I said you’re full of shit,” Izuku says, a little louder.

“You little brat!” Stain snarls, but Izuku almost doesn’t hear it over the sound of ghostly laughter echoing in the narrow alley.

“Midoriya, get out of here!” Iida’s voice has turned from angry to pleading.

“Your reasons don’t make any sense to me. Sorry.” His hands curl into fists again, and he meets Stain’s eyes with a heated glare. “You talk like having selfish reasons makes people evil, but saving lives will always be a pure good.”

The dead heroes' eyes are all on him. His voice cracks, but he forges ahead.

“And anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter who they are, or where they’re from, or what they’ve done, or why they’re doing it." The shaking stills. He looks at each pale, white-eyed face surrounding the Hero Killer, and stands as tall as he can. "All they have to do is say ‘no.’ All they have to do is say, ‘This is wrong.’” His lips pull back, and it feels more like baring his teeth than smiling. “Anyone. Even thieves and bullies and liars and cowards.”

He steps forward again, directly between Iida and the Hero Killer.

His eyes are dry.

“So this is me, saying ‘no,’" Izuku says. He faces the Hero Killer and braces himself to fight, praying that his message will reach someone. "So help me, if you lay another hand on them, I will break it.”

Stain’s eyes widen. The grin on his face shows a few more teeth than before. “Well. You might just be worth keeping alive after all.”


My little brother needs help, he needs help, he’s in danger he needs help help help HELP HELP

There’s no one else, only ghosts, only enemies only monsters

black monsters with rolling eyes and they can’t feel I can’t feel I dig deep, deeper, and deeper but there is nothing on the surface and nothing below and they are full of nothing nothing n o t h i n g

Someone! Anyone! He called for help! He called for help, he called EVERYONE for help but

nobody came

nobody answered

please

somebody

anybody


There!

There he is! I’ve found him! I know him! My little brother knows him! He was cold before but now they’re friends and he

He sees it. He sees my little brother’s call for help. He’s stopped.

Yes! Read it! Answer him!

Help him!

He won’t. He doesn’t know. He’s taking too long! My little brother will die if he takes too long! Hurry up!

I reach in. He does not hide behind the cold anymore and I feel it—worry confusion heart pounding why why why what does this mean what is he trying to say—

He’s saying he needs help, stupid! He’s asking for help!

i dig deeper, claw through fog, past the confusion and the what-why-where until—there!

There’s worry and worry means fear, it means there’s danger everywhere, what does this message mean, what if he’s there, what if he’s in trouble what if he needs help what if he gets hurt what if he dies what if what if what if—

I grab his fear before it can get away.

I pull.


The message is a perplexing one, to say the very least. It’s practically nothing, just an address not far from where Shouto is now. He stares at his phone, confused—why would Midoriya send this to him? The city is a battleground, so why—?

Is there something here?

Is he asking to meet up?

Is he—

What if—

All at once, his thoughts slam to a halt, and the fog of confusion is ripped to shreds in his mind. Shouto stops in his tracks, nearly dropping his phone as he chokes on perfectly good air and fights against the bile creeping up his throat. Fear is a familiar thing. With a father like Endeavor, it is never far away. But this fear—it’s not the kind that makes him freeze, or that makes him want to turn and run. No, the pulse in his ears is like thunder as his heart sends terror pounding through his veins, chasing every other thought from his head until a single question remains.

What if he’s in trouble?

“Shouto, pay attention!” Terror walls him off from his father’s voice. “Stop looking at your phone and look at me!”

And in the end, he does turn and run, but not to flee. Without another thought, Shouto whips around, points himself in the direction of the address in Midoriya’s message, and flies. His feet pound the pavement, leaving hot asphalt and patches of frost wherever they touch. Fear sends icy claws spidering up and down his spine, far colder than his quirk could ever hope to be.

He doesn’t know what he’s running toward. He only knows that there is danger everywhere, villains and Noumu and rampant destruction, but none of it is more terrifying than the thought of his friend in trouble.

Chapter Text

 

Izuku would be lying if he said he wasn’t unsure of himself, with Rei gone. She’s always been by his side whenever he’s in a pinch, but now she’s vanished. There are other ghosts here too, but none of them are her. And besides—in a close alley like this, they could end up being a disadvantage. It’s crowded for Izuku, but not for Stain.

“Midoriya.” Iida’s voice is quiet, but it still sends a jolt of anger and hurt spiking through Izuku until his fists clench.

Later, he thinks. Deal with that later.

Out loud he says, “Don’t get in the way.” It probably hurts Iida to hear him say that, but Izuku’s eyes are on the dead. Their spectral forms shift, and the eighteen ghosts move to give him room.

Before Stain makes a move, Izuku calls One For All into his body and launches himself forward. Full Cowl. It’s nice to have a proper attack now—one that he can use freely. Stain’s blade flashes out, and Izuku ducks beneath it.

Don’t get cut. One cut and it’s over.

Speed is key here; for all his talk, he knows that simply stonewalling Stain won’t work. He’s no All-Might; he can’t shut down attacks with raw power. No, if he’s going to get himself, Iida, and the injured hero through this alive, then he has to be fast enough, and smart enough.

“Watch your left arm!” the hero with the slashed throat warns.

Izuku jerks his arm away and twists, narrowly avoiding a cut. His teeth clench in a tense grin. Having eighteen spectators on his side doesn’t hurt.

Stain is fast, and it’s all Izuku can do to keep up. But that’s all right, isn’t it? It’s not like he expects to take down the Hero Killer himself. He just needs to keep up, keep his attention, and keep from getting cut, long enough for help to arrive.

Someone has to come.

Stain’s blade hums dangerously close to his face again, and Izuku dodges it. But it’s a feint; while Izuku is busy worrying about the blades, Stain lashes out with his free hand and slams Izuku face-first into the alley wall.

Stars explode in his vision, and Izuku shoves off the wall and blinks them away just in time to see Stain lunging for Iida again.

“No!” It’s a stupid move, what he does next. He keeps low and dives between Stain’s legs, ready to get between him and Iida again if that’s what it takes. Skidding to a halt, he whips back around and braces himself for Stain’s attack.

Only Stain isn’t attacking; in the time it takes for Izuku to turn and face him, Stain has returned to the very spot where Izuku was standing just seconds before. The Hero Killer reaches out, fingertips brushing the wall.

“Shit—Midoriya, stop him!” It’s Tensei who cries out, galvanizing Izuku into a desperate lunge before he even knows what he needs to stop Stain from doing.

He’s mid-step, his balance off, when his limbs suddenly lock. It’s only then that he registers the warm trickle down his face.

He’d bloodied his nose against the wall.

A split second before Izuku hits the ground, he sees Stain finish licking blood from his fingers. Petrified, he rolls over from his own momentum until he’s crumpled on his side, looking back at Iida with wide eyes.

No.

“No.” Tensei echoes his thoughts in a small voice.

A shadow falls across him. Stain steps over him, smooth and nonchalant as a cat. Izuku strains against his invisible bonds, but his body won’t respond.

“Stop.” He can still speak, for all the good that does. “Stain—don’t. This won’t prove anything—you can’t—”

“So hasty,” Stain says. “That’s your trouble. If you’d only slowed down, you would have found them peacefully.” He glances over his shoulder and meets Izuku’s eyes briefly. “Now you get to watch.”

“Don’t.” His voice shakes. He’s never done this before—never watched a ghost be made. He doesn’t want to see that. He doesn’t want to see Iida like that—not yet, not ever. “He won’t prove anything. We’re not even heroes—not yet.”

“Midoriya, stop,” Iida grits out.

“Casualties in every war,” Stain says grimly. “That is the way of the world. It’s for the best. Better to end such a tainted dream before it can be fulfilled.”

“Iida, move.” Izuku feels tears coming again, burning their way out of his eyes. “You have to move—there has to be a limit to his quirk, you have to try—”

The blade thrusts downward. Izuku hears Tensei scream.

And then the alley lights up, red-gold and blinding.

When Izuku’s sight comes back to him, and the colored spots have faded from his vision, the fire has driven Stain away from Iida before his blade could touch him. Rei is crouching over Izuku, her hair brushing against his face.

At the mouth of the alley, flames trail from Todoroki’s outstretched fingertips, while ice forms on the right side of his face. His eyes are on Stain, flickering briefly to Izuku. There’s something in them that Izuku hasn’t seen before—something very close to fear. In spite of that, his voice is steady—casual, even.

“You couldn’t have been more specific?”

Sorry, Rei adds. He took too long. I made him hurry.

“Todoroki?” Iida gapes at their classmate. “What—how?”

“Midoriya, Iida,” Todoroki says quietly, stepping further into the alley. “Are you injured?”

“No.” Iida sounds reluctant. “But we can’t move.”

“It’s his quirk,” Izuku answers through grinding teeth. “If he swallows your blood, it paralyzes you. Don’t let him cut you.”

Todoroki nods. “Noted.” His right hand sweeps forward, and a wave of ice ripples across the pavement.

Izuku doesn’t relax—far from it. But something in his chest settles. Todoroki stands a far better chance of evading Stain’s power than he does. It’s not just that he’s objectively a better fighter; he’s a long-range fighter, and he can keep Stain at bay with fire and ice without risking getting cut.

With that settled, Izuku focuses on trying to move again.

No quirk is the end-all be-all. There’s always a limit, always a downside, always a weakness or an opening somewhere. Rei, ever helpful, give him a sharp slap to the back of the head, but—no. It’s not like Shinsou’s quirk.

A time limit, maybe?

Stain is fast—much faster than Izuku was, when he was fighting Todoroki. He’s swift and well-armed, with eighteen murdered heroes to speak for his skill in a fight. Todoroki’s quirk is powerful, but lopsided. He isn’t used to his fire, and in a narrow space like this, he can’t brute-force his way to victory without risking the safety of everyone else here.

Izuku grinds his teeth until his head hurts, as he watches Stain dodge another focused barrage of ice. He hasn’t even broken a bone yet, and he’s already a liability right out of the gate. Splintering ice coupled with the heat from Todoroki’s left side throw up a mist, and for a moment Izuku’s view of the fight is hazy—and so is Shouto’s.

Rei shrieks in fury, and one of the dead heroes cries out. “He’s going for his knives! Kid, warn your friend!”

Izuku’s heart goes to this throat, and it’s a miracle he manages to speak through it. “Todoroki, he has throwing knives!” he yells.

He’s a second too late; two knives come sailing through the settling mist, just as Todoroki responds to his warning. A wide pillar of ice bursts from the ground at his feet, catching one of the knives before it can reach him. The other clatters to the ground behind him, and the alley echoes with Todoroki’s cry of pain.

Izuku’s heart lurches. Blood trickles down Todoroki’s right arm, and he clutches at the wound with his left.

“No!” Iida’s not far from where Izuku lies, straining against the paralysis. “Damn it—” His eyes are wild and desperate as they turn to Izuku. “Why did you call him here?” he hisses through clenched teeth.

“Iida.” The black anger rises in his chest, making his voice shake. He knows, he knows, and he didn’t mean for this to happen, he didn’t mean for Todoroki to come alone. That was why he sent the message to everyone.

“No one else was supposed to get involved! No one else was—”

“Don’t let him near the knife!” Izuku yells, forcing his attention back to Todoroki.

“I know.” Todoroki grits his teeth. He can’t even stop to bind his wound, because Stain doesn’t give him that chance.

In the next moment he moves—though not toward Todoroki. Stain’s eyes are fixed on Izuku as he lunges, blade raised. He’s already close; Izuku and Iida are further into the alley, while Todoroki stands at its entrance.

As the Hero Killer flies toward him, Izuku’s brain makes a few rapid-fire observations.

Stain is much closer to him than Todoroki is.

Todoroki isn’t used to his fire yet, especially in an enclosed space like this.

With his right arm wounded, his aim with ice might be off, and he can’t direct it with his foot without hurting Izuku.

A long range attack isn’t going to save him.

Izuku sees ice forming at Todoroki’s right foot—not to attack but to propel—and he sees both Todoroki’s intentions and Stain’s plan.

Stain pulled the same thing with him, didn’t he?

“Don’t!” he yells, desperately. “It’s a trap—he’s drawing you in—”

But he can’t know whether or not it’s a bluff, and neither can Todoroki. He can’t know that Stain won’t follow through if Todoroki doesn’t give him what he wants.

Todoroki launches himself into the alley, fire already blazing at his left arm. Stain is fast, but Todoroki is faster, and the Hero Killer is forced to leave off attacking Izuku to defend himself. The flames turn Izuku’s vision to colored spots again, and when they die down, Stain is nowhere near him.

“Knife—” Izuku warns, and Todoroki is already racing back toward the mouth of the alley.

Stain gets there first, snatching the bloodied knife off the ground. His tongue flicks out—

Todoroki falls, limbs locked in place, a few feet from where Stain stands. Iida’s wordless cry sends needles into Izuku’s heart.

“Todoroki, was it?” Stain’s voice is as slick as oil. “Ahh, you must be Endeavor’s boy.” Todoroki spits a curse. “Now this is a privilege.”

Izuku feels his spine go taut.

“Like begets like, after all,” Stain says. “Perhaps this is good practice, for when I can finally destroy your bastard father.” The blade at his side twitches, and begins to lift.

(Izuku sees Todoroki limp and bloody and still, Todoroki faded and spectral with white eyes, a corpse on the ground, ghost number nineteen, Izuku called for help and he came running—)

The paralysis shatters like glass, and Izuku launches himself through the air. It’s a perfectly straight line, from the ground to Stain, and Izuku never thought that impact could feel so right, but there’s a grim satisfaction in how he slams shoulder-first into Stain’s gut that he’ll maybe stop to worry about later. The angle of it sends Stain slamming into the wall by the mouth of the alley, and as Izuku crouches over Todoroki he feels his eyes burn.

“You okay?” He keeps his eyes fixed on Stain as the latter gets back to his feet.

“Fine.” Is Todoroki staring at him? Izuku’s eyes are on Stain but he can feel Todoroki staring at him. “How’d you break free?”

“Good question.” It can’t be his own desperation or anger that let him break free, as much Izuku would like to think so. If it had been that simple, then he would have broken free when Stain threatened Iida.

“Look out!” The cry comes from… someone. Iida—Tenya or Tensei, Izuku isn’t sure—or one of the crowd of watching ghosts. He sees Stain hurtling toward them again, and doesn’t stop to think. Calling on One For All, he grabs Todoroki by the back of his combat vest and launches both of them out of the way of Stain’s attack.

“Sorry,” he mutters, teeth gritted. His own pulse is deafening. “I’m sorry. I thought more people would show up, or that they wouldn’t come alone.”

“Not your fault,” Todoroki replies. In spite of the dire situation, he sounds almost sheepish. “I might’ve panicked a little. I’m usually better about that.”

“Still don’t know how I got free,” Izuku murmurs. “Iida and that other hero were frozen before I got here. Can’t be a time limit… I don’t think I did anything…”

“It all comes down to luck, doesn’t it?” Stain drawls. The end of his blade scrapes against the wall. “It’s rarely character or actual worth. It all comes down to luck. Luck of birth. Of parentage.” He spits the last word with a poisonous glare at Todoroki.

Todoroki’s anger takes the form of a sharp hiss of breath. Izuku’s jaw clenches until it creaks, and only out of habit does he force the corners of his mouth upward before turning his bared teeth back to Stain. He remembers Okumura, twisted and contorted beyond any semblance of humanity, blaming Todoroki for Endeavor just like this murderer is doing.

He feels fire in his eyes and steel in his heart, feels his veins flood with ice water as he smiles at Stain with white, white teeth.

The blade hums, and Izuku ducks beneath it a split second before slamming elbow-first into Stain’s ribs. He tries not to feel too satisfied at the quiet retching noise. He follows it up with another blow in the same spot, not wanting to give Stain the time to recover and react. The Hero Killer falls back, rolling with impact until he lands in a crouch. He flings a knife, which Izuku dodges easily, only for Stain to charge again while he’s off balance.

Jump!” At the sound of Todoroki’s voice, Izuku doesn’t think; he just does. One For All launches him upward, just as ice bursts forth in a wave beneath him. Stain barely gets out of the way in time.

Springboarding off the walls, Izuku manages to land further back, closer to where Iida and Todoroki lie. Except Todoroki is on his feet now, hand outstretched, no longer paralyzed. Izuku blinks at him, astonished, and the look Todoroki gives him is equally nonplussed.

“Did you do something?” Izuku asks as he turns back to Stain.

“No. The paralysis lifted on its own, I’m sure of it.” Todoroki stands by him, still bleeding from his arm. Izuku finds himself breathing easier.

“I was the first to be paralyzed,” a new voice speaks up. It’s the still-living hero, Stain’s original victim, sitting slumped against the wall. “I still can’t move.”

“What do we have in common, then?” Izuku asks, half to himself. “What makes us different from them?”

Todoroki sends ice rippling toward Stain again, keeping him at bay while they regroup. Izuku wracks his brain—quirk type? Physical condition? Amount of blood ingested?—when Todoroki’s left hand closes on his arm. “Midoriya,” he says. “What’s your blood type?”

Blood type. “I’m Type O,” Izuku says. “You?”

“Same.” Todoroki turns his head. “Iida?”

“I’m… Type A,” Iida answers.

“I’m B,” the injured hero says.

“Might be it, then.” Izuku purses his lips thoughtfully. “Doesn’t help us much, though.”

“Clever you.” Stain’s chuckle rings out. “You have it right—blood type affects how long my quirk holds you in place. Not that it’ll do you much good.”

In spite of Stain’s menace, Izuku stands unshaken, shoulder to shoulder with Todoroki. They haven’t fought on the same side since the USJ, and this is no army of thugs or hulking Noumu or menacing pale man who destroys with a touch and adorns himself with severed hands. This is one man, and the two of them are standing between him and two murders.

“How’s your arm?” Izuku asks.

“I’ll live,” Todoroki replies. “But I can’t risk getting too close.”

“And I can’t fight long-range without breaking fingers,” Izuku says. “So it works out.” His eyes narrow. “If I keep him off you, can you cover me from a distance?”

Beside him, Todoroki nods. “I’ve got your back.”

That’s a first. Izuku can’t think of any living person who’s ever said that to him before. He steels himself, letting One For All course through him. “I shouldn’t talk like this, but… I don’t know if we can beat him ourselves.”

Todoroki is quiet for a moment. “Probably not,” he says at last, and something in his tone makes Izuku turn, to find his mouth crooking upward in a wry smile. “But we can at least make it look cool.”

In spite of himself, Izuku laughs.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Iida hisses at them through gritted teeth. “Just—stop this, I don’t want—you’re both injured.”

“We can still move,” Todoroki replies.

“But—”

“Give it a rest, Iida!” Izuku launches himself forward. His first strike is a feint, and when Stain moves to cut him again, Izuku slams his fist into his ribs again. He hears Stain’s grunt of pain, feels something—maybe bone, maybe cartilage—give, only slightly, beneath his fist.

He isn’t quite sure, exactly, when his brain makes the switch from “buy time” to “take him down.” Maybe enough time has passed that he can safely assume that they’re on their own from here. Maybe Todoroki having his back is giving him a borderline-idiotic boost in courage. Maybe Iida still won’t shut up and stop trying to convince them to leave, and this is Iida’s fault for going off alone and Izuku’s fault for not paying more attention when Iida still needed help and Stain’s fault for killing Tensei and seventeen other people who were just doing their jobs—

Maybe it’s because there are nineteen ghosts in this alleyway, and Izuku came within a hairsbreadth of seeing Iida and Todoroki join them.

Maybe he’s just angry.

One of Stain’s smaller knifes grazes his face as it zips past him. Izuku hears it hit the ground, hears Todoroki bury it in ice to keep Stain from getting to it. Warm blood trickles into his mouth, and Izuku barely suppresses the urge to spit it out.

Somewhere behind him, Iida’s voice reaches him—stop this, leave me, I don’t want you two bleeding for me

Izuku swallows liquid iron. It’s a little late for that, he thinks. Maybe it slips out of his mouth, too. He’s not really keeping track.

Stain launches himself past Izuku, dodging a blast of ice from Todoroki, and Izuku’s body turns and carries him in pursuit before his mind has the chance to make a decision. Stain is fast, but One For All makes Izuku faster, and he reaches Todoroki just as Stain lunges in again, tongue flicking out in anticipation, eyes fixed on Todoroki’s bleeding arm.

Enough of that tongue is outside of Stain’s mouth for Izuku to reach out and grab it.

The noise that Stain makes is almost comical, and too much time exposed to open air makes his tongue tacky instead of slick. The Hero Killer pulls back, just as Izuku strikes him in the chin.

Stain chokes, and later Izuku will swallow down the urge to vomit when he realizes that if his punch had been any more direct, he might have guillotined his tongue right off. As it is, the Hero Killer stumbles back, bleeding from the mouth, and gives Izuku a look that is downright murderous.

He’d hinted before, that he thought Izuku was worth keeping alive. Izuku wonders if this little stunt is enough to change his mind.

“Nice shot!”

“Holy shit, kid!”

“I could’ve thought of that.”

“And yet here you are.”

Stain is already coming at him again, and Izuku charges to meet him when Iida’s voice cuts through the cheers of the dead, wracked with guilt and anger. “Midoriya, stop, he’ll kill you—!

Then stand up!

And Izuku is confused for a moment, because that sounds like something he’d want to say, but he’s hearing it in Todoroki’s voice. He’s thrown—by anger, by fear, by how close his friends have come to dying already—enough for Stain to slice him again. The blade bites into his side, and he lunges recklessly in an attempt to grab for it, but his blood is already on Stain’s wounded tongue. He falls petrified to his knees.

Stupid, stupid!

“If there’s something you want to do, then do it!” Todoroki’s voice echoes off the alley walls. “Don’t waste your breath yelling at us!”

Stain moves like lightning, ignoring Izuku to make a run for his friends again.

“Todoroki, I’m sorry!” Idiot, you were supposed to keep him away from them! Stain’s quirk brings him down to a kneeling position this time, and he strains against it. It won’t be long. He’ll be free soon.

The only thing between Todoroki and the Hero Killer is a wall of ice, and Rei. His friend claws at Stain, face twisting and contorting with rage, but Stain isn’t Kirishima—if he feels the concentrated terror that hovers around Rei like a fog, he doesn’t show it.

Flames burst forth from the ice wall, driving Stain back, but it’s only a temporary fix. Mist and steam make it hard to see as Stain attacks again, heedless of flames and injuries and screaming little girl ghosts. And then—

A blur of white and silver.

Stain is fast and Izuku with One For All is faster, but speed is what Iida was born for.

The ice wall is gone, but Iida is on his feet, glasses askew and engines sputtering but once more perfectly ambulatory. Relief swells within Izuku’s chest, threatening to burst, and his eyes sting until he has to blink hard just to see again.

Stain recovers from the blow before Iida recovers from his damaged engines, or before Todoroki recovers from the strain of using his quirk. Knives—damn it, how many knives does Stain have?—are in Stain’s hands and then leaving his hands before Izuku has the chance to shout a warning.

Todoroki has no time to dodge, but Iida is fast.

The first knife takes Iida through the arm that he raises to shield Todoroki, puncturing through his costume. The second pierces his hand, sending him to his knees. Izuku’s stomach turns at Iida’s pained cry, and the look on Todoroki’s face burns itself into his memory.

Stain’s quirk releases him, and Izuku throws himself back into the fight.

The ghosts are silent now. Watching. Waiting.

Todoroki has left him plenty of ice to gain the high ground—can he make it? He can’t afford to doubt. Izuku launches himself upward, just as Stain makes one more pounce toward his friends.

He doesn’t even see Iida move. One moment his friend is standing by Todoroki, and the next, they’re meeting in midair with Stain between them.

Pain shoots through his arm as his fist meets Stain’s face, but not the blinding inferno of a shattered arm. He’s pretty sure Iida manages to get a second kick in before they hit the top of the ice ramp that Todoroki sends up to catch them. Izuku lands awkwardly, on top of his injured arm, and he and Iida slide and tumble their way to the ground just behind where Todoroki stands.

Stain lies still and silent on the ice, as limp as a broken doll.

The three of them—four, with the injured hero still paralyzed against the wall—wait on bated breath, but the Hero Killer is down for the count.

Cold, small hands bring Izuku back to something resembling alertness, and with Rei hovering by his side he climbs back to his feet and oh dear, that doesn’t feel very good at all. Limping and stumbling on uneven, half-frozen ground, Izuku makes his way back toward the motionless villain.

“Midoriya—” he hears Iida say, distantly in the background, but he ignores him as he approaches Stain’s side.

He’s muttering again, probably—swearing a little, too—as he sets about relieving Stain of his knives. Within moments, he isn’t alone. Todoroki joins him on one side, and on the other, the injured hero—now that Izuku has a chance to really look at him and think, he recognizes the hero Native—removes a few hidden blades from places Izuku wouldn’t have thought to check.

They find some cords at a nearby trash heap, and before Izuku knows it, they’re dragging the unconscious Hero Killer out of the alley. Well—Todoroki’s doing the dragging. Iida’s arms are a mess, and Izuku apparently looked unsteady enough that Native insists on carrying him out.

He tries to look at Iida. He really does. But it still hurts to look at him, especially with Tensei hovering over him anxiously. He’ll look at Iida again when he stops seeing visions of his corpse and his ghost behind his eyelids.

“Iida.” His voice is hoarse and dry. “Is it true, what he said? About… what I told you?” He almost can’t force the words out. “About being helpful?”

Iida’s silence tells him all he needs to know.

They’re barely out in the open for half a minute when a familiar diminutive figure emerges from another cross street, and the twisting knot in Izuku’s heart—when did that get there?—starts to loosen.

What the hell are you doing here?” Gran Torino demands, and the next Izuku knows, the old man’s foot is colliding with his face. It’s a gentle tap, by Torino’s standards. “I thought I told you to stay put, you wet-behind-the-ears brat!”

“How much were you actually banking on me staying in that train?” slips out before Izuku’s adrenaline-addled brain can think better of it.

Torino looks as if he’d like to kick him again, but Izuku looks half-dead and Native looks faintly alarmed, so he sighs. “Well, you’re still alive at least,” he grumbles. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad.”

Other heroes arrive then, and it seems Izuku’s message wasn’t as useless as he’d thought. Todoroki had alerted Endeavor, who’d sent other heroes on while he kept fighting those Noumu creatures. At this point, Izuku has recovered enough for Native to let him down, though Rei clings to his arm like she’s afraid he’ll topple over if she doesn’t.

We’re alive, he realizes, a little belatedly. He lists dizzily, but manages to catch himself on Rei before he falls.

“Y-you both…” Iida’s voice makes both him and Todoroki turn. His friend has hung back, still battered and quiet. Izuku watches, and his vision goes from living-breathing Iida to dead-pale-white-eyes Iida whenever he blinks. “You both were injured because of me,” he says, and his wounds make his bow of apology awkward and stiff. He’s not so bent that Izuku can’t see tears dripping from his eyes (he has eyes, they aren’t blank white, not yet, not today). “I was so blinded, and because of that, you two—” His voice trails off.

Izuku’s throat is thick with pain. I tried to help, and it wasn’t enough. I made things worse. He didn’t listen. I tried so hard, and I couldn’t stop it.

“Pull yourself together.” The words are blunt, but Todoroki’s voice is not unkind when he says them. “You’re the class president, remember?”

Iida wipes his eyes hurriedly, and looks to Izuku. “M-Midoriya? I-I want you to know that—”

“Iida.” His own voice sounds far away to him, like he’s listening to himself from the end of a long tunnel. There’s a wave of something coming, something bad and rotten, something that feels like drowning and live burial, but he can’t yet. Not yet. Later, but not yet. “I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad I was f-f-fast enough. But…” He can’t tell if he’s crying, only that his eyes hurt and he can’t look at Iida for very long.

“Midoriya—”

“I need you to just—not talk to me. Just for a little while. Okay?” Izuku can’t lift his eyes again, and that makes him a coward, but he can’t look at his friend’s face after saying that. “Just—give me a minute. Or two. Or ten.”

Iida doesn’t reply, and Izuku stares at the ground and tries not to think about dead things. He doesn’t try hard enough.

“LOOK OUT!”

The call comes from Gran Torino, and Izuku looks to him, bewildered, then to Stain—but no, Stain’s still unconscious so why—?

And then there are claws digging into his back, and Izuku watches in blank bewilderment as the ground and all the people standing on it fall away to the sound of beating wings. He hears someone shout “Noumu,” before he turns his head to find talons clutching him as the winged creature carries him further into the air.

Oh, he thinks. Those weren’t the last words I was going for.

Rei rushes up after him, but as she draws close, Izuku sees her falter, screaming in confusion and terror. She won’t come near the Noumu, he realizes vaguely. He didn’t think anything could frighten Rei, but maybe they’ve finally found something that spooks her.

As quickly as it starts, it’s over—the claws release him, and before Izuku has the chance to panic, someone catches him around the middle and carries him the rest of the way to the ground. There’s a thank-you on the tip of his tongue, but—

“All these useless fucking phonies,” Stain hisses, dropping Izuku none too gently to the ground. “And these criminals who spread their filth like rats.” The Noumu is dead on the ground with one of Stain’s knives (motherfucker) in its brain, and seventeen dead heroes surround them. “That’s why my purge is necessary! For the sake of a just world!” He shoves Izuku into the ground. “You, though. You’re worth more alive.”

“I am not affiliated with you.” It’s hard to say with his face pressed to the pavement. Izuku’s about eighty-five percent sure he manages it.

Shouting reaches his ears—Endeavor is here, finally, damn it, what took him so long? Stain releases him and rises, and Izuku shoves himself up to a crouch, tense and ready for round two even though he has never felt less ready for round two in his life

Stain stands up, and all other thoughts flee from Izuku’s mind.

Another phony,” Stain snarls, and that’s when words stop translating themselves to meaning in Izuku’s brain. This close to Stain, he feels it sharp and raw in his mind, in his heart, in the pit of his stomach. For a split second the distilled terror floods him, and it takes a moment for his mind to reboot itself back to somewhere in the area of functioning. Stringy dark hair falls into his vision, and that’s Rei, crouching over him, eyes black, teeth bared.

It feels like… like her. Like the fear that surrounds Rei in a noxious cloud. Or the choking dread that surrounded Okumura before Izuku managed to talk him down. He can see Okumura now, and Hino, still following Endeavor; there are so many ghosts here, and they’re the only ones not frozen by the Hero Killer’s boiling hate.

Stain feels like a poltergeist.

But he’s alive and breathing, and there are little differences that Izuku can barely register with his heart pounding the way it does. Sachi was scared and sad and panicking, hiding behind her anger and screaming at anyone who came near. Okumura was wild and blind with vengeance, lashing out at the object of his hatred and anyone close enough to catch the splashback.

And Rei…

Well.

Rei is just Rei.

But Stain’s is focused. There’s intent behind it. And it has nothing to do with power, and everything to do with Stain, the Hero Killer, the man.

The man falls unconscious on his feet, eyes blank, mouth open with bared teeth.

Izuku looks across, and finds everyone there—from Iida and Todoroki to Gran Torino to Endeavor himself—frozen in shock. Petrified.

And as far as Izuku can tell, Stain didn’t need a drop of anyone’s blood to do it.


They end up in the same hospital room together, set to spend the night under observation. Besides his cuts, Izuku’s arm has a hairline fracture from the last punch. His leg is messed up, too, though he’s at a loss to remember when or how that happened. He must have been pretty hopped up on adrenaline not to notice.

And it’s only then, when the nurses finally leave them be and Todoroki and Iida are safe and alive and treated and it’s over, it’s all over and they’re okay and everything is okay, no new ghosts were made, Stain is gone, Iida is safe

That’s when it comes at last.

He’s been holding out this long on fumes and a prayer, staving it off with every distracting thought he can muster, cudgeling his brain in line, but it was only ever temporary. It was only ever a delay.

And now the walls are closing in, close close too close, too small not enough space, not enough air, and the nurses are gone but he still isn’t alone, he needs to be alone

“Midoriya? Are you all right?”

He’s not sure which of them says that, but either way it’s what finally tips the balance out of his favor.

“Bathroom,” is all he says before he limps out of the room, and he really hopes there’s actually a bathroom nearby, or else he’s going to do this in the middle of the hospital hallway.

A cold hand closes gently on his shoulder, but before Izuku can panic, the hand squeezes lightly and steers him onward, past the few nurses patrolling the hallway this late, through a door, and into a quiet, blessedly empty restroom. It’s a single toilet, not stalls, and Izuku almost sobs with relief as he turns the lock behind him. He finds the corner furthest from the door, sets his back to it, and drowns.

The storm comes howling in, cold and relentless as it chases the breath from his lungs and strangles him like a noose he can’t break, a knot that won’t loosen. The back of his head hits the wall tiles, his vision goes hazy and dark, and he falls down, down, down, so far down he isn’t sure he can find his way back up.

It was so close. He came so close. A few seconds slower and Iida would be dead. He called for help, and Todoroki came running, and Todoroki nearly died he nearly got Todoroki killed and Iida killed and himself killed and everyone killed

How many chances did Stain have to kill them

How many did he ignore

They could have died

And Stain didn’t even want them dead enough to actually try.

Cold hands find his face, grounding him.

“Breathe, Midoriya. Can you see me?”

Blank white eyes Iida’s face with white eyes

“No. I’m not Tenya. Tenya’s in the other room. Remember? You’re at the hospital.”

Tensei. Tensei’s here. Tensei’s not with Iida what if what if what if

“Nothing’s going to happen.” Tensei’s pale face breaks through the tunnel vision. “Do you hear me? I’m here because I know Tenya’s safe. He’s alive. And that’s because of you, Midoriya.”

Izuku forces his breathing to slow. He counts on each breath a little too fast, but it still helps to take in each one as slowly as he can manage, hold it as long as he can bear, let it out as steadily as his shuddering chest will allow, and repeat until he feels a little less like he’s drowning in good air.

“You did amazing.” Tensei’s voice grounds him. “I’m sorry I had to put that on you. I’m sorry I didn’t think to warn you sooner. You shouldn’t have had to do that, but you did, and you saved my little brother. Okay? You saved him. I thought he was going to join me, but he didn’t. He is alive in that room because of what you did.” Tears drip from his blank eyes. “Thank you, Midoriya. Thank you for my brother’s life. Thank you for being his friend.”

Izuku, not trusting himself to speak, only nods.


“Midoriya, are you all right?” Tenya asks. There’s a look in his friend’s eyes (are they friends, still? At this point he isn’t sure) that he can’t name, and before he can attempt to make sense of it, Midoriya is out the door without a word or a glance in his direction.

Tenya’s heart breaks a little more.

It’s his own fault. He could have prevented this himself. But no—he’d let himself be blinded. He’d been stupid.

What would Tensei think of him now?

I need you to not talk to me for a while.

He deserves that. He deserves so much more than that. Midoriya has every right to be angry; he almost died because of Tenya’s mess, and now…

His eyes are fixed on the door as he addresses the only other person in the room. “Do you…” It’s pathetic, really, after Todoroki already told him to pull himself together. “Do you think he’ll ever forgive me?” he asks.

There’s a moment of silence.

“…What?” There’s honest confusion in Todoroki’s voice, and it makes Tenya wince.

“Midoriya, I mean,” he says. “After all this… I just don’t know anymore.” When Todoroki doesn’t answer, Tenya’s eyes switch to the floor. “Do you remember what he told me, about… about doing something useful? Helping someone, to cope with my loss? I… I took that, and twisted it. Willfully so. I knew very well what he meant by it, but I took it and pretended it meant something else and—and used it to justify…” His voice catches. “And because of that—because of me—he was almost killed. You were almost killed.”

“I knew what I was probably getting into, when I answered that message,” Todoroki says.

“Yes but—it shouldn’t have happened.” His eyes burn and his head aches, but luckily he doesn’t cry again.

“It did. Don’t do it again.” Todoroki’s words come out blunt, over-simple.

“But is that enough?” Tenya hangs his head, tucking his chin in so that his hair falls over his eyes, just in case he does cry after all. “Is learning from my mistake enough to make up for the fact that I almost got him killed? I just—I don’t know. And that’s why I’m asking…”

“I’m just confused by your question,” Todoroki says at length. “Maybe you know better than I do, since I haven’t known him as long as you have. I didn’t realize he needed to forgive you.”

I almost got him—”

“Killed, yeah, you mentioned that.” Todoroki shifts into a more comfortable sitting position. “I mean, that’s bad, obviously, I just don’t… think that’s really a problem for him.”

“You saw how angry he is with me,” Tenya whispers.

“Yes? He’s been angry with me before, too.” Todoroki shrugs. “Just because he’s angry doesn’t mean forgiveness is an issue.”

“In your case, maybe not,” Tenya replies, shaking his head. “Whatever your quarrel was, at least he didn’t nearly die because of it.”

“Which match were you watching?”

“Todoroki,” Tenya growls, just a little.

“Your problem is you’ve got it backwards anyway,” Todoroki says, matter-of-factly.

At last, Tenya lifts his head. “Backwards?”

