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A Single Reason

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When he found Kaachan in the play park that day, he hadn’t really expected much. Everything changed when his quirk failed to come in, but the thing that changed the most was how Kaachan no longer allowed him to hang out with him anymore. It wasn’t just that he’d broken off their friendship, it was knowing that if Izuku tried to follow Kacchan and his friends around, he would be chased off with explosions. It was not being invited to any more birthday parties. It was being told he wasn’t welcome in the Bakugo household anymore, no matter what Mrs. Bakugo said to the contrary.

So why is it that Izuku only really understands that Kacchan is not his friend anymore now? Now, when a stranger has him by the wrist, is pulling him away from the playground, and Kacchan won’t turn around no matter how much Izuku cries for help?

Izuku is trying everything he can - pulling, biting, sitting, screaming. The second time he lets his weight drop, the stranger grabs him under his arms and lifts him up onto their shoulder. Izuku can’t see anything of their features at this angle, but he could feel their shoulder dig into his stomach as they hold his legs still.

They take Izuku out of view of the park, to a van parked around the corner. They yank the rear doors open and shove him inside. Izuku lands on the hard floor of the van with a thud, whimpering a little as his tailbone collides with the metal. The person who took him jumps in the van and slams the doors shut.

“What’s going on?” Izuku demands, eyes brimming with tears, fists clenched even as he huddles against the opposite wall. The stranger gives him a look, dark hair falling messily into their face, but says nothing.

His eyes widen as he feels the van roll into motion. He scrambles to the closest door handle, but before he makes contact the stranger grabs onto the collar of his All Might shirt. He’s pulled backward and lands back on the floor.

“Not so fast, kiddo,” the stranger says, sharp and steady as they lean back against the wall. “Alkaid’s got big plans for you and some other brats. You’re not going anywhere.”

Izuku’s body is shaking. “Who’s Alkaid?”

“You’re new boss. You’ll do what she says, if you know what’s good for you.”

He feels fear worse than when Kacchan and his friend start trying to gang up on him, or when daddy kept saying he was gonna leave for some place far away before he actually did. It sits sour in his gut and makes him feel sick. “What if I don’t want to do what she says.”

“Tough. Better get used to it, kid.”

It’s only the image of All Might in his head, imagining what he would do in this situation, that stops the tears from falling even as the stranger’s response has them welling up even faster than before.

The ride lasts for a long time, long enough for Izuku to start getting restless despite his fear. When they stop again, it’s only for one of the rear doors to yank open again. In steps another stranger, a woman with short hair and horns like a goat, with a struggling child under each arm. She drops them like sacks, causing the kids to hit the floor roughly.

One of the kids, a girl with acid green skin and fire-red hair, scrambles back and away. She looks around frantically and spots Izuku huddled in against the other wall, trying to be as small as possible. Huge pink eyes are wet with tears and she runs over to curl up against his side. Izuku wraps an arm around his shoulders, glancing up to see the other child, a boy with wild purple hair, throw himself at the doors just like Izuku had earlier.

He does this a couple times, each time the horned woman knocking him back, before she grabs him by the neck and drags him over to where Izuku and the girl are huddled. She throws him, uttering only a scathing “Stay down,” before shifting back to guard the doors.

“Stupid, lousy, ugly, butt-faced creep…” The purple-haired boy mutters under his breath as he rubs his neck, glaring at the woman with only the faintest wetness to his eyes. Izuku scoots closer to him, causing him to look away. Izuku startles when a quick glance down reveals that the girl’s hair has changed color, from bright-red to the exactly same shade and texture of the inside of the van they’re in. He tilts his head to the side and notices that her skin has become a misty blue and looks like tree-bark. He’s never seen a quirk like that before!

The purple-haired boy speaks up, dragging his attention back up. “They grabbed you, too?” The boy asks in a hushed whisper, head down and tilted towards Izuku, eyes trained on their kidnappers.

Izuku nods and points out the stranger who took him.

The boy frowns, and it reminds Izuku of a displeased cat. “Did they say what for?”

“Someone named Alkaid is gonna be our new ‘boss’, whatever that means. Whoever that is has… plans for us?”

That causes the boy to tear his gaze away from the horned woman, focusing on Izuku. “Plans?”

Izuku can only shrug, careful to keep his arm tight around the girl’s shoulder. The purple-haired boy frowns and goes back to glaring at the strange and horned-woman.

This goes on for a while. In order to break the silence, Izuku turns to the girl pressed against his side. Her colors have once again changed, though the appearance of bark-like skin hasn’t gone away. “Hey,” Izuku whispers to her, and when she looks up her eyes are a bright silver. “My name’s Midoriya Izuku. What’s yours?”

She sniffles for a second and replies with the tiniest voice. “Aya. Nijima Aya.”

He’s seen that look before, plastered on the faces of the people trapped in a villain attack in the videos he watches every night. He thinks about All Might’s fearless grin and tries to summon a smile for her. “Nice to meet you, Aya-chan.”

He thinks the attempt works when Aya burrows deeper into his side before he turns his attention to the purple-haired boy. The boy stares at the woman like he’s trying to set her on fire for a few more seconds before turning his head to look at Izuku. “Shinsou Hitoshi.”

“Nice to meet you too, Hicchan!”

Hicchan looks confused. “Hicchan?”

“Quiet over there,” the stranger’s voice rips through any reply Izuku might have had, causing him to jump. Hicchan goes back to glaring at their kidnappers while Izuku and Aya do their best to burrow into the van wall behind them. He glances at the doors, but the woman catches him looking and scowls.

There’s a much longer stretch of silence, and boredom, before the van stops again. A man hauls in an older-looking boy with blond hair that quickly joins their huddle, introducing himself as Shouji Kaku, and another stretch before another stop that adds an older, dark-skinned girl with red hair named Yosano Naomi.

The final stop comes not that far from Naomi-chan’s stop, this time admitting a man carrying in a well-dressed girl with long, dark hair. She’s quick to join their huddle, fear all over her face. When Izuku asks her name, she says it’s Yaoyorozu Momo.

The man who dragged in Momo-chan goes to the other end of the now cramped van, causing them to pull their feet closer if they didn’t want to be stepped on. He knocks against the wall of the van three times in rapid succession, then pauses before tapping two more times. The van starts moving, and does not stop again for a long time.


Izuku jerks awake to the sound of footsteps against hard metal. A hand wraps tightly around his arm and jerks him upright. A voice demands he wake up and begins dragging him towards the doors. Behind him, Aya-chan starts crying again, her hand clasped tight to his free one until it slips out of his grasp. Momo-chan is clinging to her, trying to hold on to her even as one of their kidnappers bodily picks them both up.

Izuku cries out and tries to pull free, but is picked up before he can try to drop his weight. He struggles to wiggle, catching glimpses of Hicchan and Naomi-chan clawing and biting at any hands that try to come near them. Kaku-chan runs further back into the van, but is caught around the middle by the horned woman that brought in Aya-chan and Hicchan.

They’re all dragged into a building near some warehouse Izuku has never seen before, even on the daily news or the hero broadcasts his mother lets him watch after he’s done his homework. He doesn’t know where they are or how far away home is. Slung across the kidnapper’s shoulders, all Izuku can think to do is cry and yell, “Pussy Cats! Fat Gum! Gang Orca! Mysterica! Power Loader! Hardline! Ectoplasm! Thirteen! Vermillion! All Mi-!” before one of the people who followed them into the warehouse takes out a weapon and hits him hard across the cheek with it.

The pain and force stuns him, so unlike the heat and pressure of the tiny explosions Kacchan produces. It almost knocks him off his carrier’s shoulder, his neck twinging. There’s a taste in his mouth like copper and when Izuku runs his fingers over his cheek and lips, he winces as they find the loose tooth his mother had been gushing about earlier missing.

The kidnapper holding him, the man that grabbed Momo-chan, lets out a harsh sigh that bounces Izuku’s body. “Thank fuck… That was getting annoying. Brat’s got some lungs in him.”

“He does,” says the one that hit Izuku. The woman puts the weapon away and walks with them, voice calm and revealing not an ounce of regret or care. “Blessed will take care of that soon enough. She know she hates screamers.”

Izuku curls in on himself as much as he can. That doesn’t sound good.

Behind them, the other kidnappers have caught up to them. The one immediately behind them is the horned woman, carrying Momo-chan and Aya-chan under each arm. Both of them have tears in their eyes and their hands are stubbornly clasped over the woman’s stomach. Behind them, Izuku can see Hicchan struggling valiantly in the grip of the one who brought in Naomi-chan. He can’t see either Naomi-chan or Kaku-chan, but he can hear Naomi-chan yelling.

The man snorts to himself, adjusting his grip on Izuku. “You’d know about that better than I would. Poker next week, Hoshigaki? Same time as usual?”

“Don’t land yourself in the infirmary and miss it this time. I want my lucky charm back, Kurosaki.”

“You mean your dignity- ouph!” Izuku yelps as the man, Kurosaki, suddenly bends over, the woman named Hoshigaki retracting her fist from his side. “Fuck’s sake! I drop the kid and Senri’ll skin me!”

“Think before you open your mouth then, next time. Now shut it, we’re almost there.”

Distracted by the conversation, Izuku realizes he’s failed to keep track of where they’re going. He pushes himself up, twisting around as much as he can as they turn a corner onto a long hallway. It’s lined with doors with a double pair at the end. There’s a sign above it, but Izuku can’t turn his neck enough to read more than the word “Office”.

Hoshigaki pulls the doors open and everyone files in. The kidnappers shuffle into a row in front of something, but before Izuku can ask what’s going on he’s being pulled from Kurosaki’s shoulder. Kurosaki sets him on his feet and keeps both hands on his shoulders to hold him in place. To either side, the other kidnappers are doing the same, though the ones holding Hicchan and Naomi-chan elect to keep both of them off the ground for now.

Izuku finally turns his attention to the room, and he notes that the room looks very similar to the office his dad used to work in before he went away, the one he was only able to visit once when his mom brought him with her to deliver a surprise lunch. The office is cluttered with cabinets and chairs. A potted plant rests in a corner, though it does little to liven up a room with no windows to give it sunlight. There are papers all over the place and a map on the left wall detailing a city Izuku has never heard of in his six years.

The only other thing in the room is a long wooden desk, surrounded by four people who hadn’t been part of their escort. Two men stand on either end of the desk, a woman behind it, and another woman sitting on the desk in the front.

One man is taller than his dad, very long silver hair shining like the metal of his mom’s new tea kettle, and a scar stretching from the corner of his mouth almost to the corner of his left eye. He’s clutching a clipboard in one of his hands and a pen in the other. The man is scribbling something on the clipboard, only pausing to glance up, scanning each one of them up and down with cold brown eyes before going back to his writing.

“Names,” the man says suddenly. It startles Izuku, who had only just noticed the lack of noise when they’d entered the room. The hands on his shoulders tighten enough to hurt.

The man looks up when no one answers him. He looks at their kidnappers first. They look uncomfortable under the scrutiny, a few of them shaking their heads. The horned woman huffs just as the man’s eyes narrow. “Shinsou Hitoshi, Nijima Aya, Midoriya Izuku, Shouji Kaku, Yosano Naomi… and Yaoyorozu Momo,” she points at them as she says their names. Izuku hadn’t realized they’d been speaking loud enough to be understood over the noise of the van.

The man writes down each name as it’s said, but pauses when he hears Momo-chan’s name. His eyebrow lifts in what looks like surprise. The woman behind the desk, severe-looking with short black hair and golden eyes, bares her teeth in a snarl and places her hands on the desk.

“Which one of you idiots thought it was a good idea to grab the daughter of Yaoyorozu Hisoka?”

Izuku listens to Kurosaki swallow behind him before speaking in a voice that could have fooled him if not for the way he could feel the hands on his shoulders shake ever so slightly. “Too late to do anything about it now, Blessed. She’s already seen your faces, and we don’t have a memory quirk with Suigetsu d-dead.”

The woman, Blessed, cuts her gaze sharply to Kurosaki. Izuku can feel him freeze under her stare. “Were you the one who-”

“Regardless,” the man with the silver hair cuts in, looking over Momo-chan again with a considering gaze, “the man has a point. It would be a waste to dispose of her now. We might bring ourselves attention if the mother kicks up a fit over finding her daughter dead.” Momo-chan flinches, shoulders hiking up around her ears, and tries to hide against the horned woman’s side, which the woman seems to allow. The man starts to smile at Momo-chan, the expression ugly and cold. Izuku wants to pull Momo-chan behind him so that the man will stop smiling at her like that. “I’ve seen your mother in the news, little one. You look very much like her.”

The man at the other end of the desk opens his eyes, black as the coffee Mrs. Bakugo likes to drink, and gives the silver-haired man a look. He’s shorter than Izuku’s mom, an abundance of muscle visible through his shirt. His brown hair is shorn short like the men in those posters of war movies. “Senri,” he says, voice much deeper and more smooth than Izuku was expecting.

Senri rolls his eyes and writes some more on the clipboard. Izuku wonders what he’s writing, but doesn’t feel brave enough to ask.

“When I call your names, you will give me a short explanation and-or demonstration of your quirk,” Senri says, this time addressing them instead of the kidnappers.

“Why should we tell you? What do you even want with us?” Naomi-chan asks through heaving breaths as she continues struggling fruitlessly against the one carrying her, though with much less energy than before.

“Oh, we will find out soon enough anyway,” Senri states like it’s a fact, like any of the multitudes of pro-heroes won’t come to take them back to their families soon. “Just save us the trouble of having to extract it from you later and tell me.”

“No!” Naomi-chan shouts. She then freezes, making a sound like a hiccup, when several long, metallic silver threads stop inches from her face. Senri looks down his nose at Naomi-chan, pen poised over the clipboard.

“This, child, is your first lesson,” Senri tells her, not seeming to care that five strands of his hair had come to life and almost hurt Naomi-chan. His eyes were cold, colder than before, and edged in something that had the hairs on Izuku’s arms standing on end. “When one of us demands information from you, you will answer promptly and respectfully. Now, when I call your names, you will tell and-or show me your quirks. Yosano Naomi.”

Naomi-chan stares wide-eyed at the strands still pointed at her, face frozen in blank fear as she hiccups again, tears pooling for the first time that night. “I-I can push th-things aw-way from me witho-out t-touching them.”

The strands fall away as Senri writes down her answer. “There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

This continues. Senri calls their names and the others either tell him about their quirks or they show him them. Throughout it all the second woman, the one yet to speak, watches them attentively from her place on the desk. Aya-chan doesn’t speak, mute with fear, but she changes colors and textures often enough that he can understand without her explanation. Kaku-chan demonstrates his quirk by changing the star pendant around his neck into a ship. Kaku-chan lets the pendant go as Izuku subtly strains to get a closer look and it seems to shatter against his chest, becoming a star again. Momo-chan rolls up her sleeves and, to Izuku’s amazement, pulls a ribbon out of her arm, explaining in a quiet voice that she can make anything as long as she knows what it’s made of. Finally Hicchan says that he can take control anyone who answers him if he wants to.

“Anyone?” Izuku pops in, unable to resist with so many quirks being shown off and explained. Hicchan frowns and his shoulders raise, but that doesn’t dampen Izuku’s enthusiasm. His hands itch for the notebook he left on his desk back at home.

“I… I’ve only been able to test it on mom, dad and some of my cousins, but yeah. Pretty much anyone.”

Izuku’s eyes go wide and bright. “That’s so cool…,” he whispers.

“And what about you, Midoriya Izuku?” Senri asks, pen poised to jot down the answer.

Something in Izuku goes cold and heavy. He flashes back to the kids on the playground, who wouldn’t play with him after they found out he didn’t have a quirk. To the teachers who would gossip about him when they thought he couldn’t hear them. To Kacchan, who started hitting him and burning him and refused to let him come over to his house anymore. He begins to shake under Kurosaki’s hands and, before he can think better of it, shakes his head rapidly no.

Senri didn’t seem to like that. Izuku spine stiffens with a paralyzing fear as he finds several strands of silver pointed at him. Tears well up in his eyes, all enthusiasm about quirks forgotten. His hands reach for something, anything, and fist themselves in the fabric of Kurosaki’s pants.

“Your quirk, Midoriya Izuku.”

His voice answers without his permission. “I-I-I don’t-t ha-ave one…”

He feels it when it seems like the entire room goes silent, staring at him. He’s had people stare at him like this before, kids and adults alike giving him long, awkward looks that make his cheeks color with shame and embarrassment. Like he should have given any answer but that. It turns out, terror doesn’t make this situation any different.

Blessed gives out a long sigh, but Izuku is too busy looking at the floor to see what she’s doing. A moment passes, then another, and Izuku hears one of the kidnappers shift.

“The heiress to the Yaoyorozu Corporation... and a quirkless brat,” she says at length. “Well didn’t you lot bring back something special. You certainly know how to pick the men for the job, Senri.”

“We’ve got enough to get started,” the second man says, turning to address Blessed.

Blessed scowls back, arms crossing over her chest. “We were expecting more,” she counters. “Even if we keep the heiress, we’ve only got five brats to work with. We were expecting to be working with up to ten.”

“Six,” says the woman sitting on the desk.

Izuku looks up and immediately locks with big red eyes, their owner staring at him with an attentive if unreadable expression. She tucks a lock of long white-blue hair behind her ear, hands covered in delicate white gloves that match the long-sleeved dress she wears. To Izuku, she looks a little bit out of place - pretty dress with gloves and fashionable tall boots like the ones Mrs. Bakugo sometimes wears, contrasting the T-shirt and jeans of the second man or the formal pants and dress shirt of Senri. It especially contrasts the twisted, hero-like costume of Blessed, with a weapon Izuku only recognizes because Mr. Bakugo allowed Kacchan and him to stay up late to watch an old American film about a whip-cracking professor.

“Alkaid?”

It’s how Blessed addresses her that clears Izuku of confusion, however. A question, delivered in a respectful tone. Like this woman, Alkaid, is someone Blessed is seeking the approval of.

“While it’s not quite what we wanted, six children should be plenty,” she says with a smile that’s entirely too pleasant for what its owner just said. Confusion is beginning to beat out the fear in Izuku. He begins playing with the fabric still in his hands.

Blessed frowns, the twist of her dark-painted lips uncertain. “The one boy’s quirkless. He’s virtually useless to us, let alone suited for the program. The boy with the mind-control quirk, or the two other girls, would be far better.”

Alkaid hums and delicately gets down from the desk. Izuku’s eyes widen as she stands to her full height, easily the tallest person in the room. She might even be as tall as All Might!

Her eyes don’t leave Izuku’s as she takes the few steps needed to close the gap between them. Behind him, Kurosaki tenses, and his hands begin to tremble more obviously. It makes Izuku nervous. He presses closer to the man’s legs, but they’re a solid barrier against his back.

Alkaid kneels in front of Izuku and strips off a delicate glove, revealing a spiraling tattoo across the back of her hand. She reaches her uncovered hand up and, heedless of his flinch, swipes a finger across his lip. Cold, half-dried liquid smears across his lip, reminding Izuku that he had been bleeding from a missing tooth not too long ago. Izuku watches as she examines the blood on her finger before, to his disgust, placing the finger on her lip and licking it.

“I wouldn’t put this one out of the running just yet, Blessed,” she says with a smile. “You’ve been watching us since you got here. You listened to your peers explaining their quirks with rapt attention. Do you like learning about quirks?”

“Y-yes…” Izuku replies, still shaken. “Does y-yours rely on b-b-blood?”

Alkaid shakes her head, smile still on her face, eyes still fixed on him. She raises her ungloved hand, and the air rapidly begins to heat. A tiny speck of empty air an inch above her open palm begins to glow. Fear momentarily forgotten, Izuku inches a little closer, watching with curious eyes as the tiny ball of glowing heat sits in the air before twisting its shape into a thin line. He has to squint when the light gets too bright, the glow leaving an afterimage in his eyes like he’d just stared into a candle flame.

“My quirk allows me to ionize the gases in the air around me into state of matter known as plasma. I call it ‘Supernova’,” she states simply.

Izuku scrubs his eyes, trying to get the afterimage out of his vision, but gives up quickly. “The a-air got really hot when you d-did that.” He can feel the sweat generated by the heat begin to cool. “How hot-t was that, and-and when you say ‘Supernova’, do you mean like dying stars?”

Alkaid laughs at the question, though if it’s mocking or if she’s just surprised, Izuku isn’t sure. “A smart boy,” she compliments him. It almost feels like when his mom compliments him when he gets his homework done right. He can already feel himself starts to blush in embarrassment.

She’s still grinning at him. “That was only a little bit of plasma, so I’d say something like 120 degrees celsius? When I make more of it, it can get much hotter. Hot enough to melt things, like metals or plastics.”

Izuku’s mouth hangs open. He holds his hands close to his chest, unaware of when he had let go of Kurosaki’s pant legs. A quirk that lets you make a super-hot substance out of the air itself was amazing! Anyone with a quirk like that could easily become a hero! They could melt through debris and rubble, get around a villain’s traps by simply melting through walls or floors, brake out of restraints, or even deal with quirks that generate weapons or obstacles! Of course, a powerful quirk like that had to have drawbacks - all the powerful ones do, except for All Might, that is. Maybe she can only eye-oh-nize so much gas at once? Maybe her quirk doesn’t work under certain circumstances or could be countered by a specific type of quirk? Maybe-

Alkaid begins to laugh, pretty face stretched by a wide, delighted smile. It catches Izuku off guard, so much so that he backs up until he’s against the pair of legs behind him again. She laughs long and hard, her body vibrating slightly from her place on the floor. Izuku looks around for clarification, but everyone besides Blessed, Senri and the second man looks extremely uncomfortable.

The laughter peters out into small gasps for air. Alkaid reaches up to wipe an eye. “Definitely a smart boy. Though, we’ll have to do something about that muttering of yours,” she says. She stands up from her kneeling position on the floor, brushing off her dress before turning. “I’d say this is a kind of potential that would fit in the program just fine. With enough training and the right kind of encouragement, it might even suit him.”

Blessed looks put upon, but doesn’t protest.

The confusion-edged fear is returning, bit by bit. Izuku tries to take a step forward, but Kurosaki’s hands on his shoulders keep him in place. “What do you mean? W-what program?”

“What do you want with us?” Hicchan adds much more quietly.

Alkaid glances back at them, seeming surprised by the question. Her hands clasped behind her back, giving her and almost innocent appeal if it wasn’t for his blood still on her lip. “No one’s told you?” She asks, but she must not want a reply because she continues. “You see, we’re an organization of criminals and villains out to take care of ourselves and our own interests. My second, Senri, came up with an interesting idea to bring new blood into the organization.”

The grin is back, and this time Izuku sees the horribleness behind the beauty. “That’s where you children come in. We’ve taken you from homes or families, or even a society that will not miss you, or look for you. We’re here to give you a purpose. You’re being inducted into something we’ve coined “Project Suzumebachi”, to be trained as assets for our organization. Blessed will be your primary trainer, while Ken,” she gestures to the second man, “and his assigned assistants will be your at-home caretakers for the time being. In time, you’ll be given handlers and sent on missions as dictated by Senri. Prove yourselves to us and we might even promote you!”

“Heroes w-will come find-d us,” Momo-chan whispers through tears, her body shaking and hands fisted tightly in her skirt. “E-even if they don’t, I-I know my m-mom won’t-t stop try-ying to fi-ind me-e…”

Alkaid gives her a patient look, clearly unconvinced by the threat, even if it was true. “Give it a little while. I think you’ll be surprised, Yakshini.”

Momo-chan jerks back in surprise. “Yak… shini?”

“Your new name,” Alkaid replies, like it’s obvious. Like the act of receiving a new, unasked-for name didn’t terrify Izuku to the core. “You’ll all be getting ones. You won’t be allowed to use those other names anymore once assigned a new one, so you best get used to it now. Let’s see...”

She points at Hicchan, who pales a sickly white and tries to wriggle his way out of his holder’s grasp. “Encantado.”

Next, she points to Aya-chan, who’s gone completely white and textureless. “Phantom.”

Then to Kaku-chan. “Changeling.”

Naomi-chan. “Your’s was a tough one, but… Hecatonchier.”

Izuku. “And, finally, Gamayun.”

Alkaid grins her rotten grin, and Izuku feels his world fall out from under him. Senri starts writing again. “You’ll be shown to your new living quarters after this. Lessons start tomorrow morning, so rest up. Welcome to Epitaph, my Suzumebachi.”

“We’re not yours…” Izuku voice trembles and blood from his missing tooth still pools sluggishly in his mouth. He thinks about his mom, then about All Might, about heroes like Gang Orca, the Pussycats, even scary heroes like Endeavor. If they were here, they wouldn’t cry. They would be brave, so he has to be brave too. He has to hold out, has to help the others hold out, until the heroes come for them.

Izuku tells himself to be brave as he shakes hard and listens to Aya-chan start crying again.

Blessed snaps her whip, the sound startling him enough that he feels like he’s jumped out of his own skin. “Silence!” Her command rips through the air and she looks like she’s about to make straight for him, ready to start the lessons early. Alkaid holds up her hand, and Blessed settles back with a long breath.

Alkaid looks at him for a moment, then nods slowly. He tells himself to be brave when she smiles at him once more, sharp and cold and so very pretty if her eyes, red as his blood on her lips, weren’t so empty and devoid of anything good.

“No, you’re not,” she agrees. “But, you will be.”


Training begins the next day, and doesn’t stop for any reason. They wait for heroes, then for police, then for anyone to save them, but nobody comes.

It’s only a month before Izuku forgets their names. It’s a year before he forgets his own.

Phantom leaves their number first, then Changeling, then Hecatoncheir, until only three of the original six remain. Each loss is more painful than the last, and it makes Gamayun cling to the ones remaining all the tighter. If he could, he would pull them into himself so that he could protect them. If he could, he would make them a part of himself and himself a part of them, just so that the crushing need inside him would finally go silent.

Gamayun watches as Yakshini slowly grows thinner, her eyes growing dull and stony and desolate. He watches as Encantado grows more bitter and quiet, a rage slowly boiling under skin sallow with a sickness Gamayun doesn’t know how to cure. He clings to them with a desperation and love he cannot explain, a lifeline to the only hope he can stand without breaking.

It stays like this for eight long, painful years.

It’s only a chance meeting with an impassioned soul that saves them.

Chapter Text

Somehow, even though he’d set foot in this room countless times before, the organized, unchanging inside of the mission room never fails to spark the faint feeling of dread in Gamayun’s chest.

“No time to waste tonight, agents.” Senri begins, sifting through papers without looking up at them. “Your failure to kill your target other night set us back significantly with one of our brokers. If we don’t do something to re-establish her faith in us, Alkaid won’t be able to move forward with tomorrow’s operation. That is where you come in - you lot screwed up, you are going to make it up to her and to us.”

The shifting of papers does nothing to end the silence that presses in on Gamayun’s ears. It doesn’t matter than they already faced Blessed’s punishment for that particular failure. His wrists still itch where the rope dug burns into his skin. His throat still burns and his ears still ring with the screams. Gamayun wonders if Encantado had already gotten the knife wound on his arm bandaged, or if Yakshini has managed to sooth the bruising on her gut yet. They all bore wounds from their failed mission, but Blessed’s particular brand of discipline hurt even worse.

The three of them stand at attention in front of the heavy wooden desk Senri favors when Alkaid isn’t in the room. Gamayun has never been able to figure out if Senri is that arrogant to even temporarily take Alkaid’s place, or if he just hates his actual desk on the other side of the room. The top barely reaches his hip, yet Senri still finds a way to lean nonchalantly back against it.

Senri looks up at them and cold brown eyes pierce deep. Gamayun can almost feel the way Yakshini tenses ever so slightly. Senri’s eyes flicker over to her and his mouth crooks up into a smirk. The expression pulls at the scar on his cheek, making it look like the corner of his mouth stretches up unnaturally to reach his eye.

A lock of metallic silver comes to life and moves itself back over Senri’s shoulder. “You are being sent out with your normal handlers and they will provide for you the usual tools. They have your mission details. Head to loading docks 3, 5 and 6. Oh, and try not to mess this up? I’m sure I don’t need to be the one to tell you that Alkaid is not the only one counting on your success.”

Gamayun hears the implicit threat clearly. Fail this, and I’ll make you pay for everything you cost me.

He knows better than to take such a threat lightly. The only people Senri allows any kind of leniency are Alkaid and Ken.

Papers rustle as Senri places them on the desk behind him. He steps away from the desk and reaches out to Yakshini with a twistedly pleasant smile, dark amusement barely disguised under ugly elegance. Out of the corner of his eye, Gamayun can see Yakshini restrain the urge to lean away from the hand placed on the back of her neck.

“You’ll return swiftly, won’t you, my little hornet?” His voice came, smooth and insidious as silk soaked in poison.

“May I ask how many missions we’re going on tonight?” The question came out more rushed than Gamayun tended and he panics internally at the thought that he’s already misstepped. Senri pauses and gives him a scornful sidelong look, but his tone must have been respectful enough. Gamayun is mildly astounded he isn’t bleeding. Yakshini giving him quick, wide-eyed glances from his right isn’t helping his racing heart.

“You have a busy line-up tonight. Five missions total, 3 of them solo.” A brief, considering hum. “If you hurry, you might be able to complete them before dawn.”

“Which docks are we-”

Pain pricks his right cheek in multiple spots and Gamayun can see a single strand of silver hair poking out at the bottom of his vision. The end wiggles at him mockingly, and he knows without feeling that if he moves his tongue, he would feel more of it threading itself through the flesh of his cheek.

It takes effort to restrain the nausea building in his gut - Senri would be even less tolerant of him if he pukes on his hair.

Senri’s frown is deeper, more visible as he turns to face Gamayun. The hand he placed on Yakshini now twirls a lock of his own hair. “Perhaps I really will sew your mouth shut if you are getting this chatty, Agent Gamayun. You’ll meet your handlers on the way there and they will show you to your individual exit gates. Quit wasting my time and go.”

The strand removes itself from Gamayun’s cheek and blood slowly trickles down his cheek and into his mouth.

As one, the three of them bow low and depart in single file, Encantado first, then Yakshini, then himself. The three of them walk down a hall with no windows or doors when Yakshini reaches a hand back at him without pausing her stride. Gamayun squeezes her hand gently. Encantado reaches for her and Yakshini releases Gamayun’s hand to squeeze his as well.

True to Senri’s word, their regular handlers are waiting for them halfway to the loading docks Epitaph repurposes at night when the building ceases to be a legitimate business. Gamayun knows that the building is publicly used to ship fish off to various businesses around the prefecture, but that’s mostly a front. The Mori Fishing Company was established by one of Alkaid’s more trusted men and it serves as a base in the prefecture to smuggle illegal goods and weaponry. There are bases just like this scattered all across the country, and Gamayun has been to many of them over the last eight years.

His handler, Akutagawa, leans back in the frame leading to dock 5, customary black trench coat wrapped loosely around his lanky frame and his hands deep in his pockets. Further down, Yakshini’s handler Ozaki catches sight of them, greeting them with a smile that tries to be warm around its sharpness and poise, and Encantado’s handler Hirotsu opens his pocket watch briefly before nodding and storing it away in his coat pocket.

Black eyes glare at him before Akutagawa turns and heads off down the hall without a word, his footsteps a sharp tap that speaks of impatience. Gamayun can hear Ozaki say something, but the quick pace Akutagawa set means the sound fades before he can register what she’s saying.

Akutagawa leads him down the hall and eventually to a freight truck, the open doors revealing four other henchmen sitting amongst cargo boxes the wrong shape and smell to contain fish. Gamayun didn’t know whether or not to be thankful for that. It was never pleasant to get sent on missions where they needed to be shipped out with the fish. The smell gets into everything for days on end, but there’s no telling what was really in the boxes if not fish. Encantado once told him that he’d ridden in a vehicle containing faulty explosives, and the only reason he learned about it was because they went off accidentally a stop after his.

Akutagawa walks into the container and leans against the wall, not paying the others any mind. They, in turn, leave him be. Gamayun takes a spot right across from him, curling into a ball and waiting as the doors are closed and locked shut behind him, trying to ignore the lingering odor of frozen fish.

The truck rolls into motion beneath his feet, each turn, acceleration and deceleration rocking his body. The silence is borderline oppressive, the henchmen not even daring to snicker when a particularly sharp turn causes a man to topple off his box when in the presence of one as fearsome as Akutagawa.

Gamayun keeps his eyes straight ahead. Experience tells him that his handler doesn’t like being stared at or engaged, and that even this many people being around would shorten his already dangerous temper. The ache in his cheek is now a dull throb, and it feels hot and swollen when he runs his tongue over the punctures. Gamayun silently counts seconds and notes the way Akutagawa coughs every ten minutes almost exactly.

It’s only when the henchmen are dropped off thirty minutes into the ride with what Gamayun thinks is roughly eighty percent of the cargo that Akutagawa starts talking.

“Your mission is to assassinate Tanizaki Junichiro,” Akutagawa announces without preamble, cold as winter snow and faintly raspy from his frequent coughing. “He’s an up-and-coming politician Alkaid wants dead. Currently, Tanizaki is staying at the Yokohama Hotel. Our sources say he’s booked on the 6th floor. Your weapon is in the box to your left. Assemble it, hide it, and get the job done.”

Gamayun looks to his left, finding a box large enough to hide a watermelon in. The lid pops open easily, revealing a mass of staticy white packing peanuts. A quick dig rewards him with a baggy containing a disassembled handgun and a silencer. Gamayun is quick to brush the peanuts off and take out the pieces, feeling Akutagawa’s heavy stare.

Assembling a gun was something taught to him in the early days of his training, the quickest way to teach him how his weapon operated. He’d been quizzed on the care and maintenance of the weaponry he used so often over the years that Gamayun is reasonably sure that he could assemble any one of them in his sleep.

It takes him maybe thirty seconds to put the weapon together and hide it in the inner pocket of his jacket. It’s baggy enough that nothing shows, and the sight of a lone teen wandering around at dusk wasn’t unusual in this part of the prefecture. The only reason anyone would so much as look at him would be his wearing a jacket in the early autumn heat.

A moment’s consideration has him reaching into a pocket to pull out a small tube of concealer two shades lighter than his skin and a tissue. It would be an easier task if he had a mirror, but he’s familiar enough with the motions to know where to place the make up, using the tissue to clean the blood from his face.

For as long as he can remember, Gamayun has known his looks were unusually distinctive despite being wholly ordinary in a post-Quirk society. Ozaki was the one who taught him how to disguise his freckles with concealer, how to use his clothing to darken the green-tinge of his hair, which way to tilt his head to bring a person’s focus to or away from bright green eyes. The first time Gamayun had practiced these simple disguises, he hadn’t been able to recognize himself in the mirror.

Now, the change from familiar to stranger was almost second nature. Gamayun can’t help but find it appropriate. He hasn’t been able to recognize himself in years.

Akutagawa watches Gamayun, expression never shifting from icy disdain, dull dark eyes edged in a razor something that sends his heart racing and makes sweat break out if Akutagawa ever focuses on him for too long.

(Everyone in Epitaph was sharp. Sharp eyes, sharp smiles, sharp hearts and words and intents. Hecah used to say that they all might as well be made of daggers.

It used to cut, that sharpness. But Gamayun thinks Encantado might be right - maybe they ended up becoming sharp, too.)

It’s a relief when the driver finally rolls to a stop. The door is pulled open from the outside, the distant sound of sea waves and whiffs of salt on the breeze tell him that Gamayun is still somewhere along the coast. The alleyway they’ve stopped in is a loading bay, with the sound of people milling about not far away. It’s fairly nondescript from what he can see, only a few people he assumes to be more of Alkaid’s henchmen waiting to greet them.

Gamayun gets up and takes a moment to stretch his legs out, enjoying the burn in his muscles. Traveling with Akutagawa tends to make one scrunch up as much as possible. He sometimes overhears the henchmen whisper that it was like trying to avoid the notice of a rabid dog.

Akutagawa hops out of the truck first, trench coat fluttering around him like a cloak. Gamayun hurries to follow and just barely misses bumping into the people that climb in to unload the rest of the cargo. Akutagawa gives them a flat look that has more than one of them shrinking away, but surprisingly doesn’t leave.

Instead, he turns disparaging eyes on Gamayun. Something in him freezes and hairs rise on the back of his neck. “You’re still here? You have your mission already, now leave.”

Right, then… Gamayun is smart enough to bow and make a hasty retreat down the only entrance to the loading bay, drawn to the sound of milling people.

Terrifying as it was, Gamayun isn’t surprised by the dismissal. This is how their partnership worked. Akutagawa doesn’t have the patience or the temperament to put up with Gamayun and his peculiarities, and Gamayun can’t stop being quietly terrified whenever Akutagawa enters the room.

He thinks that was the entire reason Blessed paired them together when she assigned the Suzumebachi their handlers. He still can’t understand why she thought it was a good idea.

His handler’s usual method of supervising him is to give him his assigned task and a time allotment that he never clued Gamayun into. The only reason Gamayun even knows he’s being timed is because he spent no less than 10 missions trying to find out what would stop Akutagawa from being so ill-tempered.

Of course, then he understood that Akutagawa is always like that. Completing his task within a certain timeframe just meant that ill temper wasn’t turned on him as often.

Gamayun gives a sigh, pulling the hood of his jacket over his hair. That time limit was however long it took for Akutagawa to finish his own mission and track Gamayun down. At least Ozaki was patient with Yakshini, and took her along on her missions whenever possible. Even Hirotsu, just as no-nonsense and even more strict, wasn’t as bad as Akutagawa.

And that's saying something.


It’s a simple matter to find the Yokohama hotel. A hunch in his shoulders and the usage of more southern slang convinces some locals that he’s a lost tourist looking for his family’s hotel.

They point him towards the third-largest building overlooking the beach. Within a half an hour, he’s at the front desk of the hotel, and a chat with the receptionist has him looking into the hotel registry for the room he claims his family is staying in, but forgot the exact number to. When they ask why he hasn’t checked his key card, he tells them he left his wallet and the card behind when he left the room earlier that day.

Gamayun has never had the charm that Encantado has cultivated over the years, so it’s a little touch and go to get the receptionist to believe that he’s just a frustrated kid looking to get back into his hotel room. He actually has to start tearing up, causing the receptionist to panic before just letting him look at the digital registry.

A quick glance at the 6th floor reveals Tanizaki is in room 612. Gamayun quickly chooses one of the other occupied rooms on that floor, sniffling occasionally to keep up the act. The receptionist sends him on his way with a key card that has to be run through a scanner keyed to a room several doors down from Tanizaki’s, and a gentle warning not to lose it this time.

Getting in the lobby elevator, Gamayun takes note of the security camera located in the corner before pulling a device a little bigger than a coin out of his pocket. Keeping his hand curled around it, he pauses and begins miming panicked motions of searching through his pockets. Turning around, he quickly swipes the magstripe on the card through a scanner attached to the device via a thin wire before storing both and pulling out his phone.

He feigns relief and keeps the phone up even as the door pings open on the 4th floor to allow an elderly couple to board.

When he finally reaches the 6th floor, it’s only a minute before he finds Tanizaki’s door. He parks himself on a patch of wall next to the door knob and pretends to read something on his phone.

His other hand reaches into his pocket and retrieves the device from earlier. Gamayun hovers it near the card reader and adjusts his stance to make it look like his hand is braced on his hip just in case anyone walks through the corridor. Gamayun opens up the local news app on his phone, plugs in his location, and scrolls down the page until he comes across an article detailing a recent small-time villain attack stopped by a hero with quirk that seemed to allow his body to take on tiger traits.

The card reader gives a beep five paragraphs into the article and the red light switches to green. Gamayun put his phone away without exiting the article. The door handle gives without any resistance, allowing Gamayun to slide inside the hotel room. Once inside, he shuts the door quietly behind him.

Tanizaki’s room is nice; dark wood furniture and dark red walls, cream sheets on the bed and cream blinds pulled shut for the evening, modern metal lamps and an open door leading to what looks like, from this angle, a bath big enough for two. There’s a small indent in the wall in a corner opposite Gamayun where a desk full of papers and an open laptop sits, lit by a lamp embedded in the wall. And in the accompanying chair is Tanizaki, who sits engrossed in his work, clacking away at the keyboard and unaware of the danger behind him.

From the back, Gamayun can only see a semi-formal dress shirt and short red hair. He doesn’t really want to see more. He just wants to get his jobs done and go back to the base, collapse in bed with ‘Shini and En and sleep.

He steps on silent feet up behind Tanizaki and pulls out the handgun from its hidden pocket. The weight is familiar in his hand, steady as he levels the silencer with the back of Tanizaki’s head. He sees Tanizaki reach up to rub his face before turning to look at a picture of a smiling girl with long black hair clinging to a man with short red hair.

They have the same eyes.

A swift pull of the trigger, and there’s a muffled bang and a splatter of red. Tanizaki Junichiro slumps down across his laptop. The spray coats the machine and the wall behind it, crisp white papers on the desk turn soggy and red.

A quick glance at any still-legible text reveals a proposal that would allow police and heroes greater freedoms to gather information on people suspected of collaborating with criminals. If this were to pass into law, then it would certainly pose a problem for that broker Senri was talking about.

Gamayun gathers up the papers and flushes them down the toilet, making sure not to drip blood onto the floor or leave any traces in the toilet bowl. He cleans the bowl with bleach from the cabinet under the sink and flushes a few more times, just to be sure.

Next, Gamayun checks over the computer. There’s a flash drive in the USB, so Gamayun makes sure to transfer all it’s files over onto the main hard drive before deleting Tanizaki’s search history.

Deliberating for a second, he takes out a multi-tool from one of his inner pockets. He unscrews the back panel from the laptop, and then the hard drive case from the motherboard. He separates the hard drive from the rest of the computer before unscrewing a panel and levering it open with another tool. The open panel reveals the internal data platters, which Gamayun destroys by ramming the file in his mutli-tool through them all in three places. Before he reattaches the panel and reinstalls the hard drive, he makes sure to run a damp paper towel over everything and not touch it again with his bare skin.

He then spends about ten minutes checking through Tanizaki’s luggage, his jacket and his pockets, hacks his phone to look through his files, but finds nothing else. Satisfied, Gamayun nods to himself and quickly rubs damp, soapy paper towels over the phone and the laptop to destroy any biological evidence.

This’ll be enough to keep Alkaid happy. No traces of Tanizaki’s work left behind means that there’s no work for anyone to build off of. Alkaid’s broker will be safe to continue her work in peace.

Before he goes, Gamayun takes a sheet from the bed and places it over Tanizaki’s body, taking care to make sure everything is covered. Gamayun is used to killing people by now, has killed several dozen by himself despite only being thirteen, maybe fourteen (heforgetshedoesn’tknowhehasforgotten), but this part is important to him. He’s never failed to leave one of his targets the dignity of a shroud.


Turning his jacket inside out reveals a different colored inside, and it’s a simple matter to wet his hair down in the bathroom sink and hide it under a beanie taken from another pocket. Gamayun washes off the concealer, revealing his natural freckles and causing his cheeks to redden from the friction of the towel rubbing across his face.

On his way out, he chucks the towel in the nearest laundry trolley, straightens his back and exits through the back door leading to the outdoor pool. From there, all Gamayun has to do is scale a part of the fence not immediately visible to the people out for a evening swim and he’s back out on the street.

Gamayun immediately sets down the path leading into town, taking several side-streets as he tries to find his way back to the freight truck that brought him here.

It’s a matter of chance that Gamayun happens to glance over his shoulder in time to see something snaking towards him distressingly quickly. His heart pounds as he launches himself forward into a roll, but something still slices a shallow cut into his arm. It wraps tight around his arm and yanks him back off his feet and up into the air.

“Tch…”

Oh look, Akutagawa’s here. And it looks like he finished his job before Gamayun.

A jagged strip of cloth generates itself from Akutagawa’s coat, suspending Gamayun up in the air by a stinging arm. He glares up, hand pressed over his mouth to quell any coughs that might have given his position away.

“Took you long enough,” he rasps, and he sounds like he’s gone through another coughing fit.

Gamayun swallows past the fear and pain and concentrates on not stuttering. “Tanizaki is dead -”

“Obviously.” Akutagawa silently retracts the strip of cloth, the sudden release allowing gravity to pull him to the ground unceremoniously. The fall irritates the lingering bruising on his left side from Ken’s last training session. “If I caught you here, not doing your job, I’d have to discipline you, and a coward like you is too spineless to go against his superior’s orders.”

There’s a stupid, reckless retort building behind his teeth (Like how you disciplined Higuchi for worrying about you?), but Gamayun purses his lips until it dies. Instead, he climbs to his feet and concentrates on the ascot wrapped around Akutagawa’s throat. “I disposed of any traces of Tanizaki’s work that he brought with him to the hotel.”

“And I supposed you finished clean up by putting a worthless burial shroud over the body again, am I right?”

Gamayun pursed his lips again, and Akutagawa took the silence as affirmation.

“What is it going to take to beat that pedantic sentimentality out of you? One would think, after everything you’ve learned since Epitaph took you in, that you would know by now when to not waste time,” Akutagawa says.

“I killed my target and handled clean up to Blessed’s standards -”

The counter is short and sharp. “And yet you’ve still managed to waste my time.”

Akutagawa turns on his heel and heads in the other direction, coat fluttering, the untied belt hanging unnaturally still at his sides. Gamayun falls in step behind him, quiet and subdued.

Chapter Text

The freight truck leaves him in the middle of an abandoned side-street in the middle of a city. Gamayun is given instructions to meet up with Encantado and Yakshini on the roof of the konbini across from the Osamu Bakery in south-eastern Musutafu by 11:50. Any later and Akutagawa will let Blessed chose the punishment.

He’s to give them a pass phrase, ‘Cherry blossoms bloom once’ at midnight exactly to let them know the operation is on. Their job is to break into the Endeavor Hero Agency, hack into the computers, copy and send information on the agency’s private employee documents to Sakura’s, Epitaph’s resident hacker’s, private email. Real names, quirks, training schedules, salaries, mission records, anything they can get access to within a ten to fifteen minute time frame. They just have one more job to do after this and then they can go back to base for the night.

At least Akutagawa had given Gamayun a better wireless hacking tool than his little magspoof and a map of the building to study on the way there. The map notes that the building’s cameras are on a closed circuit, which will be a pain to get around even if the vents are big enough to be a possible entry point for someone his size. It also notes that the building’s alarm system wirelessly connects to Flame Hero: Endeavor’s personal phone. Gamayun can handle keeping the alarm down with the hacking tool while Yakshini handles disarming the actual security system and Encantado copies the data. Sakura might apprenticing Yakini, but he made sure to drill some hacking skill into all of them.

Heroes are notorious for working absurd hours. That’s normally a working hazard for them, but it also means most of them will be out on patrol. They’re screwed if Endeavor is in the building, but Gamayun knows enough about the high-profile heroes to think he won’t be. If they get caught, any sidekicks inside the building will be easy to handle in comparison.

He’s already had to exchange his jacket for a thinner one provided by the driver so that the rip and fresh blood-stains don’t attract attention. To his consternation, there are fewer pockets to store his tools. There’s nothing Gamayun would leave behind, however, so he puts up with it.

He steps out and the driver meets him, silently handing him a featureless black mask. Something goes cold inside his chest at the sight of it. Gamayun dutifully stores the mask away in his largest pocket.

It takes the better part of an hour, but Gamayun eventually manages to find Encantado and Yakshini. Yakshini greets him with a smile, chin-length black hair tied in a small tail to keep it out of her eyes. Encantado gives him a nod before going back to examining the agency building through a pair of dark purple binoculars.

Gamayun pulls out the map Akutagawa gave him and goes to hand it over to Yakshini, but she shakes her head and holds up an exact copy. Nodding, he puts his map away and takes out the digital hacking tool.

“See any entry points?” Gamayun asks Encantado, fiddling with the tool to make sure the programs on it are set up efficiently and easy to access, unlocking it with the pin code written on a piece of paper taped to the back that he stashes in his boot. It’s similar in appearance to a smartphone, but the interfacing is much different and there’s only two visible apps. The first, when tapped on, acts like the bookmark system on a web browser with the bookmarks listed being various hacking programs designed for wireless and wired use. The second looks like a typical mail app that leads to a profile with only one contact listed - Sakura’s. Sakura must have designed them himself. They’re easy enough to understand for him to understand. He puts the tool in one of his outer pockets where he can reach for it quickly.

Akutagawa likes to give arbitrary time limits all the time, being an impatient person by nature. He never clues Gamayun into their exact details, though, so the fact that he had actually given numbers is faintly alarming. He feels safer having all of his tools be easily accessible.

Encantado scoffs under his breath, pulling the binoculars away with a slight sneer of disgust. “Barely anything worth a damn,” he says. “There are three possible entry routes; front door, the fire escape around the back, and a vent opening three stories up. The first two are camera’d and the second is virtually unreachable. And, according to ‘Shini, Sakura says we’ve got approximately forty five minutes to get in, get the info and get out before Endeavor comes back from his patrol.”

Ah, that’s why Akutagawa said get the job done in ten to fifteen minutes. Lovely.

Encantado shifts around to look behind him. “Hey, ‘Shini, you’re the one getting specialized training in infiltration. Why aren’t you the one scouting this?”

“Because someone has to plot the internal route for when the entrance is decided upon, and Gama wasn’t here yet,” she repostes, not looking up from the map in her hands.

“Whoever designed this building deserves to be shot…” Encantado says under his breath.

Gamayun ignores the grumbling, well used to Encantado’s dramatics by now. He checks his normal phone for the time, noting that they have twelve minutes before the operation was to start. From this distance, he can see people enter and exit the office-like building somewhat frequently, quite a few of them seeming to be wearing costumes. Yakshini taps him on the back and hands him a pair of binoculars, these ones a nice green.

Gamayun accepts them with a quiet word of thanks, noting that Yakshini shivers inside her much thicker red coat after producing the device. He reaches into one of his pants pockets and pulls out a simple snack bar, passing it to Yakshini. She takes the bar, but to his disappointment, simply stashes it in one of her pockets.

Through the binoculars, he notes a rather large group of heroes and/or sidekicks leave the building, after which the flow of people slows to a trickle. Midnight tends to be a huge patrol opportunity for the more nocturnal heroes, Gamayun’s noted over the years. Criminals tend not to hide as often at night as they do during the day, and a decent chunk of them aren’t so stupid as to come out as soon as the sun goes down. Most civilians are asleep by now, and even the waning summer sun is gone, giving an advantage that the smart and the skilled know how to use.

It’s possible to go anywhere with quick, sure feet and dark of the night surrounding you.

Gamayun lowers his binoculars and bites his lip. Words bubble up in his throat, but he is uncertain if now, right before a big operation, is the time to say them.

Encantado must feel the change in his mood. “Gama?” he says, exhausted eyes alert and brows furrowed.

He worries his lip more, pinching the skin so hard it feels like his teeth have cut into the flesh even as the taste of blood remains absent. It will upset the others if he’s managed to hurt himself again.

Gamayun takes a deep breath and turns away from the hero agency. “Do you guys know- Is there- Have you seen- found… anything else?” The question comes out more jumbled and quiet than he wanted, but his throat feels tight and his mind is having a hard time trying to string his thoughts together. Rationally, he knows it’s just the three of them here on the rooftop, but that doesn’t stop the prickling sensation of eyes watching his every move, ears listening for the slightest hint of weakness or disloyalty.

In an instant, Encantado’s expression grows shuttered and closed off, looking away with a scowl on his lips. His hands tighten around his binoculars until they’re trembling. By contrast, Yakshini is frozen in place, dull eyes staring blankly at the map in her hands, hollow cheekbones and sunken eyes cutting gaunt and grim shadows across her face.

“No…,” Yakshini whispers, so quietly Gamayun is half-sure that he felt her reply more than he heard it.

“Not a thing,” Encantado replies, jaw tense with directionless aggression. “Not a damn thing.”

He takes another deep breath and stuffs his hands in his pockets. His hand bumps the featureless black mask he had stowed away earlier. Epitaph’s blanket permission to be as visible as needed if they have to resort to killing and property damage to get their job done. He knows from experience that Yakshini’s red mask is in her coat and that Encantado’s white mask is already looped around his neck, obscured by his blue jacket’s hood.

“Nothing,” Gamayun contributes reluctantly, watching Yakshini clench her eyes and fists, the paper crumpling noisily as Encantado trembles faintly with tension. “Tomorrow makes a week…”

“Then that means it’s over tomorrow, no matter what.” Encantado says decisively. “Can you suppress the cameras on the fire escape, Gama?”

“Easily.”

“Good, that’ll be our entrance, then. ‘Shini, you have a route that fits with that?”

Yakshini nods, hands relaxing and folding the map up with neatness and precision. “Endeavor’s office is on the top floor on the western edge, and the easiest access route from the fire escape starts on the 12th floor. You’ve seen the route, Gama?”

“The one leads to the stairwell access? We’ll be passing by several cameras, but I think my tool can handle them. We can use the third floor vent as our exit, since there are bushes right below it. I’ll take point, ‘Shini in second?”

Yakshini nods, “And En can cover the rear. Sound good?”

“Good,” Encantado confirms. Gamayun thinks they’re about to start final preparations, checking the time again (only eight minutes left). When he looks up, however, Yakshini is the only one preparing, arranging items in her pockets and muttering directions under her breath. Encantado is staring down at the roof, back unusually stiff and straight in a manner that reminds Gamayun of Hirotsu. “Yakshini?” he says almost hesitantly.

“Hmm?”

A brief pause. “Do you… have enough fat stored up? For tomorrow?”

Yakshini slows down, but doesn’t lose her rhythm. “Yeah… It’ll have to be blades instead of the liquid we originally planned, thin ones if I don’t want to dip too far into my organ reserves. But I can make them bigger if you guys want, or if we’re really set on the liquid method, I can use it for that.”

“You haven’t been eating again…” Encantado says, voice trailing off as a wave of concern rises in Gamayun’s chest.

“I haven’t been hungry,” Yakshini deflects easily, as if she doesn’t eat little enough as it is, as if she doesn’t only skip meals when Senri is involved. Gamayun curses himself for not noticing sooner. He was at base all day yesterday.

Encantado reaches out and wraps his arms around Yakshini, curving his neck so that his forehead is pressed against the top of her head. Gamayun hugs her from behind as well, keeping it firm but loose so that she feels supported rather than trapped. “It’s fine,” she murmurs, returning Encantado’s embrace while leaning into Gamayun. “It’s not like it will matter after tomorrow anyways. Gama’s the one who is probably hurt, not me.”

That causes Encantado’s head to shoot up, pulling both himself and Yakshini away from Gamayun. “Guys, I’m fine-,” he tries to say, but Encantado is already holding him at arm’s length, scanning him up and down before rotating him to scan his back. Yakshini points to the arm Akutagawa scratched, gesturing to the faint spotting of blood against the grey fabric.

“That’s not the same jacket you left base in, and your handler is Akutagawa,” she points out, and really, that just says it all, doesn’t it?

“It’s fine, guys, really,” Gamayun tries again, not cowed by Encantado’s frown. “But- but, guys, it’s… this isn’t okay. Tomorrow…”

A familiar frustration builds in his throat, a helplessness and fear and anger that feels like a scream waiting to burst out. It never should have had to come to this. They never should have had to come to this, but life has long since taught Gamayun that should haves and could haves mean nothing in the face of what was and what is.

(All his life, waiting and waiting for heroes to come save them. For the nightmare to be over. For the villain raid that took Phantom from them to never have happened. For the mistake that got Changeling caught to have never occurred. For Hecatoncheir to come back. For a quirk that would never come in, the first wound of many, no matter how much Alkaid told him that he still had value to her, to them, despite his quirklessness. It was enough that he’s nearly forgotten what he was even trying to be strong for.)

“I just…,” he stumbles, voice thick with everything he’s feeling and can’t express. “I just think there’s still something we can do!”

The hands gripping his upper arms tighten almost painfully. Encantado’s concerned frown transforms into a heated glare. “What,” he spits out, his own frustration burning as he looms over Gamayun, “do you think we could possibly do? We’ve looked into every avenue of escape, studied every guard rotation, the layout of the base, we’ve even tried to figure out what tripped up Changeling! They tightened security and handler protocol since Hecah took out Kurosaki and abandoned us. What else could we possibly do? Keep on as we are?!”

“No!” Gamayun denies, voice raising despite himself. Encantado isn’t so quick to anger normally, he knows, but since Hecah disappeared four months ago, his temper has been short. Ozaki had cautioned Gamayun about his empathetic nature, saying that he could unconsciously reflect the moods and emotions of others if he wasn’t careful. She’s right, of course, and there’s no one else that he’s less careful around than Yakshini and Encantado. “I just think there’s something we haven’t thought of yet-!”

“We made a promise!” Encantado says, shaking with emotion, a hint of betrayal in his eyes. His hands tighten even further, and Gamayun feels when the pressure turns into pain. “One week, all of us, or none. We made that promise, didn’t we? All three of us? The three of us are going to get out of there together because we can’t stand being trapped by them anymore, or we weren’t getting out at all. Didn’t we? Are you… Do you want to be left behind?! We’re not leaving you with them!”

“Enough! Encantado, you’re hurting him.” Yakshini cuts in sharply, pulling at Encantado’s shoulder. He jolts, his vice-like grip of Gamayun’s arms releasing instantly and he stumbles back a pace. The cut Akutagawa had given him throbs dully. He’s sure that the rough treatment agitated the wound, and that if he looks, the bloodstains on his sleeve will be worse.

Encantado is looking at him, shock and faint horror painting over every hint of anger that had once held him, eyes wide as he stares at Gamayun. Yakshini holds him back, sympathetic yet disapproving, until she’s certain he’s calmed down. He reaches out a trembling hand to touch Gamayun’s hand, and Gamyun’s heart is heavy with sadness when the hand flinches away as if burned. “Gama, I… Are you okay?”

Gamayun rubs his arms to soothe the ache, eyes gluing to the floor. His voice, when he speaks, is heavy with resignation and remorse. “All of us, or none… I’m going with you no matter what. I’m sorry if I gave you impression I wasn’t.”

“Gama…”

An alarm goes off, cutting Encantado off and making them all jump. Gamayun pulls out his phone to switch it off. “”Cherry blossoms bloom once”. Time to start…”


Gamayun keeps his eyes to the floor even as Encantado tracks him with sad, apologetic eyes. His phone is stuffed back into his pocket and he makes sure everything else is in place before retrieving his mask. It fits over his face perfectly, the wide elastic band keeping it in place on his skull.

He runs over his mental map of the hero agency. His voice is muffled strangely by the mask, even through the miniscule air holes. “I still think there’s another way. We just-”

It’s because his eyes are still glued to the floor that something catches Gamayun’s eye, something bright and colorful and utterly out of place in the dark alley below. He glances down for just a second, more absent curiosity than anything. “... Haven’t… found...”

There’s a momentary pause where his brain takes in what he’s seeing, and when he’s done processing it, his eyes fly wide open beneath his mask.

“Guys…,” he says, just loud enough to get their attention. They turn to him, masks firmly in place, but he doesn’t need to see their faces to see Yakshini’s head tilt, or imagine Encantado’s raised eyebrow. He points into the alley below. “I think I just found it.”

Yakshini is the first to look over the edge, immediately retreating with sharp, muffled gasp, hands raised to muffle the sound. Encantado tenses and cautiously peaks over the ledge after a few moments. He retreats just as quickly as Yakshini had, taking several steps back with shoulders hiked up to around his ears

“Gamayun, are you crazy?!” Yakshini pushes her hands into her sleeves ready to generate any weapons they’ll need. Her words are quiet and harsh to avoid being overheard. “That’s a hero. No, that’s not just a hero, that’s-”

“Our ticket out! Not even Alkaid would think of taking him on. Not for us.” Gamayun counters, a crazy, far-fetched idea forming. He doesn’t know if it’s genuine hope, lingering despite Epitaph’s best attempts to crush it, or if it’s just the last hints of naivete from an early childhood spent idealizing heroes, allowed to exist because of a habit he’s not supposed to have. His mind has latched onto the idea and his gut is telling him to go with it. “Don’t you guys see? This is our chance!”

Yakshini and Encantado share a look through their masks, hesitation and uncertainty clear in every tense line of their bodies. He can already see the refusal coming. “Gama…,” Encantado says slowly, hints of exasperation audible. “I know you still like heroes and all, but don’t you think this is a little insane? He’s a hero, and we’re assassins. He’s not gonna help us.”

But Gamayun isn’t so easily dissuaded. “Any means necessary, remember?” He reminds them of words spoken only a few nights ago. “”Get out by any means necessary.” We don’t have any other options, and he’s right there. We have to try.”

A glance down show that the hero in question has wandered further down the alley, footsteps cautious and quiet to listen for them. He must have heard their shouting or his phone alarm from the street and come to investigate. On impulse, Gamayun reaches into his pocket and pulls out one of his tiny noise makers, tossing it towards the other end of the alleyway. The hero below reacts to the small pop it makes by quickening his steps, now more interested in pursuing the sound than he might have been in leaving.

Encantado yanks him away from the ledge by the back of his jacket. “What are you doing?! Are you trying to give away our position?”

“Even if we do decide to go to him, Gama, if we’re not careful or if we took it too fast, he’d think we’re hostile and attack us,” Yakshini says, always trying to be a voice of reason where she thinks there isn’t any. There’s a hint, however, of something in her voice. Something that makes him sure she’s thinking about this from every possible angle.

“‘Shini, you can’t be serious,” Encantado says, hearing the lack of any concise no in Yakshini’s words and not releasing Gamayun for an instant. “You’re not seriously thinking that this is an option. He’s a hero!”

“With a high record of rescues, not just arrests,” Gamayun supplies helpfully. “It’s in the news all the time. He’ll listen if we do this right.”

“And if we do this wrong?” Encantado counters, standing to his full height even as he drags Gamayun a few more steps away from the ledge.

“The worst that could happen would be us being arrested and jailed for the foreseeable future, but… Gama’s not wrong. Epitaph won’t be able to touch us while we’re under his protection or custody, and we can always find ways to escape afterwards if necessary. Maybe try and find Hecah, if we can. Maybe we should try this,” Yashini says.

Encantado just stands there, silently looking back and forth between them. Gamayun can feel his confusion and exasperated frustration and feels his heart grow heavy with a sympathy.

Out of all of them, Encantado has had his image of heroes shattered the worst. When no one came to save them, Encantado and Hecatoncheir grew bitter and resentful where Gamayun, Changeling and Yakshini had only grown jaded and disillusioned, and Phantom hadn’t had a stable enough home life to have a high opinion of heroes anyway. That discontent just made Epitpah’s lessons sink in all the more firmly. Out of all of them, Encantado was the one who believed the most strongly that they didn’t have much of a place in the world outside of Epitpah’s control, even as he chafed at their chains. Even if he disagrees, between Encantado’s training with his brainwashing quirk and everything else that’s happened to them since Epitaph acquired them, Gamayun can understand why he thinks that way.

It’s easy, natural, to take Encantado’s hands into his own and simply hold them. Physical touch has always come easy to them, a comfort and reassurance that they were still here, still alive, and that they were still together. Encantado has always responded well to having his hands and wrists touched, even when the scars on his hands are being rubbed. Gamayun makes sure to deepen and even his breathing. Already, the tension in Encantado’s shoulders is dropping.

He schools his tone into something even, firm, and without judgement. If they were going to do this, then it would be all of them, or none of them. None of them would be left behind again.

“I know you don’t trust heroes,” Gamayun beings soothingly, staring at where he thinks Encantado’s eyes are. He can’t see them through the one-way masks, but he knows the effects of eye contact, even perceived contact, thanks to Ozaki’s tutelage. “That’s alright. You don’t have to trust heroes. All I’m asking you to do is trust me. Right now, I think we have our chance, and if we don’t take it soon, it’s going to slip away forever. Can you trust me when I say that I think we can do this?”

There’s a pause, Encantado still frozen with hesitation. A moment ticks by, and another, and uncertainty and the urge to panic begins to set in. Gamayun would never think to leave the other Suzumebachi behind, especially not after what Hecatoncheir did, but desperate hope is pulling him towards the alley below, more aware with every passing second that their escape could leave at any moment, and there would be little they could do about it. Sakura was expecting the info within the next half an hour. If they don’t get it to him within that time period, he’d alert Senri, or worse, Alkaid, of their failure to comply with their orders. They don’t have time to be chasing heroes across a city they were only passingly familiar with. It was now, or never.

Yakshini presses up against Encatado’s side and leans her head onto his shoulder, a comfort and steadying presence even as she remained quiet. She and Gamayun had already made their decisions, but if it wasn’t unanimous, then it wouldn’t happen.

A soft breath, and then Encantado lets out a quiet, “Okay.”

Relief unfurls the tension in his chest, leaving him lightheaded. Gamayun squeezes Encantado’s hands in gratitude. His head droops forward to rest on Encantado’s free shoulder. “Thank you,” he whispers, and makes sure to pack it with as much grateful relief as he possibly can.

The three of them whisper a slapdash plan and race to get in position. Yakshini is right - if they take this too fast or if they don’t say the right things, they’ll be attacked in an instant. Gamayun is under no delusions that any of them would be able to escape, with or without injuries. He would prefer it if this went well, but if it didn’t… Well… At least they’d finally be out of Epitaph’s grasp, one way or another. They’ll just have to try their best not to let it escalate into a brawl.

Down below, All Might scans the alleyway, dressed in his hero costume, a strong silhouette contrasting the featureless, murky darkness. Gamayun had spent the first six years of his life following All Might’s career, and he’s done what he can get away with to catch up in the last two. He knows what All Might’s professional persona is supposed to be like - he just hopes some of that extends into when All Might isn’t on camera.

They only have one shot at this. Gamayun hopes that their best will be enough.

Chapter Text

When Toshinori woke up that morning, he expected the day to go just like any other. And by and large, that is exactly what happened. He got out of bed with the tang of copper on his tongue, his joints aching faintly with decades old injuries, dressed for the day and packed his hero costume away in a bag that he tossed in his beat up old truck for his later patrol. He grabbed two of his pre-made nutritional shakes out of his refrigerator and was out the door.

His old friend Naomasa had called around noon to invite him to lunch, citing a slow day at the office and a need to get away for a little while. They had gone to an eatery Toshinori remembered from his days as a Yuuei trainee. The coffee there tasted just the same as it had when days were brighter and had less of a tendency to run into the next without end.

The owner was still the same old person, if aged a decade or two, and it had been some time since Toshinori had been able to just sit down and talk with friends. Toshinori had asked about how Naomasa’s sister was doing in her college courses and even laughed in a way that didn’t feel as forced as it normally did when all Naomasa could do was bemoan his sister’s ever-persistent curiosity, even as he praised her determination and studiousness. It had been… pleasant.

Time passed and the conversation naturally drifted to Naomasa’s job. There hadn’t been as much crime in Musutafu in the last few day. Naomasa seemed at once grateful and suspicious of the peace, but Toshinori wasn’t worried. He had toured all around Japan and noticed the trend in the cities he visited. The first few days that All Might was in town always tended to feature a dip in criminal activity, villains and lowlifes scared to attract the attention of the famous Number One hero. He would just have to watch to make sure that the peace didn’t give way to an explosion of crime soon.

According to Naomasa, however, that was not what was truly worrying. It seemed that there was another string of murders a few towns over, the killer’s MOs matching that of the mysterious serial killer group known as the Suzumebachi.

Toshinori knew of them, of course; a group of individuals - reports varying on the amount, some saying as many as 5, some as few as 3 - who’s targets shared little in common and who members almost always seemed to vanish without a trace. No one knows how they choose their targets; quite a number of them were involved in politics, civilians and heroes alike, while others were simple small time villains that had little more on their records than petty crimes. A murder of an innocent family some four months back that was linked to them as well. Some have suggested that the Suzumebachi are a hitman agency while others say they are a group of villains out to make for themselves as big a name as possible.

The problem is that there aren’t enough clues to piece together the puzzle. No one knows their true names and no one has ever seen their faces. The few times the Suzumebachi had been caught on camera, they were always wearing blank, featureless masks in red, black, white, blue and yellow. They didn’t even have an official name until someone in another district started calling them that.

There were only a few things linking a murder to the Suzumebachi and all of them were indicative that 143 deaths were not the work of just one or two people. If some of these MOs hadn’t overlapped at the same crime scene, then it may never have come to light that this wasn’t a case of multiple independent villains sharing the same hunting grounds.

Murders framed as sudden suicides, likely the cause of a mental tampering quirk. A littering of murder weapons and tools at the scene of a crime, murder weapons being found where they shouldn’t have been, and none of them bearing a hint of usable DNA. A white sheet reminiscent of a burial shroud over a victim’s body. There used to be victims riddled with holes made from small objects piecing them at high speeds and victims with knife wounds so neat that it was clear there had been no struggle. The later abruptly vanished ten months ago while the former did the same some months later. No one was sure what that meant.

Naomasa had to return to his office eventually, however; not even the savory sweetness of old Shiomi’s pastries able to keep him away from his work. He thanked Toshinori for the opportunity to get out of the office and left with a promise to meet up again another time. That left Toshinori to drive around Musutafu, both to refamiliarize himself with the places from his memories and to plan out his patrol route for later.

Toshinori had learned fairly quickly during the adjustment period to his new reality that he needed to keep a change of clothing on hand to cover up his costume when his time ran out. In the last year or so, with his time limit shrinking into the single digits and shrinking further still, he learned that it was better to just leave the house in civilian clothing to start with and have his costume on hand. It was a simple matter to change into the outfit before his patrol that evening.

While All Might was normally seen patrolling during the day, Toshinori figures he may as well try and keep this quiet period going for as long as possible. If nothing else, he may as well take some of the workload off Naomasa and the rest of the police force hard at work.

Of course, now Toshinori finds himself wandering down a dark alley between a bakery and a Konbini, having entered from the ground to chase the sound of an argument, a ringing phone and a small bang. He isn’t entirely sure if there is anything criminal going on. In fact, he would have left the speakers to settle their matters privately after a quick peek, if not for the sound of something going off further down the alley.

There is darkness pressing in on him, a familiar murk that reminds Toshinori of why he prefers his patrols to be in daylight. The darkness has long since ceased to threaten him, even in his weakened state, but there is no telling what secrets hide in the gloom, what dangers watch from the shadows just out of sight. Dreary and disturbing, making the hairs on the back of his neck raise.

Anyone can go anywhere with quick, sure feet and the dark of the night surrounding them, and you would never know it until they were right upon you. He’ll have to be quick about this. Toshinori can already taste the blood in the back of his throat.

It’s eerily silent, now. The argument has ceased and there is no sign of movement in the shadows. Anyone here must be gone or they know that Toshinori is here. Just to be safe, Toshinori retrieves a small flashlight from the belt around his waist and shines it along the alley’s walls and around the corners. There are no blood splatters or bodies, which alleviates his worst fears. No, there is only the usual trash, fliers and graffiti found in most big-city alleyways, though Toshinori does find a particularly well-made mural of a short, stylish orange-haired man in the passage behind the bakery.

There is only one thing that stands out in the entire alley, and Toshinori only finds it because he happens to look down.

A tiny, broken pouch of twisted paper and gravel. Toshinori kneels to pick it up, inspects it and catches the faintest whiff of smoke. It reminds him of the bang snaps he found during his trip to the United States around their 4th of July celebration some years back.

Could this be the source of the noise he heard? If so, who threw it and why?

Someone knows that he is here. Either they don’t want to be caught, or someone is luring him somewhere quiet and out of the way. Perhaps there is criminal activity going on after all.

A flicker of movement in the blackness outside of his flashlight’s range and a thud of something hitting the ground sounds in front of him. Toshinori barely has time to curse the foolishness of letting the light take away his dark vision before another two thuds sound behind him as well.

Surrounded in a dark alley with no back up and no one knowing where he is. So this really is a trap.

Toshinori isn’t worried. If he’s kept track of his limits correctly, he still has a little bit before his time runs out. That’s more than enough time to take out three careless attackers.

Toshinori turns his light off and puts it away in his pocket, allowing the broken snap-bang to fall to the ground as he stands. He tries to force his eyes to see through the darkness. His would-be attackers are either sloppy or they don’t care if he knows they are here given how loudly they hit the ground. They must have been on the rooftops for him not to have seen them. None of them have moved since they entered the alley, and it would be foolish of them to assume he doesn’t already know where they are.

“All Might,” the one in front of him greets in a careful tone, voice strangely muffled and features indistinguishable from the darkness. His eyes need to hurry up and adjust already. The one in front is strangely short. A quick glance over his shoulder reveals that the other two are only a little bit taller, skins pale and red respectively. Both of them have their hands hidden in pockets or sleeves while the one in front stands more neutrally. Teenagers, perhaps? Their parents will be so disappointed if he has to bring them into the station.

One would think Toshinori’s cheeks would be used to smiling so much by now. “Good evening!” He greets them with a nod. There’s been no attack yet. He’d like to keep it that way, if he can. “What are you three doing out here this late? It might be the weekend, but you should still be getting some sleep, don’t you think?”

One of the two behind him lets out a quiet snort and mutters something under their breath. Toshinori thinks he hears a muffled “... sleep when… dead.” Well, if that’s not mildly concerning…

“We... were hoping to ask you something,” says the one in front, who is sounding more and more like the mouthpiece of the three.

“Oh?” Toshinori replies, large arms crossing in over his chest. “If there is something wrong, I’ll be happy to-”

Helpful words, a habit and a genuine offer, lodge themselves and die in his throat. Toshinori’s eyes have adjusted enough to the dark to see properly, and it finally registers that the face he has been staring at for the last few minutes is not actually a face, but a featureless black mask.

Suzumebachi.

The situation just became a bit more dangerous. Toshinori’s heart thuds in his chest and a pit of apprehension sinks where his stomach used to be. All the currently available information indicted that at least one of the Suzumebachi has a mind-altering quirk, while the other two are more or less unknown. Both the surplus of weapons and tools at some crime scenes and the sudden appearance of weapons where it shouldn’t have been possible to for them to go without being noticed at others were explained away as a matter-generation quirk. The victims covered in shrouds all died in so many variable ways that no one was even sure if a quirk was involved.

Toshinori doesn’t know why they are targeting him, but he won’t let them take him down that easily. He still has a successor to find. Now wasn’t the day for the Symbol of Peace to die.

“Are you here to kill me, Suzumebachi?” Toshinori’s question is asked quietly, a low, thunderous rumble that adds a hint of danger to his words.

The Suzumebachi are still and silent for a long moment.

“No,” the third reassures from Toshinori’s left, and even the vocal obscurity of the mask’s interference can’t disguise how tired they sound.

“It’s like he said,” says one of the killers behind him, the one on his right. Their voice is soft and feminine, even through the interference of their mask. “We’re here to talk. We don’t wish to start a fight.”

