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My Hero Academia, but Not

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Sam never freaked out. It was one of his policies, generally.

Which was why he was only mildly scared right now. A very distinct difference, you see.

He had good reason to be, too. Not just a god dangmn firework display again.

He was tied firmly to a chair with some cable that was probably capable of surviving the eventual apocalypse, in some dingy warehouse somewhere (his kidnappers never bothered to be creative. Never) with perhaps the most powerful supervillain in the entire country standing over him, trying to get him to talk.

“Sam, I just one itty bitty little predication, and I’ll let you go, no harm no foul.” Dark Fire himself stood the same way someone lounging is sitting, but it was less annoying from a foot or so back. He was a respectful bastard, at the very least.

“I think there’s a fair bit of foul involved here.” His side kick was leaning up against the wall, watching his boss closely, which seemed bad for his long term health. That cement probably had fifty deadly diseases in it. However, he seemed to have very little interest at all in him at all, and he couldn’t see any obvious torture-the-prisoner weapons nearby, though Dark Fire’s hands alone would probably do in a pinch, and there was no way these idiots weren’t armed to the teeth.

He still had his weapons and uniform on (he refused to call it a costume) but they wouldn’t do much good with this stupid rope.

He had tried sawing through it at a molecular level with some uber-fast water atoms, but they had magically pinged right off.

Obnoxious.

“Mayhaps, but no harm, yes?”

Mayhaps. There was a word he hadn’t heard in a hot minute. And one that should lie down in its grave.

Dark Fire was an interesting person in general. Shockingly, with his resume anyway, he wasn’t an altogether terrible one, though.

Sure, he robin-hooded billions of dollars from the rich, had caused some property damage, killed some people. But those people had been mob bosses, the property damage had been covered with perhaps too much money mysteriously by the next day, and the top percent tended to be made up of a special breed of assholes.

He ran several projects. He handed out insulin like candy to anyone who even hinted at a need for it, supported struggling hospitals and schools, ran what was equal to the Underground Railroad for the homeless and abused, among a list of other things, including some epic city wide pranks.

Sam didn’t hate him, but kidnapping him might just turn the scales here. A shame, he usually hated most villains off the bat. This one had nearly panned out to be a grey area.

But no, he had to go and target him, just because.

“Not happening. I’m not telling you anything past my grocery list.”

The sidekick snorted. Dark Fire didn’t even blink.

I think I was expecting him to pull a gun on me, maybe slug me on across the back of the head. He did neither, just rocking back on his heels slowly, like he was scared to move too quickly in front of me, how I would react. Like I was a wild, cornered animal. Ugh.

“I don’t wanna a prediction on where some hero or billionaire is going to be in twenty hour fours, I don’t wanna know the future of the stock market or something, what I wanna know, is which country’s about to go hell.”

Thank god. It would have been hideously boring to scroll through stock numbers at gunpoint.

Also: huh?

I composed my face to a careful neutral mask, but apparently not fast enough. Damn my rustiness in hostage situations. I knew I should have gone spy in the Great War.

Probably would have been a lot less scarring, anyway. And more entertaining to boot.

“We’re going international.” Piped up sidekick extraordinaire. “People would much rather sign up with us than some gang, or risk getting killed or arrested in going solo. We’ve got the chance to go global, we’re just choosing where to start.”

Personally, Sam didn’t think a man that went around dropping into police brutality scenes in a top hot, trench coat, and bright purple spandex suit wasn’t the worst villain to decide the earth was looking a little bruised up. He could count on two hands off the top of his head people that would be disastrously worse. Still, this wasn’t exciting news.

He stared at both of them for a solid second as his brain loaded all that before his reflex sarcastic side kicked in again.

“That’s great. Still not talking.”

The glorified get away driver looked him up and down. Determined expression, unwavering confidence, not a hint of an overly unhealthy ego, no concerningly aggressive behavior, a smart mouth. This man was possibly the best hero in the country, damn the statistics to hell.

I like him, he decided.

Dark Fire seems to have also come to this conclusion. “Fair. However, I’d rather not go digging around that head of yours if I don’t have to, you know?”

Sam had another rule.

He hated mind readers.

(Unless they happened to be cinnamon rolls, of course.)

“Wouldn’t be the first time someone went rooting around in there.” I replied evenly, shifting slightly in the chair to see how tight my knots are. Not too tight, he’s not trying to hurt me, but tight enough that I can’t easily bust out with some wiggle worming.
Dark Fire’s head tilted to one side suddenly. “Really. Who, exactly?”

That was when Sam started to sweat.

Chaotic good people be scary.

(Is he internetting right? He doesn’t know at this point.)

“Sam isn’t here right now. Please come back at a different time or leave a message after the beep.” He made no beep sound. Playing verbal chess was fun.

Dark Fire sighed tiredly at that one. The sweet taste of victory.

Sam scanned the warehouse while the villain brainstormed a response. Mostly just full of dusty cliche boxes, the big garage style door would have been a good escape way if it hadn’t been blocked off very thoroughly by a truck laying on its side, (how did they get that in here?) an assortment of crates, some rope tying all that together, stacks of plywood laying on top of the truck to cover the entire door, and the entire thing was cloaked in a layer of shadow probably made personally by the villain himself. Those skylights in the roof could work though…

Then again, he wasn’t an expert in Mario Jumping straight up, and climbing the walls while fighting would be hard.

Damn the smart ones.

“What, so you can have a price of the action just in the knick of time?”

“Nah, so I can drown all the demons in holy water and save super salty cats from the flood. Who do you think I am, Satan?”

Sam did not answer, deciding staring at him levely would do.

Dark Fire huffed dramatically in a pout worthy of a toddler tantrum. “Anyway, I need to be there first to pull that all off, so pretty pretty please?”

Sam glared at him. “You kidnapped me.” He reminded him.

“Temporarily!” Chirped the villain.

God, Sam was too tired for this.

Someone from behind him, at the very back of the warehouse, yelled out. “Come on man, just hit ‘im! He gets roughed up more on your regular Tuesday!”

Dark Fire waved him off calmly, though he did give him a bit of a disapproving glance. He walked forward, just a step, towards Sam. He bristled instantly, glaring up at him with hell fire in his eyes.

A hand, not the gloves on of the villain he was facing, but a bare one with all five fingers carefully pressed into his skin, closed onto the back of his neck.

“It doesn’t hurt.” The serene villain had time to say before the hero fell limp in his bonds.

It felt a bit like being dropped into a dream. It was another world, slightly murky at the edges, and entirely made up of flashing lights, like clips of a video, hurtling past his hovering body.
He recognized this slightly sparkly realm. Ah, forcible quirk activation. How incredibly useful.

Sam was lucky: he has three particularly powerful quirks. His father had given him control over water from the waves of a lake to, with practice, the individual atoms in the air. That one was useful in active combat. But there was one more most people didn’t know about, even some of his superiors.

Divination, given to him by his mother, along with another closely guarded secret.

It seemed that at the moment, his greatest power in a fire fight (being able to tell ahead of time if a villain had an accomplice or a hidden super powerful quirk was incredibly useful) was being used against him.

He focused in on the information being forced onto him, trying to discern what info these villains were stealing from him.

Flashes of chaotic scenes whipped by him. He caught sight of a girl with attention-grabbing pink skin battling a non-descript villain thug. A sneering boy with an explosion of blonde hair fighting with a kid with half red, half white hair against someone with a monstrosity of a tooth quirk in a wooded area. A girl with the tongue of a frog flying of the deck of an ocean cruiser into a small lake swimming with villains.