Todoroki is looking at him like Tenya’s a particularly special brand of dense. “He’s not angry with you because he nearly died, Iida,” he says. “He’s angry because you nearly died.”

Before Tenya can string together a response, the door to their room opens again, and Midoriya stumbles in looking like the emotional equivalent of being hit by a train. The door swings shut behind him, and he keeps walking straight for Tenya.

“M-Midoriya, are you all—” Alarmed, Tenya almost rises to meet him, but Midoriya doesn’t seem to hear him. He neither stops nor slows until he reaches Tenya and—

He’s not as careful about it as he probably should be, but Tenya’s not in a position to complain about anything Midoriya Izuku does. Before Tenya knows what’s happening, there are arms around his neck and he’s being yanked into a hug so tight he can feel Midoriya shake.

“M-Midoriya?”

“I don’t know whether or not I should punch you in the face. I’m still deciding. It’ll be my left hand if that helps any because I’m not left handed so maybe I won’t break anything. On you or me.”

“Um—”

“It didn’t have to be me.” Midoriya is muffled against Tenya’s shoulder, and he shows no sign of letting go. “It could’ve been anyone at all, or me, but it didn’t have to be me, and why didn’t you just talk to someone, Iida?” To Tenya’s alarm, he hears his friend sniffle. “That wasn’t what I meant when I said helpful and you know it wasn’t what I meant and I’m sorry about your brother but I’m really mad at you, okay?” His shoulder feels damp now. “I thought you were dead. I thought I was going to find you dead because I’m slow and I didn’t know where you were until it was maybe too late and I thought you were dead.

Tenya opens his mouth to answer, but he can’t think of anything to say.

“I’m happy you’re alive.” Midoriya’s voice breaks. “I’m happy we’re all alive and I’m mad at you for making me think we maybe wouldn’t be so don’t do that again. Don’t ever, ever do that again.”

“I won’t,” Tenya blurts, and he wishes he could hug back, but his arms are a little out of commission at the moment, so he settles for leaning forward. “I promise. I’m sorry, Midoriya.” He looks over Midoriya’s shoulder to where Todoroki still sits. His classmate gives him a shrug and a knowing look, and goes back to staring at his phone.

Before long, Midoriya composes himself, and returns to his own cot to retrieve his phone. After a moment of fussing with it, rubbing at his tearstained face, and clearing his throat, he glances at Todoroki.

“I don’t need a hug,” Todoroki says.

“Wasn’t going to. Just… thanks.” Midoriya won’t look him in the eye. “For showing up. I thought I’d get more people to come, but… I guess not.”

“I was close by,” Todoroki replies. “My old man’s been combing Hosu for a week now, hoping to trip over the Hero Killer.”

“Got his wish, I guess,” Midoriya mutters. “Still… thanks for coming.”

“Yeah.” Even from a distance, Tenya sees Todoroki shudder a little before composing himself. “I did tell you, didn’t I?”

Midoriya blinks at him. “Tell me what?”

“My choice for the week. It took me right where I needed to be.”

The words mean next to nothing to Tenya, but judging by the way Midoriya’s eyes widen, they must mean something to him. For a moment, Tenya feels a little alone, like the other two are sharing something that has nothing to do with him.

He sits back and turns his eyes upward to the ceiling. He’s relieved, of course—that they’re alive, that they’re mostly all right, and that Midoriya doesn’t hate him for the stupid stunt he pulled today. Stain is in custody, Hosu is safe again, but…

Tensei is still gone. Still just as dead as he ever was. If Stain had escaped, Tensei would still be dead. If Stain had been killed, Tensei would still be dead, his memory still an open wound.

He almost got two of his classmates killed doing something that never would have made a drop of difference either way.

What would he think of me now?


They have visitors in the morning. Izuku doesn’t mind too much about getting chewed out by Gran Torino again, and Iida has returned to the calm, collected moroseness that he’s been showing all week. It still hurts to see him like this. Even if the fight is over and they’re all okay, it doesn’t change the fact that someone he loved very much is still very dead. The fact that Tensei himself has hardly left Iida’s side since the previous night doesn’t help.

It’s when Chief Tsurugamae of the Hosu police department steps in that the three of them get a little nervous.

Right—turns out there are consequences to beating the absolute hell out of a villain when you don’t actually have a hero license.

“Are you saying we should have let everyone die?” Izuku almost jumps at Todoroki’s sudden show of temper. His friend is on his feet, shaking with anger. “Because that’s what would have happened if any of us had ‘followed the rules’!”

“Todoroki,” Izuku mutters.

Todoroki ignores him. “Isn’t saving lives more important than—”

“Wait, Todoroki, he has a point,” Iida breaks in, trying to pacify him.

“Let him finish,” Gran Torino says. Todoroki scowls, but reluctantly falls silent again.

The dog-headed police chief clears his throat. “Right. As I was saying, that was simply what I had to say as a member of the police. However, at the end of the day, we can only really punish you for what is on the official record.” Izuku gapes at him. “Now, of course you would receive praise and admiration if this were to go public, but in order to maintain legality, it would also necessitate punishment. On the other paw, there were few witnesses to any legal wrongdoing on your part. It could be concluded from the Hero Killer’s burn wounds that Endeavor was the one who brought him down. And I doubt any hero would turn his nose up at that sort of feather in his cap.”

Izuku looks to Todoroki instinctively, but his friend’s face gives nothing away.

“Of course, that means that no one can know of your actions yesterday,” Tsurugamae continues. “The choice is ultimately yours. Personally, I think you pups have a promising road ahead of you, and I would hate to see you leashed for such an impressive ‘misstep’.”

Izuku glances over to his friends, and finds Iida looking sheepishly relieved, and Todoroki… doesn’t look happy, but he doesn’t look unhappy either.

“It may seem unfair,” Tsurugamae continues. “I know it must be a bitter pill for you to swallow, after you suffered injuries from this whole affair.”

For an absurd moment, Izuku almost wants to laugh out loud. “Chief Tsurugamae,” he says. “I went into that alley thinking I was going to find my friend’s corpse.”

There’s an abrupt shift in the mood of the room as all pairs of eyes turn to him. “Um, Midoriya,” Iida says.

“Then I thought I was going to be a corpse,” Izuku continues, ignoring him. “And then Todoroki showed up by himself and I thought hey, that makes corpse number three.”

“Thanks,” Todoroki says dryly.

And in the end, do you know how many corpses there were? Zero. Zero corpses.” Izuku shrugs. “So that’s why I really don’t care whose name gets slapped in a headline, because either way I’m going to be… just… sitting here. Enjoying not being a corpse.”

A brief, awkward silence follows. Gran Torino’s forehead makes an audible smacking noise as it meets his gloved hand.

“What he said,” Todoroki says.

“Well I wouldn’t have put it quite that way, but…” Iida mutters.
“Well then.” Tsurugamae’s voice shakes, like he’s doing his best not to laugh. “I suppose that answers that.”

By midmorning the three of them are outside the hospital, in fresh clothes as they wait for supervisors, parents, or whatever else. Iida’s arms are still bandaged but thankfully out of their slings thanks to one of the nurses and her healing quirk, and Todoroki and Izuku sit on either side of him as they reflect, not for the first time, on what they’ve just survived. Rei, bored, hops over cracks in the sidewalk.

“Congratulations to your father, I suppose,” Iida sighs, with a glance at Todoroki. “He’ll probably be happy with the accolades that come from this.”

“Hell no,” Todoroki says flatly. “He’s just gonna be pissed that he’s getting credit he didn’t earn himself.”

“Perhaps he did, indirectly, considering your involve… ment…” Iida’s voice trails off at the scowl on Todoroki’s face.

He falls silent, and for a while, neither of the others try to pick up the conversation.

“Thank you again, Midoriya,” Iida says at length. “I know I’ve said it ad nauseum, but… thank you. For everything.”

“Anytime,” Izuku answers. “And I do… I do mean that. I got mad at you, and I’ll get mad at you again if you pull anything this stupid again, but I’ll still help you.”

“I’ve been thinking about you said, about me taking my brother’s name,” Iida continues, more quietly. “I’m just… not sure I’m worthy of it, after all this.” At his side, Tensei heaves a sigh.

“Then make yourself worthy,” Izuku tells him.

“Simple as that?” There’s a joyless laugh in Iida’s voice.

“It really is.”

Izuku!

At the sound of his name, Izuku sits up straight and looks around, until his eyes light upon the figure of his mother, hurrying down the sidewalk. He rises from the bench to meet her as she reaches him, and she grasps his hand in one of hers—the other is on the strap of a canvas bag hanging on her shoulder.

“Mom—”

“Are you all right? Did you break anything?” She’s already babbling, tears welling up in her eyes. “When I got the call last night, it scared the life out of me even after you called me and told me you were alright because I know you always downplay these things and I thought maybe you might have—”

Mom.” It takes some effort to break through. “I’m fine. I promise. Just got a little banged up, that’s all. Y-you didn’t have to come, I still have to go by my supervisor’s to grab my stuff, and… um… sorry for worrying you?”

She heaves a sigh of relief. “When we get home, you are telling me everything. No leaving anything out, you understand?”

“Yes, Mom.” And he means it; gag order or no gag order, she’s hearing about this one. She knows about his quirk—both of his quirks—and she’s sure as hell hearing about this.

Does he also want to brag a little? Maybe.

“You’re sure you’re all right?” she presses.

“I wasn’t alone, Mom,” he assures her.

The volume of her voice drops. “I know, but that doesn’t mean—they can’t exactly—”

“No, I mean—” He looks to the bench, and steps aside so she can have a better view. “Right, um. Mom, this is Todoroki Shouto and Iida Tenya. Guys, um, meet my mom.”

Iida is already on his feet, bowing stiffly and politely until Izuku’s mother sputters. “Oh! G-goodness, you’re injured—that’s perfectly all right, you don’t need to stand up, I just came to check on him and… Well, it’s very nice to meet you! Both of you!” She gives Todoroki a cautious look, and Izuku remembers with a jolt that all she knows about Todoroki is that they basically tried to kill each other at the Sports Festival.

“It’s nice to meet you as well,” Todoroki replies. His eyes flicker toward Izuku, briefly. He looks uncertain.

“They’re my friends,” Izuku says, as emphatically as he can manage. “We sort of… got out of it together. I’ll tell you more about it later, it’s just… complicated.”

“I see…” Her eyes soften, and she adjusts the bag on her shoulder. “Oh, by the way… this was probably silly of me, but…” She zips opens the bag, and Izuku’s mouth drops open.

“Mom, seriously?” On the verge of laughter, he lifts Mika out of the bag and cradles her against his chest.

“I wasn’t sure what state I’d find you in when I got here, so… I thought I’d bring her along, just in case.” His mother beams. “She’s missed you, this past week.”

And sure enough, Mika meows at him insistently, as if she’s lecturing him. Scratching her behind the ears seems to calm her down.

Calms Izuku down, too.

In fact…

“Hey, can I talk to you about something real quick?” he asks. “Not—not all that, yet, just…”

“Of course.” She starts to step away, and Izuku turns back to the bench.

Iida is sitting down again, and Izuku takes the opportunity to deposit Mika into his lap. “Here hold my cat, I gotta go talk to my mom,” he says, and walks off briskly before Iida has the chance to reply.

His mother keeps pace with him, nudging him lightly. “You’re silly, you know that?” she says under her breath.

“It works.”


Iida looks back and forth between his friend’s retreating back and the one-eyed cat purring in his lap until his neck hurts. “Wh… what? What just…?”

Shouto turns his head away before Iida can see him grinning.

Chapter Text

“So what’s the verdict?”

Besides “Hello,” it’s the first thing Toshinori has said to Gran Torino in decades. It’s still all he can do to spit it out without tripping over his own tongue.

The first thing Gran Torino says to him in just as much time is “Where the hell did you find this kid?”

“It’s… a long story.” Toshinori cradles the phone against his ear and tries not to wince. “He didn’t look like much at first, but… he showed promise. Shows promise, I mean.”

A dry chuckle answers him. “Promise, that’s one way of putting it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I had to knock him around a little on the first day just to get him to use his quirk, and he got frustrated and tried to punch me in the kidneys.”

This time, Toshinori does wince. “Please tell me you didn’t make him throw up.”

“I didn’t, but I made damn sure he didn’t try it again,” Torino says dryly. “Why I asked where you found him. I know you, brat—he sure as hell didn’t learn that from you.”

“Well, he… has an eye for spotting weaknesses,” Toshinori says sheepishly. “He’s an odd one, but… driven. Determined to help, no matter the cost to himself.”

“Sounds like some I could mention.” Gran Torino goes quiet for a moment. “You hear about what happened in Hosu?”

“Hm? Oh, yes.” The jitters are fading now, and Toshinori can just about relax. “Endeavor brought down the Hero Killer. I’m glad—one of my other students lost his brother to that man.”

“That Iida Tenya kid, yeah,” Gran Torino snorts. “And don’t believe everything you hear on the news. Endeavor did jack all—your little golden boy and his friends were the ones to take him down.”

Toshinori feels his heart drop to his stomach.

“Ingenium’s little brother messed up his arms, and your boy looked half dead when I finally caught up to him,” Torino goes on. “My fault. Lost track of him.”

“He doesn’t always follow directions,” Toshinori says awkwardly.

“No kidding.” Torino heaves a sigh. “But—listen. A coordinated villain attack like this. The League of Villains and the Hero Killer, working together all buddy-buddy?”

His heart is heavy, and he nods, even though Torino has no way of seeing it. “Yes, I noticed it as well. It’s too… perfect, somehow.”

“You aren’t the only one who can shout your arrival from the rooftops, Toshinori,” Torino tells him. “Think about it—high profile villain like Stain. Skills and charisma to match. Polarizing at best. How many villains do you know who get their own damn merch? Then you have the League of Villains, who know how to make a bang but don’t have much else going for ‘em. Put ‘em together, and what then?”

“They get attention,” Toshinori says. “From everyone. Heroes, civilians… other villains.”

“Man like Stain has ideals, Toshinori. People with ideals get followers. And now that it’s been established—pretty damn publicly—that Stain was with the League before he got taken down…?”

Toshinori heaves a sigh, and sinks down into the nearest chair. “So Hosu was… what? A publicity stunt?”

“Try a recruitment event.” He can almost hear Torino’s teeth grinding over the phone. “And you think a man-child like that Shigaraki can think up something like that? No. Someone’s pulling the strings.” He stops, and within that silence, Toshinori’s heart sinks further.

“You don’t mean…”

“It’s got his stink all over it,” Torino says flatly. “The one who killed Shimura. Who almost tore you in half.”

“He was supposed to have died,” Toshinori whispers.

“Do you think I’m wrong?”

“N-no.” Toshinori’s hand tightens on the phone. “No, it’s just…”

“Your boy hardly knows a thing,” Torino interrupts. “About you. About her. He had quite a few interesting questions for me, and something tells me he’ll have a few more for you.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I told him about Nana.”

Toshinori can’t keep back his sharp intake of breath.

“Don’t you hhhh me, brat, I didn’t tell him anything that wasn’t answering a question he asked! You should’ve been the one telling him this, not me!”

“I know,” Toshinori blurts out. “I know. I’ll… I’ll talk to him.” He rubs his forehead with his free hand. “It’s past time I told him about…”

Gran Torino’s voice is grim and quiet. “All For One.”


The work experience week ends. Izuku gathers his things and leaves Gran Torino’s…

Office? Apartment?

The case with his costume is lighter than Izuku remembers it. He has to wonder if it’s a psychological thing, or maybe one week of getting thrashed by a senior citizen really has done wonders on his muscles.

If nothing else, it’s been an interesting week. Besides learning to properly harness his power, helping to bring down the Hero Killer, and nearly dying several times, he’s also had some lovely conversations with a few of the people haunting Torino’s building. The girl who slipped and drowned in the bath eighty years back knows some good dirty jokes.

To say nothing of what he now knows about Ms. Shimura.

“Any more questions, kiddo?”

Izuku jumps, and turns to stare at the tiny old man standing at the door, watching him leave. “What?”

“Can’t promise you Toshinori won’t chicken out,” Torino says dryly. “So—any last-minute wondering you’ve been doing, you might as well get it fixed now.”

Izuku smiles. “Thanks for all your help,” he says. “I won’t waste it. Promise.”

Torino snorts. “Better not. I’ll have your hide if I hear you do. And I will hear. I have my ways.”

“Me too.” It slips out before Izuku can think better of it. It’s fine if All-Might “chickens out.” He’ll find what he’s looking for either way. He’s going to get Ms. Shimura to talk to him, or die trying.

“Hey kid!” Torino barks, before Izuku can turn to leave. “I’ve got one question for you!”

Izuku looks at him.

There’s a note of humor on the old hero’s face. “Who are you?”

It brings him back to his first day, having that question shouted in his face. Izuku frowns, confused. “I’m… I’m Midoriya Izuku,” he says. “I’m kind of… not anyone, yet.”

“Bull.” Torino shakes his head. “Besides, that ain’t the name I was askin’ for.”

And Izuku must be all kinds of dense, because it takes him a moment to realize what Gran Torino is asking him. “Oh! It’s—it’s Deku.” For a moment the name feels odd and awkward on his tongue, like he’s a little kid trying to curse for the first time.

“You sure about that?” Torino asks. “The way you say it makes it sound more like an insult than a name.”

Izuku shrinks a little. “It takes some getting used to,” he admits. “Because… it kind of was?” At Torino’s raised eyebrow, he shrugs. “But not anymore. It’s mine now. My name. Myhero name. And nobody can use it to hurt me anymore.” His hand tightens on the handle of the case. “If I can take a name like that and make it mine, then I can do the same with One For All.” Finally he turns away, before he can see Torino’s reaction. “Maybe it seems stupid, but it’s still mine.”

“One more question!” Torino calls after him. “Where the hell did Toshinori find you?”

“Under a bridge!” Izuku answers, without slowing or looking back. Torino’s laughter follows him to the end of the block.


It’s quiet when Shouto gets home, and he has learned to fear the quiet when his father is at home.

When Endeavor is away, the house is safe. When Endeavor is at home and the house is noisy, then at least Shouto knows where he is and what he’s doing. Even if it’s noisy because it’s the middle of a training session and Endeavor is in his face with fire and fists, at least Shouto knows what to expect. It’s familiar, and in this house, that’s as safe as Shouto is going to get.

But now it’s quiet, and Shouto’s stomach twists and shreds itself with dread. His arm is still bandaged, with the dull ache and itch of a healing gash. In the wake of the Hosu incident, the hospital could not afford to waste healing quirks on a flesh wound. Right now, his arm is a weakness. And this house makes Shouto keenly aware of his weaknesses in a way that no other place does.

He wonders where his father is. What he’s doing. They’ve arrived separately, but Shouto knows that Endeavor arrived first. Does the old man know he’s here now, too?

Fuyumi is in the living room when Shouto walks in, and she looks up from the homework assignments she’s grading. “Hey,” she says, and her voice is as soft as ever. (Shouto has never heard Fuyumi shout.) “He got home ten minutes ago. He’s been quiet. I can’t tell what mood he’s in.”

Shouto nods dully.

“You okay?” His sister tilts her head, as if trying to angle herself into his line of vision. “You were right in the middle of that stuff in Hosu, huh?”

Shouto is about to reply when the floor creaks and his father steps into the room.

Todoroki Enji doesn’t look at his daughter. He never does; by the way he treats her, Fuyumi is a houseguest at best and a tenant at worst. And when Shouto is in the room, he acts as if he has no older children at all. His firstborn is invisible to him, and Shouto wishes he could be so lucky.

“Damn legal system.” Endeavor’s voice is a growl. Shouto’s stance shifts into something close to parade rest. “Hero Killer would’ve made a good debut, and those bastards hit us with a gag order.” Flames wreathe his throat, flickering irately. “Giving me credit, as if I need a damn handout like that.” His hard eyes bore into Shouto’s. “And as for you…”

Shouto keeps his face carefully neutral.

His father moves before he has the chance to react. Shouto blinks, his teeth clack together with impact, and he finds his back pressed painfully to the wall, the back of his head tender from colliding with it. Endeavor is in his face, pinning him in place with a handful of Shouto’s shirt in his fist.

“Do not ever—” his father snarls. “—disobey or ignore a direct command from me again. Do you understand me, Shouto?”

Over Endeavor’s shoulder, Shouto can see Fuyumi rising from the couch with a look of alarm on her face.

“In the field, my word is gospel.” Endeavor’s eyes burn with anger. “In the future, you will listen. And you will do exactly as I say, when I say it. If I say jump, then you say ‘how high.’ So help me, Shouto, if you ever run off when I give you a command again, you’ll wish you’d been born quirkless by the time I’m done with you.”

I already do, sometimes .

Fuyumi hovers in the background, wide-eyed and shaking, mouth half open as if she’s trying to gather her wits to speak up. Shouto urges her silence with a sharp motion of one hand, out of his father’s line of vision.

“And do you honestly think I wasn’t told the details of what actually happened?” his father demands. “I’m almost glad this ended with a gag order—I would have died of shame if word got out that you stayed in the background and let two of your competitors deal the final blow. It’s as if you’re doing your damnedest to look weak and make me look like a fool!”

His fist digs into Shouto’s chest, pressing him painfully against the wall. Ice spreads from where his right shoulder touches it, but Shouto isn’t paying attention to that.

What can his father do? Not kill him, certainly—that would be counter-productive. (Stain tried to kill him, and failed.) What can Endeavor do but shout and curse, or leave bruises and minor burns that a press of ice can treat? But Shouto doesn’t think of that, or of the cold rage on Endeavor’s face. He doesn’t think of the fist against his chest, or how easy it would be for his father to lose control and let flames touch him.

Instead, he thinks of a smile.

Shouto knows what it’s like to have it pointed at him. He’d thrown down the gauntlet, and Midoriya had answered him with a smile that showed all his teeth and fell just short of reaching his eyes. It was the sort of smile that stuck with you, that left things crawling on your back long after you stopped looking at it. It kept you asking questions, wondering if its wearer knew something you didn’t. Why else would someone smile like that?

But then…

Shouto knowsother things now, too, like the limb-locking paralysis of the Hero Killer’s quirk, and that split-second helpless terror of seeing death approach and having no way of stopping it. But he didn’t have to stop it in the end, not with Midoriya Izuku crouched over him, eyes glinting eerily, almost glowing in the dimly lit alley, baring his teeth as if he was fully prepared to use them in the fight.

It turns out that smile means something very different when it’s pointed at something that wants to hurt him.

Midoriya Izuku is frightening, and not in the way that Todoroki Enji is frightening. Endeavor is powerful and spiteful and angry, but his anger is ordinary and his desires are plain and transparent. Shouto knows what drives him; he knows what he’s capable of and how far he’ll go to get what he wants.

He doesn’t know that about Midoriya. He’s not sure he wants to know how far someone who smiles like that will go.

Just for an instant, Shouto imagines what it would feel like to see that smile pointed at Endeavor.

“Well?” His father’s voice brings him back to the present. “Have you anything to say?”

And Shouto stares at him, numb and bewildered and wondering because—

“No,” he says aloud, voice rasping. He can’t speak his mind, not when all he can think is

My friend is scarier than you.


Izuku’s shoes are barely off when his mother meets him at the entryway and catches him in a tight hug. Guilt fills him—he hadn’t thought of her, hadn’t thought of how she might feel, how she would worry—and he returns it without a word. The door behind them is shut, and their only company is Rei and Mika and maybe a couple of the other apartment ghosts—Mrs. Matsuda can be nosy sometimes. And so, with his mother’s arms around him, Izuku lets the story fall from his lips. Ingenium’s death and reappearance, Iida’s grief, Izuku’s own growing worries, all leading up to what happened in that Hosu alley.

His mother is quiet for a moment, still holding him. When at last she speaks, her voice is hushed. “You didn’t go looking for… for Stain?” she says.

“I was looking for Iida.” Izuku swallows painfully. “Because I—I thought he might go looking for Stain, and even if he didn’t, Hosu was a… a mess. I was worried about him.”

“And you called for help.”

“I should’ve done it sooner,” Izuku admits. “But, when Tensei showed up, I…” His voice catches. “I panicked.”

“I don’t know anything about, about heroics,” she says, her voice muffled against his shoulder. “I don’t know what to do or how to do it, but Izuku, I can’t think of anything you did wrong. And you were still in danger.”

“I did my best,” Izuku whispers. “A-and… and Mom?”

Finally, she pulls back. Her eyes are red from crying. “Yes?”

“I’ve thought about it, and… y-you know what?” In spite of the tears, Izuku manages a smile of his own. “I don’t know if I would’ve found Iida in time, if Tensei hadn’t led me to him. And later, Rei brought Todoroki to help—I don’t know how she did it, but she did. So that means… I was wrong.” His vision blurs. “My quirk—my old quirk, I mean. My original quirk. I guess it can help me save people after all.”

“I know you can,” his mother replies. “If anyone can find a way, it’s you, Izuku. Just be careful. Please, whatever else happens… be careful.”

“I will, Mom.”

She seems to rally herself, wiping the tears away. “Good. Now—are you hungry?”

Izuku smiles. “A little bit. Just give me a second to put my stuff in my room.”

Morino meets him in the hallway before he reaches his bedroom, looking happy to see him. Izuku likes Morino; she’s friendly and kind, and sometimes she’ll help him calm Kurosawa down when the other ghost forgets that he’s dead and returns to the day that armed burglar shot him in his own home. “Oh, good, you’re back! She’s been waiting for you since yesterday.”

“Who?” Izuku blinks owlishly at her.

“Didn’t catch her name, but she says she knows you,” Morino replies, as Rei moves past them to go to Izuku’s room. “Tall, black hair, looks like she could bench a guy twice her size? She seemed nice enough.” Morino frowns. “Should I have chased her off, or…?”

“N-no, no it’s fine…” Izuku’s voice trails off, and he’s already running for his bedroom. He steps inside, one hand reaching for the open door.

“Hi, kiddo.” Ms. Shimura sits on his bed, hands folded in her lap. She’s smiling, but her face is unreadable. “Did you have a good week?”

Izuku stares at her, speechless. He drops his things, turns, and walks back out toward the kitchen.

“Mom, I need to, um…” His thoughts are beginning to swirl, and he wrings his hands and wards off his daze. “In my room—there’s someone I need to talk to.”

She looks up from the stove with a look of concern on her face. “Everything all right?”

“Nothing dangerous. I just need to have a conversation and I don’t know how long it’ll take, sorry.”

“Food won’t be ready right away,” she assures him. “Don’t take any nonsense, now.”

“Oh, I won’t,” he mutters.

When he returns, he closes his door behind him. Hopefully this won’t end in him yelling, but at this point he can’t be sure.

Silence stretches between them. Even Rei is quiet.

“So,” Ms. Shimura says at last, her voice soft. “I take it from the look on your face, that… that you know a few more things—”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Izuku spits out.

Ms. Shimura falls silent, shutting her eyes. The corners of her mouth deepen.

Izuku grits his teeth, riding out the knot of hurt that rises and falls in his chest. “Why didn’t you tell me you had One For All?” he asks. “You saw me, you knew—you knew I couldn’t control it, and I was hurting myself, and I needed help, so why didn’t you say anything?”

“I’m sorry, sprout—”

“I have a name!” Izuku bursts out, only to feel guilty instantly when she winces. “L-look. I just don’t—I don’t understand. Something this important—don’t you care? If you had One For All, and I’m its next wielder, then… shouldn’t it matter to you that I use it properly?”

“Of course it matters,” she tells him.

“Then why didn’t you say something?” he asks. “You knew I was struggling, so why—are you still mad at me for lying to All-Might? About my quirk?”

“No, that’s not it at all!” She shakes her head, and her hands tighten into fists in her lap.

“Then why—” He stops short, because now he just sounds like he’s whining. He grinds his teeth and forces himself to take a deep breath. When that doesn’t quite slow his temper, he runs his fingers through his hair until they catch in the tangles. “L-look, I… I’m not… you’ve helped me, okay? Teaching me how to fight. A-and I’m grateful, I really am, but…” He raises his eyes and finds Ms. Shimura looking at him with sadness in her face. “I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t tell me what you were to him. A-and maybe I should’ve guessed, m-maybe I should’ve… but…”

His voice trails off, and Ms. Shimura hangs her head so that her hair falls over her face. “Midoriya, I…”

“You said before that… that you weren’t sure I’d forgive you when I found out what you did to him,” Izuku says. “What did you mean by that? I asked Gran Torino, and he said nothing bad happened between you. What did you do to him?”

“Nothing.”

“That doesn’t even—”

“I mean nothing, Midoriya!” Ms. Shimura is on her feet, quite literally in the blink of an eye. “I mean I didn’t—I couldn’t—” She flickers in an out of view. “I couldn’t do anything for him—I just—”

And for the first time, Izuku truly sees her.

She’s wearing her hero costume—or at least what’s left of it. One glove is in shreds, and barely covers her left hand. The other is gone entirely, and the hand beneath it is bloody and broken. Her bodysuit is black, or it’s red, or maybe it’s scorched and bloodstained so thoroughly that the original color can no longer be seen. The remains of a pale cape hang in soiled tatters from her shoulders, and her hair, torn from its up-do, hangs over her face in snarled clumps.

And her face…

Izuku’s stomach twists itself in knots, and he tastes bile at the back of his throat. He can’t see her eyes past the tangled hair, and with that much blood encrusting her hair and her face, he wonders for a moment if she even still had eyes when she died.

Shimura Nana, the seventh wielder of One For All, stands before him mangled and broken. Not ghost-pale and spectral, but dark with blood and deep bruising and grisly wounds.

Izuku can’t even tell which was the one that killed her.

“Not a pretty sight, is it?” She tries to smile with a broken mouth. Izuku sees the rust-brown streaks where blood spilled past her lips.

Izuku is glad when the tears come. This isn’t the way he wants to see Ms. Shimura—strong, bright, vibrant Shimura who throws nicknames around that tease but don’t sting, who taught him to throw a proper punch, who loves All-Might enough to stay with him every minute of every day.

“I wish you’d told me,” he whispers.

“Me too.” Her voice cracks. “But I… I got selfish.”

“But why?”

“I told you. You love Toshi. You love him with every inch of your heart, and… and I was so ashamed, Midoriya. I saw how much you love him, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell you that I abandoned him.”

Izuku blinks the wet blur from his eyes, to find tears cutting clean tracks through the blood on her face. “But—but you didn’t mean to,” he says. “You didn’t leave him on purpose. You died.”

“Does it matter? It was the same in the end. I… I took a risk that I knew was more likely to kill me than not, and—and I wasn’t thinking of him when I made that choice, Midoriya.” She hangs her head. “I was thinking about myself—about how it would affect me, not him. I was so willing to die for the greater good, and be brave and selfless, and I didn’t think of what I was leaving behind. I got so caught up in my responsibilities as a hero that I forgot my responsibility to raise him.” She lifts her broken arms. “I died a pathetic death, and I left him.”

“You—” Izuku starts, but she shakes her head.

“And I didn’t tell you about who I used to be,” she says. “Because if I did, then you would have asked for my knowledge of One For All, and I… I could never have told you no, once you knew that.”

“But what’s wrong with that?” Izuku presses, his voice plaintive. “Why wouldn’t you want to…?”

“Because it isn’t fair!” Her form flickers again, and the shreds of her cape stir as if in a breeze that Izuku can’t feel. “He didn’t—he didn’t get to learn from me and… and I couldn’t stop thinking that it wouldn’t be fair to him, that you could but not him.” She raises her head a fraction, and her hair parts from her dead white eyes. The corners of her mouth are turned upward, but her smile holds no joy. “But it wasn’t fair to you, either, was it?”

Izuku watches as her smile fades, and more tears cut through the blood.

“I’m sorry, Midoriya.” Her voice shakes with held-back sobs. “I am so, so sorry.”

Izuku rocks back on his heels, lost. His face feels stiff with drying tears. “I…” He grinds his teeth, grasping for the right words. “I think I understand. And I’m glad that… that you did help me. When you taught me to fight.”

“I got scared,” Ms. Shimura tells him softly. “When your school was attacked. I could—I recognized them. Some of the other spirits that came through with them. The whole thing reeked of him—” For a moment the sound of her voice drives itself into his ears like a drill bit. “You could have died. They could have killed you while you were still so young, and…” Finally, she meets his eyes. “And all I could think was that he’s lost so much. Too much. More than anyone should have to.” She lifts her bloody hand toward him, not quite reaching for him. “I couldn’t let him lose you, too.”

Fresh tears scald their way down Izuku’s face. He can’t talk through the thickness in his throat, and even if he could… what can he even say to this?

“I’ve made so many mistakes,” she says. “Dying didn’t make me any wiser. And if you can’t forgive me, I understand, but… please. Please let me keep helping you. There’s so much I need to fix.”

Izuku looks at her through his streaming eyes, at the blood and wounds and the brokenness on her face that has nothing to do with bones.

He can’t even tell which wound was the one that killed her.

If you want to ask me if I was there, then just say it, Gran Torino had said. …I wasn’t. No one was.

She looks like she died slowly, Izuku thinks.

She looks like she died crying.


Nana feels the brush of Midoriya’s fingers against hers, warm and alive and everything that she is not. She looks at him and finds his hair hanging over his sunken eyes, hiding them from view. His mouth is a thin, tight line, tense with anger, and after what she’s told him, she doesn’t blame him.

What must he think of her now?

But then he lifts his chin, and his dark curls part, and his tear-stained eyes burn with anger as he brushes his fingertips against her broken hand. When he speaks, his voice is cold and quiet.

“Who hurt you?”

If she still had a heartbeat, then maybe it would stutter to a halt. He is angry, not with her but for her; angry with someone he has never met, whose name he does not even know.

She wants to laugh. She wants to cry. She wants to pull him into a hug. Heaven help her, she doesn’t want to answer.

She wants this kind, selfless boy to stay far away from All For One. She wishes Toshi’s successor were anyone else, at the same time as she knows that he could not have made a better choice.

But she has done enough needless secret-keeping. And so, she takes his hand, lets her tears mingle with the blood on her face, and tells him.

Chapter Text

 

Sometimes, in the dead of night, Izuku finds himself in familiar places.

For example, tonight he stands in the USJ and watches the Noumu crush Aizawa into the ground. It’s never a question whether or not he dreams in color, because Izuku sees red in them. On Aizawa’s face, on the cracked ground beneath him, smeared on the Noumu’s hands—on his own hands, too. His limbs are locked in place, his chest frozen—he can’t even take a breath to scream.

Aizawa falls from the Noumu’s dark hand like a broken doll—and then there are two of him, and the second blinks at Izuku with blank white eyes.

His form is wavering, but solid. Pale but opaque.

Dead, not unconscious.

Shigaraki grasps Tsuyu by the face, and she screams as she falls to ash. Her ghost appears, still screaming, twisting even though she’s dead and nothing can hurt her anymore. Shigaraki turns to him then, twitching fingers reaching and grasping for Izuku’s eyes.

He shuts them, and opens them in the alley. There are ghosts again, and even in his dreams he can count and the numbers make sense—seventeen for the heroes he doesn’t know, eighteen for Tensei, nineteen for Rei, twenty—

Iida is number twenty, standing over his own body, eyes locked wide and pleadng on Izuku’s while Izuku’s breath comes in short gasps because he ran and ran but he was too slow

Blades flash in the dark

His blood spills, his limbs lock

He calls for help. It comes out as a whisper but he calls and calls Tensei called but nobody came, Iida called but Izuku was too slow.

He calls again and Todoroki comes running, flames in technicolor, orange and red make the shadows dance, and Izuku still can’t move, still can’t scream, can only watch as Stain cuts him down and Todoroki falls just beyond his reach, eyes shut.

They open again, not gray and blue but milky white.

And he’s the only one now who isn’t dead, because he couldn’t save them, couldn’t do anything, not fight or protect or even run fast enough to stop a sword, he can’t win a fight with his quirk, he can’t save people, all he can do is talk to them when they’re already dead—

He wakes up with all the abruptness of a slap in the face, tangled in damp sheets, drenched and sticky with sweat. He’s already nauseous, already crying, already rolling over to gag himself with his own pillow before his hoarse sobs can wake his mother.

Cold hands pat at his head, snagging in his tangled, sweat-stiffened hair. The tears subside, and he shivers, curling in on himself in a tight ball, waiting for the crawling on his back to go away, for the shadows to back off, for the visions to leave.

It takes a moment for his eyes to focus. The clock by his bedside reads four-twenty-eight, and he struggles and kicks until the encumbering sheets are crumpled at the foot of his bed. He sits up, pajamas clinging wetly to his skin.

He doesn’t hear the pad of paws on the carpet—he only realizes Mika is there at all when she leaps into his lap and steps all over his thighs, kneading until the pricking of her claws brings him more fully into wakefulness. Izuku’s eyes are still mostly shut as he reaches for her and clutches her against his chest. She wriggles in his arms, but she doesn’t claw or bite or struggle free.