“I see,” Toshinori looks over his shoulder, making note of the white mask on the tallest killer, the slouch of his shoulders unable to disguise the fact that he would barely be able to reach up to Toshinori’s pecs standing up straight. The one in the red mask wears a thicker jacket than their compatriots, a strange sight for the season’s heat. “I’ll play along. What do villains such as yourselves need with me?”

The question is meant to be a little mocking, a little intimidating. It wouldn’t be the first time villains decided to play mind games with Toshinori. They usually do it when they thought there were in a position of power over him, though.

The black-masked Suzumebachi reaches up slowly, arms moving in such a telegraphed way that Toshinori is almost convinced that the killers mean what they say about not wanting to fight.

Bare fingers grasped the edge of the featureless mask, shaking visibly even in the darkness. The mask is pushed up, and Toshinori feels a chill run down his spine as a face, a child’s face, no older than thirteen or fourteen, is revealed beneath. Toshinori scans the boy’s features intently, taking in the freckles along his cheeks, thick dark green hair buzzed short around the side of his head, the faint roundness of baby fat still on his cheeks and jaw, the dark bags under dull green eyes.

Toshinori has seen eyes like that before, sunken in the faces of victims who lost everything to villain attacks. People who lost homes, futures, loved ones, their bodies and even their own minds to the evil actions of another. It is the very same look that Toshinori had dedicated his mind, body and soul, every day of his life until his inevitable end to abolishing from as many people as possible.

Whipping around, Toshinori looks first to the one in the white mask, dread heavy in his chest. There’s a long pause where they do nothing. Toshinori can’t help but flip his gaze back and forth between them and the boy behind him, still reeling in disbelief and not quite sure if what he’s seeing is real. It’s only after he catches a glimpse of the green-haired boy nodding to the white-masked Suzumebachi that they finally reach up and pull off the mask, knocking their- his hood off in the process.

Another boy, another child, watches Toshinori with a carefully blank expression, skin an unhealthy pale that speaks of little time in the sun, purple hair trying to be stick up wildly even as it falls past the boy’s shoulders, bags deeper and darker than the previous boy’s under his exhausted purple eyes.

Toshinori turns to the red-masked Suzumebachi, and they obligingly lifts the mask from their- her face. Yet another child, this one worse off than the other two. Where the second boy was concerningly pale, she is sickly white, her face painfully thin and her dull, broken dark eyes sunken into her head. It’s a disturbing parallel of what Toshinori has to look at in the mirror every day and he aches with the knowledge that this girl looks like this and probably isn’t any older than the boys. Her dark hair is pulled back in a short ponytail, and the look reminds him of someone, but it’s hard to think around the bloody bile that wants to raise into his throat.

They’re children. Members of the most infamous serial killer group in half a century, murderers so good at their jobs no one has been able to get a single lead since the case was opened four years ago, the murderers of almost 150 people, are children.

Suddenly, the disappearance of the blue and yellow-masked Suzumebachi almost made sense. If the Suzumebachi are all this young, then perhaps the missing two…

It’s train of thought he never dreamed he would think, and he almost can’t contain the rush of blood and bile this time when he thinks about its implications. Toshinori banishes it quickly and instead focuses on the boy who spoke first.

He opens his mouth only when he is certain something useful will tumble out. “... Your question?”

The boy glances to the other two Suzumebachi before refocusing on Toshinori. He steps forward, certain but cautious of it, every line of his body in a neutral stance a shift away from being ready to bolt. He takes a deep breath. “We came here to ask if… Will-would you… I mean... gah…”

“Calm down,” Toshinori soothes when he sees the boy grimace, frustration in his eyes. “Think about the words you want to say. I’m listening. In fact… perhaps this talk would be best had in a more open manner. What say we all talk face to face, hmm?”

The girl and the green-haired boy jolt, blushing and lowering their heads sheepishly. The first boy flicks his head and the girl steps gingerly around Toshinori to join him. The purple-haired boy, on the other hand, glares at him, refusing to move from his spot.

“You won’t attack us?” The boy’s hands are still in his pockets. Toshinori has no doubt that he’s keeping weapons in there.

“Not unless you attack me first,” Toshinori replies, arms crossing back over his chest. “You’ve lead me to believe that this is intended to be a friendly meeting. I intend that as well. I promise, I will listen to what you have to say.”

“It’s okay, En,” the green-haired boy says, and when “En” finally joins them to stand in front of Toshinori, he does so leaving so wide a gap between himself and Toshinori that he almost slides across the alley wall.

The green-haired boy’s eyes widen. “Oh!” He says. “We should probably introduce ourselves. I’m Gamayun. This is-”

“Yakshini.” The girl introduces herself with a polite nod.

“And this is…” Gamayun waits, but the purple-haired boy refuses to speak. “... Encantado.”

Obviously code names, but Toshinori will take it. “A pleasure,” he says, more out of politeness than any real pleasure. “I suppose you know who I am-”

“You’re All Might,” Gamayun cuts in, eyes a little bit brighter with something almost like a sparkle. “The current Number One hero, with just as many civilian rescues as you do villain arrests. Your debut was a rescue of almost 100 people.”

“That’s right,” Toshinori confirms with a smile that feels a little more awkward and a little more real. It’s not very often that he gets to meet criminals who are also fans of his. “Most people tend to focus on my battle records than my rescues, however.”

Gamayun shares a glance with Yakshini and Encantado before taking another deep breath, hands moving behind his back, legs spread shoulder width apart in a stance the other two mirror. “It ties in with the reason why we’re talking with you, actually… We want to know if… if you can help us.”

Toshinori tilts his head. “Help you?”

Gamayun nods, his body language growing strangely tense. Yakshini looks to one end of the alley while Encantado scans the other before they both check the roofs above and turn back to Toshinori. “Yeah. You see… we’re… not assassins by choice.”

Another chill races down his spine. Toshinori allows his smile to fade into something more comforting. “You three aren’t being forced into this by family, are you?” As unfortunate as it is, a good chunk of Japan’s criminal population ended up becoming criminals simply because of the social stigma of being related to another criminal. Sometimes, children will be born simply for the task of continuing a parent’s villainous legacy. Many heroes do what they can to help these children find better homes and better lives, but unless the criminal parent or parents have a record, then there was little anyone could do to remove them from the situation without good proof.

Yakshini shakes her head. The thickness of her jacket in the seasonal heat makes sense as he tries not to stare at the thinness of her jaw and the sharpness of her cheekbones. “They took us when we were young.”

“They?” Toshinori asks.

“Epitaph.” It is the sullen and quiet Encantado that replies, voice quiet as if he’s afraid of being overheard. “We didn’t want this, but they took us anyway and make us into this. We waited, but no one came for us.”

“There used to be more of us,” Yakshini’s hands twist behind her back, her body giving a minute shiver that has the other Suzumebachi watching her. “Two of them are… gone, now. And our eldest, Hecatoncheir, disappeared four months ago, but we haven’t seen or heard from her since. We know she’s not dead. We would have heard if she was.”

Lips twisting into a scowl, Encantado snorts derisively. “She abandoned us.”

“En…” Gamayun says pleadingly, and Encantado goes silent.

Yakshini sighs and her hands stop fidgeting so obviously. “Anyway, that’s what we wanted to ask you. Will you help us escape Epitaph? We still don’t know how Changeling’s escape was detected, and their leader and her executives are too strong for us to take on by ourselves. We don’t have any other options. We don’t want to lie, steal and kill for them anymore. We…” There’s a pause as Yakshini takes in a breath, blinking often to hide the faint wetness of her eyes “We want to go home.”

“Or,” Encantado’s tone is something snide and bitter and wounded, “are you going to leave us for dead, too?”

Toshinori leans back on his heels and considers the three of them. Gamayun is looking up at him with an expression that speaks of hope to disguise the desperation screaming in his eyes. Yakshini’s body and gaze are unnervingly still as she waits for his verdict. What horrors have these children gone through? How many hardships have they been forced bear that Encantado would watch Toshinori’s every move, waiting for an attack that would never come, expecting that someone would leave them to such horrible and cruel fates after hearing an honest plea for help? What training have they gone through that three young teenagers would almost instinctively assume a pose that reminds him of military personnel?

How many losses have they been forced to endure that they stand so close together, a single movement causing them to brush up against one another?

The decision isn’t hard to make. Toshinori nods and gives them the same smile he reserves for his actual job, when he’s not dealing with the press and paparazzi.

“First of all, I would like to thank you, young Encantado, Gamayun, Yakshini,” he says genuinely, hands resting closed on his hip. They look at him, confusion plain as they try to parse out his statement.

“Thank you, truly, for having the strength and courage to come forward with your story. It is shameful to the roles of heroes and law enforcement that you and your friends were forced to sit, waiting helplessly in captivity for someone who would never come.”

(Encantado’s gaze snaps away, brow drawn sharply down in a deep frown, purple eyes narrowed.)

“I have heard your story, and I commend you for making it as far as you have in spite of everything you had stolen from you. It is clear to me that, despite everything you’ve endured, you three have managed to keep parts of yourselves that your captors could never pry from your grasp. You still have your memories, the power of your words and the strength of your wills.”

(Yakshini no longer bothers trying to hide the wetness of her eyes, the shaking of her hands renewed and exacerbated.)

“I have decided!” Toshinori stands tall before them in darkness that does not seem so murky anymore. “You reached out to me in an attempt to escape your imprisonment, so that is what I shall help you do. I promise you, as long as I draw breath, Epitaph will never lay a finger on you again. Why?”

(Gamayun looks at him, eyes wide enough to almost fall out of his skull, the screaming desperation he once hid now quieted and transformed into relief and excitement and a hope so genuine Toshinori can scarcely stand to look at it.

Instead, Toshinori smiles wider, paying no attention to the taste of blood in his throat or the pain in his side, and hopes that the fear and pain in these children’s hearts was banished even for a moment.)

“Because I am he-”

With a puff of white-ish steam and fierce stab of pain that causes him to choke on the blood suddenly in his throat, Toshinori finds his costume only held to his body by the zippers holding it shut. Aching weakness seeps into his limbs and his side is trying to drag him to the nearest wall so that he can finally get off his feet to ride out the rest of the pain. He got so caught up in the moment that he forgot to keep track of his time, and of course his body gives out at the worst possible moment...

The utterly confused looks on Gamayun, Yakshini and Encantado’s faces would have been hilarious in any other circumstance. Looks like Toshinori will have to run some quick damage control if he doesn’t want them running off before he has a chance to say anything.


Damage control ran about as well as could be expected, given the circumstances. Seeing the Number One hero suddenly deflate into a tall skeleton of a man had been shocking enough to break the children from their militaristic poses. Gamayun in particular appeared crushed and heartbroken, like Toshinori had taken his only toy and Smashed it into and through a wall. Encantado seemed closer to bleeding him dry than listening to another word he said, and poor Yakshini had to pull double duty to comfort Gamayun and hold Encantado back from doing more than spit a few... choice insults. Where did he learn that kind of language?!

Gamayun eventually asks about the blood he sees dripping from Toshinori’s lips, interrupting his third apology. The boy gives Yakshini’s hand a squeeze and moved to assist her in calming down their fellow Suzumebachi while Toshinori does his best to give a cliffnotes version of that battle five years ago without giving anything away. They grab Encantado’s hands as he tells them of the wound in his side and the surgeries that removed his stomach and many other internal organs, leading to his skeletal appearance and his work as a hero being limited to just a measly three hours a day.

Encantado won’t stop glaring at him, not until Gamayun gives an understanding smile that can’t disguise the strain in his eyes, “Occupational hazards, we get it. We’re all still in. Right, Yakshini?”

An uncomfortably long pause, then a quick peek at a phone pulled from a pocket Toshinori isn’t entirely sure existed until that second. “We need to be quick. Sakura’s expecting that info in less than twenty minutes. If we’re escaping, it needs to be now.”

Gamayun nods. “We’ll hurry, right, En?”

Another uncomfortable pause, longer than the first, long enough that Gamayun feels the need to nudge his companion. Encantado lets out a grunt and glances away again. “No more tricks and false promises.”

“Young Encantado.”

Toshinori stands as tall as he is able and waits until purple eyes are focused on him again. “I told you that I would lay down my life before I left Epitaph touch you again, and I meant it. Regardless of my form or my health, I am a hero, and a hero always does their best to protect those they have sworn their lives to guard.”

Encantado stares at him, eyes sharp and discerning, trying to pick apart any lie in Toshinori’s words, tone and body language. He abruptly looks off to the side, face once more carefully blank. “Fine.”

Their cooperation assured, Toshinori begins the arduous task of remembering where he parked his truck in a city he hasn’t been in for almost a decade. He thinks it’s in the new parking garage across from the old ramen joint he used to visit back in his school days. In the meantime, he has some calls to make. If the surviving Suzumebachi are to remain free and be reunited with their families, Toshinori is going to need some help.


When they find it, the children take one look at his old, three-seater at best pick-up truck, glance between each other, and ask if Toshinori wants any of them to drive.

“You all know how to drive?!”

“Yes…?”

Someone help him.

Chapter Text

The air inside All Might’s truck is thick and stuffy, four bodies crammed into a space that could have held three at best. Someone had cracked open a window at some point, but not far enough to relieve the heat that makes their skin sticky with sweat beneath their clothes.

Yakshini sits on the floor of the truck between Encantado’s legs, thin arms wrapped around her long legs so that she can fit more easily under the dash, back resting as comfortably she can get it against his seat. Encantado uses his legs to frame her shoulders and hips, making sure that any turns they make don’t cause her to slide around. Gamayun is situated between Encantado and All Might, probably to help keep his temper in check, and that’s just fine with him.

All Might mans the wheel, bony fingers drumming annoyingly on the fake leather to the tune of some song on the radio. He insisted on driving, the only one with a valid license. Last Encantado counted they’d been on the road for 13 minutes. To be frank, Gamayun could have gotten them wherever they were going faster, though his recklessness could have attracted the cops. He himself has a damn good performance record according to his trainer, and Yakshini knows every rule of the road, but they both look just young enough that anyone looking through the untinted windows of the truck might get ideas. Of course, one of them driving would have meant All Might and Encantado would be within touching distance due to his tall stature, and…

That’s not really something he can stand right now. Not with his fingers still itching to wrap around a knife, to flick his wrist, reach over towards the nearest artery and…

Well, Gamayun would be sad if he did that. He’s made Gamayun sad enough, tonight.

As it stands, there’s little he can do right now except wait. All Might made some calls on the way to the car, and by the sounds of it, they are headed somewhere private to have some kind of meeting. Probably with a cop to discuss their arrests. Maybe he managed to pull a string or two - one of the calls definitely sounded like a deal being made - and they’d get someone less enthusiastic about that part of their job. Someone willing to listen to them.

Gamayun and Yakshini might have hope of this escape plan turning out well, even after the so-called Number One pulled the wool over their eyes, but Encantado doesn’t think so. Things never go this easily, not for them. There’s always a catch, and, try as he might not to be a little bitter about it, Encantado knows it’s one of the few lessons they were spared from learning with the rest of the Suzumebachi.

Encantado stares out the side window, blankly following the blur of the street lights as they make their way deeper into Musutafu. His cheek throbs dully from the bumps in the road driving his propping fist into his cheekbone. The knife wound on his right arm still hurts despite being three days old, the serrated edge that caused it having driven deep into muscle. He’s lucky Epitaph’s medics were able to prevent permanent damage, otherwise Hirotsu might have been short an apprentice.

Gamayun clears his throat. “So, um… All Might?” Encantado can hear the nervousness. He can see Yakshini turn her head to look out of the corner of his eye. All Might hums in acknowledgement. “Where are going?”

“Ah, well. You’ve told me before that this Epitaph has plants in law enforcement all over the country,” All Might says, and Encantado puts on his best poker face to keep from sneering. “We don’t know if Musutafu hasn’t been infiltrated yet, and with our window of opportunity closing fast I’m not willing to risk stirring the hornet’s nest just yet. Err, no pun intended. I’ve contacted a detective who I can vouch for to meet us at Yuuei High School.”

Yakshini jolts against his leg, her weight pressing into him as they turn a corner and distracting him from the sudden tension in his body. “Japan’s most famous hero school? Why there?” Gamayun grabs his free hand.

“The principal, Nedzu, has been begging me to come teach there for years now. One of the calls I made was to him. Forgive me for not asking for your input first, but I’ve negotiated for the use of an office in return for teaching for one year. That way, anyone sent after you won’t be able to find you easily.”

“It’s fine! Really,” Gamayun reassures. Encantado knows him well, however, and he can tell that the pitch he uses isn’t just trying to hide nerves. “Yuuei is touted as one of the most secure facilities in the country. I’d be surprised if even Epitaph’s infiltration specialist could get close before being detected. Just… What should we expect?”

“You’ll be in good hands, if that’s what you’re worried about,” All Might replies soothingly. It takes a greater amount of effort to restrain his frown than Encantado anticipated. “The detective, Tsukauchi, is a good friend of mine. He’ll want to confirm your identities as well as ask about any information you have on Epitaph. Nedzu wants to sit in as well, given that this is his school, and he’s a hero like me, though he has reserved the right to call one of his staff to moderate the meeting as well. I don’t know who he’ll be calling in, unfortunately.”

He even sounds contrite about it, like the Number One hero actually cares about a few murderers and thieves about to get locked up for what might be the rest of their lives. What else was going to happen to them? Why hadn’t Encantado just pushed Gamayun harder to get the Endeavor job done?

(you’ve hurt him enough tonight he’s done so much for you and you want to take this from him too this is your chance and you wanted to run back to them you’re holding them back they’re betteroffwithoutyou-)

Encantado lowers the fist his cheek is propped on and allows his shoulder to take his weight against the door. They’ve stopped at a light and there’s a closed down flower stand with blue roses painted on the sign across the road. “You’re sure these people are safe?”

“I wouldn’t have contacted them if I wasn’t.”

The urge was there, the urge to use that reply against him. To take control, just for a second. Just a single moment and make All Might lean forward. Just… smash that lying mouth of his into the steering wheel and-

Yakshini leans back into him, her arms wrapping around his legs and hands landing near his knees. The weight brings him back from the visions of bloody, screaming mouths and blank eyes. A sick feeling rises in his stomach as he realizes that the images in his head aren’t of All Might, but the woman Hirotsu had him help interrogate last night. Sobbing screams as she lost teeth one by one echo in his head and he is torn between wanting to shake off their touch and squeezing Gamayun’s hand.

Gamayun, sensing his mood, squeezes first. His body finishes deciding that the touch of skin on his own is grounding. He doesn’t know why them touching his hands is so reassuring, but its been that way since Hirotsu took him on as an apprentice four years ago.

All Might continues on, completely oblivious to the danger to his own life slowly passing not five feet away. “Once everything’s settled, we’ll see what we can do to get you three reunited with your families.”

“Ou-our families?” Yakshini twists to face All Might more directly. Even, Encantado can’t keep up the pretense of not paying much attention anymore. He can’t see Gamayun’s expression from this angle, but his shoulders are around his ears. It feels like his tired eyes are going to fall out of his skull with how wide they are. The sick feeling in his gut is doubled and, for the first time in years, he thinks about the scar on the heel of his right foot.

All Might nods cluelessly. “Yes. While it is true that the Suzumebachi are notorious villains, you three are also victims of child kidnapping and human trafficking. It’s standard procedure to set about reuniting the victims with family members as soon as possible, especially with underage minors such as yourselves.”

Encantado locks eyes with Yakshini and Gamayun, who also glance at each other. They mirror his apprehension, wide eyes and bloodless faces, and lean in close to him as the closest Suzumebachi to them. How are they going to find their families if they can’t even remember their own names?

He keeps his grip on Gamayun’s hand tight and brackets Yakshini more firmly with his legs and feet. His free hand wants to wrap around the switchblade in his pants pocket, like it will actually do anything to spare them from the passing of time. Besides…

Who was going to want to be the family of a murderer?


Pulling into the private parking lot behind Yuuei’s main building, before they even get out of the car, it’s an unspoken, unanimous decision to put their masks back on. All Might calls it unnecessary, but Encantado somehow manages to feel safer with the anonymity. He tells himself that it will be better for them if they can keep their faces hidden for as long as possible.

Yuuei is much larger than he thought it was. He’s never bothered to look into things concerning heroes beyond what he needed to know to gain the upper hand during a job, but even he’s heard of Yuuei. The famous school that trained the most successful heroes. Every time he heard that name, he always thought of the three to five-story buildings you found even in the inner cities, with off-white walls and widely spaced windows. He hadn’t expected a weirdly-shaped high-rise with multiple areas gated off behind it. Just how many people apply here every year and just how much money does this place have to toss around?

He makes note of the security gate they pass through that closes with a clang behind them. The walls are a good 12 feet high and look smooth even in the rapidly growing distance, which makes them difficult to scale. Gamayun has the sense to make note of them too and signs the details to Yakshini.

Encantado follows All Might through a back entrance, tense, nerves prickling and body ready to move at a moments notice. He reminds himself that his switchblade is within easy reach and that no one here besides Gamayun and Yakshini knows the true nature of his quirk. He has the second highest kill count of heroes among the Suzumebachi, second only to Hecatoncheir. Gamayun is only a few paces in front of him and Yakshini brings up the rear close behind. If anyone tries anything, they’d be ready for it.

Speaking of which...

All Might looks around for a moment, completely missing the shadow eyeing them in the corner of the lit room right behind them. “Now, which way to get to the principal’s office again…?”

The shadow catches him watching, frowning at them with bloodshot eyes. “No need,” he say, long limbs folded around each other under a dark outfit that would camouflage well in the alleys and backstreets, a messy wrap of what look like bandages hanging around his shoulders. A mass of dark hair hangs limply in his face, fly-away strands speaking of wind and sweat.

Both All Might and Gamayun twitch. All Might’s entire body jerking around in fright, hand flying to his mouth as he coughs, while the only part of Gamayun that visibly moves is his fingers, curling slightly in an aborted reach for the phone in his pocket. Behind him, Encantado hears Yakshini let out a quiet gasp.

“Eraserhead,” she says quietly, voice little more than a breath so as to not carry. “Underground hero, real name Aizawa Shouta. Can erase the effects of other quirks as long as he maintains eye contact. Sakura has him as marked as kill on sight.”

Encantado frowns behind his mask. “Does Gama know?”

“Probably heard of him. Eraserhead avoids attention. His image isn’t common.”

Eraserhead continues frowning at them, the bags under his eyes big enough to rival Encantado’s. All Might fumbles, his hero suit still hanging like an oversized blanket after the urgency of the situation convinced him to leave it on rather than change. “Umm, hello! We’re here to see Principal-”

“If you honestly think I’m letting you waste our time because you somehow managed to get duped by three teenagers in cheap masks,” Eraserhead cuts in, monotone voice harsh and scolding enough to make the current Number One flinch, “then you’re in for a rude awakening. One would think the Number One hero would know better than to be taken in like this.”

All Might sputters, his shadowed eyes wide at the accusation. “Wait a second-”

“One would think an underground hero would know better than to judge a book by its cover, Eraserhead.” Encantado places his hands in his pockets, wiggling his wrist discreetly to loosen the small knife hidden in his sleeve. His feet shift slightly and his knees unlock. Gamayun, who turned his head enough to glance back at Encantado, shifts into a ready position. He can’t see her, but Encantado knows Yakshini has done the same.

Their caution isn’t for nothing. Eraserhead seems to take exception to the mocking remark, either its tone or its implications. His dark eyes flicker glowing red as his focuses on Encantado, and the bandage-like wrapping around his shoulder starts moving as if possessed. He grasps them and, with a flick of Eraserhead’s wrist, the wrappings fly towards Encantado. All Might shouts out a word of protest, but he ignores the liar and times a dodge to the left.

Encantado moves, and it’s as easy as breathing to slip behind Gamayun. Gamayun rushes in, causing red eyes to lock onto him, and aims a kick at Eraserhead’s chest. The kick is blocked, but it causes enough of a distraction that Encantado can move in using Gamayun’s body to block Eraserhead’s line of sight.

He reaches out and grabs the wrappings, trapping them, and attempts to yank the weapon away. Eraserhead’s grip is firm, however, as he attempts to block Gamayun’s follow-up punch, only to be forced to move around Yakshini’s fist as she makes a jab at his kidney.

Eraserhead jerks back as Encantado brings up his other hand, the knife hidden in his sleeve released to make a feint for his dark-clad chest, only to instantly fall still. Red eyes widen and chance a quick look to the side of his neck.

Yakshini’s other hand steadily holds a tanto to his throat, a blade which Encantado knows hadn’t existed until just then. There is a tiny bead of blood from where the knife touches the skin. Encantado knows from personal experience just how sharp Yakshini likes to make her blades. Eraserhead is lucky he hadn’t moved more.

When Gamayun doesn’t follow up, Encantado turns his head as far as he dares to see what he’s doing. The sight of Gamayun dangling from All Might’s fist, the hero currently in his muscular form despite the blood on his lip, causes Encantado to back off somewhat.

“Enough,” the Number One hero says, his voice an intimidating rumble. Gamayun attempts to curl up just a little at the tone, fear in every subtle hint of his body language. “You three told me that you wanted help in escaping from the villainous lives you’ve been forced to lead. This will not convince anyone of your sincerity. Was I wrong to place my trust in you?”

There’s a tense pause, a moment in which no one is sure of the situation, before Yakshini retreats and hides her new tanto in one of pants pockets, breathing out slowly as she takes a precisely four steps back. Encantado follows suit, his knife finding its home back in his sleeve. All Might looks at the three of them, nods, and lowers Gamayun to the ground before deflating with a puff of steam.

He coughs and dabs the blood on his lips with a handkerchief taken from a well-hidden pocket. “I’m sorry for the trouble,” All Might addresses Eraserhead, pulling out a second handkerchief and holding it out in offering. Encantado can’t help but feel a flicker of embarrassment that he kills quickly. Eraserhead attacked them first. “This wasn’t planned in any way, I assure you.”

Eraserhead waves a hand dismissively. “It’s fine. It allowed me to confirm their identities, after all.”

Gamayun makes a curious sound, his head tilting. Encantado can imagine his lips pursing in confusion as he tries to contain his questions.

A bottle of eyedrops is pulled out from one of the pouches on Eraserhead’s belt. “It is more than a bit unbelievable that the Suzumebachi serial killers are actually a bunch of teenagers. When you walked in through that door, I was almost sure this was a joke. Kids dress up as villains all the time, for better or worse. I wanted to make sure you are who you say you are.”

“You provoked us to see how we’d react?” Yakshini asks, her arms folding over his chest.

“That was the general idea,” Eraserhead confirms, dropping the medicine into his eyes one by one and blinking rapidly. He stores the bottle away in the pouch it came from before turning his stoic expression back to them. “Past this point, you won’t be allowed any weapons. Place them in the basket over by the door, and you,” he points to Yakshini, “that knife wasn’t on your person when you came at me. Don’t make any more. Take your masks off, too.”

Gamayun swallows quietly. “Is that a requirement as well?”

Encantado gives him a sharp glance and Yakshini elbows him in the arm. If there’s one thing that always got Gamayun in trouble, it was his run-away mouth...

Eraserhead barely blinks at the question, however, leaving Encantado uncertain of how he feels about the backtalk. “Not a requirement, no, but it may help future interactions if we can see your faces.”

The vast majority of Encantado would rather part with his entire right leg up to the hip than part with any of his arsenal or his mask. They’re all he has to realistically protect himself if he can’t access his quirk. His hand-to-hand skills are the weakest of the remaining Suzumebachi with both Hirotsu and Blessed focusing on training his brainwashing quirk.

Yakshini is the first to take off her mask, making the decision for him. Several knives, flashbangs, small scale explosives, a curved sewing needle of all things, and a multi-tool emerge from her pockets and make their way into the 3-foot tall square wire basket near a door opposite the teacher’s entrance. Her tanto appears briefly, and then she shrugs off her coat to unhook two currently empty gun holsters and a tsuba-less kodachi she probably made herself to place them in the basket as well. Yakshini hesitates for a moment before placing her mask in as well. Her pockets empty, she retreats to stand beside Encantado.

He sneakily retrieves a snack bar from his pocket and gives it to her. She starts eating it this time, thankfully, nibbling at the oatmeal treat before devouring it quickly. Good - that means that whatever Senri did this time is off her mind. She even starts on the one Gamayun gave her.

They watch as Gamayun discards his arsenal and mask as well, the higher-ups allowing him more weapons than either Yakshini or Encantado to compensate for his quirklessness when on big missions. Throwing knives, switchblades, several long knives hidden up his sleeves, more flashbangs and explosives, another multi-tool, a folded up batton, and Encantado raises an eyebrow behind his mask as a FN Five-seveN, its separated magazine and holster are lowered in as well. Senri has ultimate control of all their assigned weaponry both during and outside of jobs. Everything else, they had to rely on Yakshini to make it for them. How did Gamayun convince Senri to give him one of those? Or did Alkaid decide to interfere on behalf of her favorite again?

A hand suddenly grabs Gamayun’s elbow, levering so that Eraserhead can get a better look at the blood-stained above it. “Is this blood from someone else?” Eraserhead rotates the limb slowly to examine the stain at another angle. Gamayun’s expression goes carefully blank.

“No. It’s just a scratch,” Gamayun says. Eraserhead’s grip instantly loosens and he ceases to rotate the arm. “My handler didn’t like how much time I was taking doing a job earlier tonight. I changed jackets to hide it, but the wound got jostled.”

Familiar guilt sinks in Encantado’s stomach. He regrets being so rough with Gamayun earlier, but what’s done is done. He sees Eraserhead look Gamayun dead in the eye. “Did you kill someone tonight?” The hero’s tone is still the same monotone, but there’s a seriousness to it now, one that causes the hairs on the back of Encantado’s neck to stand on end.

Gamayun hesitates for a moment, barely perceptible guilt flickering in his eyes. “Yes.” Off to the side, All Might’s face tightens in pain, eyes closing as he breathes in slowly.

“Who, where and why?”

“Tanizaki Junichiro, Yokohama hotel, room 612, city unknown.” Gamayun replies automatically, sounding like he’s presenting a report. “We’re not given details when we’re assigned a target, but Tanizaki had paper and e-documents proposing the current information gathering laws be loosened. Our boss, Alkaid, has an information broker who might have been concerned about them. I don’t know her name.”

Eraserhead frowns, releasing Gamayun, and gestures for Encantado to head over to the basket. “Did you dispose of the documents?”

“Yes,” Gamayun confirms. Eraserhead nods, his face grave, and Gamayun joins Yakshini.

When Encantado steps up to the basket he chooses to discard everything but the switchblade in his pocket. He’s not going anywhere with some type of defense, orders be damned. He’s always favored blades, anyway. He also notes the similarities between his arsenal and ones in the basket. The only difference he can see is the singular higher-grade explosive he handles with a little more care.

Encantado steps away from the basket and stands with the other Suzumebachi. Eraserhead and All Might stare of the pile of weaponry, a good foot high within the basket, the shorter of the two glancing over to scan the three of them and taking in a deep sigh. Eraserhead gives a sharp nod and picks up the basket by it’s handles, grunting quietly at the weight.

“Follow me,” Eraserhead says blandly, and balances the basket on one knee to open the door. They follow him through single file, an upset and disturbed-looking All Might bringing up the rear.

Part of the way to their destination, Eraserhead glances over his shoulder and eyes Gamayun curiously.

“You intentionally drew my line of sight when the three of you attacked me. Why?”

“Not even your quirk can erase the quirk I don’t have, Eraserhead,” Gamayun tosses back easily, paying no attention to widening of Eraserhead’s eyes, or the sound of choking coming from All Might behind them.

Everyone always underestimates them, whether because of their age, Yakshini’s thinness or Gamayun’s quirklessness. Their shock, a reaction he’s seen time and time again, so tragic it’s actually funny, almost makes Encantado smile.


A small bear-mouse person and an ordinary-looking man in a black suit waits for them in the office. There’s a name plate on the desk the bear-mouse person sits behind, reading as “Prinicpal Nedzu”, and a hat and tan overcoat that would fit the man on the coat rack near the door. The office itself is fairly unremarkable, with its neutral color scheme, papers and binders on bookcase shelves and diplomas from several universities on the walls. Large windows overlook the school courtyard take up a good portion of one wall. In the middle of the office is a pair of green couches, one of which the man is sitting on, and a small coffee table with an electric kettle on it, a half-dozen tea cups already placed down like they are intended to be used.

The bear-mouse person, obviously Nedzu, stands up on his chair, wearing a smart blue waistcoat, matching pants crisp white dress shirt and a professional red tie. His dark eyes are unreadable, as most people with animal-like features tend to be, but his smile is friendly and disarming. By contrast, Detective Tsukauchi looks at them with a neutral expression that belies strain and severity, eyes a little wide at the sight of all the weaponry in the basket being placed by the principal’s desk.

“Welcome,” Nedzu greets them with a raised paw, voice mild and welcoming. It reminds Yakshini of Ken, in a way. He motions to the couch opposite Tsukauchi. “Please, have a seat so that we may get this meeting underway.”

“Before we start,” Eraserhead interrupts, pointing at Gamayun, “that one confessed to murdering a Tanizaki Junichirou at the Yokohama Hotel in northern Yokohama earlier tonight.”

Detective Tsukauchi takes out a pen and a notepad. “Is this true?” He asks Gamayun. Gamayun confirms it and the detective asks for details. Once he’s finished writing everything down, Tsukauchi excuses himself from the room briefly, taking a phone out of his pocket as he goes.

Nedzu motions again for them to take a seat, choosing to join them on the opposite couch. He places cups in front of them all and begins mixing tea. Yakshini takes the middle seat on the offered couch while Encantado takes the arm seat on her left while Gamayun sits to her right. Eraserhead declines sitting with them, instead choosing to hover by the door, while All Might takes a seat beside the principal, accepting a cup gratefully.

There’s silence for a time as Nedzu concentrates on making the tea and pouring it before he looks at them with a neutral expression. “You’ll have to forgive my astonishment when I say this, but never in my wildest dreams would I have suspected the Suzumebachi to be made up of children. Much less ones who look like they should be in middle school.”

“It’s really them,” All Might confirms, blue eyes tired and sad and grave.

Nedzu nods and sips at his tea. “I believe them. Nevertheless, this is unexpected. What are your names? I am Nedzu, the head of Yuuei.”

Gamayun introduces them, to which Nedzu nods and sips his tea again. “And your real names?”

An unsure glance passes around between the three of them. They all knew this was going to come up, even before All Might had mentioned families, but Yakshini had hoped it wouldn’t be so soon. This wasn’t going to be easy for them, especially not Gamayun, who had clung to his name the longest. The loss of it had broken his heart and nearly took his indestructible spirit.

“We-” Gamayun begins, but Yakshini isn’t about to let him tear himself up like this.

“We don’t remember,” she cuts in, reaching down to clasp Gamayun’s hand. He looks at her with surprise before understanding flickers behind his eyes. The squeeze he gives her hand tells her that she made the right choice.

Nedzu watches their interaction with quiet interest, seeming vaguely surprised by her answer. “You don’t remember or you can’t remember?”

“Both. It’s nothing quirk-related, however.”

“I see,” Nedzu says, nodding slowly. Beside him, All Might seems like he wants to say something, but instead he chooses to sip at his tea, glancing at the door that Tsukauchi disappeared through every now and again. “Also, I did want to ask about the blood on your sleeve, Gamayun. Do you need medical attention? I smell an open wound. Do any of the rest of you have wounds that need attention as well?”

It makes sense that someone with the combined animal features of a mouse and a bear and maybe a dog would also have a keen senses to go along with them. Yakshini locks eyes with Encantado, and he shakes his head. Gamayun tries to protest, “It’s just a scratch-”

“Neither Encantado or I are injured enough to require medical attention,” Yakshini confirms. “Gamayun, however, has a gash on his left bicep that we haven’t gotten a chance to bandage yet. We were going to treat it as soon as we had an opportunity, but...”

“You haven’t even seen it yet,” Gamayun says weakly, hands raised in placation. Yakshini merely gives him a Look, one that she knows Encantado is mirroring behind her, and replies with his handler’s name.

Nedzu gets off the couch and searches around in one of his desk drawers. He returns with a small medical kit. “May I take a look at it? At least as an apology for not having called our resident medical practitioner despite my known of your coming.”

Gamayun hesitates, unsure and a little bit panicked, causing Yakshini to reach for the kit. “We can handle it. This is nothing new,” she says, her tone steady and conveying her unwillingness to take no for an answer. Nedzu allows her to take the kit, gesturing his permission with a gracious paw. For his part, Gamayun takes off his jacket without a word, revealing a short-sleeved shirt beneath.

Taking out and preparing the antiseptic and bandages gives her hands something to do, distracting her from the nagging itch, the urge to Create, the whispers of “be useful be useful be useful”, under her skin. The surgical needle she Created earlier had helped to tame it somewhat, but its back.

The muscles Gamayun’s arm flex beneath his scarred skin as he position it for her easy access. It’s barely the size of her pinkie; the blood has long since stopped flowing, and the edges are ragged and likely painful to the touch. Bruising is beginning to purple in a ring around the bicep. It fits the type of person known as Epitaph’s Rabid Dog to cause such a graceless injury. There’s a hint of muscle inside the deepest part of the wound. It will help to have stitches in. Yakshini tells Gamayun as much and he nods.

With a pinch in her side, Yakshini Creates another curved needle with a length of surgical thread already threaded. This is something she could do in her sleep. The mildness of the pinch tells her that she still has a good amount of fat left in her body. She sterilizes the implement tells Gamayun to take a deep breath.

“Hold on a second!” All Might stands up, hands outstretched towards them in concerned panic. “Don’t you think this would be better handled by a doctor?” Yakshini glances around the room in confusion. Even Eraserhead looks alarmed. The door clicks open quietly and Tsukauchi pokes his head in, blinking at the scene in front of him.

“Give us a little credit; we’ve all done this successfully many time before,” Encantado frowns at them. His fist props his chin up on the arm of the couch. “We have training from Epitaph’s doctor in wound care.”

“Neither of those statements are lies,” Tsukauchi says after a beat, to Yakshini’s confusion. How would he know whether they were telling the truth or not? Gamayun looked especially interested in knowing the reason, the nerd.

Tsukauchi examines the wound for himself before taking a spot next to All Might. “While I would prefer it if you could wait until we could get you three in to see an actual doctor, if you think you can take of this yourselves, go ahead. Is what is in that basket all the weapons you had on you?”

“Yes,” Gamayun says. Yakshini can’t see what’s going on due to her focus on carefully stitching the gash as quickly and painlessly as she can. Gamayun calls her name and nods over to Tsukauchi, who is staring at her. It takes her a moment to figure out what he wants. She says yes.

On her other side, Encantado must have nodded because she doesn’t hear him. There is a moment of silence, then-

“You’re lying,” Tsukauchi says without a hint of doubt. Yakshini jerks partially around. Gamayun’s quiet hiss telling her that she hadn’t paid as much attention as she should have to not jostle his wound. Any guilt, however, is drowned out in favor of a rising panic in her chest. She watches as Encantado’s expression goes from blown open in surprise to closed, and the pit in her stomach turns to lead.

“Encantado!” Yakshini hisses him, her throat tightening.

“What?” He spits, like he hasn’t just potentially compromised their situation. Gamayun still needs another three or four stitches and there’s little chance Yakshini can produce the several guns they’d need before at least one of the heroes reacts. Blessed has already warned them that the police know that the Suzumebachi has a mind-tamperer, and Eraserhead and All Might know that Gamayun is quirkless, and-

And she’s revealed her Creation quirk to every person in the room but Tsukauchi… Encantado will be their first target if this devolves into a fight. Without him, Gamayun and her don’t stand a chance. In a panic, Yakshini tries to read their faces, but all of them are focused with careful attention on the three of them. The oatmeal bars in her stomach threaten to make a reappearance.

“En,” Gamayun begins, using the same careful, reassuring tone he uses every time he’s trying to de-escalate a situation. It’s nice to know one of them has their head on straight. “We’re supposed to be here in good faith. We all consented to doing this, remember?”

Encantado gives him a scowl. “Excuse me for not trusting heroes, two of which who have lied to and tricked us already,-” All Might gives a slight wince ”-and a cop who is friends with a liar to actually help us,” he argues back.

Tsukauchi’s arms drop to rest over his thighs and his fingers lace together. “We can just bring you three in right now, if you’d prefer the alternative. You’ve already confessed to being the Suzumebachi to a pro hero, your friend has confessed to a man’s murder, and you implied just a moment ago that you are the accomplices of a known smuggling ring.”

There’s nothing Encantado can say against that, and by the look on his face, he know it. They backed themselves into a corner by coming here, and the only way out is to put some trust in Tsukauchi and All Might. Yakshini can only hope Encantado can bring himself to do that.

She should feel bad about it, she should want to defend him, but after several long, tense moments where she knows that he’s considering using his quirk, the sight of Encantado glancing away and lowering his head in defeat does nothing but bring her relief. “Fine…,” he mumbles, and Gamayun lets out a sigh that causes him to nearly sag against her.

Tsukauchi raises an eyebrow. It’s clear he knows what Encantado is thinking, but he is going to make him say it anyway. “Fine?”

“...Fine, I’ll cooperate,” Encantado grits out, purple brow furrowed low over his tired eyes.

Tsukauchi nods and motions toward the basket by Nedzu’s desk. “Then turn over all weapons on your person so we can get this meeting underway.”

Encantado gets up and produces a single, tiny switchblade from one of his pants pockets. He drops it into the basket and retakes his seat on the couch.

“Was that all of them?” Tsukauchi asks him patiently.

“Yes,” Encantado confirms woodenly, and this time, Tsukauchi accepts his answer. She grabs his hand and squeezes it gratefully.

There’s a moment where Encantado doesn’t respond, not even to shake her off, and she worries that they might have pushed him too far, if he’s upset enough at them, at her, to want her touch. Yakshini makes to let go, but stops when his hand gives the slightest of returning pressure. Not too far, but nearly there. Encantado retracts his hand, and Yakshini turns back to make Gamayun’s next stitch.

There’s a few moments of silence after that, where the only sound is the rustle of cloth and paper and the scratch of a pen writing and the tiny winces Gamayun gives as she makes another stitch. A massive amount of tension has just been relieved from everyone’s shoulders, and now everyone has a moment to process things. Yakshini wonders how things are going to proceed, now that it’s been firmly established that there is no trust on either side. Not by anyone who isn’t Gamayun or All Might.

“You’re wrong about Epitaph being a smuggling ring,” Encantado says, eyes staring blankly out the windows into the night outside.

“It’s not?” Tsukauchi asks, pen briefly pausing.

“No. It’s a fucking mafia-esque organization, and the Big Four are its kingpins. The Suzumebachi are an auxiliary organization spawned by the boss, Alkaid, at the suggestion of one of the other Four.”

It all kind of tumbles out from there. Tsukauchi asks them questions, sometimes one of the other heroes piping in for clarification, and they answer to the best of their ability. They don’t know any of the Big Four’s real names, but they do know the names of a good number of the inner circle, including Akutagawa Ryunousuke, Ozaki Koyo and Hirotsu Ryuro, as well as the locations of many of Epitaph’s bases, warehouses and legal fronts. During this, Yakshini finishes up the stitches on Gamayun’s arm and runs the alcohol rub over it one more time.

It eventually comes to how Epitaph acquired them and Yakshini takes over, hearing Encantado’s voice grow horace and Gamayun grow quiet. As she starts explaining the events of that night eight years ago, how the original six members of Suzumebachi were taken, Encantado reaches down for his cup of tea and takes sip.

She’s only able to make it to Alkaid assigning them their code names when a sudden ringing fills the air. At first she thinks its the Nedzu’s phone, then she thinks it must be from Tsukauchi’s. But they’re looking at them… No… They’re looking at Encantado.

Encantado, who’s reaching into his pocket to pull out his phone on its fourth ring, watching it like he’s expecting it to explode in his hand if he answers it.

Oh no...

Gamayun frantically searches his jacket for his phone and turns it on. Over his shoulder, feeling her heart race and her breath shorten, Yakshini can read the time displayed on the unlocking screen.

1:12 A.M.

The phone keeps ringing.

Chapter Text

Once, back when Gamayun was still small, a lowly smuggler from one of Epitaph’s few operational outposts had tried to make a run for it. He’d gotten tired of always looking over his shoulder, or maybe he was discontent with how his work was straining his relationship with his family. Gamayun had heard plenty of excuses being tossed around, but the man himself hadn’t said a word.

He remembered being invited to witness the interrogation by Alkaid without the rest of the Suzumebachi. She had wanted his company around more recently. To this day, it confused him why she kept him so close, but it had let him see the sweat stains around the man’s neck and armpits, and the duct tape over his mouth. Alkaid had told him it was to keep his vocally-activated quirk in check. In the intervening time it took for everyone to arrive, she quizzed him on the quirks of everyone in the room.

Hoshigaki was the last to arrive, if his memory was correct. There had been an ominous screech and a metallic clang as the doors closed, and he’d clung close to Alkaid’s skirts as Hirotsu and Hoshigaki stood on either side of the man tied to a rickety wooden chair.

Gamayun remembers seeing tears stain the man’s jumpsuit.

The actual event hadn’t taken very long. The organization hadn’t hit the major growth spurt it would see around Gamayun’s eighth year yet. Any major complications within the organization’s internal structure were personally addressed by the Big Four back then. Blessed had read out the man’s crimes - abandoning his duties, trading Epitaph secrets to police in exchange for sanctuary and a lightened sentence, and embezzling funds from the organization. The man was silent through it all, even when given a chance to save himself.

Not that it would have meant anything. No one was surprised when the man was sentenced to death.

It was the first time Gamayun had ever seen someone made an example of since being made a Suzumebachi a year ago. Alkaid had held his head in place and told him to watch as Hirotsu drew knife across the man’s jugular vein. The blood that didn’t spray dripped down into his jumpsuit and stained it a shade of red Gamayun could scarcely describe to this day. The smell of it was overwhelming.

(“Remember this,” she whispered in his ear, having sat on the floor and pulled Gamayun into her lap. It had brought the warm sensation of his mother’s embrace so intimately to the front of his mind that he had almost gotten sick on her nice shirt. He had started to forget her face by then. “That man was where he wanted to be in life. He decided to be selfish and abandon his commitment to us. He’s getting what he deserves for not doing what he was supposed to do.”

“Did you have to kill him?” Gamayun whispered back.

“Yes.” Her hand wrapped around the arm he hadn’t realized he had extended out and pulled it back with gentle strength. He had glanced down and saw a single drop of blood staining her skirt where her knee was. “One day, you’ll understand why we have to do this, my Gamayun.”)

The price of betrayal was death. It was a lesson Gamayun, all of the Suzumebachi, had etched into their minds with the blood of dozens of lives. Criminals and corrupt officials who thought they could cheat Epitaph and live to see the results. A hero that got a little too close to the darkness, only to turn around and make for the light. Changeling. Hecatoncheir.

All of them received their due, one way or another.

That lesson squeezes his heart like a vice, his pulse pounding in his temples, his wrists, his entire body. Gamayun’s stares sightlessly at his phone. He thinks he can hear the frame creak with how hard he grips it, but that can’t be right. Sakura builds all their electronics, and he builds his gadgets to last. Nothing short of a mid-grade explosive could scratch it.

1:12 A.M….

Could they really have not noticed time passing so quickly? Had Gamayun been so distracted by his own desperation that he failed to notice their window of opportunity sliding closed so quickly?

Gamayun glances over and takes in Encantado’s ashen skin, his eyes wide with panic and locked steady on the phone in his shaking hand. It gives a fifth ring.

The call will end on the seventh ring and start again, and the caller ID and number will be unidentifiable and untraceable. If they miss the second call, there will be no salvaging the situation. No matter who is one the other end of the call, the Suzumebachi aren’t so favored within Epitaph that they can get away with that level of disobedience. It will be bad enough that they will have to miss this call.

Yakshini wraps herself up in her too thin arms, unnervingly still and waiting for the shoe to drop. The corners of her eyes are pinched and her mouth is pressed into a small frown the belies a mounting panic.

The chances of it being Sakura on the other end are slim. Sakura would be more likely to call Yakshini for an update. Hirotsu would call Encantado if he actually liked modern technology, Ozaki would rather come for them than call, and Akutagawa wouldn’t care even if he was asked to.

That left their transport driver or one of the Big Four, and the driver wouldn’t have their numbers.

Gamayun glances around at the heroes. It’s clear that none of them know what’s going on. How could they? The common consensus is that Epitaph is a smuggling ring and the Suzumebachi are serial killers. There’s a pinch in Tsukauchi’s lips that speaks of concern beneath the professional mask he’s displayed all night. Dark eyes scan their body language to gauge the situation. All Might is staring at phone just as intently as Encantado is, but his gaze is intense and suspicious. He slowly lowers his tea back to the table and leans forward in his seat, elbows resting on his knees. Eraserhead settles arms crossed against the wall, waiting for something to happen. If Gamayun hadn’t been watching Akutagawa’s every move for years, he might not have noticed the way his hand wraps around one end of his capture weapon.

Nedzu plays with his cup of tea, swirling the spoon slowly in the amber liquid. His animalistic features make him difficult to read, but it’s obvious he’s not paying the phone any attention.

Beetle black eyes lock instead on Gamayun. Steady. Waiting. Intense, but in a different way than All Might’s rock-like foundation or Eraserhead’s grim examination. Gamayun looks into them, feels the hairs on the back of his neck raising, and sees an understanding, and a curious challenge.

What will you do with your backs against the wall?

The call ends, and Encantado lets out a shallow, shaking breath. His mouth opens, but no other sound escapes. He looks up and his face is lined with desperation.

The plan forming in the back of his mind, desperate and fueled with the same bull-headed persistence that’s kept him sane and alive for the last eight years, gains clarity. And with it, certainty.

Gamayun places his phone on the table with a quiet clack, the sound drawing the room’s attention. “Everyone but Yakshini, Encantado and I are to stay quiet until I saw so,” he says, evening his breathing to steady his racing heart. Nedzu takes a sip of his tea.

“Epitaph is one who called,” All Might says, more a statement than a question. His hands are clasped together between his bony knees.

“Yes,” Gamayun nods, “and they’re going to call again. When they do, we need to trick them into thinking we’re stuck on the job they gave us. That’ll give us time.”

“For what?” Tsukauchi asks, but Gamayun doesn’t have time to answer him.

“Endeavor’s patrol returned ahead of schedule,” Gamayun tells Encantado and Yakshini, ignoring how the heroes’ attentions lock on him. They perk up in comprehension, and the heartening change spurs him on. “We don’t know why and we don’t care, all we know is that Endeavor entered the agency not two minutes after we accessed his office and we had to scramble to find escape routes before we could finish the job. Patrols spotted us getting away. By the time we shook them and made for the rendezvous, our transport was gone. We’re waiting to make sure it’s clear before calling in.”

The phone starts ringing again, causing Encantado to jolt in his seat. Gamayun counts the rings as he tries to get everything out as quickly as possible. “If it’s Blessed or Ken, En leads. If it’s not, pass the call to one of us.”

Encantado nods. Another ring of the phone passes, but there’s something in his eyes that reminds Gamayun of every time Encantado placed himself between them and something that wished the Suzumebachi harm. His face is still pale, but resolve has made it less worrying to look at.

“‘Shini-”

“I’ve got Senri,” Yakshini says, mouth set in a new, determined line, not a shred of hesitation present. Yakshini has always been steady and capable, regardless of her health and despite Epitaph and Senri’s best efforts, and from the beginning Gamayun has seen glimpses of something within her that he suspects could outlast the world.

Encantado frowns in concern, his grip shifting on the phone to hover over the talk button. “You got Alkaid?”

Gamayun takes in a deep breath, letting a third ring fade into silence. “Yeah… Answer it.”

Encantado answers the call before the fourth ring can end and holds the speaker to his ear. He quickens his breathing, inhales coming short and gasping. It’s the sound is almost convincing, but Gamayun can see Encantado to spot the lie. Whoever is on the other end will not.

What, Sakura?” Encantado begins quietly. Gamayun knows he has been stressed and irritated for a while. It comes through now, lending his tone an edge of credibility they’ll need to pull this off. “We’re in the middle of something. The info you got was-”

Whatever he had been about to say was cut off as the person on the other end speaks. His teeth give an audible clack as his mouth snaps shut. From this distance, Gamayun can’t really recognize their voice, but the way that both the other Suzumebachi’s posture straighten tells him everything he needs to know.

“Yes, ma’am,” Encantado says. He pulls the phone away to press a button on the screen, holding it level in his hands.

“Oh, my Suzumebachi… What have you gotten yourselves into now?”

Alkaid…

Gamayun had known it would possibly be her, but he had hoped it would be anyone but. Her voice sounds as pleasant as it always is, sounding more like a put upon mother than an exacting crime boss. He can picture the mild, resigned look on her face right now and is only slightly grateful for the distance between them and her.

Mildness on Alkaid has never been anything but a sinister promise.

“I’m going to assume my Yakshini and Gamayun are with you,” Alkaid says. “Does anyone care to tell me why you all missed your deadline?”

This is it. “Endeavor returned much earlier than anticipated, ma’am,” Gamayun replies, doing his best to follow Encantado’s example and sound ragged. Just to play it safe, he turns his head briefly to mimic scouting for patrols. Alkaid won’t see it, but the effect it has on his voice will hopefully lend his lies credibility. “We weren’t able to finish the probe without compromising ourselves. We managed to get out, but, hah, not without a patrol spotting our retreat. Since then, we’ve been dodging hero patrols, waiting for the opportunity to call in for an extraction.”

Alkaid hums. “And why didn’t you send whatever information the probe did manage to gather to Sakura?”

That is the one portion of this plan Gamayun hasn’t been able to nail down yet. He opens his mouth to give what he hopes is a believable excuse when Yakshini places grabs his hand and squeezes.

“If I may, ma’am?” She says taking a deep breath, Creating a tiny pellet to fiddle with in her other hand. “It’s all corrupted surface data. I started hacking the mainframe, but Endeavor’s firewall encryptions were more complicated than we anticipated. I could have gotten through it eventually but…”

“But Endeavor’s early return meant you had to stop prematurely, and his protections corrupted what data you managed to copy.” Alkaid’s voice sighs. “A setback, but not the worst case scenario. Did you shake the patrols?”

Gamayun looks away again and tries to sound like he’s checking around a corner. “We think so… Do you remember the story you told me, of when you and Blessed did that bank heist in Saitama eleven years ago? How you escaped?” As he says that, Gamayun glances at Tsukauchi, who nods and scribbles on his notepad as quietly as possible.

“The rubber band and Blessed’s whip?”

Despite himself, Gamayun gives a little laugh. That is one story that will never not be funny to listen to. He ignores the looks Encantado and Yakshini pass him in return. “Yeah. Turns out that trick still works like a charm, just with regular rope.”

Alkaid laughs at the rememberance as well, giving quiet little chuckles. “Clever, clever. Epitaph has trained you three well.”

Anticipation sparks across his nerves. Gamayun shares wide-eyed glances Encantado and Yakshini and squeezes Yakshini’s hand. For once in their lives, they will have gotten a leg up on Epitaph. Just a little bit more… Just and little bit more, and they’ll get the time they need.

“Just one more question, and we’ll see about doing what needs to be done,” Alkaid says.

Through the haze of excitement and relief threatens to leave him light-headed, Gamayun scans his brain to figure out what they could have missed. He comes up short, but isn’t deterred yet. “Yes, ma’am?”

“When were my Suzumebachi going to tell me that they were in the middle of the Yuuei complex?”

Breath stutters in his chest and his eyes blow wide open. Years down the line, Gamayun will still swear that his heart stopped beating for an instant.

Yakshini and Encantado aren’t in any better state. They look as ashen as he feels, staring blankly at the phone, any semblance of life or excitement drained.

That shouldn’t be possible, he thinks through the terror threatening to consume his every thought. They checked their phones and threw the implanted trackers out the window less than half-way to Yuuei. Even if on the slim chance one of Epitaph’s agents followed the signals and found them, there’s no possible way Alkaid would know where they were. Not without a tracking or clairvoyancy quirk, and Epitaph didn’t have one. Their clothes were clean! None of their equipment was bugged! So, then how!?

Gamayun fails to keep his breathing as steady as he would like. “M-ma’am-m, what are you-u…?”

A pause, long enough to make sweat start to bead Gamayun’s hairline. “I see. Well, our first clue was Sakura noticing that your phone tracers ceased moving twenty minutes into your deadline, far from the Endeavor agency where you were supposed to be. We sent an agent to rendezvous with you when the deadline passed and no information came through, but you were nowhere to be seen,” Alkaid says, as is she were speaking of nothing more important than the weather

“I had hoped to give my Suzumebachi the opportunity to explain themselves, but it seems my worst fears are true,” Alkaid goes on to say, tone mild once more. “My Suzumebachi think to abandon their duties and betray me.”

Yakshini shakes beside him, trembles so violent that he can feel them through the couch cushion below them. Or maybe she’s still, and it’s him shaking. “M-ma’am, we… we’re not-”

How stupid do you think I am?

He stops breathing, and a drop of sweat trickles down his face. The first and only time Gamayun heard Alkaid use that tone of voice, she had followed it up with breaking a man’s spine in half over her knee.

There was a reason that, out of the Big Four, Alkaid was the undisputed boss of Epitaph’s entire operation. The only reason Gamayun knew it was because he had been allowed to witness her more often than most. She didn’t quite have Ken’s charisma with the underlings, or Senri’s head for business, or the strict adherence to the chain of command as Blessed, not really. But she could fool you into believing she did. There were more deceptions and half-truths surrounding her than there were facts and full-truths, and one of the few certain truths he knows is that Alkaid only appears delicate because she likes it.

There’s another pause, where no one dares to breathe too loudly, where blood rushes in Gamayun’s ears and he can’t see anything in front of him because fear has blinded him. He’s so trapped in his own head that he almost misses Alkaid say, “Oh. You still don’t know, do you?”

“... Know?” Encantado croaks at last.

“About the tracking chips implanted at the base of your skulls.”

There’s a small patch of smooth, barely raised skin about the size of his thumb nail just inside his hairline when Gamayun’s hand darts up to check, and the only reason he finds it is because he’s looking for it. His other hand curls into a fist, the pain of his nails digging into his palm grounding him. Glancing out the corner of his eye, he can see Yakshini and Encantado stiffen as they do the same, eyes wide and sightless.

The final pieces of a puzzle that he’s been trying to solve for the last ten months come together, and the picture they shape is heartbreaking.

“Changeling didn’t know, did he? And that’s how you knew he ran and where to intercept him. He was Hoshigaki’s best student with a perfect mission record - there’s no way you would have been able to find him otherwise,” Gamayun chokes out around a lump in his throat composed of ten months worth of sorrow, anger and grief.

All of it, all of the nightmares and the pain of losing yet another person he loved more than life itself, and Alkaid’s response takes it and kindles it into rage that burns.

“Bingo,” she sings, lofty and uncaring of the torment she and her Epitaph caused. Why did he keep forgetting that about her? “We would have done the same with my Hecatoncheir, but she must have found her tracking chip and removed it. We’ll find her in due time.”

Across from them, All Might reaches for the phone, a grim frown twisting his lips and sparks of anger in his odd blue eyes. Gamayun wraps a hand around his bony wrist, turning All Might’s attention onto him.

He wonders what the Number One hero must see when he looks at Gamayun. Does he feel the hand on his wrist shaking, does he see the stinging in Gamayun’s eyes, the raw grief exposed after being buried in work and duty? Does he see the embers smoldering deep within ignite?

Gamayun shakes his head. All Might doesn’t look happy about it, but he accepts it and retreats back to his seat.

“All that’s left is to decide what to do with you three…” Alkaid says. “You know I had hopes for Senri’s proposal when he suggested forming the Suzumebachi. Take a child when they’re young, give them a purpose they wouldn’t otherwise have had, teach them and watch them bloom. I expected one or two of you to die or rebel, but now the entire project has failed.”

Encantado’s anger is sharp and cutting. “You expected-,” he spits, and Gamayun knows Encantado’s anger enough to be sure that he’s trying to form a useful trigger for his quirk, but Alkaid cuts him off before he can do it.

“We can’t exactly drag you back for judgement while you’re in Yuuei, so I guess we’ll just have to do this the slow way,” she chirps, and Gamayun jolts in his seat.

Heart in his throat, Gamayun tries to ride the twin waves of panic and anger inside him. “Alkaid-!”

“Until we meet again, my traitors.”

The line goes dead, but his and Encantado’s phone quickly light up. Yakshini yanks her’s of one of her pockets to find it also lit up. The phones display a curious dialogue box Gamayun only gets part-way through before it disappears, and then a loading bar appears as apps start deleting themselves.

Yakshini scrambles, hitting buttons before hastily hooking her phone up to another device from her pocket, but the apps keep vanishing. Before long, it’s all gone. Gamayun presses buttons on his phone but… nothing.

No texts, no pictures, no programs, no call history, no contacts. And because the technology was made by Sakura, they don’t even have the assurance of there still being a way to get the data from the hard drive...

It finally hits him. This is it. They’re free. One way or another, he’s free, and suddenly there’s nothing Gamayun can focus on to keep from sinking.


Gamayun isn’t sure how long passes, sitting there in a haze of numbness, uncertainty and listlessness. He’s staring at the phone in his hands, his hands in his lap, with Yakshini to his left and All Might across the table, his tea untouched is on the table, but there’s a familiar film over his brain that prevents him from processing that.

For eight long years, he’s dreamed of this. Not this specifically, but… of not having to return to base. Not having to listen for Akutagawa’s footsteps around every corner. Getting Yashini away from Senri and Encantado away from Hirotsu and Blessed. A lot of things, really. It’s funny how dreaming of something doesn’t prepare you for when it actually happens…

“-ayun! Gamayun!”

A hand shakes his shoulder and he startles, dropping the phone to the floor. Eraserhead is crouching in front of him, shaking him with an urgent frown on his lips.

He shakes Gamayun again, but when all it gets him is wide-eyed staring, he digs his fingers into Gamayun’s shoulder. Gamayun winces, but the pain pushes back the haze somewhat. “Focus. I need one of you to tell us what Alkaid meant by “doing things the slow way”,” Eraserhead urges, fingers releasing their pressure without letting go entirely.

“She - Epitaph kept records of our - our names when they a-acquired us,” Gamayun stammers out, trying to get his thoughts in order. “We never saw them, but… when Hecah ran and Epitaph couldn’t find her, they had us take out her family.”

Gamayun remembered the photos scattered around that house. Hecah was the spitting image of her mother. She and her younger twin brothers both inherited their father’s bright red hair.

“And we should assume that Epitaph will track your families down as well,” Eraserhead concludes. There’s a determination, less like stone and more like magna, in his eye as he turns to Tsukauchi. “Can you-?”

Tsukauchi nods, mouth set in a line, and stands. “On it. Nedzu, may I use your computer?”

“Of course!” Nedzu replies agreeably, scurrying over to his seat to access the thin laptop nearly disguised by folders and paper on the desk. He fips it open with a careful claw. “What do you need in particular?”

“Just the internet access. Anything with a faster connection than a phone would potentially save lives right now.”

Yakshini stands, her and Eraserhead following them over to Nedzu’s desk. There’s a strange energy around her that turns her steps quick and loud. “Are you going to access police records? Can you access police records from here?”

“No, and no,” Tsukauchi replies, taking the seat Nedzu offers him. It’s awkward to look at, seeing an average-sized man in a seat adjusted for someone less than half his size, but Tsukauchi doesn’t try to adjust it. “However,” he clicks with the mouse and clacks something out on the keyboard, “I can access the official Missing Persons Directory website. If we can match your names with any entries, then we can get ahold of your parents’ current phone numbers. Once we have that, I can forward the numbers to the station, who can find their addresses to send police and heroes to protect them. Granted, this isn’t standard procedure.”

That easily? Gamayun honestly thought finding their families would be more complicated than that. Japan was notorious for its privacy laws, after all. He hadn’t even known a public directory even existed.

Tsukauchi types into the computer as he mumbles under his breath. “Children… 8 years ago… None of you remember what towns or prefectures you were taken from?”

Gamayun stands from his seat and approaches the desk, standing next to Yakshini and trying to think around the growing sensation of hairs standing straight on the back of his neck. “No. Hecah or Changeling might have, since they the oldest, but none of us or Phantom did.” He chances a glance back. Encantado seems wrapped up in his own thoughts, hands clenched in his lap and his right leg bouncing. He wants to comfort Encantado, but he can’t leave Yakshini to take care of this on her own.

Thankfully, All Might steps up to the plate. The skeletal hero moves around the table to take Yakshini’s seat. He places a hesitant arm around Encantado’s shoulders, his hand absolutely eclipsing the Suzumebachi’s much smaller shoulders.

To Gamayun’s baffled surprise, Encantado only shrugs the offending limb off. All Might gets the message and minds his space, but doesn’t leave his seat.

“We’ll work around that, then.” Tsukauchi clicks at something on the computer and scrolls down. “Now all we need are your names.”

“We… we don’t remember,” Gamayun says lowly, turning back, his hand coming up to grip his chest as familiar pain tears at his heart more fiercely than than he expects. It was like the old wound was ripped open…

That actually gets Tsukauchi to pause. He stares at them with open surprise and a hint disbelief, hands hovering over the mouse and keyboard. “You’re not lying, but… You really don’t remember? Nothing at all? Nicknames, your surnames, even what letter your names started with?”

“No!” Yakshini explodes next to Gamayun, her hands slamming onto the desktop. He flinches away, startled by the sudden outburst, and when he looks at her, her lips are twisted into an uncharacteristic teeth-gritted snarl. Her nails scratch at the surface of Nedzu’s desk as she leans on it and there’s a deep, frustrated furrow to her brow. She looks seconds away from crying. “No! We were conditioned into forgetting our original identities and to only accept the ones Epitaph made for us. We don’t remember-”

“Hitoshi.”

Gamayun and Yakshini whip around. Encantado isn’t looking at them, instead unlacing his right boot and tugging it off.

“En...?” Gamayun whispers, but anything else he could have said is swept away when Encantado takes his sock off and places his foot over his knee. On the heel of his bare foot is a kanji scarred into the skin. The lines are unsteady, like it was made by a child who couldn’t see what he was doing very well, barely legible, but it is unmistakable.

Hitoshi…

Oh… Why hadn’t they thought of that?

“My given name is Hitoshi. I don’t remember anything else,” Encantado says, eyes exhausted and drooping, but beyond the resolve and fury and dark shadows, there was something else.

“You remembered? And you didn’t tell us?” Yakshini whispers, utterly overwhelmed, a single tear dripping down her cheek. Gamayun can feel his own eyes start watering, caught in the torrent of his own indecipherable mix of feelings, and fights to hold it back.

Encantado scowls disapprovingly at her. “If I did, it would have made it easier for Blessed to find out, and you damn-well know that, ‘Shini. That fact that I was able to keep it a secret for this long is a fucking miracle.”

Encantado tugs his sock and boot back on and gets up, striding with purpose towards them.

“Found you,” Tsukauchi exclaims quietly behind them, jolting Gamayun out of his open-mouthed staring. He hastily writes a phone number down and turns the laptop around for them to see.

On the listed photo is the same boy Izuku met the day they were all chucked into that miserable van together. His wild hair was much shorter back then, but it’s still the same shade of light purple. His eyes, still that darker shade of purple, haven’t yet developed the gigantic dark bags under them yet, and there’s a small smile on his face. There’s no quirk section, but there is no mistaking it.

Gamayun glances at the name listed and gets the slightest feeling of deja vu - Shinsou Hitoshi.

Encantado whispers his true name under his breath, creeping just a few inches closer to peer at the photo with rapt attention. All Might steps up beside him. This time, when the hero extends a comforting hand to rest on his shoulder, it isn’t shaken off.

Tsukauchi turns the laptop back around. “From your reaction, we can confirm you are Shinsou Hitoshi?”

After a moment, Encantado - Hitoshi shakes himself. “Yes, that’s me.” he confirms, before turning to Yakshini and Gamayun. “Now it’s your turn.”

Gamayun shares an uncertain glance with Yakshini. “En, we don’t-”

“Try!” Hitoshi - Encantado counters, shrugging All Might’s hand off again, though this time less violently. “A nickname, your mnemonic, anything! You two wanted to get us into this mess, now help me.”

Feeling scolded, Gamayun takes in a deep breath and does his best to fight back the suring helplessness.

Hitoshi… Encantado… Encantado is right. It was a unanimous decision to try this, but Yakshini and he had outvoted Encantado early on. They started this, he started this, and if they want to see this succeed they need to at least try. Gamayun tries to think of something, eyes roaming around the office to see if anything will catch his eye and jog his memory.

Yakshini’s hands clench and her eyes scrunch closed, only to release them with a defeated sigh moments later. “It’s no good. The only thing I can remember is someone, I think my mother, calling me “hime”...”

“Blessed got mad when she heard your name, hadn’t she?” Encantado asked, thinking. “It was because of your mom, right? Because your mom was well-known?”

Yakshini’s expression turns pained, “I… maybe?”

Nedzu, who had remained quiet for and out of the way, jumps up onto the desk. He startles Tsukauchi and All Might, the later grasping his chest and giving a little cough that has blood speckling his mouth. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but if I may make a suggestion? This ties in with a suspicion I’ve had since I saw you, Yakshini. Didn’t Yaoyorozu Hisoka’s daughter go missing eight years ago?”

“The head of the Yaoyorozu Corporation?” All Might asks, uncertain, dabbing his lips with a tissue. Then he glances at Yakshini, and the glint in his eyes turns from confused, to comprehending, to suspicious.

Eraserhead hums quietly. “And lesser-known underground hero,” he says, causing Yakshini’s head to snap up fast enough to give herself whiplash.

He glances at her and continues, pulling out a folded scrap of paper from his pocket, “Because she’s not on the public registry, this isn’t known, but in the underground hero circles, Yaoyorozu Hisoka became a hero in order to find her missing daughter, Momo, after police and investigators failed to do so.”

Eraserhead unfolds the paper and holds it out, revealing the yellowed picture of a young girl, no older than six, with black hair, pale skin and dark eyes. The girl is smiling wide and she’s holding a stuffed bear with a red ribbon around its neck to her chest.

It’s a little harder to recognize, with self-starvation and quirk-overuse stealing the shine from her hair and eyes and unnaturally sharpening her features. But just like with Encantado and the photo of Shinsou Hitoshi, one would have to be blind to miss the resemblance.

Yakshini collapses suddenly, like all strength has been drained from her legs. Gamayun and Encantado hurry to her side, but she pays them no mind. Tears fall unrestrained from her eyes, and her breath hitches on a quiet sob.

“Momo…hime… That was what my mom used to call me...” Her words are muffled by the hand she wraps over her mouth to contain her sobs. Gamayun kneels and pulls her against his front, a hand cupping her head to guide it to his shoulder. He tries to position his head so that his tears won’t drip into her hair, but quickly gives it up as futile. Encantado leans into her other side and laces their her free hand with his.

Eraserhead gives the paper to Tsukauchi, who writes down the number listed, but Gamayun ignores them to focus on the other Suzumebachi. Nedzu jumps down from his desk with a quiet thunk, something which Gamayun faintly registers as odd given the clunkiness of his boots.

Yakshini looks at him and he gives what Gamayun thinks is a reassuring smile. Nedzu turns his attention to Gamayun.

“What can you remember, Gamayun?” he asks, paws behind his back.

If he’s honest, he still can’t remember anything. If he’s even more honest with himself, he thinks he knows why.

For all that Quirkless people only make up around twenty percent of today’s population, that number is most concentrated in countries that have lower birth rates. People sometimes don’t understand that, while the elderly population contains the vast majority of the world’s quirkless people, if a country isn’t producing enough children to grow their birth rates, then, inevitably, the still-present younger population of quirkless people will produce a decent sized chunk of that country’s next generation, who have a decent chance of also being quirkless. That leads to a slow-growing ratio of quirk-having to quirkless people, rather than a rapidly growing quirk-having population where quirklessness would disappear in two to four generations max. It’s why quirklessness is virtually unheard of in places like North Africa and the Middle East, but still very present in places like Germany and Japan.

Japan has a low enough birth rate that you can find a quirkless person in nearly any school or work place, but only a few. Quirklessness is an even larger identifying feature than having horns or wings these days because of its growing rarity.

If Epitaph ever wanted a chance at them keeping him, then they needed to destroy or otherwise taint his memories quickly and completely. Otherwise he would have the easiest time out of the entire Suzumebachi of finding a way home.

It’s something that Gamayun has thought about for a long time. It’s the only good reason he can find for why Alkaid favored him so much, or why Blessed and Ken were so hard on him compared to the others when it came to his training.

Of course, knowing any of that isn’t helping him get any closer to actually remembering what his birth name is...

“Gama...“ Yakshini says slowly, her hand falling to rest on his knee. He releases her head when she moves to kneel under her own power. Encantado backs off as well. “Back then, when we all tried to make up ways to remember our names, do you remember what yours was?”

“I think I remember that…” Encantado frowns, thinking. “I liked mine so much I forgot it, so I resorted to carving up my foot, but… Hecah’s was her name backwards, Changeling’s was that he had two first names, Phan’ had something in her name related to her quirk…"

“Rainbow… rainbow was in her name,” Yakshini murmurs, because of course she remember’s Phantom’s mnemonic.

“And yours had to do with some ridiculously high number,” Gamayun says, snorting.

Encantado squints at him. “But, yours, Gama… Wasn’t it… I want to say a family saying? How your family always is something or you always throw something?”

“Like how a family can get a reputation for multiple generations training to go into the same profession?” Yakshini asks, but Gamayun is no longer paying attention.

Always throws something… That sounded right, so right in fact that Gamayun finds he can think of nothing else. But what could that mean? Gamayun never displayed any specialized skills as a child. Honing them would have been in his training, and he likely would have been given to Hoshigaki to train in undercover work rather than have Ozaki coach him in diplomacy and manipulation.

Not a profession, then, but maybe a physical trait? That would make more sense if Gamayun had a mutation-type quirk…

In frustration, Gamayun gives into the urge to tug at his hair, one hand grasping a handful and clenching. Pain has always been at least a little bit grounding, forcing all other thoughts or feelings to the wayside for a moment. However, just like every other time he has sought the sensation, it brings no clarity.

A hand forces his to let go, both Yakshini and Encantado frowning at him in displeasure. Their care is endearing, and a little frustrating. Gamayun avoids their eyes sheepishly to stare down at his hand.

A strand on his own hair clings to his fingers, and when Gamayun lifts it up, the light glints off it to reveal a vibrant shade of dark green.

Green…

He’s always liked the color green, hasn’t he? The green shirt he has on, the green case for his phone, the green pillow he has on their bed back at base… He’s not sure why his mind is latching on to this detail, but it feels important.