Most powerfully, a young boy no older than fourteen or fifteen just like all the other children, with a curly mess of green hair, a face of pure determination that truly is only born of hardship, green sparks of electricity edging his entire body as he moved his arm back for a punch. Besides him, a black-haired, concerning pale boy, eyes flicking all over, some ghostly-looking girl which some strange bruising on her throat floating over his head somehow.

My quirk immediately refinished both of them as incredibly important people and attempted to dive farther into their future.

I pulled on it with all the strength I had in this coma dimension, edging it back to less personal information. The villain controlling my quirk, for once not battling against me, helped the view over to the info they needed: where is all of this happening?

My brain spat out the answer before I could stop it: Japan, UA Highschool.

Damn it.

Coming out of using my quirk was as rough as going in, worse than usual. It was like my soul was suddenly anchored to a line of rope on the top of my head, and it was, with a hugely disorienting blur of color, light and screaming sound, pulled straight up against my will and slammed into the shelter of my own body. In another second, I had melded back into my regular self.

My senses were swimming. Every alarm bell in my head was going off like mad. Flashes of scenes over in Japan tumbled past, blurry and faint, flittered around in the back of mind. My quirk apparently couldn’t be shut off fully against my will. Lovely.

I felt like throwing up. I had rag-dolled right into the rope across my chest keeping me to the chair, digging in painfully to my ribs. Sight, which I knew for a fact to be filled with nothing more than dusty concrete floor, wobbled horribly. Smell was totally out the window, but hearing was more or less up and running. “UA High, Japan.”

Hands clapped together. I assumed those of Dark Fire. Trench coat wearing menace.

“Spectacular. How is he?” I assumed there was a shrug from the quirk activator villain.

Dark Fire’s black combat boots (yes, he wore heels) edged into my vision, slowly turning less and less mobile even though I knew from the sound of his footsteps he wasn’t moving.

A gloved hand met my chin, gently moving my head up. I refused to try to look at that detailed mask. I knew what it looked like, and all this was going to give me a migraine.

I slammed my eyes shut.

There was a small huff, and a hand on my left shoulder pushed me back against the chair so the rope wasn’t hurting me. “Check him over. Don’t go too high in the sleeping meds, and drop him back at his HQ.”

“Sis, we don’t know where that is.” His assistant again.

“His partner’s, then. Look alive, people, we’ve got a location!”

There was a pinch at the back of neck as a needle entered my skin. Ugh. I hate those things.

I knew I had been given a sleeping drug. This wasn’t the most alarming thing, since I knew he planned to leave me back at a safe spot. However, having my feet mentally ripped out from underneath me twice over the course of an hour was a bit too much for me. I fought against the sleepiness in my eyes, the numbing in my limbs.

After about ten minutes of that, there was a muffled voice from where the assistant maybe still was, and another punch.

After that, there was no fighting it.

 

———

Lunch was a hard block to get through. It was one of the more reliable things in every day.

Didn’t make it any better.

Grim, actual name something he never shared anyone on pain of death and destruction, prodded at his rice and not meat mixture (Grim was vegetarian, since plants couldn’t do shit against him, but a thousand angry cows definitely could if they ever tracked him down) as regally as possible. Germanius. Who does that to a kid?

Well, his folks weren’t exactly around to argue, so he went by Grim, short for Grim Reaper. Who ever would have thought he would twist the childhood bullying nickname into a weapon for himself?

Him, clearly.

Behind him was the trio of idiots. He could feel it. Also, the silvery ghost girl who sat beside him every day for the entire lunch hour had done a pretty good job of warning him. (He didn’t mind the bruises gathered around her neck. Better than the boy wandering the sidewalk he had helped on the first day of school, stuck with a broken foot and mangled skull, poor kid.)

“Ay, it’s the nobody!”

They truly were stupid on many different levels.

He took a bite of not pork and grain thoughtfully. The sauce wasn’t too sticky, wouldn’t stain well. However, the balls of rice would do nicely.

He needed to get more creative.

Later today he’d ask Kala, the ghost girl, for help in tomorrow’s great defense scheme.

He didn’t turn as they got closer to him at the bench on the roof. He was in a corner, behind the doorway up here. This meant he was better hidden, sheltered and defensively, since anyone looking to go over here would have to turn the corner to do so. However, this also meant he was a bit trapped.

Kala sighed tiredly from beside him. He focused on her instead of the schoolyard level insults. He hadn’t found her noose yet, though he was sure she had hanged herself. Unless there had been a murder… but strangulation seems like something one would hear about, via the rumor mill or officially. She had been sneaky. Had they found her body? There wasn’t anywhere on campus with that particular weird smell, and it wasn’t old enough of a building for her to be a skeleton.

Well, her body was her business. He was only interested in having a proper funeral is all. He still remembered that time when he was ten and accidentally solved a murder case at the train station. That had taken some explaining for how the ‘quirkless’ kid beat trained grown up police officers to the conclusion.

Well, the story he had fed the officer was horseshit. He had simply asked the man with a stab wound in the gut if he needed some help, and lo and behold he suddenly knew where a murderer was.

Fun times.

Well, if he could face off against a guy with a knife and a seriously deadly quirk in a cramped public bathroom, he could totally take down some school bullies.

The only thing was, violence was much less acceptable when you weren’t under immediate threat of death. Meaning he couldn’t, say, ambush all three of the morons and send them tumbling off the roof. (Its only like, two stories, they’d be fine. A couple broken bones, a couple pegs down on the old ego.)

It really was a shame.

All three of them rounded the corner at once, and Kala tensed despite the fact that there wasn’t a damn thing they could do to her.

They didn’t even know she existed.

Would she follow him after graduation? They hadn’t talked about it. His foster parents’ apartment wasn’t far, maybe she’d drop in from time to time.

He didn’t want her to be lonely. He didn’t want her to be as she was when he first met her.

Anyway, back to being harassed.

Their leader was a big bloke. Grim forgot what his name was (that’s how little brain power he put into this lot’s existence) but he knew his quirk pretty damn well by now. Your average strength boost, a person with a good hit behind a punch. His cronies were about as (not) impressive. One with illusion work, which really did nothing Grim was even remotely scared by, (he saw worse shit than this kid could or would ever dream up on his way to the grocery store) the other with a teleportation ability. He had a few jump scares under his belt, but nothing major.

He didn’t know why these monkeys were still after him. Sure, they thought he was quirkless, big whoop. But they all knew he wasn’t easy prey. However, he was more than happy to cover the freshman chameleon kid’s mental health.

“Still think you can be a hero, Nobody?”

Ah. The hero thing had been a pipe dream from sixth grade, when he had been a bit less focused on what he actually wanted to do with his life. Now, he knew it wasn’t going to happen of course, and not because of a lack of ability. He could probably make the top ten if he really wanted to, but then he’d get dragged into the big disasters, where he wouldn’t be as useful. He was planning on sitting through whatever well paying job he landed himself, shortly before hiking around the country looking for tragedy.

He’d take care of the failed missions, the times heroes got there too late. Covertly, obviously.

Vigilante was probably too strong a word for it. Helping hand?

Nah, he’s no goody two shoes.

Strength Guy rested his meaty hand in the back of the bench, leaning down to the side. He was inches from Kala, who was by now either going to try to hit him, which would be bad, hit all of them, which would be worse, or bolt, worst of all.

Grim watched him closely not out of fear for himself, as the thug thought, but as a way of looking out for her.

He scraped up a spoonful of non sticky rice, dumping it over one of the rice balls. Repeat process three to sixteen times, and you had yourself some projectiles.

The cronies were hanging pretty far back, probably in case he tried to run, which would never happen.

They’d make good targets, and distractions.

He did a bit of hand movement to draw their attention, if it was even on his hands in the first place, away from where he was worming his spork thing into position.

Just as Leader Kid opened his mouth, he released, then scooped up another and launched for the second crony.