The light comes on, and he jumps, eyes fluttering open to look to the door. “S-sorry Mom—” he begins, but his door is barely ajar and the apartment beyond is quiet but for the usual background creaking in the walls. Rei hovers by the light switch, dark hair falling over her face. When Izuku focuses on her, her hands move.

Go back to sleep?

“N-nope,” he rasps. “No. Absolutely not. Not going back there.” He shuts his eyes again and shakes his head furiously, as if that will jar the memory of Aizawa-sensei’s dead face from his mind.

He gets a few seconds of blissful blankness before it comes back. Faces crowd in his mind—Aizawa-sensei becomes Iida becomes Todoroki becomes Tensei becomes Sachi screaming and crying as her mangled hands clutch the wheel of her car with its cut brakes—

Tears drip down to his chin again. He wipes his eyes and reaches for his phone, without even thinking. It’s automatic.

When his eyes clear again, he finds that he’s opened up his text messages with Iida. He doesn’t remember making that decision, but here he is.

He scrolls up, mouth twisting wryly at the long series of messages from his phone to Iida’s, all marked as read but unanswered. He swipes his way back to the bottom, and finds one new message—the first text he’s gotten from Iida in nearly a week.

 

[1:28] Iida:

You’re probably asleep right now. If so, I apologize if I wake you. If not, then you really should be going to sleep, Midoriya!

 

[1:30] Iida:

I hope we can speak more later, but I wanted to say this as soon as possible.

 

[1:34] Iida:

Thank you, and I’m sorry. You deserved better from me.

 

Izuku’s thumbs move to reply, before he thinks better of it. If this means that Iida will be back to replying within three minutes of receiving a text message, then he doesn’t want to risk waking his friend up. Anything they say to each other on this subject will be better left for a face-to-face conversation.

He switches to his text conversation with Todoroki, and his mouth twists into a self-conscious smile when he’s greeted with a picture of Mika with his kitschy old All-Might headband balanced on her head and being a very good sport about it. Right—he’d stayed up until nearly one in the morning, working off nervous energy by snapping stupid photos of his cat and sending them to Todoroki.

He takes a gamble then, and sends another message.

 

[4:36] Me:

hey so

 

[4:36] Me:

let me know when your injuries are better?

 

[4:37] Me:

once they are, we can spar again. after what happened with stain it’d be good to get in some extra practice.

 

He ponders those messages for a while, before deciding that there’s not much more he can add. There’s no icon or indication that Todoroki is replying, or even that he’s read the messages, so Izuku sighs with relief. Todoroki’s still asleep, and Izuku hasn’t woken him.

The bed dips a little when Rei bounces onto it to sit by him. She settles into his lap, craning her neck to see the screen of his phone. The tip of her tongue pokes out of her mouth, and she makes a grab for it. Izuku barely pulls it out of her reach.

“Hey c’mon—” Rei makes grabbing motions, and in spite of the lingering nightmares, Izuku manages a smile. “Okay, okay, lemme just pick something more interesting.” Rei fidgets impatiently, and he brings up his Youtube app.

Weariness pulls at him, promising punishment and regret once the day comes. But the thought of sleep makes him feel physically ill, and he’s no stranger to poor rest, so he settles down with a ghost and a cat vying for the most comfortable spot in his lap, and watches Vine compilations and baby goat videos until the sun rises.


Uraraka Ochako is not stupid. Some people might look at her, take in her bright smile and her cheery disposition, maybe even overhear some of the conversations she has with Kirishima when they’re both riled up and excited, and leap to the “airhead” conclusion without stopping to think. It’s irritating at best, even if being underestimated can be useful once in a while.

It has nothing to do with grades, or intelligence, or how fast she can write a three-page essay on the history of quirk politics. It has everything to do with having eyes and ears and a halfway-decent memory and the ability to use those things in conjunction with one another.

For example, when she walks up to UA’s front gate on the first day back from internship week, she sees Deku not too far ahead, walking practically cheek-to-cheek with Todoroki, of all people. As she trots a little to catch up, she gets close enough to hear them chatting, and even catches the last bit of whatever Todoroki is saying.

“—and you look terrible right now. Even worse than usual.”

“Look me in the eye and tell me you’ve been sleeping like a baby after that,” Deku retorts.

“Fair enough.”

And she remembers that the last time she saw them interacting in any way was when they may or may not have tried to kill each other at the Sports Festival. She also remembers that Todoroki does a lot of things, but she’s never seen him chat with anyone, or heard him ask after anyone’s well-being. He’s not mean, per se, especially compared to Bakugou, but he’s stand-offish and doesn’t really talk to anyone, and he said he wasn’t there to make friends in front of basically the entire class, so…

Oh, well. She’s certainly not going to find anything out by standing all the way back here.

Ochako is not stupid, and neither is she shy, so she trots to catch up with an easy spring in her step and a bright “Morning, Deku!” In just a few paces she’s side-by-side with Deku as he turns to look and—okay, she definitely sees what Todoroki was talking about. “Whoa, Deku, you look a little rough,” she blurts, and if Iida were here then he’d definitely chide her for being tactless. But what else can she say? There are fading bruises on his face, he has a half-healed split lip, and… well. Come to think of it, she’s never seen him without dark circles under his eyes, but they look even worse than usual this morning. And if he looks bad enough that even Todoroki is commenting on it…

“How was your week?” Deku asks.

“It was pretty cool, but c’mon, what about your week?” Is Deku scatterbrained because of obvious sleep deprivation, or is he purposely changing the subject? “I saw the news, Deku. Everybody saw the news. I mean, the Hero Killer?” She could try to ease into it, but she’s been sitting on this question since they last spoke over the phone, and needless to say she’s a bit impatient. It’s all she can do to keep from punching the air in agitation. “You’re really lucky Endeavor showed up when he did, because… because…” She can’t think of a proper way to finish that sentence. “I mean, what was that even like? How did that even happen?”

“Uhhhh…” And Deku shoots a glance at Todoroki.

She recognizes that kind of glance. It’s a solidarity glance. An I-don’t-know-how-to-deal-with-this-so-I’m-looking-to-you-for-a-cue glance. It’s the kind of look that passes between friends, or close allies, and not two people who went from never talking to furiously punching each other back and forth across an arena on national television.

“Where… where was your supervisor, when it happened?” she presses. “I mean, I guess, was he okay? What was he like?”

“Very small and merciless.”

In spite of herself, Ochako sputters out a laugh. “He wasn’t too hard on you, was he? Gunhead was actually pretty cool to work under. And a lot nicer than he looks, but still…” She rolls her shoulders, and the movement reassures her. She’s never felt this physically secure in her own skin before. “Well. I really learned a lot—I hope I get the chance to show it off in class.” Inwardly she shakes herself—she’s getting off track again.

“That’s great! I… actually, I learned a lot, too.” He smiles, and it’s genuine enough to make the bags under his eyes look a little less awful. “My supervisor was… memorable. Helpful, though.”

“That’s good. But… more important than anything, are you okay?”

Something flashes in his eyes, and he glances to Todoroki again—but Todoroki’s already wandered off, so he turns back to her. “W-well… yeah, I’m fine, first off. But, um…” His voice trails off.

“Deku…” Ochako tilts her head so that her face is still within his line of vision as they enter the school building. “You do realize that not answering the question makes me want to know the answer even more, right?”

“I… well… yeah.” His shoulders slump a little.

“And that the longer you take to think of an answer, the more I’m going to think you aren’t telling the truth?”

At least he has the grace to look guilty.

Ochako sighs. “Deku, you remember what we said to Iida last week, right? If something’s wrong—”

“I-it’s not, I mean, not now, it’s just…”

“I know you don’t have to tell me if you really don’t want to,” she continues. “But… I am still your friend, and if something’s going on, then—”

“I do want to,” Deku blurts out, and there’s no hesitance or anything in how he says it. It slips out as if on its own, and she’s inclined to believe it. “I do, I just… can’t.”

“No judgments,” Ochako tells him. “Whatever it is, I’ll listen and I’ll take it to the grave. Wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me.”

“No, I—” A pained look crosses his face. “I mean I literally can’t tell you. As in, there are real, legitimate, legal reasons I can’t tell you.”

…Oh.

Well she wasn’t quite expecting that.

“But I can tell you that it’s okay, and I’m fine, and whatever it is, it’s over now,” he goes on. They’re close to the classroom.

“If you’re sure,” Ochako says reluctantly. She wasn’t expecting to get stone-walled for a reason like that.

And just like that, in spite of the exhaustion ringing his eyes, Deku slips back into his normal cheery, chattery self, and Ochako lets the rest of it slide for now. Whatever else is going on, he’s here and he’s okay, and a little bit of lost sleep is pretty tame, as possible downsides go.

Still, she finds it noteworthy that both Deku and Iida gravitate to Todoroki’s desk before class starts, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world for them to stand around him and chat about whatever. And—yeah, that sort of makes sense, since whatever went down with the Hero Killer apparently involved all three of them, but… after his little speech before the Sports Festival, she’d kind of assumed that Todoroki didn’t really do friendships.

Soon, though, it’s easy to get caught up in the post-internship excitement. Everyone’s come out of it with something new. Bakugou has a new haircut, of all things. From the sound of it, Jirou and Tsuyu have racked up some solid experience and training, too. Mineta looks delightfully traumatized. Ochako thinks back to her own training, the throws and maneuvers now drilled solidly into her head, and can’t help but throw herself back into that combat mindset (and throw a few jabs, as well).

The trio in the back are soon the talk of the class, though. As it turns out, she isn’t the only one with questions. The moment Deku, Iida, and Todoroki are all in the same place, their classmates are practically mobbing them for details. Ochako winces a little when she sees it—if she’d realized that everyone would be pumping them for information, she might have eased up earlier. She looks anxiously to Deku, eyeing the sullen look on his face. He isn’t putting on a cheery mask like he did with her.

“Did you guys watch that video of the Hero Killer, though?” Kaminari pipes up. “Where he was giving that speech before they took him in? I dunno what it was about him, but it was kind of badass, right? Am I the only one who thought that?”

Ochako grinds her teeth and looks to Iida. Her friend’s face looks like stone.

“Not really.” It’s not Iida who says that—if Iida’s face is stone, then the look in Deku’s eyes is positively molten.

“He had that conviction, though, right?” Kaminari goes on, though the grin on his face is faltering. “Like, he’s got this one-track mind about his ideas or whatever. That’s—that’s just my take, anyway…”

“I think…” Deku’s face softens back to sullen. “I think having a message is fine, but if the only way to send it is by killing people, then you don’t have anything worth saying.”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“Read the room, Kaminari!” Ochako blurts out, and he finally jolts in his seat and seems to remember that Iida is there.

“O-oh, right.” Kaminari looks positively mortified. “S-sorry—I’m sorry, Iida, I didn’t even think—”

“It’s all right.” Iida isn’t smiling, but his voice is even. “You… you aren’t entirely wrong about his conviction. I can understand why someone looking from the outside would see him that way.” His brow furrows, turning his cool face to steel, and for the first time in well over a week, his hand comes down swiftly in a wide arc, karate-chopping the air. “Still! Midoriya is also correct. His chosen method of following his ideals is through death and terror. That is the ‘what’, and in this case especially, it holds far greater weight than ‘why’.”

Ochako knows she isn’t imagining it when Deku stands a little straighter.

“As future heroes we have a responsibility to be conscious of our actions, and of their potential implications and consequences, regardless of the reasons behind them!” Iida continues, and there isn’t an eye in the room that isn’t on him. “And I intend to set an example, in that respect. Now, class is almost upon us, so everyone to your seats!”

Their classmates shuffle to comply, and Ochako feels a sort of relief settle in the room. This is a return to something approaching normalcy, after what happened to Ingenium. Ochako takes a deep breath and lets it out as a sigh of relief. Whatever went down over the past week, whatever new secrets Deku’s keeping, or is forced to keep, it looks like Iida, at least, is back to his old self again.


Foundational Heroics class sees them all in their hero costumes again, gathered in one of UA’s many, many outdoor training facilities, and Izuku tries not to make it obvious that he’s virtually vibrating with excitement.

He’d felt clumsy, the first time he wore this costume in Gran Torino’s living room. It had felt awkward and intimidating, like a little kid trying on his parents’ shoes. He hadn’t been used to the new design then, the new material and weight of it. It had been a far cry from the jumpsuit his mother had sewn for him with her own two hands, heavy and unfamiliar in ways he couldn’t put into words.

But today, he can wear this costume and say that he’s officially fought a villain in it. Or—well, he can’t actually say that, as per their agreement with Tsurugamae, but—anyway. Not important.

What is important is All-Might, and the exercise before them. Simple enough, however All-Might dresses it up as a “rescue” exercise; it’s a race through an obstacle course (albeit a complex one modeled after an urban environment) to reach a single target, while keeping damage to a minimum. It’s like one-sided Capture the Flag. Point A to Point B. Izuku can recognize an assessment when he sees one; this is their chance to show off what they’ve learned from shadowing the pros.

It’s… kind of perfect, all things considered. If there’s one thing Izuku’s taken from the past week, it’s how to haul ass to someone in distress as fast as his five-percent control of his quirk will allow. What better way to show off Full Cowl?

And yet…

Well. There’s always room for improvement. Izuku is never more aware of that than when his mind slips back to that night and runs through the events yet again—he’s lost count of how many times he’s relived them. Hindsight has dulled the pride and relief, and with each slow-motion mental replay, he finds more and more mistakes. It’s a lot to think about.

The fact of the matter is, Izuku’s still sort of guilty of the very same thing that made him lose his temper and scream at Todoroki in front of thousands of people: he’s letting his own abilities fall to the wayside, unused. His reasons for setting the ghosts aside may be different from Todoroki’s reasons for refusing to use fire, but the end result is the same, and the ‘what’ is still more important than the ‘why’.

Nineteen ghosts. There were nineteen ghosts in that alley, vengeful angry things with nothing but hatred for the man he was fighting, and he’d barely bothered to take advantage of that. For all intents and purposes, Stain had been laughably outnumbered and utterly unaware of the fact.

The next villain might not—probably definitely won’t—bother playing nice or talking politics. The Hero Killer was a wake-up call; if he wants to live long enough to be a hero, then he’s going to have to use what assets he has.

He’s going to have to use the allies that he has.

There’s barely enough time to throw together a strategy, and the one he lands on is dead-simple. “Rei. Could I ask a favor?” His lips barely move as he speaks, and he edges away from his nearest classmates. They’ll hear him talking, but he’s already well-established as a mumbler.

His friend’s eyes are on him, wide and eager.

“I need an extra set of eyes, and you’re fast. So just—when I start, go ahead of me. Find places to touch down. Handholds. Quick paths. Warn me about hazards.” He gives her a hopeful look. “Can you do that?”

The vigorous nodding is encouraging.

As luck would have it, he’s in the first group. He, Ashido, Sero, Ojiro, and Iida (sans costume, since his is undergoing repairs) line up at the edge of the building they’re gathered on.

He hears whispers from his classmates.

“Midoriya’s probably at a slight disadvantage.”

“You never know,” Jirou says. “His abilities are kind of hard to nail down, you know?”

“True,” Yaoyorozu replies. “But he always injures himself when he uses them, so it’s difficult to say…”

Starting group, take your positions!

Rei vanishes from his side. She reappears not far ahead, hovering at the other side of the gap between this platform and the next. The first leap is the simplest. Beyond that is a twisting urban maze of piping, rails, walls, and rooftops—a freerunner’s dream come true.

Izuku lets out the breath he’s been holding, waits for the signal, and hopes that Rei won’t let him fall.


It might have been kinder, to give young Midoriya a few rounds to watch before having him race. The boy is excellent with analysis, after all. But he won’t always have time to sit awhile and think, especially when he’s so determined to charge into danger. Better to encourage him to think on his feet.

Behind his smile, Toshinori swallows his worries. Gran Torino is a formidable teacher, but he did only have one week to work with. He can only hope it was enough.

Well. He’s about to find out, isn’t he?

“START!”

Young Sero, predictably, snags an early lead, and—

There’s a blur of green—dark green fabric, lit up with sparks like lightning coiled around agile limbs. Midoriya shoots past Sero like an arrow from a bow, overtaking him as he bounds over rooftops and leaps from foothold to foothold.

A hush falls over the watching students, and within it, in the distance, comes a familiar voice.

Woohoo!

He’s never heard that sound from his student before. It’s all Toshinori can do to keep from laughing aloud.


Kirishima is the first to break the shocked silence. “Look at him go! Is that even the same quirk?”

“Man, who knew Midoriya could parkour like that?” Kaminari adds.

Surprise ripples through the rest. Kirishima and Uraraka both are positively gleeful. Bakugou looks outraged to the point of being personally offended. The rest look varying levels of shocked (though Bakugou is the only one who seems to take this new development as a bad thing). In fact, the only one who doesn’t seem surprised is Todoroki—if anything, the not-smile on his face is verging on smug.

To all of those watching, from the students awaiting their turn to the teacher awaiting the victor at the finish line, Midoriya’s reflexes seem to have improved by leaps and bounds, though his movements are a little rough. At one point he drops his face into the crook of one arm, which no doubt hinders his vision even if it’s only for a moment.

“Sero’s catching up,” Uraraka remarks. “C’mon, Deku, you can do it!”

“It makes sense,” Yaoyorozu says. “This group has the most maneuverability, but Sero’s quirk is probably the best suited to this exercise. He doesn’t have to touch down as often, provided he can find points to swing from, and this environment is full of them. It’s much more difficult to predict a stable foothold.”

“I’m sorry, is no one else gonna acknowledge that Midoriya just dabbed?” Kaminari asks.

“Wait, he did?” Kirishima says. “I thought he was sneezing or something.”

“Still, look at those reflexes,” Tsuyu pipes up. “Jumping’s tricky if you can’t see where you’re going to land, but it’s like he’s thinking two steps ahead. It’s pretty cool.”

“It’s pretty much neck and neck between them, at this point,” Jirou says. “My money’s on Sero, though.”


He can feel the wind in his hair. Is this why dogs stick their heads out of car windows? It feels fantastic.

Izuku’s stomach turns somersaults as if he’s on a roller coaster of his own making. Rei stays ahead of him, scouting out a safe, stable path through the replica cityscape.

Sero’s still hot on his trail, swinging like an armored monkey as he closes the distance between them. Izuku hears the whap of tape nearby, and chances a glance over his shoulder to see how close his classmate is.

It’s a mistake—he misses the thick pipe that he was aiming for, foot skimming off the edge of it. He can’t hold back the yell of dismay as he feels himself drop. One hand stretches upward on instinct, reaching for a handhold that isn’t there.

A pair of hands catches him, cold leaking through the sleeve of his costume. Izuku finds himself promptly dragged back up, clumsily scrabbling for purchase as he’s helped back onto the bar. Trembling at his near-miss, he manages to hop his way up to a wider rooftop, and looks up with a shaky grin at Rei’s pale face.

“Th-thanks for the save,” he whispers. Sero has pulled ahead of him, and Ojiro is catching up as well. Izuku shrugs off the rest of the jittery alarm, pulls Full Cowl back together, and charges forward again.

He makes a valiant effort, and manages to leave Ojiro behind again, but Sero reaches All-Might before he does. Disappointed, Izuku touches down on the final rooftop and stumbles to a halt to catch his breath.

Sero’s laughing—not derisively, but a shaky, good-natured laugh that loosens the twisting frustration in Izuku’s chest. “Damn, Midoriya,” he says, sounding breathless from effort. “That was close. If you hadn’t slipped like that, I don’t think I could’ve caught you—oh crap, did you hit your face on the way down?”

“What?” The word is barely out when he feels a warm trickle down his upper lip and tastes salt and iron. “Oh. I guess I did. Whoops.” He almost wipes his bleeding nose, but decides at the last moment that he’d rather not get blood on his new costume again.

The others reach the finish soon after—Ojiro, then Iida, and finally Ashido all touch down on the final rooftop to the sound of All-Might’s booming greetings.

“You’ve all done well,” he tells them. “Young Sero may have placed first, but I can see that all of you have made progress, both in physical ability and the application of your quirks. Well done! Keep at it, and you’ll all do well in the end-of-term exams!”

Izuku feels his stomach drop, and the glow of All-Might’s praise sours as it lands on him. In all the recent flurry of events and excitement, it had slipped his mind that the term is ending and exams are only weeks away.

Iida takes one look at him and promptly flies off the handle in appropriate Iida fashion. “I turn around and you’re bleeding again,” he remarks the moment All-Might is finished speaking. “Midoriya, how—?”

“Slipped,” Midoriya says. “Anyone have a tissue?”

As it turns out, All-Might has tissues. They’re imprinted with tiny rabbit shapes. As his teacher moves closer to press one into Izuku’s hands, his voice barely reaches Izuku’s ears.

“Your progress in one week is remarkable, my boy,” he murmurs. His back is to the others. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

Izuku hides his smile by pressing the tissue to his bleeding nose.

All-Might isn’t done. “When this lesson is over, come see me in the teacher’s lounge,” he says. “We need to talk.”

For a moment, Izuku meets Ms. Shimura’s eyes over All-Might’s shoulder. She gives him a soft smile, glowing with quiet pride.

“It’s time I told you a few things about One For All.”


It’s probably yet another sign of Toshinori’s ill fit in the teacher role, that he would rather fight armies of villains with one hand behind his back than have this conversation.

It’s his own fault, really. On two counts. He should have made this conversation happen months ago—before villains attacked the USJ, before school started, maybe even before he’d passed his quirk to young Midoriya in the first place. Maybe he should have opened with this, all those months ago when he’d first stretched out his hand and offered the boy his quirk.

He hadn’t, because he hadn’t thought he’d need to. And the fact that he does need to is also his fault. Had he been more thorough, then maybe… but no.

Toshinori is afraid. He is afraid of having this conversation, because young Midoriya has formed a habit of exceeding his expectations, and today’s exercise left him bursting with pride and hope, but this—

More than anything, this conversation might end up being a deal-breaker.

Dutifully, Midoriya shows up to the break room to see him, face blandly curious in a way that makes Toshinori’s gut twist with guilt. He wonders what the boy expects out of this meeting.

He schools his face into a carefully blank mask. The smile is harder to fake in this form, so he doesn’t try. “Lock the door behind you,” he says.

Moments later, Midoriya is sitting before him, nursing the cup of tea that Toshinori offered him (tea is the least he can offer).

“To begin,” he says. “I heard about what happened in Hosu. I received your message, as well. I’m sorry I wasn’t near enough to help you.”

Midoriya jumps. “Wh—no, that’s all right! I didn’t expect you to, I just—it turned out fine. It was touch and go for a while, but… it was nice, getting out of it without shattering something like I usually do.” He wrings his right hand. “It’s a step up from last time. And the time before that. And… all the times, pretty much.”

“You’ve found a way to harness One For All more efficiently.” This time, the smile comes more easily. “I saw how you moved today. Your control is coming along, and your reflexes are excellent.”

Midoriya coughs a little and takes a sip of tea. “Right, yeah… I’ve been working on that,” he mumbles.

“Something did occur to me, though, about Stain—he ingested some of your blood, did he not?”

“Is… is that a problem?”

“Not as such.” Toshinori shakes his head. “Do you remember what I told you when I first passed One For All to you?”

Midoriya answers with an eerily accurate imitation of himself. “‘Now eat this,’” the boy replies… and that’s uncanny. Toshinori almost chokes on his own tea.

“Not quite what I meant,” he says.

“Well that’s the part that stuck with me,” Midoriya answers.

“That was… does that take practice?”

Midoriya’s face colors slightly, and all of a sudden he seems supremely interested in his tea. “Maybe.”

“W-well, anyway, I was referring to what I said about One For All,” Toshinori continues. “And how it passes through DNA.” He pushes on before Midoriya can reply. “I wasn’t sure if you’d be worried, since Stain drank your blood. It can only be passes on intentionally. It cannot be taken forcibly or accidentally.”

“I didn’t even think of that,” Midoriya admits. “So… I guess that means I wasn’t really worried about it.”

“Good, good.” Toshinori hesitates, trying not to chew on his own tongue.

“Was that what you wanted to tell me about One For All?” Midoriya asks. His eyes are on Toshinori, wide and expectant, like he knows that the answer is no.

“No. I’m… Well, I’m sure you’ve been wondering how such a power came to be.” He can do this. He just has to ease into it. Tell it to him like how Nana told you. “Its origins lie in the very beginning of quirk society, when powers first began to emerge.” He glances at his student. “You’re familiar with the history, I’m sure.”

“I know that… that quirks basically threw everything into chaos for a while,” Midoriya replies hesitantly. “Back when being quirkless was the norm, and humanity started to gain these powers… people were scared, and there was a lot of social upheaval, and it sort of… I guess everything else sort of ground to a halt while people dealt with that?” He shrugs. “I read some famous quote that said we’d have reached interstellar travel by now if it hadn’t been for quirks.”

Toshinori nods. “Correct. And, unfortunately, it is in times of great upheaval that… that a certain type of person finds opportunities to gain power.” His student falls quiet, watching him. “In that time, a… there was a man who was born with a unique ability to steal the powers of those around him—take them by force, either to keep, or to give away as he saw fit. Unfortunately, most humans he granted powers can’t handle the strain of multiple quirks, and it… it destroys them, from the inside. They might still be physically healthy, but… their minds don’t survive.” He pauses. “Perhaps this sounds familiar to you.”

“Noumu,” Midoriya murmurs.

“Got it in one.” Toshinori sighs. “He used this power to raise armies of mindlessly loyal henchman, or to remove threats, and before long he ended up ruling Japan’s criminal underworld. At some point he must have gained a quirk that stopped him from aging, in order to prolong his own reign. I don’t know his name. I doubt anyone does anymore, aside from him. He’s only known by the name of his quirk—All For One.” The title still tastes foul on his tongue.

Midoriya doesn’t reply, aside from a slight shudder.

“But he had a younger brother—weak, frail, and seemingly quirkless—who opposed him. Eventually All For One used his power to grant him a quirk, though I don’t know why. Perhaps to subjugate him as well, or out of some sense of pity or familial loyalty.”

At this, Midoriya sits up straight. “A brother?”

“Yes. One who he granted a quirk that stockpiles physical power. And, unbeknownst to either of them before that point, the brother did have a quirk all along—just one that hadn’t made itself known.”

“An invisible quirk,” Midoriya says, leaning forward.

Toshinori raises his eyebrows. “So you’ve heard of them.”

“One of the doctors my mom talked to thought I might have one, back when I was little,” the boy answers. “What was it? His original quirk, I mean.”

“Simply a power that allowed itself to be passed along from person to person.” Toshinori takes a deep breath. “Which I’m sure also sounds familiar. And so, the two quirks combined within him, forming—”

“One For All,” Midoriya finishes in a hushed voice.

Toshinori nods. “That is the origin of this power, my boy. It was—” His voice catches. “It was born with a purpose. All For One’s brother ultimately failed to stop him, and so he passed his quirk to another in the hopes that the accumulation of strength would be enough to defeat him. And on and on it went through the generations, until… now.”

Silence stretches between them, as thick as smoke. It clogs Toshinori’s ears like a solid mass.

His student has gone from hushed to mute. His eyes are on Toshinori’s, boring into him, searching his face as if taking a measure of his soul. They flicker toward Toshinori’s side, where his work shirt covers the twisted mass of scarring.

With some effort, he continues. “My own predecessor tried to defeat him, and… failed.” The word sticks in his throat, a choking pain that burns just as sharply as the day she fell. He knows, he reminds himself. He knows about her. Gran Torino told him already. “And I… I made my own attempt, which resulted in the injury that I’ve hidden from the public, and I thought—ahem.” He clears his throat, because his voice almost cracked, and that won’t do at all. “I thought I was successful. For years I thought he had died in our fight, but… recent events lead me to believe otherwise.” Guilt roils in his belly like nausea. “And if—if he is still alive, then it is quite likely, my boy, that you will have to face him yourself one day.”

And with that, it’s out. There’s no taking it back now. By rights he never should have kept quiet in the first place, but there’s no fixing it now. There’s no changing the fact that Toshinori failed his student years before he’d even met him, and now Midoriya knows about it.

The silence is deafening now. There’s no clock in this room, and Toshinori wishes desperately that there were. Even a maddening tick-tick-tick of seconds would be better than the utter void of sound that follows his quiet confession.

Desperation wins out, forcing more words from his tongue. “I’m… I think I owe you an apology, my boy,” Toshinori says. “You—I told you none of this, and hinted at none of this, when I first offered you my power. And if I deceived you, in any way… that was not my intention. It… it must be a lot to ask, for you to join such a deadly fight that you have no prior stake in, but at the time, I hoped he had died, and—”

“He hurt you.”

Toshinori can’t help it—he all but jumps when his student speaks. Is it his fault that young Midoriya shifts so abruptly from dead-silence to noise?

“Pardon?” he manages to say.

His student won’t look at him now. His eyes are fixed upon the tea in front of him, one finger tracing lightly over the rim. “All For One,” he says, and there’s something in his tone, something buried deep that Toshinori can only hear if he hunts for it. “He hurt you.”

“I… believe I said that, yes,” Toshinori replies, and his side twinges.

Midoriya’s eyes flicker briefly in the direction of Toshinori’s old wound, then back down to his tea. “It’s not just that,” he continues, his tone still blank and neutral. “He took someone from you. Someone important.” Up come the eyes again, meeting Toshinori’s only for a moment. “Someone you loved.”

He’s not sure he likes where this discussion is headed. “Midoriya…”

“It’s okay,” Midoriya tells him. “It’s not something you’ve ever—you couldn’t talk about it to anyone. Right? And now it still feels wrong to try, even though by rights you should be able to.”

There is little Toshinori can think to say to that, except “Well… yes, I suppose.”

Midoriya nods. “I’m not trying to dig for more information about that. You don’t have to talk about her yet if you don’t want to. I just…” He purses his lips. “I just wanted to, um, m-make it clear, I guess? That I know. And that means he’s hurt you twice over. And… and that means I have all the reason I need. T-to want to fight him.”

He feels his heart drop to his stomach. “Midoriya,” he says, and urgency creeps into his tone. “My boy, I—I’m genuinely touched, that you would think that way, but… that can’t be your reason. That shouldn’t be your reason.” He shakes his head, because he knows. He remembers he can never forget how it felt, feeling Nana’s pain as if it were his own, wanting to scream and cry and rage against anyone and anything that had ever spared a thought toward hurting her. He remembers the pain of her loss, the rage that haunted his dreams, filling him with a sick, twisting desire for retribution. “You can’t—that’s a mistake, Midoriya. This isn’t about grudges, or punishment, or personal satisfaction. It is simply a duty to the world, do you understand?”

“It’s not my only reason,” Midoriya nearly whispers. “I have others. I’m just saying that, at the end of the day, it’s the only reason I need.” He draws in his shoulders, curling in on himself as much as the situation allows. “Can… can I admit something?”

Urgency turns to concern. “Of course. Is something troubling you?” He mentally kicks himself—stupid question. After the boy’s harrowing experience in Hosu, he’s gone and dropped another mental bomb on him. Of course something is troubling him.

“W-when I… when I fought against Stain.” Midoriya’s fingertips are white against the cup. “I… I was scared.”

“Of course you were,” Toshinori says gently. “You remember what I told you, remember? All heroes feel fear.”

“I-I know, but… when I was fighting him, I was scared, and it made me move faster.” His hands shake. “And I was angry, and it made me hit harder. And…” Tears gather in the boy’s eyes, and he blinks rapidly as if trying to wipe them away with his eyelids. “I-I was scared because I didn’t want to watch Iida and Todoroki die, and I was angry because Stain was trying to kill them. A-and—All-Might, I swear, I would’ve fought him if it was anybody in that alley, but… but I don’t know if I would’ve been as scared, or as angry, if it hadn’t been them, and… and I don’t…” Tears drip down his face. “I-I think even people who save lives for selfish reason can still be he-heroes, but I-I don’t want to be selfish, and… Does that make me selfish?”

And Toshinori can’t know what’s going on in young Midoriya’s head, just like he can’t feel the ghost of a hand on his shoulder, or hear a whisper in the air that answers nah, kiddo, that just makes you honest. His student finally releases the cup from his white-knuckled hands, and Toshinori sees them fidget and wring strangely in Midoriya’s lap.

So all he says, in the end, is, “At the moment, my boy, you have my permission to be selfish.” Watery green eyes meet his again, wide with shock. “From the moment I met you, young Midoriya, you’ve been an absolute pillar of selflessness, from charging into danger for the sake of someone whom you didn’t get along with, to sacrificing your own advancement for… well, the sake of someone whom you didn’t get along with. It’s quite inspiring, my boy, but it must be exhausting.”

Midoriya’s next sniffle sounds encouragingly close to a quiet chuckle, and he lifts his arm to wipe his eyes. “U-um. A little.”

“Yes. Well.” Toshinori coughs awkwardly into his sleeve. “If your version of selfishness is, ‘I will fight extra-hard to protect those close to me,’ then I’d say there are worse ways to be selfish. And… you are a student still, my boy. You’re learning. No one is born with the perfect mindset for a Symbol of Peace. It will come with time and experience and training. So please…” He tries a smile. “Learn to forgive yourself, won’t you?”

After a moment of thought, his student manages a shaky little grin in return. “I’ll… I’ll try.”

“Good.” Toshinori takes a sip of tea, and finds his eyes drawn back to his student’s hands. They’re scarred and battered, even more so than after the Sports Festival. Many of those new marks and bruises will fade and heal, but it’s still a stark reminder of how much his charge punishes his hands. As Toshinori watches, he sees them move and fidget again, and a moment later he realizes why it’s so mesmerizing to him.

“Oh—is… is that sign language, my boy?”

Midoriya jolts in his seat, eyes wide. “W-what? O-oh. Right. Y-yes. Sorry, it’s a nervous tic.”

He looks so sheepish that Toshinori can’t help but smile. “Still muttering, then?” he says. “With your hands instead of your mouth?”

“S-something like that, yeah.” Midoriya shifts in his seat. “Turns out people won’t tell you to be quiet if you talk to yourself with just your hands.”

“I see…” Toshinori frowns at his students hand’s, and then his own. “Hm. I might try learning, myself.”

“R-really?”

“It seems like a useful skill,” Toshinori says with a shrug. “Besides… you and I have quite a few secrets shared between us, don’t we? I see no downside to being able to communicate discreetly.”

“Th-that’s true.” Midoriya takes his cup and drinks from it again, holding it in both hands as if to make sure they keep still. After a moment, now dry-eyed, he looks up again. “A-actually, I had sort of an idea…”

“Do tell.”

“Well… if you start of learning, um, numbers, and words for time… like minutes, and hours… then, in class, if you’re in your hero form and you’re running out of time… you could let me know? I could maybe, I don’t know, cover for you or something.” He shrugs. “Just a thought.”

A slow smile spreads across Toshinori’s face again. “It’s a good one,” he says. “Well. I believe I have a trip to the library in my future. But, out of curiosity… how do you say minutes or hours?”

Midoriya brightens at the question, and Toshinori can only smile wider as his student leaps at the chance to teach.

Chapter Text

 

The world is upside-down for the briefest of moments, and then Izuku lands flat on his back in the grass. He’s gotten better at this—landing, that is—and manages to avoid having the wind punched out of him like it was the first few times Todoroki knocked his feet out from under him. Besides avoiding serious and unnecessary injury, Todoroki doesn’t really do gentle when it comes to sparring.

Not that that’s a bad thing—their wounds from Hosu are scars and memories now, and neither of them need or want to be handled with kid gloves. That’s not what this is about.

He tips his head back, and finds Todoroki’s upside-down face watching him with minimal concern; they’ve sparred enough by now to figure out each other’s limits, and a fairly smooth landing on soft grass falls well short of Izuku’s.

“Show me that again?” Izuku says, even as he mentally runs through the maneuver. He didn’t have a good view of Todoroki’s footwork, but whatever it was, it was deft enough to flip Izuku like an omelette. He sits up, batting bits of grass from his hair, and rolls his shoulders as he gets back to his feet.

They’re shy of evenly matched, when they fight without quirks. Izuku can hold his own well enough, and what he lacks in training and experience, he makes up for with raw strength, quick thinking, and the odd underhanded move. Todoroki still has more wins than he does, but Izuku hoards his victories jealously.

It takes two more tries for Izuku to figure out exactly what Todoroki’s move is, and a third try to effectively counter it. That time, Izuku avoids the grab and twist, and wastes no time in counterattacking with a simple but effective throw Ms. Shimura once taught him. He hears a grunt of alarm as Todoroki feels himself going off-balance, and Izuku sends him tumbling to the grass before he can correct himself. By the time Todoroki catches his breath and sits up, Izuku’s already diving for the notebook he left by their jackets and water bottles.

“That didn’t take long,” Todoroki remarks. “Toss me my water?”

Izuku does so. “Could’ve been faster,” he replies, splitting his brain between the words coming out of his mouth and those coming out of his pen. “Certainly can’t ask a villain to stop a fight to show me a move again. Thanks, by the way.”

“It’s good practice.” Todoroki caps his bottle. “Helps to be able to demonstrate it to someone, instead of just going through the motions on my own, or…” He hesitates, and doesn’t finish the thought. “I remember things better. Work out what I’m doing wrong. And it’s…” His voice trails off.