“Gama?” Encantado asks, waving a hand in front of his face. Gamayun catches it without looking.

Green shirt, green phone case, green pillow, green hair. Yakshini made him some green binoculars because she knows it’s his favorite color, and whenever Changeling got ahold of his phone to change his wallpapers without telling tell him, it was always of a green star…

Green eyes…

Green… Midori… There’s something about the word Midori that is linked to his name, but what!?

Midorikawa? Midoriko? Midoriyama....

“Midoriya…” Gamayun gasps, going wide as something in his mind goes click. “Midoriyas always throw green…”

Tsukauchi renews his clacking at the keyboard, but Gamayun is too light-headed, too caught up in the sudden realization that this is it. This is what he’s been missing!

Gamayun hears Eraserhead call his name, and when he turns to look, he nods his head at the laptop. Gamayun gets up on shaky legs. He must have looked so wobbly that Yakshini felt the need to hold his arm to steady him. He takes a deep breath, and when he’s gathered enough courage he chances a look at the laptop.

There, in the middle of the screen, is the picture of a small, playing boy, with the name listed as Midoriya Izuku. There is an eerie resemblance between Gamayun and Izuku, from their dark green hair to their green eyes to the amount of freckles dotting their cheeks. The only difference Gamayun can conceivably see is his own slightly lighter skin. But, other than that…

Gamayun scans the photo with careful attention, taking in every possible detail and committing them to memory. There’s a huge smile on Izuku’s lips, and in his hand…

His eyes widen. Gamayun’s head whips around to check if All Might saw it too. By the slightly doe-eyed stare the Number One is giving the photo, it is clear that he had. The toy little Izuku held aloft over his head as he played.

A limited edition All Might Golden Age action figure.

All Might catches his eye and shrugs, a little sheepish and a little amused.

And Gamayun?

He can’t help it. For the first time in many, many months, Gamayun laughs until he cries.

Chapter Text

Toshinori follows along behind Naomasa’s car in his pick-up. He’s careful of the old girl’s slightly sticky brakes, and with how loud she’s been lately, he thinks that he will have to get her oil changed soon. He remembers the repair place he used to go to. He wonders if they are still in business.

He scratches an itch on his arm, the limb exposed after he changed into his civilian wear. If he’s honest, Toshinori is a little glad to finally be out of his costume. It would be awkward if anyone saw an emaciated skeleton in All Might’s signature hero outfit. He would have changed sooner if he had not felt like his presence was necessary.

He fiddles with the radio, trying to find a station that will play something slow and eventually settling on a classical tune because he can’t stop his skin from itching at the sound of anything else. The windows are still cracked open from earlier, and its much cooler and less stuffy now that there aren’t an extra three teenagers crammed into the space.

Of course, that train of thought leads Toshinori straight back to what he had been trying to distract himself from.

Yakshini, Encantado and Gamayun. Rather, Yaoyorozu Momo, Shinsou Hitoshi and Midoriya Izuku.

He’s still not entirely sure what to think of them. When the Suzumebachi had approached him earlier, he couldn’t help but be moved by their honest request. They had looked to him for help, and even now, he can’t bring himself to regret offering it. Not after listening to them describe the horror of being taken under everyone’s noses, or seeing their bravery and their care for one another.

No, the only thing Toshinori regrets is that he did not get the chance to meet that Alkaid woman face to face. It had been beyond frustrating to sit there, watching them face off against one of their captors. Toshinori had been ill-content to observe in the beginning, but he had been mollified by the thought that they would know how to handle the unknown delicacies of the situation better than he could.

But then defiance and admirable courage turned to terror and soul-crushing despair, and it was only Aizawa’s glare across the room that held him in his place for as long as it had.

Toshinori still can’t stop his hands from clenching when he thinks about how that woman played with them. Anyone who could leave a person trembling in fear when not even physically present was not someone that should be left at large. It reminds him too much of All for One, how that monster toyed with other people’s lives as if they were little more than fragile dolls. It leaves a foul taste in his mouth.

Part of him can’t help but be proud of the children, too. Eight long years, and Yaoyorozu Momo, Shinsou Hitoshi and Midoriya Izuku found their own way back.

Toshinori isn’t blind to the difficulties they will face in the near future. Not only will Epitaph hunt them and their families down until the organization is taken out, but the children will have to be tried for their crimes, and likely as adults. For a list as numerous as the Suzumebachi killers…?

Well, best not to think about that. They will cross that bridge when they came to it.

Toshinori frowns lightly, following Naomasa down another road. Their rather sketchy behavior will also have to be addressed sooner rather than later, especially in the case that they are ever involved in another altercation like with Eraserhead. Young Shinsou’s distrust and insubordination alone will make interactions with the Suzumebachi difficult, and regardless of their seemingly agreeable temperament, young Yaoyorozu and Midoriya will doubtless have their own problems.

He wants to believe that, with distance and support and given half a chance, the children will recover in time and rejoin society. But even he is not foolish enough to believe that it will be easy.

Toshinori tapped absently on the steering wheel to the melody of the radio song. All that matters right now is getting young Midoriya, Shinsou and Yaoyorozu to safety and working out how to neutralize those trackers in their necks. They won’t be able to actually remove them until it’s safe to get the children to a hospital, but there must be something at the Musutafu station that they can use the jam the signals.


Naomasa escorts the Suzumebachi into the station, Toshinori following at a more subdued pace to ease his aching side. They look around with wary curiosity and keep close to Naomasa’s side. None of them are in handcuffs since they came here voluntarily, but they still follow behind his friend like prisoners.

An older officer manning the front desk waves at Naomasa. “Tsukauchi! What’s going on?”

Naomasa approaches the desk and takes out his ID to flash it at the officer. She takes it and tilts it for a few seconds before nodding. “The place is in a tizzy over some urgent tips you called in - something about a group of villains targeting the families of some missing kids, and a Suzumebachi murder over in Yokohama,” she says, handing the ID back. “What’s going on? And who are they?”

“Did Soma contact everyone I asked him to?” Naomasa asks in lieu of answering. He stashes his ID back in his pocket. The children are watching the proceedings patiently, though young Yaoyorozu seems to be paying special attention.

“Yeah,” she confirms, seemingly not bothered by the lack of answers. “Chief Umeji sent out Sakata’s, Ando’s and Kunieda’s squads, and Watanabe contacted some local free-lancers in the meantime.”

A grimace twists Naomasa’s lips. “Of all the times, Watanabe… Not ideal, but it’ll have to do.”

“Tsukauchi,” the officer begins, her age lines creasing her forehead as she frowns. Naomasa shakes his head.

“I’ll tell you later, Taguchi-san. Right now, I have to get these three into holding and take Yagi-san’s witness statement. If you can, there are going to be three or so families being brought to the station for temporary refuge from villains. Can you send them to me?”

“Fine,” the officer sighs, “but you owe me a coffee. And if the chief finds you with three suspects out of cuff, I didn’t see you.”

“A coffee?” Naomasa asks bewildered, already moving past the front desk to the double doors. The children follow behind stiffly when Toshinori gently urges them on. Naomasa holds the door open for them. “What for?”

“Make it three shots of caffeine! And a spoon of sugar!”

“You’re almost 60, Taguchi-san! Think of your heart!”

“Four shots!”

Toshinori restrains a snort of amusement and catches young Midoriya’s shoulders tremble faintly. He thinks he hears a faint giggle, but he’s not sure. He is certain he hears a “... she... sound... pha-tom…”, however, and sees the small nod the other two give in response.

Toshinori follows them deeper into the station, watching the various officers milling around, going this way and that to accomplish their work. Occasionally, someone who isn’t immediately busy nods or throws out a quick greeting to Naomasa, who returns the gesture politely.

Out of habit, he listens with half an ear to the workplace gossip. In the past, Toshinori had been able to find out quite a bit about a towns’ various troubles by taking a quick trip to the local police station. It’s a method he learned from Gran, and it has yet to let him down.

Someone walks by holding a villain smelling of gunpowder and smoke under the arms. The Suzumebachi go tense instead of just stiff, watching them out of the corner of their eyes, but the pair don’t even glance at them. Only when the two turn out of sight do they relax somewhat. Toshinori wonders absently if they know that villain.

Naomasa leads them down to the holding cells, past offenders who stare after them with dull eyes, and past that to the interrogation rooms. On the way, they catch sight of a man in a suit who waves them over.

The man glowers, tired and bloodshot eyes telling of many sleepless nights in a row. “Damn it, Tsukauchi,” the man rumbles with a voice lower than Toshinori expected. He scratches at his unusually stiff hair, the bark-brown laiden with plum flowers. “I was this close to getting out the door when you called in, but now we’ve got a situation on our hands. Before you ask, yes, I got your message. I put Sakata, Ando and Kunieda on the job to safeguard and transport the families you warned us about.”

“Daigo said as much, Chief Umeji,” Naomasa said, bowing to the chief in greeting. A small, mischievous grin curls his lips. “Don’t complain, Chief. If you could have, you would have married your job years ago.”

The Suzumebachi twitch and tense further, eyeing Naomasa worriedly and watching Umeji intently. Their stances shift periodically. Toshinori can’t tell if they’re ready to leap away at a moment’s notice or if they’re going to stand their ground.

Umeji snorts, the sound rough and bad-tempered, but his tone lacks bite. “Watch it, Tsukauchi, or you’ll find yourself assigned to a new precinct.”

Umeji’s bloodshot eyes turn to the children, and there’s an instant shift. The kids notice it immediately and lower their heads. “So these are them, eh? The Suzumebachi serial killers. A bunch of damn teenagers,” he says, tone coldly professional. Something in Toshinori’s chest goes tight when the Suzumebachi automatically assume their militaristic posing.

“And victims of child abduction and illegal villain-child indoctrination, as it turns out. Those families you sent men out for? Theirs,” Naomasa supplies, respectful.

“You’re shitting me?”

“I wish I was, Chief,” Naomasa replies. “I used my quirk to confirm their story. Everything they told me was the truth as they knew it. They’re turning themselves into custody with the promise of full cooperation in exchange for asylum from the villains that held them captive.”

Umeji glares at Naomasa, and then at the children. From his angle behind them, Toshinori can’t see if they meet his gaze or not. “Is what Tsukauchi Naomasa said true?” Umeji demands, arms crossing over his chest. Toshinori tilts his head slightly at the odd phrasing.

“Yes, sir,” young Midoriya answers back robotically. Umeji looks to Naomasa who, nods, and repeats the question to the other two. When Naomasa confirms their honesty, Umeji nods sharply and turns his attention to Toshinori.

“Who’re you and how do you relate to all this?” Umeji asks.

Toshinori straightens and puts on his least confrontational expression. “Yagi Toshinori, hero secretary, at your service. The kids apparently knew who I was and approached me about acting as a liaison with law enforcement. I’ve worked with Detective Tsukauchi before, so he was the one I knew I could reach in a hurry.”

The chief-of-police stares at Toshinori, but his polite smile does not falter. When Umeji glances at Naomasa to confirm his story, and Naomasa nods, he breathes an internal sigh of relief. It’s always a little risky to play the secretary card. People sometimes ask who he works for, and that almost always gets a little messy.

Umeji signs deeply and runs a rough, callused hand over his face and hair, being gentle with the blooming flowers. “Fine, fine,” he says, taking out a mass of keys on a ring and tossing them to Naomasa. “Tsukauchi, put those three in a room, and then drag yourself and Yagi-san to my office. The families can sleep in the overnight rooms. They get an hour of supervised visitation max.”

“Yes, Chief Umeji,” Naomasa bows his head and goes to unlock the door to an interrogation, searching through the selection of keys. “I told Taguchi to send the families to me-”

Umeji waves his hand dismissively and treads noisily back the way they came from. “I’ll have her redirect them to my office,” he says, and disappears around the corner.

Toshinori snorts quietly. “Quite the character, your chief.”

“He’s rough around the edges, and a little on the harsh side, but Chief Umeji is a good, reasonable man. I wouldn’t have worked here if he wasn’t,” Naomasa defends, fiddling with another key and mumbling under his breath.

Young Shinsou glances back suspiciously, still tense where the other two have started to relax now that the chief-of-police is gone. “You sure it’s safe here?”

Naomasa nods, pulling the door open as he finally finds the right key. He turns to young Shinsou. “As sure as I can be. Because of my quirk, Human Lie Detector, I was able to test the trustworthiness of every officer in this building, including the Chief. No one here has any sort of criminal connection, if you’re worried about Epitaph using a plant to get to you.”

“You’re able to know if anyone within earshot tells a lie?” Young Midoriya inches a little closer, slowly falling out of his at-rest pose.

“And over the phone or in sign language.”

Green eyes go wide open and just a little bit stary as he begins to mumble under his breath. “Even over electronic signals or lack of sound waves? A generalized quirk like that must be very powerful, but it’s probably also hardwired into many different parts of the brain. Definitely the audio-processing centers, but at least some of the visual, too. I wonder if written lies would trigger it, or if it’s able to be turned off at all. Most sensory quirks can’t be turned off, especially if deeply-rooted, but maybe…”

Young Yaoyorozu watches with vaguely amused patience as Midoriya continues to mumble, while young Shinsou rolls his eyes and strolls into the interrogation room without a word. She nudges Young Midoriya, who stumbles mid-word and blushes heavily, shoulders hiking up to his ears. Yaoyorozu nods her head at the doorway, but Midoriya shakes his head no.

“I know I’m not really in a position to be asking anything, but can I have a second to speak with All Might?” Young Midoriya asks Naomasa, keeping his voice low so that it doesn’t carry far.

Naomasa frowns consideringly, but ultimately nods. “Five minutes.”

“Thank you,” he says before turning back to Yaoyorozu. “I’ll join you in a second.”

“You wanted to say something?” Toshinori asks, allowing young Midoriya to pull him a little further down the hall. Behind them, Naomasa follows young Yaoyorozu into the interrogation room.

Midoriya smiles at him, still as concerningly wan as he had been when that Alkaid woman called. He looks so small with his jacket back on, even as the shortest of the three Suzumebachi. The extra layer hides the scarring on his arms, and without it, you would never know he was anything more than a normal fourteen-year old boy.

(Toshinori saw all of their birthdays on their missing child profiles and did the math. Midoriya is the smallest, and the youngest, and it enrages him to think of this boy at six years old, taken from his childhood playground and chucked into a van like a sack of meat.

If there’s any justice in this world, Epitaph will crumble before it ever lays hands on him, on any of them, again. Toshinori will see to that.)

“I wanted to say thank you, for everything you’ve done for us tonight,” Young Midoriya says. “Regardless of what happens to us now, you saved us so… thank you.”

Toshinori smiles back, his skeletal hand nearly engulfing Midoriya’s shoulder when he reaches out. “I’m happy I was able to help in any way,” Toshinori replies, and means it earnestly. He eyes the stress in Midoriya’s face with concern. “It’s been a long night, so I feel like I must ask. How are you feeling?”

Young Midoriya blinks, smile slipping from surprise. “I… It’s fine. En is probably going to crash soon, since this entire thing has been pushing his boundaries pretty hard, and ‘Shini is going to want some time to decompress everything, but… We’ll be fine.”

“And yourself?” Toshinori presses.

Young Midoriya looks away and fiddles with his jacket. There’s a long pause where he doesn’t say anything, instead choosing to fidget with his clothing. But just when Toshinori thinks he won’t answer, Midoriya takes in a deep breath, and then another.

“I… I can’t stop thinking about… what Alkaid said,” young Midoriya admits quietly. Shame bleeds into his face and posture, and Toshinori can’t tell why. “About how she expected one or two of us to die, or rebel…”

Hints of a scowl taints Toshinori’s expression as outrage bubbles faintly. “That was a truly cruel thing to say to you three.”

“Yeah, well…” Young Midoriya mumbles dismissively, rubbing the back of his neck. His hand lingers on his hairline a second too long to be casual. “That’s not even what’s not even what's really bugging me. This’ll sound horrible, but…”

There’s another long pause, before he continues more quietly and subdued. “I had a chance, once, to kill her - Alkaid - and, stupid me, I… Urg, I couldn’t take it. I had a chance to potentially free us, and... I chickened out. She was trusting me - at least, I thought she was starting to trust me, or she was starting to trust her control over me. I don’t know. Her back was turned, and there was a sharp pencil close enough for me to reach...”

Something in Toshinori’s chest goes ice cold as young Midoriya’s face closes off, green eyes cutting like a well-maintained edge, his hand clenched and raised as if brandishing the aforementioned pencil. Like this, distant and hardened and sharp, he is every inch the hidden blade Epitaph made him into.

“What made you reconsider?” Toshinori asks, trying to keep the strangling apprehension out of his voice.

Midoriya’s brow furrows. “I wanted to do it. For what she did to Changeling alone, for what she ordered to happen to him, she would have deserved it. But…”

Slowly, his hand lowers, and the edges in his eyes soften, until all that’s left in their place is a young man, lost and confused, and looking at Toshinori as if asking for guidance. “But I just kept remembering… out of all the people whose lives I’ve ended… I never killed any of them out of a genuine desire to hurt them. I kept wondering… if I started now, then would that mean I would never be able to make up for what I’ve done? And I just… I couldn’t do it.”

Wetness wants to creep into Toshinori’s vision and the throbbing ache in his side is eclipsed by the ache in his heart. In a better world, in a fairer world, this boy would have become something special, would have become someone worthy of the title hero, even with his quirklessness, and nothing will ever be able to convince him otherwise. His gut is screaming at him that, if darkness hadn’t come and sank their claws so deeply into him, this young man could have risen to become a star among stars.

But life is hardly so fair, and Toshinori is left to silently mourn the young Midoriya that could have been for him.

Toshinori puts both hands on his shoulders and turns young Midoriya to face him head-on. “I don’t think that’s horrible at all. In fact, if it means anything,” he says when he’s sure he has the boy’s complete attention, “then I’ll tell you I’m glad you never did it. I’m glad you stayed true to yourself. It would have been a damned shame if we had lost you so completely before you had the chance to save yourself.”

Young Midoriya looks up at him like he’s just hung the moon, eyes unbearably young and vulnerable, and not even Naomasa calling for them dispels it.

Naomasa ushers him forward a little impatiently. “You won’t be separated or questioned for right now, but if anyone does come in, please cooperate with any instructions given and answer questions to the best of your ability, alright?”

Young Midoriya nods absently. He fails to wipe his eyes discreetly, or hide the way he glances at Toshinori adoringly. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbles.

When he enters the interrogation room, the boy hesitates for a second and waves goodbye. Toshinori waves back, causing the boy to smile, and when Naomasa closes and locks the door, it’s the last Toshinori sees of him for a while.


The inside of Chief Umeji’s office is simultaneously more utilitarian and less austere than Toshinori expected. There’s very few things that personalize this space, not even any diplomas or pictures on the wall, but where you would have expected nothing but papers and cold hard metal, there are instead plants. Many, many plants; everything from cacti to neatly trimmed ferns.

Umeji was waiting for them in front of his desk, arms crossed and face twisted into a scowl. He watched them silently as they entered, but only after Toshinori closed the office door behind him did he speak.

“I’ll get to you-” he points at Toshinori ”-in a second. You’re fucking lucky I trust you and didn’t want you to lose face, Tsukauchi. Otherwise you’d be the one in an interrogation room right now,” Umeji growls menacingly. He leans back against the desk behind him, and the casualness of the gesture fools no one when the rest of the man’s body is tense with displeasure. “Voluntary or not, what the fuck were you thinking bringing the Suzumebachi serial killers here without cuffing them first? We know there’s at least one mind-tamperer - did you at least put them on quirk suppressants?”

Tsukauchi nods, unperturbed by the Chief’s harsh tone. “Yes, sir. I administered two oral class-1’s during transport.”

“Class-1’s are mild at best and will wear off in half a day,” Umeji criticizes, unbending. “Why only two? And why take them to an interrogation room instead of a cell?”

“I figured that, because they were the ones to reach out to us and were freely offering their compliance, I should use my discretion, sir. All their weaponry and equipment was confiscated and is currently being processed. They’ve also been tagged with remote tracking equipment in their necks. Those rooms are built with signal jamming material in the walls, so I figured they would serve as an adequate countermeasure until the tracers could be surgically removed. Finally, I only gave suppressants to two of them because, well…” Tsukauchi pauses, mouth twisting uncertainly. “One of them is quirkless, sir. The suppressants wouldn’t have done anything.”

Bloodshot eyes widen and his mouth drops open, stunned silent. In a way, Toshinori understands the surprise. He wouldn’t have believed it himself if young Midoriya hadn’t said something.

Quirks just mean that a person is capable of one particular thing, not that they aren’t capable of anything else. Not possessing a quirk never actually meant that someone was helpless or less capable, despite popular opinion these days. Of course, Toshinori has no room to talk - despite being born quirkless himself, he had unconsciously allowed himself to buy into that opinion.

Putting his face in his hands, Umeji sighs deeply, suddenly appearing very weary as his shoulder slump. “A kid who’s taken out trained fucking heroes is quirkless. It just keeps getting better and better…”

“Wanna know the cherry on top?” Naomasa asks, wry.

“What?”

“The villains who held the Suzumebachi hostage for the last eight years belong to Epitaph,” Naomasa reveals without fanfare. He reaches into the pocket of his shed coat and pulls out the notepad he used to record all the information the kids gave him. He hands it to the chief and waits patiently.

Toshinori watches as Umeji’s expression slowly goes from focused to alarmed. The chief’s hand tenses, causing the paper to crinkle in the silence. The room must be sound-proofed, because Toshinori can’t hear anything coming from the busy station behind him.

“This doesn’t look like a smuggling ring,” Umeji says thickly.

Naomasa’s face matches his grim tone. “That’s because its not. The smuggling ring conclusion might have put forth by plants in different police forces around the country.”

“This is the group going after the families of the Suzumebachi? Let me guess, for disloyalty?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then it’s a good thing you called in when you did. A group this big and this well-organized would be able to find those families in a few hours. How do they manage this? A pissed-off accountant?” Umeji hands the notebook back and moves around his desk to access his computer. “Check if we have records on all the names the Suzumebachi gave us and have Daigo look into every outpost and front on that list. I’ll call the infiltrated precincts to let them know there’s a been a plant. And stop covering for Taguchi already!”

Umeji gives a long glance to the side, and when Toshinori follows it he sees a photo that he missed. It’s of Umeji, with an androgynous person and a young girl that looks nothing like either of them. The person and girl are smiling, and each of them are holding up a different decorative plant. The photo looks like it was taken at a flower stand, the person wearing a dirt-stained apron, and in the background is a sign with a blue rose painted on it.

From where Toshinori is standing, the photo is partially hidden by a flowering plant. He has to inch closer and lean a bit to make out that much. But, he supposes, if he were to sit at Umeji’s desk, he would be able to see it perfectly,

Huh. So that’s where all the plants came from.

“Yagi-san, I’ll save the questions for later. Can you contact the heroes you work for and see if any of them are available to help with the case?” Umeji asks without looking at Toshinori.

Toshinori grins, and if there’s a bit more teeth in it than necessary, well… After a night like tonight, he doesn’t think anyone would mind. “I’m sure All Might would be delighted to help with this.”

“A-All Might!?” Chief Umeji sputters, visibly appearing flustered and off-guard for the first time. Immediately afterwards, the door to the office opens with an deafening slam, cutting off whatever else he would have said.

Toshinori whirls around, body tense and ready for anything, but an nothing happens. Instead, in the doorway is a woman, a hero going by her outfit, with black hair tied up in a voluminous, wind blown ponytail and glaring violet eyes. She yanks off the half-mask disguising her lower face, and Toshinori is struck with a sudden sense of deja vu.

“Where is she?” Yaoyorozu Hisoka demands, panting like she’d run here and stance unnecessarily confrontational. Behind her, a harried Taguchi shrugs helplessly. “Where is my daughter?”


There’s not much to the room Tsukauchi put them in - just a table and chair pair bolted to the floor, a bed jutting out from the wall and a window on the wall disguised as a mirror. It obviously wasn’t meant to hold more than one person, but Gamayun isn’t going to question it. It might not be anywhere near as comfortable as their room back at base, but the calm is welcome.

Yakshini is already sitting on the bed with Encantado’s head in her lap, stroking his longer hair and staring at the mirror with a pensive look on her face. She’s taken the chance to let her hair down, he notes, and her coat is now more an over-the-shoulder throw blanket than being a coat. It makes her look even smaller, thinner.

Encantado is curled up on the stiff-looking bed, back turned to the door and his face nearly pressed into Yakshini’s stomach, his jacket thrown over his body to act like a blanket. It’s a pose Gamayun has seen far too often over the years. He’s been in Yakshini’s position enough times that he can imagine the pinch in Encantado’s brow, the stiffness of his closed eyes and slight frown of his lips.

Gamayun tosses his jacket on the chair, feeling the slight chill on his skin, and picks a spot next to Yakshini to sit. There’s a comfortable silence between them. No one feels the need to speak, and frankly Gamayun is glad.

All Might’s words were… like nothing Gamayun has ever heard before. He never fully trusted the praise Alkaid, Ken or Ozaki gave him because it was… conditional. If he wanted it, then he would have to conform to their standards of how they wanted him to behave. He had to display a certain level of cunning, or a particular amount of ruthlessness, or even just a willingness to consider what they told him, and any deviation was met with a harsh response. Most times, it was hard to tell if they were genuinely praising him, or just saying what they thought he wanted to hear.

Even with the other Suzumebachi, no one was ever just glad that he was being himself. Maybe in the beginning, back when everyone tried hard to remain themselves. Back when they had someone to be themselves for. Phantom was their youngest, and everyone had agreed without a word that she had needed a good example.

But then those villains attacked, and suddenly everyone remaining was more concerned with keeping their heads above water than being themselves. Everyone but him.

“I’m glad you stayed true to yourself.”

What does it say about him that Gamayun’s immediate reaction after hearing that was to want to do quite literally anything if it meant hearing that again...?

Yakshini sighs through her nose and slumps forward a little, face drawn and tired. It takes a second for Gamayun to reach into another of his hidden pockets and take out a packet of fruit-flavored gummies. He’s glad that Tsukauchi had allows Encantado and he to keep their supply.

Gamayun offers it to Yakshini, waving it slowly back and forth in front of her face when she doesn’t immediately take it. She watches, dark eyes following it, unamused. When she still refuses to take it, Gamayun takes the chance to open the packet. A citrus smell fills his nose, and Gamayun pulls out a purple-colored cherry shape. Not his favorite flavor, but it will do.

Taking the small fruit treat, Gamayun makes of show of tilting his head back and opening his mouth with an intentionally obnoxious noise. Lining the gummy up, he flicks it up in the air and leans his body to catch it in his mouth. He chews the treat with a bright smile and offers the packet to Yakshini again.

Yakshini stares at him, and for a second he thinks that his trick didn’t work, but then she snorts. The corner of his lips tilts up in a wry smile and she shakes her head. She reaches over and pulls out a small handful of gummies that she eats one by one.

Gamayun gives himself a mental high-five.

There’s another silence that’s more comfortable than the first. Just the two of them eating fruit gummies in silence with Encantado dozing. It reminds him of the calm times, when they don’t have missions or training to attend. When it’s just them alone in their shared room.

“Do you have any idea when the tracers might have been installed?” Yakshini asks quietly, keeping her voice down so as to not disturb Encantado. “I’ve been trying to figure out when it could have happen and have us not remember.”

Gamyun shrugs. “My best guess would be back when they first acquired us. Either we suppressed the memory of it, or they tagged us after we passed out from training.”

Yakshini frowns, brow furrowed like it does when she’s trying to work out a particularly tricky piece of code. “That’s what I’ve been thinking, too, but… That seems almost too convenient, doesn’t it? Either we don’t remember them doing it, in which case, why did not a single one of us remember, not even Hecah? Or none of us were awake when it happened, which… What if they did something else to us, and none of us know?”

That’s a thought Gamayun has been trying to avoid. It’s easy to not think of something if you don’t know its there. But find a single hint, and suddenly it’s all you can think about.

He winds his arm around Yakshini’s, trying to jostle her coat as little as possible. Her arm is distressingly thin, bony, and what muscle she’s developed from her swordplay is wiry and palpably close to the surface. “Tsukauchi told us he would try to get us in to see a doctor as soon as he can,” he reminds her. “If there really is anything wrong, they’ll find it. You already know what they’re gonna say to you.”

Dark eyes roll and Yakshini shakes her head. “Yes, yes. I’m thin as a reed and I need to eat more to stop my quirk from consuming my own organs. I know. Every doctor Epitaph has tells me that.”

“And yet here you are,” Gamayun counters drily.

Yakshini ducks her head. “Can we not restart this?” Her voice is soft, and tired. Gamayun’s heart aches at the sound.

He sighs, defeated. Gamayun slumps back against the wall behind him. “Yeah, sorry. I’m just… worried. About a lot of things.”

She glances back at him, and her hand drops to start petting Encantado’s hair again now that there’s no gummies left to hold. “About Epitaph,” she says, and it’s not a question. “They’re going to come after us for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t matter if the heroes protect us, not really. They’ll target anyone associated with us if they think it’ll give them an advantage. We’ll never be free of them forever.”

“... No…” It feels more like a defeat, a resignation, than it should. They were finally out from under Epitaph’s thumb. Blessed would never administer their punishments again. Ken would never drag them to training when they were sick or injured. Senri would never give them targets or touch Yakshini again, Hirotsu would never be there to dig his bloody fingers in Encantado, Akutagawa won’t be there to carve Gamayun up like a slab of meat anymore…

No more Alkaid. No more Epitaph. No more theft and sabotage and murder. They even have their names back.

It should feel like a victory. So, then why does it all suddenly feel like all they’re doing is just delaying the inevitable?

“I…” Gamayun’s mouth opens without his permission, unable to stand the hopelessness that wants to sprout inside. “I want to believe the heroes will come through for us…”

The look Yakshini gives him, a terrible mix of resigned sadness, pity and amazement, like hopes ground to dust and faith run dry, makes him feel small. The tired grin on her lips makes him feel wretched. “You never give up, do you, Gama? It’s part of your charm, I guess.”

This time, when Gamayun smiles, it’s full of all the strength he’s long exhausted, and all the knowledge of his own foolishness. “Well, one of us has to keep the dream alive.”

Encantado snorts from Yakshini’s lap, revealing that he had been listening. A drained purple eye creeps open and pears up at them with sleepy amusement. Encantado shifts so that he’s on his back, head still in Yakshini’s lap. His face is expressionless and intent, which usually means that he’s thinking about something.

“So… Yaoyorozu Momo and Midoriya Izuku, and me, Shinsou Hitoshi… Is no one going to talk about the elephant in the room?” Encantado folds his hands on his stomach.

Gamayun can’t hide his grimace. It felt so right when it was happening, that instant snap of right and this is mine, this is me, but now…

When Gamayun thinks of the name Midoriya Izuku, all he sees is a six-year old child playing with his All Might action figure. He’s an innocent child, without the horrors of the last eight years. A child who, if the vague, formless impressions he remembers from his gentler nightmares are true and not just a figment of his mind made up by Alkaid and Ozaki’s presence and his own gullibility, was once loved.

No blood on his hands, no scars littering his body, no nightmares of screams plaguing his sleep, and no darkness cultivated with the express purpose of turning him into a weapon. Just an innocent child.

And Gamayun is not an innocent child anymore.

Yakshini doesn’t bother to hide her discontent either, shaking her head and combing her hand through Encantado’s hair. “It feels too strange. Like… I know that the name is mine, intellectually, but-”

“But it doesn’t feel like its yours,” Gamayun finishes, rubbing the back of his head. The fuzz on the sides is growing, he notes absently, and the back of the mohawk is getting long enough that he can feel individual curls tickling his neck.

Encantado looks away for a moment, thinking. “I’m not having as big a problem adjusting to the knowledge, really,” he admits, somewhat sheepish. “But that might just be because I’ve known that my name was Hitoshi from the beginning. I never fully forgot like you and the others did.”

“I’m still not happy that you never told us, even if I can understand why,” Yakshini says firmly, fingers pulling lightly at his hair in protest, and Encantado nods.

“If it’s any consolation, I think you guys will get used to them again,” he says, displaying a positivity that is somewhat atypical of him these last ten months. Gamayun wonders what caused the change. “Maybe not enough to really reclaim it as yours, but… maybe enough that it doesn’t feel so wrong.”

Encantado opens his mouth to say something else, but a knock on the door interrupts him. They all focus on the door, listening as the lock clicks. Out of the corner of his eye, Gamayun sees Encantado quickly gets up off of Yakshini’s lap to sit normally, and he untangles his arm from her.

The door to the interrogation room creaks open and an unfamiliar officer pokes his head in. “Ah, Yaoyorozu-san? You have a visitor. No leaving the room and no exchanging of objects or substances, alright? You have one hour starting now.”

Visitors? Does he mean their families? Are they at the station already!?

A woman barges into the doorway, nearly shoving the officer to the side in her rush to get inside. She’s almost six feet tall and wearing a full-body armored suit, rendered in dark greens and lighter blues, and an off-white utility belt around her waist. There’s a sleek metallic mask hanging from her neck that would only cover the bottom half up to her cheekbones, and her long black hair is windblown and tangled. Her violet eyes are a familiar shape, as are her nose, cheeks and chin, and they’re locked squarely on a frozen, wide-eyed Yakshini.

The woman takes a shaky step forward, then another, and another, until she’s across the room and kneeling in front of Yakshini. She reaches up with a trembling hand, but is quick to retract it and remove her glove before reaching out again. As an unspoken agreement, Gamayun and Encantado inch away on the bed.

Her fingers cup Yakshini’s cheek with an aching gentleness. Yakshini jolts, causing the woman to twitch back in surprise. Her hand returns, however, and the touch sends Yakshini vibrating with sudden tension.

“Momo…,” the woman whispers into the silence, like she can’t believe what she’s seeing. Like if she’s any louder, then Yakshini will disappear. “It’s really you, isn’t it? My little Momo-hime...”

Yakshini lets out a high-pitched whine Gamayun hasn’t heard since Phantom was killed.

“Mom… Mama…,” she gasps, voice strangled and eyes wet, and lunges forward, her jacket falling from her shoulders.

Yaoyorozu Hisoka catches her daughter and wraps her tightly in her arms, curling over her as Yakshini burrows into her mother’s hold. She pats Yakshini’s hair and clutches at her, occasionally pulling back just enough to look at her daughter’s face. “I never stopped looking for you,” she whispers into dark hair the same color as her own, not bothering to hide her tears. “I never stopped looking for you. I never stopped hoping I’d find you.”

Yakshini quietly keens a mournful, wounded sound, muffling herself in her mother’s shoulder, clutching tight to her mother’s sides and not looking like she’s going to let go any time soon.

Across the way, the officer who let in Yaoyorozu Hisoka quietly waves at them to get their attention. He points at Encantado, and then taps his wristwatch. Encantado appears confused for a moment, but then the officer moves aside, and it quickly becomes apparent what he meant.

A small family walks into the room, more politely than Yaoyorozu Hisoka but no less filled with urgency. The man could be Encantado in a few decades, if he got some restful sleep and stayed under the sun for a few weeks; purple hair cut short and black, wire-frame glasses over purple eyes. The woman, probably his wife, has Encantado’s pale skin, but with mousey brown hair and pale, almost translucent eyes. And the final member of the family was a girl, probably only a few years Encantado’s junior, with her mother’s pale skin and brown hair, and her father and older brother’s purple eyes. All of them are dressed in pajamas, like they’d been hurried from their beds to get here.

Both Encantado and the Shinsou family stare at each other with wide, disbelieving eyes, but no one moves towards one another.

Gamayun pokes Encantado’s hand, causing him to jolt and glance over with wild, panicking eyes. But all Gamayun does is nod his head towards the family and give an encouraging smile.

Slowly, Encantado takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, visibly trying to relax. After several of these breathes, he finally gets up on shaking legs and moves around the Yaoyorozu’s.

That seems to be the impetus. As soon as he clears Yakshini and her mother, the family hurries over to meet him. His sister is the first to reach him, driving into her older brother and latching on with a hug that looks strong enough to crush bone. Encantado freezes in place, unable to return the hug, but that doesn’t stop his mother and father from gathering their children up to crush them between them, both of them planting small, wet kiss on Encantado’s face.

Gamayun’s heart aches as, slowly, but surely, Encantado raises his arms to hug back.

Two down, one to go… Hopefully…

Gamayun glances at the officer manning the door, but the man only shrugs and shakes his head.

So he waits on the bed, watching the Yaoyorozu’s and the Shinsou’s finally reunite. His chest feels likes it’s going to explode with everything he’s feeling - joy and elation for his fellow Suzumebachi, pain for the years that separated them all, worry over where the Midoriya’s are, and a terrible, aching longing for those that could not be here with them.

He wonders who would have shown up, if Hecatoncheir or Phantom or Changeling were here.

Some time passes. Long enough for Yaoyorozu Hisoka to move herself and Yakshini to a corner of the room, still tangled around one another as if afraid to let go. Long enough for both families to start giving him confused, pitying looks.

Lead sinks in Gamayun’s gut. He lowers his head to avoid looking at anyone, and prepares himself to mourn yet another loss.

Maybe the police hadn’t gotten there in time after all…

Knock, knock, knock

His head jerks up.

The officer at the door is looking at him, a smile on his face and a finger tapping at his wrist watch. He steps aside and…

And a short, plump woman appears in the doorway wearing a floral nightgown and All Might slippers. Her dark green hair is pulled into a messy ponytail, and her bright green eyes scan the room frantically until they land on him.

There’s a bit of resemblance between them beyond the coloring, Gamayun notes absently. They have the same skin and thick hair and big eyes, but he also has her cheeks, her nose, her chin and her ears. Maybe something else, too, even if they don’t share freckles.

Gamayun’s chest hurts, but he can’t even begin to decipher what he’s feeling right now.

He thought that if he saw one or both of his parents, that something would snap into place, just like it had with his name. He had been hoping without realizing it that it would be that easy, that instantaneous. But it’s not. Gamayun doesn’t recognize this woman’s face, not really. Not in any big, world-stopping way.

But…

But…

But he knows. He knows on some basic, fundamental level. Something buried so deep that nothing would have been able to touch it.

This is his mother.

This woman is Gamayun’s mother.

His body moves without his say so. Gamayun slides off the bed and walks forward, and his mother matches him step for step.

They meet in the middle of the room, eyes locked on each other, not believing what each other is seeing. The rest of the room fades away, and the world beyond it might as well have not existed at all. All the mattered was the woman in front of him.

She’s the one who moves first. Her small hands reach up for his face. They cup his cheeks, trembling faintly. The calluses on her hands are softer than his, likely from work, from cleaning and cooking rather than wielding tools of destruction. Gamayun reaches up to cup her hands with him.

Their touch is the most comforting thing that he’s ever felt before.

“My boy…” his mother whispers, voice shaky as big crocodile tears begin to flow. She sniffles, her face twisting into something equal parts pain, relief, and joy. “My Izukun… Look at you, so grown up…”

Gamayun’s eyes start to water as well, because he’s always been a sympathetic crier. One emotion sticks out above the storm in his heart, and it lodges itself in his throat and shakes his body to its core. It twists his lips into a smile that he’d forgotten how to make, and laughter bubbles to the surface.

“H-hi, mom,” Gamayun says.

Love.

Chapter Text

To: < judgeyoshiakishindo.familycourt.musutafu.orj >< judgetoramizufujiko.familycourt.musutafu.orj >< judgekinjonampo.familycourt.musutafu.orj >

From: < muraaneko.juvenileclassificationhome.musutafu.orj >

To Judges Yoshiaki, Toramizu and Kinjo,

Encased in this email is our judgement on the temperament classifications of Midoriya Izuku, Yaoyorozu Momo and Shinsou Hitoshi, as well as comments and concerns from staff regarding their health, mental states, education and well-being. Classification was determined over a 4-week period by senior juvenile psychological staff Dr. Taketa Eizan, Dr. Mura Aneko and Dr. Umemura Masako, sociologist Dr. Nakanishi Michi, senior medical staff Dr. Hiroto Ieyoshi and family court investigator, Hayakawa Soujiro.

All three suspects have been determined to have consistent, ingrained behaviors that are in line with children that have been abused over long periods of time. Additionally, they have shown clear signs of villainous indoctrination, with varying levels of effectiveness and expression between each suspect. Each one has been seen to have an extreme lack of boundaries regarding the other two, as well as borderline obsessive protectiveness towards one another, and differing levels of paranoia and caution towards strangers. Dr. Umemura had expressed concern over Yaoyorozu and Midoriya’s unwillingness to use their birth names until recently, as well as all three suspect’s prevalent codependency.

There have been little sign of overt aggression or hostility from any of the suspects beyond mild back-talking and refusal to comply with some requests. When startled or otherwise put in situations where they have felt threatened, however, they do seem to want fall back on some form of training they must have received prior. There have been no injuries or violent incidents, but it is recommended that the three children be treated with caution nonetheless.

Yaoyorozu Momo has shown to have the most consistently even and mild temperament. She has not often been seen socializing with staff or fellow detainees beyond surface level pleasantries. Her most immediate behavioral concern is her abnormally low appetite and periodic anorexia, as well a compulsory use of her matter-generation quirk. Dr. Umemura has also noted down certain behaviors and replies to questions as possible indicators of sexual harassment or abuse by an authority figure.

Midoriya Izuku has shown an extraordinary amount of well-adjusted social mannerisms given his circumstances, regularly speaking with staff and detainees, and sometimes stepping in to help calm or reason with Shinso or Yaoyorozu. Dr. Taketa has expressed concern that this behavior, in combination with statements made and self-harmful behaviors observed during the analysis process, might only be a surface front for deeper, more self-destructive problems.

Shinsou Hitoshi has consistently displayed asocial behavior towards both staff and fellow detainees. He often refused to speak unless spoken to and went out of his way to avoid willing interaction with anyone who was not Yaoyorozu or Midoriya, who he frequently supports emotionally. Conversely, it is of interest that, if an incident broke out between members of staff and any detainee(s), Shinsou was the first and last to defend the detainee’s possible innocence. I have noted that Shinsou has also displayed multiple indicators of clinical depression and passive suicidal ideation.

The Musutafu Juvenile Temperament Classification Home pronounces the temperaments of Yaoyorozu Momo, Shinsou Hitoshi and Midoriya Izuku as such;
Yaoyorozu Momo: Mild-mannered, observant and reasonable. Mentally Ill. Low-to-Mid Risk for Criminal Delinquency.
Midoriya Izuku: Friendly, optimistic and moral. Mentally Ill. Low Risk for Criminal Delinquency.
Shinsou Hitoshi: Weary, cautious and supportive. Mentally Ill. Low-to-Mid Risk for Criminal Delinquency.

In regards to health and well-being, Yaoyorozu’s condition is of the highest concern. Dr. Hiroto has noted that her bones and organs are unusually healthy for someone with juvenile anorexia. However, her body fat to weight ratio is still distressingly low, especially for her quirk-type. Shinsou’s consistent insomnia and passive suicidal ideation and Midoriya’s self-harm are of slightly less urgent, if no less important, concern.

All three suspects will need long-term psychological, and psychiatric care if they wish to bounce back, and it is highly recommended that they undergo rigorous behavioral counseling as well.

The Classification Home also recommends giving the suspects education aides. Their knowledge of the various academic subjects is spotty at best, fluctuating between upper high school-level and first grade-level depending on the subject and individual suspect. On average, none of them would be able to graduate their mandatory schooling levels at this point in time.

Sincerely,
Dr. Mura Aneko, Musutafu Juvenile Temperament Classification Home, senior Psychologist.

P.S. It is strongly recommended by Dr. Hiroto, Dr. Nakanishi, Dr. Taketa and myself that the suspects be separated as little as possible until their mental health has improved.


To:< judgeyoshiakishindo.familycourt.musutafu.orj >< judgetoramizufujiko.familycourt.musutafu.orj >< judgekinjonampo.familycourt.musutafu.orj >

From: < hayakawasoujiro.bureauofinvestigation.musutafu.orj >

Honorable Judges Yoshiaki, Toramizu and Kinjo,

Regarding the investigation into the Suzumebachi case, I have conducted several interviews with the Midoriya, Shinsou and Yaoyorozu families, as well as looked into their backgrounds and financial situations. I was only able to assess the suspect’s upbringing beyond their first 6 (six) years through interviews with the suspects, as none of the Epitaph agents we have managed to arrest in the last 6 (six) weeks had enough importance to have had a hand in raising them.

There seems to be nothing wrong with the Midoriya family beyond Midoriya Inko being listed as divorced. Records show that Midoriya-san divorced her husband, formerly Midoriya neé Hiryu Hisashi, due to neglect of the marriage and neglect of his child after their son, Midoriya Izuku, was kidnapped by Epitaph. Midoriya-san works as a secretary for a legal firm in Musutafu and her home would have been adequate for both herself and another person. Midoriya-san herself has no record of delinquency and would qualify as an excellent guardian. Hiryu-san is living in America and could not be contacted for an interview. He has no record of delinquency.

The Yaoyorozu family is a well known hero family. Yaoyorozu Hisoka declined to follow in her mother’s footsteps until after her daughter, Yaoyorozu Momo, was kidnapped by Epitaph. Her daughter’s father, Tsuzuki Nagare, died prior to their marriage and his daughter’s birth. Yaoyorozu-san more than qualifies as a sufficient guardian of a child and her home is more than adequate to shelter her and her daughter, as well as her parents, Yaoyorozu Junpei and Chidori. Yaoyorozu-san has no record of delinquency, nor did her fiancé prior to his death.

The Shinsou family is much the same. No records of delinquency, being upstanding citizens and trying to raise their youngest child, Shinsou Noriko, to the best of their ability. Shinsou Izuna works as a freelance graphics designer while his wife, Shinsou neé Seiwara Nanami, is an office worker. Their home would have been sufficient to house both themselves and another. The only thing of note is that Shinsou-san has voluntarily handed over some of her family’s medical records, which indicate that there is a history of mental illness in the Seiwara family. I have attached the relevant files to this email with Shinsou-san’s permission.

The final three Suzumebachi suspects families have been notified of the confirmation of the children’s deaths/niece’s disappearance. The Suzumebachi in custody have confirmed that it is unlikely they will be targeted by Epitaph. As such, out of sympathy for their grief, we have declined to inform the families about their family member’s involvement with the Suzumebachi.

Regarding my investigation into the Suzumebachi’s upbringing, the suspects have willingly complied with my requests and gone into as much detail as I could reasonably get out of them, covering both their individual crimes and their time in Epitaph. The details are too numerous to put in this email, so I’ve faxed my findings to the honorable judges offices. The suspects have also expressed remorse for their actions and a desire not to repeat them.

My honest conclusion is this: due to all the evidence I have gathered, I have concluded that the Suzumebachi have all undergone horrific abuse, torture and physical, mental and emotional trauma with the sole purpose of converting them into in-human weapons. It is a miracle that they know which way is up, let alone have any ability to understand that their actions, while under duress, were still wrong. It is my hope that the honorable judges will pass fair judgement in light of the facts.

Sincerely,
Hayakawa Soujirou, Family Court Investigator for the Bureau of Investigation, Musustafu Branch


Somehow, he expected the ride to their temporary guardian’s home to be more tension filled. Their probation officer hasn’t spoken more than a few words to them since they left the courthouse, but the silence isn’t stifling. Yaksh-no, err… Momo sits in the back with... Hitoshi, watching as he plays card tricks on his lap. Izuku doesn’t know where he got the deck from, since all their belongings had been confiscated when they were sent to the Classification Home.

Izuku… Doesn’t that still feel so strange? Seven weeks since he was reminded, and it was only because it was getting confusing to keep track of when people were speaking to him that he decided to switch. He still isn’t sure whether or not it fits him, still pricklingly unfamiliar and child-small, but at this point, he’ll settle for something without Gamayun’s anchor-weight.

In the back, Momo lets out an incredulous huff as Hitoshi manages to fool her quick eyes for the third time in an hour. Izuku can imagine the smug smirk on Hitoshi’s face just as easily as he can imagine how Yak - Momo’s going to take the cards and try to replicate the trick.

Phantom would have just tossed the cards in his face.

The probation officer, Izuku never heard his name, glances at his GPS and turns down another road. Wherever they’re going, it’s on the outer edges of the city center. There are tall buildings everywhere he looks, but on occasion, Izuku will spot smaller, older homes. Izuku focuses on keeping his breathing even through his nerves.

“We’re almost there,” the probation officer says at long last, drawing Izuku’s attention. Behind him, the sound of shuffling cards falls quiet.

“Okay, just to go over the rules again, the family court has agreed that, until your trial is complete, you are to remain under the supervision of a designated hero or law enforcement officer, the identity of whom will change bi-weekly,” the officer says. “This is both to keep track of you and for yours and the public’s safety, given your previous affiliations. You’re also not to remove your tracking bracelets under any circumstance. They’re waterproof and damage resistant, so don’t worry about showers or manual labor.”

Izuku’s hand drifts over to his left wrist. The black, lightweight plastic and fabric band feels smooth under his fingertips, finally starting to feel body-warm

Izuku isn’t sure how he feels about there being another tracker on his person. The surgical scar at the base of his skull still feels raw and barely healed to his touch despite being weeks old. Part of him wants to always remember the feeling of it, a reminder of what came before. The rest of him just wants to forget it exists.

At least he can see the thing around his wrist. A lot of things from That Night to now have been blessedly transparent like that.

The officer glances over at Izuku with a carefully neutral expression, also looking at Momo and Hitoshi in the rearview mirror. “Just do what your supervisor tells you and keep your noses clean. I’ll be giving your supervisor a receiver that will display your trackers locations. If, after twelve days, your supervisor notes that you’ve shown good behavior for the duration of your stay with them, you can elect to spend the last two days of the two-week period with your families. Any criminal activity, however, will land you straight back in a jail cell with no chance at another deal.”

Izuku hums in acknowledgement, unperturbed by the man’s aloof tone. “Mom and the Shinsou’s have taken Yaoyorozu-san up on her offer, then?”

“Yes,” the officer confirms, and it feels like he can breathe a bit more easily through the uncertainty that’s been clogging his lungs all day.

The car pulls into the driveway of a home, the outside a calm blue and with a garden of neatly-trimmed shrubs around the perimeter. It’s a quaint, unassuming home, especially for one so far into the city. Izuku wonders who could be living here.

The probation officer turns off the car, but doesn’t make any move to get out. Instead, he shifts around in his seat until he can look at them all. “Only a couple more things before I turn you over. While you’re here, you’re going to be receiving education workbooks. You’re expected to complete them so that you can reach your mandatory minimum education levels. If you need help, talk to your supervisor. I’ll also be stopping by once a week or so for progress reports from your supervisor, so you’ll be seeing me around. Any questions?”

When they’ve all answered a negative, the probation officer nods. He pushes a button on his key fob, the car shaking as the trunk pops open, and gets out. They follow sedately, retrieving their bag of clothing and toiletries from the open trunk.

The probation officer knocks on the off-white door. It take a second, Izuku thinks he can hear the sound of scrambling through the thick wood, but then the door opens with a whoosh of air and a barely noticeable trickle of steam.

“I am here! Opening the door like a normal person!”

Izuku’s eyes widen dramatically. Wait, their new supervisor can’t be-

The probation officer’s voice barely penetrates the stunned state of his brain, light and friendly whereas before it had been cold. “Good afternoon, sir. I’m here to drop off your new charges, “ he greets. He hands over a device similar to a small tablet. “Here is the receiver to the tracking bracelets on their wrists. Have the education aides arrived yet? Would you like assistance in getting them settled?”

All Might’s grin somehow manages to widen further as he pockets the receiver in his banana yellow suit pants. “The workbooks arrived just this morning. Don’t trouble yourself, my good man. I’ve got everything in hand.”

They’re ushered in and the probation officer departs, but Izuku is deaf to all of it, because their new supervisor is All Might.

(Izuku still keeps the memory of That Night close. There are some parts make him sick with fear if he thinks about them for too long, but there was also a light. One that guided the way and banished the darkness, if only for a moment. There hasn’t been a night that’s gone by where Izuku hasn’t fallen asleep to the memory of All Might’s parting words to him. To remind himself that this is all worth it.)

Once the door is closed, All Might becomes surrounded by steam. There’s the sound of coughing, a faint whiff of blood in the air, and when the steam dissipates, All Might has shrunken and deflated to his weaker true form. His white dress shirt and pants now hang off his skinny frame. A quiet part of his recovering brain wonders why All Might is dressed up so formally.

All Might hides his coughing behind his hand, shoulders jerking with the force of it. Yakshini - Momo, damn it! - walks up to him, pulling a sunflower yellow handkerchief from her pocket and offers it to him. The coughing fit fades, and All Might’s smile as he accepts the gift is less grandiose, but no less gracious and warm.

“Thank you,” he says softly, dabbing his bloody lips. “Come in, come in! Make yourselves at home. You’ll be here for the next two weeks after all.”

He waves them further into the home. Stepping out of his shoes, Izuku leaves the entranceway to look around. He can see a living room, a kitchen and a dining area from where the entryway, as well as a hallway and stairs to another floor with a railing to overlook the lower floor. The spaces he can see are well-decorated with an eclectic mess of different but still well-matched furniture, with some parts seeming older than others. Only the kitchen area looks fully modernized, though the living room does have a large tv. Windows let in streams of bright afternoon sun, lending the place an air of warmth. It all feels… welcoming.

This is not at all what Izuku expected a hero’s home to look like, let alone All Might’s.

Hitoshi walks ahead and spins in a slow circle to examine the home. “I expected more merchandise.”

“Er, no,” All Might replies with a grimace, a hand coming up to rub his neck. “Do you have any idea how awkward it is to have your own face staring back at you?

All Might leads the way further into the house, waving for them to follow him. The hallway just off the living room has three doors and is just wide enough for all three of them to stand shoulder to shoulder. Izuku is used to the cramped, low-ceiling service tunnels beneath Epitaph’s few home bases - how do people deal with all this open space? “Come on, I’ll give you a brief tour and show you to your rooms. While we’re at it, it’s been a while since I last saw you three. How have you all been fairing?”

A wordless glance passes from Momo to Izuku and Hitoshi.

Izuku smiles at All Might’s back even if he won’t see it. “It’s been alright. Honestly, we were expecting things to be a lot worse. Things are less harsh than we figured we would be getting.”

All Might lets out a sound of understanding. He pauses at door and opens it to let them peak inside, doing this for every door in the hallway. The first door on the right is a simple toilet with sink and mirror covering a medicine cabinet, while the door next to it leads to a traditional-style bathing area. The door across from the bathroom opens to an open patio space and a small, well-tended vegetable garden hidden from the outside world by more tall hedges.

“You didn’t expect to be treated fairly or be given a chance,” he says in between showing them the bathroom and the patio.

“I’m still not entirely sure the staff at the Classification Home even knew who we were. They certainly never said anything about it,” Momo adds. Her hands fiddle with her bag strap, unable to Create anything with the quirk suppressants still in her system.

“Oh, they definitely knew. They’re just too professional to let biases show too obviously,” All Might says. “If any of you want to come out here, go ahead. Maybe if you’re up early enough, you can help me in the garden.”

Hitoshi raises an eyebrow at that. “You garden?” he asks, curious.

“Now that my daily time limit for hero work is down so low, I’ve found that I have more free time than I’m used to. Gardening helps pass the time, and saves on grocery money,” All Might replies with a pleased chuckle.

“Doesn’t hero work pay a lot? Why would you need to save for groceries?” Izuku was pretty sure that the top ten heroes earned a small fortune every month. Flame Hero Endeavor was known to have a sprawling, ostentatiously-decorated mansion, while far lower ranking heroes like the Wild, Wild Pussycats owned large amounts of land. Someone with All Might’s prestige should be able to easily pay for whatever he wants. He’s certainly able to fund a lot of charities.

All Might rubs the back of his head sheepishly. Is he embarrassed about this? Or is-

Hitoshi elbows Izuku in the side, jolting him out of his thoughts.

Oh, Izuku’s mumbling again. Shit.

“Ah,” All Might coughs. Izuku ducks his head, mortified and with a little thread of fear curling in his gut. This isn’t even the first time he’d lost his head in front of All Might! If this were Blessed, she would be threatening him with the stapler gun again...

Izuku glances surreptitiously at the hero’s large, spidery hands. Nothing happens, and after a moment Izuku allows himself to relax.

“Ah, you’re partially right,” All Might says, thankfully choosing to let Izuku’s lapse of control go. “Most of what I make, I donate. Some of it ends up in the bank so that I have something to fall back on in an emergency, but I usually only keep enough for essentials like food, rent, utilities and gas money, plus a few non-necessities. I don’t tend to impulse splurge often.”

“You’re renting?” Hitoshi asks, an uneasy, suspicious gleam in his half-lidded eyes. Izuku shares the sentiment - renting means possible eviction, and landlords can be bought. Epitaph has done it before.

“Not here. This house belonged to my parents before my ma convinced my step-mom to come with her back to the States. They sold it to me about nine or ten years ago. I’m not here as often as I would like, since my job takes me all around Japan, but I figured I might as well move back in long-term since I’ll be teaching at Yuuei next year.”

All Might looks around the patio, nostalgia written in the softness of his eyes and the gentle quirk of his smile. Izuku wonders what kind of memories he has of this place. Did he grow up here, or did he come here later in life? There had been a few smaller photos scattered around in the living room, on shelves and tables. Were any of them of All Might’s family?

At least Izuku now knows why all All Might’s flashy attacks are named after places in the United States. That’s a question that’s often been circulated in online forums.

Shaking his head, All Might makes for the door to the house. “Come on, the master and guest bedrooms are upstairs. I only have two guest rooms, so I hope you boys don’t mind sharing.”


Izuku drops his bag and collapses back on the bed with a rough sigh. The frame looks new, like it was purchased only recently and the mattress feels like it hasn’t been broken in yet. The plush blue comforter is soft under his weight and the mattress underneath seems to want to swallow him whole. It’s the most comfortable thing he’s ever had the privilege of laying on. He already can’t wait to sleep on it, and he gets to sleep on this every night for the next two weeks. So much better than their bed back at base or the cots at the Classification Home...

Now if only he had his green pillow, that would just make this perfect. He misses being able to bury his face into the ratty old thing and breathe in the scent of the lavender stuffed inside.

The room is barely big enough for the two single beds shoved in it, with just enough space for a desk with a laptop and lamp and a swivel chair. Bookshelves filled with knick knacks jut out from baby blue walls above the desk and by the window that look like they were dusted recently. The frame on Hitoshi’s bed looks much older, worn in and obviously repurposed.

On the other side of the room, Hitoshi suppresses a yawn as he unpacks on the second bed. Izuku just knows he hadn’t gotten any sleep last night. Again. He might have to ask Momo if she’s up for making some sleep medication tonight. He thinks her suppressants will have worn off by midnight.

Or, wait, no. Momo and Hitoshi aren’t supposed to be using their quirks anymore. Should Izuku risk asking All Might for sleep meds instead, when he’s been so nice so far?

He’ll worry about that later.

“Is this really real?” Izuku whispers into the open air, and it deserves asking.

Izuku knows he’s naively idealistic by nature. He had hoped that the heroes would be able to save them, and it seems like he was right to think that. Izuku just hadn’t really considered what would happen to them afterwards.

For what the Suzumebachi have done, they would have earned any conceivable punishment - even… even execution. But no… Instead, people are willing to talk to them, and not yell at them or lock them away. No one’s tried to threaten or scare them yet.

Everyone has been… strangely kind… Even All Might, who was stuck with the job of taking care of them but is welcoming them into his home… All of this is so far removed from what Izuku had imagined. He doesn’t understand why this is happening, and it makes something in his chest clench tight.

Do they really deserve this?

Hitoshi snorts, dry. “If this isn’t real, then Ken finally stepped up his game and found a decent illusionist.”

Izuku looks over. Hitoshi places his only other pair of pants into the closet, and his two other shirts are on hangers on the right side. There’s a looped belt dividing the remaining hangers. Izuku takes that to mean that his belongings are going on the left side of the closet. Perhaps its for the best that none of them have many belongings. The Suzumebachi all learned to made do with limited space for what few personal belongings they had, but that doesn’t mean they never fought over what space there was.

Izuku gives a small laugh. “Maybe,” he says.

An idea occurs to him, and he laughs harder. “Imagine if that actually was the case, though? How screwed would we be right now, do you think?”

“Oh, very,” Hitoshi replies, a wry twist to his lips. “We’d be looking at three days retraining with Hirotsu in maintaining concentration and clarity under pressure, bare minimum.”

“Oooooh, harsh,” Izuku winces. He can’t say he disagrees with that assessment.

A sigh escapes him and he curls onto his side. If he closes his eyes and listens carefully, Izuku thinks he can hear Momo shuffling about on the other side.

Finished unpacking, Hitoshi wanders over to his bed and collapses face-first on the red and white patterned comforter. He lets out a noise like a groan, small and pitiful. It draws Izuku out of his own bed and across the room. He pushes at Hitoshi to scootch over, his fellow Suzumebachi following the motion even though there’s enough room for both of them if they lay on their sides.

Hitoshi turns his head just enough to glance at Izuku, and whatever he sees causes him to turn over and lift his arms in invitation. Izuku goes to enter the embrace, but then he’s being pulled forward, dragged and being spun around to face the wall, Hitoshi at his back. Pale arms are locked firmly around his waist, and Hitoshi’s nose is in the growing fuzz around his mohawk.

Izuku huffs and tries to turn around - he was over here to support Hitoshi, damn it - but the arms tighten and Hitoshi starts to lean his weight into Izuku. Hitoshi just lets out a quiet sound more akin to a grouchy cat than a human and buries his nose in deeper.

Having no choice but to accept this turn of events, Izuku grudgingly settles for grabbing one of Hitoshi’s hands and lacing their fingers together. For his part, the exhausted lump behind him leans even more of his weight on him.

It’s not an uncomfortable position to be in - far from it. Izuku doesn’t know how long they stay like that, just breathing and feeling each other’s heart beat through their chests, but it’s almost enough to put him to sleep. Momo comes in at some point and slots herself into the space between him and the wall with only a little wiggling to create that much more room, and that isn’t helping the situation at all.

He missed this - all of them being pressed up against each other like this. They used to sleep like this all the time, back when the Suzumebachi numbered six and the decision was made to squash a few of their beds together to make a larger sleeping space. As time went by and their numbers dwindled, however, their sleeping arrangement got looser and looser. By the end, the three of them could lay on the same three mattresses and only touch if they sprawled.

The Classification Home hadn’t been any better. All of them had to sleep separately in their own rooms. Momo’s room was in an entirely different part of the facility. They only got to see each other at meal times and during the hour they were let out of their cells every day.

That had been hard to stomach. All of them were used to not being able to see each other every day, what with different training sessions and being sent out on missions, but there had been a familiarity, a certainty to everything. Epitaph would do everything in their power to keep their assets useful. Even Akutagawa, as borderline out of control as he is and much as he hated and harassed Izuku, abided by that wish out of respect for Alkaid. Now, though…

Now, there was very little to be certain about, and so many people more people they had no choice but to place their trust in.

So, moments like this? Izuku will gladly relish in them for as long as he can.

Izuku is inches away from falling off the cliff into sleep, when suddenly he’s fully awake.

He’s not sure why he’s awake, but there’s the slightest bit of tension in the body behind him, so he can guess.

Momo’s eyes are open in front of him. She looks relaxed. Izuku shifts, feeling Hitoshi’s arm tighten around him, and glances over his shoulder.

All Might is staring at them from where he leans on the doorway, changed into more casual, fitted clothing with a peculiar look on his face. Izuku wonders what they must look like to him, curled around each other. When he sees Izuku look over, he clears his throat quietly.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” All Might apologizes, keeping his voice low. “There are some things I wanted to talk to you three about, but it can wait until later if you’re tired?”

Izuku’s brow furrows in confusion. “No need. None of us were asleep.”

All Might doesn’t quite look like he believes Izuku, but he seems to accept the answer. “All right... Take your time. Join me in the living room when you’re ready.”

Izuku waves Momo and Hitoshi on and says he’ll join them in a minute. For now, he has to actually finish the unpacking he put off in favor of being lazy. Izuku is quick to refold his single other pair of pants into something more compact and get his two other shirts on hangers. It wouldn’t do to keep their supervisor waiting too long.

The last thing in his pack is a green paperback notebook that one of the Home psychological staff gave him. An exercise Blessed had him doing was analyzing heroes and their quirks and writing his evaluation into reports. It’s not all that dissimilar to a hobby Izuku’s mom says he used to have as a little kid.

When Dr. Taketa asked him why he wanted to continue Blessed mental exercises, Izuku had replied that he enjoyed the challenge of it. He hadn’t even been faking that - Izuku really did love quirks, even if he didn’t have one himself. The next day, the doctor dropped by his room and gave him this notebook.

Izuku hides his notebook behind the headboard against the wall, on a crossbeam hidden by the mattress and the pillow. Satisfied, he hurries out to join the others.

All Might is sitting on a wooden chair Izuku remembers seeing in the dining area. He’s put it in front of the tv so that he’s across from the plush brown couch where Momo and Hitoshi are. The atmosphere is a little heavy, and the way Izuku pauses briefly on his down the stairs is just as much to calm his nerves as it is to examine the situation.

All Might waves him over and motions for him to join them on the couch. Izuku chooses a seat beside Momo. He doesn’t need to see them to know that they’re as stiff as he feels.

Across from them, All Might opens his mouth to say something, only to pause and frown at them. He stares at them, and something like confusion, or consternation flits across his face. Izuku is trying to read the signs, but he can’t figure out what All Might wants.

Momo shifts subtly in her seat next to him, unable to stand the awkward silence. “You... wanted to speak with us?”

“It’s alright, you know,” All Might says gently, his shadowed eyes strangely soft and sad. Izuku twitches slightly. “You’re not in trouble or anything. I just wanted to discuss some ideas for ground rules with you.”

The kindness he sees in All Might’s eyes leaves him feeling flat-footed and off-balance. In some ways, he feels like he should have expected it, or at least considered it a possibility. All Might is the one who listened to them, who took them at their word and helped them without question. Of course he is a kind person. Izuku’s chest is tight and hot, and his skin itches with the urge to look, but he knows better.

Instead, he clears his throat and tries to speak around his nerves, sharing brief, subtle glances with Momo and Hitoshi. “What do you mean, discuss ideas? You don’t have any rules already?”

All Might’s hands move to clasp between his knees. “I’ll be honest. This will be the first time that I’ll be directly in charge of a group of young people outside of hero work, and I’m… unsure of how exactly to do this. I have some ideas for very basic ground rules, like ‘curfew is no later than nightfall’, ‘follow the rules of your probation’, ‘complete your workbooks’, ‘always tell me before you leave the house’ and ‘don’t travel alone’, and young Yaoyorozu has a special rule - ‘no more quirk use until your doctor says you’re at a healthier weight’. Other than that, however…”

He grimaces, looking away. His shoulder hunching a little bit, and Izuku thinks he reads embarrassment. “My thought process was that you could help me come up with rules that would be fair to all of us. I may have volunteered to be your supervisor, but-”

“You volunteered to babysit us?” Hitoshi cuts in, honestly bewildered.

All Might blinks at them, confused. “Y-yes…?”

“This isn’t an assignment or something?” Momo asks, leaning forward in her seat, sharing a look with Izuku.

“No,” All Might denies, tilting his head. “All your supervisors will be volunteers selected ahead of time. I was the first to volunteer, actually.”

“... Why?” Hitoshi asks hesitantly.

“Why?”

There’s something vulnerable in the widening of Hitoshi’s eyes and in the way he ducks his head. He’s not closing up immediately, Izuku notes, which is the strangest thing that’s happened over the course of this conversation so far. “Why did you volunteer at all? What do you get out of this?”

For a long moment, All Might looks at Hitoshi, and Hitoshi obscures his openness with suspicion.

“Well,” All Might begins, slow with consideration. He leans back in his seat, and he does the single most unexpected thing he could have possibly done in that moment.

He smiles, warmly, not an ounce of offense or sharpness or dishonesty present. It’s not the bombastic grin he shows to the press, or the unyielding beacon of hope they glimpsed That Night. This is something gentler, kinder, and Izuku stiffens, startled and unsure by the openness of the expression.

“You three left so much of an impression on me that I couldn’t help but keep track of your case. When I heard from Naomasa that the courts were looking for supervisors to house you, the first thing that crossed my mind was the memory of just how… resigned you all looked,” All Might says, looking into the distance for a moment before focusing back on them. “I signed up because I thought you could use a familiar, friendly face. I hope that I wasn’t being presumptuous in thinking that.”

Izuku’s chest clenches hard again, and he’s left choking down a volatile mix of emotions that mix together like oil, water and gasoline in a blender. The end result forms a lump in his throat that’s hard to breathe around, and all attempts to swallow it just result in making his mouth drier.

“T-thank you, All Might,” Izuku finally manages to squeeze out. It feels too little, not enough.

All Might grins at him, genial. “You’re welcome. Now, back to the topic of rules that will be fair to all of us, I’d like you to help me by each making a rule yourselves. This rule can apply to yourself alone or it can apply to all three of you, but you must run it by me in a day or two for advice and possible revision before we implement it. In return, I’ll create rule that applies only to me that I’ll run by you before we implement. Does this sound fair to you?”

Izuku shrugs, unable to find anything wrong with that. If anything, to him, it was incredibly, needlessly generous. “Sounds good to me.”

“I’m fine with that,” Momo says, leaning back in her seat.

“Sure,” Hitoshi mumbles, eyes half-lidded in contemplation.

All Might nods decisively, a pleased glimmer in his eyes. He stands up and stretches, joints popping loudly, a quiet groan escaping. All Might picks up the chair and starts to move it back into the dining room.

“All right, now that that’s out of the way,” All Might chirps, “I’d like you to help me figure out what we should have for dinner.”

Izuku gets up from the couch with Momo and Hitoshi, stretching his legs to follow All Might. “Isn’t it a little too early for dinner?”

“Well, yes, but I don’t know about any allergies or dietary restrictions you three might have. Young Yaoyorozu, I know from experience that you’ve probably got some restrictions. Did your dietician prescribe you supplements or a special diet?”

“I’ve got my supplements upstairs - Calcium, vitamin pills, iron, protein powder, and some amino acids, taken once daily,” Momo confirms, tugging at the hem of her sweater. Just looking at it is making Izuku warm, but he knows Momo needs it.

All Might frowns, concerned, scooting the chair back into place. “That doesn’t seem like much. Are you sure that’s all you were prescribed?”

“That’s all the doctor said I needed as long as I work to achieve more healthy eating habits,” she says. Her hand twitches like she’s going to Create something, but it freezes at the last second and clenches. “One of Epitaph’s personal doctors had a quirk that allowed him to forcefully take control of elements of the human body. It was specifically why he was scoped out. Every week, he’d hook me up to a few bags full of nutrient-rich liquid and force my bones and vital internal organs to accept the majority share of the incoming nutrition, so I’m not in as bad a shape as I could have been. My primary concern is gaining more fat reserves so that my quirk can’t automatically target my organs anymore.”

“Did your dietitian help you write up a meal plan?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Will you get it for me, please?” All Might asks. “I’d like to make sure I’ve got at least some of what you need to follow the plan. We’ll be heading to the mall tomorrow to get you all some more clothing and necessities, so don’t worry if we don’t have everything.”

As Momo makes for her room, All Might turns to Izuku and Hitoshi. “What about you two? Any allergies or restrictions that should be taken into consideration? Foods you can’t stand?”

Izuku scratches lightly at his cheek, lips twisting unpleasantly as a memory pulls itself forward. “The one time I ate peanuts, I broke out in hives. Other than that, not really.”

Hitoshi meanders around the table, hands pushed in his pants pocket and shoulders relaxed. His every movement is smooth and nonchalant, but Izuku isn’t fooled in the slightest. Not when Hitoshi won’t even look at them.

A long moment passes as Hitoshi wrestles with whatever’s going on in his head. He must reach some kind of conclusion, because he lets out an explosive sigh and turns to face them.

“I’m not picky enough that I won’t eat it if it’s in front of me, but I don’t like eating meat, fish or poultry. Just… the fact that it was alive before…”

“Say no more,” All Might concludes, though not unkindly. Hitoshi’s head ducks down a little at the tone, but he doesn’t look away. “Are eggs and-or dairy still on the table?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Momo comes down the stairs at that moment, a few sheets of folded paper in her hand. She walks up to All Might and hands them over. Grateful, he thanks her and gives the papers a brief look over, humming to himself quietly as he wanders in the direction of the kitchen.

All Might wanders over to his fridge and uses a rabbit magnet to hold Momo’s papers to the door. “All right, I think I have an idea of what to do now. It might be early for dinner, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get started. Do any of you know how to cook?”

“The staff at the Classification Home started teaching us the basics,” Izuku supplies helpfully.

“Well, then, get over here and help me get the ingredients prepared. I’ll show you how to do something if you don’t know how.”


Dinner later was a quiet affair, but Izuku couldn’t honestly say that it was a bad one. Everyone was still digesting the talk from earlier, so conversation was light and consisted of small-talk and inconsequential topics.

It feels so much like they’re back at base, all of them at the same time for once. Like if Izuku can bring himself to look around, he’ll see Phantom holding Momo’s hand as she peeks through another picture book, or Hitoshi listening intently to another of Changeling’s stories, or Hecah sneaking bits of her food onto one of their plates. Those days were rare, but good. He misses them terribly.

All Might presence feels almost like its trying to fit into the roles Hecah and Changeling left behind, but at the same time it doesn’t. Changeling and Hecah had at once been older siblings and parents to the younger Suzumebachi on top of their own problems. Their absence left behind aching chasms, and Izuku didn’t know if they could ever be filled. Didn’t know if he even wanted them to be filled.

This peace, however… It doesn’t feel as invasive as he… Well, he doesn’t know what he expected it to feel like, but it doesn’t try to actually fit in the gap or chafe at the raw edges much, and Izuku is thankful for that.

It’s a little confusing, actually. All Might is supposed to be their supervisor, the one responsible for their behavior, yet he’s being so nice to them. Izuku isn’t sure if he should be questioning this or not. He’ll have to discuss it with Momo and Hitoshi later..

After dishes have been washed, dried and put away, all of them somehow manage to wander their way to the living room area. Izuku takes a peek at the bookshelves, finding various history and law books interspersed with the occasional knick knack and picture frame. One frame has an old photo of a young blond boy who must be a teenage All Might, standing and smiling with a man and a woman dressed in rather simple hero suits. A older photo on a higher shelf has a much younger All Might at the beach with two women, one of whom has his sunflower yellow hair. They look happy, Izuku notes wistfully, and thinks of his mother’s face.