He had pretty good aim, something given to him from years of practice with a host of bully victims.

One ball landed perfectly into the gloomy mess the illusion kid called his hair, half splattering onto his scalp and locks, half sprinkling a generous amount of loose grain all over. The second shot had been more rushed. Instead of hitting the top of his carefully gelled hair, it slammed right into his face, his the left eye, and dropped rice all down his front.

Close enough. That wasn’t the main event, anyway.

Kala, having pulled this off before, sighed, before jumping upward into a kind of full body head butt.

See, ghosts can’t usually touch much of anything, but once they got within twenty feet or so of Grim, they very suddenly could, like Kala and the bench.

Meaning the body slam worked just fine, even if the bully couldn’t see how the hell it had happened. He went flying (ghosts loosely observe gravity at best) about two feet before landing hard on his side, gasping when his upper half ended up hanging off the edge.

Grim peered over his nose at all three of them, two frantically scrubbing at extra extra sticky rice, (his own recipe! Hard to eat, easy to shoot) one scrambling across the concrete floor.

“Scram.”

So they did, cursing him out all the way.

He has accepted his fate as ‘quirkless.’ Mostly, anyway.

Kala collapses gracelessly in the bench, giggling slightly even as she frowned.

He wasn’t a goody two shoes, but she was. He did pity her for it.

But even she could recognize a victory.

“It worked,” she laughed, not bothering to form a full sentence. Talking hurt her, what with the bruises and strangled business, but she managed even if she didn’t chat much. And she sure braved it for a good sigh.

He nodded in response as he munched on his remaining sauce covered arsenal. Even if he didn’t think there was anyone nearby, it wouldn’t do if someone heard him talking to nothing they could see like a lunatic.

Most of their conversations were largely non verbal. It fascinated him, really, how one could communicate without words, something you don’t usually think about a lot in how to do.

At this point, he preferred the quiet. Noise never translated to good.

The rest of lunch was fine. Kala had to swat some birds away from the fallen rice before heading up into the sky to play with a slow moving pack of butterflies, which was pretty chill. No one was even on the roof by the last twenty minutes of the block, so they got to make up ridiculous species names to their hearts’ content.

The actual science names were probably doubly as weird, so they had a ball day.

They both sulked a bit when the bell rang, it’s sharp tone dulled by distance. For him especially. He was sure sitting through middle school on loop year after year would be pretty bad, but it’s not like Kala had to pay attention. However, if he just waggled his eyebrows at her all day and didn’t listen to a word anyone said, he’s not only fail half his classes, but also probably get creamed by a stray binder.

Though his test scores were easy with her hovering over his shoulder. Most of the material was unchanged or similar, so classwork and tests were a breeze.

Maybe he should start hanging out after hours so they could do homework together. Then he’d really be able to not give a damn.

For now though, it was enough to fully soak up the info, shock a teacher when he quickly got their prodding question right (only sometimes with input from his favorite spectral buddy) and seeing their reactions.

He was pretty sure half the school population hated him, including the staff.

Again, he didn’t give a damn. If they wouldn’t file a bully report, he saw himself as clear to do as he pleased.

But today he did a bit more than stare at the wall as a human sponge. He had an idea.

Halfway through math, he snuck away to the bathroom to talk to Kala. “You know how I wanted to go to UA?” He asked her from the privacy of the staff only bathroom. She nodded, slightly confused.

“And you know how Fist Man is banking on me not getting in?”

Her facial expression shifted. “You try get in out of spite?” She managed finally, after a moment of struggle.

He grinned in response. Cue an epic Mom Friend Sigh, with a small look of approval attached.

She waved me off, defeated and proud, and we trooped off back to class.

 

Two hours later, I had to change gloves. It wasn’t a big deal, I tried not to keep them on long enough to be noticeable or whatever. It was literally just me reaching into my bag, taking out a pair identical to the black pair I already had on, switching them out as quietly and quickly as possible, slip the poisoned pair into a special slot in my bag, and we were done.

Now, you probably have a few questions.

Okay, so my quirk isn’t just the ability to see or help out the dead. I can also sweat out death. It’s kind of like death juice. I also don’t think scientists know whatever it is exists, which is fun.

Five fingers on bare skin, and that’s a lethal dose. So I wear gloves. All the time. I don’t know what those people in books are bitching about. It’s fine. A lot better than spreading death like the common cold wherever I go.

I had tried biker’s gloves once, you know, leather, but they were more expensive and harder to replace even if they did last a whole lot longer than a few hours. Also, ever tried writing with a pencil with leather gloves on?

Kala had figured out the weirdness with the gloves because of course she had. (She’s selectively mute, not freaking blind.) I think she thought I either had a second quirk or had correctly assumed it was something to do with the first one.

I’m also pretty sure the rest of the people in my classes that have noticed it assume I’m trying not to catch cooties or something stupid like that.

Well, a couple hours after that and we were free. Kala and I walked down to the front gate together, and I smiled her goodbye until tomorrow. She waved cheerily in response, probably planning to hack the library computers before dawn.

I caught the train to my foster home, paying everyone in my car exactly 0% of my attention, instead scrolling through my phone to check and make sure there weren’t any murders or anything going down nearby. (Don’t ask how exactly I check.) Anyway, there wasn’t, so I was in the clear for another totally normal day to draw to a close.

The family that had taken me in knew about my quirk, of course. I dunno why they chose to get me. Maybe because they figured no one else would, like I’m that one disfigured dog at the pound.

Well, they were still plenty scared of me anyway. The first thing Shona, my ‘mother’ did when I walked in and pulled my shoes off was ask, “You changed out your gloves recently?”

I gruffly replied, “Yeah,” As per the routine. She relaxed a bit, and I was free to scurry past and to my room.

I’m basically treated like I am a member of the family with the plague: quarantined for their safety, but they kept me anyway.

I didn’t mind it. This was a better arrangement that having someone lock me in a closet to keep me away from them. Or that one lady who ordered me to dig my own grave because I was an abomination, and God’s mistake and all.
I did all my homework first, which took up until dinner but was easy with Kala’s ghostly notes from when she was a student. (She had pilfered them from her school bag for me, and somehow when she had touched them when I gave her the ability they soaked up her ghost juice or something, so they’re all blueish white and sometimes translucent so the writing looks like it’s just floating black letters on my bed)

Dinner was a silent affair of dumpling soup before I headed back to my shelter so they could actually socialize. ‘Dad’ looked a bit quietly every time this happens (I think he mentioned being a therapist when I met him, probably explains a few things. Thinks I’m a rebellious teen with family issues. Hah) but we go along anyway.

I then pulled up the UA High website. Tons of people applied every year for the entry test, this wasn’t weird at all, even for a ‘quirkless’ kid. It took nothing more than registering my name, ability, age, current school, current home location, and bada bing bada boom I had a shot at going to the best high school for heroes in Japan.

Spite is a truly glorious emotion.

Especially when it’s against nearly everyone you know.

 

The next few months passed about the same. I fended off bullies, chatted with the nearby spirit population, goofed off with Kala, sat through class, waited for sleep to hit me over the head with a baseball bat when I got home.

When the weather started to warm as summer approached at the end of the school year, Kala and I got antsy. We hadn’t talked about would would happen after graduation, and I felt far too awkward to bring it up.

So she did, one day after I had scared the heebie jeebies out of the bully gang by having Kala boost me so I was sitting directly on top of where the roof door opened as I ate, with no clear way of getting up there. (That had been fun.)

“You know I can go off school?”

Spirits had a thing they usually clung to in afterdeath. A person, the weapon that had caused their death, a bit of gore on the sidewalk, their body, the building they died in, the particular moon cycle (hello, werewolves) you name it. Once they’ve chosen what they’re attached to, it can’t be switched, and they’re stuck within a certain distance of that thing. I guess I had assumed Kala had latched onto the school building.