Rei catches Izuku’s eye, signing something with a wide grin when he looks up from his notebook. Izuku cracks a smile of his own.

“It’s okay, Todoroki, you can say it’s more fun this way. I won’t judge.”

His friend looks at him sharply. “It’s training. It’s not supposed to be fun.”

Izuku thinks back to all the little jokes that Ms. Shimura has cracked with him (or at his expense) while showing him how to escape a headlock or throw a punch without spraining his wrist. He remembers Uraraka victory-dancing after completing a rescue exercise in class, and Iida going needlessly over the top when role-playing a victim, and Ashido shrieking with laughter somewhere behind him when she heard him whooping as he bounded through the obstacle course with Full Cowl.

“Can’t relate,” he says.

“I’m not surprised.” It’s almost a scoff. “You turn everything into a joke.”

There’s something in his tone—something flat, almost disparaging—that makes Izuku bristle in spite of himself. “What of it?” he asks sharply.

“You don’t think that might be a bad habit?” Todoroki turns to him, as calm and unruffled as ever. “You may be strong, but that doesn’t mean you should be wasting time making snide remarks when you’re fighting villains.” He turns back to his bottle, swishing the water inside it absently. “I’d think you of all people would take this seriously.”

Izuku purses his lips to keep from scowling, because their lives have been vastly different up to now and it’s not his fault or Todoroki’s but Todoroki doesn’t get it. “You think I don’t take things seriously just because I run my mouth sometimes? Just because I try to stop and be happy with what I’m doing once in a while?”

“It’s not just once in a while,” Todoroki points out. “You might’ve caught up to Sero faster in that rescue race if you hadn’t wasted energy messing around.”

“Pff.” Izuku rolls his eyes. “If I can’t have fun pulling sweet flips, then what is even the point of having superpowers?”

“You’re doing it again.”

“I’m not—” Izuku stops, frustrated. “Look. It’s—you're not getting it.”

“Enlighten me, then.”

“It’s just…” He hesitates again, wracking his brain for the right words to get the thoughts and feelings out of his head. “It’s not a distraction, first of all. If anything, it makes me focus more.”

Todoroki looks skeptical.

“So far I’ve been in mortal danger twice.” He stops. The slime villain—it feels like a lifetime ago. “Three times. No—four. Don’t ask. And every single time, I’ve been on the verge of panic. It’s like a wave coming in. And I’m in—I’m in the shallows, I guess, and I can feel it coming, and I know when it gets to me, I’ll start drowning and I’ll be no use to anyone then. So I—I crack a joke. Or I make a stupid comment. I find something—something funny. Or I find something not-funny, and make it funnier in my head. And when I do that, the wave takes that much longer to get to me. The more I do it, the longer I can… keep my head above water, I guess. Sorry, that analogy got away from me.” He plucks a blade of grass, and spins it between his fingers. “I can’t stop it from reaching me, but I can push it back and push it back until I do what needs to be done. And maybe if I do it out loud, I can keep other people from drowning too.” Dropping the blade, he shrugs. “I mean. You sort of did it, back then.”

Todoroki tilts his head. “Back when?”

“Before we started fighting Stain. I said we couldn’t win, and you said we could at least make it look cool. I dunno, it made me laugh. For two seconds I stopped thinking about how likely it was that we were gonna die.”

Todoroki is quiet for a moment. “I guess that makes sense.”

“It’s not always like that,” Izuku admits with a shrug. “Sometimes I just lose my temper and mouth off. Still serves a purpose. Keeps villains talking, or… maybe if I make them mad enough, they’ll go after me instead of anyone else.”

“Hm.” Todoroki sets aside his water bottle and gets back to his feet. “In that case, you need more practice. You’re no use to anyone if a villain kills you for giving them lip.”

“True.” Izuku takes a quick swig of water and follows him up.

They’re an hour and a half into their training get-together when Izuku starts to flag a little. It’s not that he’s tired (he’s on his second wind, with enough breath in him to carry on a conversation while he fights) but he’s vaguely troubled, or at least distracted.

“Something wrong?” Todoroki asks—in the middle of fighting him.

“Not really. Just—what you said about bad habits.” Izuku feints a jab at his head, but Todoroki doesn’t take the bait. “Something Gran Torino told me—” Todoroki throws a kick, Izuku intercepts and tries to throw him off balance, but Todoroki twists free and falls back into his steady stance. “—when I was interning with him, was that you risk forming weird habits if you—” Izuku makes the first move, and lands a solid hit on Todoroki’s midriff that sends him staggering back. He continues the onslaught, but it’s too reckless; Todoroki gets a solid hold on him and kicks his foremost foot out from under him. Time seems to slow as he feels himself fall—Izuku grabs onto Todoroki and twists, taking him down with him. “—only spar against one person,” he finishes, slightly winded.

“School training probably makes up for that,” Todoroki says, disentangling himself to stand again. “Once more?”

Izuku nods, and waits for him to attack. This time, Todoroki gets a good grip on him. The fight is moving a bit too fast for Izuku’s coherent thoughts to keep up, but there’s something instinctual about his distribution of balance and the shifting of Todoroki’s weight that makes him think, I’m going to fall if I don’t do something.

“Something” ends up being lashing out with his single free hand. It’s a controlled jab, which is probably a good thing because he hits Todoroki right in the throat. His friend makes a strangled noise and hesitates, his grip loosening, allowing Midoriya to slip free and overbalance him—gently.

“You okay?” he asks the moment Todoroki’s back touches the ground. “Did I—I didn’t hit you too hard, did I?”

“Wasn’t expecting that,” Todoroki wheezes, rubbing the spot where Izuku hit him. “Not very sporting.”

Relieved, Izuku lets some of the tension from his shoulders. “Since when I have I ever been sporting?”

“Good point.” Todoroki sits up with a grunt of effort. “You fight dirty.”

“I fight smart.” Midoriya grins and offers him a hand. “If you’re the hand-crusher, I can be the throat-puncher.”

“Fair enough.” Todoroki takes his hand, then yanks him forward, plants one foot on Izuku’s chest, and uses it to flip him ass over head into the grass.


“So has anyone heard what the final practical exams actually are?” Ochako asks.

They’re fairly early for first period—not Iida early, but respectable. She’d run into Deku just outside the gate, and before long Todoroki had ended up unobtrusively slipping in beside them. It’s taking a little getting used to, having Todoroki join them so often—especially since his fight with Deku got so intense. She still has no idea what that was about, and neither of them seem to be in any hurry to enlighten her.

Oh well. Not like it’s any of her business.

“I heard something about giant robots, I guess?” Deku says, though he doesn’t sound quite convinced. “I dunno, after everything that’s happened, I’m not sure if a repeat of the entrance exam is the way they’re gonna go. Especially after everyone pretty much rolled right over those zero-pointers at the Sports Festival.”

“Personally, I’m not convinced of anything until there’s an actual announcement,” Todoroki says flatly. “I wouldn’t put it past them to keep it under wraps and let rumors spread before they catch us off guard.”

“Hmph.” Ochako pouts. “At least we get study guides for the academic exams.”

“It’s practical, in the long run,” Todoroki points out. “Heroes get caught in unfamiliar and unexpected situations all the time. Makes sense that exams would replicate it. Besides—I hear Principal Nedzu likes playing tricks.”

“Logical ruses,” Deku says with a gloomy sigh. “Any more logical ruses and I might as well just question reality all the time. Are we really eating lunch for an hour every day, or is it a mass hallucination? Does homework exist? Maybe everything’s made up and our grades don’t even matter.”

Ochako groans loudly. “Ugh, Deku, no, it’s too early for an existential crisis.”

“It’s never too early for an existential crisis,” Todoroki says solemnly, and Ochako’s surprised enough to laugh.

On their way to homeroom, Deku waxes lyrical about some new up-and-coming hero he saw on the news, and Ochako catches sight of Aizawa-sensei and Present Mic off to the side, standing by a closed door to one of UA’s many school storage rooms. Ochako can count on one hand the number of times she’s seen Aizawa-sensei before the start of class; she’s always just assumed that he naps in the teacher’s lounge until the warning bell. But here he is, as scruffy and sleepy as ever, while Present Mic chats with him about something she’s not close enough to hear.

As they wander closer to their two teachers, Ochako wonders at the fact that such wildly different people can end up as close as the two of them seem to be. Aizawa-sensei is always so stiff and serious underneath that lazy facade, the most dour and humorless person Ochako has ever met. And yet he’s friends with Present Mic, of all people. And they are friends; she can tell. Aizawa-sensei isn’t just pretending to put with him, or anything. He never tries to match Present Mic’s… well… everything, but he looks perfectly comfortable to stand near him and absorb all the excitement and smiles, like an emotion black hole.

Ochako finds her gaze drawn toward Deku and Todoroki, right when Deku punches the air for some reason to punctuate what he’s saying, and Todoroki, blank-faced, nods like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

…Huh.

The three of them pass close enough to catch what Aizawa-sensei and Mic-sensei are saying. “—and it’s got to be here somewhere,” she hears Present Mic mutter.

“You forgot the key,” Aizawa-sensei says flatly.

“I was in a rush,” Present Mic answers, methodically patting through each and every pocket on his costume. “I got called in an hour ago to help deal with a criminal who’s been on my radar, and I didn’t have time to double-check—”

“You pulled an All-Might.”

“It’s not my fault supply closets require actual keys instead of a sensible keycard swipe like the rest of this place!”

“Uraraka?” Deku taps her on the shoulder, bringing her attention back to him. “Could I borrow a bobby pin?”

She’s only half listening as she digs into her pocket. “Hm? Oh. Sure, Deku, I always have extras.”

He takes it. “Thanks. Um—I should specify, I know I said ‘borrow’, but you might not get this back.”

“It’s no big deal,” she assures him. “Those things come in packs of like, five hundred.”

“Thanks,” he says, and breaks away from the two of them.

“Deku, where are you—?”


Aizawa knows that this is going to be a Day. This is how it always starts—simple, as simple as one of the shelter cats horking on the carpet or Yamada forgetting his damn keys. It starts simple, but it starts early, and Aizawa functions on too little sleep on the best of days. He’s not in the mood for a Day.

“We’re wasting time,” he says. “Kayama should be here by now, and we can borrow hers for—” He’s distracted from finishing his sentence when Midoriya quietly nudges his way between them and steps up to the locked supply room door.

“Midoriya, what—” Yamada begins, before the boy slides a bobby pin into the keyhole.

It takes less time than it would have for Yamada to search the rest of his pockets. It’s quick, efficient, and practiced. The lock clicks, and Midoriya twists the handle and tugs it open a few inches, more to test the door than actually open it.

“Excuse me,” he says, quiet and polite as anything, and walks back to where Uraraka and Todoroki are waiting for him. Uraraka is looking at him like he just grew a second head. Aizawa doesn’t blame her.

“Shouta,” Yamada says as the kids move off. “I’ll ask again, what are you teaching those kids?”

“It’s a useful skill,” he answers. “Besides, I didn’t teach him anything. That one came like that.”

Midoriya is an odd one—he knows that much. There’s something about him that Aizawa can’t put a finger on—and the frustrating thing is that Aizawa knows, with zero evidence and every fiber of his being, that he should be able to. It’s not some nebulous feeling; there’s something very concrete about Midoriya that he should know but doesn’t

“Well, this saves us a trip to the teacher’s lounge,” Yamada says, breaking him out of his thoughts. “And we can thank your student’s tragic criminal past, I guess.”

This is still going to be a Day. He can feel it.


“Did you know he could do that?” Ochako asks, the moment Deku has moved to his desk and out of earshot.

Todoroki shrugs. “You’ve known him longer than I have.”

It’s simple enough to put her friend’s previously unknown skills out of her mind. They’re doing combat training today, and that’s enough to leave her vibrating with excitement. The class pairs off by random assignment for sparring practice—Ashido gets a stroke of bad luck and ends up with Mineta. Ochako isn’t close enough to hear what he says, but Aizawa-sensei is, and he promptly has him switch partners with Shouji. Mineta bursts into tears when he finds himself assigned to spar with Bakugou.

Ochako’s luck is comparatively top-tier, and she and Deku grin at each other across the mat before Aizawa-sensei has them begin.

Less than two minutes later, he crashes into the ceiling.

“Sorry!” Ochako calls up. “I tried to catch you, but—”

“It’s fine!” Deku yells back down to her. Some of their classmates are starting to stare. She can hear Kaminari laughing. “It’s fine, it’s my own fault—just—” His quirk manifests in that green lightning she’d seen before, on the screen during the rescue race exercise. He kicks off of the ceiling, powerfully enough to bring him within reach. Ochako stretches to her toes and hops up to reach his outstretched hand with all five fingers, then darts out of the way when he lands. He sticks it, though, and it looks reasonably cool. Or it would, if he weren’t already muttering something to himself.

“Want to try that again?” she asks.

“Yeah. I’ve got it this time.”

And he does have it, if Ochako is any judge, because from then on he’s a lot smarter about keeping her from grabbing him. Sparring with Deku is a lot different from fighting with Bakugou; she doubts he’ll be bringing out those limb-shattering attacks anymore now that he has a much safer and more efficient way to use his quirk. (Of course, this is also a much more controlled environment than the Sports Festival was, and Ochako doubts Aizawa-sensei will be as slow to step in as Cementoss and Midnight were if things get too rough.) Either way, Deku can’t drive her back and keep her at a distance with long-range attacks. Unlike Bakugou, who kept blasting her back every time she tried to get close, Deku settles for being slippery and quick when she does. It’s almost infuriating, how quick he is. Ochako’s back hits the mat twice before she manages to use her quirk on him again.

This time, he snags her arm before he can float all the way up to the ceiling. Dangling in the wrong direction, he flashes her a bright smile. “High-five me?”

“Only if it means I won,” she retorts. Instead of answering, he pulls her arm for leverage and reaches for her hand. With a yelp, she realizes what he’s doing and curls her fingers into a fist. Undeterred, he clings to her wrist and tries to pry them loose. “Deku!

“It’s not over until I’m on the ceiling!” He’s almost laughing—oh, that does it. Ochako digs into her week of training with Gunhead and struggles with him, fighting to twist free, but he keeps catching her and going for her hands again.

Finally, he gets a hold of her wrist, and she slips up and grabs him back with all five fingers. Deku yelps as gravity returns to him and tries to correct himself, but all this accomplishes is making him land perpendicular to her rather than in a more compromising position.

Not that that stops Mineta from howling with utter glee, before Bakugou blasts him halfway across the room. If someone had told Ochako before now that she would ever feel genuinely grateful to Bakugou for something, she would have rolled her eyes.

Sero and Iida are close enough to see it, and they actually have to pause their spar because Sero is laughing too hard to put up a proper defense, and then Iida is too busy scolding him for it to put up a proper offense.

“—highly disrespectful and unprofessional! Sero—Sero please, we mustn’t waste time better spent training!” Sero’s almost crying.

Aizawa-sensei strolls up as Deku apologizes profusely and Ochako climbs to her feet, rubbing her head where it struck the ground. It feels bruised, but she doesn’t feel dizzy enough to worry about a concussion.

“I’m fine,” she says for the fifth time within a minute, either to Deku or to their homeroom teacher. “I just landed weird.”

Aizawa checks her pupils for a moment before agreeing with her, and then everyone’s attention is arrested.

Todoroki and Ojiro’s fight is getting a little intense; fighting with people nearby must mean that Todoroki can’t unleash his quirk the way he would normally want to, so he’s forced to fight in close-quarters against the one person in their entire class who’s insanely good in close quarters.

Todoroki’s insanely good, too, so it makes for a pretty close match. Other pairs are pausing to watch, and Aizawa-sensei doesn’t tell anyone to get back to their own practice. He probably figures they can learn something from watching them fight. Ochako leaves off rubbing her sore head and tries to; sparring with Gunhead was great, but she wasn’t with him long enough to learn moves like this. Deku is just as intent as she is. She sees his fingers twitch at his sides, like he’s writing imaginary notes.

The match gets crazy close—so close that for a moment, Ochako is sure that Ojiro is going to knock Todoroki off his feet. But at the last minute, Todoroki lashes out, Ojiro chokes, and a second later he’s landing on his tail on the mat.

Beside her, Deku makes a noise that sounds almost like a laugh.

“Sorry.” She’s close enough to hear Todoroki’s sheepish tone.

Wasn’t expecting that,” Ojiro wheezes.

“If you need to go to Recovery Girl, go,” Aizawa tells him.

Ojiro gives a thumbs up. “I’m fine.”

“Hey, come on, man!” Kirishima calls over, glaring at Todoroki. “Did you seriously just punch him in the throat? That’s a cheap shot, Todoroki!”

“Keep in mind that most villains aren’t above moves like that.” Aizawa-sensei raises his voice so that everyone can hear—by this point, the whole class is paying attention. “You aren’t here to learn a sport; you’re here to learn how to deal with villains. And in a fight, you perform how you practice. If you practice expecting your opponent to fight fair, then you won’t last long. Besides—” His eyes glint. “There’s no such thing as fairness in a fight for your life. If underhanded tactics are necessary to save lives and end a conflict before more people get hurt, then swallow your pride and use them.” He looks to Todoroki. “That being said, this is still only training.”

“I was being gentle,” Todoroki answers.

“He really was.” Ojiro’s on his feet again, rubbing his neck, but he looks okay. “I could tell. Still caught me off guard.”

“Man,” Sero remarks, loud enough for most of the class to hear. “Who would’ve thought Todoroki could fight dirty? Necessary or not, fighting like that’s pretty shady for a hero.”

“That’s what I told him,” Todoroki says, shooting a withering look at Deku.

“Wh—no.” Deku almost sputters. “No—no, you don’t get to call me out for a cheap shot right after you used it and it worked.”

“Wait, what?” Ochako turns to him, confused. “I don’t remember you throat-punching him in the Sports Festival.”

“It, uh.” Almost instantly Deku goes from comically incensed to sheepish. “Wasn’t in the Sports Festival.”

“We spar after school twice a week,” Todoroki adds.

What?!” Bakugou roars from the other side of the room, loud enough that Deku startles like a rabbit.

“I-i-it’s good practice,” Deku says.

“If you’re all done discussing your classmates’ work ethic, and no one needs to visit the nurse, then you can return to your assigned training,” Aizawa-sensei breaks in before the discussion can continue. His brow furrows, and he looks from Deku to Todoroki. “As for you two, keep in mind that there are rules in place regardless of whether or not school is in session, and breaking them—”

“We don’t use quirks,” Midoriya cuts in. “It’s just hand-to-hand.”

“Good. Continue, everyone.”

Ochako tries to focus on the rest of the class. It’s not as easy as it should be, with the gears turning in her head the way they are.

The moment school is done for the day, she packs her things hastily and waits for Deku to do the same. She thinks at first that they’ll probably have to track down Todoroki, but once again Deku’s new friend falls in with them. Ever since the Sports Festival and the week of internships, their trio of her, Deku, and Iida has become a quartet with Todoroki along.

The moment they’re all occupying the same physical space, she speaks up.

“I want in.”

Deku gives her an owlish blink. “Huh?”

Ochako takes a deep breath. “On your after-school sparring thing. When do you guys get together?”

“Um. Mondays and Wednesdays, usually? Sometimes weekends.” Deku looks taken aback. Honestly, it’s like he doesn’t even know her.

“Okay, look, I understand if it’s your thing, like your two-person manly bonding sessions, but if it’s okay with you, I’d like to get in on it too.” Ochako bounces on the balls of her feet. “I only have one week of combat training outside of what we all do in class together, and I want to do more. When I look at you guys and Bakugou and Ojiro and everybody, I feel like I’m falling behind, and I want to catch up. So I want in. If that’s okay.”

“It’s okay with me,” Deku answers readily. “Todoroki?”

“I’m fine with it.” He blinks. “What… what was that about manly bonding?”

“Now—wait a minute!” Iida breaks in. “Are you all quite sure this is safe? The reason why institutions like UA exist is that there are rules in place, and our classes have structures and regulations to help enforce those rules and make sure proper safety procedures are observed. Unsupervised training carries risks—”

“You could always come along,” Todoroki interrupts. “If you’re that worried about it.”

“Yeah!” Deku brightens. “I bet we’d get a lot more out of it, with four of us.”

“W-well—well I—” For a moment, Iida looks almost flustered. “I suppose—as class rep, I do have a responsibility to make sure my fellow students are properly observing rules and regulations… if I’m not unwelcome, I’d be happy to.”

“Plus, final exams are coming up,” Deku adds. “It could be like a study group for hand-to-hand combat.”

Apparently, the magic words are “study group”. Iida goes from hesitant to thoughtfully eager in the blink of an eye.


That Wednesday, Izuku meets Todoroki at the park where they usually spar. He’s within ten feet of their meeting place when he stops, jaw dropping.

Todoroki, Iida, and Uraraka are already there. So are Ojiro, Kaminari, Jirou, Yaoyorozu, and Kirishima, with Bakugou standing beside him looking fully prepared to blow up the first person who speaks.

“Heya!” Kirishima greets him, and Bakugou miraculously doesn’t try to explode his face. “We heard something about a study group for hand-to-hand combat?”

Baffled, Izuku glances at Todoroki, who can only offer him a helpless little shrug. At his side, Rei clutches her stomach and laughs.

Chapter Text

“The first rule of Study Group is—”

“Kaminari, c’mon.” Kirishima rolls his eyes.

“—don’t talk about Study Group,” Kaminari finishes, snickering, which prompts Kirishima to groan loudly. “Aw, c’mon, Kirishima! I would’ve thought you’d like that movie. You’re all about manly-man stuff, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, not fake manly,” Kirishima informs him. “There’s a difference between manliness and being an entitled dudebro.”

“That’s true,” Jirou says, straight-faced. “Just look at Bakugou, he’s like the poster child for toxic masculinity.”

You want to say that to my face, you ear-dangling fuck?

“I just did!”

Off to the side, Izuku takes a deep breath and ignores the prickling up his spine when Bakugou starts yelling again. He takes another deep breath and counts to ten, then continues until he reaches thirty-five and a tap on his arm jolts him back to the present.

“Are you all right?” Todoroki asks him mildly.

Peachy,” he answers. It comes out a great deal more serene than he feels, and he’s not entirely sure it matches whatever is showing on his face. Rei isn’t fooled, if the conciliatory shoulder-patting is any clue, and Kaminari and Yaoyorozu are giving him odd looks. He presses his hands together in front of his face, fingertips whitening. After a moment, once he feels that his feelings are properly leashed, he lets his hands drop to his sides again.

Why is he so upset? He gets along with most of them. Ojiro and Kirishima he even tentatively considers friends. He likes them and he hopes they like him too. It’s only Bakugou who sets the hard, heavy pit in his stomach, so why does it bother him that they’ve all tagged along?

A loudly clearing throat turns every head toward Iida. “Everything else aside,” he says. “Kaminari does make a good point.”

Kaminari blinks. “I do?”

“He does?” Jirou asks.

“Yes! Well. We weren’t expecting to have so many people involved, so perhaps things would run more smoothly if we set some ground rules.”

“Rule one is don’t talk about—”

“Give it a rest, Kaminari,” Ojiro sighs.

“Maybe we should include that,” Todoroki mutters, too quietly for anyone but Izuku to hear. “Talking about it is what led to a quarter of the class inviting themselves.” Izuku coughs out a quiet laugh that can still reasonably be mistaken for a cough.

“Hey, Deku? Todoroki?” Uraraka pipes up. “This is kind of your thing. What do you two think?”

“Well… the only real rule we have is that we don’t use quirks,” Izuku answers with a shrug. “Because otherwise it’d be, y’know, kind of illegal.”

“And the fight stops if one of us wants to stop,” Todoroki adds. “Immediately, no questions asked.”

“You know what?” Izuku says, slipping his backpack from his shoulders. “Let me get out my notebook and write some of these down.”

Over the next ten minutes, they cobble together a list of six basic rules. Well, technically there are only four, but Izuku writes “Don’t talk about Study Group” as the first two, if only to get Kaminari to stop trying to make that joke work. He’s barely finished writing “Serious injuries that would require Recovery Girl mean the match is over and the instigator is banned,” when the nitroglycerin on Bakugou’s palms erupts with his impatience, and Izuku’s pen scores a dark line across the page that nearly rips through the paper entirely.

“Come on already!” he snarls. “The only reason why I came in the first fucking place was because there was supposed to be some actual fighting happening! I’m not here to waste my time talking all day!”

“That’s probably enough for now anyway,” Yaoyorozu says, ignoring his outburst. “We can establish more rules as the situation calls for it.”

“We still haven’t decided to structure this,” Iida says. “I doubt we can all spar at the same time the way we do in class, because then it’s far more difficult to enforce these rules…” That sparks another discussion-slash-argument, and Izuku can feel Bakugou’s impatience mounting.

He’s not entirely sure how his and Todoroki’s biweekly sparring practice has morphed into this cumbersome production, but the ball is rolling and he’s not about to stop it when they might be on to something.

“Hey.” He twitches at the sound of Bakugou’s voice, so close to him so suddenly. Menace drips from his words like molten iron. “Get one thing straight, Deku—I see what you’re fucking doing, and it’s not gonna work.”

Izuku swallows against the lump in his throat. “I think that’s two things, actually—”

“Shut the fuck up, Deku,” Bakugou snarls, heedless of the fact that just a few feet away, a little girl ghost’s patience is also wearing dangerously thin. “You think you can mouth off like you’re better than me just because you’ve been sneaking around with Half-face for extra practice? Get fucking real.”

“S-see, the fu-funny thing about that is—” He’s starting to stammer. It’s severely impacting his ability to sound breezy and carefree. “—these, um, sparring practice sessions? That me and Todoroki have b-been doing? A-actually have nothing to do with you.”

“Don’t talk like you’re above it all, you little shit!” Bakugou snaps. “You’re not fucking better than me!”

“Midoriya never said he was!” Iida says, leaving off trying to guide the discussion.

Bakugou barely looks at him as he snaps back. “Can it, four-eyes, this is between me and Deku.”

“No it isn’t,” Izuku says, trying not to raise his voice over the sudden rushing noise in his ears. “There’s nothing between us.” Without thinking, he shifts back. Kirishima’s looking over, opening his mouth, probably to try and placate Bakugou. More people are getting involved, and that’s the last thing he wants—to drag his friends into his and Bakugou’s dark, muddied history. So he shifts back, turns away to put distance between himself and Bakugou, and finds it easier to speak when Todoroki and Uraraka fall in his line of vision instead. “Anyway, if we’re gonna get started we should decide—”

“Quit blowing me off, Deku!” and Bakugou’s hand closes on his upper arm.

There’s a split second in which nothing happens, and within it Izuku believes, for that minuscule increment of time, that it’s finally getting better. That maybe, this time, he can react to a simple grip on his arm like a functioning human being.

But then he realizes that the reason why it feels as if nothing happens is that it’s silent, and the reason why it’s silent is that his ears are so thick with white noise that he can’t hear a thing. He’s staring at Bakugou, face blank, as Bakugou’s mouth moves and Izuku hears none of the words coming out of it.

He blinks, his ears pop, and the first thing he hears is “—then fight me.”

“What?”

The grip tightens, and terror drills into his mind like an ice pick through his skull. Rei jerks into view like she’s been shocked, and her face melts away to something skeletal and malevolent. Darkness creeps into the edges of his vision and Bakugou won’t let go.

“I said fight me.” Red eyes bore into him, burning points of baleful light. “You here to fucking spar or not, Deku? Fight me.”

“Let go.” The words are out before he can stop them, and a mouthful of bile nearly follows them.

“Are you hearing me—?”

“Whoa—whoa!” And then Kirishima is between them, his hardened grip closing on Bakugou’s wrist. “That’s enough, okay? Come on, Bakugou, you said you’d be cool about this.”

“I never fucking said that,” Bakugou growls.

“We’re here to practice, remember?” Kirishima goes on, ignoring him. “There’s a difference between training and just picking a fight.”

“The hell there is—”

Rei’s patience snaps, and Izuku’s ears burn with her enraged screams. Curved finger-claws plunge into Bakugou’s chest, and the words stutter in his mouth before petering out to nothing. Red eyes widen until they’re fully ringed with white, the crushing iron grip leaves Izuku’s arm, and he remembers what it feels like to have lungs.

His best and oldest friend hovers between him and Bakugou, and his vision clears. The only darkness he sees now is what gathers around her, as dense and heavy as a miniature black hole.

“Fine.” It’s not confidence that forces an answer from Izuku. It’s not even anger. But in that moment, he looks around and finds everyone staring at him. Alarmed. Confused. And he wants to duck out—he wants to turn and go straight home, but if he does then people will wonder why—they’ll ask questions—they’ll want to know why Bakugou makes him act like this, why he makes Bakugou act like this, and—

So he does what he knows he would do if he weren’t so terribly afraid of Bakugou.

“If you want to spar so bad, then fine,” he says, and he’s proud of how light his voice is. It’s easy to be brave when he’s surrounded by friends, surrounded by Rei, with Bakugou’s grasp only a memory and a light ache in his arm. “No need to throw a fit over it.” His confidence is like a cloud of smoke—swelling and spreading, but only as insubstantial wisps. A light swat would clear it away.

“Hey, I want to spar someone first!” Uraraka breaks in, and her high voice cuts through the fog still hanging heavy in his skull. “I-I mean—it’s only fair, right?”

“Fair how?” Kaminari asks.

“How about the fact that Iida and I were actually invited?” she says dryly.

More than a few of the others exchange sheepish looks.

Jirou isn’t one of them. “Wait a sec,” she says, stepping in. “So are we gonna take turns on this, or just break up into pairs or whatever and do our own thing? We still haven’t decided.”

“Take turns!” Kaminari calls out. “Take turns! We should totally take turns so we can watch each other fight!”

“Man, you are really fixated on this Fight Club thing,” Ojiro mutters.

“It makes sense, though,” Uraraka pipes up. “If we watch, then we can demonstrate stuff and critique each other, right?”

“And act as collective referees,” Iida agrees. “Not that I don’t trust you all, of course! But more than one of us have had a history of… getting carried away, with practice bouts.” Bakugou snarls wordlessly.

“That’s putting it lightly,” Jirou mutters.

“Besides, we do it that way in class because we have teachers supervising us,” Yaoyorozu adds. “And if we’re going to do this ourselves, then we’re going to have to keep each other in check. So, spectating each sparring match is the best way to do it.”

“Okay, cool!” Kirishima brings his hands together sharply. “It’s settled, then.”

“Sure is!” Uraraka says cheerfully. “Fight me.”

Kirishima blinks. “What?”

“C’mon, spar with me!” She bounces on the balls of her feet, eyes glinting eagerly. “There’re some moves I learned from Gunhead that I didn’t get to try out in class!”

It doesn’t take long for Kirishima’s surprise to turn to delight. “All right! Bring it on, Uraraka!” He happily ignores the impatient scowl that Bakugou tries to beam into the side of his head, and joins Uraraka in the middle of the rough semicircle that the others are forming.

Izuku ends up with Todoroki standing between him and Bakugou, and he has to wonder if that’s just how the cards fell, or if he’s instinctively hiding. His stomach turns at the thought, but he swallows his shame and continues to look at Uraraka, at Kirishima, at anyone who isn’t Bakugou. Privately, a small part of him wishes that Uraraka and Kirishima’s match would last the full two or three hours before he can reasonably excuse himself.

“One of you fuckers better hurry up and get your ass kicked,” Bakugou snarls. “We don’t have all day.”

“I’ll spar against whoever wins,” Todoroki says, and his facial expression doesn’t even twitch when Bakugou screams in inarticulate rage.

Tape on Uraraka’s fingers—one on each hand—keeps her from activating her quirk by accident. Izuku watches eagerly as his two friends trade blows. The change in Uraraka is startling; it was hard not to notice it when they were sparring in class, and it’s just as obvious when he’s on the outside looking in. If anything, he can see it with more clarity like this. Instead of having to observe lightning-fast and react, he can stand back and let his analytical eye take in the progress that his friend shows. Whatever teaching strategies Gunhead used, they worked.

Still, Kirishima eventually floors her first by virtue of a more solid center of gravity, and Uraraka demands that they extend it to best of three. They have an audience now—not just classmates, but curious spirits wandering through the park are stopping by to observe. He’s glad of that—Rei gets bored easily, Tensei didn’t come, and Izuku can’t give her his full attention when he’s surrounded by his living friends like this.

Their cheering rings in Izuku’s ears when Uraraka wins the next round, and then the third.

There’s a pause for a break, and a friendly tousle between Kaminari and Ojiro evolves into a sparring match all on its own. True to the rules they’ve established, Ojiro keeps his tail out of it as best he can, but even with that handicap he still knocks Kaminari off his feet. Bakugou stews quietly in the background and does little more than scowl.

Gradually, Izuku relaxes again.

“You’re telegraphing too much,” Todoroki says, the second time he beats Uraraka. Izuku winces on her behalf. It’s not that Izuku’s a better fighter than her, but he’s simply been sparring with Todoroki longer, and he’s learned his friend’s tells. He can match the feeling of Todoroki’s weight shifting to most of the moves in his friend’s arsenal, and he has no doubt that Todoroki has learned his rhythm just as well, but he still has a distinct advantage that Uraraka lacks.

“How do you figure?” Uraraka’s breathing hard, both from exertion and from hitting the ground so roughly.

“You swing wide when you’re about to make a move, most of the time,” Todoroki answers. “It’s easy to tell what you’re going to do next. It’s not as much of a problem when you fight Kirishima because he does the exact same thing.”

“Hey!”

“Besides that, you tire out too quickly,” Todoroki continues, ignoring Kirishima. “You use too much energy for too little. You need to move more efficiently.”

Uraraka chews her lower lip, frowning thoughtfully. “How, though?”

Todoroki’s brows knit together. “It’s… it’s hard to explain.”

“It’s mostly intuitive for you at this point,” Yaoyorozu says. “Isn’t it? You haven’t had to think about it in a while?”

“More or less,” Todoroki says, shrugging in a way that’s almost apologetic.

“I… think I have some ideas,” Ojiro offers. “C’mere a second, Uraraka, I think I can help.”

Study Group is, in Izuku’s humble opinion, a success. Any worries he’d had over sabotaging himself by only sparring with one person are rendered moot. Sparring with Todoroki is vastly different from sparring with Ojiro, who in turn is vastly different from Uraraka or Kirishima. All four of them manage to drag him into a few rounds, and Kaminari wheedles him into showing him a few throws.

They’re almost an hour and a half in, and Izuku isn’t sure how much longer Bakugou will allow himself to be stalled, when his phone rings from where he left it with his bag. He’s hot and sweaty and liberally grass-stained as he retrieves it and answers the call.

“Hello, Izuku!” his mother’s voice greets him cheerfully. Somewhere in the background, something breaks. Maybe glass, maybe ceramic. “Are you having fun with your friends?”

“Yeah, Mom—is something wrong?”

“I’m afraid so,” she says, sounding contrite. “It’s Mr. Kurosawa again—I think he’s having bit of a fit. He’s just started throwing things again. Only the cheap corner store plates, though, so don’t worry because I can always—” A distant clatter drowns out her next words. It sounds a bit like a full drumset tipping over. “Oh, dear, he’s gotten to the pan cabinet. I’m so sorry to pull you out, Izuku, but you always know how to talk him down.”

“It’s okay, Mom, I’ll be right over.” Izuku hangs up, sighing a little—it’s either relief or faint exasperation, he isn’t sure. Rei, hearing him, darts back from where she’s been trying to catch ladybugs to join him. “Sorry, guys, I gotta go. Something came up.” He tries not to make it obvious that he’s very deliberately not looking at Bakugou when he says this.

It doesn’t matter, because Bakugou’s already dubious patience snaps. “You’re seriously ducking out now?” he demands.

“Said I’d fight you,” Izuku answers, purposely keeping his voice light. “Never said when.” To the others he offers a sheepish look. “Sorry, guys, I thought I’d have more time.”

“It’s cool, man,” Kirishima says with a grin. “You okay with us carrying on without ya?”

“I-I don’t have a problem with it!” Izuku looks to Todoroki instinctively, but his friend simply shrugs at him and goes back to watching Ojiro critique Kaminari’s technique. “Um, anyway… I’d better get going.”

“Want some of us to tag along?” Uraraka suggests. “We could still hang out, Deku.”

“N-not a good idea,” he says. “Pipes are being repaired. The guy’s trying to raise his prices, so my mom wants me home to help haggle him back down.”

“Darn. Maybe some other time, then!”

“Yeah, maybe,” he answers. “See you in class, guys!”

The jog from the park to home isn’t a long one, and Izuku is barely out of breath when he reaches his door. Rei is already inside before he gets it unlocked, and he can hear a commotion still going on within.

A waft of air freshener scent hits his nostrils as he walks in. It’s the citrusy kind that Morino likes—Mom must have gone out and bought more. Further into the apartment, he can hear Kurosawa’s familiar panicked sobbing, before something clatters into the wall and Rei lets out an unearthly shriek. With a sigh, Izuku jogs to investigate.