One of the books doesn’t match the color scheme or text book-like binding style of the other ones, and is partially obscured by a piece of fabric hanging from the next shelf up. Izuku shifts it aside to peek at the title, and blinks in surprise.

‘Raising Teenagers for Dummies’, by Itoi Sumi.

Izuku squints at the book. He’s supposed to feel a little insulted, right? He might have, if he could deny that his lips want to twitch into a smile. He lets the obscuring fabric fall back into place with a quiet giggle.

Momo has taken to the area’s lone armchair, the same color as the couch but of a completely different style. She’s got one of the education workbooks, maths from the looks of it, that they’re supposed to be using on her lap and is already scribbling away. Her hair is down, which usually means she’s relaxed. It’s longer now - halfway to her shoulders. Izuku thinks he sees a tiny bit of shine to it that wasn’t there previously, but that might just be his eyes playing tricks on him.

By contrast, Hitoshi is sitting on the floor, leaning against the front of the couch. He flips through the pages of another workbook absently. He’ll stop occasionally to read through a page, but moves on quickly. All the while, he maintains a bored expression, twirling a lock of his now upper-shoulder length hair. The bags under his eyes are worse than usual, but he doesn’t look as stressed as he has been lately.

Everyone glances up when All Might clears his throat. The hero is standing just in front of the couch, a remote in his hand and pointed at the tv, turning it on.

“I see some of you are getting started on your workbooks, so I don’t want to interrupt you. But, if you’re interested, I have a bit of a Friday night tradition that you’re welcome to sit in on,” he says, sitting down. He uses the remote to access something on the tv called Netflix.

“A tradition?” Izuku asks, intrigued. He moves to join All Might on the couch.

All Might hums an affirmative, a smile on his face. “Yep. Movie night. If you want to join me, you can choose the first movie.”

“Umm… Sure!” Izuku says, a little bit excited. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie. What about you guys?”

Hitoshi shuts his workbook with a loud snap, tossing it onto the simple black coffee table. “Sure, why the fuck not?”

“You know, the couch has more than enough room for you to sit up here,” All Might tells him drily. “It’s more comfortable, too.”

Hitoshi grunts and stubbornly remains on the floor. He shifts only enough so that he has a good view of the tv from where he sits. All Might sighs and passes him a couch cushion, which he accepts as back support.

All Might shakes his head in defeat and turns to address Momo. “What about you, young Yaoyorozu?”

Momo hesitates, chewing her lip, glancing down at her workbook as she tosses the idea around back and forth. Reluctantly, she shakes her head. “No, thank you. I’d like to make some decent headway with this workbook before I tackle it tomorrow.”

“Math is something you can do in your sleep,” Izuku points out.

“Exactly. This will be the easy, so I’d like to get it out of the way,” she counters.

“Feel free to use the dining area or go elsewhere if the movie is too distracting,” All Might offers. Momo nods, but remains where she is and continues working.

Netflix, as it turns out, has a lot of movies for them to watch. Izuku and Hitoshi look at the summaries of some of them while All Might, apparently a movie enthusiast, insists on starting their search with the classics. Eventually, they settle the choice with a two on one vote in favor of ‘The Princess Bride’.

And if Momo ends up tuning in mid-way through the beginning, well… No one tells her no.

(Much, much later, long after the summer sun has set and the clock has struck midnight, All Might carries his three sleeping charges upstairs to their rooms, having fallen asleep in the middle of the original ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. He tucks each of them in under their covers with a fond look before heading to bed himself. Izuku knows this because he wakes up mid-transport, sleepily watching All Might’s face through his lashes.

If Izuku and Hitoshi end up sleepily dragging themselves to Momo’s room, pillows under their arms, then All Might is too busy sleeping to see it. If the three of them end up whispering amongst themselves, hints of gratitude and sprouting affection in their voices, then All Might is too busy sleeping to hear it. And if the three of them hatch a plan for the next morning, taking a peek at a few internet articles using an old laptop, well, All Might is too busy sleeping to know.

He’ll know come morning, of course, when Izuku greets him with oatmeal and blueberry porridge and a glass of fresh orange juice to be drank at his leisure, Momo and Hitoshi finishing up making their own breakfasts. And if he notices that they definitely haven’t slept as long as they should have… well, this time he’s awake enough to scold them.

At least he’ll like the porridge.)


The next day sees All Might fulfilling his word and dragging them out to the nearby shopping center. Their first stop is a large clothing store that All Might has coupons for, and he lets them look around and choose things to try on. The place is way too open for Hitoshi’s taste, and there are too many people around for his nerves to relax, but there are worse locations to be in. At least a crowded mall has enough people milling about that they could slip away in an instant if they need to.

In the end, All Might insists they get several pairs of pants and shirts each, as well as a second pair of shoes. Izuku manages to pick out the stupidest shirts, all of them with the most simple and obvious phrases. One of them has the word ‘shirt’ on it. And then he has the gall to pick out the ugliest pair of bright red sneakers Hitoshi has ever seen.

Sometimes, Hitoshi doesn’t know what to do with his dork of a best friend.

Momo, at least, is sensible with her choices. Simple and cute blouses in different colors, a few pairs of pants, and the long, flowing skirt she takes a shine to looks good on her.

When it comes to his choices, Hitoshi is… picky. Maybe it’s because he’s spent so much time around Hirotsu, who rarely ever dresses down, but he doesn’t immediately go for the more casual styles like Izuku and Momo. Instead, he looks for the button-down shirts and the pants that still look nice while not having such a large price tag.

They get to the register and Hitoshi doesn’t bother to hide his wince. Even with coupons, the price still comes out to over twenty thousand yen. Momo and especially Izuku freak out. They’re about ready to take the clothing back when All Might pulls a card out of his wallet and pays without blinking.

Momo tries to tell him that she can just makes these, but All Might just reminds her of his rule and says he’s happy to pay for whatever they need.

(All Might doesn’t make any goddamn sense. He’s supposed to be their supervisor, their handler, and yet he says he’s happy to take care of them. He practically invites them into his home, and his rules aren’t even really orders. There’s no threat, no incentive to follow them. He lets them watch movies all night and carries them to bed when they doze off. He thanks Izuku for the breakfast he makes him. He even let Hitoshi borrow his old CD player. Hitoshi knows Izuku and Momo are thrown off, too, but the only course of action anyone can think of is just ‘wait and see’.

Are all their supervisors going to be like this? Hitoshi doesn’t know how he’ll handle things if that’s the case.)

After the clothing trip, All Might lets him and Izuku free to wander as long as they check in with him every hour. He gives them three thousand yen each in spending cash and then leads Momo off in search of grocery stores.

They meander around the place for a while, popping into stores whenever one catches their eye. Hitoshi has never been in mall just to shop before. The only reason he was ever allowed near one was to hunt down a target. Having nothing to do other than look around and wait is a new experience, to say the least.

Eventually, they make their way into a music store that’s selling a bunch of old CDs and memorabilia. There are rows upon rows of disks, all organized by genre and then by letter. Hitoshi is unsure of where to start, so he decides to go down each row starting from right to left.

There are a couple band names that catch his eye for one reason or another, but when he puts on the headphones at the preview stations and scans the codes on the cases, he immediately puts most of them back.

He’s in the middle of the Rock/Metal section soon enough with a choice to make. He has three thousand yen, he’s picked two albums that he likes the sound of, and each individual disk album costs three thousand. Hitoshi supposes that he could smuggle the one he doesn’t pay for out, but the detectors he spotted upon entering the store don’t tell him that it’s a worthwhile idea.

“If you’re still deciding, I recommend that one,” says a voice from across the row.

Nerves prickle like lightning was just shot through them. Hitoshi shifts his weight and bends his knees in preparation to move. When he looks up, he takes care to make the motion as casual as possible.

A girl about his age dressed in a simple tee shirt and jeans is looking at him. Her purple hair is many shades darker than his own, and her earlobes are earphone jacks. One of which is pointing at the disk in his left hand. Nothing about her reads as hostile, and if she’s after him, she’s in a poor position to get him with this row between them.

“Why do you say that?” Hitoshi asks, deciding it’s safe to play along.

The girl’s hand comes up to toy lazily with her earlobe. “The lead guitarist is my mom, and my dad helps write their music, so I’m actually kinda plugging a little. If you like punk-rock, though, my folks are really passionate about the genre.”

“I see,” he says and glances down at the album. “I just might take that recommendation. Are you looking to become a musician, too?”

“Nope. I’m shooting to become a hero. Applied to Yuuei and Ketsubutsu before summer. What about you?”

“Dunno,” he says, shrugging dismissively. It’s technically the truth, either way. “I know one of my best friends would love to become a hero. My other best friend and I would follow him anywhere, but we’ve got some… circumstances that might complicate things.”

That seems to make the girl a little sad, for some reason. “That’s too bad. I hope things clear up for you guys. Even if you can’t make it to the Hero course, maybe you and your friends can try for the Gen Ed. or Business courses. Having Yuuei’s, or any Hero course approved high school’s name on your graduation certificate will probably help out with whatever you choose to do.”

Hitoshi hums to make it look like she’s considering what she’s saying. It would be a solid idea if he didn’t already know they’d never be allowed to set foot in Yuuei again. “Thanks. I’ll run your suggestion by my friends, too.”

“No problem.”

He ends up placing the other album back where he found it and purchasing the one the girl recommended.

Just when Hitoshi is about to start looking for Izuku, the girl from before waves at him to get his attention from the checkout line. He contemplates acting as if he didn’t see her, but discards the idea. He’s already determined that she’s harmless, and Izuku won’t have left the store without him.

“I never got your name before,” she says, one of her hands stuffed in her pocket, the other clutching a good four or five different albums. “My name’s Jirou Kyouka.”

“... Shinsou Hitoshi,” he replies after a moment of hesitation.

Jirou grins at him, either not noticing or willing to forgive his reluctance. “Hopefully I’ll get to see you in the Hero course next year, Shinsou. Good luck.”

“Yeah… You too.”

Jirou spares a moment to nod at him after she finishes her purchase, and then she disappears into the bustling crowd outside the door.

Hitoshi shakes his head, bewildered and already sick of today. He turns to go look for Izuku, determined to put the entire strange encounter out of his mind.

Chapter Text

Izuku gasps for breath, feeling the sweat coating his face drip down his nose and chin. His legs are spread wide and his right arm is behind his back, anchored to his belt so that he can resist the urge to use it. His core and abdominal muscles burn in a way he hasn’t felt in weeks. The sensation of it is intensely gratifying.

“49,” he grits out, lowering himself on his free arm into another push-up.

Another, and then it’s time to move on to his next exercise. Both his arms are aching, having gone through three solo reps each, and his legs are shaking ever-so faintly from the strengthening exercises he’s already gone through. It’s been a long time since he’s had to struggle through this much activity, but Izuku supposes that’s what happens when a person doesn’t undergo intensive training every day. It’s been a struggle to build back up to this much.

Struggling to breathe after only running fifteen kilometers had been horrifying. How does your average person stand it?

Izuku lets out a breath and shifts his weight, placing his other arm on the ground. The fresh morning air helps his overheated body, and the morning sun is starting to really warm the overnight chill. His legs come together, bare toes tickled by the grass underneath. With a rough grunt from deep in his chest, Izuku pushes himself into a handstand.

It had taken him years before he could do a handstand on the first try. Even with Ken’s training regiment, Izuku had been a clumsy child growing up. He must have been nine or ten before his body finally figured out the correct way to shift from horizontal to upside down without flopping over even with support behind him. Now, all he needs to do is curl his legs for a moment before straightening, no support needed.

Behind him, the back door opens with a quiet squeak. He can’t see who it is, but there are two different gaites on the wooden deck - one longer and heavier than the other. Izuku tilts his head enough to peek up at Momo and All Might as they walk past, both of them carrying gardening tools.

“G’morning, young Midoriya!” All Might greets him with a smile, blue-black eyes crinkling at the corners. It might just be Izuku, but he thinks All Might has been looking a little better recently.

“Good morning, All Might,” Izuku grunts in between his handstand push-ups. Only ten of these, and then he can move on to his flexibility stretches.

Momo looks at him enviously. “I want to get back into shape so bad, but my doctor gave me strict instructions to avoid doing anything more taxing than light exercises until I gain more weight.”

“Whatever you were before, it was not in shape,” All Might says wryly, setting his equipment by the garden.

“You know what I mean!” Momo tells him, gesturing at him with a garden spade. “I used to have muscle. Now my arms are all floppy.”

She raises her arm and wiggles it to emphasize her point. It looks less firm than it used to be, but there’s also a tiny bit of jiggle to them that hadn’t been there a few weeks ago. Izuku snorts, amused, and continues his push-ups. In retaliation, Momo pokes his side, causing him to yelp and wiggle mid-push.

“H-hey, watch it!” Izuku tries to maintain his balance, shifting his weight to turn his pitch forward into an opportunity to hand-walk backwards a step. Izuku brings one leg down to point his dirt-smudged toes at Momo threateningly.

Not backing down, Momo twirls her spade like it’s a knife. “Touch me with your dirty feet and I’m chopping them both off.”

“Children,” All Might chastises with long-suffering patience, having already stepped in-between a couple such altercations over the past week. Seeing All Might’s face go slack with shock as Momo and Hitoshi fight over dinner the other night had been hilarious.

Izuku’s no expert on the subject of healthy interpersonal relationships, but he’s not entirely sure it’s normal to threaten to lock your best friend slash pseudo-sibling in the still-hot oven if they don’t hand over the last homemade honey bread roll. Then again, Izuku is an only child, so what does he know? Maybe this is normal when you’ve spent most of your life with someone. The only reason Izuku hadn’t joined in was because he’d already stolen one when the others weren’t looking.

Victory had never tasted so sweet.

They hold each other’s narrowed gazes for a moment longer, only parting by mutual agreement rather than concession.

All Might’s eyes roll skyward.

Feeling his arms ache even more fiercely, Izuku decides to give himself a break today and move onto his stretches early. He carefully lowers himself to his forearms and leans his lower half backwards. His core muscles screech and burn at the stretch, but nothing feels like it’s pulling too hard. He holds the pose for thirty seconds before reversing his lower body’s direction and counting down another thirty seconds.

“Where’s Hitoshi,” Izuku asks, finally righting himself. He rides the wave of slight dizziness as the pooling blood in his head flows back downwards. “He disappeared after breakfast.”

“He’s not feeling his best,” Momo replies. Izuku grimaces slightly. “He had another bout of insomnia last night, so he’s going to try and see if he can’t get a nap in.”

That’s a just a polite way of saying Hitoshi is so out-of-sorts that he doesn’t want to get out of bed again. He probably only left it in the first place because they were waking up...

“Does he need sleep medication?” All Might asks, concerned.

“The doctors haven’t prescribed him any. I asked if he wanted some generics, but he said no.”

Momo helps All Might tend to the vegetable garden while Izuku finishes up the last of his stretching. He ends his routine by taking a walk around the perimeter of the yard. When he gets close enough, Izuku waves his hand to get her attention.

Momo glances up discreetly, not stopping in her work. Izuku's eyes dart over to All Might, and he mouths the word ‘breakfast’. Momo nods.

Good. All Might sometimes forgets to eat breakfast if he is or was in a rush to do a morning patrol. One out of two have been taken care of, at least. Experience tells him that Hitoshi won't appreciate being disturbed right now. They'll have to hold off on taking care of him until later.

Still… Maybe a text or two throughout the day won't hurt. They’ve got the phones to do it now.

Izuku walks over to the patio, wiping his face off with the towel and guzzling down his water bottle. He hadn’t put on a shirt off to avoid getting it dirty, but he’ll need to chuck his sweatpants into his laundry basket as soon as possible. Especially if he intends to do what he wants to do today.

He’s about to head to the bathroom to wash up, but he hesitates at the door. Izuku fiddles with the water bottle in his hands, plucking at the plastic sealer ring and biting his lip.

“Hey… All Might?” he calls over his shoulder tentatively.

“Yes?” All Might pauses in pulling a stubborn weed out of the ground to glance up. Momo must hear the trepidation in his voice because she stops, too.

“Do you…? Are you…? Would it…?” Stupid brain, work! This isn’t even something dire - you’re just being a coward!

“Take your time, young Midoriya,” All Might reminds him kindly for the hundredth time. Where does he get all this patience?

“Right…” Izuku mumbles in return and takes a few deep breaths. “I-I want to go somewhere today, but I need to call my mom first to find out where it-t is. Would you…” He picks at the skin of his fingers. “Would you mind driving me there some time today? It’s in Musutafu, I know that much.”

“Of course,” All Might answers almost immediately, to Izuku’s shaky relief. He seems surprised by the request. “May I ask where you want to go?”

Izuku hesitates just long enough that Momo goes from watching him under her lashes to outright staring at him. He wants to shy away from the attention. It itches. “It’s… my old playground. Where I was taken.”

All Might seems blindsided by that, probably having expected any answer but. His blue eyes are slightly wide and staring, and his brow slowly furrows in concern. “May I ask why you want to go there?” He asks slowly, as if speaking to a frightened child. It’s both comforting and grating, and the growing itch under his skin doesn’t know how to process that.

“I don’t know,” he admits quietly, and gives into the urge to scratch lightly at his wrist. “I don’t know what will happen when I go there, or what I’m hoping to accomplish. I just... feel like I have to see that place again. One more time.”

“Ease up,” All Might commands gently. Izuku blinks in confusion, but when he looks down, he finds his wrist red raw. His hands jerks away and hide behind his back in shame. He’s still not used to anyone other than Momo, Hitoshi or Hecah knowing or caring about his complicated relationship with pain. He’s broken his own rule again...

“If you feel like you need to go, then I’ll take you there,” All Might says, meeting his eyes squarely. “Call your mother and we’ll try to be on the road just after noon, alright?”

“Sounds good.” Izuku nods gratefully, feeling the tension in his body ease a little.

He turns to Momo questioningly. “Will you and young Shinsou be alright here on your own?”

“Of course.”

“Alright. Get washed up and make the call. I’ll get us there.”


The train to the old Ghost Playground from Orudera Middle School is a quiet one for Katsuki, though not for lack of trying. School has just let out for the day, meaning everyone’s piling into the train station, and there are noisy teenagers just about everywhere he looks. He shook his followers as soon as he could, but finding a quiet car on the train at this time of day is like trying to find the dead spot in a stadium. He settles for pulling out his hearing aids and hoping no one tries to talk to him.

Normally, it wouldn’t bother Katsuki any. It usually doesn’t. The buzz of the extras milling around is a near constant white noise on even the worst of days. But then he woke up and realized what day it was.

Most of the people at Orudera at least knew better than to approach. They had the self-preservation instincts to take one look at his face and stay away.

Katsuki knows what his temper is like. It’s an active volcano, prone to going off at the slightest provocation. He’s been yelling and shouting at his problems since before he knew how to speak, and it never really stopped. The hag tells him that he’s an irritable brat, but it’s not like she has any room to talk when he gets it from her.

It’s a ten minute walk to get from the station to the abandoned playground that people nicknamed the Ghost Playground. It’s full of rusting play equipment and overgrown weeds that try to catch on his clothes. The stink of rusting iron stains his fingers red when he sits on the swing not in danger of snapping in half. He thinks it gives a wretched shriek, but Katsuki hasn’t put his hearing aids back in yet, so he can’t tell.

Overall, it’s a standing safety hazard, but not even the city pays it much attention anymore after what happened here eight years ago.

Parents slowly stopped bringing their kids here as rumors of the ghost of a little boy haunting the place circulated. Most of them were too scared of it happening again. Over time, only foreigners and people new to the city brought their kids here. Even they stopped showing up eventually, too. No one’s played in this park in close to five years now, Katsuki thinks.

He swings back and forth on a seat far too close to the ground for his legs, hands in his lap and bookbag on the ground at his side. When Katsuki looks around, no one else is even walking on the same side of the street as the playground. It’s a quiet place even with his aids in. A lonely, isolated spot outside the normal, bustling world that forgot it.

It all comes back to this day, eight years ago.

The day quirkless Midoriya Izuku was kidnapped in broad daylight.

A day that hasn’t stopped haunting Katsuki’s existence since it happened.

He comes here on the anniversary of when it happened every year. Katsuki knows his parents know about his annual excursions; hell, they joined him the first couple times. Maybe they thought it was Katsuki’s way of moving on. Even his therapist, when he still went to see her, used to tell him that this was probably a good thing for him to go.

But it kept happening. He and the hag have gotten into screaming matches over the years about his obsessive adherence to this ritual. It’s only because he overheard her talking with his old man once that he knows that she’s more worried than angry.

She thinks he’s not properly letting go. They both do. They think this is him keeping vigil for someone pronounced almost a decade dead.

It’s not. This isn’t a vigil, or a denial, or whatever.

It’s a reminder - a reminder of what he, in his childish arrogance, allowed to happen.

Katsuki remembers that morning very clearly, even after all these years. He remembers ruling this playground as the undisputed king that summer, playing heroes and villains with the other kids. Everyone wanted to play as All Might back then, but Katsuki usually won the right by virtue of being the coolest kid there.

Izuku had showed up that day, when everyone was trying to get a little more play time before being confined to their classroom tomorrow. No one wanted to play with the quirkless kid, and Katsuki was getting tired of his little shadow constantly at his back.

It hadn’t seemed like any other morning. He had used his quirk to create an explosion, more smoke and sound than boom, to chase the little nerd off. Katsuki remembers that he had been showing off that trick that morning, and that he’d only just figured out how to do it himself the night before. Everyone had laughed before breaking off to go play their own games.

Katsuki had turned his back to follow and Izuku had started crying behind him. The crying had gotten louder, more insistent, but he had been intent on ignoring him. It was only when he couldn’t stand it anymore than Katsuki bothered to turn around.

He regrets that he hadn’t turn around sooner, now. It’s taken years of nightmares and fucking painful introspection, but he really, honestly regrets it. If he had, maybe he could have stopped the creep hoisting Izuku up on his shoulder like a child-sized potato sac. Maybe he could have stopped them from getting around the corner. Maybe he could have gotten to the van before the doors could have slammed shut in his face. Maybe he could have gotten help before the van got too far away for the police to find.

Katsuki still has nightmares sometimes. Not nearly as often as he used to, but sometimes. Nightmares of a childish voice screaming “Kacchan!”, over and over again until it’s all he can hear. Of a boy, staring at him with wide green eyes, even as his memories tell him that Izuku’s eyes had been glued shut by tears.

(Midoriya Izuku will be six years old in his mind forever, and the last memories Katsuki has of him are of that.)

Of course, he’s older now. He’s not that stupid little shit who picked fights just because he could - that thought he was the top of the food chain in a world that revolved around him. He can’t afford to be that kid anymore. Not when Midoriya Izuku is the result.

Katsuki’s not perfect. He’s quick-tempered and aggressive, and even if it grates like metal scratching his teeth, he can admit that he’s still kinda arrogant. He’s rude, blunt and unfriendly at the best of times. He’s still as tenacious as a rabid dog, obsessed with victory, and his goals haven’t evolved beyond the stepping stones that will lead him to finally usurping All Might as the Number One hero.

But at least he knows it. He should, after years of trying to convince his therapist that he doesn’t need to see her every damn week. And even if his goals haven’t changed…

Well, maybe someday he’ll be able to admit to someone other than himself that it’s all not only for himself anymore.

Katsuki sits there for a while longer, lost in his thoughts and feeling the weight of dead memories. The sun is long past its height, and when he checks his watch it’s nearly four in the afternoon.

Much as he’s not looking forward to the hag’s scolding or his old man’s concern, he should probably be on his way home. Tomorrow’s the weekend, but that doesn’t mean he can slouch on his homework if he wants to get into Yuuei.

He gets up from his cramped position and stretches out the stiffness in his legs. He hefts his bag up on his shoulder and starts making his way home.

Katsuki glances around the place one last time, mentally giving a silent farewell until next year, and turns his back on the old memories.

An absolute relic of a truck pulls into a parking spot just across from the park. Katsuki can’t see the passenger side, but a lanky blond guy that looks like he should be in the hospital get out of the driver’s seat.

Strange, no one comes here anymore. Must be new in town. Katsuki’s just about to put it out of his mind when green catches the corner of his eye. Seemingly against his will, his head turns.

The world grinds to a halt.

Breath freezes cold in Katsuki’s lungs and his body locks into place. The only sound he perceives is his own heartbeat pounding in his ears.

The world grinds to a halt and the dead come back to life, because across the street is someone Katsuki never thought he would ever see again.

It can’t be… It… That can’t possibly be… HE’S DEAD.

Midoriya Izuku was declared dead seven years ago, even though his body was never found. So why…? Why…?

Why is there someone standing across the street, wearing that face as if someone had taken the image from Katsuki’s dreams and put it through some shitty photoshop program to make it older? What business does anyone have of wearing those freckles on their cheeks, or having eyes and hair as green as Aunt Inko’s? Of having hair exactly that curly and that messy?

What business does Midoriya Izuku have in stepping out of his nightmares as if he’s not six years old forever anymore?

He isn’t aware that he’s said anything, but next thing Katsuki knows, the lanky guy and the illusion are looking right at him.

The illusion walks up to him and says something, but whatever it is, it doesn’t register. Katsuki’s face screws up in a wide-eyed scowl, causing the illusion to raise an eyebrow. It says something again, but, again, it fails to register. The only thing he does register is the lanky guy staying back by the truck out of earshot.

Some corner of his brain reminds him that he hasn’t put his fucking hearing aides back in yet.

“Hard of hearing,” Katsuki excuses himself gruffly, putting his aides back in and trying to push down his embarrassment. “What was that?”

“I asked when did the park become so run down?” The illusion gestures to the rotting paint and encroaching flora.

“... Over the last five years…,” is the only thing Katsuki can get out around the lump in his throat. The voice is deeper than it was eight years ago, but it makes sense if he really did grow up. But, how can… The police...

They never found a body...

They never found a body.

The only thing keeping Katsuki from thinking he’s gone insane is the thought that, maybe, just maybe, everyone has been wrong all these years. Either this is an elaborate and extremely detailed hallucination, in which case Katsuki will find whoever is using their quirk on him - he’s not that emotionally fucked up, damn it! - or this is real.

Midoriya Izuku hums in understanding and turns away to look around the playground, paying special attention to seemingly every detail. Katsuki can’t bring himself to unfreeze his muscles, can’t bring himself to look away or think of anything to say.

Izuku eventually looks back at him.

“You called me ‘Deku’,” Izuku says, giving him the same curious, examining look that he’s given the entire playground. It’s not a question.

“It was your old nickname,” is all Katsuki can say to that. He still remembers the scathing reprimand Aunt Inko gave him for using that name in her presence after Izuku’s disappearance. She wouldn’t let him see her again for months after that, and only after the hag had him write a detailed and thought-out apology letter. He’s rarely used it since. Looks like it hasn’t gone away completely.

“Oh?”

“Well, yeah… What do you mean, ‘oh’? Don’t you remember me?”

“Should I?” Izuku asks, a little apologetic.

Katsuki’s world shatters.

Should I? Should I? Should I? ShouldIShouldIShouldIShouldIShouldI-

“Should you…? It’s me! Bakugo Katsuki!” Katsuki’s hand comes up to grip his shirt. His heart beats wildly in his chest and his lungs feel like they’re shrinking in his chest. “We practically grew up together! Our mom’s are best friends. Hell, I’m pretty sure we were in diapers together! We ran our first errands together! We had the same friends and we played the same games. We went to the same pre-school and started first grade together! Remember? Kacchan!?”

Izuku stares at him with a guarded expression all throughout Katsuki’s rant, but the name “Kacchan” has his eyes going from suspicious to contemplative. The light of understanding slowly blooms within.

“Kacchan…” Izuku mumbles. Green eyes widen, unfocused. “There was… a tree fallen over a brook and… I reached my hand out because…”

“Because I’d fallen in water and you wanted to check if I was okay,” Katsuki finishes, on the verge of relieved, hysterical laughter. Tears prickle at his eyes because Izuku remembers him. He’s real, he’s back and he remembers Katsuki.

“We used to watch the news all the time to catch the hero broadcasts,” Izuku says quietly, hints of elation brightening his eyes. A disbelieving smile pulls at his lips when he looks at Katsuki.

“We used to collect hero trading cards,” Katsuki says thickly.

“We had the same ultra rare Silver All Might card,” Izuku adds, and when he laughs, the joyful smile on his lips is the same one Katsuki remembers from the day his quirk came in.

Holy shit, you’re alive,” Katsuki finally manages to choke out, his voice rasping on the words, body shaking to pieces under the directionless tension in his muscles.

“Yeah… I am,” Izuku replies, and within the blink of an eye, Katsuki’s arms are full of former best friend. He stumbles back a step and freezes, unsure of what to do when arms wrap tightly around his waist.

Katsuki is just about to throw Izuku off of him, guilt complex be damned, when Izuku releases him on his own. Katsuki remains awkwardly still for a moment more before shaking himself.

“What are you, some kind of fucking hug-monster!? Hugging people without their permission!” Katsuki yells, his face flushing with harried embarrassment. Sparks go off in his hands.

The little shit has the gall to laugh at him, rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry. I’m just used to living with people who don’t mind casual touching. I won’t do it again.”

“Don’t!”

“Alright, alright!” Izuku holds his hands up plaintively. Green eyes glance down at Katsuki’s hands before darting around the street. “Still, as glad as I am to see you again… I probably shouldn’t have come here.”

What the hell? The nerd has a tension to him that hadn’t been there before. When he glances around the general area, he doesn’t see anything amiss. Just your normal, everyday foot traffic. “What the hell is going on, Izuku?” Katsuki demands.

“Nothing, just… It’s probably for the best if we’re not seen together again.”

“What the fuck. Izuku, where the hell have you been? Does Aunt Inko even know you’re back in town?”

Izuku nods. “Yeah. Mom was one of the first to know.”

Katsuki’s balled fists find their way into his pockets to help prevent the building sweat from oxidizing. “She moved away pretty suddenly…”

A thought strikes him, and it digs itself in. “What? Is she under witness protection?”

The nerd’s reluctant nod is all Katsuki needs to fill in the blanks. Izuku, kidnapped as a child, suddenly returned, not wanting to be seen with someone he once knew and in the company of someone decidedly not his mother. Aunt Inko moving away suddenly, citing a new job that she never told anyone she was looking for, and under witness protection.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.

“Someone’s after you.” Katsuki’s teeth grits into a disgruntled scowl.

“Yes,” Izuku says. No hesitation, no bullshit. When did the crybaby Katsuki remembers grow a spine? “Which is why I’d appreciate it if you could just forget about me for a while. I promise, I’m in good hands.”

Katsuki nods at the lanky guy by the ancient pick-up. “Is he-?”

“Safe. He’s also got connections to the police.”

Izuku looks around again, except this time he’s more thorough than a quick glance. If he didn’t know better, Katsuki would think he’s checking for cameras.

“Katsuki, please,” Izuku begs softly, staring into his eyes. “Just head home. I don’t know why I came here today, but it was a mistake that I came at all. I don’t want you to pay for it.”

He wants to fight it. He wants to blow something up to release the stress in his veins. He wants to shake some answers out of the damn nerd. What the hell is so dangerous that he’s afraid to be just seen in public with someone else?

There’s nothing he can do, though. Katsuki can only suck it up and deal with it. “Fine,” he grits out. “But when I see you again, I want some fucking answers.”

“If I’m at liberty to say them, I’ll tell you whatever you like.”

Katsuki watches as Izuku turns to disappear from his life again. Thoughts are clamoring about in his head, and something leaden and nauseating sits in his gut. There’s so many things he wants to say, but there’s no time to say them.

Well… Maybe there’s time for one thing.

“Hey, Izuku!” Katsuki calls out, causing him to turn around with a harried, impatient look on his face.

“What?”

“I’m…”

The words get stuck in his throat, equal parts pride and shame gumming his throat closed and making his teeth grit. Stupid… Just say it! Just fucking say it! Stop being such a pussy-footing coward and fucking say it-

“I’m sorry!”

The words rip themselves from his throat. He’s almost surprised to not be tasting blood in his mouth.

Izuku seems caught off guard. “For what?”

For what, he asks. Does he really not remember? “I… used to be a huge fucking asshole to you as a kid,” Katsuki admits through a clenched jaw. He’s not sure if his aggression is directed more at what he’s saying or himself for saying it. The words feel simultaneously like blood being rung from a stone and a dagger bleeding out poison. “Maybe if I hadn’t been, then you might never have…”

Katsuki shakes his head rapidly. His shoulders hunch and draw inwards “Anyway, I’m sorry. Just… wanted to say that…”

His feet shuffle awkwardly. He forces them to start on the path home, shouting an unnecessarily hostile goodbye over his shoulder as he goes.

There! He said it! He even meant it! Are you happy now, conscience!?

(It’s probably for the best that Katsuki left when he did. If he stayed a second more, bothered to look up at all from his guilt-laden awkwardness, he might have seen confusion turn to contemplation. To understanding.

To remembering.

He just might have seen bitter embers begin to smolder.)


It’s the day their parole officer is set to check on them, and Momo is concerned to note that Izuku is still in a funk.

The last several days have been… stressful, to say the least. Izuku is still his pleasant, ever optimistic and nerdy self, but it’s been interspersed with perplexing shifts in mood that happen on the turn of a dime.

Being in the middle of preparing breakfast, asking over her shoulder for Izuku to help in moving a heavy pot, only to see him on his knees and crying. Having the third movie night with All Might that week be interrupted by Izuku suddenly getting up and storming off. Hitoshi has his moods where he doesn’t want to be very social, but Izuku had beaten him out the other day when he said nothing to anyone for over thirty seven hours.

Momo knows. She timed it. This just isn’t Izuku’s normal behavioral pattern, but for the life of her, Momo can’t figure out why.

It has to have been that trip to his old playground. It can’t have been anything but.

The first thing Izuku did when he got home was lock himself in All Might’s bathroom, not saying a word to anyone. He hadn’t come out for dinner, no matter how many times All Might and she knocked on the door. Izuku wouldn’t answer anyone’s questions, and he dodged around their concern like they were tossing buckets of acid at him.

(There are bandages around his fingers that weren’t there last night, and the paperclip holding her meal plan papers together is bent and smells faintly of disinfectant. Izuku sometimes forgets that he’s not the only one who can read the signs and connect the dots.

He knows she knows, too. She can see it in the way his smile this morning can’t reach his eyes.)

At least she doesn’t have to worry about Hitoshi on top of him anymore. Hitoshi was acting more like his moody, dramatic, lackadaisical self after a few days, and now she has someone fluent in Izuku to help her in managing him.

Momo sighs through her nose and sips at her juice box, balancing her social studies workbook on her knee. The last time All Might checked on their progress, he said she was ready to start working on third grade material.

Memorization is easy. Hacking requires logic rules, which is good with association, but infiltration requires sequential memorization. It’s not enough to know where you’re going. It’s how you get there, the steps that you take to make the journey as easy and quick as possible, that are the real trick. Names and dates become sequences, like a trail of dominoes that only begin to fall when the details of the previous event lead into the next. Like a line of code set to only go off when the conditions have been met.

It’s a trick she originally figured out for programming, but now she’s using it to remember historical dates and times.

It feels… strange… to use these skills for anything beyond their intended purpose. She always thought normal schooling would be harder, what will all the useless information you were supposed to learn. That’s what Senri always implied when he talked about life outside Epitaph, anyways. Maybe that was just Senri...

As it stands, this is easier than scouting out escape routes and programming rootkits and packet sniffers.

Hitoshi is sitting on the other end of the couch, partially curled up into a ball with his literature workbook braced against his legs. Momo can hear music playing from the headphones covering his ears. It sounds like the same CD album that he’s been playing for the past two weeks.

Izuku is nowhere to be seen, but neither is All Might. It’s safe to assume that they’re together wherever they are, so Momo lets it be for now. Instead, she shifts into a more comfortable position and enjoys the feeling of the soft skirt on her legs as she works.

Some time later, around ten in the morning, someone knocks on the front door. It’s probably the probation officer, but, just to be safe, Momo nicks a small paring knife from the kitchen before she answers the door.

Sure enough, the carefully neutral, stiff face of the probation officer greets Momo. “Good morning, Yaoyorozu-san. I’m here my bi-weekly check-in,” he says, nodding his head in a habitually polite gesture.

“Of course,” Momo replies just as politely. “Just a second and I’ll get All Might.”

“Of course.”

Momo turns to the house interior and calls out. “All Might, Izuku! The probation officer’s here!”

There’s a yelp and a distant cough. Momo sees steam ploom out from the patio door as it flies open. In an instant, All Might is by her side, giant and grand, with Izuku trailing behind far more slowly. All Might takes over with a word of thanks and sends them off to start packing up their belongings while he talks with the officer.

She makes sure to return the paring knife as discreetly as possible before heading upstairs and packing.

She’s careful to strip her bed of the linens to put in the laundry basket and fold the comforter into a neat square. A part of her feels bad for making work for All Might to do after they’re gone, but he’s always been happy to take care of them.

Finally done, she says a quiet goodbye to the place that has been her home over the last twelve days, and joins her boys in waiting upstairs for All Might to finish.

When Momo takes a second to look him over, Izuku seems… contemplative. Not quite as strange as he has been. He’s not picking at the bandages around his fingers either. Whatever he and All Might were talking about, and Momo can guess what it was, it must have been helpful in some way.

“He’s giving us the okay to stay with our parents for the next few days before the next rotation,” Hitoshi whispers. He’s leaning against the wall, just out of sight of the first floor, in such a way that he can hear what’s being said clearly. “He’s also asking who our next supervisor is going to be. Apparently this guy doesn’t mind talking about it, ‘cause he’s just giving the info away.”

Momo sits down at his feet, using her backpack as a backrest. She feels the familiar itch under her skin, the nagging in the back of her mind to Create something. She promised All Might she wouldn’t, though, even if it’s a constant struggle that she’s sometimes not very successful in resisting.

(She remembers the rules of their sanctuary well, both the ones created for them and the ones created by them.

”I will help prepare breakfast every morning,” she promised. “I’ll complete at least one chapter’s worth of assignments in one of my workbooks a day,” Hitoshi said. “I… I’ll try not to use self-harm as a coping mechanism as much,” Izuku pledged.

”I will listen to and respect your boundaries, no matter what they may be. If I do not, then you may report me to your probation officer and have me removed from your list of supervisors immediately,” All Might swore to them, and Momo hasn’t forgotten it.)

Instead, she takes a deep breath. “Who is it?”

“Some pro hero called Midnight.”

“The 18+ Only Hero? That Midnight?” Izuku speaks up from the opposite wall, legs curled up in front of himself with his arms wrapped around them.

“What do you know about them?” Momo asks. It’s safe to assume Izuku knows something when it comes to most heroes.

“Nothing but what the media can get a hold of,” Izuku says. “Midnight has been a pro for close to a decade now, her costume design is built for distraction and to utilize her quirk. Her quirk, Somnambulist, allows her skin to secrete a gas similar to anesthesia, and it works better on men than women. She’s also pretty cagey about her personal life, though no one’s as cagey as All Might is. She also frequently sponsors and puts on charities for groups who assist girls and women suffering from abusive relationships.”

That’s quite a bit of info, Momo thinks. “Anything else?”

“Not much. Real name is Kayama Nemuri and her usual hero persona is of a flirtatious and confident dominatrix… Oh! And she works for Yuuei.”

“Lovely,” Hitoshi mutters above her. She can practically hear the eyeroll.

Momo is about to say something when All Might’s voice calls them downstairs.

“Well, kids. This is it,” he says. His usual heroic, larger than life smile is still on his lips, though after this long Momo can tell there’s a less lively tilt to it. It might just be her, but All Might looks… actually a bit sad to see them go. “This is goodbye for now. Fear not, however! We shall see each other again.”

Momo tries to smile around the heaviness in her chest. “Thank you for having us, All Might.”

“It was my pleasure.”

Momo has always hated goodbyes, so she gives him one final nod and turns towards the door to out her shoes on. Hitoshi and Izuku say their goodbyes and join her. Just when they’re about to walk out the door, the probation officer waiting for them, All Might speaks up.

“Before you three go…,” he says, voice unusually awkward and hesitant for being in his hero form. Momo turns around to see him standing behind them with arms wide open.

Does he really want…?

Izuku is the first one to take him up on the offer, colliding solidly with the much larger hero to wrap his arms around as much of his torso as he can while being careful of the injury in his side. All Might catches him gladly, and his smile is soft.

All Might looks up and opens one of his arms, keeping the other squarely around Izuku's shoulders. Hesitation sets in for a moment, but Momo can resist the offer about as well as Izuku. She joins in and is welcomed by a heavy, comforting weight on her shoulders. It makes the leaden weight in her chest surge up into her throat, and her vision goes a little wobbly.

Hitoshi must have crept closer. She can feel the weight of muscular arms shift to include him. Next to her, Izuku sniffles quietly.

The only hug Momo can ever remember receiving being more comforting than this came from her mother.

They need to leave eventually, however. All Might finally releases them, and they leave with the now vaguely uncomfortable and pensive probation officer. And if all of them watch that blue-walled house until it’s out of sight, well…

No one says anything.


The Yaoyorozu mansion is huge, and Momo honestly has a hard time believing that such a place belongs only to her mother and grandparents...

Said mother and grandparents are waiting for them at the front door. Her grandparents, Junpei and Chidori, are wearing beautiful matching summer yukatas, while her mother wears a sharp grey pinstripe suit pants and a blue blouse. Momo doesn’t see any sign of the Shinsou’s or Midoriya Inko, but they must be on the premise somewhere.

“Welcome home,” her mother says, a lovely and professional smile on her face that’s at odds with the softness in her violet eyes. It’s so different to the expression on her face when they were reunited, but the word home... It sticks. The warmth it ignites inside is gentle and soothing on her nerves.

“Good morning, Yaoyorozu-san,” the probation officer says. “Your daughter and the boys have impressed their supervisor with their good behavior enough that they were granted a two-day leave. They should have all their personal items on them. I’ll be back to pick them up again on Friday morning.”

“Thank you,” her mother replies, and the probation officer drives away.

Her family ushers them quickly into the reception area, where both the Shinsou family and Midoriya Inko are waiting anxiously to see their children again. In an instant, a light comes on in their eyes, and their faces brighten with smiles.

Hitoshi’s sister is out of her seat in the blink of an eye, and is barreling into her brother in a stunning recreation of their reunion two months ago.

Hitoshi yelps, teetering over dangerously. His arms pinwheel in an attempt to keep himself stable. When he finally manages to right himself, he returns the hug. “Geez! Try to kill me why don’t you, Noriko.”

“Oh, shut it! This is the first time I’ve seen you in a month,” Noriko returns with a faint pout that reminds Momo stunningly of her brother.

“Noriko, please don’t injure your brother. We only just got him back,” Shinsou Izuna says with an expression of mild distress. Shinsou Nanami, on the other hand, is already at her children’s side.

To the other side of the room, Izuku greets his mother. Whatever they’re say to each other is lost when her mother chooses that moment to draw Momo into a bone-creekingly firm hug.

“I missed you so much,” her mother whispers in her ear, a hand petting her head in a way that feels both intensely familiar and new. Momo wraps her arms tightly around Hisoka in greeting, and doesn’t let go until her mother begins to pull back.

Hisoka motions over to her grandparents. “Momo, do you remember Junpei-ojiisan and Chidori-obaasan?”

Her grandfather looks like a man who’s come straight from the office, with a wrinkled face creased with more stress lines than laugh lines. His long salt and pepper hair is tied back in a traditional top knot, and his brown eyes are touched with wariness and expectation when they look at her.

By contrast, her grandmother’s face is open and inviting, with laugh lines dimpling her cheek and crinkling the corners of her violet eyes. Her greying hair is long, longer than even her daughter’s, streaked with youthful red and held back in a bun with white kanzashi sticks. Momo noticed on the way in that she walks with a strange half-limp.

“How could she forget us?” Chidori asks with a pleasant laugh, hands stuffed into her yukata sleeves. Momo’s quick eyes note hints of tension in both her and her husband’s shoulders. “After all, who could possibly forget…”

Her hand whips out form her long sleeve, revealing a short flashlight. Chidori turns the flashlight face up under her chin and turns it on, throwing shadows across her features.

“Chidori’s Believe It or Doooon’t…,” she mutters ominously. Momo stares at her in confusion. Her mother partially hides her face in her hands.

Junpei sighs heavily at his wife’s antics. “Hisoka, darling, I’m taking your mother out back.”

Chidori lets out an indignant sound, smacking her husband’s shoulder and storing the flashlight away back in her sleeve. Momo knows from experience how hard it is to hide heavy things in tradition clothing. Where is that thing hiding that there isn’t any sag? “You’re gonna have to try harder than that if you want to get rid of me, you old stiff. You’ve been stuck with me for forty five years, you’ll have to deal with me for at least another twenty.”

“Why did I ask you to marry me?” Junpei asks, exasperated. But there’s a glimmer of humor in his eyes now. When he looks back at Momo, he’s does so without wariness. “It is good to see you again, granddaughter. We have missed you dearly.”

“It’s good to be back,” Momo replies, resisting the urge to play with her long shirt sleeve. She looks over at Chidori. “I think… Didn’t you used to tell me scary stories as a little kid.”

That seems to delight her grandmother. “See? I told you she remembered us!” Chidori laughs triumphantly.

“She remembers you, mother,” Hisoka says wryly, putting a guiding hand on Momo’s shoulder to begin leading her out of the entrance room. Momo feels a jolt of unease and glances over her shoulder at Hitoshi and Izuku, who are being lead away by their respective families. “Frankly, I’m not surprised, given how you used to terrify her as a baby.”

“I did not terrify her!”

Junpei gives her grandmother a sideways glance. “Love, your preferred method of storytelling used to send her into crying fits.”

“It was sometimes funny when I was a little older,” Momo says, thinking back.

Leaving Epitaph had many benefits, but one in particular only reared its head unexpectedly. Being stuck in Umeji’s cells and then the Classification home had been terribly boring, but the solitude meant she had time to think about things. She discovered that she remembered more about her childhood than she thought she did. The first time Momo was able to get her mother to confirm something she thought she remembered during a visit, she nearly cried.

Junpei leads them into a sitting room, richly decorated with paintings, flowers and finery. The couches are a soft leather beneath her hands. Her mother sits in an armchair beside her grandfather’s and Chidori joines her on the couch. Momo looks around the room, puzzled.

When everyone is settled, Junpei clears his throat. “I apologize for not allowing you to get settled in just yet, granddaughter, but I figured this might be a good opportunity to become reacquainted with each other before you have to leave. Tell us, how have you been faring? Chidori and I were distressed to learn that you were severely underweight when you turned yourself in. How was your stay with your supervisor? Are you having any trouble with your school work?”

Momo watches with interest as her mother’s eyes glow violet blue. Several hands made of light appear mid-air and float off.

“I’m doing well, sir,” Momo says, but is interrupted.

“Please, call me Ojiisan,” Junpei cuts in firmly, though there is a softer note to his tone. “You are my granddaughter, not one of my art pupils.”

“Of course,” Momo accedes quickly. “My dietician has me on a meal plan to help me gain weight. I haven’t checked my weight recently, but everyone seems to think that it’s working. My workbooks are coming along well - I’m already caught up in maths, while I’m in at least 2nd grade level in everything else.”

The hands return with several painted ceramic cups and a steaming tea pot that smells faintly of strong green tea. The hand holding the pot pours the tea in the cups. When offered one, Momo accepts it gladly and takes a testing sip. It’s as strong as it smells, sharp and a little bitter, but with a hint of honey to it. It’s perfect.

“You’re caught up in maths already?” Chidori looks astonished at that.

Momo ducks her head in embarrassment. “I’ve always been very good at math.”

Hisoka laughs quietly. “You get that from your grandfather and I. Your father, Nagare, always hated higher level math, rest his soul.”

The conversation continues at an easy pace. Momo tells them of her two weeks at All Might’s house, always careful to never reference his injuries or time limit, and a little bit about the kinder moments of living in the Suzumebachi program. She speaks of finding something like peace in tending to a small garden, a profound sense of independence in being able simple meals for herself every morning, and of friends that burrowed themselves into her heart and haven’t left since. In return, she asks them about their lives - all the things she never got to grow up with.

She learns that Junpei is a famous artist specializing in geometrical patterns, with several pupils who live nearby, and that he used to be quite a precocious man when he was younger. She learns that Chidori had to retire from hero work in her forties after a car bomb amputated her entire right leg. That Chidori has worn a prosthetic ever since.

She learns that Hisoka originally wanted to be a hero growing up, but that after her mother was hospitalized and forced to retire, she became scared and disheartened, choosing to drop out of Yuuei’s Hero course. That she chose to go into Business instead, and that she met Momo’s father there.

Hisoka and Nagare originally had a rocky start to their relationship, due to his childish chauvinism and her independence and family troubles. Nagare slowly became serious about pursuing her as the years went on, that he took great strides to improve himself as a person, and how that helped Hisoka realize that she was pushing people away.

They formally courted each other for years, to please Junpei’s more traditional views. How they started Yaoyorozu Corporation together. How they accidentally proposed to each other on the anniversary of the day they met. How excited they were when they found out Hisoka was pregnant, already in the midst of planning their wedding, and how devastated Hisoka was when she received a phone call from emergency services that a car accident had claimed Nagare’s life.

Hisoka is looking down into her third cup of tea, melancholy clear in her distant gaze. “After losing Nagare, I suppose you can imagine how I felt when I called your elementary school to ask why you weren’t home yet, only to hear that you’d already left over an hour ago. If I had known what was going to happen, I would never have let you have the chance to return home from your first day back at school on your own.”

“You became a hero to find me,” Momo murmurs, both as a reassurance and with hints of childish awe. “You repeatedly threw yourself into the underground just for me.”

Hisoka smiles at her. It’s not a happy expression. “That I did. And I would do it again, if it meant your safety. Though, I say reluctantly that, after all this time, you have ceased to be the only reason that I wear the title of hero.”

Momo shakes her head. “No, I’m glad I’m not the only reason. There are lots of people down there that need help.”

Her eyes drift down to her empty tea cup, and she tries not to dwell on the images of a boy who loved the stars more than anything, and a girl who embodied every shade of color possible that come to mind.

When she looks up, Chidori is sharing pointed glances with her husband, but mostly with her daughter. There’s a silent conversation going on over her head. Momo is left glancing between them, lost and fiddling with her cup.

Hisoka throws an impressive frown at her mother. “Momo, there’s… something your grandparents and I feel the need to ask. Did you…”

“Did you really kill all those people?” Chidori asks, looking Hisoka in the eye.

“Mother!”

“No, it’s okay!” Momo takes in a breath. “It’s okay, really. To answer your question, yes. I committed 29 of the 170 murders the Suzumebachi are responsible for.”

Her mother pales slightly, eyes widening in distress. Junpei visibly shares his daughter’s unease.

Chidori stares her down. Even with such a devastating injury, there’s a steel in the lines of her face that says she never stopped being a hero. “Police reports have only linked 143 deaths with the Suzumebachi.”

“Not all of our crimes were able to be traced back to us, especially not our earliest victims or the most recent. It’s only by our confessions that they know the real number now. The only reason I know is because Izuku wanted to keep track of how many lives we ended…”

“The Midoriya boy?”

“Yes.”

“Momo,” her mother speaks up, putting her tea on the table. She seems almost afraid to speak. “Please, tell me. You never killed anyone voluntarily, did you?”

A small hand, once brimming with every color in existence, now flesh colored, limp and cold. A bitter promise made. Waiting, so much waiting, but now I found himI FoundHimIFOUNDHIM. Pleading, begging. A bargain offered, but there is nothing that compares to the weight of her life.

A splash of crimson, sudden silence, and a promise fulfilled. A secret created, to be kept until the end of her days.

Momo looks her mother in the eye and smiles reassuringly. “No. No, of course I didn’t.”

Hisoka lets out the breath she had been holding in a sigh of relief. “Okay… Okay… That’s good, Momo-hime. I’m glad.”

Apparently sick of the tension, Junpei claps his hand decisively. “Now that the interrogation is over with, might we show Momo to her room? I imagine it will be strange to see her childhood bedroom once again after all these years, though the furniture has been updated.”

“I’m getting my old room back?”

“Of course! It will remain yours for as long as you like.”

Momo follows her grandfather out of the room, glad to put the conversation out of her mind.


It’s a simple matter to text the others with the location of her old room. They text her with theirs, and that night, they meet up in hers.

Her childhood bedroom is easily twice the size of her room at All Might’s house, with walls painted a pale green and large windows that overlook the flower gardens outside. Her new bed is a comfortable one, wide enough for four laying shoulder to shoulder and with a canopy that supports hanging blue drapes. Her old stuffed animals linger in the corners and on shelves along the walls, and the floor is a warm hardwood. She can actually walk into her closet, she has an armoire now, and her desk has a brand new laptop on it.

It’s a nice room, if incredibly big for a single occupant. Lonely. It becomes less so when her boys arrive.

They knock quietly in a two-four-one pattern and sneak in quietly, each baring a pillow under their arms. Izuku is in his secretly purchased All Might pajama shirt and pants while Hitoshi has chosen to wear a simple purple tank top and boxer shorts. Momo herself had long changed into a yellow nightgown that was hung in the armoire.

Momo peels back her extremely nice sheets to let her boys in, only content to tuck back in when they’ve placed their pillows down next to hers and settled down.

Hitoshi lets out a heavy sigh to her right and all but collapses onto her shoulder, throwing an arm over her stomach to curl into her side. Momo pets his hair in sympathy. “Tired?”

Exhausted,” he mutters into the cloth of her nightgown. “I appreciate the chance to get to see my parents and Noriko again, but they are Tiring.”

“There’s a capital letter in there somewhere,” Izuku says teasingly, but he’s also melting into the mattress.

“Did your families tell you how Mom was able to officially smuggle them into the mansion?”

“Something about your mom officially hiring them on as associates of the Yaoyorozu Corporation. They don’t officially stay here on paper, but their names are connected to the company now, which will supposedly grant them a measure of protection,” Izuku replies. Green eyes blink at her groggily, the bags underneath having grown in size over the last couple days.

Momo hums in acknowledgement. “We won’t be able to do this very often. Not if we don’t want our families to freak out.”

“Fine, whatever, let’s just go to sleep,” Hitoshi grumbles.

“You can sleep whenever you want,” Momo points out, raking her fingers over his scalp gently. He almost seems to arch into the touch.

“You’re talking…,” he whines.

“Go to sleep, Hitoshi.”

Momo ignores Hitoshi’s grumbling in favor of giving her attention to Izuku. She finds his had under the covers and threads their fingers together. “What did you and All Might talk about?”

Izuku tenses faintly before releasing a quiet sigh. “He… wanted to know why I deliberately broke my rule.”

“What did you say?”

“That I… That I was having such a hard time processing everything that I was feeling recently,” he says, haltingly. “I met someone from my past when I went to my old playground. Bakugo Katsuki. Someone that I didn’t recognize, initially, but the longer I was around him, the more I remembered. We-we used to be friends, as little kids, but… that was before his quirk came in and… and mine didn’t. Afterwards… Not so much. He was there, on the day we were t-taken, and he-he… He wouldn’t turn around… No matter how much I called out to him…”

It’s sometimes hard to get answers out of Izuku, but Momo has been by his side for years. One of the chief ways to get him to talk was just to open your ears and listen. And the more she heard about this Bakugo Katsuki, the harder it becomes to stay silent with rage pulsing hot in her belly.

“He told me that he was sorry for being such an asshole back then, but…” Izuku hesitates, unsure, his body giving fine tremors and the smell of tears coming from his direction. “Should I… Am I really supposed to just forgive him, just ‘cause he said ‘I’m sorry I inadvertently ruined your life’?”

“You don’t have to forgive shit,” Hitoshi pipes up from where he’s been listening, a familiar vicious poison dripping from his tone.

Momo runs her thumb over the back of Izuku’s hand. “What did All Might say?”

Somehow, thankfully, that seems to help Izuku calm down a little. He swallows and inches closer. “He… He-e said that, although he’s disappointed in me for b-breaking my rule, he understands that I’ve been having a stressful time. He said that I’m the only one who can work out how I should feel about B-Bakugo, but that I don’t need to do it right now, or even soon at all. That… That I can take as much time as I need.”

“Then do that,” Momo says. She hopes with all her heart that All Might’s advice helps.

Momo takes in a slow breath, holds it, and focuses on letting it out just as slowly. It’s one of the first things Ozaki taught her when she began learning swordsmanship, in order to quiet her thoughts and steady her body.

Her boys are silent and comfortable on either side of her, Izuku is calming down, and that’s enough for her right now. She doesn’t need to think about anything else.

Hitoshi propping his chin on her should breaks her concentration. “I can hear the hamster wheels going. What’s up?”

Izuku’s hair brushes her cheek as he nods. “Something’s bugging you still.”

Well, if they’re going to double team her like that, Momo supposes she has no choice but to talk.

“We’re not under All Might’s protection anymore,” she points out quietly.

They’re vulnerable in a way they’ve never been before. At the station, they had Tsukauchi to screen anyone entering the building. No one was allowed into the Classification home without clearance or armed escort. They have no guarantees of protection from here on out outside of getting permission to visit their parents and All Might entering the rotation again. They can't afford to automatically trust anyone they meet.

Their families are safe behind some of the best protections money can buy, and both her mother and grandmother are trained heroes. Epitaph has likely gone to ground to recover from the blow the Suzumebachi have dealt them, which will buy them time, but it’s not enough.

Izuku hums in her ear. The curtains drawn around her bed means that there’s no ambient light to see him with, but she knows without seeing that he understand what she’s saying.

“You have an idea,” he says. He knows her enough not to make it a question.

“One of Epitaph’s irregular contraband items was high-grade quirk suppressants. I saw Sakura planning routes for deliveries all the time.” Momo sits up, dislodging Hitoshi from her shoulder.

Since she’s not living at All Might’s house anymore, she figures it’s alright to Create a small glow stick, already lit. The light it gives off is a gentle blue, easy on tired, pupil-blown eyes, while still giving just enough light to see by. The pinch in her side is surprisingly light. Maybe the meal plan is working after all…?

Momo ignores Hitoshi’s grumbling to focus on a particular formula she memorized years ago. “When Epitaph comes after us, we can be sure they’ll try to neutralize our quirks as quickly as possible. If I Create a small amount of the same high-grade quirk suppressants that we can take over long periods of time…”

Hitoshi’s tired brain follows where she’s going. He joins Momo in sitting up. “We can immunize ourselves to the effects.”

“Do we know the side effects?” Izuku is biting his lip. In this light, Momo can’t see if it’s out of nerves or contemplation.

“Dizziness, short-term nausea, confusion, tiredness… All the same effects as the Class A’s the Classification home had Hitoshi and I taking, just a bit more intense,” Momo replies with a shrug. “If we do this, we’re going to need you running interference for us, Izuku. We won’t be able to use our quirks at all for around 24 hours after each dose.”

Izuku nods. “That’s what I figured I’d doing. It’s… It’s not the worst plan out there. We’re out of luck if Epitaph choses to strike back while you two can’t access your quirks, but if this gives us any sort of edge… What do you think, Hitoshi?”

Hitoshi’s eyes close for a long moment, though Momo knows he’s not going to sleep. “Honestly… At this point, it’s worth a shot. We don’t know who we can count on right now to be able to immediately back us up if we need it, so it’s not like we have other reliable options.”

“So we’re all in agreement?” Momo asks, raising her hand in preparation for Creation.

Hitoshi gives a grunt of confirmation, and Izuku nods silently.

Non-solid materials have always been trickier than any other item to Create. It's difficult to maintain concentration with, and it's usually not worth the effort, but it's still technically possible. The molecules of the liquid want to divide and fall apart before they even leave her skin, so Momo has to Create a glass vial to go around it. This puts a far larger strain on her growing body reserves than the glow stick, so Momo makes sure to make enough for several doses - three for both Hitoshi and herself.

The process leaves Momo feeling nauseous with sudden hunger, but the sight of the medicine in her hand makes it worth it.

“We'll need to spread the doses out. Maybe once or twice a week,” she says, trying to ignore the sudden onset of fatigue. Izuku sits up to support her.

“We'll start tomorrow,” Hitoshi nods.

She has Hitoshi store the medicine in the back of the mini-fridge by her desk. Once he returns, sneaking in with a few small cups of jello that he and Izuku make sure she eats, nothing stops her from shoving the glow stick under her pillow, gathering her boys close and finally drifting off.


Once, a long time ago, there was a place surrounded by darkness, and two girls who lived every day in fear of the next. The girls were not alone in that place - there was a boy who gave them the stars, a boy who became a wall, a girl who guided with gentle hands, and a boy who smuggled in shards of sunlight - but these two rarely left each other’s side.

Whenever the hands hidden in the darkness tried to pull them apart, the two girls grasped each other and held on as tight as they could. No one had ever succeeded in pulling them apart, and the other children worked hard to make sure no one ever would.

One of the girls could make gifts. She made many of them, and believed with all her heart that each one would be a charm against the darkness. She saved her strongest charms for the other girl, who could hide anywhere she wanted to. The other children tried ways to coax the girl who could hide out - stars and walls to hide behind and guiding hands and sunlight shards - but none worked better than her charms.

Her charms took the form of books - books about animals big and small, and of everything she knew about them. The girl who could hide loved all of the books, but especially loved the ones about birds. Songbirds, long birds, small birds and tall birds, birds that ran and birds that swam, and some birds that didn’t exist at all.

The girl who could hide learned from those books of birds. She learned how to sing as pretty as a songbird, and to be as silent as an owl, and think as clever as a parrot. And if the girl who made charms made a few to distract herself from the Silvered hands and eyes and words, well, no one had to know.

The boy who smuggled sunlight shards gave them freely for everyone to use. The girl who made gifts used the shards to make more charms, and the girl who could hide used hers to fashion wings. If they could find more, they thought, then maybe they could make enough wings and charms for everyone and escape the darkness together!

But before the girls could get all the shards they needed, a tide of red came to swallow them all. The darkness tried to hold off the tide, but it could not be everywhere. Some of the tide slipped through.

The children ran, all of them holding hands to make sure no one got lost. They ran and they ran, the tide right on their heels, but the girl who could hide tripped, and fell, and was dragged under by the hands hidden in the red. No matter how much she cried and begged, the other children would not let the girl who made gifts go back.

When the tide receded, the children searched and searched for her, but no one ever saw the girl who could hide ever again. The two girls had finally been forced to let go.

The girl who made gifts returned to their - her shards. She found them dimmed and dark, and had a terrible, horrible idea. Using her tears and the memories of the other children’s pain, she fashioned the dark shards into one more gift, this time for herself, and took her charm into the darkness, to the Flower Woman. The Flower Woman examined the charm, and, finding it pleasing, promised to help her track down the pair of hands that dragged the girl who could hide under.

The girl who made gifts held secret her gift to herself, and waited.

For its crime, the pair of hands that took the other girl only had 572 days left.

She made sure of that.

Only the Flower Woman and herself had the secret, and no one else had to know.

Chapter Text

The next morning sees sunlight just barely slipping through tree branches to reach the uncovered windows. The pale green walls dye themselves an interesting shade of red-brown in places under the radiant morning light.

Izuku tests the weight of the vial in his hand, no bigger than a one of Alkaid’s smaller perfume bottles. There’s a layer of spongy material at the top in place of a cap. It’s thick enough to prevent liquid from spilling out, but soft enough for the needle of the syringe in his other hand to pierce through.

He replaces the syringe in his pocket, puts the vial down on the bed and rubs his eyes tiredly. He had gotten up almost two hours earlier to use the laptop on Momo’s desk to research the symptoms and side effects of Class D quirk suppressants - partially to figure out what he has to do and cover for, but mostly for his own peace of mind. This is the stuff usually reserved for long surgeries and people with dangerous quirks they can’t control. The kind of stuff you need a medical licence to legally get your hands on.

It’s also the exact grade of suppressants that Senri puts in Epitaph’s inventory both for their wealthier customers and, rarely, for agent use. Store-bought suppressants like Class A’s can be powered through if the quirk is sufficiently strong or trained enough, or if the individual has the wrong biology for the grade and dosage. Every grade down the list after that becomes increasingly difficult to work around. At the bottom, Class D’s are the only known suppressant drug on the market capable of suppressing anything, including aspects of mutant-type quirks.

Izuku runs through his mental checklist one more time and glances at his research notes and calculations again. Fairly sure he’s got them memorized, he holds them over the empty trash can and takes the lighter Momo made for him out of his pajama pocket. The flames catch quickly, and the curling fragments of the notes float down.

The smell of smoke wafts irritatingly into his nostrils, and he’s quick to pour some water over the ashes before they can burn the trash bag.

By the window, Hitoshi is using what little morning sunlight he can get to pore over the map of the estate his father made for him, trying to plan a route back to his and Izuku’s rooms that won’t risk them running into a servant or their families over-much. Momo is looking through her closet for a piece of clothing that will cover the syringe’s puncture mark without causing irritation.

In some ways, Izuku supposes that he should count himself lucky that he doesn’t need a shot, too. The day is going to be uncomfortable enough as it is without the side effects and a needle being jabbed into his thigh.

He takes a quick trip into the adjacent bathroom to gather up some supplies from the medicine cabinet, washing his hands thoroughly while he’s at it.

Walking back into the room, he takes the two syringes he’s got out of his pocket, slim as his pinkie and made of clear plastic, and begins work in prepping the supplies. “Everyone ready?”

“Not gonna lie - not looking forward to this,” Hitoshi says morosely, stowing his map back in the hidden pocket of his boxer shorts. He still steps up to the bed and gets on it.

“Neither am I, to be honest,” Momo says, laying a long pale yellow dress down on the bed. Izuku eyes the red spider lily designs on the skirt. “But, it’s the plan we all agreed to.”

Hitoshi rubs the back of his head and groans in disgust. “Let’s just get this over with. Momo, you go first. It’ll be easier on Izuku and me if we leave as soon as I’m done.”

Obliging, Momo scoots over first. Izuku helps position her mostly on her back with the bottom leg folded up and to the side, shifting the nightgown around to expose the inside of her thigh. None of the Suzumebachi are strangers to exposed skin, either their own or each others, so he barely pays it any attention. Instead, he focuses wiping the area with the disinfectant wipes from the medicine cabinet and prepping the first syringe.

Momo’s hand drifts over and two long pieces of cork rise up from beneath her skin. Izuku takes them with a nod of thanks and sets them aside in favor of making sure there are no air bubbles left in the liquid suppressant.

Hitoshi leans over on the other side of the bed, tilting his head to watch more closely. “You worked out how much we’ll need to take?”

“Yep,” Izuku replies absently, placing his hands the way Epitaph’s doctor taught him to and taking a deep breath to steady his hand. “We’ll need to watch the injection sites for the next few days to make sure infection hasn’t set in, but we only need to do this until colder weather sets in. Then we can switch to doing arm injections, which has much less risk.”

The actual injection is quick and only takes a few seconds. Momo’s expression twitches slightly at the needle finding her vein, eyes not leaving the canopy above. Afterwards, he presses a cotton pad down before removing the syringe, and carefully stabs the needle deep into a piece of cork. Momo takes over the duty of holding pressure on the puncture, which frees his hand up to place a large bandaid over the cotton pad.

One down, Izuku takes the chance to wash his hands again. When he comes back, Hitoshi is in the same position Momo was, hands behind his head and eyes stubbornly closed.

Momo is in the process of getting dressed for the day, pulling the dress over her head. “Were there any weird side effects that you found?”

Izuku goes through the motions again, cleaning the skin of Hitoshi’s thigh. “None that I found. Side effects of Class D’s typically fall into what you said last night - confusion, dizziness, nausea, and tiredness, with additional effects being loss of appetite and, rarely, blurred vision. However, if your heart rate suddenly starts spiking out of nowhere, or if your quirk factors suddenly feel like their going on the fritz without anything actually happening, then we’ve got a problem.”

One of Hitoshi’s eyes opens half-way. He doesn’t seem to pay the needle poking his inner thigh any attention. “What does it mean if that happens?”

“Allergic reaction. Fun fact that I didn’t know until an hour ago, it’s actually kinda hard to overdose on quirk suppressants. It’s like a tranquilizer. You either get enough in you to keep you down, or you have enough in you to kill you. It’s part of the reason why most quirk suppressants don’t really work too well on people with mutant-type quirks, too.”

Izuku places the bandage down over the cotton pad and gives this needle the same treatment as the other one. He moves to gather all the paper evidence up, wraps it all in toilet paper, and then stamps it down as flat as he can get it at the bottom of the bedroom trash can.

Izuku continues without breaking his stride. “They need either a very specific formula that is able to target the transformative or emitter-like portions of their quirks, if they have the equivalent portions at all, or they need so much of the lower grade stuff that they overdose and start having fatal brain hemorrhages. It’s actually really interesting! I always wondered why most suppressants seem to have been specifically engineered to work on emitter and transformation-types, and it’s-”

Momo and Hitoshi are patiently watching Izuku walk around the room as he talks, amused in Momo’s case and visibly smirking in Hitoshi’s. There’s a familiar burning in Izuku’s cheeks.

He sticks his tongue out at them. Momo just giggles at him.

Hitoshi grabs their pillows of the bed and chucks his at his chest. “Glad you’re having fun being a nerd, but we’ve got to move.”

Izuku quickly tucks his pillow under his arm, waving a goodbye to Momo as they both sneak out the door.

Part of the way there, Hitoshi starts acting… strange. He starts shaking his head every now and again, and hesitates at crossroads and corners. When Izuku gets the chance, he sneaks a peek at Hitoshi face and finds it a little paler than normal.

Having known that this would happen sooner rather than later, Izuku takes Hitoshi’s arm and takes the lead. They’re supposed to part ways at a particular fork, but he chances leading Hitoshi all the way back to his room, just to make sure he gets there alright.

The trip back to his own room is longer than he would have liked, but he isn’t bothered. He suppresses a yawn and fights back the urge to collapse on his not quite as nice bed. To keep himself from giving in, he throws himself into a quick shower and dressing for the day.

Just as he finishes pulling on a pair of light-weight jeans, he hears a quiet, tentative knock at his door. Izuku’s brow furrows in confusion. He not expecting anyone, and it should still be early enough that most people would be asleep.

He pulls on the plain shirt he pulled out of his luggage. Izuku opens the door just enough to peek through, but the sight on the other side has him opening it completely.

Inko looks up at him with a fond smile, dressed in a frankly adorable pink dress that compliments her eyes. Looks like they’re not the only ones who get up early. Good to know.

“Good morning, mom,” Izuku greets, and does his best to suppress another yawn.

“Good morning, Izuku,” she says back, her smiling widening like it’s been days since they last saw one another instead of hours. “You disappeared so suddenly last night that I never got the chance to ask. Would you be willing join your mother for breakfast?”

“Of course! I’d love to!” Izuku quickly grabs his socks off his bed, purposefully unmade to make it look slept in. He hops around trying to get them both on, and he hears his mother laugh quietly under her breath at his display.

When he’s finally ready, Inko reach out to thread an arm around his. The gesture pings on his awareness, but nothing else happens as she leads them down the hall. “You’re up very early. Did you have a good night’s sleep?”

Izuku laughs lightly, scratching the back of his head and hoping the bags under his eyes aren’t too obvious. The healing scratches on his fingers itch. “Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m used to getting up this early.”

“You’re an early riser like me, then.”

Izuku hum in agreement, happily storing the knowledge away. It feels like every similarity with his mother that he discovers chips away at Gamayun’s mold. “Hey, ummm... There was something I wanted to ask you.”

Inko turns her head to give him a curious look, expression open. “Ask away.”

Izuku thinks about how to phrase his question. “Why do we have a saying that says we always turn out green?”

That gets his mother to crack another smile, but the look in her eyes is both nostalgic and melancholy. “I shouldn’t be surprised you don’t remember. You were five or so the last time I told you. You know that people with mutation-type quirks can sometimes pass on that trait even without passing on their quirk, right?”

“Of course. It’s one of the basic yet partially unsolved fundamentals of quirk theory. No one knows exactly why, but most think it’s because mutant-type quirk mess with genetics in ways that emitter and even most transformation quirks just don’t,” Izuku replies without missing a beat. Quirk theory was one of the few things he had been actively encouraged to learn growing up, and he soaked the information up like a sponge. Blessed considered the knowledge of vital strategic importance to combat his quirklessness, but Izuku never found a use for it beyond the, well, theoretical.

“That’s right. On my side of the family, I’m a 4th-generation quirk user. You know that my quirk is limited telekinesis, an emitter-type, but your great-great-grandfather, Midoriya Morito, the first quirk user in our family line, had a mutation quirk.”

Izuku leans closer, eyes wide with curiosity. “Really? What was it?”

Inko pulls him down another corridor. They look like they’re getting closer to the room they all had dinner in last night. Part of him wonders why he hasn’t seen any staff yet. “It wasn’t anything fancy. He was just all green - hair, eyes, skin, even his nails and teeth. I have some old photos of him and your great-great-grandmother, if you want to see. But he’s why members of our family tend to have some sort of green coloration. He’s also the one that changed our name to Midoriya. As I understand it, that was a common practice among 1st-generation quirk users back in those days.

"His son was the one to coin the phrase, after his daughter, your grandmother, inherited his green eyes, skin and nails. I was born with her eyes and your great-grandfather’s hair, and then you inherited my hair and eyes, so the saying has some weight to it.”

“Huh…”

Curiosity sated, Izuku and Inko fall into a comfortable silence that lasts part of the way through breakfast that was brought to them by (suddenly appearing) servants. The Shinsou’s and the Yaoyorozu’s join them eventually, Momo and Hitoshi with them. Izuku uses his years of practice covertly observing Akutagawa and Blessed to keep an eye on them.

Hitoshi eats like he’s trying to stay awake, like every bite is something he has to concentrate on. His expression is oddly vacant, and every time his sister or one of his parents tries to engage him, he jumps a little in his seat. It’s enough that Izuna and Nanami keep throwing him concerned glances, though Nanami seems more somber than worried.

On the other side of the large table, Momo is poking at her breakfast, having not taken a single bite since a servant put it down in front of her. Hisoka and Junpei keep speaking to her in low tones, foreheads wrinkling in worry, but Momo just replies with a faintly queasy smile.

Chidori, on the other hand, tries to speak to everyone at the table, dressed in a frankly gorgeous summer yukata with colorful crane designs. Even when she’s acting more like an elderly socialite, elated to be hosting company, Izuku hasn’t been going behind Epitaph’s backs for years researching heroes just to miss a retiree from the Fourth Generation of heroes.

The Shimmering Sorceress - former Number 15 of her generation and esteemed combat hero. Famed for the defeat of the berserker eco-terrorist, Chloroshield, who was hours away from making the entire island of Shikoku uninhabitable to humans.