“Uh. No?”

She snorted, and I coughed to cover for myself.

She pulled a length of rope out of her back pocket, half translucent like her homework.

Oh.

“You got someone to cut it for you?” The ends were jagged, like they had been randomly hacked at until they finally snapped.

She nodded happily. “I go away after hours. Cat cafe lots spirits. Cats see us. Play with ‘em.” Animals have better senses than humans, they could usually at least sense a ghost when in the area. Or hear. Or smell. Or sometimes, even see.

I got it now. She’s attached to rope because it was the thing that actually killed her, she got all sneaky and had someone remove it for her, then stole it so she’d be able to move around freely. She could hop on an airplane if she tried hard enough. Just skip the country, tour the world.

So why was she still here?

“Why stick around here then?”

She frowned at me. “You.”

Ow. My heart. I’ve been hit right in the feels.

I swallowed. “Right. So you wanna shadow me after I graduate?”

She nodded again.

“Even if I go to UA?” She made a face, but gave me a thumbs up.

I grinned. “Cool. You don’t have to help me with the work.”

She gave me a skeptical look, either as a you seriously think you can do it on your own? or you think I’m not going to anyway, numbskull?

I took it as both in one and pulled out my phone so we could both get updated on cat videos, which Kala really liked and I was just fine with watching. Those cat food commercials were some of her favorite.

So we did. Last day of school, the bullies came around one last time, I may or may not have kicked ‘em in the shins, sat through the last ‘math’ class (you really do nothing during those last days of school) and walked together to the gate for the last time. But now when we approached the solid ironwork, we didn’t break off, or signal goodbye. We kept walking, and she smiled hugely at me when we stepped outside school grounds side by side.

I smiled, just a little as to not seem bonkers to anyone looking, in quiet response.

This was going to be a great vacation.

 

Turns out a person who can be seen and a person who can’t can get up to a lot of fun when given several months with nothing in particular to do. For instance, when I went into a store and was refused my glorious ability to buy a bag of chips by the cashier when he pieced together I was ‘quirkless’, Kala just so happened to swipe everything she could out of the register, and we gladly took our business elsewhere.

We went to a planetarium, since Kala was interested in the stars and history, (combo!) then toured a couple museums, (damn, the native people worldwide are way under sold for how awesome they were) saw roughly too many movies, (we have this trick where Kala will mess with the ticket machine to get it for free, and then just slips in after me, it’s stupid easy) saw the Japenese Hero Hall of Fame, convinced a couple people that I really did have a quirk, being able to lift small objects (having Kala lift random things around) and then convincing different people that I had the quirk of being able to hover (having Kala wrap he arms around me and hold me off the floor for a fw seconds) and then making everyone involved think they were crazy when they asked about my quirk, and I replied that I don’t have one. (That was a good one. I think we pulled it like, three times before poor Kala started complaining about having to lift me up randomly.)

We also did a little hooligan-ing in the form of hanging out with a gang of street urchins I knew, calling themselves the Horsemen. (As in, of the Apocalypse.) They had been my main companions in elementary school, since I had briefly met them in the system before they decided death before injustice and they would rather be on the streets running their own lives then powerlessly bounced from place to place, separated then not, together then not.

There was five of them, and not one of them had proper names. War, because he was willing to get in a fight at any time for the right cause, Famine, because he almost never ate, Disease, because he was absolutely fascinated by chemicals and guess what, diseases. Death, because they had collectively decided death wasn’t a screaming, raging, hurtful force, but a somber and silent one (also he was hella scary when you don’t know him well) and then the leader by mostly chance and clueless charismatics, Headless. (Like the Headless Horseman. Yes, I know.) Their quirks also tied in pretty well. Headless could remove his own head if he wanted, even though it was a bit of a process, Disease could control, make worse or better, or even create diseases. (Great for colds!) Death could control or summon shadows if he really, really wanted to. (He never, ever did it on command. He was like a cat. You had to convince him he wanted to do it, too.) Famine could basically suck all the nutrients out of your body and somehow transfer it into his, and War expand his strength, (and muscles, which was more than a little creepy) skin thickness, hair and nail length, even eye color if it meant a better chance in a fight. Basically, he was a shapeshifter, but only sometimes. (I once saw him grow horns to convince some competing thief he was a demon, it was fantastic.)

They were totally amazing and I loved them to the ends of the earth.

Kala was introduced to them on the second week of break, when we caught them in the middle of an operation. This one was a food run, where they first volunteered labor in exchange for goods, and, if refused, they robbed ‘em blind in return for as little money they had on them. They sometimes pulled the same thing off for blankets, clothes, hygiene products, water, (rarely) medicine, feminine stuff for homeless ladies around the block, and these tiny mattresses a store nearby sold.

The owner, silly him, had refused their offer, (most shop-owners within a ten-block radius of their base knew to take what they offered, no bartering or refusals. Several had lost their entire stock within the space of ten minutes. Though, med shops usually got off easy, and they only touched the well-off shops) and now he was tied up to the back wall by several sticky-looking bands of shadow on his hands, feet, neck, chest, legs, knees, ankles, wrists, forehead, and even fingers. He was very, very securely fastened. Meanwhile, all five members were carefully taking non-perishable items off shelves and into their collection of backpacks. I saw cans, a can opener, a couple dried fruit and vegetable bags, very few bags of oranges, pears, bananas, potatoes, carrots, spinach and tomatoes, some sliced meat, a few ice packs, bunches of water, loaves of bread, and some candy for flavor.

They were really going all out.

“Hey, guys,” I said cheerfully as the owner glared determinedly at me. Feisty sucker.

Disease’s head whipped around. “Grim!” He tackled me, which was painful, throwing us straight into an freshly-emptied shelf, which was really painful.

I choked a bit when my head banged against a shelf, hard. “Diseeeaase,” I groaned, pawing at his shoulder as he hugged me enthusiastically. I saw Famine salute me over Disease’s shoulder before returning to pocketing different kinds of candy, which was basically this lot’s currency. From the look of his bag, he was making bank right now.

“We haven’t seen you in forever. What have you been doing? I learned a dozen card tricks, I’ve been entertaining tourists, and I’ve made like, a hundred dollars that way. I legally bought us like, ten different things! It was great! How are you doing? What high school are you going to? How are your foster peeps? What-”

“Okay, okay, okay, I get it, I’ve been a bad friend and haven’t updated you. Cool on the card tricks, good for you. High school’s a surprise I’m telling you in a few minutes-” Disease’s face lit up. Unlike War, he loved surprises. War said surprises got you killed. “I’ve been slogging through life, mainly. Oh, I made friends with a ghost girl on campus, her name is Kala.” I waved my hand in her general direction, and focused hard on her for a few seconds.

For just a brief moment, she glowed a brighter blue, and I knew that my two buddies would be able to see her just for a second. She waved slowly while taking in the chaos of the ransacked store.

Famine nodded absently at her while shoving bunches of chocolate bars into a side pocket. Disease, who was apparently high on life at the moment, beamed brightly and chirped a hello, just before my entire abdomen yelled at me, and I shoved him off me in order to get a good breath of air into my lungs.

War, hearing the commotion, wandered on over to our little scene, swiping a hard caramel from Famine, who swatted him, and popped it into his mouth. Death poked his head over from behind the edge of the shelf before blinking twice in greeting and disappearing again. “Oh, hey Grim! Did Disease try to kill you?” He asked, completely unfazed by two of us being sprawled on the floor.

I nodded solemnly, and Disease gave a shriek of protest.

I heard Death snort from the row over.

Disease scrambled to his feet. “Grim has a surprise! And I told him about the cards!”