The kitchen looks like a war zone. A few of the cheap dishes from the pantry lie broken on the floor, along with at least half the contents of the cookware cabinet. Pots, pans, saucepans, and lids are strewn about the place, and his mother is off to the side, out of range of any more projectiles while she tries to clear away the edge of the mess. Kurosawa flits about, blinking in and out of view, screaming and crying out while Rei tries in vain to chase and corral him. Blood pours from the wounds that killed him, and with a sweep of his arm he sends a row of spice shakers flying.

“Sorry, Mom,” Izuku says, raising his voice to be heard when Kurosawa slams a cabinet door. “Kurosawa! Mr. Kurosawa, please, you’re all right—!”

No, no, please—get away from me!

It’s always like this, when Kurosawa has one of these poltergeist episodes. He forgets everything that’s happened between today and the day he died; he returns to that night, and his blood spatters the floor all over again.

Rei finally pounces and catches him, forcing him to stay in one place. He struggles wildly, but he can’t melt and mold and shift his form the way she can. If he wriggles free, she catches him again and holds him still. He quiets for a moment, transparent tears pouring down his face, and Izuku seizes the opportunity.

“Kurosawa, you’re dead!”

The ghost stutters in Rei’s grip like a broken video, sobbing hoarsely in the center of the kitchen. Izuku swallows the taste of bile as it creeps into his mouth. In his more lucid moments, Kurosawa has told him that he once lived in this apartment, decades ago, and he died in it too. (Not in the kitchen, though. He hid in the closet when he heard robbers come in, and they panicked and killed him when they found him by accident.)

“They already killed you, Mr. Kurosawa,” Izuku tells him. He’s lost count of how many times he’s had to remind him. “They can’t hurt you anymore. No one can.”

Kurosawa cries out as if his heart is breaking. Rei lets go, and the kitchen is empty. Morino and Mrs. Matsuda peek out from the hallway, but don’t come out.

His mother gets to her feet, sighing in faint exasperation. “I was saying the very same thing to him, before you even came home,” she says. “They listen to you far better.”

“Rei held him still for me. Thanks, Rei.” Izuku sets about picking up the scattered cookware. His mother joins him briskly. The kitchen is a mess, but it’s not so bad when there’s two of them.

“Did you have fun?” she asks. “With your friends?”

“Yeah, it was pretty cool. A bunch of my classmates showed up.” Izuku opens one of the lower cabinets and starts organizing pans into a neat stack.

“That’s good. Make sure you throw that shirt in the wash, okay? The fast you do it, the easier it is to get those grass stains out.”

“Okay, Mom.”

“I’ll make sure to use to stronger detergent—oh dear, did he come back?”

“Huh?” Izuku looks over his shoulder, to find his mother staring in concern at Rei. The latter is picking her way through the mess, picking up broken pieces of ceramic. To his mother’s eyes, it must look like the fragments are floating on their own. “Oh—no, that’s just Rei, she’s trying to help. Wastebasket’s under the sink, Rei.” His friend dutifully opens the cabinet and drops the broken plates in.

“Oh,” his mother says softly. “That’s… that’s new, isn’t it? I thought you said it was hard for them to, to pick things up and move them.”

“It… usually is,” Izuku replies, as Rei continues clearing away the ceramic shards. “I dunno, I think Rei’s getting stronger.”

“Kurosawa too,” his mother says. “That’s easily the worst it’s ever been. Usually he just knocks a few things over, or pulls everything off the hangers in the closet. First time I’ve ever seen things fly.”

“I… guess they’re all getting stronger,” Izuku says softly. “Around me.” He purses his lips. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize for your own quirk, dear.”

“It’s both of them,” he says softly.

She looks up, arms laden with kitchenware. “Pardon?”

“I mean—” Izuku pauses. “This quirk that All-Might gave me. It doesn’t just make my body stronger; it makes my quirk stronger, too.” All the pans are back in their proper place, so he closes the cabinet. “There have been… things. Little things, like Kurosawa throwing things or Rei picking things up, more easily than before. But there’s also—I’ve seen ghosts, Rei especially, touch people. And just looking at their faces, I could swear that they feel her. Not the way I can, but they feel something.” He rocks back on his heels. “Rei told me that she made Todoroki get to me faster in Hosu, but I’m not sure how, and I don’t know how to ask Todoroki if he felt her. And at the USJ, Aizawa-sensei fell unconscious, and I saw him too. He wasn’t even dead, but I saw him and I talked to him, and he doesn’t remember any of it now, but sometimes I catch him looking at me like he’s trying to remember to tell me something. I can’t prove anything, but sometimes I wonder if I would’ve seen him if I didn’t have One For All.”

His mother is quiet for a moment after he finishes, silently turning things end over end in her head. Rei has cleared away almost all the broken dishes when Mpm finally raises her head and speaks. “Izuku, have you… have you considered, well… telling anyone?”

Fear slams him like a mallet, and in an instant he finds himself standing on the precipice—one step, one wrong move, and he’ll pitch forward into the crashing waves. He feels things, crawling things—cold fingertips spidering up and down his arms, his spine, his neck. But it’s not ghosts this time, no—just fear. Just cold dread and terror, locking tight around his throat and his heart like a noose of barbed wire.

“Can’t say I have,” he says.

“Before I say anything else, I need you to know—at the end of the day, I won’t force you. And I won’t tell you who you should or shouldn’t trust.” She purses her lips. “I want you to feel safe, and right now, keeping this a secret makes you feel safe. You’d have to get me good and desperate before I ever touched that. But… I’ve seen you, Izuku. You’re so… so bright, and happy, and you always were, but never at school, and never with other living people.” He can see tears glistening briefly in her eyes. “But now… it’s not like it was with—with Katsuki. It’s like they raise you higher, sweetheart.”

“They do,” he whispers. His voice is hoarse. “And I can’t risk losing that.”

Her face falls. “I understand,” she says softly. “And I’ll support you, no matter what. But Izuku… at least consider telling All-Might.”

“I have,” he answers. “ Considered it, I mean. I think about it every day. But… I can’t, Mom. I just can’t, yet.” He leaves the “yet” in. Might as well allow a little hope for the future.


Aizawa lets his scarf mask how he sighs deeply as he feels the newly excited fervor buzzing among his students. It’s not like he wasn’t expecting this; saying the phrase “summer training camp in the woods” out loud to twenty teenagers is the fastest way to wake up a room full of twenty teenagers. The eagerness will stick with them over the next few weeks, and with any luck it will keep them energized and motivated throughout their exams.

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t a little eager, as well. It won’t be all fun and games; the camp is a decent opportunity to gather the first-years and test them in new ways, and the heroes they have lined up to help with training are competent, trustworthy, and enthusiastic.

His students are enthusiastic as well, though sometimes—

“You’re really trying my goddamn nerves, shitrag!” he hears Bakugou roar, and pauses in the hallway before his students can spot him. It’s been a while since he’s seen Bakugou work himself up into a proper self-righteous fury. “You’re gonna eat shit before the term is over, you cocky little bastard!” As Aizawa watches, Midoriya spends a moment staring straight through Bakugou before turning and cold-shouldering him, which predictably does nothing to improve Bakugou’s mood.

Aizawa sighs. Bakugou’s worse than ever, and the exam stress probably isn’t helping. His interactions with Midoriya have never been anything but turbulent—something’s going to have to be done about that.

The students in Class 1-A aren’t the only ones getting into the spirit of things, either; Class 1-B is as earnest as ever, every bit as determined and strong for all that they didn’t share in the events at the USJ. Though, he will have to have a word with Sekijurou and some of the other teachers if that Monoma kid keeps trying to stir up drama. Heaven knows they don’t need yet another trigger for Bakugou’s temper running around. Ms. Kendou can’t babysit him all the time.

And speaking of teachers…

By some ordained miracle, All-Might still has time left in his hero form by the last period of the day, and he takes the opportunity to address the students with some last-minute sage advice.

The advice itself is good. Valuable, even. But still, watching from an objective viewpoint, it’s all Aizawa can do to keep from rolling his eyes.

All-Might makes his dearth of experience painfully obvious whenever he steps in to teach. Any teacher would be lying if they said they didn’t have favorite students, but at least most of them can hide it reasonably well. Not so with All-Might; Midoriya Izuku is his favorite, and everyone with a bare minimum of half a brain and one eye can tell.

It makes perfect sense, of course. Midoriya may be quiet, skittish, unpredictable, and downright strange at times, but Aizawa can see the seeds of that same dogged sense of duty that All-Might has in spades. Midoriya is brave, selfless to the point of being self-destructive, and brimming with far more single-minded determination than should reasonably fit in a body that size, and Aizawa is willing to bet money that All-Might recognizes a kindred spirit when he sees one. Just… one that’s a little more fidgety than he is.

But Aizawa sees something new now.

Class is more or less over now, and All-Might is still hanging around (really, how much longer does he have in that form?) and chatting with students. He keeps looking to Midoriya, as if to check that he’s still there, but to his credit he’s giving due attention to everyone present.

Midoriya catches his eye, and when All-Might looks, the boy’s hands curl and gesture. This, by itself, is nothing extraordinary; Midoriya gesticulates more than anyone else who isn’t Iida, and Aizawa suspects that he’d go mute of his hands were tied.

Except, for the first time, Aizawa recognizes it. It’s not that different from Midoriya’s usual nervous hand-wringing; Midoriya’s hands jump and fidget almost every time Aizawa happens to glance his way. But now there’s a clear purpose and direction to the movements, as clear and deliberate as if Midoriya were shaping the air like clay, and most of all it’s recognizable.

The motions are brief, and to Aizawa’s vague surprise, All-Might responds in kind.

Since when does All-Might know sign language? he wonders, but that’s hardly as pressing a concern as what they’re actually saying.

Aizawa’s knowledge of sign language is limited to what is useful in stealth missions, with other heroes who happen to know it, and he’ll be the first to admit that his comprehension isn’t the best. That’s the main reason he never recognized Midoriya’s fidgets as sign, much less understood them.

Probably just more muttering, given Midoriya’s verbal habits.

But now they’re clear enough, and simple enough, for Aizawa to pick up on them, and what he reads in the gestures has him sidling up to All-Might once the students are out of earshot.

“So is there a reason why Midoriya knows about your time limit?” he asks, and tries not to feel too smug when All-Might startles like a baby deer. It’s an odd and awkward action for such a hulking figure.

“W-what?” All-Might almost shouts, then forcibly lowers his voice. “What exactly do you mean, Aizawa?”

“I saw your little exchange just now,” Aizawa says flatly. “How many of the students know, and why wasn’t I made aware?”

“I—er.” All-Might looks a little poleaxed. “Just the one,” he says at last. “Only Midoriya, none of the others.”

In an act of unmatched self-control, Aizawa manages not to roll his eyes. “Really. All-Might, I know you like the kid and I understand why, but confiding in him about something like that is taking the favoritism a little far, don’t you think?”

“I don’t—I didn’t—” All-Might splutters, clearly flustered. “I didn’t confide in him, Aizawa—”

“How’d he find out, then?”

“Er.” All-Might blinks at him. “Well—that is…”

“USJ,” Midoriya says from behind him, and he damn near manages to sneak up on Aizawa. He hears the boy coming, but it's a closer thing than it is with most students.

Aizawa turns and looks at him sharply. “What was that?” Midoriya looks up from his phone—Aizawa can see him browsing gifs of baby animals from here.

“It was at the USJ,” Midoriya replies, and oh, that's why All-Might has that hangdog look on his face. No one likes to remind Aizawa of the time a villain smeared him into the pavement in front of a handful of terrified students. “I was right next to him when the teachers showed up and ran off the rest of the villains, but my legs were sort of useless, so he couldn't really make me leave before his time ran out.”

“That must have been a shock,” Aizawa says, and his voice sounds deadpan even by his own standards.

“I think I screamed,” Midoriya replies just as nonchalantly, glancing down at a moving photograph of a kitten falling off of a pillow. “But I did have two broken legs, so I don't think anyone thought anything of it.”

All-Might looks pleasantly sheepish, and Aizawa tucks away this new piece of information. It's good to know there's at least one student in his class that he doesn't need to be over-cautious around concerning All-Might’s secret. And, he supposes, it's a comfort that the injured idiot has one more set of eyes to watch him.

Not that Midoriya has a history of exercising caution, but All-Might might as well take what he can get.

Aizawa heaves a sigh and lets his usual disinterested mask fall back into place. “You two deserve each other,” he says flatly, and moves off again before either of them can reply.


“That was quick thinking, my boy.”

Izuku hums quietly and puts his phone away, all the while catching Ms. Shimura’s eye and trying to convey “Thanks for the warning” through facial expressions alone. “Not really,” he admits. “I've sort of had that one prepared.”

“Oh?” All-Might raises an eyebrow at him.

Izuku shifts in place uncomfortably, cursing his own modesty. “I mean, sort of? Me knowing about your limit is pretty easy to excuse, and… you never know, right? Something might come up, and, well, something just came up, just now.”

“Hm.” All-Might looks thoughtful for a moment, before apparently deciding upon approval. “Well, I will say that for heroes in general, especially considering out… unique situation, that's just the sort of skill that’s most useful for dealing with the press, young Midoriya.”

Izuku frowns. “Lying?”

“Sometimes. But mostly it's more like… deflecting. Crafting your answers in such a way that it encourages people not to probe further.”

“Oh,” Izuku says softly, pensively. That really is perfect, isn't it. “I can do that.”


In the blink of an eye, there’s only one more week before the end-of-term exams. Academics have never been Izuku’s weak point, but he still studies diligently at home, committing information and themes and mathematical formulas to memory. He won’t gain anything by being overconfident. Yaoyorozu’s tutoring half the class at this point, covering subjects across the board.

Majority rule leads them to arrange another “study group” meeting after school on Wednesday. Somehow, it’s gotten even more hectic than before.

“This… this is a good thing, right?” Todoroki asks him under his breath. “An improvement?”

Everyone who was at the previous meeting is here now, save for Kirishima who ducked out for the sake of an extra evening of cramming, but word has spread. Tsuyu is here today, as well as Sero, Hagakure, Ashido, and to the consternation of every girl present, Mineta.

“Who the hell invited him?” Jirou demands.

“I mean, technically nobody ‘invited’ you guys last time,” Uraraka points out. “I’m not sure this is really an invitee kind of thing anymore.”

“Who’s side are you on?” Jirou asks, quietly seething as Mineta nearly vibrates with excitement.

“I’m just saying.”

“I mean… I guess it was nice before, just hanging out,” Izuku answers with a shrug. “But this is probably better in the long run? For actually figuring out hand-to-hand together. Especially since the practical exam is coming up and we technically don’t know for sure what’s in it.”

“Mm.” Todoroki takes in the scene for another beat. “Could do without Mineta.”

“Yeah,” Izuku sighs, relieved that Todoroki said it before he did.

“It’s your first time here!” Kaminari calls out, pointing to the newcomers. “That means you gotta fight! It’s in the rules!”

“No it’s not, Kaminari, shut up!” Jirou yells.

In spite of this, the first sparring match to break out is between Uraraka and Tsuyu. Rei cheers in static from the sidelines as the girls take their positions and the match kicks off. Izuku can see Tsuyu biting down on her lip to keep from using her tongue.

(Mineta’s wordless whooping turns into… suggestions. Said suggestions continue until Tsuyu foregoes the no-quirk rule to seize him around the waist with her tongue and shotput him halfway across the park.)

Izuku wants to watch the whole match, but a cool hand descends on his shoulder, and he looks up to see Iida Tensei watching him. The lateHero Ingenium barely bats an eye when Rei clambers up to sit on his shoulders.

Izuku hasn’t heard much from Iida’s older brother. He doesn’t hover by Iida’s side quite as constantly as before. Izuku assumes he has other things to attend to, other people to check up on. But he’s here now, and Izuku grins at the sight of him.

“Hey,” Tensei says. “You holding up okay?”

“Sure,” Izuku says under his breath, barely moving his lips. “Why do you ask?”

“Why do I… Are you kidding, Midoriya, I really should have asked sooner.” Tensei looks away briefly. “But I’ve been keeping busy lately, going around checking up on my old sidekicks and stuff, and after Hosu, I wasn’t sure if you wanted the company or wanted to sort things out for yourself. Rei says you’ve been having a little trouble.”

“Just bad dreams,” Izuku murmurs. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”

Tensei’s about to reply when Rei hisses, and he looks up. “Watch out,” he warns. Izuku turns to follow his gaze, and Bakugou’s in his face before he has time to draw back.

“We’re next.” It’s not a growl or a snarl. Bakugou says two words the way a hammer strikes an anvil, short and blunt and brooking no argument. “You and me. No more putting this off, Deku.”

“Okay.” His heart jumps to his throat and sticks there. All at once his nerves are ringing with tension, and he fights to keep it off of his face.

By some miracle, he manages to hold that as Uraraka and Tsuyu finish their match and Bakugou bulls his way into the middle of things. He imagines that his face is made of glass, smooth and cool and unmoving, slippery enough that nothing catches on it, nothing sticks. Everything slides right off, leaving the cold, polished surface unmarked and pristine.

Bakugou’s knuckles crack when he makes fists, and Izuku remembers that glass is transparent, and it breaks easily.

It’s too late to worry about that now, facing Bakugou and surrounded by people both living and dead. As he always does when he needs to, Izuku files it away to deal with later.

Bakugou, as always, starts with a strong right.

Izuku learned over three years of middle school to avoid those hands like his life depended on it, and there were moments in which he was sure it did. In this moment he tells himself, no quirks, no quirks, he won’t use his quirk, but his ears ring with phantom explosions, and he ducks out of the way of the punch just in time to catch the other full on the shoulder. Landing the first hit galvanizes Bakugou into action, and the fight starts in earnest.

Immediately, it’s starting poorly. Izuku is on the defensive, dodging and weaving and deflecting—or at least trying to. Bakugou’s fists hurt, whether Izuku takes a hit or knocks it away.

He lets them come anyway. There’s a rhythm to it. A pattern, even if Bakugou doesn’t realize it. Izuku ducks and waits and dodges and watches, until Bakugou’s breath hisses between teeth clenched in frustration.

“Stop screwing around and fight me already, Deku! Or are you too much of a little bitch to throw a punch at me?” Tension curls along his spine at Bakugou’s words.

Izuku fakes a punch at Bakugou’s throat, and when Bakugou catches it, Izuku follows up with a knee to the gut. He’s rewarded with a grunt of pain, and lashes out again, only for Bakugou to catch his other fist.

“You think your fucking cheap shots are gonna work on me?” Bakugou grits out, and Izuku fights against bile and nausea and ringing in his ears as he struggles to get free.

To his surprise, Bakugou lets go. It’s not for the sake of kindness, though; Izuku can tell by the look in Bakugou’s eyes. He’s not being nice; he just isn’t done making his point yet.

A sharp jab splits Izuku’s lip, his heart rate spikes, and that’s when he throws caution to the wind.

He’s going to lose. The fight’s only just started, but he knows instinctively that he’s going to lose, just like he always loses. The tension spreads from his spine to his fingertips. He feels it in his teeth, buzzing and tingling and uncomfortably hot.

He’s frustrated.

So he fights. It’s the kind of fighting that he won’t be proud of, when he looks back on it later. He pulls out every dirty trick, remembers every cruel weak point he’s been taught. He aims low, he aims for the throat, he aims thumbs at Bakugou’s eyes, he tries to get around behind him to jam his elbow into the spot where his kidneys are.It’s low, it’s dirty, and maybe he’s fighting this way because he doesn’t want to fight for real anymore, if he ever did. Fighting Bakugou doesn’t make him feel like a hero, because Bakugou has a talent for making him feel low.

He wants to stop this stupid match, he wants to call for Rei, he wants to talk to Tensei or Ms. Shimura or Uraraka or Todoroki or Iida. He wants to not be here anymore, and that—

That isn’t fair.

These sparring sessions were supposed to be a break from the pressure of school, a chance to train and practice under friendly eyes, to talk to his friend and make stupid jokes and challenge himself to get Todoroki to crack a smile. They’re supposed to be safe, and—

Izuku nearly retches when Bakugou’s fist makes full contact with his stomach. While he’s bent double, Bakugou grabs him in a headlock, and his vision goes white.

“Give up, Deku,” Bakugou hisses, inches from his ear. “You’re never gonna catch up, got it? No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, I’m always gonna be better.”

Bakugou wrecks everything he touches, but only the things that belong to Izuku. Every milestone Izuku reaches, Bakugou tramples. Every safe place Izuku carves out, he invades.

The arm around his neck tightens. But Izuku isn’t choking yet. He can still breathe, just about.

“I said give up, Deku,” Bakugou growls, and there are other voices now, calling foul, yelling at Bakugou to stop, but Bakugou ignores them. “I’ll let go if you give up. Now say it, you worthless—fffucking god damn it!

The taste of mingled sweat and blood foul his tongue, and then the arm around his neck is gone, his teeth ache when Bakugou's arm wrenches free, and Izuku find arms holding him back. Dark hair whips against his face—Rei. Rei is standing in front of him, and from the sound of her, she’s angry. He isn’t sure how strong she’s gotten by now, but if Bakugou comes close again, he hates to think of what she’ll do.

The fight is over, and Izuku goes limp.

Across from him, Bakugou strains against Kaminari, Sero, and Iida. He’s clutching his wrist and glaring at Izuku with raw hatred in his eyes.

“Did you just bite me, shitrag?”

Oh.

Izuku spits into the grass until his mouth is dry. Someone pushes a water bottle into his hand, and he rinses.

“Okay, new rule,” Jirou says. “Midoriya and Bakugou aren’t allowed to fight each other anymore, because what the hell, you two.”

“Sorry.” Is he shaking? He hopes he isn’t shaking, because there are still people holding on to him—oh, that’s Uraraka, and Ojiro, and there’s Todoroki stepping in front of him, a physical barrier just in case he or Bakugou try to pick up where they left off.

(It won’t be Izuku. Izuku didn’t want this fight to happen at all.)

“Y-yes, that was…” Iida releases Bakugou reluctantly, and only when it’s clear that he’s not going to try to charge again. “I think it would be best if you both avoided sparring in the future.”

Uraraka and Ojiro let go of him, and Izuku nearly sags to the ground then and there. He keeps his feet until Tensei appears at his side to steady him, and then he backs out to the edge again. “Sorry,” he repeats. “Got carried away, lemme just—” He grabs his phone and nearly drops it twice as he checks it.

They’ll have questions. They’re all confused and alarmed, he can tell.

Maybe one day he’ll find a way to explain things to them. But for now…

“My mom texted,” he says, and doesn’t even look up to see if anyone believes him. “Sorry, gotta go.” Grabbing his things, he leaves the group and the park without a backward glance. No one stops him.

Messages come to him over the rest of the day. He answers none of them. At school, the few attempts to ask him about the incident die away. The group doesn’t meet again for the rest of the week, and Izuku trains and studies on his own.


“We’ve already predetermined who you’ll be paired with and which teacher you’ll be fighting for this exam,” Principal Nedzu explains. “We took into account your grades, your familiarity, and your fighting styles and strategies. The matchups are as follows.”

Izuku’s heart sinks when Todoroki and Yaoyorozu are paired together for the practical exam. He would have liked to team up with Todoroki—but then, that wouldn’t have been much of a challenge. And he’s partnered up with Uraraka enough that he doubts they would let them do it again.

Oh, well. There’s really only one person he knows he can’t work with, what are the odds that—

“Midoriya,” Aizawa-sensei says. “You’re with Bakugou.”

Rei shrieks loud enough that it feels like he’s being stabbed in the eardrum, but Izuku simply gives a placid blink as the world comes crashing down around him.

Chapter Text

 

“S-sensei?”

Aizawa glances up. The rest of the bus is more or less empty; each exam will take place simultaneously at different UA training facilities, so the only passengers are himself and the two students he’ll be evaluating.

Yaoyorozu and Todoroki should be an interesting matchup. They are both skilled fighters, but opposites in terms of skill sets; Todoroki is powerful but relies a little too much on brute force, while Yaoyorozu is clever and analytical to the point of overthinking things and losing precious time.

Moreover, Yaoyorozu has been hesitant to assert herself recently, and Todoroki is often slow to notice the feelings of his classmates. A team-up like this should present an interesting challenge for them both.

But Yaoyorozu, for all her recent self-doubts, is speaking up now. She’s twirling a pencil in her fingers, tapping it against the notepad in her lap—both of which she produced with her quirk at some point during the drive. She seems to be taking notes and drawing up ideas now.

“Yes, Yaoyorozu?”

“Forgive me, if I’m being… um, impertinent, but… was it—you said the matchups were predetermined by analyzing our abilities and familiarity with one another, right? They weren’t randomized?”

He nods. “Randomization is all very well for training exercises, but this is specifically an evaluation of your abilities. We made our choices carefully.”

“Oh.” Yaoyorozu’s eyes lower, and the tapping pencil increases speed. “Um… well… m-maybe not carefully enough?” Her eyes flicker toward Todoroki, who returns her glance before looking to Aizawa as well.

“Yaoyorozu, I’m sure you and Todoroki will have no trouble collaborating for this exam—”

“Oh, no, I mean yes, of course,” she says quickly. “We will, there’s no trouble there. But… with, um, some of the other match-ups—well, one of the other matchups—your analysis may have been…” The pencil twirls right out of her hand and clatters to the floor of the bus. Todoroki bends down to retrieve it and hand it back to her. “…Flawed,” she finishes.

Aizawa blinks, takes in the worried expression that she directs toward the ground, and the subtle furrow in Todoroki’s brow. He sighs. “You two should be worrying more about your own exam than Midoriya’s.”

“It’s just—” Yaoyorozu blurts out. “I honestly—I know I’m only the assistant class rep, but I still know the whole class, and how they get along with each other, and Midoriya and Bakugou don’t. Putting them together is like—it’s like oil on fire.”

“I’m aware of that,” Aizawa replies. “That’s part of why that particular matchup was chosen.”

Yaoyorozu’s jaw drops. “What?”

“Those two were chosen because they’re on horrible terms,” Aizawa explains. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to use this chance to grow in more than simply strength.” He takes a deep breath. He has no obligation to explain hi-’s decisions this early, especially since Bakugou and Midoriya’s exam has little to do with them, but it would be better to put them at ease before their own test begins. “Be that as it may, they’ll be guided personally by All-Might, whom they both hold in high regard, and both of them have the ability to work as a team. Whether or not they can use that ability in conjunction is up to them, and the entire purpose of testing them in this way.”

When he finishes his explanation, Yaoyorozu’s shoulders slump, but it looks less like relief and more like resignation. “I understand your reasoning,” she says quietly, and he can’t place her tone. He doesn’t like that he can’t place her tone; it gives the impression that he’s missing something. “But… but still…”

“But it doesn’t make it any less of a terrible idea,” Todoroki finishes for her. She winces at his bluntness.

Aizawa heaves a sigh. “If they’re unable to put aside personal feelings to get the job done, then clearly they need more guidance. Determining that is the point of an evaluation like this.”

“He’ll get the job done,” Todoroki says. He doesn’t look as tense as Yaoyorozu does, slouching a little against the back of his seat. “But it’s going to end badly. You should probably know that. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish with this, whatever you want out of it, it’s not going to happen.”

He says no more after that, and Yaoyorozu returns to her notepad. Eventually, hesitantly, she scoots over to sit next to Todoroki and show him what she has written. She makes another pencil for him, and they communicate through writing, eliminating any risk of Aizawa eavesdropping on their planning.

Not that he would have, if he had the chance. Now he’s preoccupied.

Now he’s worried.


“You two want to play Last Letter?”

All-Might doesn’t get a response. If he expects a response, than he’s giving them far more credit than Izuku thinks they probably deserve. He and Bakugou are sitting as far away from one another as possible; Bakugou’s sitting in a seat facing the back of the bus, just so he doesn’t have to look at them.

Izuku does look at All-Might, and hopes he conveys enough of what he feels through his face alone. It’s not a sure thing. Sometimes he feels so much that none of it really comes out, and his face goes blank instead. This might be one of those times.

Of course, nothing coming out of him is far preferable to, say, the contents of his stomach coming out of him. Jury’s still out on whether or not he can keep that in.

It doesn’t feel right, that he’s scared of a school test and the worst case scenario in his mind goes so much farther than simply not passing.

“I’m sorry.” Ms. Shimura is a cool, comforting presence as she sits down by him. “Wish there was something I could do to change it. If it makes you feel any better, Toshi’s not the one who threw you under the bus. Aizawa was the one who figured out the matchups.”

Izuku tucks his head in, using the mouth guard of his suit to hide the movement of his lips. “Will you help me?” he whispers. “With this test?”

“You asking me to help you cheat, kiddo?”

He shrugs. “Heroes should use everything they have available. Seeing you is an aspect of my quirk. That’s makes you… um.” He can’t think of a way to phrase this.

Luckily, Ms. Shimura seems to understand. “Makes me an asset, huh?”

He gives a tiny nod.

“Tell you what,” she says, with a friendly squeeze of his shoulder. “If Toshi tries to ambush you, I’ll give you a yell, and we can laugh at all the funny faces he makes while he tries to figure out why he can’t sneak up on you. How’s that?”

In spite of the fear that churns beneath the surface, Izuku has to fight the smile off of his face. He angles his face away from All-Might before murmuring, “Thanks, Ms. Shimura.”

She blinks at him, smiles fondly, and tugs gently on one of his curls. “That’s ‘Nana’ to you, munchkin. After everything I’ve told you, there’s no need to be all formal with me.”

“Okay, Ms. Nana.”

“Fair enough.”

“Thanks,” he says. “If you’re there, maybe it won’t be so—”

A small explosion from the back of the bus cuts him off. “Deku, I swear to fuck if you don’t shut up—”

“I don’t want to be here either,” he says, and gets a stream of curses in return.

“That’s hardly the best mindset to start with, if you two have any hope of passing,” All-Might admonishes them both. “I’ll explain the test once we arrive, but it would behoove you both to swallow your pride and try to get used to the idea of working together.”

Swallow his pride. Izuku’s not sure he has enough pride to scrape together into a decent mouthful, where Bakugou is concerned.

He’s not fast enough to smooth out his expression, because All-Might catches it. “Less of that, young Midoriya,” he says, gently chiding. “It may be unpleasant, but remember that this is a test.”

“No what this is—” Izuku blurts out, then stops himself. He forces his face to smooth emptiness again, though it’s more and more of a struggle with each passing minute. “This is exactly what I was actually afraid of. This is—All Might. This is the nightmare scenario.” Dramatic, maybe, but it’s true. This is the worst nightmare he could possibly have that doesn’t involve someone dying.

All-Might doesn’t get the chance to reply, because that’s when the bus arrives.

Izuku drags his feet on the way out of the bus, and quickly regrets it. With All-Might leading the way and Izuku dawdling, Bakugou has plenty of time to grab him and drag him close, heedless of the shallow breaths that hiss in and out of Izuku’s throat. Fumbling, Izuku tries to claw Bakugou’s hand off his arm, but his former friend’s grip doesn’t loosen until both Rei and Ms. Nana join in his efforts. They can’t quite touch him, but he lets go all the same.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” Bakugou hisses, far too close to his face for Izuku to feel anything but sick with old fear. He forces himself blank, keeps his limbs loose and his hands at his sides. “I don’t want a fucking repeat of day two, or the fucking Sports Festival, got it? None of your shitty tricks, and no fucking games, unless you want me to blast your slackjawed fucking face off. I’m gonna win, and it’s gonna be a total victory.” They’re not quite off the bus, and Bakugou blocks his escape with one gauntleted arm. “No more pointless fucking victories, is this getting through your head, Deku? Don’t fuck this up for me.” His voice is too low for All-Might to hear, but it drips with menace.

“Hurry it along, now!” All-Might calls. “We’re starting soon!”

Bakugou shoulders past him, heedless (probably) of the claw-fingered swipe that Rei aims at his back, and Izuku shakes his mind free of the tangled dark thorns before he follows.

It’s yet another one of UA’s city-replica training facilities. But while the obstacle course where they held the rescue race exercise was more industrial-based, this place closely resembles a residential district. A twisting, maze-like residential district, the center of which was their starting line.

The test is simple enough. Thirty minutes on the clock, armed with nothing but their costumes and a pair of handcuffs. All they have to do to pass is either get the handcuffs on All-Might, or get one of them out one of the exit gates. Best of all, All-Might is already outfitted with suppressor cuffs to limit his quirk. Simple enough.

If it’s so simple, then why can’t Izuku stop shaking?

The test begins far too quickly, and All-Might all but vanishes into the false city. Ms. Nana goes with him, and Izuku can only hope she keeps her word from before.

“Don’t follow me,” Bakugou snaps at him, and sets off in… a direction. It’s a piece of advice that Izuku ignores, in spite of his own better judgment. The only thing worse than having to work with Bakugou would be getting caught alone. It’s bad enough in the eerie quiet, with Izuku jumping and fidgeting and eyeing every corner as if All-Might hides behind each one. Rei makes herself useful, flitting in and out of view to check their surroundings.

So far, nothing.

“We should find out how to get to the exits quickly,” he says, and mentally pats himself on the back when his voice barely shakes. “All-Might probably knows this place better than we do.”

“Fat fucking chance,” Bakugou growls. Angry red eyes settle on Izuku for a split second too long before he turns away again. “I’m not planning on running like a little bitch. Didn’t you hear me, Deku? I’m finishing this the right way.”

Behind Bakugou’s back, Izuku signals Rei. Find the nearest exit, he tells her. See if All-Might is blocking the way.

She hisses at him and shakes her head, pointing to Bakugou.

Go, he mouths. She bares her teeth, and they bristle like angler fish fangs. After nearly a full minute of silent argument, Rei finally relents and vanishes in a huff. Izuku is left alone with Bakugou, still with no idea where All-Might is. He keeps an eye out for Ms. Nana.

“S-so, um… what is the plan?” Izuku forces the words out past the fear gathering thick and heavy in the back of his throat. They don’t have much time; at this point they have less than thirty minutes to do this.

Less than a half hour to get past All-Might.

Gran Torino once told him that his reverence of All-Might was only holding him back, shackling him from reaching his potential. That may very well be true, but it doesn’t budge the fact that they haven’t a chance in hell of beating the Symbol of Peace in a straight fight. His weakness doesn’t matter because thirty minutes is well within his time limit, and Izuku can only manage a fraction of One For All without basically self-destructing.

My plan,” Bakugou snaps, “is for you to stop fucking following me so you’re not in the way when I knock him out.”

“Um. Knock out… All-Might.” Izuku has to jog to keep up with him as they make their way through the city replica. Where is All-Might? Ms. Nana had said she’d warn him, but it’d be nice to know where he is right now.

“I’ll lead him around by the nose ‘til the thirty minutes are almost up,” Bakugou snarls. “Catch him off guard when he’s tired.”

“Um, okay?” Disbelief momentarily muffles his nervousness around Bakugou. “Cool! Good start. Can we at least… um, workshop it? Until it’s a little less terrible?”

“Get lost already, shithead!” Bakugou bridles at him, and Izuku recoils on instinct. “If you're gonna make shitty comments while I do the real fighting then fucking do it somewhere else!”

“You’re s-smarter than this!” Izuku shoots back. “You know how strong he is! W-what makes you think less than thirty minutes of chasing you around is going to make him tired?” There was a small chance that it might, but Bakugou didn't know about the time limit, or All-Might’s weakened state.

“Deku I swear to fuck, if you don't stop fucking following me--”

Desperation overcomes him. “Y-you said so yourself, remember? W-when we were kids, you said All-Might never—”

Bakugou whips around, and his sudden grip on Izuku’s shoulder is hot and sparking with tiny explosions, too small to do more than scorch Izuku’s costume. With no warning, and no time to mentally prepare himself, he blanks out immediately, and his tongue goes limp and mute in his mouth.

“Don't fucking whine at me about when we were kids, you worthless mealy-mouthed piece of shit,” Bakugou grits out through clenched teeth. Izuku opens his mouth to reply, but words refuse to string themselves together in his head. His mind fills with fog and cotton, protecting itself from the sharp edges of terror.

Let go let go let go please let go please don’t don’t don’t

Bakugou releases him and turns away, eyes burning with contempt. “Yeah. That’s what I thought. You act like you're better than me, but all you are is a little rat afraid of his own goddamn shadow.”

It's equal parts anger, frustration, and years-old resentment, thrown together and shaken into something every bit as caustic and volatile as Bakugou’s quirk. Something dark and ugly wells up inside of him, choking off fear and shame.

“Well whose fault is that?” he spits back.

“You saying it’s my fault you’re pathetic?” Bakugou doesn’t even turn his head. “Get the fuck off my case and stay out of the way, Deku. Maybe then you can be useful for once.”