And Izuku is sitting in her dining room, eating at her table...

So cool...

Izuku has to shove food in his mouth to stop himself from assaulting her with questions about her career and her light quirk. It’s one thing when he loses his head around All Might. All Might always seemed to take his curiosity in stride, indulging Izuku instead of telling him to shut up like most people usually do.

All Might is nice, but All Might is All Might. Izuku has gotten used to that just being a part of who his hero is.

But not everyone is nice or patient like that. It wouldn’t do if Izuku got on the wrong foot just because he decided to be rude and intrusive. Who knows what would happen then.

A while later sees the three families sitting together in a large living room. The space is surprisingly modern for the Yaoyorozu’s, who, by and large, seem to prefer a somewhat traditional style. Even so, Izuku can see a long painting made in the ukiyo-e style, potted bonsai in the corners, and he can hear the hollow, rhythmic sound of a bamboo tube tapping against rock from the open windows past the shiny chrome and surround sound.

The couch Izuku and his mother occupy is almost as plush as his bed at All Might’s house, the both of them sinking in an alarming amount. Unlike a number of the richer homes he’s broken into over the years, the furniture looks and feels well-broken in. Next to him, his mother is knitting something that looks complicated to his untrained eye, expression simultaneously intent and relaxed, and the rate at which the needles she’s using move leaves him faintly dizzy, not once making a mistake.

Izuku tries to make progress in his third-grade science workbook while occasionally keeping an eye on Momo and Hitoshi. Nanami turns on the television to the morning news at some point, and Izuku listens with half an ear.

On the floor, Noriko is doing her best to try and help bring her brother up to speed, using hand-drawn diagrams and even retrieving her old homework assignments from years past. She seems to enjoy being the one to teach her older brother. Hitoshi, on the other hand, still looks like he’s trying to stay awake.

Noriko pouts at her brother, poking his leg. “Come on, ‘Toshi. Are you even paying attention, here?”

“Frankly, no,” Hitoshi grumbles, and his eyes are so far closed that Izuku swears he’s on the verge of nodding off.

She continues poking his leg incessantly. “Why not? I’m working my butt off here to help you get as far as you can before you gotta start doing this stuff on your own again.”

Hitoshi swats at her grumpily. Without opening his eyes, his hand meets hers with a fleshy slap. “Would you stop that? I’m tired…”

Noriko’s pout softens a smidge, but that doesn’t stop her from poking him again. “What? Did you not get enough sleep last night? Were you sneaking around like the ninja you are?”

“No, and I am not a ninja.”

“You’re really sneaky, you’ve killed people in sneaky ways,” Izuku tenses faintly, “and you said that your missions largely took place at night. Ergo, you’re a ninja.”

Hitoshi snorts and rolls his eyes beneath his eyelids, and pointedly doesn’t start going for the butter knife in his beltline that Izuku knows he swiped from the dining table.

That’s an… unusually tame reaction, where Hitoshi is concerned. Izuku is willing to bet his quirk analysis notebook and his favorite red shoes that, if anyone else had said that, they’d be pinned to the ground right now.

On the couch nearest to them, Izuna gives a faint wince at the mention of killing and shares a glance with his wife. From both his reaction today and yesterday, he seems to be the parent most ill at ease with his child being a former criminal with a record, for all that it doesn’t stop him from showing Hitoshi affection.

Noriko, unperturbed and ignorant of her father’s apprehension, continues poking her brother when he fails to answer her. Hitoshi’s eyebrow twitches in annoyance. Izuku can see his jaw slowly clench.

Finally having enough, he flips his pencil around in his hand like it’s a knife and stabs half-heartedly at her. Noriko throws herself back hard with frankly terrible reflexes, and she flails as she falls on her back with a squawk. Izuku can’t hide the quiet snort he makes, and Momo hides her’s behind a fake cough.

“Hey!”

Hitoshi opens his eyes just enough to smirk at her. “Get faster, scrub.”

“Hitoshi,” Izuna says in a sudden, stern bark that jolts the room. He looks at his son disapprovingly. Hitoshi stares back with confusion. Izuku can see the start of the walls forming.

Izuna’s lips purse. “Did you just try to hurt your sister?”

Hitoshi’s eyebrow raises and his head tilts, his expression quickly growing blank and flat. “No…?”

“Then what do you call what you just did?”

This time, it’s Hitoshi who purses his lips. He might not appreciate it, but Izuku thinks they resemble each other a little too well in that moment. “Me stopping her from poking me more. She’s got atrocious reflexes, but I was never going to touch her.”

Izuna’s expression that he won’t accept that, even though to Izuku, that was a perfectly reasonable explanation. “What’s the problem? He wasn’t even moving that fast,” Izuku says, which draws the man’s ire to him. He feels more than hears Momo walk up to stand behind him.

“What about that motion was not fast!?”

Before Izuku can get a word out, Nanami has a hand on her husband’s shoulder. Without a word, she pulls her husband back in his seat. Izuna is apparently content to follow the motion, but remains sitting up with anger in his eyes.

By contrast, Nanami tries to hide suspicion and caution behind neutrality. She’s not very good at disguising it. “Hitoshi, you’re used to using objects like weapons, right?”

Hitoshi’s face closes more. “What’s your point?”

“You’ve also trained to have fast reflexes and reaction times, right?”

“What does that…?”

Whatever Hitoshi was about to say drifts to the wayside as exhausted confusion reluctantly gives way to exhausted and confused contemplation. He looks like he’s trying to parse out what his mother is getting at, and maybe he would get it if he didn’t have some high-grade quirk suppressants running through his system, but he’s obviously struggling.

“All of us were trained to use weapons and have quick reflexes,” Momo says behind Izuku. She also sounds confused, and her speech lags slightly in a way that simple confusion shouldn’t give her. Perhaps they should have waited until she had some food in her stomach before giving her the suppressant, especially so soon after all the Creating she did...

Nanami nods to Momo in acknowledgement, folding her hands in her lap. “You three have also only interacted socially with each other, who you know the limits of what you all can handle. What I’m getting at is that, perhaps,” she shares a pointed glance with her husband, “Hitoshi, I believe you when you say you didn’t intend to hurt Noriko, but you were also moving as if she were given the same training you were. You might not have consciously realized this, but she physically can’t react as quickly as you think she can. You might not think you were moving fast, but from our untrained perspective, you were.”

Izuku is stunned silent, and Hitoshi stares at his mother. His mouth moves like he’s trying to speak, but then his eyes fall to his lap. His hand comes up to rub his face.

“Oh,” he murmurs like it’s an epiphany. Like it’s a concept he’s only just discovered. Frankly, Izuku can sympathize. “Oh. Shit, I…”

Guilt explodes across his face. Izuku sees hints of panic forming in the way his hands twitch and how his gaze flits between multiple bodies, but not at them.

“Noriko, I-” Hitoshi begins, turning to his sister, but he chokes on the words like they’re gagging him.

Izuku is half-way out of his seat when Noriko, having sat up, rolls her eyes and throws her arm over Hitoshi’s shoulders. She drags him closer, Hitoshi easily going with the motion, until they sit side by side instead of across from each other. “I’m fine,” she says, brusque and sounding vaguely insulted. “I’m not a ninja like you, but I’m fine.”

Hitoshi wrestles the guilt back just enough to roll his eyes. “Not a fucking ninja…”

He jolts when Izuku finishes his move across the room to sit on the floor next to him, slipping a hand into his. Izuku flashes him a smile and pretends to ignore him in favor of the workbook balancing on his knee. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Noriko give their clasped hands a contemplative look.

She removes the arm around Hitoshi’s shoulder, only for him to jolt again when her hand encloses around his. Poor Hitoshi startles a third time when Momo leans her back against his to read her book.

Izuku glances up at Izuna and Nanami. They look deep into conversation, whispering under their breath to keep it from spreading. Izuku strains his hears, but all he can make out is a quiet sigh of “too much like each other” from Nanami. For his part, Izuna looks contrite for all that he was quick to confront his son a few minutes ago.

They spend the next little while like this, taking strategic positions adjacent to Hitoshi for maximum comforting effort. He and Momo are usually enough, but Izuku realizes now how much he missed having a third person to lend support. It’s good to be part of a larger team again, if only for the moment.

He goes back to listening to the morning news with half an ear. There doesn’t seem to be much interesting on, only a couple crime busts and a headline stating that All Might is apparently taking semi-permanent residence in Musutafu. He’s just about to tune it out when the next story immediately causes his head to jerk up.

“Next up, here’s a story that will cause many to breathe a sigh of relief.” The reporter shuffles his papers in front of him to appear professional. “As many of you know, the three-man serial killer group known as the Suzumebachi were finally apprehended two months ago by All Might, ending a four year long reign of terror. Currently, the members of this heinous gathering of villains are standing trial for their crimes, with many crying out for the group’s execution - calling life in Tartarus too lenient. The details of the trial are, of course, limited to those a part of the proceedings, but what is known is that a motive for the senseless bloodshed that has consumed 170 victims, including civilians, villains, and beloved heroes like Mysterica and Crimson Riot, has not been presented. We at Musutafu News will do our best to-.”

Nanami shuts off the television. All it leaves behind is a heavy, somber silence.

“They don’t know you three,” Inko says. Her grip on her knitting needles leaves her knuckles white. “They don’t know that you’ve been through. They don’t know what you’re still going through.”

Izuku shakes his head and smiles without humor. “That doesn’t matter. We’re still killers. No, we’re not just killers, we’re hero killers. We pose a threat that normal villains just can’t or won’t achieve. Ones who have managed to keep their identities secret after this long, to boot. We hurt so many people… Is it really all that surprising that people are calling for us to die for it?”

“That doesn’t mean it’s right,” his mother says fiercely. She sounds like she’s trying not to cry.

“Doesn’t matter,” Hitoshi and Momo say in concert, the sound less resigned and more just accepting. There’s an understanding in that sound that no one else in the room but him seems to get, but that’s okay. As long as they can understand each other, they’ll be okay.

“What could or should be doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter if this is Right and Just,” Hitoshi says plainly. Noriko starts pressing herself into his side in distress, so Hitoshi releases her hand to wrap that arm around her shoulders.

“All that matters is what is,” Momo finishes for him. “Everything else just… falls apart.”

He doesn’t need to look to know that they’re all sharing the same bleak smiles.

There’s a shuffle of moving cloth and footsteps against the wood, two fairly rhythmic and a third hitching every step. Hisoka, Junpei and Chidori come around the couches to join Inko and the Shinsous. Hisoka chooses to sit with her daughter, but Junpei helps his wife kneel down in front of them.

“Who taught you that line of thinking?” Junpei asks, waving Momo to move out from behind Hitoshi. Hisoka follows her to sit on her other side.

Izuku shrugs, feeling the others do the same on either side of him. “Does it matter? You can probably guess either way.”

Junpei nods, thankfully not feigning ignorance. “I can, though I suppose I was hoping for specifics. My next question is, do you really believe that?”

They all glance at each other, perplexed by the question. “What’s not to believe?” Momo fiddles with her thin fingers. Her hand flexes like it’s preparing for Creation, but nothing happens. “If you can’t accept what is, you’re living in a fantasy.”

Chidori makes an expression that Izuku can’t tell is a frown or a grimace or some bizarre mix of the two. “That’s true,” she admits, shifting so that she’s not kneeling, but sitting with her legs folded off to the side, helping move her prosthetic leg into place. “But there is a difference between accepting reality, and bowing to it. If you only accept what is, if you refuse to think about what could be, you’re choosing to live in what is, in itself, a fantasy.”

Hitoshi snorts at that. The hand entangled with Izuku’s frees itself to rubs his eyes. “How the hell is focusing on reality a fantasy? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Ow! Hey! What gives!?”

Chidori retracts her hand from where she chopped Hitoshi on the head. “Don’t get smart with me. I’m too old to put up with that kind of back-talk.”

Hitoshi eyes her distrustfully. He rubs the top of his head, but keeps his mouth closed.

“What my eloquent wife is trying to say is that accepting the reality of one’s circumstances is all well and good,” Junpei continues in Chidori’s place. “But if one don’t temper that acceptance with perseverance, courage or, indeed, passion, then one does not have the hope to change one’s circumstances. You three have already changed your circumstances once before, have you not?”

“We were just at the right time and the right place…” Momo replies dismissively, shaking her head. Her fingers start picking at each other, so Izuku takes one of her hands in his.

“Indeed,” Junpei agrees with a faint smile, to Izuku’s surprise. He hasn’t seen the man smile once in the last 24 hours. He was beginning to think that he was just stoic by nature. “You were in the right place, and it was the right time. And you had the hope, in that one moment, that you could pursue a different circumstance. Look where it’s led you. Reality is a fact that one can’t escape, but, in time, I think you’ll find it’s a surprisingly malleable fact. One that is subject to a thing that no other fact is - hope.”

Hands delicately clasp his shoulders, making him jolt in surprise. When he looks over his shoulder, he sees his mother staring at him with a weary, strained smile, having abandoned her complex-looking knitting on the couch. Because he’s looking in that direction, he sees Nanami sit by her daughter, and Izuna wrap a tentative arm around his son.

“Honestly.” Chidori gives an unlady-like snort, moving her gown around just enough to get at her prosthetic. She pulls on it until it gives with a soft, sucking pop, allowing her to pull it out from under the yukata.

It’s pale, flesh colored, and fairly old by today’s standards - completely unremarkable, but obviously well-cared for. She looks them in the eyes and places it down on the ground in front of them like it’s at once a treasure and a trophy. “23 years ago, I was stuck in that hospital bed missing my entire leg. I’d had it less than a day before. It was hard to move on, and I chose to retire, but I refused to let go of what made me The Shimmering Sorceress. Do any of you honestly think I’d be half the woman I am today if I’d just laid down and accepted what is?”

“Or if I had?” Junpei contributes, brow set proudly. “Imagine, if you will, a starving art student, trying over and over again, making painting after painting in the hopes that one, just one, would be his big break. Our generation saw quirkless populations shrink below 50%, with stigma and prejudice against us raising. Where do you think I’d be, if I’d just accepted that no one might see my hard work over my lack of extraordinary power?”

Izuku can’t believe his ears, too stunned, body faintly shaking. Junpei nods to him, the acknowledgement of one quirkless person to another. He feels Inko wrap her arms around his shoulders and the pressure of her burying her head in his hair.

It feels like a reminder. Like the first tiny ray of sunshine after days of dark clouds. It sounds like the memories of a single child struggling to keep spirits high, and it tastes like every promise that turned into a lie and eventually became a truth. It feels like a jagged shard finally being pulled loose from inside his chest, and the resulting wound almost manages to feel like relief instead of just pain.

It should feel like vindication. Instead, it just feels like a puzzle piece that has the right image and shape for it’s place, but just won’t fit.

Izuku glances around for a distraction from the metaphorical vice around his throat. To either side, Hitoshi and Momo are visibly struggling to understand what they’re hearing. Frankly, Izuku can’t tell if it’s the suppressants or not. He’s not sure he wants to know right now.

“I mean… it’s… It worked for you, but…” Momo stammers. She falls silent as her mother embraces her, eyes staring wide and uncomprehendingly at her grandparents.

“But… we’re not…” Hitoshi tries to continue her thought, only to fall silent in his confusion.

Chidori softens with a sigh, and she ruffles each of their hair. “You don’t have to believe what we’re saying right now. You don’t even have to understand it. Just listen to us when we say that what is does not define who you are, or who you can be. It only defines your fate if you let it.”

The huddles last for a while, the silence managing to be both a comfort and suffocating simultaneously. Izuku finds that he… wants to believe that, but…

”... calling for the group’s execution…”

”My Suzumebachi…”

How can he, when he still remembers weight, texture and feel of his hand wrapped around a gun so clearly, and he can see dried blood under his fingernails after every nightmare?


Maybe it’s the drugs flooding his veins, but the rest of the day passes Hitoshi by stupidly quickly. Most of it is in a haze, faded and greyed to the point that he could honestly be looking through a thick film and not be able to tell the difference. It doesn’t register in his brain, but he’s not sure if he can blame that on the suppressants, his (apparent) depression, or just his general miserable state of being.

Despite Noriko’s best efforts, he doesn’t make it very far in his school work. Hitoshi is thankful that she wanted to try, even after he almost managed to stab her (stupid, stupid…), but he’s also not particularly surprised. He can barely scrape up the energy for a chapter a day when he’s not high on quirk suppressants.

It feels like his mind and body are trying to wade through sludge, one managing to tread at a different pace than the other, but he’s not sure which one is winning, or where the goalpost is. His quirk feels strange, too. Not fritzy strange, but… but like the place in his brain where his quirk normally occupies, not something he pays attention to with as much practice with Brainwashing as he has, is both empty and frozen over at the same time. The trigger is inert, and he can’t grab a hold of it to save his life, but it also borderline feels like there’s no trigger at all. Even the Class A’s the Classification Home had them on still gave him the impression that it existed.

Is this what quirklessness feels like? How does Izuku live with it?

Hitoshi doesn’t remember how Momo and Izuku managed to convince him that this was a good idea, but the second he’s feeling better, he’s stabbing them. They, at least, will be able to take it if he accidentally sticks them with a fork.

He doesn’t remember going to bed, but he does remember getting a text while he was getting ready. The grey film over his brain is still firmly in place, and exhaustion is pulling at his bones. He ignores it in favor of putting every ounce of his remaining focus into keeping his toothbrush in his mouth and moving.

Sleep comes easily, if not gently. Lurid nightmares nip at his heels, sending him images of faces semi-familiar in the way that brings to mind the sickly-metallic smell of blood and viscera. The faces are silent because he wishes them to be so, and they are dead because he commands them to be so.

Bloody teeth and slit throats and open guts and bullet wounds, all delivered with weapons that he puts in their hands. Just like how he was trained to kill them. He feels gloved hands guiding his and a monocled stare on the back of his neck, always.

Sometimes the faces are only semi-familiar, images and sensations and emotions fleeting without a lasting impression. Sometimes they are as familiar to him as his own name.

Sometimes they are strangers, faces and names that he is tasked with erasing, and sometimes they are Izuku. Momo. More recently, his parents. Noriko.

His mind and body shake when it is them. He wants to stop, but with gloved hands guiding him, he would having a better chance halting the sun in the sky.

Hitoshi rarely thrashes during his darker dreams anymore, long since having trained the reaction out of himself to avoid waking his fellow Suzumebachi up with his issues. Instead of waking up sweating or shaking, consciousness bring listlessness and bone-deep weariness more pervasive than the previous day’s drug high.

It’s barely dawn, but like hell his blaring internal clock acknowledges that. Ken always dragged them out of bed stupidly early for training. Now it’s just a habit. He dressed himself in a white button-up that was hanging in his closet and picks up yesterday’s pants because he can’t be bothered to find a new pair.

Seemingly between one blink and the next, he goes from his room to the dining room. Izuku and his mom are already sitting at the table, chatting. Hitoshi joins them and hopes Noriko and his parents don’t wait for him.

Inko gives him a quiet word of welcome. She scans his face, taking in the bags under his eyes and the slightly grey tinge to his pale skin. She’s concerned, but, to Hitoshi’s quiet gratitude, she keeps it to herself in favor of talking to her son.

Or, talking at Izuku, who is looking just a little pale around the edges himself. His eyes look a little puffy, his already messy curls are in further disarray, and there are raised welts on his arms, some of them scabbing over, in the exact size and shape of a human fingernail.

Looks like Hitoshi isn’t the only one who had a rough night. In that case, he’s reluctantly glad that they had their group sleepover the other night. Izuku is a violent sleeper when blood plagues his dreams. Combined with his strength, considerable for someone who doesn’t have anything enhance it, it’s always a struggle to avoid getting a bruise or a bone fracture when they’re trying to stop him from hurting himself. Hecah was always the best at it.

Momo comes in next, Chidori and her mom on either side of her having a quiet conversation. She’s grey-faced like him, radiating exhaustion and restless energy like that’s not a paradox in the making, but when she sits down and a servant brings out her food, she digs in like a girl possessed. It’s just a simple meal of rice and eggs, mixed with her supplements, but she devours it like fresh watermelon in the middle of a summer desert. Chidori and Hisoka both look relieved at the sight.

Her sudden appetite makes sense when you take into account that Hitoshi distantly remembers her not eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner last night, but that’s not what’s got his eyes narrowing in contemplation.

The signs are there. Hitoshi has spent 8 years living in the same room as her, so he knows when Momo has a nightmare of her own. Doesn’t look like it was about Senri though, thank fuck.

Now he’s really glad he slept in his own bed last night. Momo’s restless dreams aren’t anywhere near as hard to handle as Izuku’s, but it’s still impossible to sleep next to her when it happens.

Still. First himself, then Izuku, and now Momo? Geez, did anyone have a good night’s sleep?

Absently, Hitoshi takes a bit of his breakfast and mentally nudges the part of his consciousness where his quirk is. It responds to his prodding like a well-trained dog, just a hair thin thought away from being primed for use. The familiarity of it is incredibly heartening, as much as he can feel any positivity towards his quirk.

Hitoshi listens with half an ear to the conversations floating above his head, trying to shake the post-nightmare down enough that he can consciously function like a normal human being today. His family wanders in just as he finishes up. They greet him warmly, even his father, but all the reserves he can spare for them is enough to wave vaguely as he leaves.

Today’s the day that they meet their new supervisor, and he’s going to need all the mental energy he can manage. He’ll keep his favorite card deck close by. Might need the distraction.


Midnight’s apartment building is in the outskirts of Musutafu’s residential district, with the actual home being on the fifth floor. They have to ride on the train to get to it, but when they get there, it’s an easy 20 minute walk to find it.

The home itself is modern almost to a fault, and there are several peculiarities in the layout that give Hitoshi the impression that the place was built for hero habitation rather than civilian. It looks to have 4 or 5 rooms at the most, with the living room being the largest one. Dark wood furniture decorate most of the home, chrome and shining metals where it’s appropriate, but there are also hints here and there of something less unrelentingly fashionable.

An ornate porcelain incense burner sits on one of the side tables. Bits of smoke waft upwards, giving the air a pleasant tinge of sandalwood and jasmine. Potted ferns decorate the corners and tiny herb gardens rest on a table by the largest window, breaking up the modernity. There’s a music player somewhere, playing some sort of upbeat, modernized folk song in a language Hitoshi doesn’t immediately recognize. By the burner is a wooden slab that looks like the beginnings of an altar space, with a red sitting rug right in front of it. Hitoshi spies a clear glass door to small balcony on the far wall, decorated with garden planters and a bird bath that has a single stone lotus emerging from the center, painted white.

Midnight, as it turns out, is a tall woman with long, voluminous dark hair and sparkling blue eyes behind a pair of sharp red glasses. She greets them with an enthusiastic smile, wearing a white tunic shirt with far longer sleeves than a house without air conditioning warrants and shorts beneath.

Their parole officer drops them off, hands over their tracker GPS receiver and fucks off to do whatever he does when he isn’t being their personal chauffeur. Hitoshi knows the guy is just doing his job, but he’s starting to really dislike how someone can up and disappear with their location.

“All right, you lot, let’s get you settled in. This is gonna be a long 12 to 14 days, so we might as well all get comfy,” Midnight says. “The name’s Kayama Nemuri, by the way. No need to call me Midnight when I’m not on the clock. I know your names, but who’s faces do I attach them to.”

They introduce themselves and Kayama shows them to their rooms. Once again, Izuku and he are paired together in the small-ish guest room, while Momo gets a futon in their supervisor’s room.

While she’s showing them around the apartment, Kayama seems quick to get a feel for their personalities and expectations. She asks questions like “What was it like living at your last supervisor’s?”, “How far are you in your coursework?”, and “What do you guys like doing?”

When that’s done, she sits them down in the living room just like All Might had and gives them ground rules. She’s stern about it, and doesn’t give them as much wiggle room as All Might did, but her demands are still more reasonable than anything Epitaph ever gave them. For now, it’s liveable.

Kayama takes a swig from her water glass. Her posture in her armchair is… sloppier than Hitoshi would have expected of a hero known for being a control freak. “One last thing to cover before we can all start relaxing. Since the school year has started back up, I’m going to be gone for most of the morning and a good portion of the afternoon on weekdays - even longer if a student has detention or requests my attention after school hours. I teach art, so that doesn’t happen often, but all this is excluding my duties as a hero.”

She peers at them over the rim of her glasses. “You three have two options; I can ask Nedzu if it’s alright for you to accompany me to Yuuei during my work hours. He’s done this for other staff members with charges, so he’ll probably be amenable. You won’t have to attend any classes, and you’ll stay largely separated from the student body unless you want to join them in the cafeteria during lunch time. It’ll be boring, but that’d be the same if you stayed here.”

Kayama leans over to put her elbows on her knees, her glass dangling between them. The angle comes dangerously close to exposing a bit of her cleavage. “If, however, you wanted to stay in the apartment, then the place is all yours. My clothing and personal effects are off limits, as are the items on the top shelf of my closet. If you have an emergency, use my number. If I’m unable to get to you for whatever reason, then try any of the apartments. This apartment complex is full of heroes, so someone should be able to help you. Just tell them that you’re staying with Midnight for the time being. Oh, and I have hero friends and fellow teachers that like to pop in from time to time. I rarely get a warning when it happens, so sorry ahead of time if you get spooked.”

More people who could potentially know their location… Hitoshi is starting to like this less and less the more he hears. They’re moving around so much to keep their location a secret. At this rate, all it’ll take is the right question to a single pair of loose lips to give up the game. Epitaph wouldn’t even need to bring Hirotsu in to get their information.

How did Midnight get picked for supervision duty when she’s this much of a security risk?

“May I ask who you can expect to show up?” Izuku asks from his position sitting cross-legged on the floor. He’s got his working smile on, all bright-eyed friendliness and non-confrontational body language. Hitoshi knows that Izuku sees him as the charmer of the group because of his quirk training, but he’s seen the teeth in Izuku’s smile too many times to believe it. Suckers and targets alike fall hopelessly into his circle of influence, and there’s a trail of bodies 31 long to prove it’s potency.

No, if there’s anyone in the Suzumebachi who could be called a charmer, it is unassuming, personable Midoriya Izuku.

Kayama gives Izuku a long look. It’s not hard, or stern. In fact, it’s pleasant. But it is also searching, and it’s only his training that prevents Hitoshi’s hands from sweating a little.

“Hmmm, just two old high school friends of mine - Aizawa Shouta and Yamada Hizashi.” Kayama’s lips quirk up into a playful smirk that softens with fondness. “You’ll probably hear Hizashi coming from a mile away. Midoriya, your file says you’re fond of heroes. You ever listen to Present Mic’s radio show?”

“Yeah!” is Izuku’s immediate response, complete with enthusiastic seat-bouncing and ecstatic hand-waving, because of course he’s listened to this radio show. Hitoshi turns his head to hide his eye roll. “It’s only the most popular hero broadcast, and the fourth most popular radio show in the entire country! Wait, you’re friends with Present Mic!? He teaches at Yuuei!? And he’s going to be coming here!?”

“Yes, yes and yes,” Kayama says with a laugh, seeming to enjoy Izuku’s wide-eyed incredulousness. The nerd falls still with a star-struck look on his face. Hitoshi and Momo share a knowing glance, but the traitor is also trying to hide a smile behind a fake cough.

It causes something to sit uneasily in his gut, but he’ll wait until later to analyze it.

Kayama hums in contemplation for a moment, glancing off to the side. “Hmmm… Was there anything else to cover… Oh, right! I was told that your previous supervisor noticed you lot tended to sneak into each other’s rooms at night. Is that true?”

They jump in surprise. How had none of them noticed All Might spying on them when they rendezvoused? He never confronted them about it, so they all assumed… Well, shit.

“Ah, yes,” Izuku replies. His hands fidget with the bandages around his fingers. “We’re used to sleeping all together. Will it be a problem?”

Kayama leans back in her seat and shrugs carelessly, pushing her glasses up. “I used to do the same with my sister. As long as all you’re doing is sleeping, I don’t much care. Just try not a change rooms in the middle of the night, alright? I need my beauty sleep.”

“Of course.”

She nods decisively and stands with a stretch that brings her up off her heels. “Alrighty, then! Nedzu gave me the day off so that I can get you three oriented. Now that that’s done, I’m going to go watch TV. Eat if you’re hungry, sleep if you’re tired, and feel free to enjoy the balcony!”

True to her word, Kayama spends the next several hours watching cheesy sitcoms in the living room, leaving them to their own devices. He and Izuku unpack their clothing into a dresser in their room and manage to fill up more space than they did back at All Might’s house.

It’s strange to have so many possessions that are really theirs. For years, they’ve only had what few things that Ken or Blessed or their handlers thought they’d earned. Of course, it was all subject to being taken away at any given moment, and for the slightest provocation. Nothing ever really belonged to them, and Epitaph made sure they knew it.

Now, however, is… different. At least, on the surface. Hitoshi has things that’s he’s purchased on his own, for himself. No one has threatened to take away his CD, or his cards, or his one sci-fi novel from a bargain bookstore. It’s been months since anyone has tried to use his relationship with his best friends against him.

It might be dangerous to think this way but… maybe he can start trusting that this… that outside Epitaph really is different? He doesn’t…

He doesn’t know. Maybe if Kayama continues the pattern. Maybe.

They emerge and find Momo, having a secret fondness for all things drama and romance that Hitoshi is fairly sure he would be dead for knowing if she ever found out, doing her best to watch from the kitchen while pretending to do assignments in a workbook she’s already completed. Eventually, however, Kayama catches on and waves for Momo to join her.

Hitoshi practices card tricks with Izuku. The familiar motions for clever sleight of hand are calming, providing a level of focus that lets his mind wander without drifting. At their most basic, cards and similar enough to knives that he can apply the principles of one to the other, and he’s gotten good enough at both that he rarely loses anymore.

Fingers flick and bend cleverly. Right before Izuku’s eyes, the card he picked, the King of Hearts, seems to vanish from the deck, and when his sleeveless arm reaches up and his hand rakes through Izuku’s hair, he pulls out a folded up card that is the King of Hearts.

Later that night, after dinner is cooked and eaten, and all the dishes have been dried and put away, Kayama ducks into her bedroom while they get started on their workbooks. Momo is further ahead of them both in all their subjects, but Izuku is only further ahead than Hitoshi in most, so they’re all take turns coaching each other on the material.

Hitoshi looks up when Kayama re-enters the room, holding several items that are wrapped in a pale cloth. She moves over to the wooden slab that he pegged earlier as an altar space and sets the cloth down gently before retrieving a small potted fern from outside. Next, she fills a small glass bowl with water from the tap, and takes them both to the slab.

Kayama kneels before the slab and breathes in deeply. She takes care in unraveling the cloth. She peels away layer upon layer, first revealing a candlestick with a single white, partially burned candle, and then a half-used match set, and then a long box, all of which are set aside. At the center is a statue the color of blue stone, carved into the shape of a serene Buddha, which is set on the altar with a care Hitoshi would describe as reverent.

The fern is added to the statue’s right, the water is placed in front of it, and the candlestick to it’s left. A match is used to light the candle, and the box is opened to reveal small coals and pellets. Kayama uses a pair of thin tongs from inside the box to light a coal using the candle, and place it in the incense burner.

She makes a point to check that the nearest window is crack open, and then she settles on the sitting rug. She bows to the Buddha statue, palms together. Leaving the left hand in that position, she picks up a pellet with her right hand, touches it to her forehead and drops it on the coal. It gives a poof, the smell of sandalwood drifting through the room and out the cracked window, and then she bows to the Buddha again.

All throughout this process, she mutters under her breath, but no matter how hard he strains his ears, Hitoshi can’t make out what she’s saying

The entire process is… fascinating, if nothing else. Very few people openly practiced religion in front of them in Epitaph, and what few signs they did see were often in the form of oaths and jewelry. A quick glance at the other’s tells him they are just as interested as he is.

Kayama remains kneeling and muttering for a long time. At least until the charcoal has finished burning and the smell is just about completely gone from the apartment. Hitoshi gets bored of watching her and concentrates on his work, tuning back in only when she moves from her position.

As if waking from a trance, Kayama moves to undo her altar, first blowing out the candle and pinching the wick with licked fingers. She returns her fern to the balcony and pours the water over the other plants. Everything else is wrapped up in the pale cloth - first the Buddha, then the now-closed box, the matches and the candle. The coal in the burner, already on its last legs, is buried in ashen sand.

The bundle is picked up and Kayama takes it into her bedroom. When she comes out, she catches them staring. Her only response is a smile.

Hitoshi spends the rest of the night trying to put the event out of his mind, and tries not to dwell on the peace in her eyes.

Chapter Text

”All the world is full judgemental people,” Senri tells Yakshini. The beginnings of a beautiful sunset dye his colorless hair shades of burning crimson and orange. He leans back in an office chair, legs crossed on top of a desk with her leaning sideways against his chest in his lap. The smell of his cologne sits heavy in her sinuses. She wants to sneeze, but that would mean sneezing on his dress shirt. Instead, she breathes through it.

She doesn’t know why he asked Ken if he could pull her out of training. Ken had been reluctant, saying that Blessed had high-expectations for this lesson, but Senri insisted that he only wanted her for a half-hour. That wouldn’t be too long, would it? Especially not when Yakshini was already doing so well.

Ken had given in soon after that, just like he always does. She wishes he hadn’t. Senri scares her.

One of his hands is playing with her shoulder-length hair, brushing it away from her downturned face with gentle fingers, smoothing it down. He likes playing with her hair when they’re alone. He says it’s always so soft and lovely. “Every person in this world sees things their own way, colored by singular experience and misguided ideals of right and wrong. Some people see it as an ever-turning cycle, things happening over and over again by some predetermined nonsense. Others see this world as an ever-blank canvas, a place upon which to paint their deeds as justification for their own pitiful existences. Do you want to know how I see this world, pretty?”

She didn’t. She really didn’t. Yakshini clenches her hands in her new training pants, having been given this pair on her ninth birthday after outgrowing her ratty old ones. Still, she knows better than to not answer. Or, worse, give the wrong one. “How do you see it, Gin-kun?”

Her question is delivered with the perfect amount of politeness and feigned interest, just as she was made to practice. Yakshini still remembers when he got tired of insisting that she call him by that name and started poking her with his hair hard enough to draw blood until she used it.

Senri smiles approvingly. It makes his scar twist unpleasantly. Then it continues twisting, to Momo’s wide-eyed confusion, in ways it naturally shouldn’t.

Senri looks out the window, his eyes cold and contemplative, seeming unaware of the way his scar is snaking and expanding across his face and down his neck. “The way I see it, this world is a test. One you either pass and survive, or fail and die. Only those who know how to play the game, those who have the skill or the cunning or the resources to expend, can survive. You’ve seen the common rabble, have you not?”

“Yes, sir,” Yakshini nods tentatively, feeling his raking fingers brush by her ear. “Sir… Your scar-”

Senri carries on, giving no indication that he’s heard her. “Those fools rely on a false system, a delicate farce that will collapse at the slightest pressure, to survive the test. They think they can win by pooling their resources and hoping that someone will pick up the slack if they can’t pull their own weight, even as, time and again, very few prove willing to take on the extra burden. None of them want to win the game. A great majority of them can’t - too busy with insignificant problems brought on by complacence. Tell me, Yakshini, does that sound like a world worth living in?”

“It sounds like they’re just trying the best they can…,” Yakshini defends quietly, arms going around her tense stomach. Fingers tug at her hair in displeasure, causing her to wince and her shoulders to hunch.

Senri lets go and flicks his hand away. To her horror, chunks of black hair are sent flying. A hand darts up to her numb scalp, but she can’t tell where Senri had just torn her hair out from.

“‘Their best’ would see half the world dead from incompetence without their security blanket,” Senri reprimands firmly, tone brooking no argument or doubt. He focuses on her, eyes steely and certain, and she’s too terrified to look away as blood starts leaking from his pursed lips and nose. “‘Their best’ would see extraordinary talent like yours, Yakshini, wasted on worthless, sacrificial propaganda.”

His moves down her the back of her neck. Yakshini’s body locks up, and she wants nothing else than for Ken to come through the office doors and say Senri’s time is up. She hates how Senri’s touch makes her feel like an owned thing. She hates how scared she is right now.

Unperturbed, or just uncaring of her unease, Senri’s hair wraps around one of her hands and bring it to his lips. He gives it a firm kiss. The gesture leaves a bloody mark behind that starts spreading slowly up her arm. “You, me, Epitaph; we were all born to be yet more expendable resources. At least here, in this organization, we’ll be ready when their system comes crashing down around their ears. It’s why we took you, after all. We’re training you so that you can survive where they cannot - so do your best to become strong.”

She tilts her head away in a futile attempt to keep the spreading blood from crawling into her mouth. She hates everything about this, strange and scary and paralyzing. But, most of all… Yakshini hates how much sense he makes when they’re all alone.

“One day, you’ll understand, my beloved little hornet.”


Momo jerks awake, a sweaty hand clamping over her mouth to muffle her terrified breathing. Nerves prickle under her skin like she’d just been shocked. Her heart beats painfully like its trying to jump out of her chest, and her breath is short enough to leave her gasping. She’s light-headed, and there’s a burning in throat like she’s just coughed up stomach acid.

Panic, a still functional part of her mind whispers, sounding like the therapist from the Classification home.

Think, Momo, she screams at herself, feeling like her own heartbeat is choking her. The steps… There were steps to dealing with a panic attack… She just has to remember-

A hand grasps her shoulder gently, causing her to jolt and flail in an attempt to get away. A voice whispers in her ears, but Momo can’t register it over the screams building behind her muffling hands. She kicks out ineffectually, and her body feels tangled and constricted. The hands roll her onto her back and she flails an arm out above her, but it’s pinned down at the wrist by a firm grip.

Momo is dragged into an upright sitting position, still flailing and kicking at the air, the constriction around her body and the grip on her wrist throwing her panic into overdrive as she tries to wiggle away. Her grip on her own mouth starts to feel bruising. Her lungs are burning and it feels like she’s suffocating.

“Yaoyorozu!” The voice from before nearly shouts into her ear, causing her to flinch hard. Her eyes fly open, unsure of when she closed them, or why her vision is fuzzy and distorted. The hand pinning her wrist lifts to tug her hand away from her face. She gasps in, her lungs cease to burn so fiercely, and from out of her throat emerges a terrified shriek.

Her hands reach out and wrap hard around someone’s wrist, nails digging into their flesh. That wrist moves closer, Momo’s grip not impeding it, and a hand clasps her chin to turn her head slightly to the side.

At first, Momo doesn’t recognize them, mind racing to figure out who she knows has eyes that shade of blue. Then her vision focuses, and she barely sees Kayama’s steady expression when she’s backlit by far-off morning light in the dark bedroom. Reality starts reasserting itself bit by bit. Her screaming dies down into high-pitched hiccups.

Kayama whispers to her, hand running in measured circles along her back. The hand clasped in Momo’s claw-like grip rhythmically squeezes her knee. “It’s okay. You’re okay. Your name is Yaoyorozu Momo. You’re in the bedroom of my apartment in Musutafu. You’re here with your supervisor Kayama Nemuri. Midoriya Izuku and Shinsou Hitoshi are just a room away. You’re safe and you need to focus on breathing. It’s okay. You’re okay…”

Again and again, she repeats the information with a calm and clear voice. Momo clings to it desperately, using it as an anchor to stabilize herself. As she calms down, Momo finds herself subconsciously matching her breathing to the rhythm of the hands on her back and knee. She uses that to lead into the breathing exercises Ozaki taught her. Her heart rate slows gradually, and the pricking of nerves under her skin dies down.

Momo glances down at her hands around Kayama’s wrist, recognizing that she must be hurting her. She pries her hands loose, one finger at a time, leaving red patches of skin where the top layers were scratched off. The unseasonable sleeve is pushed up a bit. Absently, Momo thinks that this might be the first time she’s ever seen anything of Kayama’s arms in the last couple days.

“Sorry for spooking you, kiddo, but you were starting to suffocate yourself,” Kayama murmurs, taking the opportunity to wiggle the sleeve back down now that the panic is receding.

Momo swallows with a dry mouth, reaching up to wipe her eyes. “It’s... It’s fine. Thanks for… yeah…”

“Was it a nightmare? Do you want to talk about it?”

Momo shakes her head rapidly despite herself. “It’s fine. I don’t… I don’t really remember my dre-”

Another hiccup cuts her off. Out of the corner of her eye, Momo sees Kayama wave something closer. Izuku and Hitoshi come around the corner of Kayama’s bed to the side where her futon is, their faces plastered with anxiety and concern.

All at once, any progress Momo made in calming down is ruined. Her body begins shaking hard enough to rattle her teeth a few times and her breathing picks back up again. It feels like the panic is trying to raise up in her gut again, but she doesn’t care. She wants her boys. Now.

Momo holds out her arms, and Izuku and Hitoshi all but fly around Kayama to get to her.

Hitoshi does his best to imitate an octopus, sitting down behind her to pull her into his lap, arms clutching her close but carefully positioned so she doesn’t feel caged. She feels him bury his face in her too long hair. By contrast, Izuku gently nudges Kayama out of the way and pulls her legs onto his, massaging them gently.

He says something to Kayama that Momo doesn’t care enough to listen to, instead burying her face in Hitoshi’s chest. When she looks up, Kayama is gone, leaving them alone, and Momo is free to crumble in peace. She cries, quietly, because loud crying was never tolerated in Epitaph, and Hitoshi rocks her back and forth in response.

Just like before, her crying slows, as does her shaking. Momo soaks up the contact like she’s starving and burrows into her boy’s touch. Eventually, Momo manages to cry herself out and unglues her eyelids.

Izuku is gone when she looks, but Hitoshi isn’t distressed. He must still be somewhere in the house.

Just as that thought registers, Momo hears the clink of glassware on wood, and the quiet sound of conversation from outside the room. She rubs her eyes tiredly, sighing.

It’s been a while since she had someone she trusted to help her through her bad nightmares. Since before they met All Might at least. It was hell getting one in the Classification home and having to deal with strangers trying to guide her through an attack. They had helpful advice, and they meant well, but they weren’t Izuku or Hitoshi, and they always told her that she could talk to one of the psychological staff.

Their stay at All Might’s house had been weirdly devoid of them, and what few nightmares presented themselves at all were ones that were easier to deal with. Momo hasn’t figured out why, when before, the nightmares were a semi-common appearance, only getting worse during their stay in the Classification Home.

The nightmare at her family’s home, she had chalked up to the suppressants, dizzying and clouding as they were. It hadn’t been one of her bad nightmares, regardless...

She’s usually better prepared for the mornings after than this... The safety and isolation of All Might’s house, so warm and inviting, must have lowered her guard. It's the only reasonable explanation for why she reacted so badly to this one. If Blessed had been around to hear her screaming…

Goosebumps shiver across her skin at the memory of piercing gold eyes. Momo shudders and pushes the thought away.

Above her, Hitoshi hums quietly and stifles a yawn. Guilt sits sour in her stomach. Or maybe that’s just her churning stomach. She knows that he hasn't been sleeping lately, paranoid insomnia stealing his rest. Hopefully, she didn’t interrupt him getting some real sleep-

“This was a bad one… Senri again, right?” One of Hitoshi’s hands glasps with hers gently.

Momo sniffles ineffectually. “I… think so. Only the ones with him ever make me get this bad…”

“Do you remember anything?”

“You know I don’t remember anything concrete,” she rebukes gently. Her hands slowly clench in her hair, tugging at the dark strands in mounting frustration. “I just… I hate these stupid dreams… I can’t ever remember exactly what happens, but I know they don’t warrant all this distress! He’s never done anything but scare me! Why do I have to be such a basket case where it concerns him!?”

Hitoshi hushes her and begins rocking her again. The motion is comforting, but humiliation begins to bubble underneath. “Look at me,” she tries to laugh, the sound ringing hollow, “I’m the oldest, and yet here I am being held like a baby. I should be stronger than this-”

The cover is lifted off her legs, cutting her off, and instead wrapped around her shoulders. With a grunt, Hitoshi lifts her up, maneuvering so that the cover is wrapped around her whole body. Momo can’t help the indignant yelp that springs forth. Her cheeks color sunrise red. “Hitoshi!”

“Nope,” Hitoshi replies, barely strained by the fabic’s and her growing weight combined “Not hearin’ it.”

He takes her out to the kitchen and sits her down on a stool at wrap-around counter. Momo glares at him, still feeling the heat in her face. On the other side of the kitchen area, Izuku is helping Kayama prepare breakfast. The cheeky nerd gives her a smiling wink that just makes her blush worse, but then he casually slides a mug that smells of raspberry tea down to her. She graciously decides to forgive him after that.

The taste sits bittersweet on her tongue, and the wafting mist helps clear up the last of the stuffiness in her nose. The warmth of it spreads throughout her body, and it helps calm the still roiling nausea and lingering exhaustion. She savors it, watching Hitoshi set the dining table for breakfast. He comes up short a napkin, so when he goes to retrieve one Momo pulls one from the skin of her hand, ignoring the slight pinch in her side, and presents it. Hitoshi gives her a lingering look, but accepts it anyway.

Kayama tries placing a plate of delicious-looking pancakes, large and fluffy and golden brown, filled with strawberry bits, but the smell instantly sets off Momo’s nausea. Stomach acid threatens to bubble back up her throat, only calmed by her taking another sip of her tea. Thankfully, Izuku steps in and directs the pancakes off to the side. “She gets a sour stomach after a bad nightmare,” Izuku explains softly.

Not the whole truth, but it’ll keep Kayama off her back until tomorrow at least. The hero eyes her compassionately, nodding with an apologetic twist to her lips. Kayama takes her seat on the other side of the table. “You gonna be okay, Yaoyorozu?”

Momo nods sluggishly, a partial-truth dancing on her tongue. “Yes. I’m sorry to let your food go to waste. Liquids are about the only thing I can handle without feeling like I’m going to have to run for the trashcan right now. I have this tea, so I’ll be fine until my stomach calms down. I’m surprised that you had raspberry-flavored tea on hand.”

“It’s one of Shouta’s favorite flavors, so I always keep some in stock for when he comes by. I, personally, am a fervent worshipper the coffee gods, but Hizashi...” Kayama’s lips curl into a look of repugnance in between bites of her breakfast. “He’s a heathen. He drinks both.”

Hitoshi chokes on his pancakes a little, thumping his chest “He drinks both? Please don’t tell me he ruins his coffee with lots of milk and sugar...”

Kayama nods gravely. “Like I said. Heathen.”

The look of sheer horrified disgust on Hitoshi’s face… Momo has to hide her snorting giggles in her tea.

Izuku rolls his eyes. “Liking both coffee and tea is not that weird. Neither is putting in milk or sugar.”

“Silence, heathen,” Hitoshi hisses dramatically, causing Izuku to roll his eyes again.

“Hitoshi, you put milk in your coffee all the time.”

“Not enough to ruin it! If it’s more white than mid-brown, it’s not coffee anymore! It’s. Shit.”

Kayama shakes her head with a laughing smile. She leans back in her chair and brings takes another bite of pancake. “Anyway,” she says over top of their old argument, “if you can only stomach liquids after a nightmare, Yaoyorozu, then write down what tea flavors you like or would like to try. I’ll pop by the store today or tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to-!”

“I insist,” Kayama says, tone indisputable underneath her kind smile. “I’m your supervisor, and one of my duties is taking care of you. If I leave you starving with nothing, then I’m not doing my job. As far as I’m concerned, I’m already fucking up since I can’t offer you any nausea medication. I don’t usually get queasy, myself, so I often forget to pick more up when I do run out. Also...”

The leading tone attracts Hitoshi and Izuku’s attention, cutting Izuku off as he’s in the middle of another lecture on the effects of caffeine. Momo tilts her head in question, cradling her cooling tea.

“Since I only have one class on mondays this semester,” Kayama says, cradling her cheek in her hand, elbow on the table, “what say we hit the gym today?”

Momo perks up, the exhausting effects of the nightmare momentarily forgotten. “Really?”

“Yep!” Blue eyes crinkle as a playful grin spreads across her face. She takes a drink from her morning coffee. “There’s a gym I go to that’s got a heroics section with better equipment and a sparring ring. I can even get you lot in by saying that I’m thinking of sponsoring you for a hero school. Being cooped up all the time isn’t good for normal teenagers, let alone ones with your background.”

A chance to get out of the apartment and get some exercise in? It sounds like heaven - like the best thing Momo’s ever heard. Their training had been exhausting beyond measure, but now that she can’t do it anymore, she finds that she misses some of it. She told Izuku that she wants to get back into shape, but that was an understatement.

More than anything, she wants to be strong again. Flexibility exercises, light running and lifting ten pound weights just aren’t conducive to that. Momo used to be able to run across rooftops, haul herself up ledges from a standstill, climb pipes, fight off opponents three or more times her weight. She doubts that she would be able to swing her sword around for more than a few minutes as she is right now. Never before she has felt Blessed’s warnings of muscle atrophy so keenly.

This desire, fueled by every time her muscles begin to burn and her breath falls in recent days, has nothing to do with Epitaph’s inevitable retaliation - she wants to stop feeling so weak and helpless.

Even Hitoshi, lazy and unmotivated unless his friends or orders are concerned, has a gleam of anticipation in his half-lidded eyes. Anyone else would wonder why, but Momo remembers the first and last target they failed to assassinate, and how Hitoshi was the only one of them able to last more than two minutes against his multitude of serrated blades.

Izuku’s face is stretched into a giant grin, green eyes shining brightly, a bit of syrup in the corner of his mouth. “When were you thinking?”

“Hmmm, we’d leave sometime in the next hour. My class is in the last period of the day for non-heroics students, so we’ll have plenty of time to tire you lot out.” Kayama eats the last of her pancakes and wipes her mouth off with her napkin. Then, Kayama turns to Momo with a serious expression. “Having said that, unless you can manage to get some food in you, I’ll have to ask you to sit this one out, Yaoyorozu.”

Momo’s hands reflexively clench around her tea. “But-!”

“No buts,” the hero cuts in, her jaw set. “Without food in you, you won’t have the energy to keep up. You’ll be more likely to hurt yourself when you can’t concentrate. And, need I remind you? You’re supposed to be gaining weight. Short-term nausea is one thing. Actively burning calories without replacing them is another.”

Kayama gets up from her seat and takes her dishes over to the sink. She briefly stops by the table when she’s done. “You don’t have to eat the pancakes, but… try to eat something, okay, Yaoyorozu? Don’t force yourself, but… try to eat something. When you lot done here, go pick out some exercise clothes. We’ll leave soon.”

Her hand briefly comes up to squeeze her blanket-covered shoulder, and then Kayama is gone to further down the hall. Probably to her bedroom to pick out some workout clothes.

As frustrating as it is, there’s nothing she can say to argue with Kayama’s advice. It’s reasonable… But that doesn’t stop the bitter helplessness festering. She relaxes her grip on her tea cup in fear of breaking it.

Momo looks to her now cold pancakes. When she tries to work up the will to drag them over, her stomach flops and acid burns low in her throat. Her hands shake. Nausea bubbles. She… She can’t do it. It’s too soon, she’s not hungry, she doesn’t like it she doesn’t need it the nausea is bad but eatinglivingbreathing it hurts it hurts it hurts hurts when he shows his face he likes her like this likes her docile likes her hair short and her skin pale and her mouth shut his pretty little hornet-

Panic, her mind screams. Breathe. You need to breathe.

The touch of a hand against on her arm drags her back out of her head.

“Momo…?” Izuku whispers, concerned and kindly sweet, but Momo can’t look at that. Her tea sits in her too still hands, almost empty and gone cold. She can’t force herself to eat… but…

Momo looks up and catches Hitoshi’s stare. “Help me?” She asks him, knowing that her face is pale and her spine is unnaturally stiff.

He looks at her, unsure and uneasy and hesitant in ways that makes guilt crawl along her skin. She knows what’s going through his head. She knows, and yet, still, time and again she asks this of him.

Time and again he never once refuses her. Hitoshi takes in a slow breath. “You sure?”

“Do it,” she replies, and the world blurs. She’s still in her body, but her body feels more like a blanket than her physical self. Her mind floats, drifts along without a care in the world, but whatever thread she has that ties her still to the flesh that makes up her body says that it is now tuned to Hitoshi is ways it never was to her.

”Your nausea is fading away,” he tells her like its a promise. Just like that, the thread says her belly is calming. ”When I release you, you won’t experience any sickness and you can eat your breakfast like this is a normal morning.”

The world comes back into focus, and Momo breathes a long sigh of relief when it doesn’t feel like she’s going to vomit at the sight of food. Feeling dazed by her sudden wellness, she reaches over, grabs her cold pancakes and starts to eat. They’re delicious.

She eats more than she thought she would; certainly more than she would have two months ago. Momo remembers her dietitian saying that part of the reason she has trouble eating now is because she accidentally trained her stomach to be smaller than normal, and that they needed to stretch it out over time to get it to where it should be. Apparently, teenagers were supposed to be bottomless pits at her age. Momo always had trouble believing it before. It’s only by finally feeling well enough to eat regular meals that she was reminded of the near-constant cycle of nausea and hunger that was her general state of being for years. She just... stopped registering when it happened.

Blessed was smart enough to recognize that growing teenagers needed constant energy refueling, allowing them to pack away small travel snacks. There would be times where Izuku and Hitoshi could get food in her - when they were away from base and on missions together, or when Senri was away on business trips. Those were the only times she could remember managing to feel full.

She’s still not used to the feeling. There are times when Momo feels sluggish and borderline bloated and other times when she think she’s eaten enough, only to be hungry again an hour later. Maybe it is just due to inexperience. She’s only been gotten into the habit of eating regularly in the last month. She’ll have to keep track of things.

Dishes clink in the sink, already in the process of being washed by Hitoshi and Izuku by the time she’s done. That’s another thing Kayama seems to do weirdly. She’s not… lazy, per say, but she does leave a lot of domestic duties until last minute. It drives her and Izuku to distraction sometimes.

Momo gives them her dishes and wraps her arms tightly around Hitoshi. His back is tense against her, his lips pursed tightly against the self-appointed guilt eating at him. Because she knows him so well, Momo makes sure to press a kiss to his temple, whisper a quiet “Thank you”, and hold on until his back finally loosens. His head droops forward, defeated.

Momo hates making him feel this way - hates that she automatically turns to the ruthless cunning that Senri tainted her with over the years when she wants something. The least she can do is try to comfort the hurt she causes when she can.


They use the tram to cut their travel time. The gym Kayama brings them to is a large, three-story building that doesn’t look any different from the buildings around it. The front doors lead into a waiting room with a set of double doors, a door to a stairwell going up and an elevator. They pay for their locker keys, Kayama paying for herself and them using the money All Might lent them that they never ended up spending. It takes up almost all of Momo’s savings, while an embarrassed Izuku has to borrow a few hundred yen from Hitoshi. When they get their keys, Kayama leads them to the elevator.

The second floor is actually two floors combined. The ceiling towers high above, and the majority walls are padded with training mats. A diverse range of equipment liters the room, includinging weights that reach into the hundreds of pounds, resistance machines, training dummies and sandbags, a multi-lane track, balance beams and suspended wires, climbing ropes, a rock wall going all the way up and...

Momo tilts her head in confusion. Is that a huge log swinging like a pendulum over a series of stepping posts in the ground? What kind of exercise is that?

They stash their things in their lockers and change into their workout clothes. As she’s pulling her shorts on, Momo happens to glance at the tag. She finishes dressing, but when she goes to sit down to pull her shoes on, she pauses.

She’s wearing something the same size as what she used to wear as a Suzumebachi, but they don’t fit like she’s used to. Her shorts are not hanging off her hips like her old pants used to. When she tightens the drawstring, she doesn’t end up with so much extra string that she has to roll the hem to the inside to keep the tie from unraveling. The straps of her shirt aren’t threatening to slip off her shoulders as often.

Momo runs her hands along her hips, her stomach, her ribs, and finds there’s a little bit of softness that wasn’t there before. She can’t blame it on lack of muscle, either, because she can feel those beneath. When she looks in the mirror, there’s a slight fullness to her face that makes it… softer.

She doesn’t look so much like a starving animal like this. She… she looks more like her mother, with her father’s jaw and brow.

Momo leaves the changing room after that. Her boys are waiting by the track, doing their routine stretches. The room stinks of sweat and artificial flowers, causing her nose to curl reflexively.

Kayama claps her hands excitedly to get their attention, trying not to accidentally unravel her whip as she does. For once, she’s not dressing in something with long sleeves, but that matters little when she is wearing elbow-length fingerless gloves. Momo’s eyes, however, are drawn greedily to the full-length wooden shinai leaning against Kayama’s leg.

“Alright, kiddos,” Kayama says with a wide grinning smirk. She taps her coiled whip against her leg. “Go wild. The equipment is designed to withstand regular abuse from heroes, so don’t worry about damaging anything. If you want to hit the ring, then I’m allowing Yaoyorozu to Create 4 small items, and no more. Everyone got that?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“Good.” Kayama picks up the shinai and tosses it at Momo. The wood sits familiar in her hands. Momo gives it a few swings to test the balance. Her mouth can't stop the grin of satisfaction from spreading.

“Well? What are you waiting for? Get to it!”

Much as she would love to jump right into her katas, Momo has to take a deep breath. She places the wooden sword against one of the sparring ring poles with deliberation. Then, she backs up and starts her exercises, always with an eye on what she really wants.

Her boys manage to drag her into a jog on the track that devolves into a race before she knows it, neither Blessed nor Ken barking orders over their shoulders to dampen their enthusiasm. Despite having the shortest legs of them all, it’s Izuku who throws up his hands in victory at the end of it. After that, Hitoshi almost begs for a chance at the rock wall. At the end of the wall is the beginning of the suspended wires, just thick enough to stand on without snapping and resembling telephone lines more than anything.

They take turns running across them for a while. Momo almost loses her balance a couple times, but Izuku falls off and has to tuck into a roll to keep from breaking something. Hitoshi has the nerve to look smug.

Watching with a careful eye below, Kayama takes to one of the treadmills with an easy jog.

Eventually, they drift apart. The pendulum draws Izuku’s attention and Hitoshi wanders over to the training dummies with a couple dulled knives that Momo Creates for him.

Picking up the shinai and getting into her first stance is almost like coming home. The familiar weight of a sword in her hand, wooden as it is, soothes nerves Momo hadn’t known were rattled. Breathing comes easily, and the world fades into complete clarity and control. Nothing can touch her like this - not Senri, not phantasmal nightmares, nothing.

Ozaki’s training flows out through her muscles like a dance; a mix of formal and informal stances and motions that weren’t designed for duels or formalities gone wrong. Momo switches back and forth between two-handed and one-handed slashes, never once missing a step. The ease of the motions are pleasing, as is the knowledge that months of inactivity haven’t stolen this from her too.

A quick shout draws Momo’s attention to the sparring ring, where Hitoshi is flipping one of his knives in a playful challenge. With a grin, Momo steps onto the platform on the opposite side and readies her wooden blade. Izuku plays their referee. His hand comes down in a short chop, and they spring at each other.

Momo uses the reach of her shinai to her advantage, keeping Hitoshi at a distance when he can’t parry her and press a proper retaliation. At one point, he tries to be cheeky and stab her in the gut after baiting her into chest poke. She punishes him by stepping and turning into his other side so that her back is to him, stomping on his foot and throwing an elbow into his diaphragm. As he doubles over, winded, she twirls back into her original position in front of him and brings her sword into a downward slash that barely connects with his shoulder as he throws himself into a haphazard sideways roll.

Vicious as it looks, they’re having fun. Hitoshi is too busy trying not to laugh after every exaggerated poke he makes to take the spar seriously, and Momo is too preoccupied trying not to lose it with him to keep her stances tight and the arcs of her sword graceful. They both accumulate bruises for their playfulness, but that hardly matters against the delighted grin she can’t banish. This is easily the most fun she’s had in ages.

Kayama eventually wanders to the edge of the ring, pacing the outside and calling out one and two-word pointers. It helps them get back into the frame of mind for a proper spar, though Hitoshi does become disgruntled at being interrupted.

Fatigue burns at her muscles far sooner than Momo would have liked. Sweat drips down her face, and the burning in her lungs forces her to bow out before she’s finished. Still, it’s not like she’s leaving her opponent unscathed. His purple hair is now mostly out of the ponytail is was pulled in, and his face is red with exertion.

Hitoshi pokes her once in the ribs playfully as she retreats, causing her to roll her eyes. In her place, a fresh-faced and eager Izuku takes a running jump up onto the platform, to Hitoshi’s visible apprehension. He’s wearing a pair of shin guards and bracers that Momo hasn’t seen before. If she looks closely, she thinks she can see the Yaoyorozu name printed as the manufacturer.

A fresh and fit Hitoshi would be able to use his greater reach and aggression to keep Izuku at bay, maybe even win. As it is now, having partially worn himself on Momo and barely a couple weeks into getting back into a routine, his ever analytical and brutally punishing opponent has him disarmed and groaning on the floor in an armlock within minutes.

“Sorry, ‘Toshi,” Izuku sings at him impishly, twisting Hitoshi’s arm just a little more and keeping his armored knee on his opponent’s hip.

“Just kill me already,” Hitoshi moans pitifully in response.

“Stop that,” Kayama instantly barks from the sidelines.

Momo eyes the hero out of the corner of her eye. That’s been happening more often since they first came to stay with her. Hitoshi would joke about something and then Kayama would snap at him. Only him, too. Hitoshi would glare at her in silence, just like he’s doing now, and then he’d make the joke again some time later out of spite. Kayama is so nice to them any other time, so Momo just can’t understand what it is about Hitoshi that sets her off so often…

It’s confusing. Luckily for them, they have practice with putting up with confusing behavior, but this is getting ridiculous if you ask her. It’s like being around a less intense version of Ken sometimes.

When she finally feels her stamina come back, Momo drags Izuku into the ring for a spar. He tries to go easier on her; she can feel it in every blow and every opening he didn’t take advantage of. The indignity of it, after the playful but still equal match Hitoshi gave her, angers her enough that she throws all semblance of grace and tactics out the window. Momo rushes at him and delivers a series of vicious slashes and thrusts. Izuku can’t block all of them, and mid-way through he’s forced to put all of his strength into a kick to make her back off and give him space. After that, he stops holding back on her.

By the time they’re ready to hit the showers, the early afternoon sun is pouring through the windows. Momo rolls her shoulders beneath the warm spray with a wince. Sore muscles twinge and purpling bruises mottle her skin. Her feet burn under her weight, and when she looks at her hands, she can see blisters starting to form.

It reminds her of when she first started her training, and while the comparison is grating, there is a certain satisfaction to it as well. She’s taking the first steps. If she can just keep this up…

On their way back, Kayama makes them stop by a local restaurant for a quick meal, which they devour at a pace that almost leaves Momo sick. Kayama watches them through it all with an amused, pleased smile.

When they finally make it to the apartment, Momo has already yawned a total of 15 times. It’s barely mid-day and yet all her body wants to do is collapse on the nearest flat surface and sleep. Kayama unlocks the door, and the three of them stumble in behind her. Momo isn’t sure when or how they end up on the two-person couch, or how they manage to arrange themselves so that all of them are laying on it, but the warmth and comfort of her boys nearby is already putting her to sleep.


Momo finds herself jerking awake, pinned beneath the weight of Izuku’s muscle on her stomach and Hitoshi’s foot under her hand. Eyes bleary with sleep, she squints against the early evening sunlight trying to beam directly into her corneas every time she picks her head up.

Hitoshi groans and attempts to burrow further under the blanket that Momo is sure wasn’t over them when they fell on the couch. “What’s that racket?”

There’s a noise that grows louder and clearer over time outside the apartment. It sounds like a cross between a bird screaming its head off and a chittering rat, but as it grows loud Momo finds that it sounds like… a person shouting? Or, at least, someone who doesn’t know what using their indoor voice means.

It’s growing closer, too. Momo pushes a grumbling Izuku up to look at the front door.

The ill-mannered cretin is right outside the apartment when the doorknob starts wiggling. The door itself is locked like it usually is when Kayama isn’t home. The voice asks a question to someone outside the door, and then the sound of key being inserted causes Momo to brace herself.

Poor Izuku isn’t so fortunate.

“Anyway! So I said to Snipe, “If you don’t-””

Izuku yelps and falls sideways off the couch, landing painfully against the coffee table. He ends up dragging the warm blanket with him as well, which causes Hitoshi to moan pitifully.

Kayama pushes herself into the apartment ahead of the source of the noise - a tall man with a thin mustache and very long blond hair styled like a cockatiel’s crest. “You alright, Midoriya?”

“I’m fine…” Izuku groans, holding the side of his head that thudded against the table.

The blond man has the decency to look apologetic, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. Momo glares at him over the back of the couch. She spares a quick glance at the third person to enter the apartment, only to lock gazes with very familiar black eyes that glint with faint surprise.

“Eraserhead?”

That brings Izuku springing back up, kneeling on the couch to look. Hitoshi drags himself upright to catch a peek.

Eraserhead doesn’t look like he’s changed at all since they last met. He’s still sporting the same black jumpsuit as that night two months ago, as well as the wrappings around his shoulders that are his capture weapon. The look he gives them is one of partially muted confusion and surprise, like he wasn’t expecting to see them.

The blond man, Present Mic by process of elimination if Momo is reading this right, is cartoonishly expressive by comparison. He look over what he can see of them, hand on his hip with an openly curious expression, pulling his sunglasses down in order to actually see them.

“Sorry about the scare, little listener,” Present Mic says with an abashed grin. The phrase sounds faintly familiar... “These are the kids you’re watching, Nemuri? They’re so cute! Do any of them listen to the radio? How do they know you, Shouta?”

Eraserhead glances over at Present Mic lazily. “I was there when they turned themselves in weeks ago,” he says with a shrug. When he looks back, his face is as unreadable as it was the night they met. “You three look better that when we last met.”

Present Mic frowns and tilts his head. Momo can’t help but be unwillingly fascinated by how his hair, held up seemingly by dreams and what must have been an entire can of hairspray, doesn’t move and inch. “‘Turned themselves in’,” he says, unsure. Momo braces herself for the incoming judgement, and is caught off guard by the smile the lights up his face.

“Well, if that’s the case, then I’m glad you’ve gotten yourselves onto the right track!” His smile turns into something more intrigued. “Tell me, do any of you know about the Put Your-”

“The Put Your Hands Up Radio show!” Izuku’s face lights up with excitement. “Are you kidding? I’ve been listening to you as often as I could feasibly get away with for years!”

Present Mic absolutely glows with happiness at the response. It clicks in Momo’s brain where she’s heard the term “listeners” used as an address before. “That’s the radio station you used to put on every friday night? A hero-led radio show?”

Izuku nods rapidly, not paying attention to the incredulous expressions on her and Hitoshi’s faces. “Yeah! You, Hitoshi and Hecah always liked it when I put it on, so I made sure to tune in as often as I could get away with.”

Hitoshi collapses back onto the couch with a rough sigh, wrist over his eyes. “How the hell didn’t anyone catch on to the fact that you were playing a hero’s radio station?”

“I was very careful.”

“I wasn’t asking.”

Kayama shakes her head and doesn’t bother trying to hide her entertainment. “Since Shouta’s a stick in the mud and didn’t tell me that he’s already been introduced, Hizashi, meet Midoriya Izuku, Shinsou Hitoshi and Yaoyorozu Momo.”

Present Mic flashes them a pair of finger guns in an exaggerated pose. “WHAT’S GOOD, LISTENERS!?”

Everyone in the room clamps their hands over their ears. Almost immediately, banging comes from the floor and ceiling, paired with offended shouts.

Hitoshi sits up to throw a glare, hands still over his ears. “Volume!”

“Sorry!” Yamada says in a much quieter voice, cringing. “Can’t… Can’t help myself sometimes.”

Eraserhead steps up to tap on the what looks like a portable speaker system around Present Mic’s neck. “Maybe it’s time to take this off?”

“Oh! Uh, right. Yeah, that would help.”

“Kiddo’s, meet Yamada Hizashi and Aizawa Shouta,” Kayama says. Behind her, Yamada reaches up and unbuckles the speakers. “You guys got my warning texts, didn’t you?”

As one, they check their phones. Sure enough, there’s a text from Kayama, waiting unopened. Mortification turns Momo’s skin pale. Guiltity, she looks at Kayama from under her eyelashes.

Solemnity dims Kayama’s obvious good mood, making Momo freeze and cringe internally. Izuku’s ears shoulders are climbing up around his ears, arms tucking close to his body, and Hitoshi is looking right at Kayama, but his expression is that of a blank wall.

“I’m - We… We were asleep still,” Izuku admits hesitantly, swallowing. “I-”

“It’s okay,” Kayama assures gently. Yamada and Aizawa stand watching silently. “I sent those texts so you wouldn’t be surprised by the company. I told you before that I don’t often get a lot of warning when Sylvester and Tweety Bird here want to stop over, remember?”

Yamada grumbles and pouts at the name, while Aizawa just rolls his eyes. Clearly, they’ve heard this before.

“Anyway, we’re kicking you guys out of the living room!” Kayama makes a shooing motion. “Go entertain yourselves for a while.”

With nothing better to do, they grab a workbook each and make for the balcony. Kayama is gracious enough to allow Momo the continued use of the blanket, which helps combat the slowly dropping evening temperature. The plants form a lovely backdrop for their study space. The smell of dozens of flowers fills her nose pleasantly.

Conversation drifts out from the still open window, providing a secondary reason for why the balcony was chosen as their study spot. Her mother would chastise her for eavesdropping, but Momo was raised an assassin and infiltrator. This is the least of her problem tendencies, as far as she’s concerned.

Her boys give her the spot closest to the window. She adjusts her chair until she has the clearest sound she can get without being spotted.

A saying Sakura used to use comes to mind - a spot to see without being seen is a well-beloved secret, indeed.

She listens as she works, pausing occasionally when the conversation inside turns somewhere interesting to write down a note or two on a scrap piece of paper. The door to the balcony is transparent, so she can’t pass them around yet, but it’s not a problem.

The latest batch of hero course students under someone called Sekijirou (including some quirks, which Izuku will be happy to learn). An entire batch of students being expelled on the first day of school months ago by Aizawa. Movements of some minor underground crime rings (nothing related to Epitaph). A jewelry store robbery that was stopped by Kayama. Yamada’s radio show. The cats in Aizawa’s apartment.

This goes on until the sun starts to set a little over an hour later until Momo manages to fill up both sides of the scrap paper. Dinner prep will be started soon. Momo gives her notes a quick glance and is about to tuck it away into her pants pocket when something about them gives her pause. She looks them over again.

The first several notes are somewhat randomized, topics meandering as normal conversation tends to do. The next dozen or more notes become increasingly innocuous as the list goes on. That in itself wouldn’t be that suspicious, if it wasn’t for the fact that each topic never leads into the next and never touches on the larger topics again.

This isn’t a conversation. This is a meaningless string of information meant to distract listeners.

Breathing around the lump in her throat is difficult. Her brain is going a thousand miles a minute. Momo chances a glance into the apartment, stretching to give the illusion of being casual.

Aizawa is staring right at her.

He waves them back in silently. The lump in her throat becomes ice, sinks to her gut and spreads throughout her veins. Her boys take one look at her face, and they know.

Kayama and Yamada watch them with faces made of stone as the reenter the apartment, blank and unreadable but for the meaning Momo’s anxious brain wants to read. Long-held survival instincts bring her hands behind her back, one hand grasping the other wrist, and her feet shoulder width apart where she stands.

A long pause. The two groups stare at each other, unsure of who is going to make the first move.

Izuku is the first to crack. He shares the same stance as her, and his voice matches his deliberately open and innocently curious expression. “Is... there something you need?”

Aizawa narrows his eyes at him. “You were spying on us.”

Not going to beat around the bush, then. Momo would appreciate that, if only it wasn’t being aimed at them. Izuku tilts his head, utilizing Ozaki’s training to school his face into a confused frown. “I mean, we overheard some things through the open window, but I can’t say any of us were paying that much attention.”

A quiet hum emerges from the hero. He’s so blank face that Momo can’t get a proper read on him. Hirotsu is more expressive and open than this guy.

His hand extends and waits expectantly in Momo’s direction, his gaze not once leaving Izuku. It doesn’t take a genius to realize what he wants, but when Momo steps up, she extends her workbook chapter notes.

The look Aizawa gives her is so flat and unamused that he makes Akutagawa look cheerful. He stares her down until, her heart beating a tattoo against her ribs, until, reluctantly, she hands over her scrap paper.

Aizawa scans it briefly. Perplexingly, when he’s done, he doesn’t throw it away, but gives it back to her. “I’m an underground hero,” he reminds her dryly. “I’ve dealt with assassins and spies before. You’re not so far removed from your roots that I can mistake you for anything else.”

That’s… Momo has to tilt her head at that. It’s not that she disagrees with the assessment - quite the opposite. It’s perhaps the most accurate assessment anyone has made of them in the past two months.

There’s another pause, shorter than the last as the heroes stare them down. “You don’t trust us,” Aizawa says like it was a foregone conclusion.

Momo meets his stare head on. “Would you, if you were in our position?”

“No,” Aizawa agrees with a shrug. “I’m curious as to exactly why, though.”

Yamada must see the razor chill of distrust that holds her tongue. “You know, one thing I always find that clears the air is to just talk about what my concerns are.”

Momo shares a glance with Izuku and Hitoshi before moving back into line with them. It’s an unspoken agreement of who should do the talking now. Izuku opens his mouth to being, but is interrupted when Aizawa holds up a hand.

“Anyone with half a brain can see that you’re the one with the least concerns, Midoriya,” he says. “Let Yaoyorozu and Shinsou speak for themselves.”

Momo can feel the glare Hitoshi throws Aizawa from here, and the uneasy shifting of weight Izuku does stirs something heated in her gut. Her hands clench behind her back. It’s going to be like that, huh?

“You heroes have proven to be unreliable when it comes to dealing with Epitaph’s operations, which have managed to remain secret until we,” Momo points to the three of them, “defected. We have yet to be reassured that you won’t prove similarly unreliable now.”

Aizawa crosses his arms and settles in his seat like he’s preparing for the long haul. “It was your information that led us straight to the resources that now lets us track Epitaph’s movements. It’ll be much more difficult now for any of them to sneeze without our notice, let alone operate as an organization. Our sources aren’t being idle.”

“That won’t stop them for long. Epitaph, Alkaid most importantly, aren’t stupid,” Hitoshi rebuttals with gritted teeth, dark smudges under his eyes standing out against his pallid skin. He narrows in on Kayama with a scowl. “If more people know our names and locations, then Epitaph’s job is just made that much easier. It’s bad enough that our parole officer, a civilian, can just walk away with it. Is this really that damn important that you have to allow more people into this?”