War’s gaze flicked between him and me now. “Cool. You seen Headless?”

I gestured to the small produce section, whispering comically. “He’s being healthy.” War made a face before pulling me in for a bear-bro hug to finish off the greeting that never properly started.

“Poor him.” He said after releasing me from the slightly painful embrace.

Famine stuck out his tongue at the shelf when he glanced at Headless, shoveling onions and tomatoes into a cloth bag.

“Yo, Headless!” War called out. It was more of a bellow. War had magnificent lungs on him, after all. He should be a game announcer.

His head whipped upwards, zeroing in on me seriously before breaking into a wide smile. He carefully put the produce bag on the ground before running over at me, full speed. My instincts, anticipated another full-tackle, ordered me to take a step back. He snorted before stopping his hug, instead giving me a warm handshake.

He was never good about touching.

“Nice gloves.” I smiled. They were Kala’s, really, since she had spent three days getting a tailor to embroider them whenever she zoned out, basically an innocent version of mind control. (Mind control’s special, in most cases. If it doesn’t have some sort of physical limitation, it has that you can only make someone do something they would already be open to do. So you can’t force someone to commit a crime if they didn’t already have a desire to pull off said crime.) They had patterns of planets and stars spiraling all over the front and back, and they were truly beautiful. I felt bad that I would only wear them for a few hours, but after that I would probably put them on display under a clear case in my room or something.

“Thanks. Food run?”

“Duh. Wanna help?” He gestured around the store widely.

“Nah, I’d get arrested.” I put my hands in my pockets as I laughed.

“Not if you’re careful,” he said cheerfully as he helped the still-sulking Disease to his feet.

Kala was bored of poking at the store owner, and popped up next to me to investigate my second set of friends.

I repeated the are-you-able-to-see-her thing, (they could, whoop) before I popped the news on them. “So, I’m thinking of going to UA-”

Disease groaned suddenly as War let out a whoop. Disease tossed him a candy bar, sulking mood now doubled, as War grinned like a maniac. I deduced that they had made some sort of bet and left it at that. Famine, ignoring his wacky buddies, zeroed in on me. “Why?”

“Because everyone said I couldn’t.” He nodded, accepting that answer immediately.

“Come on, man, I bet an entire candy bar on you going all vigilante on meeee,” he moaned, deflated.

War laughed. “Well, you weren’t too far off.”

“He really wasn’t,” Kala muttered, even though they couldn’t hear her. I huffed anyway.

“Alright, okay, I get it, you all have a truly inspiring amount of faith in me. So I actually wanted to ask something. I can’t just squint at people to get them to stop robbing people, so could one of you teach me to fight?”

War was immediately vibrating with excitement and anticipation. Death, hearing this entire charade and expecting this reaction, sprinted around the corner and slid to a stop in front of me, offering me his hand in bargain. I shook it after a shocked second, and War gave an undignified squawk in protest.

Headless, sensing a brawl, quickly defused the situation. “Okay, so War, you wanna be Teacher Mcgee?”

War nodded confidently.

Death stared levelly at him without a hint of an expression on his face. He generally didn’t feel much of a need to express himself, but he got across just fine.

“Okay, and Death’s already slid a deal… so what if you both do?”

Death suddenly looked horrified. War was elated. I was fine with whatever was mandated under Judge Leader Guy.

Disease was laughing his head off freely, and Famine elbowed him as he delicately sipped from a water bottle, watching with a brand of amusement particular to him. We all pretended to not notice and secretly give a massive sigh of relief that something was entering his system.

Headless turned on me, ignoring all four of his sons. “Sound good?”

“Fantastic man.” He smiled, just a twitch in one corner of his mouth, and winked before turning back to his precious vegetables, still chatting.

“Those bullies stop getting on you?” Headless had a way of figuring things out. When he had figured out what was going on, he had called together his little gang and confronted them.

One walked away with a broken nose, another a sprained arm and ankle, and the third one nearly got his skull beaten in by War but got away severely shaken with a bunch of bruises and a beaten down ego.

The month following that event had been glorious, and incredibly confusing. Then Famine told me after I bribed him with green tea, and all was well again after I yelled at Death for a solid twenty minutes about breaking not one but three other people’s bones in one day. (and that was just what I knew about!)

He hadn’t cared, except maybe he did, and I think even if he didn’t, it was the thought that counted. And Headless had definitely appreciate it, so.

“Yeah, um, kinda not really, but I had fun with some pranks on ‘em so it’s okay.” I could tell Disease was planning three different schemes with varying levels of poison/violence, (I’m pretty sure Death had figured out exactly where each one of them lived) and I had to swat him to get him to calm down.

“Hm,” was Headless’ only response, which left me feeling mildly threatened in my bullies’ place.

“Dude. The school year’s already over. Chances are, I’ll never see the suckers again anyway.”

“Oh, it is?” War asked, genuinely confused. They didn’t pay much attention to a calendar. They knew the seasons and time of day, and that was about it.

“Mhm. Summer, remember?”

“Yea- hey!” War started to respond, then yelped as Death made a swipe for his soda collection.

Apparently they were in an especially steal-y mood today.

Kala was now at peak bewildered, looking at all the empty shelves. “They’re robbing this place.”

I turned so the others would know I was talking to her. “Yeah, they take what they need, but they offer labor in return first. It’s only if they turn them down that this entire thing plays out.”

She nodded hesitantly, her rule-following personality on full display.

“Why not go to a shelter?”

“They don’t take minors.”

“Foster care?”

“Is a totally wrecked system. I would know.”

She sighed in defeat, and nodded her approval to their activities.

I turned back to our favorite street rats. “You have the Kala Seal of Approval.” War chuckled, knowing full well they didn’t need it but was still mildly honored.

Disease grinned like this was a huge triumph before he wandered over to the hygiene section, suspiciously peeking at the toothbrushes and such.

Thus disbanded, Death took me gently by the hand and led me to the shopkeeper, Kala trailing behind like the mother hen she was inside. He took out of his hoodie pocket at least twenty dollars. He offered the money up carefully to the man.

He spit at him. The glob landed on his left cheek.

Death didn’t mind. He wiped it off on his sleeve and put the coins and bills on the counter beside him, by the cash register.

“Why not buy it?”

He signed to me in sign language. “Wouldn’t have all we needed. Wanted to give him something.”

Death was nonverbal, if you hadn’t figured it out.

“So you were planning on a robbery?” Kala’s feet went off the ground, and she floated up like a jump in slow motion, except there was no gravity in effect halfway through. At first she hovered midair, then slowly started creeping up higher.

“Prepared for it.”

Huh. Okay.

“What type of fighting you do?” Kala reached the ceiling, and pawed at the crumbling ceiling tiles curiously, to no effect. She phazed right through, and pouted.

“Long r-a-n-g-e, quirk. W-a-r do w-r-e-s-t-l-e.” When Death doesn’t know the sign for a word, he just spells it out. He often addresses his friends through nicknames to avoid the hassle. Famine, for instance, was the sign for quiet. So, he essentially called him Silent Mcgee. He substituted the sign for magic for quirk, and it worked out fine.

“Cool. Why were so desperate to teach me?”

“War would be excited, fast. Rough. You don’t get hurt with me.”

“Well… thanks then.” In the corner of my vision I caught sight of Kala’s long shimmering hair. She was either doing flight practice via laps on the ceiling or was cartwheeling her way from wall to wall.

He nodded solemnly. “I will watch out for you. When meet up?”

“As often as you can. Three days a week work?”

He gave me a quick thumbs up. “2, 4, 6.” He signed, meaning Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I agreed quickly, knowing he would be giving me nearly all his free time to do this.