The last fiber of his fraying temper snaps, and he skims off the very top of a deep, deep well of long-repressed feelings. “You think I like being here?” Izuku bursts out, equally angry as he is desperate because time is running out and All-Might will make himself known soon and they are running out of time to come up with a plan that actually has a chance of working. “You think I wanted to work with you? I don’t! I didn’t! I don’t trust you, I don’t like you, and I don’t have any reason to because I know you hate me, and I don’t even know why!” His fists are so tight that his knuckles creak, and the crooked ones on his right hand ache. “But right now, we’re up against All-Might, and if you stopped and thought for one second you’d know we can’t just go after him head-on!”

There’s no answer, but he can see the hard line of tension in Bakugou’s shoulders, the way his fists clench at his sides as he trembles. It should have been a warning, but—there’s Ms. Nana in the distance, waving to him, time’s up

He wants to cry, but he also really doesn’t want to cry, so he yells instead. “For once in your life, would you just listen to me, Kacchan!

He’s half-blind with fear and frustration, his eyes sting with tears that want to be shed, and because of that, he doesn’t see Bakugou move until it’s already too late to get out of the way. Weighted by one of the gauntlets on his costume, Bakugou’s arm swings around like the head of a flail.

The ground is flat asphalt. That's all Izuku knows for a moment because that's all he can feel. He can’t see because of the bright starbursts of color bursting in his vision. But he can taste, and he tastes the blood trickling into his mouth. Pain shoots through his face and ricochets like a bullet through the inside of his skull, throbbing in time with his heartbeat.

“Learn to shut your fucking mouth, Deku.” Bakugou’s voice sounds strange through the ringing in his ears. The spots in his vision clear away, but tears replace them and turn his view of Bakugou into a wet, wavering blur. “Just sit there and cry for all I care. I don't need your shitty help.” He hears the scrape of Bakugou’s boots on the pavement, and then—

HEADS UP, KID!

Izuku blinks the tears from his eyes, and only has time to recoil and brace himself before a horizontal tornado of wind pressure rips through the testing facility. It misses them by a handful of paces, and even at that distance Izuku feels flattened by the blast. His limbs feel heavy, as if he’s wading through deep water, but he gropes and crawls his way for the nearest cover.

Without a backward glance, Bakugou swears fluently and charges straight in the direction of the source, leaving Izuku still crouching on the cracked pavement, half hidden by a damaged building.

The previous stillness is now fragmented, first shattered by All-Might’s opening attack, and now split further by the roar of Bakugou’s explosions.

“Hey, kiddo? C’mon, little bean, you gotta get up—holy hell, did you get caught up in that? Toshi wasn't even aiming for you kids, he just wanted to spook you…” Ms. Nana’s voice trails off, and a cool hand closes on his shoulder. He flinches. Let go. “Midoriya? You okay, sprout? You're looking a little lost, there. You're not concussed, are you? Oh, hey Rei, gimme a hand here.”

Rei’s familiar not-voice rattles and statics by his ear. He gets to his feet, stumbling a little, and the ringing in his ears finally subsides.

“Better put together a plan in that head of yours,” Ms. Nana advises. “Your partner’s, uh, well. He's getting his ass kicked pretty hard.”

Good. The thought is immediate and viciously satisfying, for the split second before remorse crushes it. He peers out and—yeah, Bakugou’s in trouble. He’s charging in again and again, fists flashing with explosive power, but All-Might tosses him around effortlessly, just as Izuku knew he would. He could have told him—did tell him.

All-Might’s pulling punches; Izuku knows he is because if he weren’t then Bakugou would probably be dead, suppressor rings or no, but it’s not by much.

He needs help.

The little voice that reminds him of that is so quiet now, so small, lost in the twisting pitch-black sea inside of him.

He needs help. He's in trouble and alone and hurt and maybe he's scared, too.

The little voice calls and calls, and from within that sea comes an answer.

So was I.

“Izuku?” Ms. Nana’s voice cuts through the soupy fog in his head. “Clock’s ticking, sprout. If you have some kind of game plan here, then you'd better act fast.”

The blood stiffens as it dries, crusting over his upper lip, his mouth, his chin. He licks at it, and some of it crumbles off on his tongue.

“I know,” he says. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fast.”


Bakugou is relentless, or at least as relentless as a boy his size can be against Toshinori. Six years ago, these blows would have barely tickled, but now a few of them hit a touch too close to the wound All For One gave him, and only decades of training his self-control keep him from showing that pain on his face.

With a swift twist, he tosses Bakugou to the ground and casts about for his other student. Young Midoriya is nowhere to be seen, but that doesn’t mean anything. He’s nearby; Toshinori can sense that much. But his successor is a crafty one, and possesses a healthy respect for All-Might that verges on reverence; he won’t attack head-on the way Bakugou does.

Or perhaps he will; after all, that’s what Toshinori least expects.

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t almost eager to see what the boy comes up with. He likes the way Midoriya surprises him.

What will you do, my boy? he thinks. How will you think your way through this one?

Bakugou mistakes his pensiveness for distraction, and propels himself into another nitro-fueled charge that carries him straight into Toshinori’s waiting fist. When Toshinori hits him, Bakugou vomits.

It certainly brings back memories, seeing that. Once upon a time, he’d lost count of how many times Gran Torino made him spew. As a boy he’d made a vow, that if he ever took on a student, he’d never work them hard enough to make them puke.

How times have changed.

He doesn’t want to, and he immediately wishes he hadn’t, but Bakugou doesn’t seem to respond to anything but loud and violent wake-up calls.

“You’re frustrated,” he says, standing back to let Bakugou finish retching. There’s some distance between them; that punch drove Bakugou back by several meters. “And I understand why. You’ve noticed young Midoriya’s growth, haven’t you?” Aizawa told him about the revelation that Midoriya has been training in private with Todoroki—and happened to mention Bakugou’s furious reaction to it. The boy’s newfound control of his quirk probably hasn’t helped. “You must know he started from a much lower level than you—you can’t compare your pace that way, and it’s pointless to be frustrated by someone else’s efforts.”

Bakugou staggers back to his feet as Toshinori closes the distance between them. He looks weary; already he’s used almost as much power against Toshinori as he did over the course of the entire Sports Festival; he, too has a healthy respect for the Symbol of Peace, for all that he shows it in a different way. He doesn’t answer.

“It’s such a waste!” Toshinori tells him, willing him to listen, to understand. “Instead of feeling threatened by his improvement, why not focus on your own? You have so much growing to do, boy! And not just with strength!” He’s tempted to nudge him towards teamwork; this may be an exam, but if that’s what it takes for a breakthrough, then Toshinori can’t regret telling him the answer.

This time, instead of replying, Bakugou attacks him again.

As he fends off the furious boy, Toshinori casts about once more, searching for his missing student. For all his brashness, young Midoriya has shown a hint or two of promise in the area of stealth. He’ll exercise more caution than young Bakugou, but they only have so much time to regroup and retaliate with a proper plan, if they manage it. The boy will make his move soon, or risk having his only ally be out of commission, and face the strongest hero alone.

“Where is your partner, young Bakugou?” he asks, as he swats aside an explosive punch. “Do you even know? Did you pause, even for a moment, to consider what he can offer you?”

Fuck that,” Bakugou chokes out. “Like I told that lying little shitheel. I don't want another worthless victory.” He spits bile and brings his hand around for another blast, but Toshinori turns it aside with ease. “If it means having to borrow his shitty power, then I’d rather lose.”

As if in answer, the ringing of a distant bell echoes across the facility.

Toshinori’s head comes up, startled. Was that the signal for the end of the exams? Surely the half hour isn't over already—the boys should have had more time than that to overcome him.

Beside him, Bakugou lets out an unearthly shriek. Toshinori blocks another blast, and another and another, until Bakugou's furious barrage drives him back a step. Red eyes wild with rage, the boy throws himself at Toshinori in a reckless, desperate series of attacks.

“NO!” he roars.

“Young Bakugou—”

“GOD DAMN IT, NO!

“My boy—”

I told him!” Bakugou screams, as tears of rage gather in his eyes and his attacks slow, not from giving up but from pure exhaustion. “I fucking told that slimy little shit! I’ll kill him!

It's for his own good; Toshinori suspects he might have cracked a few ribs with that punch, and if the boy keeps carrying on like this, then he'll only do himself serious injury. And so, as gently as he can manage, Toshinori seizes him in a sleeper hold. He’s out in a matter of seconds, and Toshinori maneuvers him gently under one arm and checks the time.

There are almost twenty minutes left on the clock. Toshinori gapes at the frozen timer, speechless. He's not sure if he would have been more or less dismayed if the timer really had run out.

Because the fact that it hasn't can only mean one thing.

When he reaches the exit, the boy is waiting for him, leaning with his back against the side of the gate. He straightens when Toshinori reaches him, still with Bakugou’s unconscious form cradled in one arm.

“Midoriya,” he says sternly, but gets no further.

It's not that the boy interrupts him. He doesn't need to. The first thing Toshinori sees is his student’s face—and his nose must be broken, for it to look like that. Dried blood covers most of it, smeared and dripping from his nose and mouth down to his chin and throat. What little skin is still visible in those areas is red with fresh bruising. And above it all, sunken green eyes stare up at him, sharp with mingled pain, fear, and defiance.

(And this all begs the question, how did young Midoriya come to look like this, when All-Might hasn't seen hide nor hair of him since before the exam started, and knows for a fact that his first smash attack was a warning shot intended to miss?

The answer, of course, ought to be obvious.)

“My boy,” All-Might sighs. “It seems you've missed the point of this test.”

“You're disappointed in me.” The boy's voice is cold. Flat. Far too calm for the look in his eyes.

All-Might doesn't answer, but he expects that the look on his face is answer enough.

“Good.”

He blinks at his student, shocked. “Good?”

“Means it worked, didn’t it?” the boy replies, and beneath a smokescreen of nonchalance, his voice very nearly shakes. “I can’t beat you. Not without help, and—and Bakugou wouldn’t help. So I knew I’d have to trick you instead.” His throat bobs as he swallows. “Or at least I’d have to surprise you. I’d have to do something you wouldn’t expect.” He’s shaking now, staring into Toshinori’s eyes like he’s afraid of what will happen if he looks away. “And you’d never expect me to do anything to disappoint you, right?”

Something is terribly wrong.

The realization hits him abruptly, but not out of nowhere. It’s unexpected, but to Toshinori’s mind it eerily makes sense, as if it’s simply the culmination of something that’s been building just outside of his line of vision, something he’d only half-noticed before being forced to face it head-on.

He doesn’t know exactly what it is; and he wonders if he might have if he'd paid better attention.

The only thing he does know for sure is that a visit to Recovery Girl is in order. The trip is a quiet one; the shaky defiance leaves Midoriya with an abruptness that worries him, and pure exhaustion keeps Bakugou from rousing along the way. It's the exact opposite of the harrowing exercise on the second day of school; Midoriya is on his feet but tight-lipped and silent, and Bakugou is battered, exhausted, and dead to the world.

He’s done something wrong; the feeling sticks with him, as if multiple pairs of disapproving eyes are fixed on the back of his head, but when he turns around, no one is there. He's done something wrong, or at the very least he hasn't done something that would have been right.

It doesn't go away when they finally do get to Recovery Girl’s medical tent, because now there's a pair of disapproving eyes that he can actually see.

“I’ll see to them,” she says briskly, getting Bakugou situated on one of the empty cots.

“Has anyone else come in?” he asks. Midoriya hasn't looked him in the eye since meeting him at the gate.

“Not yet,” she replies. “You were the first to finish, though Todoroki and Yaoyorozu also completed the exam while you were on your way.” A pause, and a glance to Midoriya. “They passed. No serious injuries, but they'll also be seeing me just to be safe. Should be here shortly.”

His time runs out abruptly, his body deflates, and heavy exhaustion settles around him like a weighted blanket. Even his costume feels heavy. Tutting quietly, Recovery Girl chivvies him out of the room.

“No arguments, now,” she orders, when he's about to open his mouth to do exactly that. “Be off with you, before the other boy wakes up.” It shouldn't be so easy for such a tiny old lady to buffalo him no matter what form he happens to be using, but in spite of serious misgivings, he allows himself to be shown out.

At the door, her voice drops nearly to a whisper. “It was bad judgment,” she says.

“What?”

“Forcing those two together for something so important.” The old woman scowls. “It'll all come out once you review the footage, but if you happen to run into Aizawa, tell him I said that, would you?”

She’s gone before he can form a reply.


“Well, now that he’s squared away, let's have a look at you.”

Recovery Girl’s voice is brusquely kind as usual when she comes back from tending to Bakugou, and Izuku is impossibly grateful for it. She sits him down on a cot, all brisk business, and shines a light in his eyes. Her mouth is pinched with displeasure, but for once, Izuku knows that it isn't directed at him. Of course, knowing is different from internalizing, and therefore it doesn't stop his gut from twisting and shriveling up inside him. Rei isn’t around to reassure him; she’s standing guard over Bakugou like she doesn’t trust him to stay where he is despite being unconscious.

“Well, you aren't concussed.” The flashlight clicks off, and she puts it away and fetches a clean towel. She wets it with warm water and carefully cleans away the dried blood on his face. “Sorry for making you wait,” she continues. “I had to see to his injuries first because they were a bit more serious—and for no other reason than that, understand?” She frowns at him, and he reminds himself that that's not a disapproving frown; it's a you-had-better-believe-me frown.

He nods.

“Any dizziness?” she asks.

He shakes his head.

“Nausea? Problems with vision?” More head-shaking. “How about breathing? Can you breathe all right?”

He pauses, then reluctantly shakes his head. He's been breathing through his mouth since Bakugou punched him.

“Hmph. I was afraid of that. Just a moment.” She stretches up and presses a quick kiss to his temple. Almost immediately the pain in his face eases, though it doesn’t vanish entirely, and she gives him a box of tissues and instructs him to blow. It’s painful and absolutely disgusting, seeing snot and congealed blood come out, but the results are swift. His face still aches, but he can breathe again. “Better?”

He nods.

“Good. I've fixed the bones and cartilage in your nose and sped up the healing process a few days on that bruising. It'll still ache a bit, and it shan’t be pretty, but it'll clear up before the week is out. And you'll get out of it without a nose like Todoroki’s.” Something pings, and she takes out a phone and checks it. “Ah, speaking of whom—just a moment.”

She walks back to the entrance to the medical tent, and returns with Yaoyorozu and Todoroki in tow, both of whom stare a little wide-eyed upon seeing him. They both look battered and worn out, though not as bad as Izuku—or Bakugou, for that matter.

“We're all right, for the most part,” Yaoyorozu tells her. “Aizawa-sensei sent us straight to you anyway, because he didn't want to give you a reason to yell at him.”

“Oh, he already has,” Recovery Girl says darkly, and Izuku twitches at the steel in her tone.

“O-oh,” Yaoyorozu says, a little awkwardly. “Well then. Hello, Midoriya—congratulations on being the first to complete the exam!”

Izuku can only nod, and try not to flinch.

“That was fast,” Todoroki remarks. “How'd it go?”

Izuku opens his mouth to reply, and after a moment he closes it. The words won't come, and he knows better than to try and force them. At best he'll only look foolish; at worst he might alarm them enough to raise questions. He would rather avoid both, so he shuts his mouth and shrugs instead. His hands fidget in his lap, itching to sign a reply, but no one in this room knows sign, so he sits on his hands to still them.

Hopefully the muteness will go away before anyone gets worried.

It doesn't take Recovery Girl long to look them over and see to their injuries, which only leaves them both even more exhausted than before. It’s going to be bed rest on school grounds for the lot of them, once she’s done her work.

“What's wrong with Bakugou?” It’s Todoroki who asks that question, and if Izuku weren’t struck mute before, then he definitely is now.

Luckily, Recovery Girl answers. “All-Might brought him in unconscious, and the healing I did took a lot out of him. He won’t wake up forquite a while, I expect.”

“Wow,” Yaoyorozu looks to Izuku through drooping eyelids. “You’ll have to tell us how yours went later, Midoriya. I mean, Aizawa-sensei was tricky enough, but fighting All-Might…” Her voice trails off a little before she continues. “That bruise looks pretty bad,” she says gently. “And if Bakugou’s out of commission, it must’ve gotten pretty intense.”

Izuku’s fingers curl into the edge of the cot, and the thickness in his throat turns painful.

“Would’ve thought it’d be the other way around,” Todoroki remarks, and his words are light and casual but they land like a gut punch. “Usually it’s you who comes out with the worst—Midoriya? W-wait no, I didn’t—”

Izuku doesn’t have the energy to try to stop it, or even to want to stop it. Hot tears spill unchecked down his blank, empty face, and Izuku wants to die. Being a ghost can’t possible be as bad as this—as sitting like a waste of space while all his shame and frustration boils over. It’s not the first time he’s cried in front of Todoroki, but it’s the first time he’s ever seen his friend look at him with this much alarm and confusion and instant regret, like it’s his fault Izuku is crying when it isn’t, it really isn’t. It’s no one’s fault but his, that’s he’s a coward and a cheat and really the furthest thing from a hero. He should have learned the lesson that Aizawa-sensei and All-Might were trying to teach him, but all he did was lose his temper and lash out again, and it doesn’t matter why he did it, because what he did was abandon someone—see someone hurt and in trouble and needing help, and turn and walk the other way he needed help, but nobody came—

All because Bakugou had hit him and Izuku had wanted to hit back, and that was the best way he knew how to hurt him: to spite him with another worthless victory.

As his body shudders with unvoiced sobs, a hand lands awkwardly on his shoulder, too light and hesitant to be anyone but Todoroki, who isn’t fluent in physical reassurance

Izuku wishes he could feel like he deserved it.

Chapter Text

 

When Toshinori walks into the faculty office with a heavy heart, he finds it mostly empty but for Aizawa slouching at his desk. The only teachers who would still be there are those in the heroics department, helping with evaluations of the practical exams. His ears still burn, raw from the tongue-lashing he got from Recovery Girl, for all that she gave it to him over an hour ago. He feels sick to… well, the empty place where his stomach used to be, at least, and Aizawa looks nearly as bad as he feels.

When he comes around to the younger hero’s side, he sees why. The paused video footage on screen is of one of the practical exams. The one he proctored himself, to be exact.

Toshinori has already seen it. He’s promised himself he’ll sit down and watch it again once the acidic burn in his gut fades, but now might as well be the time. It seems Aizawa is stronger than him in this respect.

At the moment, Aizawa’s face is mostly hidden by the hair falling over his face, and what little Toshinori can see of his eyes, isn't pretty.

“Aizawa?” He says cautiously. They have never been friends, but this, at least, warrants discussing.

Aizawa shifts in his seat, pushes one side of his hair behind his ear, and glares at the frozen screen. For a moment Toshinori thinks he's ignoring him, and then—

“Fucked up.”

It's a mumble, on par with young Midoriya's usual sotto voce muttering. “Pardon?”

Aizawa sits up marginally straighter. “I fucked up,” he repeats, louder this time.

It's almost a relief to hear that, not because he enjoys hearing Aizawa take blame, but because his junior is open to discussion at all. “Ah,” Toshinori replies, and feels confident enough to nudge the nearest chair closer and sit down. “I… might as well take responsibility also—”

“No.” Aizawa laces his fingers together and glowers over the platform of his hands. “My decision, my bad judgment.” He lets out a long sigh through his nose. “You know what annoys me? I could have avoided this with one change. Just one. No other rearranging necessary.”

“How do you mean?”
The furrow in Aizawa’s brow deepens. “Midoriya and Todoroki.”

Toshinori blinks in surprise. “Really? I… hm. They get along fairly well, so they’d make a good team, but… in that case, wouldn’t that be too easy for them?” Moreover, he can’t imagine what would happen in a team-up between Yaoyorozu and Bakugou. The poor girl has been so unsure of herself lately; having to work with someone as forceful and stubborn as Bakugou would only discourage her further, wouldn’t it?

“No, that’s not—” Aizawa shakes his head. “I mean switching them.”

Toshinori opens his mouth to reply, then stops. And thinks.

“...Huh,” he says.

“Midoriya already has decent analytical and tactical skills,” Aizawa says. “Considering how destructive his quirk is, that’s to be encouraged, and collaborating with Yaoyorozu would both strengthen that and put her in a favorable position to assert herself.” He takes a deep breath. “Todoroki and Bakugou both rely on brute force at the expense of collaboration—pairing them against an overwhelmingly powerful opponent like you would have forced them to rethink their usual strategies.”

He falls quiet, and Toshinori nods. It makes sense; even an inexperienced teacher like him can recognize that Yaoyorozu has been struggling with self-confidence lately. Up to thirty minutes of working with young Midoriya could have cured that easily enough. “Why not choose that in the first place, then?”

Aizawa’s eyebrows knit together, and he makes a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. “Saw the animosity between Midoriya and Bakugou. Misjudged the problem. Stupid.”

He may not get along with Aizawa, but hearing the younger hero so disgusted with himself throws Toshinori for a loop. “Aizawa, I also—”

“No, shut up. I know what you're going to say, so save it.”

Undaunted, Toshinori pushes on. “Did he tell you that something was wrong?”

“He shouldn't have had to,” Aizawa gritted out. “I should have noticed without it being pointed out to me by my own students.”

“He told me.” Toshinori forces speech past the lump in his throat. “Or at least he tried.”

At this, Aizawa sits up a little straighter. “He talked to you about this? When?”

“On the way to the exam,” Toshinori admits. “He was nervous. Signing to himself again, though I couldn't tell what. I don't remember what I said, but he looked me in the eye and told me it was ‘the nightmare scenario’. I thought he was being purposely melodramatic, but…” His successor’s tired, desperate eyes flash in his memory again, and he swallows his guilt. “I underestimated things.”

“Hm.” Aizawa’s frown deepens. “And after?”

“He, ah.” It's not nice to think about. It still twists at him to remember it. “He said it was—he didn't know how to beat me, so the only way to win was to do something unexpected.” His voice turns bitter with shame. “And I would never expect him to risk disappointing me, would I?”

Aizawa’s cheekbone shifts as he clenches his teeth. “Anything else?”

“Nothing. I left him with Recovery Girl.” He hesitates, eyes his colleague, and wonders if there's a tactful way to ask his next question. “I… take it you've spoken with her?”

The grimace on Aizawa's face tells him all he needs to know. “Asked her the same question, once she was done yelling at me.”

“And?”

“Nothing. Didn't talk to her or anyone else. Stayed silent until he left.”

Toshinori’s heart sinks further. “...Oh.”

The door swings open, and Present Mic comes strolling in, missing his jacket and absently scratching at his arms. “Shouta, quick, I need your help.”

One of Aizawa’s bloodshot eyes twitch. “What.

Present Mic stumbles a little to join them, either unaware of or purposely ignoring Aizawa's dark mood. “Your students,” he almost whines, “buried me in bugs. Bugs, Shouta. Creepy crawly death dealers. I can't stop feeling tiny little legs all over me.” He shudders deeply. “I think I got all of them, but can you help me check?”

“Yamada,” Toshinori sighs. “Now really isn't the time.”

“Oh. You guys busy?” Yamada sobers almost instantly, though he still twitches a little. He catches sight of the screen. “Oh hey, test footage. Figuring out feedback, or what?” Thankfully, he seems to read the silence that follows, and his face falls. “Oh. Uh… so I’m a little afraid to ask, but what happened with Midoriya this time?”

Toshinori looks at him sharply. “How do you know it has to do with Midoriya?”

“Couple reasons. I saw him before he left campus, and he looked pretty rough. He usually stutters a little whenever he has the chance to say goodbye to me, which is both flattering and adorable, but he didn’t say two words to me today.” Toshinori shifts uncomfortably. “Mostly the look on your face, though. No offense, All Might, but you worry about him more than the rest of the class put together. Not that I blame you at all, considering what he gets up to if you don't keep an eye on him, but you're worse than a single mother with that kid.” He pulls up a chair to get a comfortable view of Aizawa's monitor screen. “So what's up?”

Instead of answering, Aizawa starts up the footage.

There's no audio, but there doesn't need to be. The video footage shows the pair at the beginning of the exam, Bakugou storming through the testing ground and pointedly ignoring Midoriya as he rushes to keep up. It's plain that Midoriya is trying to communicate, but Bakugou isn't listening.

The conversation, such that it is, gets more heated as Midoriya gets desperate and frustrated while Bakugou continues to brush him off. Midoriya's hands twist at his sides in familiar ways—

“Hold on, is he signing?” Yamada leans forward for a better look.

“You recognize it?” Toshinori asks.

“All-Might, you're talking to the guy who spent his entire childhood trying not to knock down his house with a shouty quirk he couldn't always control. Yeah, I know sign.” He squints. “Kinda garbled, though. And it's a bad angle. Something about finding the exit fast—probably putting together his own plan, since it doesn't look like his partner is interested in working with him. Oh man, is this him doing the mumble thing, but in sign? That's adorable.”

And then, of course, the inevitable scene arrives. Whatever Midoriya says to him, Bakugou doesn't want to hear it.

Yamada cringes when Bakugou’s swing makes contact. “Oh. Okay, I see why you two are in a mood.”

Aizawa stops the video. “That's not the part that concerns me the most; it’s this.” He plays back the previous minute, before Bakugou lashes out. At one point, Bakugou turns to face him and grabs his arm, and Midoriya—

Midoriya freezes. He stops moving, stops talking, doesn't even try to resist or get away. He stops, and even after Bakugou lets go, it takes him a moment to move again.

“Not a good sign,” Yamada remarks. “Has that ever happened before?”

“Not that I’ve seen. They haven't been paired up for training since day two.” Aizawa finally closes the video. “They've avoided each other since then, and I assumed it was just a mutual grudge they needed to get over.” His jaw tightens, and he rises from his seat. “I'll see you two tomorrow.”

Toshinori lets him go without a word, and soon takes his leave as well. He has quite a bit to think about.


“I’m leaving for school, Mom.”

When she hears this, she takes him in her arms and holds him long enough to risk making him late. Izuku lets her without complaint, knowing he probably scared her; until now, he hasn’t spoken to her with his mouth instead of his hands since yesterday. Whenever he goes quiet, it reminds her of things they would both rather forget. She finally lets him go, and he and Rei leave the house at a run to make up for lost time.

“Hey, Deku!” He catches up to Uraraka before he reaches UA’s front gate; usually it's the other way around. “You’re a little later than usual aren't—oh, that doesn't look good.” Her good-morning cheer gives way to instant concern. Privately, Izuku wonders if he could have gotten away with wearing a face mask today. Recovery Girl fixed his nose as good as new and jump-started the healing for his bruised face, but that only means that the marks look days old instead of fresh. Even Morino commented on his appearance in the bathroom mirror; from nose to chin, his face is a dark, blotchy purple-green.

Does he have time to run to the nurse? Beg one more healing off of her?

“That’s to be expected, considering your opponent,” and Izuku jumps, because Iida's suddenly right there which means Tensei is also right there, and a little warning would have been nice. “All-Might certainly didn't go easy on you, did he?”

Izuku stares at him, nonplussed. Iida thinks All-Might did this to him. Iida thinks Izuku spent any time whatsoever actually fighting All-Might.

“I don't think any of the teachers did,” Uraraka says. “Aoyama and I almost didn't pass at all!” She winces. “Actually, we technically went over the time limit, but since we still got the handcuffs on Thirteen, we passed anyway.”

“It was a close fight in my case as well, but Ojiro and I managed to pull through quite successfully,” Iida replies. “Still, I was pleasantly surprised when they announced your victory, Midoriya. Congratulations on being the first.”

“Yeah!” Uraraka bounces on her toes. “You've gotta tell us how you pulled that off—fastest win in class, up against the number one! And you were working with Bakugou.”

“We'll have plenty of time to trade stories later,” Iida says, and Izuku sighs with relief as his stomach churns. “We're already a bit late—oh, good morning, Todoroki.”

“Morning.”

Izuku focuses on the ground at his feet. He can feel eyes on him—Todoroki’s eyes, studying him, probably remembering the last time they saw each other.

“Are you all right?” Todoroki asks.

For a moment his tongue and throat lock up, and Izuku fears that his goodbye to his mother was a fluke, that the muteness will stretch to weeks and months again. But he swallows in spite of his dry mouth, and tries again. “Fine,” he mumbles. “Just slept a lot, because of the healing.”

“Ah,” Todoroki replies, and Izuku hurries into the building before he can attract any more questions.

Final exams are the talk of the classroom, naturally. Izuku keeps his head down and weaves through his classmates, desperate to avoid notice. Kaminari, looking emotionally worse for wear, approaches him with what might be congratulations, but Rei bares her teeth and hisses, exuding fear in a noxious cloud, and it's enough to make his classmate change his mind.

Gradually, over the minutes before the start of class, he hears the results of the rest of the exams. It's not that he's trying to listen. But the talk is all around him, so it's impossible not to absorb it.

Todoroki and Yaoyorozu: escaped Aizawa together. Passed.

Tsuyu and Tokoyami: defeated and handcuffed Ectoplasm. Passed.

Jirou and Kouda: escaped Present Mic together. Passed.

Mineta and Sero: escaped Midnight together. Passed.

Uraraka and Aoyama: defeated and handcuffed Thirteen. Passed.

Shouji and Hagakure: defeated and handcuffed Snipe. Passed.

Iida and Ojiro: escaped Power Loader together. Passed.

Ashido, Kaminari, Kirishima, and Satou were the only ones who failed the practical exam.

A heavy pit had settled in Izuku’s chest at some point after he left Recovery Girl, and now it weighs even further on his heart. He puts his head down on his desk, cushions his chin on one arm, and prays that no one will approach him. The results speak for themselves.

Everyone else pulled together—not him. Everyone else stayed with their partners and faced daunting odds as a pair, as a team—not him. Everyone else was clever or daring or determined or some combination of all three—not him. Everyone else struggled and sweated and fought for their victory—not him, not him, not him.

In every other team, they either triumphed together, or they didn't triumph at all.

It isn't possible for him to sink any lower in his chair, but he tries. Rei’s aura bleeds fear and unease as she crouches over him, and his classmates avoid his desk without quite realizing why. And Izuku is so wrapped up in his nerves and shame and heavy, aching guilt that he forgets. He forgets where he is, and he forgets one inevitable fact.

“Bakugou, heya!” Kirishima’s voice carries through the entire classroom, and Izuku’s pulse stops dead in his chest. “Man, congrats on finishing the exam so fast! How'd you and Midoriya pull that off—?”

Izuku knows what's coming, deep in his most basic instincts, thanks to years of habits and patterns drilled into his head. It's enough of a warning to shove himself up off his desk and back, as far back as he can go before his shoulders slam into the seat behind him.

He's not sure what causes the ringing in his ears, whether it's Bakugou's hands slamming onto the surface of his desk or the accompanying explosion that blackens the wood—and isn't this distantly familiar, an old panic-trigger that he hasn't seen since middle school, a lifetime ago—

“Deku, you slimy little shit!” And just like that, the past months haven't happened, there's no UA, no One For All, no All-Might or Aizawa-sensei or Nana, and Midoriya Izuku has no quirk and no friends except the ones whose hearts don't beat anymore, the ones who can cry out with rage but can’t protect him. Bakugou is there again, inches away with fire and thunder at his fingertips, and Izuku can only shrink back and cower and freeze blank and empty because at least when he's empty he doesn't feel like the Deku whose name means useless, weak, crazy, look at him shake, watch me make the quirkless creep cry like a little girl

There are tears in Bakugou’s eyes, anger and frustration making him weep with rage. “I told you not to get in my way! I told you I was gonna win it right, and you fucked it up again!

Panic howls through his veins, and he waits for pain, for burning, for smoke and thunder, but instead there's a pitiful pop and then silence, and the coils of a scarf whip around Bakugou with an audible snap, and Izuku looks through darkening tunnel vision to find red, red eyes.

Not Bakugou’s eyes, Eraserhead’s eyes, bloodshot scarlet and cold and furious

Their teacher yanks Bakugou back, slamming him down into his seat, and no teacher has ever done that before—stopped Bakugou cold, stopped his anger and his quirk and even his voice, gagging him before more poison words can scald Izuku's ears.

And just like that the danger is past, and a roomful of eyes stare and stare and don’t look away. If anyone speaks then Izuku can't hear it past the cotton wool in his ears and the high-pitched whining tone echoing in his brain. He pumps the brakes on his roaring panic, because homeroom is only ten minutes and he needs time. But it's just like Sachi’s car, that mangled steel corpse left to rust on the beach—the lines are cut and Izuku is going to crash.

He breathes in, filling his lungs just enough to spit CanIbeexcused in a half-coherent stream, and waits for Aizawa-sensei’s nod before he weaves through the desks and hurries to the door. He makes it to the hallway before the classroom becomes too small to let him breathe.

Cold, willing hands tug at him, guide him, pull him along—blank white eyes surround him, soft with pity as their owners whisper reassurances that skim uselessly off the shell of terror around his heart. Tensei—he thinks it’s Tensei, and maybe the other one’s Narita—leads him somewhere, and he follows. The last time this happened, he was in the hospital, fleeing to a bathroom so that he could break without anyone witnessing it. He follows their lead as they herd him along, hoping they find somewhere fast, because he doesn’t have much time before—

Half-blind, he runs straight into someone—warm and solid, a living person who catches him by the shoulders before he can fall over.

“Young Midoriya?”

No no no not him anyone but him why didn’t they warn me

He opens his mouth to speak, but all that comes out is a strangled noise.

There are hands guiding him along again—All-Might’s hands, this time. The ghosts are still there, just beyond his reach. A door closes behind him, and when his legs finally quake out from under him, a sofa is there to catch him.

“Breathe,” someone says close to his ear. Not All-Might—Tensei? Narita? He can’t keep track anymore. He counts in his head, tapping along with a finger on his knee—too fast, seconds aren’t that fast, but it helps. It helps.

When the tunnel vision clears and he comes back into himself, there are hands on his. He’s already gripping them, and loosens his fingers with a whispered sorry.

“Are you all right?” All-Might asks him.

Izuku nods until his teeth rattle, fighting against the pressure building in his throat. This is the first time he’s spoken with All-Might, the first time he’s looked at him since after the exam, and his mentor found him like this. He looks to the ghosts, finds Tensei watching him, and stares back with pleading eyes.

“Sorry, Midoriya,” Iida’s brother says softly. “But… you need to not be alone right now.”

“Don’t blame him, kiddo,” Ms. Nana murmurs from somewhere by All-Might’s shoulder. “When I saw them leading you off, I asked them to bring you to him. You need to talk to him about what happened out there.”

His eyes burn, and he shuts his eyes before the tears can come—not yet. His throat feels blocked again, filtering air through but leaving words locked tight inside of him.

I’m sorry, he signs, and it’s not like his indistinct, furtive signing with Rei. He shapes the phrase carefully with his hands. It’s a simple one, a basic one, and one of the first he happened to show All-Might.

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” All-Might’s hand settles upon his shoulder, warm and reassuring. “Did something happen in class?”

Yes. His hands shake, and he switches from signing to finger-spelling. It’s slower, but it’s easier for All-Might to understand if he sounds it out than it is for Izuku to try to express himself with the limited sign he’s shown him up to now. I couldn't do what you wanted, he says, slowly, one syllable at a time. Or I could, but I didn't try. I gave up so fast. I couldn't win the way I wanted. Tears trickle down his face, and he ducks his head so he can't look All-Might in the eye. I'm sorry I disappointed you.

All-Might watches, reading each sound as he gradually ekes out the words. “No—no, my boy.” Izuku drops his hands into his lap, and All-Might grips his shoulder until he raises his head again. “I'm not disappointed in you. I'm not upset with you at all.”

His disbelief must show on his face. Without breaking eye contact, All-Might gives a gentle shake of his head. “I wasn't listening to you. You tried to tell me, in your own way, that you needed help, and I didn't listen.”

Izuku gapes at him, wide-eyed and disbelieving, because—no he didn't, did he? He made a stupid joke but other than that he kept his mouth shut. All-Might was strong, stronger than anyone else, but he wasn't a mind reader.

Words are still hard, but at least his face is apparently an open book. “One of the marks of a good hero,” All-Might says quietly, “is knowing when something is wrong without needing to be told. And I'm finding, now, that the same can be said of teachers—only it's a very different type of ‘wrong’ that I have to look out for.” He pauses, looks away for a moment, and continues. “When I let the exam continue when you were clearly uncomfortable with it, that was… that was wrong of me. As your teacher, you deserved better from me.”

Izuku can only stare at him, at a loss for words. It's just like All-Might to let his Symbol-Of-Peace habits color his teaching methods, chasing and worrying over every hint of someone else’s distress. Izuku isn't ungrateful for it, but it still fills him with warm embarrassment. He’s supposed to be the next symbol of peace, isn't he? This is a school for heroes; he shouldn't have to be coddled.

He twitches and bites back a yelp when someone pinches him sharply on the arm. He looks down, and Rei glares up at him. Stop that.

Izuku resists the temptation to scowl. Trust Rei to be overprotective.

“Can I ask you a question?” All-Might says. “It’s kind of personal, but just yes or no is fine.” Izuku looks at him again, swallowing his nervousness. All-Might frowns. “You told me once, quite a while ago, that you went through a shy phase, and that’s what made you learn sign language.” Izuku’s throat seizes, and he shakily nods. “Mm. That phase have anything to do with young Bakugou?”