“Believe it or not, Shouta and Hizashi live in this same damn building, just a floor down. They would have found out at some point anyway,” Kayama responds with an equally fierce glower, meeting heat for heat. “As for your parole officer; in my experience, parole officers are granted quirk-use licenses similar to the ones given to heroes in order to protect themselves from the exact scenario you’re thinking of.”

“More to the point,” Yamada cuts in, leaning back in his seat with one long leg crossed over the other, “Shouta and me are registered hero supervisors, too. Though, last I checked he was on the Stand-Ins list.”

Aizawa grunts.

Yamada nods like that means something to him. “Anyway, point is, we’re heroes that are able to be and have been trusted with kids in similar situations to yours. Nemuri knew this before she allowed us over, too! You’re far from the first kids coming from villainous backgrounds in need of protection. This is something most heroes do at least once in their careers, if for nothing else than the good PR it generates.”

That, if anything, seems to make Hitoshi’s temper burn hotter. “If it’s something any hero can do, then how do we know we can trust any of you?”

“Do you honestly think any hero can be assigned to any case?” Aizawa asks, rubbing his hand over his face. “Think about this. Would it do any good to assign, say, an young hero who identifies as a woman to the case of a teenager who was lured and abused into villainy by a woman their age?”

“No,” Izuku replies quietly, mouth twisted into a nervous line. “If anything, that would only cause the teenager to question the sincerity of the supervisor due to the similarity of the situations.”

“Exactly,” Aizawa nods, more gentle, arms loosening from where they were folded across his chest. “Heroes aren’t assigned to a case randomly. Each case is examined thoroughly to establish the physical, mental and emotional needs of the child, as well as the level of skill the supervisor needs to handle or otherwise subdue the child if necessary. I’m guessing you were sent to a Classification home? Figuring out who was fit to supervise you was one of the reasons why.”

A rough sigh explodes out from Kayama, who flops back into her seat with a tired expression on her face. “I get where you kids are coming, from. I really do,” she says. Yamada and Aizawa turn to her, one with concern and the other with patience. “You don’t know who you can trust, but you do know what you’re up against and that scares you. But what you need to understand is that all those things you’re scared of? Other kids like you have been scared of them, too. This entire supervision system was built around the idea of keeping kids like you safe while you try to build new lives.”

“But… will any of our other supervisors actually want to help us…?” Izuku voice softens further, tentative and laden with years of insecurities and faded, endlessly betrayed hope. “Kayama and All Might are one thing, but… We’re known hero killers. Even if they take our case, will anyone else actually want to protect us?”

“Hero killers? All Might? Wait a second.” Yamada’s eyes flip between Kayama and Aizawa rapidly like he’s trying to pull answers from their brains. After a second, his face slackens in understanding. “You… You kids are the Suzumebachi, aren’t you? The killers that were caught two months ago?”

Hitoshi snorts disparagingly. “We turned ourselves in.”

Slowly, Yamada begins to nod. A look of someone who was just given grave news comes over him. “Yeah… I think I can see where you’re coming from now.”

Momo’s brow furrows in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“I mean, you kids are, what, 14? 15?” He asks, voice strangely… sad. “Yet, here you are. Trained by one of the largest criminal organizations discovered in recent history to become the most notorious killers in recent history. If that’s not enough, now you’ve left the people that trained you and have to adjust to trying to live normal lives while constantly on the run. He he… when put like that, it’s no wonder you don’t trust any of us.”

Yamada’s eyes are gentle when they look at them, mouth twisted into a mirthless smile. “Sorry if I’m being rude for asking, but how old were you when you made your first kills?”

“8… I was 8,” Izuku admits after a moment, voice trembling.

“Can I ask how, or is that prying too much?”

“No, it’s… I…” Izuku pauses to chew on his lip. “Our primary trainer, Blessed, had someone kidnapped and tied up. She shoved a knife in my hands and told me to kill him. I dropped the knife and said I wouldn’t do it, so she took my hands, wrapped them around his throat and pressed down. She… held my hands there until his pulse stopped and told me that she would do it again and again until I got it right.”

Both Kayama and Yamada’s expressions crumble with sympathy. Aizawa’s hand are clenching his pant legs tight. “That must have been horrible,” Kayama says. Izuku turns his head away and his shoulders hike up.

Yamada turns to them. “What about you, Yaoyorozu? Shinsou?”

The words tumble out of Momo’s mouth against her will. The memory of that event still rests vivid in her mind like it happened moments ago. The panicked begging filling her ears. The smell of urine and tears clogging her nose. The weight of the handgun in her too small hands. “Blessed… had been teaching me how to make weapons for months. I was 8 when she pulled me into the training room. She told me to make a specific model of handgun and shoot the person tied up on the floor. She said that… that she would stop interfering when Senri came to see me if I didn’t, so… I did.”

“She locked me in a room with my target and refused to let me out until I used my quirk to kill them,” Hitoshi admits flatly like he’s giving a report, staring straight ahead with his walls high. “I was 9.”

“That, all of that,” Kayama says with gravity after a long moment of silence, “is fucked up.”

Hitoshi glances briefly at Kayama consideringly. His head ducks. “Yeah… It was.”

Taking in a deep breath, Aizawa unclenches his hands with deliberation. He closes his eyes and doesn’t open them again until he has banished the beginnings of what would have been an impressive scowl. “To answer your question, Midoriya, a supervisor’s accountability to their charges is one of the things they were screened for to be considered. No one you will be placed with is going to sell you out or abandon you.”

When he does open them, however, magma heat burns steadily within. Momo can’t help but find the sight strangely reassuring.

“And if they try,” he lead in, a baleful solemnity lacing his tone, “then they will be held responsible for whatever happens to you as a result of their dereliction of duty. Make no mistake. If we have anything to say about it, then Epitaph will never touch you again.”

Yamada and Aizawa leave not long after that. Momo is left… feeling weirdly hollow in their wake. Like she’s wrung out, with no more room the emotions in her chest.

She tosses her scrap sheet of notes in the trash and starts helping with dinner.

Chapter Text

Once, a long time ago, there was a place surrounded by darkness, and a boy who fit in better than everyone else. He was not alone, that boy. There was a boy who made stars and stories, a pair of girls, one who made gifts and another so small that she hid away, a boy who found shards of sunlight wherever he went, and a girl who used her age to guide them with gentle hands.

The eyes hidden within the darkness trapping them saw the shard of darkness that existed naturally within him, a power that could make anyone do what he said, and told him that he should grow it. It will be useful, they said. We have a use for you.

The boy resisted. He didn’t want to grow the black shard within him. He wanted to turn his shard into light and use it to help others.

You can help us, they said. The boy did not want to, but the hidden hands clawed at him and gave him little choice. They took his black shard out from within him, placed it in his hands, and told him to use it. If you can’t help us, they warned, maybe the other ones can.

Better they claw at me, he thought, placing himself in a way that blocked the eyes’ view of the little girl who hid behind him, and the girl who made the gifts that comforted her and made her a little bolder. He caught a glimpse of Silvered tendrils in the darkness, and used his dark shard to turn their attention onto him. He saw the Beautiful Demon and the Traitorous Light staring at the people he loved, and drew them to himself for as long as he could.

Better they claw at me, he thought, than the others.

He stayed strong. He used the sunlight shards he was given as bandages and replacement pieces of himself when the hidden hands clawed too much, and let the girls guide and give him reasons to stand. When the clawing threatened to drag him to the ground, he listened to tales of far-off stars that he could reach out and touch for himself, and that gave him the strength to keep standing.

Then the red tide came, seeping through the darkness that for once tried to protect them. It dragged the hiding girl away, leaving a pair broken forever, and a spot in their home forever unfilled.

The darkness clawed at his growing chips and stained them black, and not even the sunlight shards chased the color away anymore. The hands dragged him closer, taking his black shard, growing larger with every passing day, and placed it in his bleeding hands.

They presented him to the Wizened Hand.

I will teach you Pain, the Wizened Hand told him. I will teach you Fear, and Quietness, and you will learn to use them. You will use them to grow your black shard into something we can use.

So the boy with the black shard did. He learned Pain, Fear, and Quietness, and learned how to keep them away from the other children. His shard grew day by day, to the Wizened Hand’s pleasure, and the Traitorous Light turned her gaze from the girl with guiding hands long enough to test its strength. He gave them whatever they wanted. Anything, so that he could return to the other children’s side to block the darkness’ sight. Anything, so that he could go back to listening to stories and touching distant stars.

Anything, so that he could go back to hiding the shard that grew larger and darker and heavier every day, and the loathing he felt for it.

Over time, the boy who told stories and stars Faded, unable to tell more stories and conjure more stars when the darkness finally broke him. Put me down or let me go, he pleaded with the other children. It seemed like every breath he took caused him pain.

Fearing for him, the other children let him go. Take these, they told him, and gave him a map to show him where to go, and a piece of advice to tell him what to do, and a shard of sunlight to guide his way.

Take this, the boy with the black shard told him, and offered to use his shard to take away the boy’s hesitation and doubt. It’s been so long since you saw the light outside, and you cannot hesitate for a moment.

It was no use. The darkness dragged him under, kicking and screaming, and no amount of wishing would silence the sound. No more stories were told, no more stars were touched. And the boy with the black shard could only wonder if it was his gift that hadn’t spelled the boy’s doom.

The black shard grew and grew, until the boy was rooted in place, painted completely black by the hands that clawed at him still, unable to go on. It’s been so long since he last saw true light… Did it even exist anymore?

Put me down, he begged the remaining children silently. Put me down and let me go.


The constant noise of the mall assaults the ears relentlessly. Weaving bodies press close as they go from one shop to another, one stall or kiosk to another, trying to not hit each other with their purchases as they pass. Every once in a while, they pass a stall or a shop that smells of perfumes or incense. Hitoshi doesn’t normally mind strong odors - you get used to pungent smells when you deal in blood and information - but right now, he’s got one hell of a headache going on and every one they pass just sends his head throbbing.

His body still aches faintly from their time at the gym. Lassitude pulls his head down until he’s watching Momo and Izuku’s feet to show him where to go. Hitoshi has his headphones on in an attempt to drown out the mid-afternoon flood of shoppers, music playing loud enough that it can’t be helping his pulsing head. He doesn’t have to fight to keep his eyes open, but it’s a struggle to keep them focused and not let his vision blur until he’s drifting aimlessly.

Yesterday marked the second round of quirk suppressant dosages for Momo and him. The feeling of his mind of body trudging along had returned to kick his ass with prejudice, as had the grey haze, and the disconcerting frozen emptiness in a distant corner of his brain.

Not even having prior experience with how the drug affects him helped him deal with it. About the only thing Hitoshi remembers actually helping was laying down and sleeping through it. If this is the kind of misery he can expect every time he has to take a dose, he might as well plan ahead so that he can sleep the day away from now on. He might actually get some decent rest, in that case.

Of course, after nearly a week of getting used to their behavioral patterns, Kayama almost immediately noticed something was off, which was just lovely to deal with. Izuku tried his best to distract her and divert her attention, but there was only so much he could do against her dutiful concern. She kept hovering around them when she was home. Izuku reported that she ordered him to report any changes in their conditions, and that she seemed particularly concerned over Hitoshi’s napping.

The surveillance rankles his already fraying nerves. Rationally, Hitoshi knows she’s just doing her job; that she’s seeing a drastic change in their behavioral schedules seemingly out of nowhere, and is understandably apprehensive. Unfortunately for everyone, however, Rationality is on vacation until Sleep-Deprived Insomnia and Rightful Paranoia finally stop screaming at each other, negotiate a business plan for the coming quarter and call it a fucking day.

There are a lot of things Hitoshi hates. His brain is one of them. Can he please trade it in for one that actually works? He would gladly settle for a hamster on a wheel at this point.

He’s also currently debating putting Kayama on the list of things he hates. After the drugs managed to run their course and he and Momo finally regained some semblance of normalcy, their dutiful supervisor decided today would be a good day to kick them out of the apartment. So that they can “stop holing up in my apartment like hermits. You’re supposed to be teenagers - catch some sun at the beach, walk in the park, go to the mall or something for pete’s sake,” as she puts it.

It’s been over an hour and Hitoshi still isn’t any closer to figuring out what the hell she meant by that, by the way. Being a teenager? Hitoshi knows he’s not exactly a shining example of what a wholesome, normal upbringing entails, but, last he checked, being a teenager just means you’re in a certain age range.

More annoyingly, she’s gotten to riding his ass more the longer they stay with her, every time he makes a stupid comment. He has no idea what her problem is and it’s starting to evolve from simply aggravating to outright infuriating.

No, he’s not irrationally bitter, why do you ask?

(so tired…)

With no idea of where else to go, they make their way to the huge shopping center All Might took them to what feels like ages ago. The schools apparently let out a short while ago, with students in various uniforms flooding the stores and walkways. Every now and again, Hitoshi feels someone brush against his shoulders. Less often after Momo and Izuku’s feet drop back a few steps to be closer to him.

Kayama gave them a couple thousand yen in spending money in case they wanted to eat out or go shopping. Izuku tried to insist on giving Hitoshi an amount equal to what he borrowed the gym, but that just ended with more than double being pressed back into his hand. That quickly escalated to both of them tossing their combined totals back and forth at each other until Momo threatened to take it all for herself. Afterwards, Izuku got hint and didn’t try to hand over any of his money. He’ll need every yen he’s got, if Hitoshi is right about Izuku slowly and carefully amassing a tiny horde of hero merchandise…

Now, if only Hitoshi could figure out where the dork stashes it all… The only places he hasn’t looked are the kitchen and Izuku’s personal bag, but he can’t rule out that Izuku might have found a way to hide them inside Hitoshi’s mattress…

… That would explain the tiny lumps that appeared out of nowhere in his mattress at All Might’s house…

Hitoshi expends enough effort to lift his head and throw a suspicious glare at Izuku’s back. Oblivious, Izuku scribbles away in his green notebook and mutters speculation and details under his breath.

Helming their little expedition, Momo leads them around the mall at a sedate pace. They stop by a clothing store just to browse, and then a small kiosk selling potted plants that turn out to be fake (to Momo’s disappointment), as well as plant related trinkets. They stick around for a few minutes at that one. Hitoshi notices her admiring a set of peach flower hair pins. Knowing that her birthday is this month, he waits until her back is turned and buys them. Hiding them until the right time will be a pain, but he’ll figure it out.

Recognizing the area somewhat, Hitoshi leads the way to the music shop where he got his CD and searches around for the album that he didn’t get last time he was in here. By the time they end up leaving, not only has he found it and made his purchase, but Izuku is trying to hide what looks like a tiny Present Mic figurine in his backpack.

Hours pass slowly. For the most part, they stick to the very outer edges of the paths and walkways, traversing through the crowds like morning fog through trees. They don’t stay in any shop for too long, but then they end up finding an arcade that looks like its managed to stay in business for a while. Izuku’s curiosity drags them in.

Even from the outside Hitoshi can hear loud music and thumping base, but inside is an eclectic mess of noise and motion and body odor. Teenagers and kids populate the venue in spades, with most on the various games, but some at a prize stand that sells everything from rubber bouncy balls to huge All Might dolls. The lights are turned low so that the various machine’s screens can glow, and there is a constant buzz of noise everywhere he goes.

Less than ten minutes inside and Hitoshi’s headache is already skyrocketing from a persistent low-level throb to someone slowly inserting a brick behind his eyeballs. He turns around to start heading for the door, phone already out and a text letting Momo and Izuku know he’s getting out of here partially typed, when his back and shoulder slam hard into someone behind him. They let out a startled yelp and whip around suddenly, throwing Hitoshi off-balance and tipping over as the tingle of static electricity fill the air. The impact of his side hitting the ground causes his headphones to fall of his head.

The commotion draws Momo and Izuku’s attention away from the pinball machine Izuku was playing. The machine blares his loss with a low-pitched buzz. Hitoshi tries to mutter an apology and get up when hands grab him by the arms, static electricity stinging through his sleeves, and help him up.

“Hey, what’s the rush?” The boy in front of him asks, eyes wide and mouth quirked in a bemused smile. He quickly lets go of Hitoshi in favor of taming his frizzing blond hair, paying special attention to the part of his fringe that is streaked with a black bolt shape.

Yellow eyes glance at Hitoshi curiously and his brow furrows. “Dude, you don’t look so good. You gonna-”

“Damn it, Kaminari!” A faintly familiar voice shouts, causing the blond boy to flinch and whirl around. A girl is glaring at him from a platform with arrows pointing in different directions on the floor, and a screen frozen in the middle of a sequence of arrows. Something about the girl is familiar. It clicks where he’s seen her when the phone jacks in her earlobes point at the blond boy, Kaminari, accusingly.

The girl (Hitoshi can’t remember her name) throws her hands up in disgust. “You shorted out another game! We’re gonna be kicked out permanently at this rate!”

“It’s not my fault!” Kaminari defends with flailing arms. Hitoshi ducks subconsciously despite not being in the way and immediately feels foolish for doing so. “This guy just plowed into me out of nowhere. I can’t help that my quirk goes off when I get startled!”

“Tell that to the arcade manager,” she huffs, swinging herself over one of the platform railings. She catches sight of Hitoshi, stride pausing momentarily as recognition lights up her face. “You’re… Shinsou, right?”

Kaminari looks at her in surprise. “Wait, you know this guy?”

“I plugged my mom’s band to him a few weeks ago,” she replies with a shrug.

“Jizou, right?”

“Jirou.”

“Right.” Without his headphones on to dampen the sound, Hitoshi’s ears easily pick up the sound of murmuring. A quick glance around reveals a couple groups watching them curiously. There’s a gap between machines to his left. When he peaks through it, he sees a woman storming towards their location with a look of hell on her face.

On a snap decision, Hitoshi looks to his friends and nods at Jirou and Kaminari discreetly. They seem confused, but nod back and pretend to return to their pinball game. “We might want to get a move on if you’re serious about not wanting to get banned.”

Without waiting for a reply, Hitoshi scoops up his headphones from the floor and quickly starts down the nearest path towards the exit. Kaminari gives a quiet yelp that Jirou has to quickly sush, and he can’t hide for shit, but they manage to pass by the manager unnoticed.

Just to throw off any potential followers, Hitoshi leads the two on a meandering journey around the mall, keeping a careful eye on any security personnel they pass in case the manager somehow managed to report their appearances. Maybe it’s just the tension of the last week causing the back of his neck to itch like tiny bugs are crawling all over him (can’t ever let his guard down, can’t ever rest), but Hitoshi takes them through several stores just to be safe. If the store has another outlet, they leave through that immediately; if it doesn’t, then he makes them wait at least ten minutes before getting back on the main thoroughfare.

Finally satisfied that they aren’t being followed, he allows them to settle in the food court. Jirou and Kaminari collapse at one of the few free tables, weary and slightly haggard-looking despite having walked the whole way. Hitoshi hides his derisive snort with a fake cough. This must be what mom meant when she reminded him that most people can't keep up with them.

“Geez… You’re a pretty paranoid guy, aren’t you? You do a lot of sneaking around or what?” Kaminari whines, his head resting on the table. Across from him, Jirou checks her phone and begins typing a quick text message.

Hitoshi ignores the questions and wanders over to the nearby food stalls, his gut giving a low growl at the smells wafting through the air. He gives each a quick perusal, taking more time on the places that sell more vegetarian-friendly options.

Using the last of his savings, Hitoshi orders a box of vegetable stir-fry, some katsudon, soba and a couple beef bowls. Seamlessly, just when he starts trying to figure out a way to transport them safely, Momo appears at his side and silently carries the katsudon and stir-fry.

The table Jirou and Kaminari picked is now a conglomerate of three 2-seater tables placed next to each other to create more space. Sitting next to Kaminari is a friendly and personable Izuku wearing his working smile, already getting them talking like friends instead of acquaintances that just met. Momo places the katsudon in front of Izuku, causing his face to light up with a more genuine expression, and the stir-fry in the empty seat next to him, while Hitoshi gives her the soba and the other two the beef bowls.

The smell of hot beef causes Kaminari to perk up excitedly, eager to snatch up the complementary disposable chopsticks. “Free food? I won’t say no to that! Thanks!”

“I was gonna start heading home soon to have dinner with my folks,” Jirou says despite reaching for her chopsticks, “but I guess I can stick around. Thanks for the food.”

Grunting dismissively, Hitoshi puts his headphones back on, cracks open his box of stir-fry and digs in.

Izuku continues like nothing happened, speaking between bites of pork and rice. “You said your parents are musicians, right, Jirou-san?

“Yeah. Their genre is punk-rock,” Jirou confirms.

“Apparently Jirou-san here was the one that recommended our Hitoshi that CD,” Izuku tells Momo conversationally, a hint of playful teasing in his tone. Hitoshi crunches loudly on a piece of cucumber.

A pause in the sound of noodles being eaten slowly. Anyone with ears can practically hear the way Momo’s eyebrow raises. “The one he’s been listening to for weeks now?”

“The very same. How do you two know each other?”

“What?” Kaminari pauses his inhaling of beef just long enough to ask. “Oh! We grew up on the same street.”

“Static Brain and I go to different middle schools now, but we used to attend the same elementary school since we live so close together,” Jirou says. “We never really grew apart. How do you guys know each other? What are your names, anyway?”

“We had the same circle of friends as kids, so we naturally ended up falling in together,” Izuku replies cheerfully. Hitoshi suppresses another snort at Jirou and Kaminari’s understanding noises. “Sorry for not introducing myself sooner. I’m Akatani Miku-”

Izuku’s slipping in a false identity isn’t jarring enough to snag his attention, but the way he then immediately pauses and coughs politely is. “Sorry, Midoriya Izuku.”

Hitoshi glances up and sees Kaminari give a sympathetic grimace. “Adoption name change or something?”

Izuku’s responding smile is handsome and perfectly good-natured, but lacks the pleasantry that made him previously so inviting. “Or something. Anyways, this is...”

Giving Izuku a quick, unreadable look, Momo nods politely with a small grin. “Yaoyorozu Momo.”

Almost in unison, both Jirou and Kaminari start choking on their beef bowls. The noise attracts attention from the nearby tables, causing people to start throwing them concerned looks.

“Yaoyorozu?” Kaminari asks, incredulous, eyes wide and staring blatantly at Momo. “As in the recently found heiress to the Yaoyorozu Corporation? The one of the largest producers of top-grade hero equipment and emergency medical supplies in the country? That Yaoyorozu!?”

“Keep it down,” Hitoshi hisses, glaring, the sensation of bugs crawling along the back of his neck returning.

“Sorry!”

One of Jirou’s earphones jacks comes to life and smacks Kaminari up the back of his head, but he barely flinches, apparently used to it. “How did you say you guys know each other, again?” Jirou asks, taking a deliberate bite of beef as if trying to force herself back into normalcy.

“We met during my disappearance, if that’s what you’re asking.” A hand comes up to brush errant strands of her chin-length hair behind her ear. Momo had tried trimming it back to its usual length herself the other day, but hadn’t been able to get at the back too well. Izuku had taken care of it, if he remembers rightly. “My captors allowed me to get to know other children my age. I met Izuku and Hitoshi as well as our mutual friends not that long after I was initially taken and we all fell in with each other fast. We’ve been best friends ever since.”

Kaminari nods slowly, swallowing his mouthful. “Where are your other friends now?”

Images come to mind before he can think to stop them, bringing with them the tightness in his throat and the feeling of being scraped raw by old grief and anger. One dead before she managed to grow out of adolescence-

(should have gone back could have held on better would still be here if-)

one dead because of a cruel trap-

(he could have made it he was smart and careful you made him bold he could have made it if-)

and one who couldn’t be bothered to stick around when they needed her most, who could be dead right now-

(not good enough not good enough notgood enough notgoodenoughnotgoodenough-)

- when they don’t have any way of knowing without being immediately compromised.

Momo’s smile is a fragile thing, eyes taking on a haunted gloom, but she manages to look just wistful enough that he doubts that anyone other than he and Izuku notices. “We… just lost track of each other over time.”

Face twisted in sympathy, Kaminari hums and tries to give them an encouraging smile. “I know that feeling. A buddy of mine moved away a couple years ago and we don’t talk like we used to. I mean, yeah, we text, but it’s just not the same, ya know?”

The lapse in conversation that follows is awkward, tense. Hitoshi keeps a careful eye out on the people sitting around them and on the pathways he can see without turning his head too much. No one is looking at them anymore, back to minding their own business thankfully. When he tunes back in, Jirou is watching them silently. The look on her face is… thoughtful.

Out of the corner of his eye, a colorful splash of pink and green approaches their table, drawing the eyes. Hitoshi quickly glances over, but has to blink rapidly when his eyes are exposed to such bright and vivid colors.

Another girl their age steps up to the table, looking sheepishly apologetic as everyone glances at her curiously. Her hair is a short and is the same shade of pink as her skin, with pale yellow square-hooked horns protruding from her head. She’s dressed in a wide-necked green shirt with bold blue monogrammed letters spelling the word ‘ACID’, jean shorts, tie dye leggings and ankle boots. In her hands is a small plate of burgers.

The girl rubs the back of her head with a grin. “Uh, sorry to intrude, but can I sit here? All the rest of the tables are full.”

Hitoshi looks around. Sure enough, somehow, all the other tables in the food court are full of hungry shoppers looking for a quick dinner. How did that happen?

“Sure! Grab a seat,” Kaminari says, waving at the seat across from Hitoshi.

Honey and black eyes crinkle cheerfully in the corners and a megawatt smile splits her face. Just looking at her is starting to revive Hitoshi’s headache from the dead, which was slowly disappearing the more food he shoved down his throat. How is it possible for someone to have that much extra energy to spare on that much emotion? “Thanks!” She slides into the offered seat and beams at Momo next to her. “Name’s Ashido Mina! Who are you guys?”

Everyone introduces themselves one by one, though Hitoshi does so with much less enthusiasm. If Ashido is surprised to meet Momo like Jirou and Kaminari were, she doesn’t show it. Instead, she tucks right into her first burger with gusto in between bouts of small talk. Hitoshi pays it all as little attention as possible. He’ll leave it to Izuku. Izuku thrives on these kinds of things.

He’s almost done with his stir-fry when he notices that Momo has stopped eating. When he looks, her box is only half-empty. Knowing that she’ll regret it later if she doesn’t eat more, Hitoshi nudges Izuku and nods at Momo’s soba. Momo tenses slightly in her seat and shoots Izuku a curiously look. Together, they give her soba a pointed look.

With a quiet, exasperated sigh, Momo picks up her chopsticks and forces herself to eat a little more to satisfy their insistence. She then tucks the sticks into the box and closes it with a flat stare.

Hitoshi nods and finishes the last of his stir-fry. Full, he sets the box aside and turns his attention to the rest of the group. Kaminari and Ashido don’t seem to have noticed the by-play going on, but Jirou is looking back and forth between him, Izuku and Momo with a blank expression that doesn’t fully hide her curiosity.

She’s more observant than he thought. Hitoshi will have to keep an eye on her if he ever ends up meeting her again. It makes his skin itch.

(threat threat threat threat threat threat-)

Shut up. She’s not a threat, she’s a teenage civilian. Hitoshi can Brainwash her before she even gets out of her seat. Fucking hell, why does he have to be like this?

“Oh, what high school are you guys thinking of going to? I’m gunning straight for a seat in Yuuei’s Heroics course!” Ashido declares, breaking Hitoshi from his thoughts.

“Dude, same!” Kaminari joins in. His grin is half-mad from excitement, matching the one on Ashido’s face. “Jirou and I are gonna ace the practical exam!”

He turns to Izuku, curious and ignoring Jirou’s grumbling. “What about you guys? What high school are you guys looking to attend?”

Izuku laughs and rubs the back of his head sheepishly. It’s partially obscured because of the angle of his line of sight, but Hitoshi can see the nail of his middle finger on his other hand start digging hard into the upper thumb joint. Hitoshi grabs Izuku’s hand and weaves their fingers together loosely so that he can press his thumb over the damaged skin protectively.

Izuku continues as if he doesn’t notice. “We’re not really sure. Things are a bit difficult right now, and it’s hard to think that far ahead when we still have other things to take care of.”

“Shinsou did say last time we met that you have some complicated circumstances,” Jirou says, finishing her beef bowl. Hitoshi is surprised that she still remembers. “He also mentioned that he had a friend who would love to become a hero.”

Izuku whips around to stare at Hitoshi in shock.

Jirou notices. “I’m guessing that’s you, Midoriya?”

Izuku bites his lip and swallows, turning away. Sorrow and old pain and disappointment war in his eyes before he plasters a close-eyed smile over his hurt. It can’t fool Hitoshi. He knows Izuku almost as well as he knows himself. He knows intimately the selflessness and courage that are an intrinsic part of Izuku’s being. Having received a front-row seat to his insane hero obsession for the past 8 years, it was never that much of a stretch to imagine that Izuku would have liked use that part of himself to join their ranks one day, if not for the Suzumebachi’s chains.

No matter their fights, no matter their disagreements and differences, Hitoshi has known, looked after and loved Izuku for almost a decade. If he didn’t know about his best friend’s secret hopes and dreams by now, then he’d be a pretty shitty friend.

(do you think you’re not?)

Shut up!

“I, uh…” Izuku stutters. His hand clenches around Hitoshi’s. “I can’t say I’ve never thought about it… It’s just… I don’t think…”

Jirou tilts her head. “Well, what’s your quirk? Even if it’s a weak one, if you can be creative with it, then it might be enough to get through the practical.”

Hitoshi and Momo throw hard stares at Jirou in warning, causing her and Kaminari to sit up in their chairs, faintly alarmed. On Momo’s other side, Ashido watches them with concerned confusion.

“I’m quirkless,” Izuku says, flat and guarded, waiting. It makes something ugly and protective rear up in his Hitoshi’s chest, and his temper flares preemptively.

Hitoshi’s teeth grit, and he primes the mental trigger for his quirk. Across from their best friend, clearly sharing his thoughts, Momo’s poise becomes honed and cold, ready to strike like a viper on the hunt. It’s very rare that anyone has a positive or even neutral reaction to finding out Izuku is quirkless. Almost always, the revelation is accompanied by disgust, disbelief and negligence.

The Suzumebachi were always seen as assets, property by even Epitaph’s lowest ranks, who feared their reputations almost as much as they feared the executives’. But the second they found out that Izuku was quirkless, he suddenly stopped being even property.

He started being a thing.

Only half of Izuku’s scars, a collection more numerous than either Momo’s or Hitoshi’s, are from training and missions. He might have mysteriously “forgot” where a new mark of brutality came from when they asked, but everyone in the Suzumebachi knew. Blessed and Akutagawa never hid their disdain, and the attitude was about as unique as a tree in a forest. Not even Alkaid’s favor could protect him all the time. If that suddenly starts happening here, after they’ve finally managed to leave Epitaph behind…

For their part, Jirou, Kaminari and Ashido stare at Izuku in various degrees of shock. He can’t read them very well beyond that, but they’re taking their sweet time coming to terms with the new information. Part of Hitoshi is glad for that, whether it’s caution or introspection or whatever, while everything else just wants them to hurry up.

Slowly, Kaminari starts nodding and slumps back in his chair. “Yeah, I can see how that would make things harder.”

A pensive frown comes over his lips. “Say you get everything else blocking your way to a hero course cleared up. How would...” He ruffles his blond hair, frustrated by something. “How would you get yourself ready? Do you have a training plan or something?”

Izuku visibly startles, shoulders tense and eyes wide and shaken. His hand tightens around Hitoshi’s until it feels like his bones are creaking.

“What?” Izuku mutters, dazed.

Ashido nods, decisive, firm determination blooming on her face. “Well, yeah. If you don’t have a quirk, that means you’ll need to work twice as hard as the rest of us if you want to have a chance at passing the practical exam. If you need help, Midori, then you’re welcome to come train with me! Yaomomo and Shin, too!”

Momo mutters her new nickname under her breath in embarrassed disbelief. Hitoshi can relate. This is… far from the reaction he’s used to dealing with. What’s with the nicknames?

If anything, the offer throws Izuku even more off-balance. “I-But… wha-”

“Dude!” Kaminari jumps up from his seat, apparently feeding off Ashido’s enthusiasm despite Jirou attempting to drag him back into his seat with an expression of disgruntled offense. “You should try for Yuuei with us!”

“You’re not telling me to give up?” Izuku asks in a voice so small that Hitoshi honestly thinks being stabbed in the chest would be gentler on his heart. His shoulders are hunching up around his ears. “You… Barring the fact that I don’t even know if I can go to a high school right now, you guys think I could actually make a Heroics course, despite being quirkless?”

The question stops Ashido and Kaminari in their tracks, two pairs of yellow eyes locked on his friend in surprise. They honestly look like they’d never considered the concept that Izuku couldn’t do it.

It’s Jirou who responds first, shrugging, a gentle tinge to the board blankness over her face. “I can’t say whether you’d make it or not, but it’s worth a try, right? It would be pretty punk-rock to be the first quirkless kid to earn your way into a Heroics course seat.”

Instantly, as if cut from strings, Izuku’s shoulders slump down and his eyes start to water. He lets go of Hitoshi’s hand to wipe them quickly. “I… thank you…,” he sniffles a little.

Ashido grins widely, throwing a thumbs up. “No problem. Now… Let’s talk training.”

“Training?”

Kaminari nods sharply. The bright gleam of determined excitement lights up his face. “Yep, training! We’re at your service to help you get ready!”

The amount flat bemusement Izuku is putting off right now could make a straight line look like a circle. Hitoshi would laugh at the thought of Izuku actually needing their idea of training if he wasn’t fighting off mental fatigue. He disarms the trigger for his quirk to spare his mental energy reserves. Maybe he really should add Kayama to the list of things he hates after all. They wouldn’t be in this mess if she had just let them stay home.

“I could break you in half,” Izuku informs Kaminari, who unknowingly has the balls of concrete it takes to look skeptical.

“Really, dude?” Kaminari asks, reaching over to tap Izuku’s long-sleeve-covered arm. “No offense, but you don’t exactly strike me as the toughest individual in the room, quirk or no quirk. You’re kinda… ya know. Small.”

“Do you want me to bench press you for two minutes straight and not break a sweat?”

“Do it! I dare you!”

That’s how they end up outside the mall in a less occupied part of the marking lot. The sun is setting by now. They’ll probably only have another hour and a half before Kayama’s curfew kicks in. To stall any potential punishment, Momo sends her a text informing her that they ate out and might be a few minutes late in getting back.

Izuku is balanced face up on a cement slab, raised just far enough off the ground to give his elbows a little more room to bend on the downstroke. Kaminari moves into position and, with a grunt, Izuku accepts his weight. Another grunt, and then the blond idiot is yelping, wide-eyed and startled as he’s moved up and down.

“Stop moving,” Izuku grunts at him, straining only a little.

A exactly two minutes later, Izuku helps a shaken Kaminari dismount and sits up with a groan. He rolls his shoulders and his neck to work out the kinks caused by laying on cement. True to his word, he’s only out of breath, not a drop of sweat in sight. “You okay, Kaminari-san?”

“Yeah, yeah...,” he replies. He looks like he’s just come out of a warzone. “Just… having fun questioning my sexuality right now.”

Izuku coughs in embarrassment, and Hitoshi smirks in amusement as his friend’s freckled cheeks tint pink.

Kaminari wheels around to curl his fingers around Izuku’s bicep. The resulting look on his face takes a tone borderline reverent. “Dude…”

Because he’s also a little shit at heart, Izuku cheekily adds, “If you think my arms are strong, feel my calves.”

“Are you trying to kill me right now?”

“Using your new-found love of muscle would not be my first choice if I were out to kill you, Kaminari-san.”

“Sorry, Shin, but I’m stealing your boyfriend,” Kaminari informs Hitoshi with a straight face. Ashido, already failing in containing her snickers from watching Kaminari silently freak out, laughs like it’s the funniest joke she’s ever heard. Jirou rolls her eyes. Hitoshi glances at Momo and Izuku, but they’re just as confused as he is.

Boyfriend? What? “The hell are you talking about?”

Kaminari tilts his head questioningly. “Wait, you mean you guys aren’t-? But… You were, ya know.” He laces his fingers together and wiggles them with raised eyebrows like that’s supposed to mean something. It apparently does to Momo and Izuku as their jaws drop comprehension.

Frustration bubbles lightly in his gut. What is he missing that is so obvious? “We do stuff like that all the time. We’re just comfortable with each other.”

“And there’s no butterflies in the gut?” Kaminari looks at them quizzically. “No fuzzy feelings or sunshine in the veins?”

“No,” Hitoshi replies, contemptuous. “Those ‘feelings’ aren’t real. Nobody actually gets them.”

Izuku whips around to give him a look of pure bewilderment. “Yeah, they do. I remember getting all giddy and stupid every time I had a crush, and I had a crush on all our friend group except Phan’ at some point. The only reason I never had one on her was because she was always the baby of the group.”

What? Hitoshi tries to think back to any time he noticed Izuku acting giddy and stupid around any of them, but he just keeps coming up blank. Either he never noticed, or he never thought much of it if he had.

Momo clears her throat, cheeks flushing faintly pink. She fiddles with a ribbon that Hitoshi knows she didn’t have when they left Kayama’s apartment. “‘Ling… I was 12 and he was pretty... He always was trying to cheer us up...”

Changeling? Izuku nods in agreement while Hitoshi is having an internal crisis. How has he never noticed this before?

Helplessly, he turns to their company. Kaminari laughs and smiles like he’s in on some joke that’s going completely over Hitoshi’s head. Except it’s not a joke and he’s completely serious. Next to him, Jirou nods and offers a simple, “Girls, man,” like that explains anything.

“Cuddling and holding hands with your significant other is great, sure,” Ashido says, hands behind her head lazily, “but it’s also cool to do with friends. I think it’s pretty nice that you guys are so comfortable with each other.”

A competitive glint enters her eyes. “Having said that… If we came out here to show off, then I want in.”

Later, he’ll blame his insomnia for his slow reflexes. For now, Hitoshi yelps in alarm as Ashido darts towards him and, before he can wiggle away, sweeps him up off his feet into her arms. She grunts with the effort, arms shaking under the strain of holding him up, but before he can make a run for it, she hefts him up higher, higher, over her head. He sinks down, yet her stance remains steady.

“One… Two… hrk… Threeeeee…”

Realization spawns indignity as he’s used as a weight for Ashido to do squats with.

“Put me down!”

“Fooour… Hrk… Damn, you’re heavy… Fiiive… Do you… siiiiiiiiix... work out, too?”

Izuku and Momo laugh at him from the sidelines. Fucking. Traitors.


Their parole officer calls early into their second week with Kayama. According to her, while their ultimate sentence is up in air, the judges have come to enough of a consensus to mandate that they start attending regular meetings with a therapist. Twice a week barring excused absences, with the option of more at any time. That probably means something good - the judges wouldn’t go to trouble of getting them help if they were headed straight for the executioner’s chair - but Hitoshi is still nervous.

The court was the one to select their new shrink, Kayama tells them. Immediately afterwards, seemingly out of nowhere, she takes them to get swim gear like the waters at all the local beaches aren’t starting to pick up the fall chill.

Now, in the basement changing room of a building close to said beaches, Hitoshi drenches himself in the spray of a wall-mounted shower faucet in a plain black t-shirt and his new purple swim trunks. Momo and Izuku are with him, dressed in red swim trunks and a modest grey one-piece swimsuit each. There’s a smell of chlorine in the air, and on the wall opposite the show is a plaque with instructions on it.

Rules For Pool Use:
⦁ No food or drink in the pool area - small snacks are encouraged before and after sessions and are provided in the changing area, and several water fountains are present in the facility (including the pool area).
⦁ No running along the pool edge, no diving into any areas less than 8 feet deep.
⦁ All children younger than 10 or any client who is unable to swim must wear a floatation device at all times in the pool area.
⦁ Floatation devices will be provided for both safety and comfort and may be left in the pool area at the end of the session. Clients are encouraged to use them at their discretion.
⦁ Activity engages the brain, so all clients are encouraged to move around and swim for as long as they please. Clients are also encouraged to relax on the pool edge or in a floatation device if they are tired, can't swim, or just don't feel like swimming today.
⦁ Attempts to intentionally drown or otherwise harm or endanger any other clients in the pool area will be treated seriously. The first attempt will result in the immediate end of the session and the offender being escorted out of the building. Another attempt will result in the offender being detained and law enforcement being called. This is a space for healing, venting and relaxation, and it will stay as such.

Is this really a therapist’s office? All Might’s movies always made them seem a lot more… well, office-like. Not a pool.

They walk into the pool area together when they’re done in the shower. The squared basin is huge compared to any pool Epitaph allowed them to train in, easily 40 feet long. Hitoshi checks the depth marks he can see from his location and finds the furthest one he can make out is 12 feet deep. The smell of chlorine, already strong in the other room, becomes almost overpowering. Pool noodles, inner tubes, rafts and other flotation devices are scattered across the water's surface, as well as piled in an alcove to their left, but there’s no sign of their new therapist-

Movement catches his tired eyes from the deepest parts of the pool, a jet black shape against the mellow green of the tile. It’s long, and moving fast in their direction. Spotting it as well, Momo gives a quick warning. They get in their stances, tense in preparation, only for the shape to stop less than five feet from the water’s edge, and a head to pop out of the water near silently.

“Sorry fer the scare!” The shape is a middle-aged woman with a pair of blue crystalline horns emerging from short blue-black hair. Glittering black scales cover part of her face and most of her neck. Red eyes slitted like a snakes glow over a smile that tries to be apologetic around the visible fangs.

A webbed hand comes up out of the water, clutching some rusted bolts and broken washers in scaled claws. “The filter in the deeper parts needed some pieces replaced before they hurt someone. Woulda been here to greet ya if that weren’t the case. Yaoyorozu Momo, Shinsou Hitoshi and Midoriya Izuku, right? Name’s Raiun Kaiyo, licensed psychologist and trained lifeguard. I’ll be yer therapist for the foreseeable future.”

Raiun drags herself up out of the water to throw the rusted parts in the trash and greet them properly. Izuku examines her with intense curiosity while Momo and he stay back.

Raiun’s body is covered in black scales, so much so that if weren’t for the face and the general humanoid stance and shape, there would be nothing mammalian about her. Her ribcage alone is larger than a normal human’s. A thick, muscular tail similar to a crocodile’s emerges from her tailbone, easily the length of her entire body, with the finned tip still managing to dip into the water from feet away. Izuku’s visible fascination with her appearance seems to amuse her, and when she humors him by turning around so that he can see all of her, Hitoshi spots several blue spines in her back made of the same material as her horns.

She doesn’t look like an approachable, non-threatening psychologist. She looks like an apex predator. An apex predator with a country accent, apparently.

“Alrigh’, before I let anyone in the pool, y’all read the instructions plaque in the changing room? Does anyone need or want a flotation device?”

“We did,” Izuku says. “All of us know how to swim, don’t worry.”

Raiun’s grin doesn’t bother to hide her carnivorous maw, yet somehow, she manages to look friendly. The contrast is dizzying. “I won’ if ya say so. When yer ready, jump in or grab a floaty and we can get this first session underway. Don’ worry about any heavy stuff this time. I jus’ wanna get to know you kids.”

She dives back in the water after that. Izuku and Momo follow more sedately, while Hitoshi wanders over the unused flotation devices. He still hasn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep. The fatigue is weighing on him more than usual and it’s making everything from doing his workbooks to eating fucking breakfast a chore. He’d rather not waste energy on swimming right now.

Digging around produces a yellow inner tube decorated with shooting stars. Hitoshi has to breathe around the sudden stabbing pain in his chest. Unbidden emotions come up from the depths of his mind, prison binds loosened from lack of sleep and constant unease.

(dead dead he’s gone he’s dead your fault it’syourfault-)

Just shut up and STOP already!

Hitoshi grabs a plain white raft and throws it into the pool, getting on it before it can float away. Settling, he paddles through surprisingly warm water towards where he can see his friends.

Momo has found a couple pool noodles to lay on, Izuku pulling her along as he swims next to Raiun. The therapist is easily keeping up despite the only parts of her body moving being her hips, legs and tail. They move closer to Hitoshi, where Raiun sinks briefly to come below Hitoshi’s raft. When she resurfaces, she does in a way that hooks one of her spines on the string handle, taking him with her.

They swim around like that for a little while, leisurely. Izuku and Raiun make small talk about recent events, their supervisory period, likes, dislikes, their mandatory therapy with her and more, quickly turning it into a question for a question-type deal. Raiun makes an effort to keep Hitoshi and Momo engaged, as well, though Hitoshi is trying his best to not start blanking out.

During the conversations, Raiun informs them that the entire purpose of meeting them all together like this is so that she can be acquainted with them at their most comfortable. After this, she wants to start having more one on one sessions with them interspersed with some group sessions like this.

At some point, Izuku loses control of his mouth and asks about her quirk. Hitoshi doesn’t pay much attention to her reply until she mentions the potent electrical sacs under her spines. He stays towards the other end of the raft after that.

“How come you didn’t go into heroics?” Izuku asks. “With a powerful quirk like that, you could have easily gone pro.”

Raiun shrugs, having freed herself from Hitoshi’s raft and is now floating with her webbed hands behind her head. When she blinks, a third eyelid closes over her eyes reflexively. “I did try,” she tells him. “I failed multiple times trying to get my temp license. As a result, I got kicked out of the Heroics department at my old school. I’m actually kinda glad for it, t’ be honest.”

“Why?”

“Because if I hadn’ gotten kicked out when I did, I don’ think I would have finally understood why I kep’ failin’.” There’s a faraway look in her eye, part-regret, but also peace. It reminds him of Kayama every time she finishes meditating. “Took a long time for me to get it, but I finally realized that I was so focused on the combat aspects of being a hero that I didn’ think to help the people around me. Helped me figure out how much of a fool I was bein’. After that, I took some time t’ figure myself out, and that’s what eventually led me to where I am now.”

“I thought therapists weren’t supposed to scare the shit out of their clients,” Hitoshi snarks dryly.

She chuckles, the sound good-natured. “Yeah, that tends to happen when yer born lookin’ like a terror from the depths. As often as my appearance intimidates my clients, though, I’ve found most of them tend t’ warm up quickly. My kids - err, my adolescent clients, that is, tell me they feel safe when I'm around. They like that someone scary like me is on their side and will tell them honestly that what they're feeling is alright. T’ me, that feeling is worth more than all the money and fame in the world. I may have flunked out of hero school, but that don’ matter where my clients are concerned."

By the time the session ends, Momo and Izuku are wrinkled and pruny, sopping wet from head to toe. They hoist themselves out of the water, Raiun waving to them from the pool. “I’ll be seeing Yaoyorozu at the same time in a couple days, alrigh’? After that, we’ll be cycling to Shinsou and Midoriya, with another group session maybe every couple a weeks. That sound alrigh’ to y'all?”

“Sounds good,” Momo calls back, squeezing her hair.

Another disarming predator’s grin as she waves goodbye. “Alrigh’. I’ll be calling your supervisors to set up the times with ‘em. It’s been nice meetin’ such an interesting group a friends. Until next time!”

(are you sure you’re really friends with them?)

The thought clocks Hitoshi over the head like a dagger to the gut while he’s taking his turn in the private shower.

Of course he’s their friend! They’ve been together through everything. They’ve survived so much with only each other as their supports. They escaped Epitaph together. They tell each other everything-

(do you? Izuku never told you that he once had feelings for you. Hecah didn’t tell you she planned to abandon you.)

Hecah hadn’t told anyone that she was going to leave. And Izuku never acted on his feelings anyway, so who cares? It’s not important!

(isn’t it?)

No, it isn’t.

(Changeling didn’t tell you he wanted to die until after Hoshigaki broke him. look at what happened to him afterwards? guess he got his wish...)

They did all they could for him. They made a route for him, they gave him instructions on what to do and where to go and they sent him on his way! Yeah, it’s shitty that they hadn’t noticed it was that bad before. But, afterwards, they were all so desperate not to lose him that they had no choice but to let him go. It’s Epitaph and their fucking tracking chip’s fault Changeling got caught, not theirs.

(yourfaultyourfaultyourfaultyourfaultyourfaultyourfaultyourfaultyourfault)

Hitoshi grits his teeth and clenches his hands tightly. Shut UP!

(are you ever going to tell them that you want to die too?)

The world stops. Hitoshi is blind, deaf and numb to everything except the pounding of his heart and head and the ice creeping slowly through his veins. The shower spray is hot enough to scald, yet he feels so cold...

(Izuku and Momo wanted to stay with you so much that they were willing to die with you. do they know that you took advantage of their love in your selfishness?)

Stop it.

(do they know how Hirotsu broke you into little pieces, just so that he could put you back together in his image?)

Stop. It.

(do they know how weak and worthless you are?)

(do they know that you dream about killing them over and over again? do they know you’ve imagined breaking and mangling them in every way Hirotsu taught you how?)

(do they know that you hate them for having Ozaki, Alkaid, someone there to protect them, when you didn’t?)

I don’t-

Do they know how tired you are?

“Hitoshi? You haven’t drowned in there, right?”

Momo. That’s right, she’s waiting for her turn.

Hitoshi licks his lips and swallows the lump in his throat. He feels cold. “I’ll be out in a sec!”


Kayama’s balcony is technically considered outside the apartment for the purposes of their curfew despite being five stories up. It’s already well past midnight, the dark night illuminated by millions of lights in the city. All but the brightest stars are impossible to find with the night so bright, but humanity fears the darkness enough that they fail to see that they’re smothering the guides that once charted their courses and guided them home.

It’s sad, really. Hitoshi remembers being held in a cage of concrete and locked doors underground, with no possible view of the night sky, and still being able to see millions of stars so bright and close that he could almost reach out and touch them. He was raised not to fear the darkness. The night is not full of horror and ever-present threats for him, but a plethora of guiding lights for anyone who would just look up.

Hitoshi reclines back in the small patio chair beside the birdbath, sore, sleepless eyes on the distant horizon. Absently, he flips a tiny knife from Kayama’s kitchen between his fingers.

Izuku is back in their shared room, snoring gently under his cover. Hitoshi hadn’t wanted to wake him up with his restlessness, but he also just wanted some time to himself without another living soul around. The apartment was built for maybe three people at best, and the constant company is exhausting.

Eyes catch on a distant constellation. He thinks it’s Iruka, the dolphin. He can’t remember right now, with a headache pounding in his head. Changeling would know better than he would, anyway.

Faint nostalgia blooms. Changeling’s quirk, Stand-In, was the ability to place an optical illusion over anything he touched. Blessed and Hoshigaki trained him to turn it into a weapon, but when the lessons were done and their missions were completed, Changeling would touch the concrete walls and ceiling of their prison and replace dull grey with a black void, illuminated by entire star systems. They could point to any star, and for hours afterwards, Changeling would talk about them, gesturing this way and that in his simple joy.

He still remembers the day Momo showed him an old interactive star map from a long time ago. You’d think you’d seen everything, but then you could click on an empty space, zoom in, and see even more distant bodies. Changeling hadn’t shut up for months after that.

The knife flips again. He’s been thinking of Changeling a lot, lately. The memory of him is both precious and cutting, old grief and pain bleeding from wounds as fresh as they day they were made. He can’t seem to stop cutting himself on them these days.

You’d think Hitoshi would be numb to it at this point. How long has it been since they lost him? Ten months before they met All Might, plus two months after… It’s been a year, hasn’t it?

They should have paid better attention - he should have paid better attention. Hecah might have played at being their caretaker, but Hitoshi was the Suzumebachi’s self-appointed guardian. It was his job to make sure that everyone was accounted for and taken care of - especially after they lost Phantom. He put himself out there to keep the others safe, and yet…

And yet…

Before the end, Changeling stopped talking about stars and constellations. Instead he spoke about supernovas, and then about black holes, both caused by dying stars. And, just like the stars he loved so much, he just… seemed to run out of fuel. He left with Hoshigaki on a mission, yellow mask in hand, and came back covered in blood, barely able to stand despite not having a single injury on him.

That night, he begged them to kill him. They couldn’t, and so they devised a desperate plan to smuggle him out of Epitpah.

A map, some advice, and encouragement. That was all Momo, Hecah and Izuku could give him. He already had his training, and his intuition. Hitoshi hadn’t thought it would be enough, so he offered to use his quirk and implant a suggestion with the intention of making the fear a little bit easier to bare.

Hitoshi rubs his forehead, holding back the wetness in his eyes for the sake of not aggravating his headache. He should have known not to interfere. He should have just trusted Changeling’s caution. Every time he’s ever used his accursed ability, someone got hurt.

There are tears in his eyes, but he doesn’t feel anything. His body is numb and cold, but his head is quiet for the first time in days. His mouth is dry and it’s hard to swallow, but that hardly bothers him. The ever-present exhaustion still weighs his body down like iron chains, but he doesn’t want to sleep.

It’s only now he notices that he’s not looking at the sky anymore, but over the railings to the pavement far below. He closes his eyes.

So tired…

click

The balcony door creaks open, catching him off guard. Hitoshi quickly wipes his eyes and tucks the knife under his thigh before looking over his shoulder. Frustration breaks through the numbness as Kayama quietly steps through. The door closes behind her with a soft click, leaving them in an silent staring contest, with the white noise of cars and people passing far below as their backdrop.

Vibrant blue eyes examine Hitoshi, several unreadable emotions passing through them. “It’s past curfew, you know.” Immediately after the sentence leaves her mouth, Kayama winces and sighs roughly. She ruffles her sleep-tangled hair and pushes her glasses up her nose.

Unimpressed, Hitoshi crosses his arms and faces forward again. “What do you want?”

Kayama steps up to the balcony, passing the birdbath. She plays idly with a pair of red and yellow flowers. “There is… something I’ve been meaning to talk with you about,” she begins, slowly, choosing her words. “I’ve been putting it off, selfishly, but… given recent changes… I… don’t think I should be procrastinating anymore.”

“And you can’t say what you want to say in front of Momo and Izuku?”

“I didn’t think you’d appreciate an audience for this,” she replies, and tugs at her long sleeves in an unusual display of nerves.

Hitoshi narrows his eyes. That doesn’t sound ominous at all… “What’s this about?”

Kayama takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like one of the mantras she uses for her meditation under her breath. “There are things written in the profile of you the courts sent me that, when combined with things you’ve said, leave me… concerned.”

Ah. So that’s what this is about. Another attempt to ride his ass, just drawn out painfully slowly.

“So I make morbid-ass jokes, what the fuck?” Having neither the energy or the patience to put up with this bullshit anymore, Hitoshi doesn’t bother suppressing his biting pique. The beginnings of a snarl pulls at his lips.

“You and I both know those aren’t jokes.”

“Then what are they?” Hitoshi throws his hands up in askance. “I’m not exactly reaching for a knife to off myself, am I?”

Kayama gives him a flat, disapproving look for his attitude. “Aren’t you?”

She moves closer and, before he can stop her, she plucks the knife out from under his thigh. It dangles from her fingers like something filthy. Hitoshi turns away to avoid Kayama’s pointed gaze.

“... I wasn’t gonna hurt myself…,” he mumbles, still feeling a little petulant. He just wanted something to fiddle with. He would picked his deck of cards, but… he doesn’t actually know where they are, right now… He just… hasn’t felt up to playing with them lately.

“I know,” Kayama says. When Hitoshi looks back, the knife is gone and she’s raking a hand through her hair again. She looks like she’s trying to find the words she wants to use, but is coming up blank. “Listen, Shinsou… I get it, I really do. I understand that you’re going through-”

“”You understand?”” Fury boils hot in his belly, chasing off the numbing chill for the moment. Indignation makes his voice louder than he would like, but right now, he can’t bring himself to care. “What the fuck do you think you understand!?”

“Shinsou-”

Hitoshi jumps to his feet, fists clenched tight and teeth gritted hard enough to hurt his jaw. His head is pounding in time with his heartbeat. Fuck this. Fuck Kayama. Fuck Everything. He should have just stayed in his room. “No! What the hell gives you the right to say that? Have you ever been beaten down until you had no choice but to submit? Have you ever been routinely humiliated and told of how worthless you are? Has your every move, your every thought ever been manipulated to the point you aren’t sure of who you are anymore?”

Blue eyes flash. The bark of Kayama’s voice echoes in the air. “Yes!”

“Bullshit,” Hitoshi growls lowly. Sick to his stomach, he storms off towards the balcony entrance.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

He pauses at the door, hand clenching hard around the handle. “Back to bed. It’s past my curfew, remember? Don’t worry, I won’t miss it again. Good night.”

“Shinsou, turn around,” Kayama orders behind him.

Teeth grit harder. He tries to breathe to sooth the shaking fury in his limbs. “What-”

Hitoshi turns around, and all his fury, his indignation and his outrage fizzle out like drenched coals.

Hitoshi was 11 when Hirotsu started training him in the real art of assassination. Not simple killing like Blessed had them doing before, but how to hunt a human being like prey. How to stalk, how to devise a plan of attack and how to take or make opportunities. How to make it look a certain way and send a certain message. Being able to brainwash someone meant it wasn’t long before he learned how to make a kill look like a suicide.

”When using blades, keep in mind the kind of cuts you will leave behind, and the person you’re leaving them on,” Hirotsu told him, gesturing with a slim knife against the arms of his suit as an example. ”Horizontal cuts on the wrist are utilized by the hesitant. They bleed, but the placement and flow are inefficient for a quick kill, often requiring assistance like hot water to prevent clotting. Lacerations following the veins, however, are difficult to repair, and nearly impossible to get to properly clot if long enough and without immediate aid. Use that if you want your target to appear determined to die.”

The lesson comes to mind easily as he stares at the marks on Kayama forearms, for once barren of her customary long-sleeves. Underneath the top now clenched in her hand is a thin camisole that can’t properly support her chest, allowing for a decent bit of cleavage, but he can’t even think of a disparaging remark in the face of two lines tracing her radial arteries, each line easily 6 inches long and made silver with age.

Her face is awkward, a mix of old shame, embarrassment, muted pride and resolution, lips pursed into a grim line. Silently, he meets Kayama’s stare.

She flicks her head to the chair, a silent bid for him to sit back down. Shaken, he settles into the patio seat without a sound.

In lieu of standing, Kayama sits down on the balcony floor next to the chair, back pressed firmly against the railing opposite him with bent knees to rest her arms on.

He watches as her head tilts back against the railing so she can look at the sky and her face goes carefully blank.

She takes in another breath and begins. “Let me tell you a story. It’s… about a foolish young woman, who felt so worthless and alone that she wanted to die.”

Chapter Text

Izuku wakes up in the middle of the night feeling like something is wrong.

That feeling is enhanced when he looks around the room, and Hitoshi isn’t in his bed. Gut feelings have kept Izuku alive for more than half his life, so when he gets one, it tends to send him into a state of high alert.

The door creaking open has his hand darting under his pillow to grab the pencil underneath, the point sharp enough to bite deep into skin. His muscles relax minutely as Momo’s head pokes through the gap silently.

She nods to him. When she looks around and doesn’t spot Hitoshi, her brow furrows deeply in concern.

“Kayama left her room and hasn’t returned yet,” Momo reports quietly.

Izuku’s mouth pulls into a frown. “Hitoshi must have snuck out while I was asleep.”

“Should we search for them?”

“They shouldn’t have left the apartment,” Izuku points out even as he’s pulling the covers away. He finds a plain t-shirt to throw on and joins her out in the hall.

If Kayama was called away on hero duty, Momo would have heard her pager go off. That probably means she’s still around here somewhere. Hitoshi is also missing. With how he’s been acting lately, it’s possible she’s gone to keep an eye on him.

Izuku swallows down the dread that curls in his gut. Hitoshi’s behavior recently is… disturbingly familiar. He knows Momo is seeing it too - the uptick of morbid talk, the lack of interest, the silent withdrawal from them. Hitoshi has his bad times, described as stretches of time where he can’t even work up the energy to care, and they try to be there for him, but... This brings up all kind of memories of Changeling’s final weeks with them.

How it ended...

It leaves Izuku feeling lost and helpless, watching and unable to do anything as another of his precious friends looks likes he’s dying a slow death right in front of him. It leaves him feeling like a useless coward, good for nothing because he can’t be what Hitoshi needs him to be.

He doesn’t know what Hitoshi needs, and that alone feels like a failure. If his failure costs him one of his last remaining friends…

Well… Best not to think on that right now. It won’t happen again. He won’t let it.

A raised voice that sounds like Hitoshi’s catches their attention, drawing them out to the living room. It’s little effort to stick to the shadows of the room, the artificial light from outside deeping the darkness enough that they’re not so easily seen. A quick glance out the balcony door shows Hitoshi arguing with Kayama. Izuku is quick to note that the bags under his eyes, worryingly, look even worse than when they went to bed.

They sneak into position, taking their chance to move into the room when both Kayama and Hitoshi’s backs are turned. Momo presses herself against the section of wall between the door and the first window, pulling Izuku in with arms around his waist to save space. Izuku allows her to rest her chin on his shoulder and cracks window open as subtly as he can so that he and Momo can listen in.

What they hear leaves them both in tears.


“Let me begin this by saying I’m not telling you this story for my sake,” Kayama begins softly. “I’ve long come to accept the events that have happened in my life, and I’ve already taken steps to both get help and come to terms with what happened. I’ve already started down my own path towards healing. I’m telling you this because I see a lot of my old behaviors in you and… because I wish I’d had someone to sit me down and tell me I’m not alone.”

She takes in a deep, steady breath and begins . “I came from an emotionally abusive home.”

A quiet laugh escapes, mirthless and a little bitter. “It was strange to think of it that way back when I started getting help, after I spent the first 22 years of my life trying to convince myself that it was anything but. You’re told that your parents are your caretakers. You’re told that your family is there to help you, to protect you, and to guide you. The ones who have earned your respect for raising you up to be more. They’re there to, for lack of better words, set a good example.”

Brief impatience flares in his gut. “Is this going somewhere?”

“Listen and you’ll find out,” Kayama rebuffs, not having it. “My parents… were hardly parents to me. I still give them the title because it’s all I’ve ever known them by, and I still have some lingering respect for them for taking care of me and not turning me out until I was old enough. But, make no mistake - my parents often set poor example.”

“My parents never physically hurt me,” she clarifies to Hitoshi, far-off gaze drifting down to meet his stare. “But they never had to. My mother was and still is the type to pick out your smallest insecurities and use it to cut you down to nothing, and my father set standards for himself and his family that he refused to compromise on. I know they’ve been through a lot in their lives. Both of my parents met because they themselves were hurt by people they were supposed to trust and depend on, and their experiences manifested into something frankly awful. I just… had to understand that… That’s what I always told myself, at least.”

“But they hurt you…,” Hitoshi whispers, insides scraping themselves raw with confusion. “Why would you try to excuse what they’d done to you?”

“When family hurts you like that, you naturally try to find ways to rationalize why,” she tells him. “But abuse is abuse. It… took a long time for me to recognize it for what it was, but no amount of bad experiences can justify hurting your family - hurting anyone - like that.”

That sounds familiar. That sounds so painfully familiar that Hitoshi doesn’t even has to reach to think of every time Izuku smiled that sweet, good-natured smile of his at them and lied that no, Alkaid wasn’t the reason he was crying again.

She would pay attention to him, and, for reasons Hitoshi still can’t fathom to this day, he would come back to them just a little bit happier, but then he would get hurt because the henchmen couldn’t be bothered to help him and the ones who allowed it to happen would go unpunished. And then he would turn around and lie to them that it didn’t hurt.

Excuse after excuse trying to explain why Alkaid didn’t defend him, and why he’s not hurt by it anyway. It was always bewilderingly infuriating when she and Senri were the reason the Suzumebachi program was even born in the first place.

It’s confusing, to say the least, so Hitoshi puts it out of his mind to focus on the story.

Frustration comes over Kayama’s face, causing her to mutter something under her breath that Hitoshi can’t hear. “Look at me. I came out here to tell you the truth and set a good example, but I’m still beating around the bush… It’s… This is hard, kiddo. It’s been nine fucking years since I started getting help and talking about it is still hard. However… I’ve since learned that not talking about it is giving into the fear. It’s giving into the fear and pretending that it didn’t happen.”

Her face sets bravely, despite the shimmer of tears that come to her eyes. Her hands clench in the open air. “Truth is, my parents tried to force me and my sister into a mold. From the beginning of their marriage, the one thing they wanted was a son. Instead, they got my older sister and me. It… wasn’t so bad, at the start. Little jibes about how one of us should have been a boy, not much attention being paid to our interests, but always making sure they were appropriate for young girls, those sorts of things. They always paid strict attention to the outfits we were allowed to wear, and always tried to have a say in the company we kept.”

More things that sound familiar. Unbidden, the images come.

Ken and Senri deciding what clothing they would get to wear, always the last say on if they deserved the reward of new, unnecessary things.

The guy who taught Hitoshi how to do simple card tricks being called into Blessed’s office, and then never looking him in the eye ever again after that.

The few minions to be nice to Izuku taking one look at Alkaid’s pseudo-maternalistic gestures and never saying another word to him again.

Senri, just… in general, when it came to Momo. Never willingly trusting anyone but Ken with her. Especially not Ozaki, who didn’t take any of his shit.

“Then my mother got pregnant for a third time - this time, with a boy. My parents were overjoyed, and suddenly, it was like my sister and I didn’t even exist. We were fed, dressed, taken to school, but they stopped having patience for our wants and desires. They didn’t even care that I decided I wanted to be a hero when I grew up.”

Another deep breath, a momentary pause. “When I was 7, my mother got into an accident and had a miscarriage weeks before the due date. Due to complications caused by the accident, my baby brother didn’t survive, and my mother would never be able to have another child again without risking injury or death.”

It’s not hard to guess where this is going. “Everything started getting worse after that, hadn’t it?”

Kayama’s nod is made grim by the darkness in her eyes. “The loss sparked something in them. They started demeaning us at every turn. My desire to be a hero, previously ignored, was suddenly seen as me trying to take an achievement my brother would never be allowed to attain. When she was 13, my sister’s social life, obedient as she had always been with our father’s standards, suddenly became her trying to find a significant other and run away. Most of the time, they talked behind our backs, but their words always came back to haunt us.”

Tears start to drip down her face, but she doesn’t pay them enough mind to wipe them away “To my parents, I was flighty, a liar and a disappointment. I was always sneaking off to do bad things no matter how little proof they had, no matter how much I obeyed the rules in a vain attempt to finally be worthy of their love. Now, I wasn’t perfect, but I know I didn’t deserve those kinds of accusations. It always felt like nothing I did was ever good enough for them, anything I’d said or done would always be a burden on them. Always something I should have second guessed or thought better of and I just… I started hating myself…”

She sniffles a little. “They made me feel like I couldn’t do anything right. I felt broken. My actions, good or bad, never mattered. They judged everything I did for years until my self-doubt became a prison. And if they weren’t going after me, they were going after Haruka.”

It’s instinct more than anything that has Hitoshi scooting out of his chair to sit next to Kayama, taking care to sit as close as possible so that their arms and legs touch. She looks at him with wide-eyes that can’t seem to stop leaking, and then she smiles at him wetly. Her arm squeezes out from between them to rest around Hitoshi’s shoulders. The weight is more comforting than he cares to admit.

“I don’t know where I’d be without my sister,” Kayama says with an adoring tint to her smile. “When our parents refused to pay for me to go to Yuuei, Haruka got a job as soon as she could to cover my tuition. I met Hizashi and Shouta there, and they helped heal some of the hurt, but…”

The grin fades, and in the place of that warmth is echoes of a familiar hollowness that has Hitoshi pressing closer to Kayama in distress. “It was around that time that I… started seeking love and attention from other sources. At first, it was my friends and my classmates, but then they stopped feeling like enough. I entrusted my heart to strangers who only wanted me for my looks, or my status as a Yuuei student, or the few assholes that wanted me for my half-Korean heritage, or the disturbing few who wanted me because, at the time, I was underage.”

Kayama sighs looking tired beyond measure as she stares blankly ahead. “I never did anything illegal - I wasn’t about to waste Haruka’s hard work by getting myself expelled for misconduct. However, I still allowed them to dictate how I saw myself. I allowed my self-esteem to hinge on my body and my ability to appeal to others. It informed my image of a hero - what I based my costumes off of and what drove the early parts of my career. And every single time I entrusted my heart to someone who I knew would never care for me, I broke myself down a little further.”

Her arm tightens around Hitoshi’s shoulders. Distress sours into dread in his gut until he feels sick with it. “You wanted to die.”

Kayama pauses thoughtfully. “At the time, probably, but it was more like what I’m guessing you’re feeling. Constant exhaustion. Voices in my head trying to poison me and isolate me. A desperation and sense of not belonging. A desire to escape but no energy to pursue it. Any of this sound familiar?”

It does. It sounds so intimately, sickeningly familiar. It makes him want to scour his mind and body until there no sign it was ever there. He can’t do that - he would have brainwashed himself by now if he could - but he wishes. “... Yeah.”

The smile that crosses Kayama’s lips is without the mere suggestion of humor. “Thought so.”

Her free hand reaches into the pocket of her shorts and pulls out a small wad of tissues. Whether she packed them for herself or not doesn’t matter. She pulls one from the pile and offers it to him.

Confused, Hitoshi quickly wipes his cheeks and is surprised when his hand comes back wet. His eyes are already so sore from lack of sleep that he hadn’t realized that he’s been crying. Hitoshi takes the offered tissue and blows his nose. Immediately, the pounding in his head reasserts itself, stronger than before, causing him to wince.

“Since this story is already longer than I wanted it to be, I’ll skip ahead,” Kayama says, taking a tissue for herself. “I tried taking my life in late-October nine years ago.”

“Why?”

“Because I had taken part in a villain arrest earlier that day, and I couldn’t stop them from bombing an apartment building,” she says, frank. “It didn’t matter that there was realistically nothing I could have done when I was so far away. It was my first year as a pro instead of a side-kick, and two people just died on my watch. I was already so beaten down that… that was the final straw.”

Her free arm twists until the inside of her forearm is exposed, revealing the thin scar tracing her radial artery. The look she gives it is one of regret, of shame, of muted sadness and grim understanding. The knowledge of what her own actions could have wrought rests tangibly in the set of her jaw and the stiffness of the shoulder against Hitoshi’s.

“I tried simultaneously cutting myself and overdosing on sleeping pills,” Kayama tells him somberly, letting the arm twist back down. “Ironically, the doctors say it’s the reason why I lived. Shouta and Hizashi found me after I lost consciousness. The pills were slowing my heartrate enough that it gave them time to get me to a hospital.”

Hitoshi curls closer into Kayama’s side, feeling himself shake faintly under the force of his own emotions. There’s a turbulent mess going on in his head and his chest. He can’t pick anything out from the mass, so he settles for trying not to focus on it. “I get what you’re saying, but… Why are you telling me all this? What did I do to get your life’s story?”

Kayama focuses on him. The look in her eye, so earnest and sincere, makes him feel small, and the arm still around his shoulder leaves him with a security that reminds him of his family and Hecah. “Because I want you to know that I really do understand. Even if we have different circumstances, I know what you’re going through. I don’t want to see what happened to me happen to you.”

Maybe it’s the arm around his shoulders keeping him grounded...

Maybe it’s the warmth of a body next to him chasing away some of the chill lingering in his blood...

Maybe it’s the storm in his heart begging to be let out for once…

“I… I just want my innocence back...”

Maybe it’s a lot of things. Whatever it is, it forces words up his throat until he can’t hold them back.

The heaviest, most loaded ones, anyway. The rest still don’t want to move.

Her face tells him that she knows, and this time Hitoshi believes her. He regrets talking back to her before. His throat feels dry and it’s hard to breathe through his nose, his eyes are even more sore, his head is pounding and he still doesn’t think he’ll be able to sleep.

Sighing, Kayama lets him rest his head on her shoulder. She pets his hair comfortingly. While it doesn’t do much to sooth his headache, it still feels good enough that his eyes droop closed.

“If you ever start feeling like this again, you come talk to me,” Kayama tells him gently. “Doesn’t matter if it’s day or night. If you can’t talk to me for whatever reason, then talk to your friends. Talk to someone. Coming from experience, it’s not good to isolate yourself when you’re feeling this way. You might also want to have a talk with your family about any histories of mental illness. It’s probably long overdue.”

“... Okay…”

An earlier part of Kayama’s story brings to mind a question he’s had for a while. “Your costumes were designed… back before you got help? Is that why you look like a dominatrix?”

“Well…,” she hesitates with a small wince. She plays with her hair absently. “Not entirely… I may not be in that self-destructive frame of mind anymore, but I do genuinely enjoy the look and feel of the dominatrix style. Besides, if you think my costume now is bad, you should have seen me a decade ago! At least now I wear pants.”

There’s gotta be more to it than that. “But…?”

“But,” she sighs, sounding annoyed for all that she ruffles his hair. “I will admit my current costume design was made during the early years of my recovery. I’d love to update it, but PR is being a bitch.”

“Will you talk to Momo?” Hitoshi asks, the sudden question taking even him by surprise. “One of the Big Four - Senri… A lot of Momo’s issues with her body are because of him.”

“I was already going to after I had my talk with you,” Kayama admits, a glint Hitoshi recognizes as protective anger in her eyes. It’s more reassuring than Hitoshi cares to admit. It’s… nice… to know that there’s someone else who knows. Who he can count on to look after his friends.

It’s funny. An hour ago, the thought that Kayama could be counted on would have sent him into a laughing fit.

Geez… First All Might and now Kayama. At this rate, all their supervisors are going to turn out to be reliable, and then Hitoshi’s caution and paranoia won’t be needed anymore. What’s a rehabilitating criminal to do then?

Exhausted and feeling wrung out despite having barely said or done anything all night, Hitoshi lifts his head and looks around, ignoring his protesting eyes. It feels like an eternity has passed, yet the stars have barely moved in the sky. The apartment is still dark, and the ever-changing city is still awake as it always is.

The world is the same, and yet Hitoshi feels like his entire world has just been flipped upside down and turned inside out.

Except…

Hitoshi squints at the window to the apartment. Was that cracked when he came outside? He’s pretty sure it wasn’t.

On a hunch, Hitoshi gets up and goes over to the balcony door. He casts a shadow through the clear glass, but that’s not what he’s looking for. Instead, he watches the shadows of the room carefully. When nothing moves in the far corners, he pushes the door open and peeks around the corner.

He immediately comes to regret it when he comes face to face with Izuku and Momo, who are very much awake and not in their beds, looking wet-faced and wide-eyed.

Having been caught red-handed, instead of fleeing or acting like they know what shame is, the two proceed to drag Hitoshi back into the apartment and sandwich him between them. They cling to him, limpet-like in their refusal to let go or give him an inch of space.