“Thanks, man. I really apreciate. You want me to make it up to you?” Kala soared down like a dolphin in water, making a dive for the candy isle. Two seconds later, there was a yelp, then a yell of encouragement, as she successfully nabbed a toffee and flew right back up the ceiling. She was getting better at touching things.

Death did not respond. He just kept walking forward, calmly picking up his backpack again and staring down the remainder of the candy section.

This could mean several things. No, or yes, most obviously. But also: only if you don’t wanna be indebted, absolutely not we’re just friends, only if you want to…

I decided I’d get him a coffee and a cupcake whenever I next saw him. He liked citrus. Lemon? Orange? Maybe ginger?

All of them?

I gestured to Kala, who was by now trying to figure out how to unwrap the candy without dropping it or losing her grip, probably to see whether or not she could eat it. Five dollars said no, (then again, I don’t know if she’s breathing or not or anything…) (could she?) but the more power to her for trying. She pocketed the candy into… somewhere? when I finally caught her attention.

She did a backflip and stopped hovering, neatly landing down in a pirouette with the grace of a cat. “Show off,” I murmured to nobody in particular. She laughed like a maniac. “Race outside!”

She shot off, and went right through the door gleefully. I, in a sudden full sprint after her, was only a few seconds behind. “No fair, cheater!” I whispered to her.

She stuck out her tongue before touching down again. A passing spirit, maybe twenty in life terms, smiled as he moved to avoid us on the sidewalk, then did a double check. I could see the question in his eyes. Can he see us?

I winked at him, frozen on the pavement, before turning in sync with a gloriously happy Kala, starting to whistle a particularly punk song as we walked (well, Kala skipped. But still) where our feet took us.

 

When we started such a journey, it was either for a purpose: I’m hungry, you see anywhere we could stop? Or, on a more serious note: you see any hurt ghosts?

I had figured out exorcisms when I was twelve, with much trial and error. Turns out most people in ancient texts and whatever got close enough, being unable to directly know if their process was working or not and whatever, but their spells tended to hurt more than help. It would send them somewhere else, but it might just shift their haunting space from one building to another. Or it could violently rip through their very being, basically killing them twice. Or it could painfully tear them from this dimension and pull them off somewhere, who knows where. (Afterlife? Second death? Reincarnation? DisneyLand?)

Well, I had perfected most of those rituals so they did it painlessly. If a spirit wanted to take their chances with the maybe-afterlife, I teleported them there with a couple herbs and weird fancy-sounding-words. Want to switch haunting ground? Badda bing, badda boom, you’re in business! And so on.

Most ghosts that took the bet with the afterlife were the seriously hurt ones, like the kid with the bashed skull back at school. He had been in terrible pain randomly, (no pain receptors, no body to house them, but his soul definitely knew it was supposed to be hurting, so it manufactured the pain itself) and had been desperate for any sort of solution.

He had been sent away by the end of the first ten minutes of me laying eyes on him, and the brief look of relief in his eyes as a kind of yellowish light replaced the usual blue a spirit was made of was entirely worth it.

I knew something else had to be going on to send away ghosts, or else there'd be ancient warrior and emperors and everything from a thousand years ago just wandering around Tokyo. Obviously, there aren’t (and thank every god I don’t believe in for that). I had seen a brief glimpse of a pure black dog in a graveyard a couple of times, the only sign he was a ghost at all was the glowing harness on his back: GHOST SERVICE DOG printed out in giant white-blue letters. They seemed to only crop up on graves, and led away ghosts right into that golden light, this time in the form of a rounded door.

There had been a black swish of a cloak once, paired with the quick flash of silver curved metal, from what I could only assume to either be a demon or the Grim Reaper himself. Another time I saw a live girl on a pegasus with a ghost on back disappear into the sky, so you know.

I had come to the conclusion that whatever underworld or afterlife existed did indeed have ghost messengers, they were just a slight bit held up. And I was happy to help out in the process. (By the way: there really is a how to be a ghost hand book. They’re glowing booklets that pop up everywhere the universe can fit them, and teleport in more frequently in haunted areas than not. There’s also random instances where a cloud will be branded with the basic rules of hauntings in great big, puffy letters. It’s a mixture of cool and freaky to see.)

This all becomes relevant about three times a week, whenever we stumbled onto a ghost that had been seriously injured in their last moments. Wounds from shootings, murder, sucide, natural disasters, freak accidents, house fires, poisonings, radiation, regular burns, bad falls, eletrocution, crushed glass, fist fights, car accidents, fallen bits of nature, bad exorcisms, on and on and on.

This one had been the victim of a particularly bad spell. Spell injuries look different from regular ones, mostly because they glow right along with the ghost rather than presenting themselves as dull color overlays. Some glitter like there are bits of crushed glass where there are none, some act as beacons buried within the skin (most of the ghosts with that go blind from trying to figure out how bad the wound is) (blindness is the only natural thing that can touch you after death, by the way) some look like inserted glow sticks, yet others shine only at certain angles, like metal.

This one had the glitter variety, the main reason we saw her. She was a shorter woman in a rosy pink hijab, (colors show up at the same time as the blue ghostliness does, which makes for some wacky combos) loose black pants, and a white blouse. I guessed she was from the seventies, maybe?

She was sobbing her eyes out.

A massive cut in her side soaked the pink and white an uncomfortable hue of purple-red. It glittered like massive gems had been buried in her organs, and a bad deep blue burn surrounded the entire thing in a gruesome oval shape.

“Ma’am?” Kala asked politely as we approached carefully. I pretended to be interested in going into some nearby shops while they talked.

Her eyes flicked to Kala, even though she didn’t pause.

“This is Grim, and I’m Kala. He can see you, it’s his quirk. He can help you too. We just need to go somewhere more private.”

She sobbed harder.

“It’s not like the first exorcism, we swear. They were people who didn’t know what they were doing. He does. He’d sooner join us than hurt someone on purpose.”

She wasn’t lying, not a bit of it.

Kala reached out her small hand for the woman’s larger limp one. She hesitantly closed around it, smiling when the hand squeezed hers, and not minding at all when it squeezed probably to the point of pain.

The woman leaned forward just a bit from where she had been leaning on the nearest building's wall, and nearly collapsed into poor Kala.

She took her weight though, flying a bit to do so, and we made our way into a nearby alley.

Anybody that saw this next bit would probably think I was out of my mind, but I couldn’t care less. Not when I was the unofficial doctor to Heaven’s waiting room. I had several spirits come to me a week, more than the usual handful, asking for my help. And god, it was so worth some sharp stares, a few doses of harsh judgement.

I took out some bundles of herbs from my school bag, some lined paper with the weird words scrawled on them, a couple tiny candles.

I had figured out a spell for these situations, too. Earlier on I was forced to Underwold-ify any spirits I found in this state, but then we did a bit in school on Egyptian mummification (by that I mean I twisted an assignment to give me an excuse to research it) and I learned they had a habit of similar injuries to their newly dead. (Cough cough taking out their organs cough cough.) If anything, this was a watered down version of anything this spell was made to handle. It was a bit like the horse tranquilizer of some medication compared to what I pulled off. (The Egyptians were really the ones who had their facts straight in this field, and I guess for good reason.)

The only problem was, you can’t really translate ancient pictionary into perfect modern Japenese without a few hiccups.

This wasn’t ideal, like having a tear in bandaid, but better than nothing. You can always add a second one, yeah?

This particular enchantment didn’t need half the materials I had on hand, but I found it was better to be ready for war in a fistfight than show up empty-handed.

I lit three candles for some Greek help, (they really did love their trios) some special herbs around for sections of the Americas, incantations stitched together from all over Asia, (leaning more heavily on Japanese, thank you) and we were ready.