His eyes are glued to the floor now. It would be easy, so easy, to shake his head and move on. But at this point… would there be any point in trying to hide it?

Izuku offers one more jerky nod.

He doesn’t look up at All-Might’s face, but he hears the noncommittal little hum. “Are you all right to go back to class?” All-Might asks, and Izuku sighs with relief. “If you’d like to stay longer…”

Izuku shakes his head and finally lifts his hands from his lap again. I'm fine.

All-Might looks skeptical, of course, but Izuku gets to his feet before his mentor can press the issue. If he hurries, he can catch the last few minutes of homeroom. Aizawa-sensei probably isn't happy about the exam either, much less the mess this morning with Bakugou, and Izuku would rather not give him any more reasons to frown on him.

“You okay?” Tensei asks, as the classroom ghosts follow him back. Izuku nods stiffly. There are only three or so minutes left before next period; on the bright side, that means he’ll only have to endure Aizawa-sensei’s disapproval for that long.

Tensei and Narita vanish well before Izuku gets to the door—Tensei’s eager to get back to his brother, and Narita gets bored easily when there isn’t a crisis. Rei stays close, and Izuku braces himself before nudging the door open.

Heads turn to look as he steps back in, which is jarring but inevitable. Izuku swallows uncomfortably as he steps in, looking instinctively to his own scorched desk, and in particular the one in front of it.

He blinks.

Uraraka blinks back, looking equally as bewildered as he feels, which makes sense because she's sitting in Bakugou’s desk. Bakugou is nowhere to be seen.

Izuku looks to Uraraka’s old seat as he passes it on the way to his own, just out of curiosity, and finds Bakugou’s bag shoved under the chair, and a piece of paper fixed to the desk with a bit of tape.

tantrum-throwing baby jail, it reads. From the desk next to it, Satou grins and flashes him a thumbs up.

Izuku hurries the rest of the way to his seat.


Homeroom ends not long after Midoriya returns. Aizawa considers it a minor miracle that the entire class didn't descend upon him as one the second he opened the door.

“You’re all dismissed. Please save pressing conversations for when you're outside of my classroom.”

Midoriya skirts around the outside of the desks, slowly so that he stays behind the bulk of the crowd. His path takes him closer to Aizawa's desk than it would have, had he taken a straighter route, and his pace quickens as he tries to hurry to the door.

“Not you,” Aizawa says, and for a split second Midoriya looks like someone facing the gallows.

Uraraka, who was sticking close to him up to that point, gives him a sympathetic look. “Want us to wait?” Midoriya shakes his head and gives her a grin, and she reluctantly follows the rest of the class out. The room empties, leaving Midoriya standing awkwardly in front of Aizawa’s desk.

“Sit down,” Aizawa sighs, because the boy looks ready to tip over.

“I'm sorry,” Midoriya blurts out instead of sitting. “I-I know you were trying to teach me something with the exam but I just g-gave up instead of actually trying to learn anything and I know I messed up and I could have done so much better b-but I didn't a-and… it's fine if you fail me or I have to retake it. I-it’s fine. I understand.”

Well, Aizawa thinks wryly. At least he's talking again. Out loud, he says, “At least lean on the desk behind you if you’re not gonna sit down. You look like you’re about to fall over.” Hesitantly Midoriya obeys. He grips the edge of the desk and stares at the floor, and Aizawa huffs out a sigh. “My intentions with the exam were to address the animosity between you and Bakugou, while also hammering out some of the other bad habits you both have been showing. The Sports Festival showed me that you both are decent strategists capable of collaborating in teams—just not with each other.” He pauses. “My assumption at the time was that this was a problem you both had to work to fix. On top of that, I had hoped that being forced to work for victory with someone he holds in contempt might teach Bakugou a little humility.”

Midoriya winces. Aizawa takes another deep breath.

“And for that, I owe you an apology.”

Deathly silence falls in the empty classroom. Slowly, Midoriya raises his head and stares at Aizawa as if he spoke that last part in Welsh.

“Midoriya, you are a student,” Aizawa continues, before the boy has the chance to launch into another apologetic tirade. “Your responsibilities at this school are to learn, grow, do your homework, and try not to screw up. And that's on you. Your learning, your growth, your homework, and your screw-ups. No one else’s.” He hesitates again, gritting his teeth, because he hasn't had to eat crow in front of a student since back when he was a rookie teacher. “I misjudged the history between you two. And by doing that, I made your growth a tool to further Bakugou’s, which I shouldn't have done.”

“But—” Midoriya breaks in. “But it's not just—heroes have to do that, don't they? Collaborate with other heroes even if they don't get along? I can't—I couldn't leave people in the lurch just because—”

“Your classmate's poor behavior is not your responsibility.” Midoriya startles when Aizawa interrupts him. “And fixing it is my job. Trying to shovel some of that headache on you was unprofessional.”

Midoriya shrinks in on himself. “But… didn't I sort of just make it worse? And even if it's not my responsibility, what about the test?”

Aizawa raises an eyebrow at him. “What about it?”

“I mean… I didn't really…”

“I believe the testing parameters were quite clear, Midoriya.”

“But—”

Aizawa is tempted to ban him from beginning sentences with that word. “Only one of you was required to escape the testing ground in order to pass. You fulfilled that requirement. We have it on tape and everything.”

“But I gave up!” Midoriya looks desperately confused. “I—I just l-left him, I abandoned my teammate and in real life… w-why are you just letting it slide?”

Aizawa takes a while to answer, partly to give his student a chance to calm down, but mostly to take a good, long look at him. He started this awkward discussion expecting a sigh of relief at the end, a thank-you stammered out before Aizawa could wave it off, maybe an embarrassed little bow. But here's Midoriya arguing with him, piling blame on his own shoulders and refusing to accept that he isn't the one that screwed up this time.

Besides which…

“Midoriya, what happened when you passed through that gate?”

The question gets him a startled blink. “Um… the bell rang?”

“Meaning what?”

“Th-the exam ended. And I… passed.”

“Meaning what?” Aizawa presses.

Midoriya frowns in confusion. “Um… All-Might showed up? With… with Bakugou…” He blinks, and Aizawa sees realization dawn. “The fight stopped.”

Aizawa nods. “Regardless of the difference between a test and real life, you had a difficult situation before you, and you dealt with it. The course of action you chose prevented further conflict between you and your teammate, ended the conflict with your opponent, and prevented further injury to your partner.” He pauses to make sure it's sinking in. “We were grading for judgment just as much as strength or skill. You're not invincible nor infallible, and you went for the most reasonable outcome, and that, Midoriya, is why I'm ‘letting it slide.’ Because doing otherwise would be punishing you for Bakugou's poor decisions. Or worse, I would be punishing you for mine.”

Midoriya blinks twice more. Tears gleam in his eyes, threatening to overflow, and a moment later they aren’t just threatening anymore. Aizawa averts his gaze to give his student some cursory sense of privacy, and waits until the sniffling dies down before he pushes forward one last time.

“How long has Bakugou been bullying you?”

His student startles again, wiping hastily at his eyes. “I-It's not—he…” Whatever lie he was preparing quickly sputters out. The floor draws his eyes again. “Um. F-five years, I guess.”

“Since the fourth grade, then?”

“N-no, I mean…” Midoriya fidgets. “Five years, um, cumulatively. It started when we were five, after… after our quirks came in. And then when I was seven I switched schools and didn’t see him again until middle school.”

“Hm.” Aizawa nods. He takes out a slip of paper, jots down a quick note and his signature, and slides it across to Midoriya. “Here. Get going.”

Midoriya takes it. “What’s this?”

Aizawa raises an eyebrow again. “It’s a late note,” he says. “Show that to Cementoss so he won’t mark you down.”

“O-oh. Thanks.” Midoriya looks like he’s about to cry again—and really, it’s just a late note.

Aizawa gives a slow blink. “Get to class, Midoriya.”

“Yes, Sensei!” Midoriya nearly knocks over a desk in his scramble for the door, and Aizawa sits back and considers how to proceed.


“I want a do-over.”

Aizawa’s forehead twinges, the warning sign of a stress headache. He opens his eyes to find the classroom emptied out, students gone for the day—all except one.

Bakugou scowls at him over the desk, less angry than simply sullen, hunched over with his hands shoved in his pockets in a pose that looks simultaneously indifferent and defiant.

“What was that?” Aizawa asks. He stirs subtly in his chair, going from relaxed to ready in a single shift of muscles.

“I said I want a do-over,” Bakugou snaps. “Let me re-take the exam.”

“The practical exams were graded pass or no pass, Bakugou,” Aizawa says evenly. “And you passed. There’s nothing for you to make up.”

“It was bullshit and you know it!” Bakugou’s hand hits the desktop with a dull thud. He doesn’t slam or pound it, and his palms don’t give off a single spark. The kid’s being polite. “I passed on a fucking technicality, so how about you actually test me without Deku fucking everything up?”

Aizawa clasps his hands loosely in front of him, lacing the fingers together into a small bridge. He considers the boy in front of him through narrow eyes.

“Is this how it usually goes?” he asks.

Bakugou blinks, squinting in confusion. “What?”

“You make demands, shout them loud enough, throw a tantrum until you get what you want? Is that how you deal with teachers?” Aizawa pauses. “Is that how you expect to deal with me?” The note of danger in his voice is gentle compared to what villains get, and Aizawa carefully controls it as it trickles into his voice.

The result is clear; Bakugou bridles, but for once he keeps a leash on his temper. Or at least what passes for a leash, with him. “I’m not throwing a tantrum!” he barks. “I just want—”

“Speaking of what you want,” Aizawa breaks in. “Tell me something, Bakugou.” He meets his student’s eyes and holds them. “Why do you want to become a hero?”

“What—” Bakugou bites down on what is clearly another budding tirade. “The fuck? What does that have to do with anything?”

“Humor me. Why do you want to become a hero?”

Bakugou scowls, clenches his hands into white-knuckled fists. “Because I want to win. I want to be the strongest—the best. And I want everyone to know it.”

“That doesn’t answer the question,” Aizawa says.

“What do you mean that doesn’t—”

“You want to win, you want to be the best, you want to be the strongest, but that doesn’t tell me why you want to be a hero.” Slowly Aizawa sits up straighter. “Why not be a professional martial artist, then? Why not join the armed forces? Look into cage matches? Why not spend your days wandering the city, picking fights with everyone who looks at you funny?” He lets the full force of his glare pour into Bakugou’s eyes. “Why not be a villain?”

Slam. “Fuck you!” Bakugou forgets his manners then. He’s not stupid enough to use his quirk, but this time Aizawa feels the desk reverberate with the force of the blow. “Where the fuck do you get off calling me a villain!”

“Where do you get off calling yourself a potential hero?” Aizawa asks. “Anything I just listed off would give you the chance to prove your strength, to prove yourself stronger than those around you—the last one especially. So why do you want to be a hero?”

Bakugou stares at him, red eyes blazing, speechless with fury.

“What I hope,” Aizawa continues, “is that somewhere, deep down, there’s some part of you, some deep, buried instinct, that points you to the side of the angels. That some part of you, no matter how small, wants to do good. I hope, for the sake of your position at this school, that I’m not wrong.”

This time, Aizawa sees a flinch. It’s not much, but it’s there, and the self-righteous fury in his student’s eyes starts to crack, just a little. “What’s that supposed to mean.”

“First of all, it doesn’t mean I’m going to expel you,” Aizawa says. “You’re an arrogant, headstrong, immature teenager, and at this point you need guidance more than you need a punishment that final. What it does mean… well. You’re strong, and you’re talented, and you have a powerful quirk. So tell me, Bakugou—when was the last time you used any of those gifts for someone else’s benefit?” Bakugou blinks. “When was the last time you helped someone in need? Fought for something that wasn’t your own ego? When was the last time you risked an injury, for no other reason than to prevent someone else from doing the same?”

By this point, Bakugou is shaking—with rage or something else, Aizawa can’t be sure. All he can do is hope that some of this is sinking in.

“Does that matter to you, at all?” Aizawa asks. “Has it occurred to you even once that the most important aspect of being a hero is to protect those weaker than yourself?”

He can hear Bakugou’s knuckles popping from here, the boy’s clenching his fists so tight.

“I don’t know how your teachers have dealt with you in the past,” Aizawa says flatly. “And frankly, I don’t care. For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is entirely your fault—you’re used to getting your way because no one has ever bothered to tell you no, and that’s on them. But I learn from my mistakes, and from the mistakes of those who came before me, so I’m telling you, right now: no. No, you may not re-take the exam. You’ll stick with the results you have, and receive extra attention this summer to fix the plethora of problems I saw in your performance.”

He rises from his seat, and Bakugou’s shaking stills as he makes his way around the desk to stand in front of his student. “You’ll also be starting the next term with a four-day suspension, for assaulting a classmate and damaging school property. And I will be watching your progress, to make sure you learn the right lessons and un-learn your bad habits.” He stoops a little, until they’re eye to eye. “Let me be clear, Bakugou. Here at UA, we train heroes. I am not interested in teaching combat skills to a bully—or worse, giving one a license to use his quirk freely. I am not interested in teaching a student who doesn’t seem to realizing that treating the people around him as stepping stones and garbage makes him utterly unworthy of standing alongside them.’ Bakugou tenses. It looks more like a flinch. “I will do my best with you, Bakugou, but I need you to work with me. So shape up and learn from this, or there really is nothing I can do to help you.”

“Learn what.” Bakugou’s voice is quieter, but still sharp and scraping and burning with shame and resentment.

“You can start with this exam,” Aizawa says, straightening again. “If you’re worried that you couldn’t learn anything, then here’s a lesson you can take from it: people have limits, Bakugou. Even the kindest, most patient people have limits, and you managed to hit Midoriya’s the other day, didn’t you?” This time Bakugou really does flinch. “Heroes are human. They’re fallible. And like every other human being on the planet, they can be pushed too far. So if you need a reason to fix your behavior, here’s one: one day in the future, you’ll find yourself in the same position you did the other day, only it won’t be make-believe. You’ll be up against enemies who are stronger than you, more prepared, more deadly.” Aizawa locks eyes with him one last time. “And how you treat your allies can be the difference between having help, and being utterly alone.”

Bakugou tries to hold his gaze. It’s a valiant effort, but after a few seconds his chin drops, and he stares at the floor with watery eyes.


Izuku’s hands are in Ms. Morino’s hair, helping her pin up a complicated up-do, when his phone buzzes and Morino’s hair ends up hopelessly snarled.

“Ah, beans,” Morino says. “This isn’t working. Go ahead and answer that, Midoriya, we can try this again later.” She vanishes without another word.

There isn’t much to do, with the term over. There’s no homework, of course, and with a summer training camp in their future, there’s little more he can do but pack, text his friends, and let the excitement build.

He checks his messages, and finds a new one from Kirishima.

 

[4:18] Kirishima:
Heya Midoriya! So me and some of the others are gonna get together and hang out this weekend before we leave for camp and I was wondering if you wanted to come?

 

His phone pings with another message.

 

[4:20] Kirishima:
Oh and uh. Bakugou’s not coming. It’s really not his thing and
also some of the others told me what happened in study group. Sorry I wasn’t there, that was super not cool of him :(

 

In spite of himself, Izuku can’t help but smile.

 

[4:22] Kirishima:
But anyway if you want to come with, that’d be pretty cool. There’s this sweet shopping mall in Kiyashi Ward with some great stores. I’m thinking we can buy some awesome supplies to bring to camp, you know?
So what do you say?

 

Mika springs up onto the bathroom counter, and Izuku obligingly scratches her ears as he sends his response.

 

[4:22] Me:
sounds like fun! count me in.

Chapter Text

 

“—and I don’t know, I just… that was it, for me.”

Izuku stares up at the sky, feeling the grass tickle at the back of his neck. The clouds move slowly above him, thin and wispy in the early summer. His back itches, from the grass or the damp shirt pressed against his back, but he doesn’t move. His mouth feels dry, even though he just took a drink.

“I-I’m not—it wasn’t just—” He tries to continue, but he just can’t find a good way to say it. “I weighed my options. Or… I tried to, at least. A-and I thought of a couple ideas to win, o-or at least… the beginnings of ideas. But they all—they all depended on getting Bakugou to work with me, and I just didn’t know how to do that. Because I already tried, and I didn’t—” I didn’t want him to hit me again. He doesn’t say that. It’s too embarrassing to admit that allowed, especially in the company he’s currently keeping. “I couldn’t figure it out, and I knew I only had so much time before All-Might came looking for me. So I left. Bakugou went to try and fight All-Might, and I went straight to the gate.”

There’s no answer for a while. Izuku can imagine what Uraraka might say, or Iida. They would reassure him and sympathize, whether or not they really approved—Uraraka would side with him for sure, and Iida might point out that they, of all people, ought to know the good sense in running from a hopeless fight. But Iida and Uraraka aren’t here right now. His classmates decided to give “study group” another try after summer break, to give Iida time to organize their ground rules, if nothing else. So it’s just him and Todoroki again, like it used to be, and how he'll take this is anyone's guess.

Sympathy isn't Todoroki's strong suit. Izuku can see how much he struggles with putting that sort of thing on display, and that his experiences have left him with lopsided standards for what is and isn't acceptable. Besides that, he has over ten years of punching bag treatment to Izuku's five, and he still finds the strength to face Endeavor every day.

So maybe Izuku could have picked a better sympathetic ear among his school friends, but Todoroki is here and trustworthy and Izuku could do a lot worse, too.

“Do you think less of me?” He tries to keep his voice neutral, as if he's commenting on the shape of the clouds.

“No,” Todoroki answers readily enough.

It's so immediate and characteristically blunt that “Really?” slips out before Izuku can think of an actual response.

He can hear Todoroki shifting in the grass, uncrossing his legs to keep his feet from falling asleep. “Did you expect me to?”

“N-no?” It comes out too hesitant for Izuku to simply brush it off. “Maybe. I don't know. I guess I thought it'd take you longer to decide, if the answer was no.” He hesitates, swallowing in the hopes of dealing with his dry throat. “So you don't think I should have stuck it out?”

“That's not what you asked,” Todoroki replies.

Izuku cranes his neck to look at him. “It isn’t?”

“I don't know what your situation is, or why you and Bakugou don't get along,” Todoroki tells him. “If you think you could have done better, then that's fine. You know better than I do. But you asked me if I thought less of you for it, and I don't.”

“I could have done more,” Izuku admits.

“Then do more, next time,” Todoroki replies, simple as that. He pauses, and Izuku finally shifts over to see his friend sitting with his knees to his chest, picking at the grass at his feet. “Though—” He hesitates again. “You were the one who told me that avoiding things that hurt you isn't weakness, weren't you?”

“Only if I have a choice—”

“You did,” Todoroki says. “So did Bakugou, and he made it. Not your fault it was a crap choice.”

Izuku huffs out a laugh and sits up, wincing when cool air touches his back. “Yeah, it was a pretty terrible plan.”

“I wouldn't go that far. Technically it worked.”

At this, Izuku jerks his head around to stare at him in confusion. “Huh?”

“You said his plan was to lead All-Might around by the nose while you stayed out of the way,” Todoroki points out. “I don't see why he’s so upset—you followed his plan exactly, and it worked.”

Izuku laughs. It starts as a surprised little short, and in the next moment he's curling over and wheezing a little because honestly, he never thought of it that way. It's not a justification that Bakugou would ever accept, not in a million years, but Izuku will take it. And it’s consolation coming from Todoroki, which somehow makes it mean more.

“Ready to go again?” Todoroki asks, once he’s done.

“Sure, gimme a second.” Izuku retrieves his water bottle for one more drink. “Just a couple more rounds, I think. I don't want to be too tired for tomorrow.”

Todoroki blinks at him for a moment before he seems to remember. “Ah. You're taking Kirishima up on his invitation?”

“Yeah.” Izuku allows himself an excited little grin. “I don't think I've ever hung out at the mall with friends before.”

“Oh,” Todoroki says awkwardly, and Izuku remembers that Todoroki probably hasn’t hung out at the mall with friends before, either. “Well, have fun.”

“You're not coming?” Izuku tries not to sound too crestfallen.

“It's my last chance to visit my mother before we leave,” Todoroki explains, and the apologetic tone in his voice makes Izuku feel unreasonable and whiny.

“Oh, I'm glad,” he says, and he's not sure of there's a tactful way to say Sorry if my need for validation makes you feel like you have to apologize for taking the time to further repair your relationship with your mom, but he's sure that if he tries to find it, he'll only embarrass both of them.

Luckily, tact isn't a requirement for launching the first punch in a sparring match. Sometimes the nice things in life don't require words.


The Kiyashi Ward mall is even cooler than Eijirou expected.

To start with, it’s massive. When they say it has the most shops of any mall in the prefecture, they aren’t kidding. Eijirou wouldn’t be surprised if it has more shops than the rest of them put together. He counts at least four distinct levels, and they’re all pretty jam-packed. Not that that’s much of a surprise; it’s the start of summer, and this place is a pretty sweet hangout for kids getting out of school.

Holy hell is he glad to be here. Thank god for Aizawa-sensei and his logical ruses.

Almost the whole class is here—Kaminari, Ashido, and Satou are especially psyched, and so is Eijirou. Iida’s already trying in vain to corral everyone into something resembling order, but the mall is crowded and everyone’s hearing the siren call of the surrounding shops, food stands, and kiosks. Eijirou already has his sights set on something to buy, but he’s not quite ready to run off just yet. He does a quick sweep of the area to see if anyone else is showing up. It looks like not everybody who said they were coming made it, which is a shame. He was really hoping to talk to—

“Hey, Kirishima.”

He startles in place, and looks over his shoulder to find Midoriya standing there as if he’s been there the entire time. “Oh hey, dude! I was wondering if you were gonna make it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Midoriya smiles back, but there’s a nervousness in his face that Eijirou can’t deny.

“You okay?” Eijirou steps closer and lowers his voice, just in case Midoriya isn’t comfortable with him broadcasting his emotional state to the rest of the group. “I, uh, meant what I said, before. Bakugou isn’t coming.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, I believe you.” Midoriya’s grin brightens. “It’s just, um… it’s a little embarrassing but I’ve never… actually… done this before?”

Eijirou blinks. “Done what?”

“Y-you know. Malls. Friends. Hanging out.” Midoriya shakes his head. “A-anyway, where are we going first? There’s a whole bunch of places to choose from, and I have some ideas for what to get, but I don’t mind walking around and browsing, because I might see something useful that I didn’t think of, and I also don’t really know my way around, but I guess there are directories and stuff so that’s not really much of a problem—”

“Midoriya. My dude.” Eijirou lets his hand fall on Midoriya’s shoulder, cutting off the nervous chatter. “Chill. All is cool.”

“R-right. Oh, hi, Uraraka!” Midoriya catches sight of a few of the others and waves.

It looks like everyone who was going to come is now here. Bakugou is a no-show, and so is Todoroki, but that’s all cool. Bakugou was never interested in the first place, and Todoroki isn’t really the buddy-buddy hanging out type—unless it’s for sparring, apparently.

“Hey, Kirishima?” Midoriya speaks up again, and the embarrassed look is back. “I have an awkward question—”

“Hey look over there! Are those Yuuei students?” As crowded and bustling as this place is, voices still carry, and Kirishima glances over to see a group of other high-schoolers whooping and fist-pumping at them.

“Yeah, those are the freshman!”

“Woooo, Sports Festival!”

“Hot stunts!”

“Wow, there are people who still remember us,” Uraraka remarks. Yeah, Eijirou’s sort of glad Bakugou and Todoroki didn’t show up. They probably would’ve gotten mobbed. He can see Tokoyami surreptitiously hiding behind Shouji, and Eijirou can’t blame him. Third place might be high enough to attract attention, and Tokoyami’s not really strutting-his-stuff-in-public kind of guy.

“Sorry, what were you saying, man?” Kirishima turns back to Midoriya once the rowdy high schoolers move off again. “You had a question?”

“Yeah, um…” Midoriya shifts from foot to foot awkwardly. “Did… did you pass after all? The practical exam, I mean. I just remember Aizawa-sensei said something about remedial classes, but you’re apparently going to the camp with us, so…”

And ooh, that stings, but Midoriya looks so embarrassed to ask, like he knows exactly how sensitive it probably is, that Eijirou can’t even be upset. “Ah, right, that. Oh—I forgot, you weren’t… you weren’t there, when Aizawa-sensei told us.” Awkward. “Yeah, apparently that was another play to get us motivated. Turns out we’re going after all—me and Satou, and Kaminari and Ashido, too!” Eijirou grins. “I mean, there’ll still be remedial stuff, but at least we get to go.”

“Logical ruses,” Midoriya mutters.

“Yeah, my brain’s still a little scrambled. But hey! We’re going camping in the woods and I get to come, so you won’t hear me complaining.”

By now, everyone seems to have a plan, and everyone has a different plan; Jirou and Yaoyorozu are going off to look at kit bags, Uraraka needs bug spray, Ashido’s going with her to look at camping supplies, and so on.

“You have your eyes on anything, Midoriya?” Eijirou asks.

“Wrist weights,” Midoriya answers promptly.

“Huh. Like what the teachers had on, during the exam?”

“Yup.” Midoriya nods. “That’s where I got the idea—they were weighted down but still free to move, and their hands were free. I think it’d be good weight-training.”

Eijirou brightens. “Well hey, you can probably find stuff like that in sporting goods, and that’s where I’m headed.”

“Did you say sporting goods?” Hagakure pokes into the conversation. “Me and Kaminari need good outdoor shoes, so we could totally head there together!”

“Sweet!” Eijirou brings his hands together. “How about we set a meeting time and split up? We can get back together and grab some food when we’re done!”

It doesn’t take long to reach an agreement; everyone is eager to run off, shop, and explore. Eijirou leads the charge with Midoriya, Hagakure, and Kaminari, for all that this is technically his first time visiting this place, so he doesn’t exactly know his way around better than any of them. But he’s still riding the high of his own excitement and relief, because even though Aizawa-sensei has threatened rigorous training, a class camping trip is still a class camping trip, and rumor has it that Class 1-B is gonna be there too! Maybe he can hang out with Tetsutetsu if they have the chance.

“So I know there’s this super-amazing sports store in here somewhere,” he says. “We might end up running into the others there anyway, ‘cause I bet loads of us are looking for camping gear, right?”

“Well, none of us have been here before, so…” Kaminari glances around at the sprawling shopping center and shrugs. “Should we wander around til we do?”

“We could do that,” Hagakure says. “Or we could look at that directory, over there.”

Kirishima joins Kaminari in scanning the place. “Where?”

“It’s right there!” Hagakure huffs. “Where I’m pointing!”

Kaminari gives her a pained look. “Hagakure, you’re wearing a tank top.”

“I see it,” Midoriya says, and his voice shakes like he’s trying not to laugh. Hagakure sighs with relief (and annoyance), and she and Midoriya lead the way to the sign.

The shop they’re looking for is on the second floor, closer to the opposite end of the mall from where they stand. Still, the layout of the place isn’t too complicated; as long as they find their way upstairs, it should be pretty easy to get to.

Of course, that’s when they reach their first obstacle: an escalator roped off with caution tape and a brightly colored “out of order” sign.

“Awww, man, that figures,” Hagakure blows a raspberry. “Is there another one close by?”

Eijirou casts about quickly, before his eyes alight upon a pair of double doors set into the wall nearby. “Even better—there’s the elevator, guys, c’mon.”

“Sweet, is it one of those glass ones?” Kaminari keeps pace with him as he leads the way over, and they end up racing each other to be the first to hit the button. It’s a close race, but Kaminari wins by virtue of gently zapping him when when Eijirou tries to jostle his way to the front. It’s a bold and sneaky move, and Kirishima can’t even be annoyed.

It is not, in fact, a glass elevator, but a normal metal one, which is a little disappointing, but hey. If the elevator ride was gonna be the highlight of their trip, then that would probably make it a pretty crap trip, right?

“Um.” At the sound of Midoriya’s voice, Eijirou looks over his shoulder to find Midoriya hanging back and checking their surroundings. “I’ll meet you guys up there. Second floor, right?”

“Huh?” Eijirou frowns. “C’mon, don’t get separated now. It’s pretty crowded here, and you did say you’ve never been, right? It’ll be better if we stick together.”

“I’m not going anywhere, don’t worry.” Midoriya flashes him a quick grin. “Just trying to find stairs, that’s all. Can’t skip leg day, right?”

The elevator doors open, and Eijirou rolls his eyes as he catches Midoriya gently by the arm. “C’mon, dude, I know you’re hardcore, but you have plenty of time for leg day at camp, right?” Kaminari and Hagakure are already inside, holding the doors open for them, and Kirishima tugs him in. “You don’t have to be hardcore twenty-four seven—”

Thud.

Eijirou swears he feels the elevator shake when Midoriya catches the frame. He doesn’t just hit it—he slams it, hard enough for all that he doesn’t use his quirk. Shocked, Eijirou freezes where he is, still holding Midoriya’s arm. His friend hasn’t followed them in; he’s gripping the edge of the door frame with one white-knuckled hand just to keep Eijirou from pulling him in.

“Kirishima I will pay you cash money to let me take the stairs.” Midoriya looks him dead in the eye, and Eijirou is too shocked to form a proper answer.

“Um. What?”

“I’m not kidding, name your price.” The desperate note in Midoriya’s voice is what makes Eijirou let go, and Midoriya pulls his arm back like he’s been burned.

At the last moment, he sees Midoriya’s eyes widen, as if he’s only just realized what he said. He opens his mouth to say something else, then turns and hurries away. Kirishima takes a step to go after him, but the elevator doors slide shut in his face.

Midoriya doesn’t meet them on the second floor.


Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Izuku weaves through the crowd, bumping and shouldering people as he goes, ignoring all the odd looks he gets as he hurries to put as much distance between himself and the others as possible. His heartbeat rattles in his throat and fills his ears with static. Dimly he’s aware of Rei close to his side, as she always is, but he can’t talk to her, can’t risk it, not when he’s too addled to be discreet about it.

That was stupid. He should have been braver than that. Or if nothing else, he should have been smarter than that. But he wasn’t, and now three of his classmates know or at least have an inkling about something he’s tried so hard to keep to himself—and they’ll have questions, questions that he won’t want to answer because they’re uncomfortable and pathetic and humiliating and what kind of hero panics over something so harmless and common? He should have kept his head, he should have slipped away before they got close, he should have snatched his arm back before Kirishima could pull him in, he should have gone ahead and met them instead of opening his stupid mouth and giving them a chance to argue, he should have bitten the bullet and followed Kirishima in, it’s just an elevator, a stupid elevator, not even a closet

Izuku sucks in a breath that hitches in his chest. Avoiding things that hurt you doesn’t count as weakness, he said that, he remembers saying that, he remembers Todoroki telling him he said that, but it’s so much harder to follow advice than to give it, even when it’s the same damn advice.

His eyes burn but stay dry, and at least that’s something. Even if he just humiliated himself, even if he dreads meeting them again later because they’ll ask questions and Kirishima will look at him with sad, guilty eyes like it’s somehow his fault Izuku has a weakness like that—at least he isn’t crying.

It’s a close thing.

Izuku is lost in his head as he makes his way through the throng. Eventually his mind comes to terms with the fact that he has no real idea where he’s going, and no intentions that might help him remedy that. He’ll have to get to that sporting goods store eventually, if he wants those weights—or he could find Uraraka. Or Iida. Iida will be easy to find, with Tensei following him around like usual.

That’s it—he can find one of his other friends and follow them around, try to salvage whatever fun might still be squeezed out of today. If he needs to, he can always come back later, or buy weights online or closer to home. He just has to calm down. Breathe. Get his head out of this mess of choppy emotions and back where it’s supposed to be.

It’s only when he starts to do that, that he realizes Rei is urgently swatting him in the shoulder and hissing. Izuku blinks his way out the haze and back to the present, just in time to avoid crashing into someone. He swerves out of the way with a yelp, earning a bewildered look from a passing shopper. Izuku blinks back, matching their confused look, before he glances back and realized he just clumsily pirouetted out of the way of a ghost. Rei jostles him by the shoulder and bares her teeth, glaring around him like a suspicious bodyguard. Faint alarm trickles into his veins, and Izuku follows her example to scan their surroundings.

That’s… an awful lot of ghosts.

The mall was already crowded, but the spaces between the shoppers are now filled with white-eyed spirits, and their voices pitch above the white noise of conversation. Izuku can’t quite pick out words, but what he does hear sends a crackle of fear up his spine. Moans and sobbing, quiet wailing, a few pitched shouts, all of them echoing in his ears and his ears alone—sadness, fear, anger, desperation, despair.

The dead aren’t happy. There shouldn’t be this many of them, not in a place like this, and not so suddenly, unless a whole lot of people just died simultaneously nearby, or…

Are some of them looking at him?

Izuku checks the news app on his phone, but there’s nothing of note happening anywhere in Kiyashi Ward. He scans the crowd, spots a woman who seems lucid enough in spite of the gunshot wound in her throat, and creeps over to her. He sees her face change from anxious fear to shock when she realizes he’s looking at her instead of through her.

“Um, excuse me?” He keeps his voice low, barely moves his mouth. “Is something happening—?”

“You can see me?” Her voice shakes. “You can… you can see us?”

“Yes, so please just—”

“You need to leave.” She presses her hands to his chest and seems shocked that she can touch him. “You need—you’re the one in the photograph, you’re not safe, please, just leave before he finds you—”

“Before who finds me?” Her words twist his confusion into a tight coil of fear, and he almost forgets to keep his voice down.

She grips his arms, and he feels her cold touch even where his shirt sleeves cover his skin. “He’s here—dark jacket, with the hood up. You’re—you’re the kid in the photo, the one he’s always talking about—you need to get out of here. Go home.” She sees something over her shoulder, and her face goes a shade paler before she vanishes.

Izuku chances a glance behind him, tries to be casual about it, and spots someone in a dark hooded jacket amid the crowd.

Heart in his throat, he starts walking again.

He uses the crowd to his advantage, or at least tries to. It’s harder for him to hide in this crowd than it is for someone else to hide from him. But he tries to make do, ducking in where it’s thickest, taking roundabout and circuitous routes through the mall. His phone vibrates in his pocket, but he ignores it. He’ll worry about that when he’s safe on the train home; maybe he’ll make up some excuse about being called home by his mother. For now he just has to get out.

He tosses another glance over his shoulder, and the dark jacket is nowhere in sight. He’s not sure whether to feel relieved or more worried. Has he shaken his pursuer? Is he close to an exit? Maybe he can just—

Rei shrieks a warning, and Izuku follows her voice to a nearby pillar. She stands next to it, baring her teeth at the spot behind it where Izuku can’t see, and he doesn’t need a warning clearer than that. He turns to walk the other way, and that’s when his luck runs out.

They’re all clustered here, these dead, and that’s how Izuku knows he’s close—too close to save himself, too close to escape. There are too many bodies in his way, warm and cold alike, and the latter are so used to people phasing through them like mirages that they don’t know to part for him.

“Move, move, move,” he pleads, and even at a whisper his voice is pitched with desperation. “Please move—”

An arm settles around his shoulders, tight and heavy.

“No need for that.” The voice is a familiar one. Izuku finds himself reaching for One For All at the sound—because what are laws and consequences to him, when Shigaraki Tomura is close enough for his stale breath to waft so close to his ear?

Before he can make a move, or even form a thought about what move he could possibly make, the arm shifts. In the next moment there are four fingers on his neck, rough and dry, with untrimmed nails digging into his skin.

“Clever you, spotting me so quickly,” Shigaraki murmurs close by his ear, and Izuku can barely hear him over the static ringing in his his head.

(Oh wait, that’s not his head. It’s Rei—Rei’s here. Izuku gropes through empty air until she reaches back and clutches his hand. He can feel the bones in her fingers shifting, forming something something long andmisshapen and grotesque—)

“Don’t struggle,” Shigaraki advises. “We’re just old friends catching up, yes? Just talking. That’s all I want to do, is talk. Don’t struggle. Maybe take a moment—breathe slow. Don’t let anyone know, or else—I have four fingers on you. You remember what happens when I add one more?”

The memory flashes across his eyes, unwelcome and sickeningly vivid—Aizawa-sensei’s arm, the sleeve crumbled away and the flesh quick to follow—

“It’s slow.”

The fingers twitch against his neck. “What was that?”

“Your quirk.” He’s good at this—at observation, at analysis. He can do this in his sleep, so why not do it amid the fear? “If you could dust me with one touch, you’d have done that to Aizawa-sensei. It doesn’t work that fast. Of course—” He swallows, and—no, better not do that too much, it makes his throat bob closer to that fifth finger. “—you had his arm, n-not his neck. But—I’d give myself a few seconds at least, to get out of your grip before it reached anything vital. It’d hurt, but I could survive.” He has to pause there, because he knows those chances are slim. “And even if I didn’t, I wonder how many heroes there are in the crowd.”