Hitoshi swallows thickly, feeling more tears he didn’t know he had the water to waste on emerge and drip down his face again. “Guys, I…”

They shake their heads. If possible, their grip gets tighter. “Tell us when you’re ready,” Momo says where she’s buried her face into his hair. “We can wait.”

“Just… don’t leave us,” Izuku pleads, voice pitifully small, “Please don’t leave us...”

“I won’t,” he promises them and holds on just as tightly, because what else can he do when his best friends are hurting and clinging to him like he’s the only thing keeping them from drowning. “I won’t leave.”

Kayama coaxes a glass of water down his throat, and then she drags them all into her room to sleep. Her bed it too small for all of them to properly bed down together on, so they push it against the wall to make room for a mass of spare futons and every pillow and blanket in the apartment.

He was right to guess that he still wouldn’t be able to sleep, but the water helps take care of his headache at least. He hadn’t realized how dehydrated he was.

Instead of dwelling in the silence, Hitoshi whispers questions to Kayama about her recovery. Izuku and Momo drift off some time around Kayama telling them about the art classes she took on her therapist’s suggestion, still wrapped around him even in sleep. The hero herself drifts off part-way through an explanation of how she found peace in the meditative and self-reflective ideals of Buddhism.

He’ll have to ask her for more details later. The practices sound interesting, even if the spiritual and religious aspects of it hold no appeal.

Hitoshi is left alone with his thoughts for the rest of the right. The chill in his blood warms slowly, the constant tension in his muscles relaxes, and his mind is less turbulent than it’s been in a while.

It’s not the first time Hitoshi isn’t able to sleep despite being surrounded by people he cares about, and it won’t be the last. Right now, with Momo on his shoulder, Izuku practically draped across his chest with a hand reached out behind him to Kayama, he can’t bring himself to care.


Kayama leaves for Yuuei early the next morning, needed for some field trip the Heroics course students are going on. Reluctant to leave them alone after last night, she escorts them down a floor to knock on a particular door.

It takes a good five minutes, but the door eventually swings open to reveal a grumpy and tired Aizawa.

A whispered conversation passes between them as Hitoshi accidentally triggers a yawning fit between him, Izuku and Momo and even Aizawa. He doesn’t look happy, but whatever Kayama says has him opening the door wider and ushering them into his apartment.

“This is Shouta’s day off, so be good,” she tells them. Before she leaves, Kayama hands Hitoshi his lost deck of cards. He wonders where she found it.

“Go terrorize someone already,” Hitoshi calls back lazily.

At a glance, Aizawa’s apartment has a similar layout to Kayama’s, if a little bit more spartan in the furniture department. There’s a surprising amount of musical memorabilia laying around, as well as cat-themed items scattered throughout. There’s a smell in the air that is familiar, but he just can’t place it…

That’s when the hoard comes.

Before he knows it, a small stampede of small furry bodies comes up to them from places unknown. Curious meows, purrs, chirps and demanding screams meet his ears. Aizawa mutters something exasperated under his breath, Yamada ends up stumbling into the living room from the side corridor dressed in nothing but a band shirt and pair of boxers, but Hitoshi isn’t paying them any attention.

“Oh no…”

Hitoshi feels his heart stutter in his chest as his second greatest weakness curls around his legs pleasantly. If anyone asks, he’s currently on his knees because of temporary vertigo caused by his insomnia, not because be wants to pet them.

Cats… Aizawa’s apartment is filled with cats.

He’s doomed. He’s completely and utterly doomed.


Babysitting a group of teenage assassins was not how Shouta thought he was going to spend his day-off.

At least said group of teenage assassins are more than capable of entertaining themselves. He wanted to spend some time in bed with Hizashi before he had to leave for Yuuei. Nemuri better be glad he loves her enough to give up his morning off like this.

Currently scattered around his living room, Yaoyorozu sits cross-legged on his couch, reading a novel from one of his shelves and petting the orange-furred tabby - he thinks it’s Sunflower - sprawled across her lap, while Midoriya uses a piece of string to play with the twins, Smokey and Muffin. Shouta doesn’t see Shinsou, but that’s not nearly as alarming as not hearing a single peep from the rest of his little clowder. They’re usually collectively screaming at him or Hizashi for food by now if either of them are home.

Shouta steps into the room, making sure to scuff his feet against the floor like he does when meeting other underground heroes. Instantly, Yaoyorozu and Midoriya glance up at him with pin-point focus, trained on his every move as he makes his way closer. It makes the hairs on the back of his neck prickle, just a bit.

He makes a show of glancing around and raising an eyebrow at them.

They point behind the couch, fingers raised to their lips. Shouta peeks over the back of the couch and his eyebrows raise in surprise.

Well, now he knows where the rest of his cats are.

Shinsou lays curled up on the floor and is unknowingly imitating Shouta after that one time he spent a full 50 hours on patrol, using a couch cushion in place of a real pillow. Drool leaks onto the cushion as he sleeps a sleep the dead would be envious of. With eyebags like that, kid looks like he needs it, too.

The rest of Shouta’s cats are lazily stretched out on or around Shinsou. Plum and Hibiki are content to rest along his back and hip. Tuna’s tail sticks out from around his leg. Shouta’s newest foster cat, a white and cinnamon ragamuffin named Yasu, curls around Shinsou’s neck like an overly fluffy necklace and purrs into his hair.

Both of the other Suzumebachi are looking at each other with expressions of weary relief. Nemuri’s words come to mind.

”Listen, I’m sorry, but can you watch them for me today? At least until I get back from work? Last night was… eventful.”

“Violent?”

Nemuri’s hand wrapping around her scarred forearm combining with a humorless grin dredging up grim nostalgia.

“Emotional. Enough that I don’t feel right about leaving them. Shinsou, primarily. Can you watch them?”

“... Fine…”

Damn his bleeding heart…

Still… Shouta eyes the cats stationed around Shinsou like fluffy sentinels. It was kinda funny how the kid practically burst into devastated tears at being greeted by the curious little beasts come to see who entered their territory.

He’ll have a talk with Nemuri later. Right now, the laundry is piling up and his last semi-clean binder is starting to stink.

Why does the laundromat have to be so far away?


Cards fan out with the clever positioning of his fingers, just like he practiced. Encantado has tried this maneuver over and over again, every time cards slipping free, but this time he thinks he’s finally got it. He’ll get this trick down tonight if it’s the last thing he does.

Across from him, Changeling watches in amusement, reaching up to brush blond bangs out of his eyes. He’s sat on their combined bed for the past hour, patiently helping Encantado despite only having a vague verbal description of what the trick is supposed to look like to go on.

Having gotten the cards to fan out properly, Encantado takes one card, sets it parallel, takes a steadying breath, and-

“Boo!”

A shout comes from directly next to his ear and he yelps, reflexive jerking causing his cards to go flying.

“Phantom!”

The little trickster giggles brightly, no doubt proud of herself. Encantado lunges for the silhouette he can faintly make out on the floor. His hand wraps around a leg, which he uses to pull her close enough to get an arm around her waist and haul her up onto the bed. Phantom wriggles, trying to get free, but is giggling too hard to put up too much of a fight.

He manages to trap her in his lap and, revenge on his mind, jabs his fingers into where he thinks her sides and stomach are and starts tickling. The giggles become a shriek of laughter. Her concentration now broken, brighter colors and normal human textures to bleed into her form - pinks and oranges in her skin, and sunshine yellow in her hair.

“En!” She cries out, tears starting to drip down her face. “En, stop! I can’t - I can’t breathe!”

He relents for the moment. “You sorry you ruined the trick I’ve been practicing?”

The grin on her face is unrepentant, purple eyes bright with mischief. “Never!”

The tickling starts up again, and Phantom once more descends into a fit of infectious laughter. Changeling stop him eventually, when he thinks Phantom has had enough, but not before he’s gotten a few giggles in himself.

The lump on the other side of the bed turns over. A sleepy-eyed Hecatoncheir scowls at them with what would be a stern frown if it weren’t for the wild bedhead. “Geez, can’t a girl get some sleep around here? What are you doing that needs to be so loud?”

A little shame-faced, Encantado lets Phantom slip from his grasp this time. He watches as she makes her way over to Hecatoncheir, colors changing to Hecatoncheir’s dark skin, bright red hair and orange eyes. The older girl lifts up the cover enough to let Phantom slip in.

“Are ‘Shini and Gama back from training yet?” Phantom asks, snuggling into the warmth.

“Not yet,” Changeling says, voice gentle. He picks up one of the dropped cards and it instantly becomes a moving picture of small flying birds. Phantom perks up at the sight of it. “I’m sure they’ll be back soon. In the meantime, you wanna hear something cool I found out recently?”

Encantado gathers up the cards scattered across their bed and the floor and begins practicing again, keeping one ear on the story being spun for their youngest’s entertainment. He lets Changeling keep the one in his hand to use as a prop. When he glances over, a sleepy Hecatoncheir is cuddling Phantom, head buried into the pillow. Engaged, Phantom’s eyes change from orange to Changeling’s deep brown.

Probably without her notice, too. Phantom’s eyes have a habit of reflexively imitating the eye color of the person’s she’s looking at if she likes them. That’s what Encantado has always noticed, anyway.

Before long, however, the sound of their door unlocking cuts mid-way into Changeling’s tale. All of them stiffen, and Hecatoncheir swiftly hides a suddenly-skittish Phantom under the cover.

The door swings open to reveal a henchman Encantado doesn’t immediately recognize. The henchman steps aside and ushers an exhausted and frazzled-looking Yakshini and Gamayun through, shutting the door when they’re in and locking it behind them.

Hecatoncheir is the first out of her spot, tossing the cover off and practically throwing herself out of bed. The rest of them are quick to follow suit and help their fellow Suzumebachi in getting settled in. Any injuries are bandaged or looked after, dirty clothing is changed, and the two are herded into the middle of their bed to be surrounded and cared for.

Yakshini easily accepts Phantom’s clinging, thin arms locking solidly around the nine-year old’s body, Changeling putting gauze over a cut on her leg. Hecatoncheir fusses quietly over a short series of bruises blooming across Gamayun’s back, drowsiness forgotten for the moment. Encantado allows himself to be used as Yakshini’s backrest without a fuss and holds all the supplies no one else is using for the moment.

When everything is said and done, Gamayun and Yakshini melded seamlessly back into their group, Changeling picks up the story as if he’d never been interrupted. Hecatoncheir gets back under her covers, this time pulling Gamayun with her, and Encantado goes on practices his trick with one eye on the door.

It’s just another night in the life of the Suzumebachi, chafing as it is. Encantado can deal with it for as long as he has to. For them, he can handle anything.

He manages to spin the card out of the deck and having it spin right back in mid-air before the night is over.


The rest of their stay with Kayama goes by absurdly quickly.

In between the daily rounds of eating, doing their work books, watching TV and trying to get some exercise done in the apartment, they each attend a solo visit to Raiun’s therapy sessions, get back to the gym once more, and they somehow manage to receive a standing invitation from Aizawa to come back and pet the cats.

Hitoshi feels no shame in admitting that he exploits the hell out of that invitation. It makes the next round of suppressants so much more bearable.

Getting a chance to spend time around the cats aids in his struggle to return to normalcy more than he would have thought. After days of sinking beneath the weight of his own poisonous thoughts, it’s especially nice when every visit invariably leads to him getting a semi-decent nap in. Kayama rolls her eyes at the amount of cat hair he and the others track into the apartment, but, tellingly, doesn’t try to stop them.

It was funny watching the bemused twist of her face when she got home, only to find Yasu curled up in Hitoshi’s lap as he was trying to make some headway in his neglected workbooks. To this day, no one has managed to figure out how he snuck in. Hitoshi hadn’t even noticed the cat coming in and making himself at home until after Momo pointed him out.

They never do take Kayama up on her invitation to go to Yuuei with her during the day despite her insisting that the principal wouldn’t mind. It’s probably for the best. Yuuei is a hero stronghold as much as it is a high school. Hitoshi very much doubts that they’d be welcome even if they were permitted inside again.

They’ve also been texting Ashido, Jirou and Kaminari all week, having exchanging numbers back at the mall. Hitoshi hasn’t been checking his messages much lately, so he has quite a stack to go through by the time he gathers up the energy to do so. Jirou’s messages are usually short and easy to read, topics light and borderline inconsequential, while Kaminari and Ashido’s messages tend to go on tangents that sometimes don’t lead anywhere. It’s clear that they’re good people, if perhaps innocent and naive.

Ashido badgers all of them to join her in preparing for Yuuei, even going so far as trying to bribe them with trips to a smoothie shop she visits regularly. Hitoshi wonders if they should even bother. After all, it’s not like there isn’t a strong possibility they’ll be behind bars sooner or later. If they do end up accepting, the only thing they’ll need to watch out for are signs of Epitaph keeping an eye on them.

Hitoshi can admit that meeting up has… a certain appeal. Better than sitting around all day doing nothing.

Izuku seems tentatively receptive to the invitation, at least. The three did leave an impression the last time they met face to face. Momo is as on the fence about the whole thing as he is, but it’s clear Ashido, Kaminari and Izuku are wearing her down. When she finally breaks, she tells them that they can try for it next week, but they might not have many opportunities.

Hitoshi also looks into giving meditation a try. Kayama guides him through it as best she can with such a short time frame left. Sitting and breathing is easy, but it’s difficult to let the thoughts go like he’s supposed to when they constantly want to stick and fester. Kayama says that’s what happened to her in the beginning, too. All he needs to do is keep practicing and he’ll get it.

Before he knows it, it’s time for their probation officer to come check on them. Kayama has them pack their bags well in-advance to be ready to leave.

Before the officer arrives, however, she gives each of them a tiny charm for their phones and tells them they’re for luck. She gives Izuku a Midnight charm with a wink, causing him to light up. To a curious Momo, she gives a book charm with a heart painted on the front cover. And, finally, she smirks playfully as she hands Hitoshi a charm shaped like a stylized cat face.

Hitoshi glares at her half-heartedly, only to be laughed at in return.

Witch…

Then it’s time to leave. Kayama delivers her report to the probation officer and gives them the all clear to go stay with their parents. Unlike All Might, she doesn’t ask who their next supervisor is going to be, and the officer doesn’t voluntarily offer the information up. They’ll be going in blind this time, but… Hitoshi isn’t as perturbed as he was last time.

Everything said and done, Kayama waves goodbye to them and closes the door.

Of course, something has to go wrong the second they step out the door. Before they get more than five steps down from Kayama’s door, Yasu comes meowing frantically down the hall from the other end with a frazzled, cursing Aizawa on his tail.

Hitoshi crouches down and opens his arms for the cat to jump into. Yasu climbs up onto his shoulders and purrs loudly in his ear. Aizawa jogs over to them at a more sedate pace, seeing that the cat has stopped running, and shoots Yasu a disgruntled stare.

Oblivious and uncaring, the cat continues to purr. Hitoshi gently scratches his ears, causing him to purr louder.

“You’re leaving?” Aizawa asks, taking Yasu from Hitoshi’s shoulders. The cat makes a grumpy noise in response as if scolding his foster dad for taking him away from his favorite perch.

“On our way out,” Momo agrees, eyes glancing between Hitoshi and the cat in amusement.

Satisfied that the cat isn’t going anywhere, Aizawa nods at them. “I’ll tell Hizashi you said goodbye.”

“Wish him good luck on his radio show this week for me,” Izuku pops up, grinning.

Aizawa grunts in acknowledgement. Hitoshi gives Yasu one last lingering pet goodbye and lets their bemused probation officer lead them away.

At least he has some stories to tell his parents and Noriko this time around. He wonders, how do they feel about cats?

Chapter Text

Figuring out a place to hold their little training sessions is a bit of a trial. Back alleys and abandoned buildings were crossed off the list of potential spots early on - too isolated, too easy to be found by unwanted company. Parks are too public for quirk training, gyms too expensive to attend the three times a week that they want, and the one old warehouse they started out in ended up a bust too when the owner showed up to start refurbishing it.

Izuku, Kaminari and Jirou started asking around and turned up nothing. It wasn’t until a week into their agreement that Momo, practically hitting herself over the head with exasperation over how complicated they all were making this, looked at google maps, did some research, and pointed them to Dagobah Municipal Beach Park.

Or, as Izuku likes to call it, The Landfill.

It’s just about perfect, really. On the outskirts of Musutafu, with plenty of room to train and literal mountains of garbage to serve as both cover and targets. What’s more, the piles of trash form a labyrinth of paths and clearings, meaning they have room to spread out and create multiple specialized training areas The only bad thing Izuku can reasonably find about it is the filth and the smell, and he and Momo have already fixed the broken community showers on the back of the public changing house before the end of their first week here.

Who knew those two weeks spent with Power Loader, reading every book on his shelf just because Izuku could, would come in handy? It certainly made being babysat by his husband while Power Loader was at work a little more bearable.

The hand-knitted scarfs are nice, though. The thick green garment, half a foot wide and several feet long, makes for a small-but-decent shawl in the chilly November weather when tied right.

Jirou lashes out at Momo from the middle of their little sparing pit, a clearing just over four meters wide in between several pinnacles of refuse. From his spot on top of a broken-down fridge, Izuku watches the spar in between making notes in his notebook. It has profiles of them all so far, as well as all of their supervisors and any heroes he either sees around the city or hears about in the news. He’ll have to see about getting a new one soon. It’s been in his possession for all of five months and it’s already almost full.

Her opponent twists around the punch aimed for her solar plexus. “Stop putzing around and hit me!” Momo growls lowly at Jirou before ducking under her earphone jacks.

Momo grabs the stretching earlobes in one hand and yanks. Izuku has noted before that Jirou’s earphone jacks are able to quickly extend up to 6 meters, but, according to her, the elasticity of the appendages requires some conscious control. As a result, the sudden momentum causes Jirou to stumble forward with a small cry of pain. Taking advantage of the opening, Momo goes to deliver a rising kick to Jirou’s abdomen.

The sparring of the last three months clearly hasn’t gone to waste, however. Jirou catches the foot with both hands before it can connect and shoves it to the side, sending Momo off balance. The jacks wrap tightly around the arm holding them and try to drag her to the floor. To the side, Kaminari and Ashido cheer Jirou on and call out words of encouragement.

Impressive. Back when they started, Jirou’s reflexes were so slow that she wouldn’t have been able to block that attack in time, if she had even been able to process that she was being attacked at all. Izuku notes the observation in one of the margins on her profile.

Momo manages to plant her feet and recover her balance in time, but then the jacks around her arm pull her forward into another punch, this one flying for her chin.

The hit collides with the flat of Momo’s free forearm with a meaty slap. Jirou grits her teeth, already moving into a sweeping kick, but is too slow to stop Momo from grappling her retreating arm and yanking her forward once more. At this distance, there’s nothing she can do to stop Momo’s knee from slamming, vicious, into her gut hard enough to lift her off her feet.

Scattered around the pit, Ashido and Kaminari wince heavily as Jirou drops, breathless, the sand below cushioned only by a few layers of old tarp, old blankets and old rugs that they found among the trash. From his place lazing in a discarded lawnchair higher up on one of the trash heaps, Hitoshi pauses in his restoration of a rusted hunting knife long enough to grimace in sympathy.

Izuku palms the bruises left on his side from their last training session. Ozaki taught her charge grace and control, but before her, Blessed was teaching them efficient and brutal ways to bring an opponent to their knees. They were especially beneficial for Momo, whose eating disorder meant that for every ounce of strength she lacked, she had to make up for it in merciless ferocity several times over.

Circling her opponent in a predatory prowl, Momo waits for Jirou’s next move. It’s one of the terms they established early. A match isn’t over until one of three conditions are met - a forfeit is called, one of them is knocked unconscious, or if one is beaten to the point that they can no longer move.

“You remembered to keep close this time,” Momo says approvingly. Jirou lets out a groan in response. Amused, Momo snorts quietly.

Rolling over pitifully, Jirou taps the mat three times, signalling her forfeit.

“Hard to forget when you seem dead-set on beating it into me,” Jirou rasps in response, somehow managing to be deadpan through her lack of breath. She lets Momo pull her up by the arms with a nod and hobbles over to the half-exploded bean bag chair she claimed for herself on day one.

“You’re doing well, Jirou-san,” Izuku remarks, making another annotation in his notebook and chewing on his eraser in thought. “You’re quirk allowing you to channel vibrations through your earphone jacks makes you an natural choice for a long or mid-range fighter, but that also makes you vulnerable to close-range combat. If-”

“If, however, I take advantage of my earphone jack’s strength and prehensile dexterity and don’t overextend, I can easily hold my own in close-quarters,” she finishes for him, collapsing in the chair. From his corner of the pit, Kaminari roots around in the partially-repaired mini-fridge that he uses for practice in outputting a sustained voltage. He gives a sound of triumph and pulls out an ice pack, which he tosses over to Jirou. She catches it gratefully and presses it to the spot Momo hit her. “You’ve said that before, and yet...”

“Do you want another demonstration?” Izuku asks mildly, because he knows he’s right - Jirou is naturally suited for scouting and long-range but she would be wasted as a back-line only fighter. If only she got the basics down first...

“I don’t wanna die,” Jirou replies, dead-eyed stare making Izuku cough into his hand to hide his smirk.

“Speaking of dying,” Hitoshi pipes in idley, twisting the knife in one hand to examine the remaining rust before attacking again it with a vinegar-soaked rag, “I’ve still got a metric ass-load of rust left to clean off this and Ashido hasn’t sparred with anyone in two sessions.”

That’s a fat lie if Izuku has ever heard one. There’s barely any rust left on the metal at this point, and what metal is exposed glints bright in the early afternoon sun.

“Shin!” Ashido cries out, betrayal emblazoned across her face, pink hand resting on her chest dramatically. Momo shakes her head in sympathy and exits the ring to grab a snack from the mini fridge.

Izuku rolls his eyes and puts his notebook down with an exaggerated sigh of annoyance. He unties the scarf to take it off and hops down off the fridge with ease. “I’ll take her then, since you’re being lazy.”

A raised middle finger is Hitoshi’s reply.

Ashido backs away from the padded center of the pit and starts climbing the trash behind her. “Hey, don’t I get a say in this!?”

“It was nice knowing you,” Kaminari calls out unnecessarily.

“Guys!?”

Ashido pauses in her backpedaling long enough to look at him. Izuku meets her terrified stare with a light, pleasant smile, mild as milk, and watches with dry amusement as her expression melts into horror and despair. After a moment of silent prayer, Ashido steels herself and puts on a brave face, marching forward with all the gravitas of soldier going to war.

She manages to put up a decent fight, as far as Izuku is concerned. She has the stamina to put up with his half-hearted assault and has good instincts for what risks are better to take than others. The acid Ashido lobs at him is potent enough to make him careful about where he plants his feet, and she’s producing more of it now that they’re training her to push her upper safe production threshold higher and higher.

It’s when Izuku stops playing as defensively that Ashido’s range advantage crumbles, however. When presented with an opponent not afraid of her acid spray, Ashido has a tendency of quickly succumbing to the fatal urge to second-guess herself. It’s a good thing that these are only spars and not an actual attack. Otherwise that hesitation would get Ashido killed in a heartbeat. In an effort to counteract this, Izuku calls out one-word instructions - a “block” when he launches a snap kick at her side, a “dodge” when he twists around another lob of acid to get behind her, and so on. It only takes a few before her confidence is back and her acid assault resumes in full. Some of his clothing gets melted, but he’s not concerned. It’s an expected hazard when training with a corrosive quirk user. He has spare clothing in the changing house.

He’s content to draw the spar out, enjoying the feeling of muscles in motion. Eventually, however, they hit Ashido’s safe production threshold, where her own potent acid starts blistering her resilient skin, causing her to wince and cringe in pain. The match is quickly called a draw and Ashido’s arms are washed at the showers with a mixture of water, soap and baking soda they keep in a vat just for her. There’s no heater to make the spray warmer, so they have to put up with the ice-cold water on top of the chilly air. At least they’re used to it by now, so it’s not hard to push past the discomfort to focus on Ashido.

Ashido always insists that they worry too much. She says that her skin doesn’t react to acid-based chemical burns quite like normal human flesh does, but Izuku has seen the kind of damage chemical burns can cause. He likes Ashido. He’s not going to take any chances with her health.

“Thanks, Midori,” she says after enduring Izuku’s fussing, kneeling patiently in the sand. She may protest, but the small smile on her face says she’s touched by the gesture.

“You’re getting better,” Izuku responds, checking the skin for damage. Parts of her palm and fingers have turned from a bubbly pink to an angry red, the skin irritated by the corrosive liquid being secreted from her pores, and there’s some small blistering starting to form on her palms. She’ll be fine, but, just in case, Izuku preps a sterile needle and aloe vera gel from their makeshift med kit. “You’re still a bit on the slow side, but your reflexes are getting faster. I would have knocked you over with that roundhouse kick back when we first started.”

“Definitely feels like it,” Ashido says, laughing, black and honey eyes bright with pride. “It’s easier to get my head back in the game, too.”

Uncaring of the prospect of sand getting into his pants, Izuku sits down cross-legged, dragging the kit closer for ease of access. “That’ll come with more practice. Remember, it’s all about your mindset. If you believe you can’t do something-”

“Then you can only sabotage yourself in the end,” she finishes for him, voice changing to mimic his in a mocking parody.

“I do not sound like that.”

Ashido raises her eyebrow at him. “Yes, you do,” she insists. Izuku huffs in response and returns to his task, taking care to gently pop and drain the blisters without removing the skin. Once that’s done, he smears a coating of aloe gel over the damaged skin and covers them in a protective layer of gauze bandages.

Anyways.” Izuku cleans his hands and neatly packs the kit away, double checking to see if any sand has gotten into their supply before closing it. “All of you have improved a lot in just three months, and Yuuei’s entrance exam is still another five months away! If you keep this up, you guys are gonna be among the most promising candidates there.”

“You still haven’t told us where you guys learned to fight like you do.”

Izuku laughs easily. Lid secured, he pushes the kit back into its normal resting spot. “Sorry, Ashido-san. Maybe when things are more settled.”

Arms wrap tightly around his shoulders from behind, startling him into almost dropping the kit. “You guys are doing a lot for us,” Ashido murmurs into his shoulder, a brightly-colored horn nudging his jaw unintentionally. “I’m thankful, don’t get me wrong, but it makes me sad to think that you might not be coming with us to Yuuei… It won’t be the same without you, Yaomomo and Shin there to bust our butts and cheer us on.”

Izuku curls a gentle hand around one of Ashido’s wrists. A familiar undercurrent of guilt turns his stomach inside out. “I’m sorry.”

She releases him. The look in her eyes is one of someone who doesn’t want to say goodbye. “You sure yours and Shin’s families have to move away? I can understand Yaomomo’s mom wants her to be homeschooled for a while, but can’t you guys stay in Musutafu? Like, share an apartment here in town?”

“I don’t want to leave my mom alone, and Hitoshi’s going to live near some relatives,” Izuku says, because a white lie of families having to move away is better than telling her that they’re probably going to be behind bars for the rest of their natural lives when the judges make their decision.

Ashido pouts, glum, eyes drifting to the sand. “Yeah…”

“Hey, cheer up.” Izuku nudges her shoulder with his. “We’re not gone yet, and today’s not done. Oi, Kaminari-san!”

“Yeah?”

“You ready to hit the meter?”

“Hell yeah!” Kaminari drops the cable plug connected to the mini fridge, practically jumping to his feet in his haste. Hitoshi stops cleaning his prize long enough to help them find the old high voltage tester they found in a pile closer to the road. The only thing wrong with it had been a few missing buttons that had been easy to make replacements for, so they gave it to Kaminari for testing. The meter can only display up to 999,900 volts, which Kaminari’s quirk exceeds by far, but they don’t need it to test his maximum capacity. Capacity is not Kaminari’s main problem.

Grabbing the metal ends of the probes, Kaminari starts letting out a steady flow of electricity. The number on the display climbs the more he outputs until he hits a solid 750,000 volts. The number is about where he usually sits, so Izuku isn’t surprised to see it remain unchanged for short while.

Izuku just about to log the number in the chart portion of Kaminari’s entry in his notebook when Kaminari grits his teeth, sweat gathering on his face, and starts channeling more. The air crackles with a yellow glow as electricity sparks. Loose sand particles beginning to float slightly as they become ionized. The number on the display raises to 835,000 volts and remains that way for a good 45 seconds before Kaminari drops his quirk.

Ashido cheers loudly in celebration as Kaminari drops the probes with a relieved gasp. Jirou is quick to pass him a bottle of water from the mini-fridge, which he cracks open and starts guzzling. Both Momo and Hitoshi are nodding their heads at the display, impressed by the jump in control.

Kaminari’s problem was never his capacity for voltage generation. He’s always had that in spades. Instead, his two-fold problem was always his quirk’s backlash and his subsequent lack of control.

“Great job, Kaminari-san,” Izuku says, smiling, jotting the new number down in the chart. “That’s a big jump in progress compared to last time. Did you manage to find other ways to practice your quirk?”

“I used my grandpa’s old electrician’s equipment,” Kaminari says, shaking out his limbs and grabbing a metal pipe on the ground to get rid of any residual static. “He’s got an old tester similar to this one. Since no one’s using it anymore, he’s letting me borrow it so that I can practice controlling my output.”

“Maybe now we can actually go to the arcade without you accidentally shorting out a machine if you get startled,” Jirou says, deadpan.

That is a possible side effect of this kind of training, Izuku muses to himself, tapping his pencil eraser on his cheek. He’s always suspected that the reason Kaminari discharges static so easily is because he’s unfamiliar with the flow of his own quirk. It makes some sense that he wouldn’t know, given that Electrification is a potentially lethal quirk in the right circumstances, but it still means that Kaminari doesn’t have the practiced precision needed to actually control his output on an instinctual level. If he doesn’t know what larger amounts of electrical discharge feels like, then he has no mental frame of reference to regulate and strangle the production of his electrical aura. That line of reasoning might also be able to account for why his brain fries when he starts channeling too much voltage, and-

And everyone is staring at him - Ashido and Kaminari, wide-eyed like he’s just spoken in tongues, Jirou with obvious entertainment, and Momo and Hitoshi with endless patience.

Just for the record, Izuku officially hates his runaway mouth. He was never this talkative back in Epitaph, he swears.

Kaminari shakes his head as like waking himself up. “I have no idea of half of what you just said, but, given that it’s you, I’ll trust you know what you’re talking about.”

Embarrassment flushes Izuku’s cheeks red. “Well… It’s just that… You know your…”

He reaches up and pulls on his hair a bit to help him focus his thoughts. “You understand why you’re practicing controlling your quirk rather than strengthening it like Ashido-san, right?”

“So that I stop accidentally frying myself?” Kaminari says with a puzzled look on his face, more question than answer.

Izuku nods. “That is one of the main goals, yes, but not the most important one. You’re practicing control of your quirk because the more practice you have handling sustained high voltage, the more your body gets used to the feeling of it. Your body is largely immune to electricity and ionization, so you can’t really hurt yourself unless you overcharge your brain, but you also don’t have a lot of practice handling much voltage below that amount either. You’re either all or nothing.”

Slowly, Kaminari begins to nod, something like contemplation in the furrow of his brow and the downturned twist of his lips. “I never really had a reason to practice producing different amounts of electricity other than the basics… So, you’re saying that if I have more control over how much I produce, I’ll have an easier time not frying myself?”

Not quite what he’s trying to convey, but close enough that Izuku will take it. “More or less,” he say, flipping his notebook closed. “You’ll also have an easier time not overtaxing yourself when you’re using lower amounts of voltage - like training a muscle.”

As if having an epiphany, Kaminari snaps his fingers, eyes bright with excitement. “I’ll even be able to raise the voltage of electricity I can channel all at once without shorting my brain out!”

“Exactly! By practicing with different levels of electrical output, you can more easily get a read on how much output your body can take before you short out and stop yourself before you go too far, or circumvent the problem entirely by training your tolerance levels to be higher.”

“That’s our Midori!” Ashido crows, throwing an arm over his and Kaminari’s shoulders. A wide, eye-crinklingly bright smile lights up her face like a summer sun. “His real super power is that analytical brain of his!”

“Truely, where would we be without you?” Jirou drolls sarcastically, but her tone is undermined by the light-hearted smile on her face.

Face reddening further, Izuku hides partially behind his notebook. “Shut up…,” he mumbles, eyes drifting so that he doesn’t have to look at them. “Momo and Hitoshi have been doing their own share of helping, and it’s you guys that are doing all the work and making all the progress.”

“Are you kidding me?” The entirety of Kaminari’s body language radiates pure bewilderment and disbelief. “You’re the one who’s come up with, like, at least half of our training regiments, dude. I can guarantee you that I never would have come up with this stuff on my own.”

“Give yourself more credit,” Jirou says, hands stuffing themselves in the pockets of her jacket. “You’ve got some of the most unique ideas for quirk use I’ve ever heard. I was only going to give my hero costume some stereos in my boots, but now I’m thinking of adding some small amps on my wrists to take advantage of those self-defense moves you and Momo are teaching me.”

“I- well… That’s-,” Izuku sputters, moving his notebook so that it covers his entire face.

“Yeah! And I’m thinking of adding some armor to my costume design!” Ashido says.

“All of you should be adding armor,” Hitoshi chides, twirling his hunting knife between his fingers masterfully. “Functionality is all well and good, but if you sacrifice defense for fashion, then any random shmuck with a knife can tackle you to the ground and stab you 15 times before you can even think to fight back. Need I remind you, none of you are planning on becoming stealth-based heroes.”

“That’s certainly good advice.”

Instinct and the sudden flood of adrenaline in his veins has Izuku kicking up a nearby hubcap up into the air. He catches it, muscles bunching in his shoulders, and launches it like an oversized deadly frisbee in the direction of the unfamiliar voice.

The intruder yelps and dives out of sight behind one of the pillars of trash surrounding their training pit, the hubcap sailing past them by inches. The metal projectile tears straight through a water-damaged cardboard sign, disappearing into another pile. It’s a few seconds before their head pops out again.

Izuku recognizes that face. Oh shit, he recognizes the face he almost murdered with a hubcap.

Panicked, Izuku apologizes to an understandably wary Tsukauchi, the detective staying behind his protective barrier of garbage. Another head emerges from across the gap between Tsukauchi’s pile and the one next to it, this time a mostly unfamiliar cat-headed police officer. Izuku thinks he remembers seeing him at the station? “Shit, I am so sorry! Are you okay?”

Tsukauchi and the unnamed officer tentatively climb through the gap into their training pit, no doubt wary of another attack. Izuku cringes as dismay and anxiety send his shoulders up around his ears. A garnishing of hysteria on top has him wondering if this counts as assaulting an officer of the law, and, if so, if he’ll be seeing bars in his window sooner than he thought.

“I’m sorry…,” Izuku repeats when the two are closer, once more hiding childishly behind his notebook. He feels Hitoshi and Momo’s stares on the back of his neck.

Instead of literally any other response Izuku imagined he would have, the detective gives him a smile more forgiving and patient than Izuku feels he has any right to receive. If anything, that just sends an extra helping of guilt down into the miserable mire that is his gut at the moment.

“No harm done, Midoriya-san,” Tsukauchi says, even as his cat-headed associate gives him a sideways look. “I shouldn’t have startled you like that. My apologies. My partner, officer Tamakawa, and I were called in to investigate a series of reports that a group of teenagers were venturing into Dagobah Beach’s landfill area and coming out with obvious injuries for the last several months. There have also been concerns expressed by citizens about illegal quirk fighting.”

Tsukauchi takes a moment to look all of them over, taking in the bandages around Ashido’s hands and the ice pack still pressed to Jirou’s gut. Hitoshi has stashed his hunting knife away somewhere for the moment, but there’s no escaping the strong vinegar smell coming from him. Momo and Hitoshi are relaxed if blank-faced, used to Tsukauchi’s general mannerisms from their time in Chief Umeji’s cells, but the other three of their group all show obvious signs of guilt and anxiety at having been caught red-handed.

The detective raises an eyebrow. “I take it that you six are the group of teenager mentioned in the reports?”

“Ah, yes, sir,” Jirou answers awkwardly, lightly scratching at her cheek in embarrassment. “We were planning to use the isolation and abundance of trash as training for Yuuei’s Hero course practical exam.”

“I see.” Tsukauchi nods, getting out his customary pen and notepad. “I’ve previously been introduced to Yaoyorozu-san, Shinsou-san and Midoriya-san, but what are your names?”

Ashido, Jirou and Kaminari give the detective their names, throwing Izuku, Momo and Hitoshi curious looks as they do. Tsukauchi dutifully writes the details downs while Hitoshi stares at the cat-headed officer.

“If you’re using the area for hero training, then that explains the rumors of illegal quirk usage,” the detective stresses the word “illegal” pointedly, causing three of their group to wince, “as well as the reports of injuries. Do any of you have practice licenses?”

They look at each other, confused. “Practice licenses?” Izuku tilts his head curiously.

“I’ll take that as a no.” Tsukauchi makes a few more notes before addressing them again. “Practice licenses are temporary licenses that can be granted to students planning on entering a school with an approved Hero course. They grant the bearer a very limited ability to use their quirk for the purposes of training, and only under the supervision of an adult.”

“Huh… Wonder why we never heard of them before…,” Kaminari mutters, scratching his head.

“They’re not widely advertised to avoid their usage potentially being abused, but they’re still available to the public provided you can give proof of your plans to attend a relevant high school and can pass a basic knowledge of quirk law exam.”

The notepad and pencil disappear back into Tsukauchi’s tan trench coat. “Now that you know about them, can I expect that you will go through the proper channels to train from now on? Otherwise, I’ll have to escort you down to the station and call your guardians.”

Ashido gives an assuring thumbs up. “Definitely! Thanks for the tip, officer. We’ll look into those practice licenses pronto.”

“My pleasure,” he says, a pleased gint in his eye. His posture, which Izuku previously read as all business, relaxes. “It would be a shame if such promising up-and-coming heroes-in-training were barred from taking the entrance exam because of a simple misunderstanding. Now, what’s say you six wrap this up for today and talk to your guardians, eh?”

Their allotted training time isn’t up by at least another hour, but Izuku knows a dismissal when he hears one. They take turns in the ice-cold spray of the showers, never taking more than five minutes to avoid feeling like their skin has solidified. Afterwards, they change back into their everyday clothing and make for the street. Izuku listens to Ashido and Kaminari throw out suggestions over who to ask to be their supervisor with Jirou offering a few cents every now and again for consideration.

Tsukauchi and officer Tamakawa remain close by, probably to make sure that they leave. When their shoes finally hit pavement, Momo holds Izuku and Hitoshi back and waves the other three goodbye.

Izuku tries to ignore the way Ashido points two fingers at her eyes and then back at them. That’s a lie the future him will have to figure out.

Momo faces the officers, who give her quizzical looks.

“They don’t know who you are, do they?” Tsukauchi asks, tone not unkind for all that his question is worded like an accusation.

Hitoshi shrugs. “They don’t know we’re former criminals, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s for the best.”

“I see. And Shinsou-san and Yaoyorozu-san have been keeping to the rules of their probation regarding quirk use?”

Izuku smiles back. “I’ve been looking after them.”

Satisfied, the detective accepts the answer, his quirk undoubtedly pinging the words as what they technically are - a true statement. A slow, small smile spreads across the Tsukauchi’s face. “Good. You three are looking better than when I last saw you. Especially you, Yaoyorozu-san.”

“Momo’s been working hard on gaining more weight,” Izuku happily replies for her, glad for the change in topic. “Her doctor says she’s put on 12 and a half kilograms in the last four months.”

Momo blushes slightly at the praise, the peach flower clips in her hair exposing more of her face than they normally see. “I still have a ways to go before I’m at a healthy weight for my frame and quirk type, but at least I’m not in danger of accidental starvation anymore. It hasn’t been easy, eating so much every day, but… I do feel better than I did before.”

Tamakawa lets out an amused hum, the rumbling sound more resembling a purr than anything with fully-human vocal cords would normally make. “I remember Tsukauchi often fussed over how little you were eating back at the station.”

“I did not fuss, I merely noted it down as a concern,” Tsukauchi denies immediately, shooting his partner a furtive glare.

A ginger-furred ear flicks and giant yellow eyes blink back leisurely in response, unimpressed. “... Consistently.”

Shaking his head, the detective seems to come to the decision to ignore his partner. “As nice as small talk is, was there something you needed, Yaoyorozu-san?”

Momo nods, looking Tsukauchi in the eye. “I’m not sure if you can answer my question, but I’m going to ask anyway. Has the investigation into Epitaph turned up anything you can tell us?”

Izuku feels his eye twitch. The urge to cry emerges from deep within within. The question is asked with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and the parts of Izuku’s brain that paid attention during Alkaid and Ozaki’s lessons on teasing out information want to take Momo and shake some diplomacy into her.

He loves Momo, he really does - she’s the sister his parents never had, but this is the reason that Izuku is the one who does the talking in this family.

Tsukauchi shares a brief glance with his partner. “I think it’s for the best that you leave Epitaph to us,” he says, words chosen with obvious intent to halt the conversation in its tracks.

“The information we gave you was to at least half their places of operation, and from the sounds of things, you’ve arrest a couple hundred of the lower ranks and associates. That’s, what? A good tenth of Epitaph’s total staff?” Not Hitoshi too… Izuku digs his nails into his wrist as subtle as he can in an effort to shut him up, but Hitoshi takes it without so much as a twitch to show he feels it. “Not enough to make a difference, but definitely enough to make them wary. We know we can’t do anything about them, but, coming from experience, a wary Epitaph is not a good thing.”

Tamakawa’s ear twitches, his head tilting to the side. “You’re going to offer free consultation in exchange for information?”

Seeing Hitoshi’s mouth open again, Izuku quickly cuts in. “We’d be willing to make such an exchange, yes,” he throws a quick glare at Momo as a warning not to start too, “provided that Detective Tsukauchi and yourself are willing and able to do so. We understand that we don’t really have a right to ask for this, but, given Epitaph’s promise of retaliation against us…”

The dry look Momo gives him back could drain the water from an ocean and still be parched. Her eyebrow raises as if daring to ask how else were they going to get the information. Izuku, on the other hand, is still wondering when the conversation about when they were going after this information happened. As far as he knows, it didn’t. Useful as this opportunity is, with two officers connected to their case in some capacity right in front of them, this is not the kind of intelligence you can get from casual conversation! Especially not with a guy possessing a lie detecting quirk.

Across from her, Tsukauchi slowly begins to nod, a glimmer of sympathy, or at least understanding, in his expression. He seems to wrestle with himself for a long moment, expression twisting with uncertainty, before letting out a sigh of defeat. “I still think you three should be leaving this to us, but I can’t deny the possibility that your input might prove useful right now. You’ll have to come down to the station if you want to give a proper consultation, but I can tell you that the entirety of Epitaph went dead silent about a month ago, and that a majority of our leads went cold almost over night around that time as a result.”

Izuku glances at Momo and Hitoshi. That doesn’t sound good. That sounds very bad, in fact. He tries wracking his brain, but Izuku can’t think of a single occasion when Alkaid had the entire organization just… vanish like that.

The only time they would have come close to doing so was after that gang of small-time villains attacked their then main base as retaliation for so-called “disputed territory”. They lost Phantom in that attack, along with losing a lot of henchmen to a particularly deadly poison gas quirk. Even so, Alkaid still kept them somewhat visible to keep up appearances. If she’s successfully pulled the entire organization out of sight…

Just what is she planning?

Hitoshi plays absently with his purple and white patterned scarf. “Any sudden, mysterious deaths?”

“A few, but like I said. If you want to give a proper consultation, then come by the station. The sooner, the better, really.”

“We’ll talk to our supervisor about coming in as soon as we can,” Izuku assures them quickly.

That gets him another pleased smile from the detective. “Thank you. I know you only offered because you want information, but the gesture is appreciated nonetheless.”

Izuku is just about to reply when a distinctly familiar voice calls from down the street.

“Tsukauchi! Young Midoriya! Young Yaoyorozu! Young Shinsou!”

As if the day couldn’t get any more nostalgic, the universe just has to reintroduce a depowered All Might jogging towards them at an easy pace, dressed in exercise clothing several sizes too big, on what is clearly an afternoon run. Really? Who else is going to turn up today?

That thought has Izuku glancing around, anticipating something like Bakugo Katsuki climbing out of one of the trash piles, just in time to catch the sudden look of scheming contemplation enter Momo’s eyes.

“Hey, Yagi-san! You have a lot of free time, right?”

Oh no...

“Momo,” he warns despite the futility, tone mild, and is predictably ignored.

All Might’s head tilts in question, walking the rest of the way to them. “I suppose I do… Why do you want to know?”

“Do you want to chaperone a couple of kids looking to enter Yuuei’s Hero’s course while we whip them into shape?”

How? How has she managed to know Ozaki since she was 11 and still not understand how to utilize graceful speech beyond not swearing?

Then he remembers that, for all that Ozaki was talented in the arts of flattery and double speak, her preferred manner of casual conversation was always contradictingly direct…

No wonder she and Momo got along so well…


Despite Izuku’s embarrassed attempts to assure All Might that he didn’t have to, All Might accepted the proposal provided Ashido, Kaminari and Jirou could obtain practice licenses. According to him, it’s a good opportunity to get some practice teaching in before he has to teach classes next year. They sent a quick message out in the group chat they established months ago. The news was received with excited spamming of messages as half-made plans were pushed forward in an attempt to get back to their routine as soon as possible.

They catch a train to cut travel time back to their new supervisor’s apartment. Along the way, they discuss everything from the new magic movie Hitoshi wants to see, to new training ideas for their hero hopefuls, to their encounter with Tsukauchi. They reach the apartment building and only have to travel up two floors to get to the correct door, which is a lovely change compared to most of their supervisors.

“Ishiyama-san, we’re back!” Izuku calls out as he enters, taking off his shoes.

“But, seriously,” Hitoshi cuts in, “Anyone ever told you that you sound like Alkaid when you get mad, Izuku?”

Offense and a spark of genuine anger electrifies his nerves in a way not even Kaminari can match. “I do not,” he denies hotly, taking his coat off and hanging it on one of the wall pegs.

“You really do,” Momo supplies, unwinding the red and pink scarf from around her neck. “You’ve even managed to master her “I look nice but I’m really thinking of 50 ways to put you in the dirt” smile. It’s weird.”

“You’re exaggerating. I do not resemble Alkaid in any way.”

In a fit of pique, Izuku tosses one of his shoes at them and storms off without waiting. The inside of the apartment’s main room is an amazing mix of garden and library with shelves and bookcases lining the walls and potted plants scattered around the room and hanging from the ceiling. The first time Izuku saw the inside, he damn near fell in love.

Izuku waves to their new supervisor, Ishiyama Ken, aka the pro-hero Cementoss, as he passes. Ishiyama nods in greeting before getting back the papers he’s looking over.

He makes his way to the room he shares with Hitoshi, ignoring the sound of conversation behind him. Plopping down on his bed, door closed behind him, Izuku pulls his phone out and dials the first number in his contacts.

Bring!

Bring!

Bri-

“Hello, Izukun!”

In an instant, affection and fondness sprout inside at the sound of his mother’s voice, warming him and soothing his irritation like a balm.

“Hey mom,” he greets back. He places his free hand behind his head and gets comfortable. “How’re you today? Do anything interesting? I’m not interrupting you, am I?”

”No, no, sweetie! Not at all. Today has been good. Yaoyorozu-san introduced me to costume-making equipment today.”

Izuku remembers something she told him the day before when he was over for their last two-day visit. “You said you were getting bored just sitting around all day.”

“Yep! With Nanami taking a job as Yaoyorozu-san’s stay-at home secretary and her husband now working in the company’s advertising department, I was starting to feel a bit like a free-loader. Yaoyorozu-san is going to give me a couple test projects and, if I can work up to the standard, I can start working as a base costume designer!”

“Mom, that’s great!” She can’t see it, but that doesn’t stop his face from breaking out in a wide smile. “I’ve seen your designs in your sketchbook and Hitoshi, Momo and I all wear your finished products. You’re gonna be an awesome designer!”

Inko laughs, the sound carrying a wealth of excitement and pride. “Who knew that clothing-making hobby I picked up to pass the time would turn into a career opportunity? How was your day? Did you three meet up with those friends of yours?”

“We’re business associates, mom,” he corrects her, trying to be stern and only managing to come up embarrassed. “We did. They’re making a lot of improvements in their training.”

“So you keep saying,” Inko says, amused. Why does everyone keep saying that? “Did anything interesting happen?”

“Errr… well,” Izuku winces slightly. “We... did end up getting the cops called on us because people thought we were engaging in illegal quirk fighting.”

That causes Inko to sound alarmed, her words coming through the speakers quickly with obvious worry. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Izuku assures. “It was the detective who helped bring us in - the one with the lie detection quirk? He just warned Jirou, Kaminari and Ashido about practicing without a special license you can get if you’re going to a Hero course-approved school and made sure we weren’t doing anything that violates our probation. Sorry for the scare.”

“That’s a relief” Inko says, letting out a loud sigh. “You have been being good, haven’t you, Izuku?”

“Definitely,” he repeats with a smile he allows to look forced. He tries not to think about the quirk suppressants he injected into Momo and Hitoshi the day before they visited their families. Or the hair he accidentally pulled out in his stress over trying to help and cover for them. Or the up-ticked frequency in which Momo is having her bad, disorder-triggering nightmares. Or how often Hitoshi has been calling Kayama or talking to them about the self-destructive voices in his head recently. Or the nightmare he had a some nights ago that sent him into a fit, clawing at his arms and body to stop the images of shooting a dying Changeling who just wouldn’t die, wouldn’t stop screaming, wouldn’t let Izuku stop his pain-or-or-or-or-or-

“Izukun?”

Nerves prickle under his skin at the sudden snap back to reality. He nearly drops his phone in his haste to answer. “Hmmm? Sorry, what did you say?”

“Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, sorry. Just… something Momo and Hitoshi told me earlier rubbed me the wrong way.”

“What was it, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“It’s noth-”

Inko’s voice turns firm. “Midoriya Izuku, don’t tell me it was nothing. If it upset you, then obviously it meant something to you. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but don’t pretend that being hurt, especially by the people you care about, means nothing to you.”

Izuku’s shoulders come up around his ears in an automatic gesture. Just like with Ashido, guilt sits in his gut. “I’m sorry, just… They told me that some of my mannerisms… remind them of one of our former bosses. Alkaid. That… really got under my skin.”

“I see. Yeah, I can see where that might sting. Do you mind me asking if you spent a lot of time around this Alkaid?”

Too much…

“A bit, yeah. She was one of the only people who didn’t mind that I was quirkless in Epitaph. She...”

A lump forms in Izuku’s throat and he finds that he can’t say anymore. Not because of fear or panic or sadness or thoughtfulness, but because of a potent blend of unknown and polarizing emotions that leave him paralyzed and feeling sick.

Thankfully, Inko doesn’t seem phased by his sudden quiet. Her voice is gentle, soothing in a way that bring back happy, childish memories. “You’ll have to tell me more some time. I’ve missed hearing from you. We spoke as often as we could back when you were at the station, but when you left for the Classification Home, we just… stopped. It made me so happy when I asked if we could talk more and you agreed.”

Izuku swallows the lump down far enough that he can speak without feeling the vague burn in the back of his throat again. “I’m sor-

“You don’t have to keep apologizing, you know. I understand. It’s… been a long time.”

“I’m-” Izuku catches himself and takes a deep breath. “I missed you too, mom.”

Whatever his mother was going to say in reply is cut off as a second voice comes through the speakers. It sounds like Hisoka, but the bubbliness of the tone reminds him more of Chidori.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. Chidori-san wants me to help her with something. We’ll talk again tomorrow?”

He hates how tentative the hope in her voice is. He wants to be there by her side, right now, and tell her that he’s going to be here for as long as he can be. Between Epitaph and the judges, he can’t know how long that’s going to be, but he’s going to be here. He’ll be strong enough to do that for her. “Same time?”

Her smile is near-audible. “I’d love that. See you tomorrow, Izukun. I love you.”

”Don’t worry, my little Gamayun. As long as you’re mine, I’ll always love you.”

Broken glass would be stronger than he feels right now. The obsidian edges of something hurting desperate and loathing but wanting all the same scrape the inside of his chest raw. It feels like a vice is wrapped around his chest and he can’t take a full breath. He might be shaking, but lying down like this, it’s hard to tell. It’s a good thing Inko can’t see him right now - it’s always harder to hide this reaction when she’s right in front of him.

“Bye, mom.”

The call disconnects, and Izuku is left alone in the room lit by the afternoon sun to weather the storm inside his chest again, wishing he could carve it out like the rot it is.


One of the inevitable side effects of being married to an English major is being exposed to the language enough to absorb it via osmosis. One of the consequences of said osmosis, apparently, is being used to grade your husband’s student’s English homework.

Shouta drags another red mark through the thirteenth mistake on this first page alone, nudging away Sunflower when she tries to step over his work. It’s mostly the little annoying mistakes that even native speakers get wrong sometimes - using your instead of you’re, there instead of their - but there is a serious overusing of commas and the word “and”. Whoever this Shinkagi Sora is, they might want to do some review before the up-and-coming exam.

From their kitchen, Hizashi hums a song from his radio show as he cooks. Whatever he’s making smells like their leftover shrimp, which is not helping Shouta concentrate on his task. The smell forms a lure Tuna, Smokey and Hibiki can’t resist. Shouta can hear them meowing at their other father to let them have a taste of what he’s making.

Without Plum lying comfortably in his lap, Shouta would probably be in there, too.

Shouta gives his spine a good, long stretch when he finishes grading the last paper, glad to be done at last. That’s one thing he hasn’t missed about teaching classes this year. Rubbing his eyes, Shouta gives the apartment a quick look around.

Muffin is playing with one of his mouse toys, but Yasu is nowhere to be seen. Probably off sulking in one of the other rooms. Not surprising, really. When Shinsou left Nemuri’s care a few months ago, Yasu immediately started taking every opportunity to escape the apartment to go look for him. It was obvious to anyone with eyes that the cat had adopted the kid as his own.

Then Hizashi got picked to be one of the Suzumebachi’s supervisors and the kids came to live with them for the last two weeks. If anything, that just made it even more obvious how much Yasu liked the kid. He’s been virtually inconsolable since Shinsou left the other day.

“No, Tuna, that’s papa’s, get down - Shouta! Dinner’s almost done,” Hizashi calls from the kitchen.

“How long?”

“‘Bout five minutes or so!”

“I’m going to go give the guest rooms a quick look over,” Shouta calls back, picking Plum up and putting her down in his warm spot. “We haven’t gotten a chance to give them a proper cleaning yet.”

“Be quick! This is the first night I’ve had to sit down and relax with my handsome husband for some quality alone time in weeks!”

Shouta shakes his head, a gentle warmth blooming in his chest. He doesn’t know what he did to deserve Hizashi, but he’s not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Between hero patrols, investigations, classes and babysitting teenage assassins, it has been a long time since they had some time to themselves. Now he’s looking forward to the rest of the night.

(He can’t love Hizashi the way he deserves to be loved; being aromantic, that kind of saccharine emotion and honey sweetness has never really clicked in his brain. Despite that, however, he still loves Hizashi as his best friend, as the man he wants in his life and in his bed for as long as he may have him. He’ll always be grateful that Hizashi loves him too, even if it comes in a form he didn’t know actually existed until the man confessed.)

The first room he checks is their office, which was converted into a secondary guest room for Shinsou to bed down in. A superficial scan doesn’t turn up anything that he might have left behind, which is good. The futon and blankets are folded away neatly, and if they weren’t lying against the way, you’d never know that someone lived in this room for two weeks.

Shouta does find Yasu curled up on the pillow they gave Shinsou to use, though. The cat stops purring to himself to meow briefly, looking up to see who came in the door, only to fall silent, laying his head back down.

(Hizashi has the Shinsou family’s number, right? If not, then he can always try Lightscreen’s - Yaoyorozu Hisoka’s - number. He’s had it memorized for years just in case he came across clues to her daughter’s whereabouts. She can get him in touch with the family.)

Finding nothing else of interest, Shouta checks their actual guest room. The futons in this room are also folded and put away neatly, and a cursory glance says that nothing has changed despite two teenagers having full run of the room just a few days ago…

Wait...

Looks like someone accidentally put their futon over a pair of pants and left them behind. Either Shouta or Hizashi will have to give them to Ishiyama before school next week to give it back to them. Must be Midoriya’s, judging by the style.

Shouta picks up the pants and folds them for easy transport. He pauses when something falls out of the right pocket.

Stooping down, Shouta picks up what looks like a medicinal vial, mostly empty except for a sliver of pale blue opaque liquid. A contemplative frown twists his mouth.

Neither Yaoyorozu not Midoriya were prescribed medicine, let alone liquid medicine. The only things they should have are Yaoyorozu’s over-the-counter supplements, which are powders and tablets.

Something itches in the back of Shouta’s mind, giving him a bad feeling-

“Shouta? What’s taking you? I can only fend off the cats for so long!”

Shouta stuffs the vial in his pants pocket. “Coming,” he calls back.

He’s got some contacts in the medical field. He’ll talk to them first thing tomorrow. If they can’t tell him what the liquid is, then Shouta will drop by the station. Something tells him that he doesn’t want to be flying blind right now.

Chapter Text

Yuuei is considered the foremost hero high school in the country - a facility with enough money, resources and credentials to not only outfit itself with the best educational materials, qualified and vetted staff, and state-of-the-art equipment, but consistently maintain them as well. Not just in the main building, but in all of the secondary and off-site buildings. It shows in the gleaming glass of the structural columns and the sun-lit golden glow of the school emblem, the height of the security walls, the numerous classrooms, workstations, labs and the bodies that occupy them. Countless grants, student tuitions and government-sanctioned stipends, all in the pursuit of training the next generation of heroes, engineers, business people and more.

The outside is a grand testament to the people’s veneration of the heroic ideal. Noble. Watchful. Untouchable.

The inside, however, is somewhat less opulent.

Izuku remembers the first time he set foot in this place. Scared, feeling hunted, like any second, Hoshigaki, Blessed or Akutagawa was going to appear around the corner and drag them back to answer for their treason. Unable to appreciate the purely modern beauty under the stress and cloak of night. He never thought he’d be back here, even under Kayama’s invitation, and yet here he is.

All because Ishiyama’s apartment building discovered a bug infestation in the ventilation shafts and needed to be evacuated for a day.

Ordinarily, such an occasion would have meant that they would wander around the city for a day, learning its layout. Maybe train at The Landfill just for something to do. The idea of being around so many unknown heroes was too intimidating to entertain. Since becoming acquainted with several Yuuei staff, however…

“Kiddos!” Midnight throws up her hands in delight at the sight of them.

Izuku grins, happy to see her. Hitoshi, sluggish and weary, gives her a little wave, head ducking at a shallow angle. The gesture is surprisingly shy given the one making it.

Another hero, this one wearing a red cloak and a cowboy hat, perks up in his chair. It’s hard to read him through the strangely-shaped gas mask on his face, but his posture reads as curious. “You on supervision duty, Cementoss?”

“I am,” Cementoss agrees. He ushers them over to a group of unoccupied desks not far from his workstation, taking a moment to start booting up his computer.

He waits until they get settled in before addressing them. “Do you remember the rules?”

“Yes, sir,” A grey-faced Momo answers him, already pulling out her workbooks from her backpack like the diligent student she is. The motion is a bit too deliberate, a bit too languid, but Izuku is used to this when Momo is on the rebound from her dose of quirk suppressant by now. It’s hard to forget when the rules were so simple; use hero names, stay in the staff rooms unless escorted elsewhere, no weapons or quirk use on the premises unless given permission, do as you're told and no fighting with the students or teachers. They’ve had worse, and staying with Ishiyama has proven to be surprisingly easy-going.

From the second they met him, Ishiyama has read as someone patient and steady, like a mountain standing watch. It’s too soon to guess whether or not there’s an avalanche waiting to fall.

The uncertainty makes Izuku’s teeth itch. It’s not normal for there to be so few overt rules and guidelines. Maybe Ishiyama hasn’t done this before.

Cementoss gives them a nod of approval before getting to work on his computer, logging in grades and checking schedules. The disregard manages not to feel dismissing and frees them to sit in a comfortable atmosphere to work in. Of course, it also leaves them free to notice how the few other staff members in the room eye them curiously. Some, like the large, pale-haired man with long teeth protruding from his bottom lip (probably Vlad King, just like the one in the cowboy hat has to be Snipe), prefer to stay back. Examining them with looks of wary alertness. It makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. In a fit of nerves, Izuku chews on the inside of his cheek.

Others, like the guy wearing a dog muzzle walking right up to them, seem far less introverted.

The man raised a casual hand in greeting. His eyes are friendly, kind, oddly positioned as if the bones of his obscured face aren’t of a humanoid arrangement. He has a calming air about him that is at odds with his costume’s feral design. “Hey! Name’s Hound Dog. I’m the Guidance Counselor here at Yuuei. Just introducing myself to let you know that if you can’t talk to your supervisor for any reason, then come find me. I’ll be available to help you with whatever you need.”

“That’s kind of you,” Izuku says. The ball of tension in his gut eases a little, glad to have another potential ally in this den of heroes.

The corners of Hound Dog’s eyes crinkle. “Just doing my job. If you need me for whatever reason, ask around for the counselor’s office. They’ll point you in my direction. Have a good day!”

Hound Dog leaves them after that, having said his peace. That must have been the sign the other heroes were looking for. They stop paying so much close attention after that. The tension eases further, allowing Izuku to breath through the remaining stress for the first time since they arrived.

Pain throbs in his cheek the moment he stops. His teeth must have pressed down harder than he wanted them to. There’s no copper taste, so he puts it out of his mind.

Part of him feels exasperated and ashamed by his guardedness. Rationally speaking, however, the ingrained instinct to shy away is not all that surprising. Much as Izuku loves and admires the idea of heroes, experience forged by hunting them down has him more wary of the genuine article than he cares to admit. A good number of the scars on his body tell tales of just how dangerous a hero is when pushed far enough.

Izuku starts working on the workbook he packed, determined to finally graduate to middle school level in something before the end of the month. It’s strange. He’s dealt with heroes almost non-stop since escaping Epitaph, and yet suddenly it’s nerve-wracking to be around them.

The workbook is routine by now, problems familiar in the way that doing profiles for Blessed was. Every question asked is its own beast, but there is always a solution to be found if one pays enough attention. Sometimes the answer is as simple as following a formula. Other times the answer is more abstract, or there’s no good answer at all.

Even if he wasn’t doing this for personal pride and satisfaction, attacking his homework is doing an fantastic job of distracting him from the urge to pull out his journal right now. Momo and Hitoshi are recovered enough that he can’t use them as an excuse anymore. He can’t be spending all day doing analysis again.

People come and go while he works, the occasional sound of the door opening and closing melding into the backdrop of conversation, typing and papers rustling-

Izuku’s pencil makes a dark, jagged line that he will never be able to fully erase when his hand tenses suddenly, hairs on the back of his neck going from mostly relaxed to standing on end in an instant. He knows in the way that all prey animals know when they’re being watched. The sound of rhythmic thumps, someone trying to be stealthy in hard-soled boots, reaches his ears. The only reason he can hear them, he realizes with a prickle of nerves, is because the entire office has gone quiet.

Please let it be Midnight come over to say hello before classes begin... Please let it be Midnight come over to say hello before classes begin...

Familiar beady black eyes stare at his back from a scared, white-furred face, accompanied by a charismatic, pleasant smile.

Nope. Not Midnight. Looks like she already left.

“Good morning, Midoriya-kun, Yaoyorozu-kun, Shinsou-kun,” Nedzu greets. His paws rest behind his back in a comfortably formal stance and his long tail holds itself in the air almost effortlessly. It’s hard to tell, but Nedzu seems a little fresher now that it isn’t the middle of the night.

“Ah, good morning!” Izuku replies, turning his chair around to face the principal head on. When he glances at them, Momo and Hitoshi’s faces tell him they’re just as confused as he is. “Is… there something you needed?”

“There is indeed!” Nedzu announces. “You see, I was hoping to contract your help in testing a prototype design intended to aid our second-year Hero course students. You’re neither students here nor under my employ, so please, feel free to refuse if you’d rather not.”

Hitoshi twists around in his seat to better face Nedzu. “What would you need our help for that your staff or students couldn’t give you?”

White furred ears twitch in several directions as if listening for sound. The office is still quiet even if the other heroes’ interest is near audible, but maybe Nedzu’s ears aren’t just for show. Features caused by animal quirks usually aren’t. Nedzu coughs politely into his hand.

“I, ah, didn’t think it appropriate to bring up such matters in the open,” he says more quietly than before. Nedzu is normally soft-spoken. Most people would have trouble understanding him if he wasn’t so clearly practiced in enunciation. Izuku has to lean forward to get even that much now. “You’ve proven so far that you deserve that much right to your privacy.”

Cementoss’ seat creaks as he turns in his chair. His face is as stoic as ever, but his eyes betray a hefty amount of pointed criticism. His voice is just as quiet as he asks, “If that’s the case, then why approach them at all?”

“I was merely hoping they would be open to the request. Their skill sets are particularly suited to the kinds of tests I was hoping to have run on the prototypes.”

… Ah.

So that’s what this is about.

Really, it was only a matter of time before someone wanted to put them to use. Their freedom didn’t come free, after all, and they do owe Nedzu for hosting them that night. Izuku just… thought it would take longer.

A glance says that Momo and Hitoshi are about as enthused by Nedzu’s unspoken proposal as he is. After a few shared looks, entire conversations passing in silence, they nod to each other. Izuku fixes a mild-mannered, pleasant grin on his face, one leg over the other and hands neutral in his lap, and meets Nedzu’s curious stare head-on. As if in response, white fur almost seems to stand on end.

Self-conscious, Izuku injects more open friendliness into his expression until the hairs relax again.

“It’s fine,” he says briefly to Cementoss, who looks very much like he doesn’t agree even as he relents.

“I admit, you have me curious,” Izuku begins, not bothering to keep his voice down. Might as well get this over with. At least they got to see Yuuei again. “Exactly what kinds of tests do you have in mind that you need a Suzumebachi’s,” an unfamiliar voice starts choking in the background, “skill set?”

For a moment, the entire staff-room goes cold with tension and true silence as heroes and staff members process what they just heard. But only for a moment.

“What the- hey! Don’t even joke about that, kid!” A staff member Izuku doesn’t recognize says, outraged and indignant.

“Who’s laughing?” Hitoshi counters, a look of watchful boredom look on his face. Many of the staff look to Nedzu and Cementoss, seemingly expecting them to take their side. When they neither say or do anything, however, confusion and alarm begins to take hold.

“Well this is a fine start to the day,” a familiar voice says with intentionally oblivious cheer, ruining the tense air and attracting Izuku’s attention. A genuine smile lights up his face.

To his delight, Present Mic and Eraserhead stroll through the door seemingly unconcerned by their colleagues’ attempts at mimicking panicked fish. There’s something flat under Eraserhead’s arm, but Present Mic throwing himself into a chair takes up most of his attention. “What’s good, little listeners? You would not believe the kind of horror I had to go through yesterday.”

“It was bugs, wasn’t it?” Momo asks, brow raised in amusement.

“Bugs! Dirty, gross little monsters! Couldn’t take a step without stepping on one of ‘em! I about died of a heart attack! And then the villain controlling them laughed at me!”

Hitoshi snickers quietly. “I thought I heard a scream of despair in the distance.”

“Not funny!”

A bundle of denim is held up in front of Izuku, Eraserhead’s face as bleary-eyed and humorless as ever. “You left this at the apartment the other day.”

His pants! In all the commotion of moving again and getting settled in at a new location, training Jirou, Ashido and Kaminari and his daily phone calls to his mom, he’d forgotten about these! Izuku remembers scrambling to find these last night after realizing that he couldn’t remember if he disposed of the last vial of quirk suppressants or not. They’ve been through so many recently, what with increasing dosages to deal with Momo and Hitoshi’s budding drug tolerance, that getting rid of them has become unthinkingly routine.

Izuku takes the pants gratefully, an embarrassed blush reddening his face. “I’m so sorry. Thank you for bringing these back.” Discreetly, he slips his fingers over the pockets, trying to feel for the vial’s hard glass. Upon not finding it, the ball of tension in his gut relaxes. Looks like he disposed of it after all. Good.

Giving a dismissive huff, Eraserhead rolls his neck and shoulder lazily. “You decided that telling everyone who you three are was the best course of action because…?” He asks in lieu of acknowledging the thanks.

“Whatever Nedzu is planning is going to be used on experienced heroes-in-training and he wants a trio of adept assassins to test them over using his own staff. It’s obviously a battle trial of some sort. Anyone with half a brain can see that. Yuuei thoroughly background checks their staff, so our location isn’t getting out anytime soon. A version of the truth would have gotten out eventually, so why not save your employer the hassle of people asking what he wanted with three seemingly random teenagers?” Momo says frankly as Izuku puts his jeans in his bag, like it should be obvious. Idly, she pulls a pencil from her finger and begins twirling it.

In eerie synchronicity, Cementoss, Present Mic and Eraserhead react to the display; Mic with a click of his tongue, Cementoss with a clearing of his throat, and Eraserhead with the tap of his finger against the hand that did the deed. Momo freezes before ducking her head, the pencil immediately going up her sleeve self-consciously. Izuku watches the three heroes share a commiserating glance, feeling a spark of irritation burn.

It extinguishes almost immediately when Eraserhead reaches over to ruffle Momo’s hair, being careful not to disturb the flower clips. Momo glances up, eyes shy and uncertain. Upon finding no further reprimand, she slowly uncurls from her slightly hunched-over posture to Present Mic and Cementoss’ visible approval.

Shaking his head, Eraserhead lets out a grunt that Izuku thinks means that he’s washing his hands of the situation. “Problem Children,” he tells them. The capital letters are nearly audible, and almost manage to overshadow the faintest undertones of fondness.

“Aw, you really do love us,” Hitoshi snarks back.

Deciding that the conversation has strayed for long enough, Nedzu clears his throat to call their attention back. “Glad as I am to see you getting along with my staff so well, the offer is still open. If you three are amenable, we can discuss the prototypes as we walk.”

“What about our supervisor?” Izuku asks, nodding to Ishiyama. The hero looks surprised at being thought of.

“He may be present if he so chooses, provided he has no classes to teach. Otherwise, he will proceed with his day as normal.”

Shaking his head, Cementoss turns to them. “I still have to prepare for my first class of the day, so go on if you want to. Just remember to head back here or to the staff break room when you’re done.”

Another glance is shared between them. Finding no objections, Izuku flashes Nedzu a grin. “Why not? We do owe you for letting us use your office.”

“Excellent!” Nedzu claps his paws together excitedly, thin tail waving slightly in the air. “If you’re ready, we can head to the testing site right away! This shouldn’t take more than an hour at the absolute most.”

They pack up quickly, ignoring the still stupefied expressions of the rest of the staff room. Against his better judgement, Izuku allows his backpack to stay in the staff room. Just to be safe, he asks Cementoss to hide it under his desk. Hitoshi follows his example, but Momo keeps hers with her.

Everything set, they allow Nedzu to lead them away from the staff room.


Their testing arena is a large warehouse-like building known around campus as Gym Gamma, utterly devoid of any remarkable features other than the high ceiling, the concrete flooring, and the thirty or so humanoid robots standing beside several tables laden with weapons and tools, several more resting inert below them. The inside manages to reach a decent temperature considering its size and emptiness, which is lovely when the temperature dipped low enough for it to snow last night.

Nedzu takes them over to an audiably grumbling Power Loader, fiddling with a holographic datapad in his hands and trying not to scratch the glass with his large claws. His customary excavator claw helmet is placed on the table in favor of squinting with bloodshot eyes at the text being displayed.

“How are preparations coming?” Nedzu asks him, hoping up onto a nearby chair to peak at the pad.

Power Loader let out a sound of disgust, handing coming up to rake through his long hair. The ginger strands are disarrayed like he’s already done it numerous times. “About as good as can be expected. Which is to say it’s still a mess. Whichever one of my students programmed numbers 042 and 153 better be prepared to do some reviewing or I’m banning them from touching my computers again. Who did you manage to-”

He manages to pull his gaze away from the datapad long enough to glance up. Upon seeing them, his posture straightens. Dull blue eyes glare at them confusion. “What are you three doing here? I thought you were in the process of avoiding this place like the plague? You said you were going to grab one or two of the students, ratman!”

“I can fire you,” Nedzu says instead of answering, the tone lacking heat or conviction. If anything, he sounds like he’s used to this.

“You can’t fire me, I have tenure,” Power Loader counters, not intimidated in the slightest.

Izuku clears his throat quietly, the exchange leaving him a little off-balance for reasons he can’t properly pin down. “Um… Our supervisor’s apartment building is being fumigated. Being here is better than walking around in the cold.”

“You don’t say.” He drawls like he isn’t currently shirtless. L-shaped claws tap at the datapad, scrolling through the text and either adding or deleting sections of it. Before long, the pad is tossed on the table in a disgruntled fit. “Well, since you aren’t bound in chains, I’ll assume you three are here of your own free will. Nedzu probably filled you in on the way here, but here’s the short version anyway. You see those androids?”

The robots in question stand in rows of six, virtually indistinguishable from each other but for the numbers painted across their chests. Standing roughly 6 feet tall, dull blue metal plating coating over chests, legs and joints, with seemingly unnecessarily enlarged forearm sections. The only features on the head are a pair of dead LED lights vaguely in the shape of eyes.

A class of kids a few years older than them made these? That’s… kinda impressive.

Power Loader presses a button on the datapad, causing dozens of LED eyes to light up a bright green. “These are limit-tester robots. Think of them like heavily modified crash-test dummies. Their primary function is to mimic the kind of damage your average human would exhibit when being attacked. Since your typical criminal or villain will not require lethal force to subdue, we use these on our second and third-year classes to teach our baby heroes exactly what kind of injuries their powers can inflict if they’re not careful. You three will be applying lethal damage to the testers to make sure that this batch is up to snuff for this term’s crop of second years.”

Momo walks over to get a better look at the data pad, brow furrowed in concentration. Dark eyes flit back and forth over the lines of text. “You mentioned programming. These things have AI packages?”

“Should just be your standard pattern recognition set-ups,” Power Loader tells her, letting her scroll to her heart’s content.

Izuku moves closer to examine the prototypes more thoroughly. All wiring appears to have been hidden in metal “bones” to avoid being exploited, which is smart if these things are meant to mimic humans. The hands of the robots aren’t just panels attached to joints, but fully articulated digits that look to have the dexterity of human fingers. Turning the forearms around reveals a complex mechanism that, when activated, would allow either an 8-inch stiletto dagger to be extended, the edges unrefined, or for the hands to be switched out for rapid-fire turret guns with multiple nozzles.