Doing necromancy (is that what it’s called?) is a bit like throwing yourself off the deep end when you have a vague idea of how to swim. In theory, you know what to do, and if you try really hard you can get things done, but it doesn’t make the experience any better.

The first time I did it, I thought I had just committed quirk-related sucide. I think you actually flash your way through a couple of afterlives over the course of the paragraph before somehow ending up in some universe entirely made up of the swirly stuff spirits were made of for the last sentence, which was overall beyond freaky. And you’ve got to be careful not to stutter or bad things happen. (Never, ever again.)

It also kind of feels like your body is temporarily possessed. My arms reach out and shape the universe ghost goop like I have any idea what the hell to do with it, and when I surface, yeah it does actually feel like coming up from underwater, it seems that world is somehow connected to this one because the spirit gunk has shifted and healed.

This instance involved my possesed hands removing some purple and deep blue gunk like in the woman’s actual wound, essentially throwing it into a conveniently and terrifyingly close by black hole, and doing the regular molding mess.

With the last smoothing motion of my cupped hands, I was shot upwards like out of a cannon, and sunlight, weak as it was in the alley, blinded me as I flew back into my body with a faint sticky feeling.

I blinked rapidly before nearly falling over, catching myself on a nearby dumpster and taking a few deep breaths. I glance over through my watering eyes to see the woman gasping and sputtering, feeling at her whole, undamaged side.

I struggle for air and close my eyes. I did. It’s fine, it’s cool. She’s healed, you’re alright, you did fine.

When I open my eyes again, the woman is full on bowing to me at my feet, like she was praying.

I blink again. Oh hell no.

I sink down to sit on my heels, activated my tired quirk to touch her back gently. “No need. Your happiness is gift enough.”

There’s a sniffle, and she looks up at me. The tear-stained face looks terrible, but her eyes shine.

I start to grin right then and there, and help her up.

She doesn’t seem to know what to do. Kala smiles brightly, takes her by the hand, and leads her out of the alley again, probably for further comforting.

I sit down heavily, nearly lighting myself on fire from one of the candles.

It never does get easier, just more rewarding, and maybe less creepy. I was ready for some food and a nap right about now.

Instead I gulped down some more oxygen and started gathering up the materials with shaky hands. The papers had fallen from my grip during my trance, but they hadn’t gotten wet when they landed, so it was okay. The candles were easy enough to load back up, and the herbs had there on special pocket.

“What are you on?” I look behind me. There’s a shady-looking guy in a hoodie, weirdly covered for the warmer weather, and I can make out the lines of scars on his face.

“Death.” I reply simply, shrugging on my pack. We look at each for a few minutes.

He’s ringed with spirit traces. That happens with some people. If they were present for a death, have information on it, or were just important to that dead person, a little piece of them can stick to them and hang on for dear life.

But this many would require… quite a bit of death.

The last person that had this many tags on him had been a serial killer on a spree.

Yeah, murder victims can definetely tag people too. It tends to be either a hands off, I care about this person, or hands off, he’s mine. The only problem is, I can’t tell the difference. Kala says there’s a shift in the coloring, kind of like the spirit version on tone. I’ve got the words and body language down, but the subtle bits of tone, which can really be important, escape my eyes. (our theory is I’m more attuned to whatever wavelength of light ghosts give of as well as the normal vision one, but my genes had to split the difference so I could still see in color, meaning I technically can’t see all of what’s happening with the dead, but close enough)

I look him over. I’d assume he’s homeless, with the well-worn clothes and prominent injuries, but the sheer amount of tags on him tempt me to think otherwise.

But that level of tags would also point to the fact that if I were to try to bring him in to the police or alert a hero, if any one of those ghosts found out, lets just say I would not have a very long time to live.

Damn it.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, thanks too-good consciousness.

I swallow. It isn’t good to be in an abandoned alley with a maybe-murderer, said my smart-brain.

“Right. Fine kid. Get out of here if you know what’s good for you.”

I was tempted to reply that I didn’t, but right then Kala came back into the alley, eyes widening as she took in the man.

She immediately saw why I was hanging around and formed a small tag in her hands, just a little blip of light, and threw at him. It landed on his left arm, and I made a note of the shape.

Mission complete, I got the hell out of there.

We ran for three straight blocks before we stopped so I could catch me breath. “Can you track him or something?” I asked her between gulps.

“No work that way. Can tell if he commit crime, I know if he hurt people now.” Okay, that could work.

It makes sense, too. The point of tagging someone is to make sure they aren’t either doing something bad to themselves or to others. You have to know the number of crimes for vengeance, which was kind of the point of the last category.

“Ooohhhh, my god.” I finally say, and she giggles out an agreement. She waits for me to stop wheezing with my hands on my knees like an old man before gesturing towards a nearby deli with an expression that left no room for questioning.

Yeah, I guess I could do with a sandwich right about now. And a bit of tea would be nice…

Chapter Text

Two days later, it was time for my first fighting lesson. I show up at their base of operations, which was really an alley Death and Headless had engineered so it had a kind of mobile roof made of tin metal set up to look just like the surrounding shops’, like an overhand between two stores. War and Disease defended it, and Famine I guess was there mascot.

They had four mattresses set out with sleeping bags and blankets, piles of extra bedding, medicine, and whatever towards the back, and food and water nowhere to be found.

I knew which one was each of their beds without being told. The one closest to the entrance and, like the one second the back, was made with military precision, Death and Headless’. War’s sloppily made, Disease’s not even bothering, and Famine’s was more of a nest than a bed.

I was frankly expecting the hand on my back, my warning, before there was quick swipe at my legs with one foot and in under a second I was on the ground. My side hit the ground first, but that was better than my head any day. Death, in a black tee, tight grey pants and sneakers with mad traction on the bottom, was standing over me curiously.

He waved his hand at me. Get up, idiot.

Message received, I ignored the developing bruise on my ribs and stood.

He gave me a sad kind of look for whatever reason, then some shadow work. A dark, sticky glob developed on his hand, which shot out to the wall and gripped. Suddenly, he was three feet in air, having used the handhold to vault straight up.

Show off.

Well, diving to the left so he couldn’t immediately flatten me to the ground would only extend the amount of time until he decked me. Logically, I had to either run to where he had jumped off, or meet him in the air and wait for him to come down so I could get in a hit.

I stepped to my left, right beside where the shadow blob was melting off the brick slowly, and dropped into a kind-of fighting stance. It was something a ghost who had boxed as his hobby in life had shown me, along with how to give a good knock-out sucker punch to the jaw and how to kick something or someone without being an idiot.

Death must have had more shadow glue on his shoes somehow, because he stuck when he landed with both feet sideways opposite to me. He looked at me, standing like he would on the ground, like well?

I thought. He could outmatch me in the air any day with his shadows. I was assuming we were staying inside the alley for this, and going back farther into the shadows would advantage him. But it would also limit his mobility up there… So I could either fight in the light with him freely zipping overhead, or under the roof in the semi-darkness where he had more ammo to work with.

He was smart. Very smart…

Im guessing if I choose one type of fight we’re going to do the other later, so might as well stay in the open and leave wrestling/close quarters for later.

Following him up there was out of the question entirely. I had to find a way to get to him from down here, then.

I saw Kala out of the corner of my eye, entirely unimpressed by the entire situation, leaning against one wall and scrolling through something on her ghostly phone. She would be no help.

How the bleep was I supposed to do this, then?

I felt mildly nauseous at the thought of using my hands to put him to sleep, something I could do with the touch of a single finger. It wouldn’t do anyway. In a street fight or against a real villain: super useful. To put my fighting teacher into a coma, however, was not advised.

Oh. He wanted me to find a way to hit him. Duh.

I guess it made sense. War was off the opinion that you had to be able to fight with or without your quirk, or the first person who can take it away you meet in a fight, you’re toast. Death must have taken a page out of his book for this one.