He keeps his grip on Rei’s hand, because he can hear her tensing, gathering herself, ready to make her objections known one way or another. He jerks on his grip until she looks down at his free hand and the words he’s spelling out at his hip, outside of Shigaraki’s field of vision. Don’t. If he panics, he’ll touch. She squeezes back, and keeps quiet.

“I wonder how many people I could kill before any of them reached me and took me down,” Shigaraki answers, and Izuku has to risk swallowing again because it’s that or gag. “Look at them, all those little NPCs running around. Like little bags of EXP.” He sighs with something like longing. “That’s the difference, between you and me. I don’t care how many people I kill on my way out.”

He feels it—the panic coming in as inexorably as the tide, each wave bigger and higher until he’s ready to drown. In his mind he thrashes and flounders, desperate to stay afloat, to keep his head above water and keep breathing. He’s a finger’s width away from being dust on the ground. He’s so close to death, he’s never been so close to death before

The icy grip on his hand tightens, and the chill spreads through him like thorny vines, reaching ever closer to his core. They prick as they go, returning the feeling to things that were otherwise muted by encroaching panic. Hope and joy are quick to drown like sparks plunged in water, but then the chill reaches his anger, and it blooms warm in his chest.

He’s never been so close to death before. What is he talking about? He’s been close to death since he was small. He’s been surrounded by things that only he could touch, that only he could be hurt by, and Shigaraki is volatile and hungry for death and destruction, but he is not one of them.

Shigaraki grips his throat, but Rei grips his hand.

You are only a man, Izuku thinks. A man who eats and sleeps and breathes, and my friends are scarier than you.

“That’s better,” Shigaraki says. “Come on, hurry up. Let’s have a seat together, shall we?”

He lets Shigaraki guide him to a bench and sits down gingerly with him, mindful of how close that finger hovers over his neck. He can’t risk a deep breath before he speaks. “So. What did you want to talk about?”

“You’re annoying,” Shigaraki tells him.

“I’m sorry.”

“Shut up.” His fingers twitch, and Izuku presses his lips together. “You want to know why you’re annoying? Because I can’t decide—whether I hate you or not.” He hisses through his teeth. “You piss me off. But you know who pisses me off the most right now? The Hero Killer.”

“That’s reasonable.” Izuku hopes his voice sounds as calm to Shigaraki’s ears as it does to his own. He wishes he could control his own heartbeat, because Shigaraki must be able to feel it, with his fingers positioned where they are.

“It’s partly your fault,” Shigaraki snarls. “Because you ran into him. You fought him. And now everyone’s talking about him.” His fingers tighten again, nails digging into flesh. “About him. Why aren’t they talking about me?

Izuku keeps silent, not sure if that’s meant to be rhetorical or not. Of course, if it’s not, then he might piss off his captor by taking too long to answer. He can’t risk turning his head to try to gauge his expression, not without possibly bumping his fingertip. “Um—”

“That’s what pisses me off,” Shigaraki goes on. “I did—I did so much. Right? I released those Noumu in the city. I attacked the USJ—I infiltrated Yuuei, and nobody’s ever done before, ever, and what do I get? Nothing. Nobody. Everyone only cares about Stain.” His breath rattles harshly in his throat.

“Sorry,” Izuku says. He’s trying to come up with a plan, but all he can think of is exactly what he’s already doing. There’s no promise of help coming like there was at the USJ, or when he fought Stain. He can stall for time, but for what? He can’t risk going for his phone, because Shigaraki is close enough to feel that, and there’s no way in hell Izuku is luring one of his friends straight into Shigaraki’s hands.

All he can do is keep Shigaraki talking until he gets bored, and maybe, if Izuku is very lucky, all he’ll do then is leave.

“Sorry for what?” Shigaraki snaps.

“Tried to keep it quiet,” Izuku says. “Fought him in a dark empty alley and everything. No witnesses. I didn’t even get credit for it.”

Shigaraki hisses through his teeth again, but he doesn’t dig his nails in this time. “Then why? Why does everyone like him so much?

“You might be asking the wrong person,” Izuku says. “He stabbed two of my friends and knifed me a couple times, and… most people haven’t had that happen to them.”

I have,” Shigaraki snarls. “When we told him to join our party, he stabbed me and Kurogiri.”

“That must have been awful.”

“There must be some reason,” Shigaraki goes on. “And you’re no help at all.”

Whatever Shigaraki wants, he still hasn’t gotten it yet, and Izuku scrapes his mind together and tries to wrap it around the question. He falls silent, watching the crowd. The dead watch him back, waiting—always waiting. They’re wondering if he’s going to join them. If anyone’s going to join them today. Everyone is waiting for Izuku—the ghosts are waiting for him to survive or to die, Shigaraki is waiting for him to answer, Kirishima and the others are waiting for him to meet them on the second floor, his mother is waiting for him to come home—

He can’t afford to keep them waiting.

“What’s your favorite video game?” he asks.

He feels Shigaraki go still, and this time he risks turning his head just slightly. His first glimpse of Shigaraki Tomura’s face is not a pleasant one—his skin is almost gray, with pale hair falling into his beady, bloodshot eyes. Tiny scars and nicks mar the skin, and his lips are chapped and bloodless. Izuku averts his eyes again.

“…What?” Shigaraki says at last.

“I know you like them. What’s your favorite?” His own lips feel dry, so he runs his tongue over them. “Mine’s Undertale.”

Shigaraki is silent and still for a few moments. Just when Izuku is starting to think he won’t answer at all, his captor’s raspy voice reaches his ears again, less of a snarl than a subdued mumble.

“…I like Bioshock.”

“That’s a good one.” Izuku almost nods in agreement, but thinks better of it. “I, uh. I bet you always harvest all the Little Sisters, huh.”

“You get more ADAM that way,” Shigaraki snaps. “What’s your point?”

“People like a good story,” Izuku says. “Most people—everything happens on the news, not to them, so it’s just—it’s just a story, to them. And a good story needs a good villain, right?” He doesn’t wait for Shigaraki to answers. “Bioshock has—has Andrew Ryan, and Frank Fontaine, and—I guess, depending on how you play, you could end up the villain, too.” He swallows against the tickle in his gag reflex. “And all those villains—they all want something, right? F-Fontaine wanted money, and power, and Ryan—”

“Ryan wanted to be free,” Shigaraki murmured. “He wanted to do whatever he wanted, without any parasites telling him what to do.” For a split second the grip tightens enough to close Izuku’s windpipe, but it loosens again. “Free will. No stupid laws.” Izuku can hear his teeth grind. “That’s what I want, too. What’s your point?”

“My point is that nobody can tell,” Izuku answers, and braces himself for a touch, for pain, but it doesn’t come, so he keeps going. “Everyone knows what Stain wanted. He had an ideal, that he was working for, and—and it wasn’t right, and his methods weren’t right either, but he had that ideal.” He swallows again, tasting bile. “That’s what people like. That’s what’s interesting. And nobody can tell what you want. You just destroy stuff, and… that’s not interesting.”

“But I want to destroy things,” Shigaraki snarls. “I want to break the things I don’t like.”

“What for?”

The only reply he gets is silence, broken by the hum of activity around them. Shigaraki is quiet, thinking, and Izuku isn’t sure if he’s thinking about the question or considering whether or not to kill him.

“I guess… people like villains who—who break things, in order to make new ones?” Izuku pauses. His eyes are starting to burn, and he prays that they won’t spill over. “Andrew Ryan wanted to make a utopia. Stain wanted to make a better world.” He blinks back tears. “Is there something you want to make, Shigaraki?”

The silence stretches further, and Izuku has run out of things to say. His analogy has run its course, and still nothing. Shigaraki is still here, the ghosts are still here, Rei is still here, and—

“I’ve decided,” Shigaraki says, and his voice is… brighter, now. It’s almost lively. “I’ve decided. I think I like you, Midoriya Izuku.”

His grip loosens enough for Izuku to turn his head again, and he comes face to face with a nightmare of a smile. There’s something different now, something heavier in the air, like a new layer to Shigaraki’s eerie presence. It’s barely a fraction of what he feels from most poltergeists—from what he felt from Stain, moments before his fall—but it’s similar enough to bring the bile creeping up his throat again. So Izuku does what he always does, when death is staring him in the face and the fear is too powerful to trick.

He parts his lips from his teeth, and smiles back.

Deku?

Shigaraki’s head turns to look for the voice, which is good because Izuku’s smile takes on a desperate note when he recognizes Uraraka’s call. “Ah—so you had company? You should’ve said. I should’ve known your little friends would be running around here, too.”

The hand leaves his throat, and his grip was never hard enough to throttle, but Izuku’s next breath shudders on the way in all the same. Rei hugs his arm, and that’s all that keeps him from pitching forward off the bench. Now free to moves, he spots Uraraka and Kirishima weaving through the crowd. Uraraka’s phone is in her hand.

“Well, seeya.” Shigaraki rises abruptly from the bench. “Don’t try to chase after me—you know what’ll happen if you do.”

“Uh-huh.” Izuku’s head swims. “Shigaraki—”

“Yeah?”

“What about All For One?” His voice cracks. “What’s he trying to make?”

Shigaraki turns his head, just enough for Izuku to see the curve of his smile. “Wouldn’t you like to know? Maybe you’ll get to ask him someday.”

And with that, he’s gone, vanishing into the crowd. Izuku struggles to his feet just as Uraraka comes rushing to his side with Kirishima close behind her.

“Deku, I got your message—” Whatever his face looks like right now, it must not be good, because Uraraka goes pale when she sees him. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“Who was that?” Kirishima asks, twisting around to search the crowd.

“Oh, that was Shigaraki,” Izuku replies faintly. The wave is back again, higher and heavier than ever before. He’s used up the delay. “He wanted to talk. Can you guys call someone?”

If one of them replies, he’s beyond hearing them. The dead are filtering out of the crowd once more, and Izuku knows that Shigaraki will be long gone before any police or heroes reach them.

He makes it to the nearest trash can before being violently sick.

Chapter Text

“Midoriya, I am so sorry,” Kirishima says, for at least the fiftieth time.

For his part, Izuku simply nods. He could probably manage speaking if he tried, but for now he’s content to wait until the cops get there.

His throat burns from puking, and the skin on his neck feels horribly itchy, but other than that he’s none the worse for wear. It’s certainly a step up from the last time he saw Shigaraki. Whatever else happens, at least it’s not as bad as the USJ, or Stain, or anything else. Nobody got hurt. Mom’s going to panic regardless, and Uraraka won’t stop looking terribly scared, but it’s important to focus on the positives. To do anything else at this point would mean spiraling into a panic.

The police arrive quickly to secure the scene, shortly before his friends and classmates converge on him to make sure he’s still alive. There’s no sign of Shigaraki by then, as Izuku had expected, and he finds himself pulled away from his worried classmates and whisked off to the police station. Uraraka and Kirishima bid him a worried goodbye, Kirishima squeezes in one last profuse apology, and that’s the last Izuku sees of them.

Tsukauchi Naomasa is there to take charge of him, and that’s a relief. All-Might trusts Tsukauchi, so Izuku does too, though no one’s bothered to tell him how and why they ended up as close as they are. He still feels safe around Tsukauchi, because he’s a cop and he’s All-Might’s friend and, right now, he’s one of the few people on the planet that knows at least one of Izuku’s biggest secrets.

Ironically, it’s that very relief that brings on what Izuku hesitates to call a panic attack, because he hates to be dramatic, but—what the hell, it’s a panic attack. He’s out of danger, he feels safer than he did before, and that means he feels safe enough to fall apart a little.

It sinks in deep, just how lucky he is to be alive, and Izuku has never been more glad that he can put his feelings on a temporary delay. Only Uraraka and Kirishima were there to see him stress-vomit into a mall trash can, and only Tsukauchi is here to see him descend into subdued hysterics in the middle of explaining why the leader of the League of Villains didn’t murder him.

“Sorry,” he gasps out, as soon as he stops feeling like he’s suffocating on perfectly good oxygen. Small, cold fingers comb through his hair, and Rei’s white noise falls comfortingly on his ears.

Tsukauchi grounds him with a hand on his shoulder, a single point of contact connecting Izuku to the real world, like a string on a helium balloon. For a wild moment he wonders if he’ll go rocketing into the stratosphere if Tsukauchi lets go. But Tsukauchi doesn’t, so Izuku stares at the floor in shame, traces the edges of the tiles with his eyes, and finishes telling him what happened.

“He said… he liked you?” Tsukauchi’s tone is neutral, and Izuku winces.

“I wasn’t trying to—to make a good impression,” he says. “I just didn’t want him to put his last finger down.”

“I know,” Tsukauchi assures him. “You did good—you did great, keeping your head for as long as you did.” He gives Izuku’s shoulder a light squeeze before letting go at last. Izuku, miraculously, stays rooted to the ground. “Now, I just have one last question, and I know it’s been a long day, but I need you to think hard for me. Did he tell you anything else? Any kind of hint about what his group has planned?”

Izuku shakes his head. “I, um.” he sniffles a little, embarrassingly enough. “Actually, it was sort of like… he wasn’t sure? Like… like he was upset about something, and frustrated because nobody else was upset about it like he was.”

“Like he was looking for validation?” Tsukauchi asks.

“Y-yeah, I think so. And…” Izuku thinks hard, mentally pummels his brain around, trying to knock something useful loose. “I’m sorry, there wasn’t anything else. Nothing specific, anyway.”

“Anything more general, then?”

“Well he’s got something planned,” Izuku says. His hands are in the hem of his shirt, working at it in agitation. “Or… or his teacher has something planned. I asked him, and he said maybe I’d get to ask him myself, so… yeah. There’s something, but… but you already knew that, so that’s not really helpful.”

“It’s not as useless as you might think,” Tsukauchi tells him, and smiles. “Don’t worry. Even if there’s nothing new to add to our intel, you still kept your head and kept collateral damage to a minimum—to zero, actually. You’re a brave kid and you have a good head on your shoulders—I can see why All-Might’s taken a shine to you.” Izuku’s face feels wobbly, but he manages to smile back.

“Hey! Izuku!” And then Ms. Nana is there in the room, blinking in and out of view. She looks normal and unbloodied, so she isn’t as agitated as she could be, but she still hovers around him, checking him from all angles.

He smiles, and signs a quick hello in his lap.

“Holy hell, sprout, I’m starting to think I’ve been shadowing the wrong trouble magnet!” She finally stops flickering and hovers there, wringing her hands. “Toshi’s on his way, by the way. He’s not quite here yet, but I got impatient and went on ahead. You okay?”

Izuku gives a tiny, nearly imperceptible nod.

“Something else on your mind?” Tsukauchi asks.

“N-no,” he says. “I’m just… glad it’s over. For now.”

They meet All-Might outside, just as he’s walking up to the front door. Izuku’s still a little shaky from panicking, but at the sight of his mentor he forces himself steady. Not trusting himself to put on another proper smile, he smooths his face into a neutral expression. All-Might’s gaunt face is hard to read, but Izuku is pretty sure he can see relief in it. There’s no surprise there; All-Might isn’t primed for a fight right now. He’s powered down, and his clothes are loose-fitting but not so much that they would accommodate his hero form.

He almost looks… normal this way.

The touch to his head surprises Izuku, and he twitches involuntarily. He doesn’t mean anything by it; he’s just surprised, that’s all. He didn’t expect it. But he sees All-Might’s face change just a little, and he realizes that his teacher’s mistaking it for a flinch, an indication that the touch is unwelcome.

It’s not.

He feels All-Might’s hand start to leave, and he leans forward to chase it before he can stop himself. It’s embarrassing, even more embarrassing than getting spooked by a simple touch to the head, and he shuts his eyes.

All-Might hesitates a split second more, then gently ruffles his hair. Izuku cants his head into the touch again and tries not to feel too pathetic.

“I’m glad you’re all right,” his mentor tells him. “And I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you.”

“I think I messed up,” he says.

“Hm?”

Izuku catches his lower lip between his teeth. “I think…”

I’ve decided. I think like you, Midoriya Izuku.

“I think I helped him,” he says, and tries not to think of the manic smile on Shigaraki’s face, his cheerful, almost friendly tone as they parted ways. “And—not in a good way. I wanted to buy time, and I figured I could do that by just… telling him what he wanted to hear. But I think I made everything worse.” He swallows hard. “And I’ve made him notice me. And I know you said before that you wanted me to announce myself, but… not like this. Not to someone like him.”

“It couldn’t be helped, munchkin,” Nana says gently, and All-Might’s hand slides to the back of his head and rests there. “You kids have been in the spotlight ever since Toshi signed on as a teacher. And I know you can’t help being you.”

“That’s the trouble with power like ours,” All-Might says, before Nana is quite finished speaking. “It’s loud, and bright. It rarely gives you a chance to properly hide.”

“That too,” Nana sighs.

“It’s happening so fast,” Izuku says. “I thought I’d be ready, but…”

“I know.” The hand moves from his head to his shoulder. “And I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on you, because I’ve left this so long. That’s my fault, not yours.” He squeezes gently, making Izuku look up. “And whatever you said to Shigaraki, whatever that caused, it was only one conversation, my boy. I guarantee that what you said to him won’t make him do anything he wouldn’t have done on his own.”

“You can’t take all the responsibility for other people’s actions,” Tsukauchi adds. “Especially villains. They’re unpredictable and dangerous, and the best you can do is minimize the damage—as you did, today.”

Izuku nods.

“In any case, it’s getting late,” Tsukauchi tells him. “And I believe your ride’s here.”

His mother arrives, fighting back tears and not quite winning. She’s not alone; Morino and old Mrs. Matsuda are with her, flanking her like an invisible honor guard. And just like that, it’s easy for Izuku to bundle his own worries away for later, because his mom is in front of him, and she’s crying and frightened, and it’s easy to reassure her than it is to reassure himself. It’s distracting and calming at the same time, and as Mom’s tears dry up, he feels as if he might be able to breathe again.

“We decided to come with her, just in case,” Morino tells him as one of the officers accompanies them to see them off. “I mean, I’m not sure what we could’ve done if something bad had happened, but we figured it’d make you feel better if she didn’t come in by herself.”

Officer Tamakawa is still within hearing range, so Izuku simply gives her a grateful smile.

“Where’s the other one?” Mrs. Matsuda nudges him. Even in her spectral state, her hand is still gnarled and wrinkly. “Are they coming back with us, or what?”

Izuku blinks at her in confusion, glances around, and sees Rei flitting around Officer Tamakawa, fascinated by him because he has the head of a ginger tabby cat. Izuku points to her discreetly and looks to Mrs. Matsuda again.

“No no, I meant the other one,” the old ghost says. “Thought I saw somebody else with you. Some other kid.” At his confused look, she shrugs. “Never mind then. Must’ve been imagining things. Or some nosy kid hanging around and running off.”

It’s probably nothing, but Izuku finds himself looking over his shoulder a few times as they make their way home. He could swear, a couple times, that he sees movement.


Barely a full day has passed before Izuku decides that Mrs. Matsuda was right. And he is no stranger to being followed.

It’s sort of inevitable, with the ability that he has. The dead get curious, if they’re lucid enough to focus, and it’s not like they have anything better to do. So they do as they please, and as long as they aren’t distressed or hurting anyone, Izuku is content to leave them be and let them follow him around to their heart’s content.

The thing is, though, it doesn’t tend to last long. If they aren’t lucid, then they forget him fairly quickly and return to whatever cycles of memory usually keep them occupied. If they are, then they eventually drift away when the novelty wears off.

There have been persistent ghosts before, but those ones tend to be chatty, at least. If they’re persistent then it means they want to be seen and heard, as soon as possible. Three days of following is long enough to be an outlier. Three days without seeing their face or hearing their voice is enough to get his attention. And lately, he could swear that the strange telltale noises and split-second glimpses are getting closer.

Rei is just as perplexed as he is, and that’s what pushes it into alarming. She’s gone off to try and talk to them many times, but whoever they are, they keep vanishing on her.

“I wonder what brought this on,” Izuku whispers to her one night, when he’s up at barely five in the morning. He’s had worse nights for bad dreams, but he still needs to settle his nerves over animals on Youtube, and it’s doubtful that he’ll get back to sleep. “How long have they been following us now?”

Four days, she tells him, and points to a promising-looking thumbnail. Izuku selects it, and the two of them watch a woman give her Samoyed a bath.

Izuku feels teased by the normalcy. He’s been distracted lately, because the mall incident is fresh in his mind and the school trip is almost upon him. Even now, his bedroom floor is a mess of packing. Life and training are chugging along, heedless of the debris from all the bombshells that have been dropping lately. He’s excited for the trip, but excitement gets lost so easily in his worries.

He won’t go away, Rei continues. But he won’t show himself either. He’s getting closer but he’s so slow.

“It’s a he, then?”

I think so.

“It’s funny, though,” Izuku says. He shifts on his bed, uncrossing his legs when he feels his foot go to sleep. “Could just be a coincidence, but I could swear it’s been happening since the mall in Kiyashi Ward.”

Rei looks at him sharply, eyes dark and liquid. Flyaway strands of dark hair fall over her face.

“Could be wrong,” Izuku says, eyelids drooping as the woman in the video explains the blow-drying process. “But there were a lot of ghosts that day, following Shigaraki. Maybe I picked up one of them.”

Rei’s eyes narrow. Why would any of them want you, when he’s the one that killed them?

“We don’t know that he did,” he murmurs. “Ms. Nana said she recognized some of them, at the USJ. She probably means she first saw them when All-Might confronted All For One. If All For One’s like a teacher to Shigaraki, then… I don’t know. Maybe some of his ghosts transferred over.” The video ends. His throat feels dry, and his room feels far too small. “Maybe the League of Villains just has a whole crowd of ghosts, and there’s so many of them and they’ve been there so long that no one knows who they’re supposed to follow and haunt anymore.”

It’s not pleasant to think about, mainly because it reminds him so sharply of tonight’s nightmares. His lungs feel simultaneously too full a nd too empty, and it’s not until Rei jabs another thumbnail on his phone that he’s jarred back into proper breathing. The video comes up before he touches the screen. Ferrets this time, playing in a box of packing peanuts.

He goes out the next day, because it’s probably his last chance before he has to leave for the summer trip. There’s a dead woman whose young daughter lost her favorite toy somewhere in another part of town, and he would like to try and find it before he has to go. Rei comes along, for company and another set of eyes.

He knows they’re following him again. Or he’s following him, according to Rei. Izuku can’t catch a good enough glimpse to judge for himself. All he knows is that they’re close now but they won’t talk to him, or appear to him, or do anything but follow him and vanish when he turns around.

For an hour he wanders the street shops, scanning the sidewalks and alleys for any sign of a well-loved stuffed dog. Purple with floppy ears, that was what Mrs. Shigeyama had told him. There’s no sign of it in streets or dumpsters, and even the shopkeepers and vendors can only shrug at him apologetically.

Luckily, there’s a park near here where Mrs. Shigeyama says her daughter loved to play. He can get to it quickly if he crosses a couple of busy streets. One of them has an underpass so he doesn’t have to stop and wait for traffic. It’s quieter there, away from cars and most pedestrians, so maybe he and Rei can hold a real conversation for a while.

Izuku hesitates as the path ahead dips downward, and he swallows against the sudden lump in his throat. The last time he ducked into an underpass like this, he was fourteen years old and nearly suffocated on someone’s slime quirk. It’s not a pleasant memory, for all that it led to his meeting All-Might, and he has combat training and a quirk now but he would still feel better avoiding that sort of thing.

Wait here. Rei, ever helpful, does a quick check for him and comes back to give him the all clear. Izuku’s heart lightens, and he jogs down to pass through it as quickly as he can. It’s not cramped enough to spook him, but the faster he gets to the other side, the better.

In the end, he doesn’t know what triggers it. Maybe it’s how isolated it is; the underpass is empty of people both living and dead. Maybe it’s the darkness, or the closeness of the walls and ceiling. Or maybe it’s finally had enough time to get close to him.

Rei shrieks a warning, and Izuku is hit from behind.

He has no time to react, to defend, or even to break his fall. The blow sends him sprawling, bloodies his nose against the cement, and pins him there with a grip that digs sharply into his back. He hears another shriek, grating high-frequency static that drills into his ears, as talons rake the back of his neck and wind buffets him from above.

Rei screams in fury, and all at once the clawing weight is torn away. Izuku rolls over on his back, tasting salt and copper, and has just enough time to raise his arms in a shield before he’s struck once more from the front.

He scrabbles backward and nearly reaches the wall before it—before the ghost pins him flat on his back and rakes at him with grasping claws. And the wind…

Not wind at all, he realizes. It can’t be. Wind doesn’t sound like that—punctuated, rhythmic, almost like

wingbeats.

Clawed hands close on his shielding arms, wrenching them away from his face. Izuku opens his eyes, and stares up at the ghost.

His breath catches in his throat. He tries to gasp, but his voice comes out with it and it sounds more like a whimper. Rei grabs the frenzied ghost from behind and drags it off him, and Izuku crawls backward the moment he can move. He drags himself along the dirty concrete until his back is to the rough wall of the underpass, and he can see. It’s impossible not to see.

Black pits stare back at him from a pale, distorted face. The ghost’s form shifts, features changing and melting and unstable as it thrashes in Rei’s grip. It’s bigger than her, and she has always been strong, but she can barely hold it back.

Him, Izuku thinks numbly. Not it. Him.

The ghost’s jaws part as he struggles and reaches for Izuku, deformed and mutilated and familiar, so familiar. Nothing but rattling and hissing emerges, and yet

And yet

It very nearly forms a word. It’s a word that Izuku knows well, one that he has heard all his life.

De… ku.

With a desperate heave, the ghost thrashes out of Rei’s grip and lunges again—no, crawls, he crawls to him, drags leathery wings that bleed black from the ragged membrane, and his hands aren’t clawing, they aren’t hurting, they’re grabbing, clutching him, clinging to him like the ghost is desperate. Like the ghost is afraid.

And why wouldn’t he be? He can’t be much older than Izuku is.

Izuku is crying, and he doesn’t know when he started, but now he can’t stop, because this face may be older now than when he last saw it, it may be shifting, melting, deforming and reforming before his eyes, but he knows this face.

Tsubasa-kun,” he gasps. “Tsu—Tsubasa. It’s me. Do you remember me?” The ghost clings to him until his claws pierce through Izuku’s sleeve, and Izuku whimpers with pain but lets him. “I-it’s me, Deku. You remember me, right?” Tsubasa screams, and Izuku shakes and sobs as he speaks. “We were—” friends, he almost says, but they weren’t friends, were barely even playmates, because Tsubasa either ignored him or bullied him the same as everyone else. “W-we all played together, with—K-Kacchan! Do you remember Kacchan?”

Tsubasa wails again. He looks so young, just a teenager like Izuku, and Izuku hasn’t seen him since they were small but he still looks small now, too small, too young to look like this.

He’s dead. The realization falls on him, almost belated. We played when we were tiny. He laughed at Kacchan’s jokes. He’s dead. I knew him alive, I saw him and heard him and talked to him and touched him, and now he’s dead.

“What happened?” he chokes out. “Tsubasa-kun—what happened to you?”

Deku,” at least, that’s what he think Tsubasa says. He clutches at Izuku’s jacket. Desperate. Pleading. “Deku.

“I don’t know,” Izuku sobs. “I don’t know how to help. Who did this to you?”

Tsubasa screams.

Pain nearly splits Izuku’s skull in half, and he curls up against the wall and presses his palms to his ears, but he can still hear Tsubasa scream.

And then it’s over. Izuku opens his eyes (when did he close them?) and Tsubasa is gone, and only Rei is there, shaking from a few feet away as she watches him with wide eyes.

“I don’t know,” he whispers, and Tsubasa is gone but he still can’t stop crying. “I don’t know, Rei, I don’t know, I don’t know.

All-Might isn’t there to rescue him, not this time. This time, Izuku sobs until his tears are spent, drags himself up, and stumbles back out into the sunlight.

Tsubasa follows him home without a sound, close enough to touch.


Eijirou isn’t usually the kind of guy who stresses over punctuality. As long as he makes it before the late bell, he’s golden; that’s his only criteria.

But today is a special case. He’s a man on a mission.

It’s been less than a week since what went down at the mall, and Eijirou hasn’t had the chance to talk to Midoriya since. They’ve said stuff to each other, sure, but they haven’t really talked. There just hasn’t been time, or a good moment for Eijirou to pull the guy aside. Midoriya’s been quiet and jumpy ever since then, looking over his shoulder like he thinks someone’s following him, and Eijirou doesn’t blame him at all.

If he blames anybody, it’s his own damn self.

So he sets his alarm for the morning of the school trip, and for once he actually gets up the first time around, instead of rolling over and hitting snooze. He drags himself up, stumbles like a zombie through getting his stuff together, and gets to school twenty minutes earlier than he usually would.

He isn’t surprised to see that Iida was one of the first (probably the first) people to get there. Dude’s as crazy about being on time as Eijirou isn’t. He’s a little surprised to see Midoriya there too, especially since Midoriya looks kinda dead. He’s got an even worse zombie look than Eijirou does, and Eijirou has to wonder 1) if he got any sleep at all last night, and 2) how the hell he dragged a full backpack and a big-ass duffel bag all the way here when he looks like a strong wind might knock him over.

Guilt twists in his gut, and he looks around. Iida, Yaoyorozu, and Todoroki are also there, but nobody else. He has plenty of time, probably.

“Hey, Midoriya.” He sidles closer, probably not very subtly, but it still takes Midoriya a moment to register that he’s there. In fact, he doesn’t notice at all, until Eijirou reaches out to tap his shoulder. Midoriya startles at the touch, and Eijirou yanks his hand back like it burned. “Sorry! I’m so sorry, Midoriya, I didn’t mean to spook you.”

“I’m fine.” If Midoriya looks bad from far off, he looks even worse when he’s looking Eijirou in the eye. “Need something?”

“Uh, I was just—could I talk to you? For a sec?” Midoriya blinks owlishly at him, and Eijirou adds, “In private, I mean.”

“O-oh. Yeah, sure.” Midoriya looks over to Iida and opens his mouth.

“We’d be happy to watch your things,” Iida says, before he can get a word out.

“Thanks.” With that, Midoriya trudges to follow Eijirou a little ways off, far enough that anyone who isn’t Jirou or Shouji wouldn’t be able to hear.

Taking a deep breath, Eijirou launches himself straight into it. “Listen, I know I’ve said this a lot, but I’m really, really sorry about what happened at the mall.”

“’Sfine,” Midoriya says.

Eijirou shakes his head. “No, man, it really isn’t.”

“I don’t know what you’re apologizing for,” Midoriya tells him. “You and Uraraka were the first ones to find me. And it’s not like you knew there’d be a villain wandering around.”

“Well, yeah, I mean after what went down with freaking Stain, I figured that if I received a cryptic text message from you then it probably meant you were in a jam.” Eijirou shrugs uncomfortably. “And anyway, I wasn’t really apologizing for Shigaraki, more just… before that.”

Midoriya’s eyes lose focus for a moment. “Before…?”

“The, uh.” He takes the plunge. “The elevator.”

Something about the way Midoriya’s face shifts reminds Eijirou of heavy vault doors slamming. “Oh,” he says. “That.”

“Y-you don’t have to tell me anything about it!” Eijirou says quickly. “Really! I just… I’m sorry for pulling on you like that. And freaking you out. I think if I hadn’t done that then maybe you wouldn’t have had to run off, and you wouldn’t have… y’know.” He shrugs again, feeling helpless and awkward. “I should’ve paid more attention.”

“I don’t like people to know,” Midoriya says softly.

“I-I won’t tell anyone!” Eijirou almost trips over himself to assure him. “Of course I wouldn’t, that’d be the opposite of manly. Lips are sealed, promise.”

“I don’t mean—I don’t like people to know, so I hide it, so you couldn’t have known,” Midoriya tells him. “You’re not a mind-reader, Kirishima.”

“Midoriya. Dude.” Eijirou sighs heavily. “That’s… kinda not what I’m going for. I’m looking for something more along the lines of ‘I accept your apology,’ not… not telling me there’s nothing to apologize for.”

His friend gives him an exhausted smile. “Okay, Kirishima, I accept your apology.”

Eijirou lets out a breath, and his shoulders slump as the air leaves him. “Okay then. Cool. Good.”

“I’m usually okay with tunnels,” Midoriya continues.

“Huh?”

“I-I mean…” Midoriya shifts from foot to foot. “I just… I’m usually, um, fine. If I’m moving somewhere, and it’s not too small. I just… don’t like being somewhere that’s really small, when I can’t go anywhere. So like, closets. Or… or elevators. I-it’s better if I’m moving through it. I still get nervous, but I don’t, um.” He doesn’t finish that sentence.

“Got it,” Eijirou says. “Thanks. For telling me.”

“Thanks for… understanding, I guess.”

“Hey, understanding’s the easy part.” Eijirou manages to grin at him. “So… a-are we cool?”

Another owlish blink. “Were we not cool at some point?”

“I mean, I dunno?” This conversation is starting to devolve into them asking each other questions. “Between almost yanking you into an elevator, and like, me being friends with Bakugou, I guess I’m never really sure?”

Midoriya frowns, confused. “You can be friends with Bakugou if you want.” And it is a relief to hear him say that, and mean it, because that’s been bothering him ever since the final exams. Hell, even before that he wasn’t quite sure.

“A-are you sure?” His worries overflow and spill out before he can stop them. “Because I like to think we’re bros too, you and me, but Bakugou kinda… isn’t super great to you, and I completely don’t like that he treats you like that, but there’s other stuff I do like about him, and I just… I hope you know it’s not all across-the-board approval, with me. If that makes sense.” It’s his turn to shift a little on his feet. “I know it’s super awkward to be friends with people who hang out with people you don’t like, so…”

“Kirishima, I’m glad you’re friends with Bakugou,” Midoriya tells him bluntly, and Eijirou has to stare.

“Um. Oh. R-really?”

“I don’t get Bakugou’s problems,” Midoriya tells him, and for a moment he looks tired again, even more tired than before, if that’s even possible. “I know he has them, and I sort of know what they are, but I don’t know how to fix them. And—we used to be friends, but we’re not anymore, and there’s just too much bad stuff between us at this point for us to go back, and… sometimes I wish I could help him, but I can’t, and I’m—I don’t know what’ll happen if I try. I don’t think I’m the right person.” He meets Eijirou’s eyes, briefly. “You might be, though.”

Eijirou’s breath hitches. “Dude, I…”

Midoriya shuts his eyes, shakes his head vigorously. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t say that. Aizawa-sensei—he said he was wrong to make somebody else’s growth my problem, so I shouldn’t do that to you. But…” God, he looks tired. Eijirou hopes he can catch some sleep on the bus ride. “…he listens to you. And you’re a really good person. So yeah, I’m glad you’re friends with him.”

Eijirou purses his lips and wow, he kind of wants to cry all of a sudden, isn’t that weird? “I’m, uh. Really glad, man,” he says. “And—listen, I know he gives you a hard time, like, all the time, so… if you ever need me to… I dunno. Step in? Just lemme know. I’ll try and keep an eye out, but… yeah.”

Midoriya blinks, and his eyes go a little cloudy for a moment. “Could I ask a favor?”

“I mean… I literally just said that, dude…”

“I wanted to ask him something,” Midoriya says. “I don’t know if he’ll answer me. I don’t even know if he’ll answer you, but… there’s just something that’s been bothering me.”

“Okay,” Eijirou says, nodding. “What is it?”

Midoriya hesitates for a second, and his face freezes blank. “We fell out of touch when we were little, but before that, we had sort of a mutual friend. I haven’t heard from him in a while, and I’ve just… been wondering what happened to him. Where he went.”

“Want me to ask after him for you?” Eijirou offers. “I can totally do that. What’s the guy’s name?”

“Tsubasa,” Midoriya whispers it first, too softly for Eijirou to hear, then coughs and tries again. “His name was Tsubasa. Just… could you see if Bakugou knows anything about where he ended up?”

“No problem!” Eijirou says eagerly. “I’ll see if I can slip that into a conversation all sneaky and stuff.”

His friend gives him another tired smile. “Thanks, Kirishima.”

“No problem, buddy!”

Miracle of miracles, the smile stays where it is, and there’s not a single trace of baby-eating in it. “For what it’s worth, I’m really glad we’re friends, too.”

Eijirou chokes up.

The smile doesn’t last long after that, and Eijirou’s sorry to see it go. Midoriya spends the rest of the morning dozing on his feet as they wait for the rest of the class to arrive, apparently deaf to Iida’s worried fussing about getting proper rest every night. (And really, has Iida met Midoriya? Guy wouldn’t know a proper night’s rest if it jumped up and bit him.)

Eijirou chances a glance over his shoulder when they’re all settled in on the bus, and he can’t help but grin a little at what he sees. The engine isn’t even warm yet, and Midoriya’s conked out on Todoroki’s shoulder. Utterly dead to the world. It is undeniably adorable, especially when Todoroki looks so confused about it.

He ends up staring long enough for Todoroki to glance up and notice him. Eijirou flashes him a grin and a thumbs-up, and the two of them share a commiserating look from halfway across the bus.

Midoriya may be strong as hell, but that just means looking out for him has to be a team effort.