Izuku checks the vital points, just out of curiosity. The plating around the midsection and the neck is particularly thin. There are also some painted over sections of the exterior that are visibly different from the surrounding metal. Probably sensors. They line up with liver, lungs, kidneys spine, back of the head and the heart on a human. More likely than not, there more internal sensors that he can’t see.

He turns around and locks eyes with Hitoshi, drawing a line across his throat and points to those areas on his body. One tap for each vital point sensor.

Hitoshi raises an eyebrow at him. Are there anymore? Izuku nods and shrugs his shoulders. Probably, but he doesn’t know where. He taps his forearms and makes a fist. Danger, be wary.

Hitoshi nods.

Nedzu stands beside him, a tiny smile on his face. His relaxed posture and loosely resting arms tell of a sure confidence, of waiting for the test to start. But his eyes… His eyes watch them with a kind of curiosity that reminds Izuku of a scientist watching a mouse navigate a maze.

Izuku forces himself to not frown, to just looks away, an uneasy feeling settling in his gut. He knows that kind of look. Ember-born brilliance mixed with cruel patience, already knowing the outcome but letting events play out anyways. Izuku has seen many faces with that look. He’s never liked it.

Hitoshi raises his arms over his head and gives his spine a practically luxurious stretch. “Why not test these things yourself?” His hands rest on top of his skull when he’s done.

The older hero gives displeased grimace. “I would normally have my classes do it, but recent accidents in my labs mean that they’re are behind schedule as it is. This is one of the few specific projects on my curriculum and it was supposed to have been fully tested and vetted over a week ago. That means I need to haul ass to get these ready for the final testing phases and implementation. While you’re testing the mechanisms, I’ll be working on debugging things. I knew we shouldn’t have thrown out the old models, yet...”

Nedzu receives the full force of his unamused frown. “The original plan was to get one of the students these were going to be use on and let them use this test for their grade.”

“I was going to,” Nedzu defends himself, palms raised in placation. Turning to them, he says, “However, I’ve always been curious over the Suzumebachi’s true capabilities. It’s one thing to know, objectively, that you are capable of killing both villains and professional heroes - several of which were alumni of this very school.”

Izuku can’t stop his flinch and looks away, thick shame clogging his throat. He doesn’t need to see them to feel Momo and Hitoshi’s tension and unease.

A pause, before Nedzu begins again with a slightly softer note to his tone. “It’s another to have actually met you, Midoriya, Yaoyorozu, Shinsou, and apply that knowledge. I apologize for any deception, but I approached you entirely to satisfy my own curiosity.”

Right…

Well, much as Izuku still doesn’t like being used like this, they do still owe Nedzu...

They owe this entire school, really. This discomfort is nothing if it means they - he can start to repay that debt.

Power Loader explains what he needs from them. Each of them will be facing off against 10 testers - three single targets, two doubles, and then a triple team at the end. Nedzu won’t be allowing Momo or Hitoshi to use their quirks on school grounds, but they will have full reign over whatever weaponry is stocked on the testing tables. All they have to do is damage the prototype testers enough that the sensors cause the LED’s to flash red. If the students paid attention during their lessons when constructing them, then they should fall over “dead” upon reaching that point.

A quick game of rock-paper-scissors sees Momo stepping up to the weapon spread first. Her hand skims across various tools, picking some up to test their weight and heft and discarding others. A staff and sword find themselves added to her arsenal almost out principal, as well as a few throwing knives, a light-weight shield, a crowbar and two large daggers.

Towards the end of the table, Momo pauses on a set of white and black handguns.

“You have firearms?” A glimmer of wonder and admiration brightens her eyes, and Hitoshi comes over to ogle them enviously. Izuku himself peeks around her shoulder to get a closer look. The guns are beautifully crafted, heavily customized variations of a model he doesn’t immediately recognize, and obviously well-maintained. They sit well in her hands as Momo tests their weight and the sights.

Izuku isn’t one for firearms normally - that realm belonged to Momo, Phantom and Hitoshi. The only thing he cared about is their capacity for a quick and painless job, but even he has spent enough time around them to know when functionality crosses over into art.

“Those are on loan from our firearms instructor, Snipe,” Nedzu tells her from across the table. “Normally, I would only allow a student with sufficient hours on our shooting range to handle them, but… Well, I suppose you would know what you’re doing, wouldn’t you? Please do be careful with them. Snipe would be very cross with me if I let his toys become damaged.”

“As if,” Momo scoffs, incredulous. The sound quickly turns to one of disappointment when she pops the magazines out and finds only two bullets chambered.

She pauses. “... These are live.”

“Of course! This test involves lethality, after all. I take it you’ll be using them?”

The handguns immediately get stowed in the waistband of her jeans, causing Hitoshi to let out a noise of protest, and the rest of her arsenal is picked up. Momo tilts a little bit to one side, Power Loader and Izuku closing in to catch her if she falls, but she manages to plant her feet and soldier on to the testing area.

Placing her tools on the ground, arranging the sword, the staff, the shield and the crowbar just so, stowing the throwing knives in her pockets and the daggers in her boots, Momo nods to get the test started.

Power Loader taps a button on the datapad. Ten of the tester droids’ LEDs flash from green to white and move to surround Momo in a loose ring. One of them, labeled with a 229, rushes towards her, daggers unsheathing.

What happens next is nothing short of a massacre.

Out of the gate, Momo grabs the ivory-painted handgun from her back and empties the magazine, dropping two of the targets in the ring instantly. Sparks fly from the new holes in their heads and the cartridges hit the cement with a ring like bells after the echoing boom of ignited gunpowder. Blindly, she chucks the empty gun to Hitoshi and ducks under the thrust of a dagger aimed for her shoulder.

Pale hands find the crowbar at her feet and drive the pointed tip deep into the underside of the tester’s jaw, causing its LEDs to flash red. It no more than goes limp when the next single target begins dashing forward with single-minded purpose. Momo uses a foot to wrench the crowbar free, angling the motion in a way that it goes over her shoulder. The tester does down when the metal curve slams into its neck in a baseball swing. Were it a human, it’s windpipe would have been crushed and the vertebrae cracked if not shattered by the blow.

Izuku watches as Momo dispatches her targets in a similar fashion, seemingly refusing to move from her spot. Two try to get cheeky and pull out their turrets. Momo drops the crowbar and kicks up her shield to block, sparks flying from dozens of impacts. The volley pauses and she rewards their troubles with throwing knives lodged in their torso sensor panels. Another gets the shield thrown at its legs like a discus as it charges her. It trips and skids into position for Momo to slam one end of her staff through the back of it’s head.

Only three targets left. By Izuku’s count, she’s only dispatched one double team. The two she shot at the start must have been a part of the triple team. How did…?

The last pair charge her down, only one of them unsheathing their knives. The one without grabs Momo’s staff with both hands when she goes to strike, sacrificing the plating on its forearm to get in close. Once it has a good grip, it tries to make her let go by kicking her away. Springing back before it can connect, she flips into a handstand and comes up with holding her sword.

The knife-wielding prototype closes the gap between them. Momo carves an ugly rent into the chest plating, the sound grating on Izuku’s ears, before she baits the second into blocking high with the discarded staff. It goes down to a slash across the belly.

Interestingly, the final target doesn’t try to fight. Instead, it turns tail and attempts to run away, motions almost panicked. Momo takes out her the ebony handgun and, without hesitation, plants a bullet in the back of its head, sending tiny bits of metal and glass flying. It falls to the ground with a heavy thud, signalling the end of the test.

Something clicks. “36.56 seconds,” Nedzu says, holding a stopwatch in his paw. He’s not smiling anymore.

The gym is utterly silent but for the sound of sparking wires and Momo’s breathing. When Izuku looks over, Power Loader is watching Momo with an expression of realization and pale, muted horror. Like someone presented him with an animal, told him that it was dangerous, and he’s only just now discovering that it has claws and fangs.

His hands shake ever so faintly as he taps on the data pad, causing the robots under the table to roll out on a large wheel that makes up their lower half. They grab the downed testers and drag them over to the other side of the gym. Another gathers up the spent weapons and sets them back on the tables. The androids are lined up in a row and left behind as the rest of the wheeled robots retreat back to their hiding places.

On her way back over to them, Momo reaches into her boots, pulls out the daggers, and, with twin flashes of bright steel, tosses them with pinpoint accuracy at Hitoshi.

In an impressive display of dexterity, Hitoshi twists and plucks the sharpened steel out of the air with both hand, tucking them into loop of his belt for the moment.

“You practiced that,” Izuku calls out to them, because the sting of yesterday’s comments hasn’t faded yet and he’s seen them. He has receipts. The searing heat of their answering glares washes over him like warm sunlight.

He smiles innocently back.

Hitoshi replaces the white handgun on the table and grabs maybe a dozen throwing knives. With lack of better storage options, he hides them in his pockets, sleeves and shoes. He and Momo meet on the edge of the testing zone, where she presents the second gun to him with a simple flourish.

“Saved you a shot,” she tells him teasingly.

Sullen irritation clouds Hitoshi’s expression into a morose pout, but that doesn’t stop him from taking the offered weapon. Of course, then he immediately turns the gun on one of the hapless androids and squeezes the trigger. Nedzu and Power Loader jump, startled. The final bullet impacts the android’s heart sensor with a bang and the cracking of glass. The lights go red. It falls without having been given the option to defend itself.

“Thanks,” he replies, dry, handing the gun back. “How did you know which ones were in the triple team?”

“I saw it on the datapad,” Momo says, and really, Izuku should have guessed that was the case.

“You were showing off,” Izuku accuses without heat when Momo joins him at the tables. He hands her the cleaning cloth that the handguns were resting on, knowing that she’ll want to clean the guns herself. In the testing area, Hitoshi signals at Power Loader to begin the test.

“Shut it. This is the first time in months that I was able to fight with multiple weapons again.”

Her hands are shaking ever so slightly, Izuku notices, and her face has gone from the grey tinge to exertion red. Out of habit, he ferrets out a snackbar from his pockets and slides it over. Momo contemplates the bar for a moment before nodding slowly. Out of courtesy, Izuku unwraps the bar and holds it out for her to eat so that she doesn’t have to dirty her hands.

Power Loader notices, in the process of recovering from his distress and starting the second test. “You not feeling well enough to eat again, Yaoyorozu? You should have said something!”

She swallows the piece in her mouth. “It’s fine, really. I’ve done these kinds of things sick before.”

A wrench is brandished threateningly in her direction, a frown of epic proportions on their former supervisor’s face. “It is not fine and you know it. If anything, that just makes it worse. You’re lucky you’re not living with me anymore or I’d sic Dai on you.”

Izuku winces. The threat is not an impotent one - not when Maijima Daisuke seemed to regularly display a terrifyingly accurate ability to know when someone around him was sick or unwell. If Izuku didn’t know for sure that his quirk is body enlargement, he would have thought that it was some kind of illness-attuned psychic radar.

In the ring of testers, Hitoshi has already succeeded in taking down two more targets, throwing daggers lodged in their head and heart sensors. A third twists its torso out of the way, choosing to take a hit in the shoulder rather than in a killing spot. It pulls out the turrets to stay at a distance, but Hitoshi is already in its face before the weapons are finished being aimed.

A dagger plunges home in the right knee joint, locking it in place. The target tries to fire the turrets in its closest hand, but is dragged off balance when Hitoshi kicks its other leg in the back of the knee and moves in to hook an arm under its armpit to push its head down by the back of the neck. His other hand grabs the firing turret by the forearm and, with a grunt of effort, pulls the arm into a sweeping arc.

Bullets spray wide. Three targets go down before their pattern recognition software becomes aware enough to make them duck. Even so, two more fall to injuries before the rest manage to move out of the way.

Usefulness expended, Hitoshi rams his free dagger into the gunner’s liver sensor. The hail of bullets stops. The echoes ring for a brief moment, then go silent.

The last two charge him together before he can retrieve his jammed weapon, either a double pair or surviving members of the triple team. They come at him with knives extended, metal feet pounding loudly on the concrete. Hitoshi pivots on one foot to avoid a slash aimed at his chest from one, and pivots again to avoid a lunging thrust aimed at his gut from the other.

He grabs the extended arm and pushes it up over their heads, flipping the knife in his other hand into a backwards grip. With the arm in position, he spins himself with ease into its reach, dodging another slash from the first android, and slams the dagger home twice - once in the left lung sensor and the second in the heart.

The remaining target retracks its weapons and, just like in Momo’s fight, attempts to flee the battle. It goes down to a knife embedding in the throat.

Nedzu click the stopwatch again. “20.83 seconds,” he says.

Just like before, Power Loader taps the pad and the cleaner robots get to work. Hitoshi wanders back over to them, only a bit of metal sticking to his clothes and minor burns from sparking wires on his hands to show that he’d done anything at all.

Momo whistles in appreciation. “Good strategy with the turret. I probably would have done that myself if I hadn’t wanted to go wild.”

Izuku sees the contemplative frown on his face. “What’s up?”

“I shouldn’t have stabbed that one twice,” he admits, shaking his burned fingers. A white tail pokes Hitoshi in the arm, drawing their attention so that Nedzu can present them with a small medkit. “Thanks. I expected it to be as stubborn as a human would be. Might have gotten hit because of it if the last one didn’t run. These testers have the correct anatomy, but humans are usually a bit more resilient than this.”

“Technology can only replicate so much,” Power Loader says, sounding tired for some reason. If anything, he looks just as pained by Hitoshi’s demonstration as he did Momo’s. “Gotta say, though, I expected this to take a lot longer...”

He turns to Izuku. “Ready when you are, Midoriya. If you keep this up, I might actually be able to get these all repaired by tomorrow.”

Izuku takes in a deep, steadying breath, unsure of why he needs it. This is nothing new. He’s not even going up against people. It’s just some robots that are designed to fake being dead. He’s not breaking his promise. He’s not taking lives. He’s not...

He was asked to do this and agreed. He signed up for this. It’s just like a spar. There’s nothing to be hesitant about.

With mechanical ease, he find a pair of bracers, armored boots and some protective gloves in his size. Just in case, he also borrows a spare throwing knife from Hitoshi and stows it in his pocket. All other weapons are ignored for the sake of simplicity.

Standing in the arena, he rolls his shoulders, stretches his arms and his legs, and breathes. He signals for the test to start.

His targets encircle him just as their counterparts did Hitoshi and Momo. All of a sudden, there’s a lump in his throat that won’t go away when he swallows. His muscles are tight with tension despite having just been loosened. He’s sweating. His heart is beating in his ears. The test had begun, and yet…

He doesn’t want to do this.

He doesn’t want to do this.

He doesn’t want to do this.

He doesn’t want to-

“Relax.”

Without his conscious control, his muscles go limp, all unnecessary tension forgotten.

In his mind, he sees a red-painted grin. Feels tattooed hands on his shoulders. They bring with them the light, airy scents of wild strawberry, gardenia, jasmine and violet. “I know you don’t, but I want you to do it. If this is too hard to bear on your own, then let me bare the burden of responsibility for you.”

Hard-wired instinct saves him where his inattention wouldn’t, causing him to lean around a blade aimed for his torso. Another slash comes, and a second. He dances around them. Familiar calm descends over him with every motion.

”Do it for me, my Gamayun. Kill them.”

He parries a thrust, smacking it away, and he twists his body into a roundhouse kick that has his foot impacting the side of his target’s head. The neck visibly distorts, metal vertebrae twisting out of place, and LED’s flash red. Izuku feels a small smile twist his lips, as familiar and useful as a featureless mask.

”Kill them all.”

The second goes down to a liver shot that breaks the glass sensor. The third he trips so that he can stomp on its neck. The first pair to step up try to gun him down. The testers haven’t been shown to be particularly smart, so he just picks up one of the fallen bodies to use as cover and close the ground. He pivots around one until it’s jerking, it’s partner witlessly punching holes in its back. He then uses that one as a new cover to get close to the second, which he downs by tossing the body at it and taking the opening created to stomp on its face.

The next pair come at him with knives drawn. They move to trap him, to tear him apart in a pincer attack. He waits until they get within reach, daggers extending into twin lunges, to flip up into the air. Using their momentum and his new position upside down above them, Izuku twists and guides their knives into each other’s lungs. Their LEDs simultaneously turn red.

Arms wrap tight around his shoulders as he lands on his feet, the force nearly choking him. Izuku is dragged off his feet, dangling in their air for another tester to rapidly close in. Thinking quickly, Izuku’s hand finds the knife in his pocket and jams it into the elbow joint of one of the arms imprisoning him. It’s a struggle to wiggle that much, but he manages to wrench the knife around enough to sever something important. The arm goes limp. He grabs it with his opposite hand and uses it to bring the head close enough for him to ram his elbow back into its face.

The other arm releases him. Izuku drops low to avoid the knife that slashes across his captor’s chest right where he would have been. Sparks fly to the teeth-grinding screech of metal on metal. Taking the throwing knife, Izuku jams it into the knee joint of the target in front of him and shoulder checks it. It falls, leaving Izuku free to kick the one behind him away and finishing it with a snap kick to the ribs. The metal guards on his shin add to his hit, denting the plating significantly and causing it to drop. Thankfully, the testor doesn’t move again.

Shots ring out. His smile drops, and Izuku is forced to dive to the side. The third target fires its turrets at him, forcing him to run or be hit. Whatever the turrets use for ammo probably isn’t all that damaging, realistically speaking, but nerves and previous experience with targets who use firearms have Izuku’s legs pumping as hard and fast as he can make them.

His heart pounds in his chest as each shot sends fear sparking through his nerves. Think think think! He’s faced long-range opponents before - if he can just-

The volley stops abruptly, the turrets seemingly running out of ammo. Who knows if the forearms have an internal storage that holds more ammunition. He needs to close the distance now.

Pivoting on one foot, Izuku grits his teeth and takes his chance and goes for a running leap. It tries to bring its arms up to block. Either it really is out of ammo or it can’t reload fast enough to stop him from attacking. He twists sideways to add momentum and swings his metal-guarded shin in a vicious kick that breaks the arms’ plating and almost succeeds in tearing the target’s head off it’s support. It goes limp, only some kind of black mesh and a few wires stopping it from rolling off completely.

Izuku touches down and takes in a breath. Only one target left. If the pattern holds, it won’t attack him.

When he looks, the final tester is indeed trying to scramble away, but is unable to get up because the leg he jammed the knife into is unable to properly extend. It crawls away as he approaches. Still in the grip of this familiar calm, there is no hesitation to be felt when he forces it onto its back with one foot.

It’s fingers wrap around his leg, unblinking white eyes staring up at him. Izuku puts his hands around the edges of its head and wrenches, snapping its neck.

Off to the side, Izuku hears Nedzu click his stopwatch.

“48.73 seconds,” he says, tone friendly yet still somehow managing to hover somewhere between an empty chill and oppressive warmth. “Well done, Suzumebachi. With this, I believe our prototypes have been sufficiently tested. What say we leave Power Loader to his work, hmm?”

That might be a good idea, what with the older hero seemingly unable to stop looking at them and the downed robots with a complicated expression on his face. It reminds Izuku of the looks Epitaph’s lower ranks would throw at them.

Apprehension. Disbelief. Fear.

They return the rest of their borrowed gear, Momo finishing up cleaning and reassembling the guns to the best of her ability in her rush, and trail behind Nedzu as fast as they can.

Izuku just hopes they haven’t burned any bridges in the process.


“What was the purpose of programming the last remaining prototype to flee?”

Beady black eyes glance back at him, assessing. “You’re familiar with the concepts of combat highs and combat addiction, I presume?”

Stopping in the middle of the corridor, Nedzu’s ears twitch about before he continues. “One of the things we endeavor to teach our young heroes is how to handle and manage these conditions. Criminals are still people. Most will know when they’re outmatched. By presenting the students with a risk-free situation where they may experience how a villain apprehension situation could actually go, we can teach them more effectively how to conduct themselves in the heat of the moment.”

“Well, shit. Guess we got a failing grade, then,” Hitoshi barely manages to joke around a yawn.

“I wouldn’t think on it too much,” Nedzu assures. Animalistic his features may be, they can’t hide a dark, twisted humor that glints in his eyes. “After all, I asked you to test all of the prototypes. You were just following orders.”

A bitter chill settles in Izuku’s chest. Not quite ice water in the veins, or goosebumps on his arms, but the kind of deep, aching cold that penetrates through all attempts at protection. “Right, just… following orders,” Izuku murmurs. The polite smile that crosses his lips might show his guarded apprehension, but he’s not sure he cares right now.

He’s not sure he likes Nedzu anymore.

Nedzu leads them the rest of the way back to the staff room and opens the door for them. “Like I said, don’t dwell on it. You did well. Goodbye for now!”

Wait, what does-

“WHAT’S GOOD, LISTE-!?”

Izuku lets out a high-pitched scream.


“You’re mad at us.” It’s not a question, and Momo didn’t mean it as one.

Izuku thinks briefly about playing stupid or deaf. The answer should be obvious. And he’s not just talking about her and Hitoshi laughing until they choked at him for being scared by Present Mic yelling in his ear.

(Even though he knows he saw them jump, too…)

A hand comes up to ruffle his mohawk, recently trimmed after it started getting too long again. Objectively speaking, he knows he spent a lot of time around Alkaid when he was younger. When you spend enough time around someone, you tend to pick up certain things. Like habits, or someone’s favorite word. Hitoshi demonstrated that when he learned how to swear from listening to Hecah.

It was just a stupid comment. So he managed to pick up some of Alkaid’s mannerisms. He’s not her. He’ll never be her. There’s nothing to be mad about.

When he looks up, Momo and Hitoshi are hovering around him like they do when he’s injured and hurting. They’re clearly guilty, and if there’s anything Izuku can’t live with, it’s letting his loved ones feel bad when he has the power to change that.

“No,” Izuku sighs out. He tells himself he’s not lying until he can believe it.

Hitoshi passes over his phone. Izuku looks at the screen and smiles. The pre-loaded video of this morning’s hero watch makes his sudden fatigue just a little bit easier to bear. There’s no one else in the staff room with them to stop him from turning the volume up as loud as he wants.

(If this were a year ago - 2 years ago - 5 years ago, the comparison might not have upset him at all. Perhaps that’s the most upsetting thing of all.)


”Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?” Power Loader asked him after he returned from escorting the Suzumebachi back to the staff room. A few of the less damaged tester androids already seemed to have been repaired, just a few part and some plating needing to be replaced.

“You’re upset,” Nedzu noted, because he’s known Maijima Higari for years enough to guess what the frown on his wrinkling face means. Just over a decade ago, back when he was a student of this institution himself, he spent a brief time in this man’s workshop. Ironic now, perhaps, that his student now runs his workplace.

“Of course I’m upset,” he said, recalcitrant but never dishonest. “But more than that, I’m angry. I’m neither stupid nor blind. I saw the signs; I knew what they were trained to do. I just… I know those kids, Nedzu. Shinsou acts tough, but get to know him and you’ll see he’s got a lion’s heart made of pure gold in him. Yaoyorozu is skittish and hesitant, and yet somehow she still manages to be kind and so damn strong-willed. And Midoriya? Shit, I don’t think I’ve ever met a kid more polite, selfless, hard-working and good-natured. They’re only just starting to peak out of their shells. It makes my blood boil to think that anyone could look at those kids, could know them for any length of time, and not hesitate to train them to do that.”

Green tea with a splash of whiskey has always been Nedzu’s drink of choice at the end of a long day. The school closed to students hours ago, and all but the janitorial staff should have gone home by now. He should be going to the burrow, his little hide-away residence on the furthest edge of campus, but there are three forms on his desk that require his attention, and a decision that is best made now.

He takes a sip, enjoying the sensation of dual warmths. He’s distracted - not an unusual occurrence by any means. A mind like his is a restless one, often thinking of the next step, the next idea, the next shiny new thing to bend his mind and will towards. It’s just not so often that his thoughts are so heavy and… frustratingly obstructive.

Nedzu still remembers that night several months ago with pristine clarity. That night Yagi brought him three wary, hunted creatures in the shape of human children and told him that they were experienced killers. He remembers his initial disbelief, and how quickly it died when he scented cloying death and pain and coppery blood, and caught a glimpse of their eyes.

Haunted. Alert. Panicked. Ready. Like prey who have survived long enough to know what the sound of a gravel shifting underfoot means. Ready to fight to the death if it means even a chance at surviving another day.

Bitter. Angry. Like animals backed into a corner with nowhere else to go.

A disquietingly familiar look, much as Nedzu doesn’t care to admit it.

Staring down into the amber liquid, leaning back in his office chair, he allows himself to remember the first humans he ever approached. Remembers the look on their faces when he opened his mouth and spoke, hungry for stimulation and conversation that he would never get with his birth species. Remembers their excitement, and their fear.

Nedzu spent much of his… well, he supposes you could call it a childhood spying on humans. He invested so much time and effort into learning their ways - how they spoke, how they acted, what they ate and how they ate it, what words they used for males and females and their strange genders. He salvaged discarded baby’s clothing for his first ever meeting with them, doing everything he could to make them as clean and presentable as possible. He had wanted so badly to be taken seriously.

Ah, such a hopeful, naive child he had been. If only he had prioritized learning to recognize the distinction between a civilian and a villain more...

He remembers well the cage they stuffed him in, the right size at first, but growing smaller and smaller the longer he stayed, the more he grew. The needles they stuck into his hide to inject substances he’s never cared to know beyond how sick they made him. The tasteless food they shoved down his throat to nourish his body, washed down with drug-laced water to keep him pliant and sedated. The times they would put him to sleep, and waking up to patches of his fur missing and stitches holding closed wounds he didn’t remember receiving. The experiment that permanently damaged his vocal chords, meaning he could never raise his voice again.

The desperation of being treated like a valuable toy. The madness of losing what and who he used to be to never-ending captivity. The sheer boredom of when his tormentors weren’t there to hurt him, and later even when they were there because he already knew what to expect.

He wasn’t allowed to stop eating and drinking. Forced to stay alive until his usefulness had run its course. If there is one thought that he refuses to contemplate, it’s what sort of creature he would have become had Yagi not stumbled across his captor’s hideout when he did.

It’s a strange phenomena, being reduced from a thinking, sapient creature to little more than an angry mass of flesh, fear and hatred. Spending each and every day hoping that you’ll make it to see tomorrow, all the while knowing that freedom is beyond you.

So yes, Nedzu recognizes the looks in Midoriya Izuku, Shinsou Hitoshi and Yaoyorozu Momo’s eyes. Even now, months later, it hovers over them like a miasma, hidden and all the stronger for it. Ishiyama and Maijima are both gravely mistaken if they think for a moment that those children are not still the same desperate, starving animals they were when Yagi found them.

Trauma-based survival instincts are not ones easily unlearned. Nedzu would know. It was years before he managed to bury his own enough to start living again.

Perhaps that is why he’s still here, sitting in his office as dusk turns to nightfall instead of in his home. Reluctant nostalgia, mixed with… what? Camaraderie? Fellowship? The empty, hollow sort of horror at seeing an approximation of his reflection in triplicate?

Nedzu takes another sip of his tea. The curse of having such a useful, over-analytical quirk, he supposes.

Unbidden, his eyes catch on the forms sitting innocently on his desk, and he is reminded of the idea he’s been grappling with for the last half a day. Pros and cons flit about in his mind, always dizzyingly fast, never slowing down even for a moment. There are times, in the dead of the night, when he wonders if the constant cacophony in his head really is a consequence of High Spec, or if it is yet another symptom of something he can never erase.

Perhaps it is that thought that cements his decision. He grabs a pen and, with careful precision, signs his name on the dotted line. Path decided, now set in motion, his mind overflows with calculations and plans. Slowly, a scheming smile bares his pointed teeth to the empty office.

(As ones like Endeavor clearly showcase - one does not have to have the noblest of intentions to become a hero. Sometimes, one does not have to have noble intentions at all. After all, it wasn’t good-will and grand ideals that got him through Yuuei’s Hero course all those years ago.

Sometimes, spite can serve just as well. If there is ever anything Nedzu has in spades besides his vast intellect, it is selfish, petty, vindictive spite.)

It will be interesting to see what the little Suzumebachi make of this opportunity. The possibilities are endless, really.

Chapter Text

”You’re sure that’s all you can give us?”

“Afraid so. Like we said; Epitaph has never officially disappeared before.”

“Hmmm… Well, if you were the leader of a large criminal organization, how would you make your entire enterprise vanish?”

“... Scattering.”

“Scattering?”

“Everywhere. I’ve been thinking about this since you told us Epitaph disappeared. I’d send all the expendable lower ranks out into the open with strict instructions not to bring attention to themselves. That way, if one or two or a hundred screw up and get caught, they don’t have any useful information to give police. Little targets to distract from the bigger ones, right? That’s probably how you’ve managed to still catch people in the last two or so months.”

“I see. And the upper ranks?”

“Find security risks and neutralize them. Give the executives and select trusted non-executives small teams of the most efficient smugglers, runners and thieves on the payroll. Have them move all salvageable inventory to previously scouted and unused locations. Sever ties with the higher-risk, lower-earning business contracts to focus on the most secure and the most profitable ones. Subsist on that while scouting new contracts, contacts and alliances. Use the executives and show force only where needed to remind and dissuade. Continue to operate all remaining businesses and projects as normal until back to a semblance of full strength. Then sound the call for the lower ranks to return.”

“... Let’s say that your method is what occured. This counts as going to ground to you?”

“Of course. The goal isn’t to vanish completely. The goal is to have vanished according to you.”

“You think Epitaph is trying to shake us so, what, we forget about them?”

“So the prospect of tracking them down becomes more trouble than it’s worth. It’s what I would do.”


Under normal circumstances, training at Dagobah with their friends would be relaxing. There are times when Momo looks forward to it more than anything. It is a welcome distraction from the monotony of the week, and with All Might having agreed to supervise them, are looking to change for the interesting.

But, what do you know, today just refuses to be normal.

First, Ishiyama reminds them during breakfast that their final court date is tomorrow, which cast a conflicting pall of sobering, almost panic-inducing finality over the rest of the day. Momo already has enough trouble working up a decent appetite recently, which is bad because she’s been having trouble keeping track of how much she’s been eating over the last month, but the news destroyed it completely.

(A lot of things have been getting harder to remember lately. She’s always had a sharp memory to go with her sharp mind, but now, she sometimes can’t even remember the answers to her workbook assignments… Izuku and Hitoshi have noticed, too. They try to help her around all their fussing, but...

It’s… worrying…)

Their friends have managed to pick up on their mood too, despite them doing their best to keep it under wraps. Now, instead of getting down to brass tacks and doing more drills or, really, anything productive, there has been nothing but half-hearted attempts at normalcy in the final hours of their last day free. All Might has picked up on the melancholic air lingering as well, and isn’t pushing them to clean up the trash piles like he had at the start. Jirou, Kaminari and Ashido still believe that they’re just moving away, that they’re going to stay with family elsewhere.

No one has the heart to tell them the truth. This is perhaps the first time any of them have experienced something like normal friendships and relationships before. It might just be foolish sentimentality, but Momo finds that she wants them to remember her fondly, if they remember her at all after they get into Yuuei.

They’re going to be good heroes, some day. Momo wishes she could stick around to see it.

Of course, that’s where the second annoyance of the day decided to rear his spiky blond head…

Bakugo Katsuki. Izuku’s childhood friend turned bully turned the reason her friend spent days in emotional distress.

He just happened to be jogging by when he saw Izuku. As if that gave him the right to intrude, he comes into their training space and calls Izuku over. Much as it rankled her to let him anywhere near her boy, the memory of Izuku saying he apologized held her tongue. One chance, she decided. He gets one chance to convince her of his sincerity…

“The hell, Izuku? You tell me to fuck off but it’s alright to hang out with these extras? If my apology wasn’t enough, you could have just told me!”

Indignation. Confusion. Anger disguising jealousy and the faintest hints of entitled hurt.

The first time Bakugo opens his mouth around her and Momo just knows she was going to hate him before long.

Poor Izuku briefly looks like he wants to cry, which just makes Momo’s normally even temper spike.

(She quite deliberately ignores that Izuku has been two seconds away from crying since Jirou and All Might greeted them upon arrival. It’s not like anyone has a mind-reading quirk to call her biased.)

The way Hitoshi comes to hover over Izuku’s shoulder, meeting Bakugo’s stare with darkened eyes, tells her what he thinks. The two or so inches he has on Bakugo might as well be miles for how impressively he manages to loom.

Izuku leans back a little to accept the comfort and protection offered. His hand comes up to rub his forehead as if to ward off a headache. “I thought you understood why I didn’t want to be around you, Bakugo.”

“It’s the principal of the matter, dumbass!” Bakugo retorts loudly, a displeased, almost perturbed twist to his scowl.

Hitoshi snorts, contemptuous. “If he’s a dumbass, then what does that make you for ignoring his wishes?”

“Can it, Eyebags!”

“Children, please.” The others are creeping closer, drawn like moths to the light of new drama. Confusion is rampant, and Jirou looks two words from drawing a line in the sand for them, but All Might is the one to speak up. “You’re Bakugo Katsuki, right? I remember young Midoriya telling me that you were once childhood friends.”

Bakugo squints aggressively at All Might, slouching over sloppily with his hands stuffed in his pockets. Even with his hoodie obscuring his frame, it’s obvious that Bakugo is athletic. Still, a brief look-over tells Momo all she needs to know. Izuku said that he has nitroglycerin sweat, right? Depending on the strength of the explosions, he could be tricky, but Momo is pretty sure she’s brought low worse. “What of it?”

Kaminari folds his arms over his chest. “You here to say goodbye to Midori, dude?”

Red eyes go wide with outraged alarm, spine instantly ramrod straight. “Goodbye!?”

“Well, yeah! Midori, Yaomomo and Shin are all moving away after today.”

Momo looks away to hide a grimace. Tomorrow... Tomorrow is the day they find out what sort of justice remains in this world. They threw themselves to the wolves willingly to escape the fire, to be judged as lawful society saw fit, and now it’s time for them to see how they will be torn apart.

Her boys seem to think that the worst they’ll face is imprisonment for life. They hope that being let out of Umeji’s cells and being assigned to Raiun means that they have a chance. Momo, on the other hand, still isn’t fully convinced that execution is off the table.

It’s why she’s refrained from building new, permanent hobbies or acquiring new items. There’s a reason the only thing she’s allowed herself to splurge her tiny amount of savings on is some nice clothing before Inko took over their wardrobes. At least Momo needs clothing for daily living.

Bakugo looks to Izuku as if he holds all the answers. When Izuku only offers him a patient grin devoid of humor, he looks away sharply.

“Well? Where are you headed?” His fists clench obviously in his pockets. His shoulders are so tense they’re raising.

Izuku sighs, weary. “I can’t say.”

“You can’t or you won’t?”

The words come out biting, angry, accusatory in their intensity, and Momo decides she’s had enough.

“You already know the answer to that,” she tells him, prim and cold like bitter winter wind just before deadly snowfall. His attention switches to her, teeth gritting visibly. The glare he throws could burn wood to cinders, but it’s little more effective than a warm breeze as Momo places herself just the slightest bit in front of Izuku.

Bakugo removes his fists from his pockets, stance touching on wary. Well, well. He’s got good instincts, at least. “You got a problem, Hairclips?”

Momo snorts delicately, ignoring Ashido’s attempts to pull her back. “You mean other than-”

It’s habit that has her glancing over Bakugo’s shoulder just in time to catch someone watching them. That in itself is not unusual given how close they are to the road, and that someone had to see them in order to alert Tsukauchi and Tamakawa. Just a woman with horns like a goat watching them.

A woman that Momo has worked with on smuggling jobs before.

Heart jumping into her throat, Momo sucks in a breath to release a sharp whistle, to signal both Hitoshi and Izuku, but before she can make a sound, the woman turns and disappears between two nearby buildings.

Bakugo looks over his shoulder to see what she was staring at, but Momo has turned her attention to her boys. They must have seen her too, because they look as pale and ill as Momo feels. A sudden hyper-awareness of Jirou, Kaminari and Ashido standing so close behind them almost has her lungs feeling several sizes too small.

“Hey, Bakugo,” her mouth says, even as the rest of her feels like it’s trying to reach lightspeed.

He scowls at her. “Yeah? What do you want?”

She manages to swallow down the urge to grab Izuku and Hitoshi and run, but only just. Mentally, Momo apologizes to All Might. “Izuku told us that you both wanted to become heroes together once. Are you trying for a Hero course?”

Predictably, he scoffs, arms crossing over his chest. “You bet your ass I am. Just you wait. Come the new school year, I’m gonna be in the top first-year seat at Yuuei!”

Ashido goes from restraining to using her shoulders as leverage to get higher. “Hey, we’re trying for Yuuei, too! You should totally train with us!”

“Eh!? And what the hell would I get out of training with a bunch of extras like you, huh!?” If it wasn’t upsetting her efforts to suppress the trembling in her chest, Momo would be impressed by just how obnoxiously loud Bakugo manages to get without even really raising his voice. “Do any of you even have practice licenses?”

“Ashido, Kaminari and I do,” Jirou says, twirling one earlobe around a her finger, uncertain. Her other hand points to All Might, who is scanning up and down the pavement carefully. “Yagi-san is our chaperone.”

Kaminari looks at them, head ducked with a sad little grimace on his face. “Since you guys are leaving tomorrow, I’m guessing you never got yours. And you don’t even need one, Midori, so you can train wherever and however you want.”

There’s a moment where Bakugo looks Izuku over, the gleam in his eye one of skeptical discernment. Momo’s tempter spikes again, and Hitoshi’s glooming look blackens further in warning, but Izuku is the only one Bakugo has any attention for. It’s only when her boy dares to meet his former bully’s stare head-on that the skepticism morphing from judging into testing.

“You still want to be a hero? Even without a quirk?” Even when dripping with an infuriating amount of disbelief and condescension, the question is asked in a low growl that dares challenge and competition. Bakugo’s stance shifts, widening from casual self-assurance to open readiness. Waiting.

To her exasperation, the steady gleam in Izuku’s eyes solidifies into determination. “Never really stopped wanting,” Izuku tells him quietly, sliding his weight from one foot to the other.

Bakugo bears his teeth in a snarl like it got halfway to a grin before it gave up and died. “You think a nerd like you has what it takes?”

In response, Izuku’s lips curve into Alkaid’s smile. Bakugo, credit where credit is due, doesn’t flinch. Tenses, hairs visibly standing on end, but doesn’t flinch. “You want a demonstration?”

Behind them, someone chokes. Nerves still rattling, the sound echoes and distorts into the gurgles of blood choking air. Body flinching instinctively, Momo turns quickly, but she only sees Ashido drawing panicked hands across her neck and Kaminari mouthing “It’s a trap” as loudly as he can without actually making a single peep.

Bakugo barks a short, rough laugh, accompanied by the sound of cracking joints “Only if you can make it worth my time. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s make this interesting. I win and you tell me where the hell you’re running off to.”

Jirou rolls her eyes and starts off towards the changing house, passing by a frowning All Might rubbing his forehead tiredly. “I’ll get the medkit,” she says over her shoulder.

“If I win, you have to help Yagi-san whip Jirou-san, Ashido-san and Kaminari-san into shape,” Izuku bargains lightly, to Kaminari and Ashido’s whining objections. “They’ll need someone to keep their motivation strong when we’re gone.”

“Deal,” Bakugo says.

Bargain made, they make their way to the sparring ring and prepare. As a joke, Hitoshi reaches into one of the trash mounds and tosses Izuku a delicate pink parasol to use. Not one to back down, Izuku flips the parasol open and closed a couple times and sets it proudly on his shoulder.

The spar lasts a while, but only because Bakugo is as bull-headed and relentless as he looks. He’s got decent skills and a good head for combat, and his control over his quirk is impressive for someone obviously not formally trained, but whatever strategy he comes up with quickly dissolves into impatient, angry brawling as Izuku flows around each of his attacks seemingly without effort. Explosions ring and smoke billows, trying to catch his opponent in the fires, but Izuku uses the parasol well to deflect blows and set up counter attacks to punish Bakugo’s head-on assault, throwing in some delicate, taunting poses for good measure. The parasol even manages to block a few blasts, canopy coming away with some dents and scorch marks but still intact.

At one point, Bakugo manages to grab a hold of one of Izuku’s kicks and tries to spin him into a throw. Izuku recovers quickly, twisting mid-air to flip onto his feet and close the gap. Izuku grabs one of Bakugo’s arms and swings himself up over the blond’s head, twisting himself into a rapid vertical spin that has a disoriented Bakugo following so as to not dislocate his arm. Gravity takes over, pulling Izuku down, but he just uses the momentum to swing himself around, planting one foot onto Bakugo’s hip. Using the arm still in his grasp, he yanks Bakugo into a hard throw. Izuku releases him and flips into a handstand, somersaulting to his feet, his opponent sailing through the air to land in a trash pile several feet away.

While this is going on, Ashido and Kaminari cheering Bakugo on with seemingly helpful advice (and getting yelled at in return), Hitoshi heckling from his lawn chair, All Might approaches Momo. There is solemn shrewdness in his voice when he asks her under his breath what she saw. Seeing no reason to lie, Momo tell him about the woman, and he quickly texts Tsukauchi. Only after the text is sent does the sensation of her body trying to vibrate out of its skin abate.

Bakugo finally goes down to a punch to the gut that sends him hard onto his back, knocking his last gasping breaths from him. The beginnings of a bruise is starting to form on his cheek from where Izuku landed a roundhouse kick, and his torso will be mottled black and blue by tomorrow.

He lays there trying to get his breath back, only reacting when Izuku leans over him, twirling the open parasol on his shoulder slowly, not having said a single word the entire bout. Only some heavy breathing, a little sweat, soot stains and surface burns to show for it. “You wily fucking bastard,” Bakugo pants out, before giving the most crazed, raspy, ecstatic laugh Momo has ever heard someone give with bloody teeth.

Momo shakes her head. Adrenaline and endorphins are quite the drugs.

(“Thank you for setting the bait,” Izuku will say to her later, after All Might has called the match and a prickly Bakugo is fussed over by an excited Ashido and Kaminari, happy to be making a new friend, and Jirou needling him playfully in the background. He’ll look at them with eyes two seconds from crying and a pained smile more fragile than it seems. “He’s safer with them and All Might now that we’ve been spotted.”

“I know you. You haven’t forgiven him yet, but you would still blame yourself if something happened to him,” Momo will reply. And it’s true, he really would, but... that’s not why she invited Bakugo into the group.

To be honest, Momo doesn’t know why she did it. Her mouth just moved on its own.)


Sitting here in his chair, Izuku honestly can’t think of a time he felt more sick with anxiety than he is now. It’s the day and the hour of their final court hearing and the prosecution is giving his final statement. Afterwards, the defense attorney Hisoka hired for them will give his final statement, and the three stony-faced judges will make their call.

Momo and Hitoshi sit statue-like on either side of him. When Izuku isn’t wiping his sweaty palms on his suit pants, he’s linking his pinkie fingers with theirs. Faint tremors leak from their hands into his. He doesn’t dare let go of them for long.

In the other half of the room, behind a wooden divider, his mother sits with tears in her eyes and quiet fortitude in the lines of her face. Next to her is the regal and dignified Yaoyorozu family and the grim-faced Shinsou’s - all three families gathered close as if to draw strength from each other’s proximity. A cold comfort though it may be now, Izuku can’t deny feeling relief at the knowledge that, regardless of what happens today, she will be taken care of.

Across the way, glaring daggers at Izuku like she could destroy him with her gaze alone, is the most adamant proponent of the case against them. Dozens of people have stepped forward, and several of which sit in or are represented by someone sitting in the audience, but no one has been more tenacious than her. As with many of those connected to their victims, Izuku has never met this woman before being embroiled in the Suzumebachi case. Even so, the second he laid eyes on her, he knew who she was.

Tanizaki Naomi. The younger sister of the Suzumebachi’s final victim, Tanizaki Junichirou.

Izuku can’t look at her without seeing a small photograph, two people with opposing hair colors but the same eyes, sitting innocently on the corner of a blood-stained desk, so he tries not to.

The presenter’s podium stands between the defendant and plaintiffs stations, microphone positioned perfectly to pick up the prosecutor’s closing statement. “Honorable judges, there is little left to be said that hasn’t been said already. Young and victims themselves, the Suzumebachi have lived most of their lives as villains in both word and action.”

He glances their way. The fire in his eye is bright but only a little burning. The look of a man who cares more for justice than victory. “Their trainers preyed upon their adolescent minds and in turn sculpted horrific tools of destruction that only betrayed them when escape was assured. Their cooperation was only given as a means of protecting themselves. What’s more, the last of their number still evades authorities to this day. No amount of rehabilitation will ever be able to get rid of their training or erase the damage done to the countless lives ruined by their actions. If the Honorable Judges will not bestow upon them the ultimate justice, then please spare their victims and never let these monsters see the light of day again.”

(Sad thing is, his words are not untrue. Out of context, perhaps, but not untrue.

The image of the now empty two-dose vial of quirk suppressant hidden at the bottom of Ishiyama’s trash can sits as a cold reminder to this fact.)

Their attorney steps up to the podium and begins his speech. He’s a decent man, but he cares for victory and his reputation, and no one would be caught dead trying to defend the Suzumebachi voluntarily. If Hisoka hadn’t had him representing the Yaoyorozu Corporation for years before this, Izuku very much doubts the man would have taken the case to begin with.

Izuku tries to pay attention, he really does, but the stress of another night terror combines with the stress of trying to help Momo and Hitoshi manage both the rebound off another dose and their own nerves, saying goodbye to their friends, Bakugo and All Might yesterday, the smuggler spotting them, the near constant, ever-mounting stress of the last couple months with no release in sight-

He tries to pay attention, but he can’t seem to catch more than a few statements about their contributions to police efforting in apprehending Epitaph, their constant compliance, their regret over their actions and their so-far hopeful recovery prospects. He just wants today to be over alright. Izuku just wants to close his eyes and rest.

An exhausted haze drifts over his mind, familiar in ways he hasn’t experienced in months. He concentrates on keeping his eyes blinking down at the desk and his breath in a steady rhythm. All noise is allowed to become static in his ears, and the image of Tanizaki across from them thankfully blurs to the point of unrecognizability.

How long the haze lingers is unknown, only that it abates somewhat when Momo nudges him with her elbow and nods to the judge’s panel.

One of the judges (he thinks its Judge Kinjo? Or is it Judge Yoshiaki?) is standing with a paper in his hands. The others remain in their seats, watching the proceedings silently.

“After months of consideration, examining of the laws as well as precedents set by previous judges regarding similar crimes,” he begins, adjusting the tiny mic clipped to his suit jacket, “Judges Yoshiaki, Toramizu and I have come to a consensus. Shinsou Hitoshi, Yaoyorozu Momo, Midoriya Izuku - you three have plead guilty to numerous accounts of second-degree manslaughter, as well as theft, arson, destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice. You have also admitted to being accessories to yet more accounts of first and second-degree manslaughter and murder, illegal arms trade, drug trafficking, arson and cyber terrorism. You even turned yourselves in during a job to illegally acquire personnel information from the Endeavor Hero Agency; information that would have endangered countless lives, just after Midoriya murdered Tanizaki Junichirou and Shinsou assisted in the disposal of a murder victim’s body.”

He takes a moment to breathe, having said that all in one breath. Distantly, Izuku finds himself impressed. Maybe that’s the Judge’s quirk?

“With all evidence and testimony presented, there can be no doubt. You are hereby pronounced guilty,” Judge Kinjo says.

Even if he knew it was going to happen, Izuku still feels the floor give out from under him, driving all breath from his lungs. Tanizaki’s face lights up with angry, grief-fueled vindication, a grim smile twisting her features into something like vengeance fulfilled. Off to the side, he thinks he hears his mother let out a soft sob.

Kinjo isn’t done. “The punishment for the murders would be death by lethal injection, let alone tagged onto such a laundry list of crimes. Barring that, all three of you would be serving sentences of no less than 500 years in Tartarus. However, taking extenuating circumstances into account, the court is prepared to offer you a chance.”

… What…?

Their lawyer taps the desk with his nail. “A… chance, your honor?”

“Yes, a chance,” Kinjo replies. “Under both quirk detection and oath, your clients have expressed sincere regret not just for their actions, but for the people whose lives they have affected. This was the largest factor in making our decision. Midoriya Izuku. Shinsou Hitoshi. Yaoyorozu Momo. You three have expressed a desire to reclaim your lives, so now you must prove that you deserve them.”

He glances at his paper and speaks as if he’s reading from it. “If you wish to avoid either of the previously mentioned sentences, then you can choose to accept a deal with the court. You will be entered into a mandatory behavioral therapy program for delinquent youth. You will continue your probation and will continue to see your court-mandated therapist until such a time in which we decide these measures are no longer necessary. You will also be automatically enrolled into a high school of our choosing for the purposes of resocialization and reacclimation to society. Lucky you, Prinicipal Nedzu of Yuuei was the only one to offer his school for our consideration.”

Judge Kinjo nods off into the audience. There is a head now visibly standing above the rest that wasn’t there before when Izuku manages to drag up the coherence necessary for functionality to turn his head.

A white furred paw waves at them cheekily from next to Ishiyama. Izuku’s jaw, which had dropped open upon hearing the judge’s deal, snaps shut.

The haze-dulled urge to giggle hysterically is suppressed with bull-headed ruthlessness. He thinks he’s starting to understand why Maijima calls Nedzu “Ratman”.

A throat being cleared brings their attention back. It takes a second to register that Judge Kinjo is still talking to them.

“You will also be completing a minimum of one and a half year’s community service. Since your crimes are so numerous, diverse and complex that we can’t even begin to pin down an appropriate service, we will choose your starting point for you and you must choose all future services done. You three are familiar with the Dagobah area, correct? Cleaning it up seems like a fine place to start,” he tells them. “You three have your options. What do you say?”

“The deal is very appealing, Honorable Judges, just…,” Momo hesitates, hope, skepticism and incomprehension at war in her eyes, “are you sure?”

Kinjo raises an eyebrow. “You would rather face incarceration or execution?”

The way the room seems to stutter is almost tangible. Or maybe that’s just Izuku. It’s probably Izuku.

“No! No, we’ll take the deal,” Hitoshi is quick to assure, almost panicked. Across the way, Tanizaki and her prosecutor sputter their objections.

“Very well, then. You each individually have until you are 18-years old to prove that you are even capable of reintegration into society at large, afterwards you will be doing five or more years of community service. Should you prove us right to give you this chance, you will be eligible to be pulled off probation upon reaching age 20. Relapses into either delinquency or villainhood will be treated harshly and may result in the termination of the deal. Failure to comply with these rulings or failure to properly reintegrate will result in the immediate application of either the death penalty or a life sentence in Tartarus with no chance of parole. For your sakes, I hope you three take these terms very seriously. Court dismissed.”

The judges stand to exit the room via a door on their half of the room, and the audience leaps to their feet with a roar. Objections, denials and curses are screamed out to the suddenly deaf judges. Noriko raises up from her seat with a triumphant cry, arms thrust upwards in victory, that is quickly hushed by her parents.

Maybe it’s because he’s too overwhelmed to process everything, but between one blink and the next Izuku, Momo and Hitoshi have gone from being seated at the defendant’s desk to being escorted by bailiff’s and their attorney out of the room.

He comes to with Inko’s hand, warm and trembling and a little sweaty, on his arm and Momo and Hitoshi pressed against his back. There’s an ache deep in his chest and a lump in his throat and his eyes are burning, but he can’t even begin to process it all when he’s still stuck on the fact that they’re still free.

They’re not going to die or be locked in another cage for the rest of their lives. They can stay with their families and their friends and have lives and-

How is he even supposed to process this? What is he supposed to feel? He can’t - shouldn’t he be happy? Overjoyed? There’s relief, certainly, a weight of mountains crumbling to dust on his shoulders, but-

Why… Why is he feeling… disappointed?

A woman’s voice pierces through the cacophony within and without, causing him to stop in his tracks. There’s a crowd of people all around them beyond the protection of the police and bailiff’s. Bitter contention is reflected in enough faces that instinct has him dragging his mother behind him, but they’re not who he’s looking for.

Tanizaki shoves her way through the crowd. A man is almost shoved to the floor in her haste. “Get back here! Midoriya, get back here!”

“Ma’am, stay back.” One of the bailiff’s quickly intercepts her before she can get closer. “If you have a problem, please take it up with the courts-”

“Get out of my way!”

“Ma’am, please-”

“That bastard killed my brother!” Tanizaki shouts in the bailiff’s face, rage and grief echoing while the crowd stirs in agreement. Something in Izuku’s mind finally clicks free from the storm. “Junichirou is dead because of him!”

Ah… So that’s why… It’s not for himself that he’s disappointed.

It takes effort and a few fortifying breaths to quiet the storm in his chest enough to unstick his throat. Inko looks at him with objection and concern as Izuku gently pries himself from her grip. She tries to draw him back to her side, but he’s already decided he can’t let himself be stopped.

Izuku gently tugs the bailiff aside so that he can face Tanizaki head-on. She glares at him like she can incinerate him with her eyes alone. Every line of her body reads as angry, loathing, only a single snapped thread from going for his throat, but there is also hurt in the smudging of her eyeliner and mascara. How her eyes can’t seem to dry.

“You don’t deserve to run free, getting a second chance when I had to bury my brother’s ashes almost half a year ago because of you,” she hisses, acidic hate subsuming pain for the moment.

“I know,” Izuku replies. His voice is more rough and raspy than he intended, but his throat wants to close back up on him and he can’t let it right now.

If anything, that just incites her. Her already dark eyes become shadowed by the force of her snarl. Her body trembles and her knuckles go white. “My brother was the only family I had left. Our parents died when we were young and we had no other family to turn to. I have no significant other or children. Junichirou was my entire world, and you took him from me.”

“I know,” Izuku replies, softer as his eyes start to water. It’s getting harder to keep the lump from reforming in his throat.

“No amount of redemption you undergo will undo all the harm you’ve done.” Tanizaki’s next breath is a hiccup, bordering on a sob. Grief begins to bleed through. “It’s not fair. You… You…”

Stop looking at me like that!” She demands suddenly. “I don’t want your pity!”

On instinct, Izuku averts his eyes. “I know…”

A deep, sickening shame and guilt bubbles up, choking him. He sees the picture frame clearly in his mind, absent but for two people with different hair colors and the same eyes. It brings him to his knees, and then it drags him further until his hands and forehead touch the floor.

“I know,” Izuku says, forcing himself to speak into the floor, “and, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

Stunned silence reigns, the crowd frozen still like they’ve been replaced by marble statues. Izuku feels and hears more than sees Momo and Hitoshi step up beside him, kneel, and press their foreheads to the floor as well.

The room echoes with Tanizaki’s scream. “I don’t want your apologies! I want my brother back!”

“That’s enough,” another voice declares, strong and unyielding as oak. A middle-aged woman Izuku vaguely remembers sitting in the audience emerges. Grey is beginning to thread her strawberry hair and shallow wrinkles line her face, but she bears the signs of encroaching age like a warrior bears a sword on their hip.

Piercing green eyes dare anyone listening to defy her. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the crowd backs down almost immediately. Tanizaki tries to glare back, anger lending her strength, but she too relents under the stranger’s stare eventually.

The woman breathes a snort. “Tanizaki, please refrain from screaming like a child throwing a tantrum. And you three, show some dignity and get up already. You’re dirtying your suits.”

“Like a child!?” Momo and Hitoshi help Izuku to his feet as Tanizaki sputters indignantly, Momo quickly patting the dust off her suit pants. “These murderers-”

“I know who they are and I know what they’ve done,” the woman cuts through sharply, tone brooking no insult. “And I should know, given that this one,” she points at a slightly wide-eyed Hitoshi, “murdered my husband in a false suicide.”

“But!”

“Enough!” Seemingly in a fit of temper, the woman taps the floor with her foot. Terrifyingly, the room quakes with enough force to loosen dust from the ceiling. One of the officers present barks out a warning for her obvious public use of a quirk, to which the woman only gives a brief glance in acknowledgement.

“The court has given their sentence,” she says clearly. A pin dropping could be heard from across the room in the sudden silence, but she makes a point to project her voice anyway. “There’s nothing any of us can do unless we appeal to a higher court, and I can tell you right now that it would be a waste of fucking time. The Suzumebachi have their ultimatum. I suggest you lot leave them to it and get back to your lives. We’ve already wasted enough time trying to pin the blame on a group of children in the absence of their former masters.”

The crowd rumbles in displeasure but none dare to openly oppose her. To the side, Hitoshi’s mouth twists before the walls go up, driving expression from his face. “Your husband?”

“You would have known him under the name Crimson Riot,” she replies, bland.

For just a moment, something tightens in his face, creating cracks in the mask, before it goes blank again. Hitoshi ducks his head and looks away. “Ah…”

“Make no mistake, Shinsou Hitoshi. I do not forgive you for taking him from me,” she tells him, hard and smooth as river stone. “But I’ve had 2 years to feel my grief, and I knew my husband. He and I were aware of the mortality rates. Not only would he have wanted me to find peace and move on, he would have wanted his murderer to have a second chance.”

“He always believed that if someone had the will to try, then they could do anything,” she tells them, wistful fondness slipping through in the softness of her tone. “His eternal optimism is why I married him.”

Someone steps up to Izuku’s side. His mother wraps her arm around his as Noriko, Izuna and Nanami stand behind Hitoshi, and Hisoka, Junpei and Chidori gather around Momo. The woman looks them all in the eye, quietly taking them in, and then turns her gaze to Izuku, Momo and Hitoshi.

“You are children who were used for horrible things. What you have done is beyond forgiveness, but now you have a chance at redemption. Do not squander it. You owe it to yourselves, to everyone here and to everyone who could not be, to try."

They don’t need the group consensus to understand this. It’s not a matter of whether or not they can afford to not reform. They don’t have a choice in the matter anymore. It’s either sink or swim, now.

And if there’s anything Epitaph taught them how to do well, it’s adapt under pressure.

As one, Izuku, Momo and Hitoshi give the woman a solemn nod. Her head tilts back in acknowledgement. When she sighs, it’s the sound of one relieved of a great burden.

“You know, the fact that we can agree on that so easily gives me hope,” she says. Then, without fanfare, she turns on her heel and walks away.

The rest of the crowd disperses after that, though Tanizaki makes a point to throw one last poisonous look Izuku’s way before storming off.

The bailiffs and officers pull them down the hall into another corridor. When asked where they’re going, their attorney replies that they still need to hash out the details of their attendance with Nedzu.

Lovely. Is it really too much to ask for a nap right about now?


Upon entering the plush-looking office, Nedzu waves his hand to the multitude of seats scattered about. “Good afternoon! Please, let’s get to business. I will try not to take up so much of your time, since I assume your families will want to celebrate this victory.”

A particular detail of the prototype testing that Hitoshi always found as odd rears its head in his mind. “You were recording us,” he accuses before he even sits down. His parents lead him and Noriko to a cluster of seats close to Inko and a still alarmingly pale-faced Izuku. “That’s why you were calling out times during the prototype test. You were recording us.”

“Prototype test?” Izuna asks, looking to Nedzu in askance. Eerily, all the adults in the room apart from Ishiyama turn to stare at Nedzu and silently demand answers.

“You children volunteered to help my Support and Development instructor test a series prototype androids the other day. The robots are designed to teach our second and third-year students the difference between necessary, excessive and lethal force. They were in no danger, I assure you,” the principal assures quickly, resigned to the scrutiny, paws raised in placation.

Momo and Izuku both let out incredulous noises. Hitoshi himself barely stops himself from rolling his eyes. He knows he has an irreverent, impertinent nature, but even he has enough sense to not disrespect the one making them an offer. “The turrets said otherwise,” Hitoshi says, because that’s more polite than saying “You’re out of your fucking mind - you had live ammunition and stuff that could rip through metal plating”.

Interestingly, Inko, Izuna, and Hisoka go pale before turning a concerning shade of red. Even Ishiyama is frowning critically at his employer. Hitoshi isn’t sure what’s going on through everyone’s heads, but whatever it is, them participating in the test can’t be that bad, right? Yeah, it wasn’t as safe as Nedzu is letting on, but none of them got hurt.

“Why were you recording them?” Junpei asks, chilly.

“Because I needed to convince my board to go along with my plan,” Nedzu replies candidly, paws folding in his lap. To his side, Ishiyama rolls his eyes and goes back to watching their families. “It’s not exactly easy to convince a group of heroes to willingly teach a group of hero killers, you know - regardless of whatever discussions could be made about said killers’ actual culpability. I was just lucky that a number of my highest ranking staff are already acquainted with and on good terms with them. Otherwise, I might not have been able to offer Yuuei to them.”

Izuku’s face goes pained and uncomfortable. “You couldn’t have just told us this?”

“I did apologise for any deception,” Nedzu offers, lofty and perhaps a bit sly.

Hitoshi can’t help a snort at that, reluctant amusement blooming. “Usually when someone apologises, it’s for something they’ve already done, not for what they’re going to do. Apologising beforehand renders it disingenuous, doesn’t it?.”

The principal smiles back innocently, a spark of dark humor glinting in his scarred eye. Hitoshi’s favorite kind. “But not always.”

Inko clears her throat, visibly calming herself down. “So, what is your plan regarding Izuku, Shinsou and Yaoyorozu, exactly? How will they be allowed to attend your school? Are they barred from any courses?”

The glint of darkness disappears behind his customary geniality. Nedzu sits up straight, his smile hinting his approval at finally getting to business. “I’m glad you asked!”

Seemingly out of nowhere, he pulls out three separate stacks of stapled-together papers packets and hands them to him, Momo and Izuku. A glance at the heading reveals a “YUUEI STUDENT APPLICATION - General Education” in bold lettering on the first page. He gives the packets a quick look through with Noriko and his parents reading over his shoulder. Weirdly enough, a bunch of his information seems to have already been filled out. There are also applications to the Support course, the Business course, and…

And…

“There’s a Heroics course application in here,” Momo tells him, the words stilted and hesitant. Hitoshi is tempted to rub his eyes to make sure he’s seeing this right.

Izuku’s breathing stutters audibly. “That-that can’t be right. There must be some mistake.”

“There is no mistake,” Nedzu denies patiently.

“You would let us try for the Hero course?”

“I’m demanding it.”

His face is still open, friendly, there is no smile on Nedzu’s face now. Hairs raise up on the back of Hitoshi’s neck and he can’t figure out why even as the sensation puts him on edge.

“If I allow you three into my school, then it will be on my terms,” he says, quiet intensity radiating outwards. He waves his paw at the papers. “You three will be automatically enrolled into the entrance exams of all four of our primary courses. Hundreds, some years almost a thousand students show up to claim a spot at Yuuei, so if you want a chair in my school then you must earn it.”

Izuku clears his throat nervously. “Which course will we go into if we’re being entered into all four entrance exams?”

“That will depend entirely upon you. Your highest scoring exam will indicate where you should go, but if you fail to score higher than other high aptitude students, then you will be placed in General Education. Be warned, however. Even that course has minimum requirements for entry. Now, are there any questions?”

Their parents end up doing most of the work in actually discussing and negotiating details, but Hitoshi is too preoccupied staring at the papers in front of him to listen properly. The words blur when he doesn’t focus. Disbelief, skepticism, bewildering dread and the vaguest trappings of hope war inside him, pulling him in so many different directions that Hitoshi doesn’t know what to think.

Below it all is a pit of anger festering with the knowledge that part of the reason he’s floundering is because of his damn depression and the rebound from the stupid fucking quirk suppressants.

Damn it… Why do the antidepressants his mom got him have to have ingredients that conflict with the suppressants…?

(do you really believe you deserve this?)

Not for the first time, certainly not the last, Hitoshi curses his defective brain to hell and back.

Shut the fuck up, Blessed. Nobody cares what you think.

Just assigning the thoughts a name causes them to start sounding like her. That, if nothing else, tends to piss him off enough that the voices are easier to disregard. When Raiun taught him that trick to deal with these intrusive thoughts, he got her a new floaty for her collection as thanks.

(youdon’tdeservethisyoudon’tdeserveasecondchanceyoudon’tdeserveredemptionyoudon’tdeserve-)

Yeah, so what? Hitoshi doesn’t deserve a lot of things. Even so…

”You owe it to yourselves, to everyone here and to everyone who could not be, to try.”

Even so… He has to try.

A pen taps his finger, dragging him out of his thoughts. Eyes the same shade of purple as his seem to measure him, assessing, before Noriko pushes the pen into his hand. It’s one of the cutesy ones she collects, pink and blue with cute little animal characters printed on it. He’s not surprised she has one on her.

Hitoshi takes the pen and signs his name on all the dotted lines, fills out the missing information, and slides the packets back over to Nedzu. The principal stops mid-sentence to glance at them curiously.

His paw hesitates over the packets. “So quickly? Are you sure you don’t want to think it over more?”

“What he said, ‘Toshi,” Izuna says, concerned and hovering. “It’s okay if you need to take more time, really.”

Carelessly, Hitoshi shrugs. “If I’m signing my life away for the next several years, might as well do it on my terms, right?”

Nedzu’s lips briefly quirk up into an amused smirk. He snatches the packets up swiftly and tucks them into his suit jacket.

When he looks to them, Momo and Izuku are watching him with expressions of bewildered incomprehension. Hitoshi meets their stare, feeling steady and in-control for the first time in his entire fucking life.

(He wonders, briefly, if they see in him what he and Momo saw that night on the rooftop of a konbini, when Izuku led them to All Might.)

Momo looks to her papers, licking her lips nervously. Slowly, the brittle foundation of resolve hardens, her face setting in a way that instantly reminds him of Chidori. Hitoshi hands her the pen and she fills out her packets and signs her name. Nedzu snatches it up quickly.

Together, they turn to Izuku, still pale-faced and so clearly exhausted, a frighteningly familiar blank look in his dark-ringed eyes that says he’s close to being pushed too far. A look they haven’t seen since leaving Epitaph. Hecah and Changeling aren’t here to bring him back down, and if Alkaid ever comes within a mile of him ever again Hitoshi is going to bury his knife in her cold, black heart, court decree or no, but he and Momo are here.

Hitoshi gives Izuku his usual crooked smile, all exhausted, burnt out charm and bull-headed protectiveness. Thankfully, it seems to work. Looking next to Momo’s hearth-fire warmth and mountain strength, Izuku gives an resigned sigh and a helpless grin. He accepts the pen from Momo and fills out the papers.

Nedzu snaps the papers up the second the pen leaves them for the last time and stuffs them next to the others. He merrily leaps out of his seat. “Well, I’d say today was productive. If your parents have any further questions regarding your attendance, they are, of course, free to call my office. Have a good evening! Celebrate your freedom.”

He’s just around the corner when his head pops back into view. “Oh, and before I forget. Before I let you set foot in any of my school’s classes, I suggest you learn to exercise restraint. Preferably in the near future. I trust you understand what I mean. See you next April!”

Momo hums and leaves a flat look in Ishiyama’s direction, seeing as he hasn’t left yet. “You knew about this, didn’t you?

“Of course,” Ishiyama replies honestly. Come to think about it, he was unusually calm when reminding them of their trial date. “I was one of the teachers to approve of your attendance, after all.”

With the king of highly-stressed, overwhelmed and just plain done sighs that Hitoshi firmly agrees with, Izuku throws himself back in his seat and leans over until his head is buried in Inko’s shoulder. She grins helplessly and pets his curls soothingly.

“What the fuck…”

“Language, Izuku.”

“Sorry, mom. What the heck...”

“Better.”


Ishiyama allows them to stay out with their families, provided they’re back before curfew. Junpei and Chidori insist on taking them all out to a fancy restaurant in the heart of the city to celebrate, making Hitoshi glad they’re still wearing their suits. The place is on the 31st story of a distinctive highrise, decorated with crystal chandeliers and polished brass ornamentation and satiny table covers that Hitoshi is afraid to touch let alone eat on. Tall windows offer an amazing view of the city in the glow of a gorgeous sunset. He swears he sees his dad take a sneaky picture of it to draw later.

The red curry with vegetables he orders is easily the most delicious thing he’s ever eaten. The fact that he can even have this has him fighting tears with every bite.

They get back to the apartment, exhausted and full and tired beyond belief despite the relatively early hour, and the first think Ishiyama does is direct them into the bath.

Not shy in the least, he and Izuku decide to save water and shower together. If this also gives Hitoshi the ability to pamper Izuku a little, washing his back and rubbing shampoo into his hair, oh well. Izuku tries to reciprocate, but Hitoshi isn’t having it. The water is almost unbearably hot, but Izuku normally runs hot showers anyway.

The blankness has faded from his eyes by the time they’re done, replaced by normal lethargy and weariness. Hitoshi mentally pats himself on the back.

Ishiyama is one of their few supervisor’s who insists that they sleep in their own rooms as much as possible. For tonight, however, he makes an exception. He directs them into Momo’s room, where they pile onto Momo’s bed and pass out. They don’t wake up again until after dawn tomorrow.

The next morning, he fills them in on the changes to their arrangement now that they’re in full-on probation rather than probation pending sentencing. They’re to finish their second week with Ishiyama, but after that, they’re going to switch to an every other week situation with all future supervisors. That means that good behavior gets them a full week with their families, which causes Momo and Izuku to perk up excitedly. It’ll be nice to see his folks and Noriko more often.

They also no longer have to wear their tracking bracelets full-time except on their supervisor’s discretion. Ishiyama lets the trackers come off. It’s weird to see his wrist without the thick black band that’s been there for the past four or so months. There’s even a faint tan line, as indistinguishable as it is from Hitoshi’s pale skin.

The rest is just more time taken up in their schedules. They have to see a behavioral counselor once a week in addition to their sessions with Raiun, and they’ll be picking up trash at The Landfill every other day during their stay with Ishiyama, including whatever Yagi has them picking up as training slash “volunteer hours” to put on their records. After they leave, they’ll need to make their own schedule.

Afterwards, they’re left to their own devices. For once since they turned themselves in, a swinging blade no longer feels like it’s inching ever closer, ready to take their heads. The future feels like it’s opened up, like rays of light hitting his skin after so long blindly feeling around in the darkness. Epitaph is still out there, still waiting and watching, but…

The world feels like it's so light now, and Hitoshi finds he has no idea what to do with it.

“This is real, isn’t it?” Izuku whispers next to Momo. The three of them lay sprawled out on their backs on the floor of Momo’s room, staring up at the ceiling and enjoying the new peace.

“Yeah,” Momo replies just as quietly, fingers laced across her stomach.

“We’re actually free, now. Or, mostly free. Freer? You get what I mean,” he continues.

“We’re not gonna die,” Momo says like she still can’t believe it.

“We get to stay in Musutafu. We get to keep Jirou, and Kaminari, and Ashido, and All Might, and Bakugo-”

Please don’t include Bakugo in the perks,” Hitoshi growns, headache blooming at the thought of having to deal with the asshole in the future.

Izuku giggles a little and Momo huffs her agreement. A moment of comfortable silence lingers around them. Outside, a bird chirps loud enough to be heard through the closed window. Someone knocks on the door to the apartment and Ishiyama answers it.

“We’re going to Yuuei,” Momo whispers into the air.

“We… we have a chance to become heroes…,” Izuku whispers back. There’s no mistaking the hesitant, heartfelt awe in his tone. “We have a chance to really make up for what we’ve done.”

Momo suddenly sits up. She turns to face them with a thoughtful, quietly troubled expression on her face. “Are we really going to aim for the Hero course?”

Hitoshi’s brow screws up in confusion. “Momo?”

She glances quickly at the partially closed door where Ishiyama is still talking to the person at the door and keeps her voice down. “I mean, if we do end up aiming for the Hero course, then we’re going to have to stop our quirk suppressants,” she points out, leaning her weight on one arm. “Not only would it be a detriment to our training, someone is bound to notice if Hitoshi and I can’t use our quirks some days. We still don’t have the tolerance levels we need.”

“You and Hitoshi are getting a better tolerance to the drug, though,” Izuku says, flipping over onto his stomach. “You’d probably be able to knock at least a few hours off the timer on a normal dose.”

“But is that really enough of an advantage to be worth giving it up in favor of hero training?”

That is the question, isn’t it? On the one hand, the side effects are well known to be long-lasting, so Alkaid will be more likely to drag their sentencing out provided any of them get captured. A few hours could be the difference between life and death. They also personally know several prominent heroes in the area, including All Might. Heroes who like them well enough to vouch for them to attend the most well-known hero school in the country, and who aren’t likely to conveniently forget about them if they get captured. And they get to study under them, which is something that, if you asked Hitoshi about it 5 months ago, he would have laughed in your face for asking if he would want it. Now, however, the prospect is… exciting.

On the other hand, though, they risk giving up possibly even more hours that could be used to save their lives and some non-combat related training. For what, some extra combat training that may or may not help them and some socialization with some teenagers that they can get in the other courses?

(it doesn’t matter. you’ll still fail...)

Fuck off, Blessed.

Even if it’s not really her, it feels so good to say that…

“Midoriya, Yaoyorozu, Shinsou! Can you meet me in the living room?”

Ishiyama’s sudden call startles Hitoshi out of his thoughts. Izuku calls back. “Be right there!”

They help each other to their feet. “What do you think he wants?” Momo asks.

Hitoshi shrugs. “Dunno.”

When they get into the living room, they find that Ishiyama is not alone. Aizawa is standing next to Ishiyama’s seat, and neither of them look happy. Hitoshi tries wracking his brain, trying to figure out what could have upset them. They’ve done their chores. They’re doing well in their workbooks. The trial went well and now they’ve got a shot-

Hitoshi’s eyes catch on a small medical vial sitting on the coffee table next to a stack of papers, empty but for a sliver of familiar pale blue opaque liquid.

Beside him, Izuku goes bone white.

Ishiyama waves to his long couch. “We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

I know this is a little sadistic given how I ended the last chapter, but I'm finding myself losing steam with this story at a rate that I don't like. I've gotten no progress done on the next chapter, I'm trying to get several things done at the same time, my sleep schedule is whacked to fuck, Devil May Cry is trying to suck me back into its loving, bloody embrace and I may or may not have accidentally started a DMC roleplay server for some friends that I need to design lore and location for. As such, I'm going to be taking a 1-2 month break from writing for this story and see where that gets me. I've been writing this story for over a year already, so might as well take a break. Maybe actually read the manga while I'm at it.

Having said that, I would like to make one thing absolutely clear.

I AM NOT ABANDONING "A SINGLE REASON".

I will let everyone know ahead of time if I find I just can't get the motivation back up anymore, but now isn't that time. I'll see ya'll in a couple months with a new status update. If it's a new chapter, this hiatus update will be deleted and replaced with the new chapter.

A massive thank you to all my readers who have stuck with me over the months and weeks! I don't think I would have gotten anywhere near as far as I have without you guys. See everyone later.