I understood the need to learn someone that was zipping around above me. I also understood that I had no idea how to go about it.

I hadn’t brought any weapons to hit him with, and he was firmly out of range. Maybe I could throw a brick at him or something.

He hadn’t moved. He seemed to be waiting on me, but maybe not in the way I thought. He was staring at a bundle I hadn’t noticed before on the ground, just a few inches from my feet. Long, stick-thin, actually, until the end where it thickened suddenly in a big curve.

It was like staring at a wrapped up guitar and wondering what on earth was inside.

I was looking at a scythe, all wrapped up in newspaper.

He didn’t.

I toed it with one foot. It moved a bit, and there was a metallic sound as the blade hit the concrete.

He did.

Uuuggghhhhhh.

Death was smirking. I glared at him before squatting farther to scoop up the package. The damp paper ripped under my fingers without me even trying to tear at it. Shreds of paper gathered around my feet as the weapon, which was indeed a scythe, revealed itself.

I will admit it was beautiful. The handle was made of some kind of grey-white wood, polished to smoothness and beyond. The end was weighed down with an elegant silver metal blunt, rounded square tip. The blade almost seemed part of the handle, past the color change. It was about an inch thick, made of some spooky-looking black metal with a simple sharpened edge. An engraving ran along the top, the unsharpened side. I squinted at it.

I’m not what you want, but I’m exactly what you need.

This little-

A hand hit me on the back of the head roughly, in a motion like a cat swatting at a feather. He had gotten impatient.

I held it properly, hands spread out experimenting with grips. I found having my hands in a reversed position worked pretty good, with the one a bit from the handle allowing me to have some aim with the thing, and my other hand was basically for adding brute-force power and speed.

Just by handling it, I knew this was meant for something more than cutting grain.

I sighed. I had a few weeks until the entry test, and even if I didn’t get in, it would be good to learn how to handle a weapon.

Alright then. If he insisted.

I swung the thing around so the blade was towards me, careful to not gut myself, and tried out a blow in his direction.

I under-estimated the range the thing had, the actual weight went right over his shoulder so the handle hit him instead.

Close enough?

Not even close. He did some gymnastics to bounce across the alley by his hands, feet, hands. He even did a backflip at one point. He was then crouching directly above me.

I moved the weight so it rammed into his head at a decent speed, which held him back for about three and a half seconds before he dropped straight onto me heavily.

We both hit the ground, but he was off me again in a second, presumably to land on me again, harder.

The scythe landed with a clatter about a foot away. Before my eyes, my new weapon seemed to shatter at the blade. The handle broke off from the blade, which now seemed to be in two.

This is why I can’t have nice things, you see.

Then I looked closer. It hadn’t broken: it had detached. The handle had turned to a staff, the blade into a pair of twin daggers. At the base of each knife, it thinned out, forming a grip, and at the very end of that was a small mechanism, maybe to hook it back onto the handle.

Oh my god that is useful.
I scooted out of the way in case my prediction came true, and made a grab for the closest part of the blade. I felt the vibration from Death’s feet hitting the ground beside me, and I especially felt it when he kicked my arm to try to get at my chest. I flattened myself against the ground as my hand wrapped around the knife’s (what could pass for a) handle.

We were both still for what felt like eons, thinking.

This was teaching me how to fight. This wasn’t us trying to murder each other. Him challenging me any more would be dangerous, and it would be especially dangerous for me to swing at him with the sharp pointy bit.

He toed me more gently at my elbow. I looked up carefully. He signed at me. Fight done. Get up. No k-n-i-f-e, s-c-y-t-h-e sharp e-n-d.

I put the knife back down and got to my feet. I looked at the three pieces of my scythe. The handle was indeed a staff, with the other piece to the mechanism on the knives. I picked it up, the wood cool and curved in my hand. Each end was equally heavy, expertly weighted on each side. I looked down at the knives. They were just pieces of shaped metal, no different material for the handle, just a different width.

This made several different kinds of sense. Scythes, I imagined, would be hard to haul around all put together. But a staff and some knives weren’t too uncommon for heroes, I didn’t think. Knives were tools, and staffs were a good non-lethal weapon to use in a fight. I could get sheaths, and strap the staff across my back, maybe attach it to my backpack.

The knives wouldn’t be throwing knives, they were probably too heavy for that, meaning I would be entirely in a rather large close-range style.

Death was an annoying genius.

The staff would be good to train with. Neither us could die by it easily, unless I really tried to whack him on the neck, and it had good range.

Okay. This could work. Eventually.

 

I picked up on the two of their fighting styles quickly. Death, as promised, did a whole lot of moving around and liked to keep out of easy reach, but was happy to do some more hand-to-hand as long as it didn’t go to the ground.

War was either constantly either trying to punch you out or wrestle you into submission. He found street-style, which was dirty, (hair-pulling, biting, trash-talking, all that) but he made an effort for me, knowing heroes wouldn’t exactly be able to do this all the time.

Death had me think. War had me fight. And let’s just say my chess abilities were up, and I’d be damn good in the boxing ring.

I was terrible at first. Slow reaction time, stumbling in my matches with War, uncreative strategies, tired quickly.

The Death dragged me to the gym for half of the day for each of his days, got rougher with me in our fights, and that all changed in a hurry.

Half the time I was convinced I was about to collapse. The other half I was stupidly naive, but learning, so it was okay.

By the time the four weeks between my starting day and the big test had passed, I was feeling pretty good. Sore, but that was the new normal for me.

The test was happening at the actual school, and at first we all just stood outside the gates. It was hot, being summer, but I was cool with it. It had been worse when the heat got trapped under the alley roof.

We were then herded into some kind of auditorium, a giant room with plush seats and a screen/stage area out in front, and the test kicked off with some hero I vaguely recognized yelling at us. He said his name was something like Microphone or something else equally stupid.

He was here to tell us the rules of the test.

There was a collective intake of breath from all us hopefuls, a couple hundred at least.

The screen flicked on behind him, showing pictures of three different kinds of towering robots with different point values were assigned to each. I scanned them. The smallest wasn’t worth much, but a lot could add up fast. The medium one got a higher score, and were probably rarer. The largest of all looked freaking deadly, and its value was a 0. Mr. Yelling explained that they were more dangerous, but we would get nothing for taking them done, so it was best to stay away.

This school was bonkers.

It was glorious.

How could I go about fighting a bunch of giant mechanical parts? I couldn’t make much of a dent in it with my scythe, and my sleeping touch wouldn’t do much for me here.

Kala, hovering above me, reading my mind, waggled her eyebrows at me.

Oh. Recruiting some ghostly helpers. How stupid do I have to be to not figure that out?

Even so, the ghosts can only really touch things within about twenty feet of me, which could get dicey in a hurry.

Ugh.

This seems like a weird medium to try to find hero candidates through too. Like, hey, you’re able to rip through solid metal and rip random objects apart! You’d be great at role modeling for small children and scooping people out of dangerous situations!

Society is weird.

Anyway, back to the problem. I could get other people to kill robots for me somehow, but then would they give me or that person the points? It isn’t very heroic, either…

I got a mental shock as I ran my hand anxiously over my knee, and the bare pad of my pointer finger met skin. I had a small patch cut out from the three sets of gloves I was carrying, in anticipation of having to put someone to sleep. I’d have to be careful to not accidentally brush up against anyone or anything like that.

I swallowed at that threat, and also that my shot at getting into this school was getting statistically smaller and smaller. All that work for little more than nothing. Well, might as well try, right?

I decided that I would protect people if I could. That big robot looked dangerous, someone had to eventually get in it’s way, and as soon as they released us to fight these things, different quirk side effects would be flying all over the place. Logically, somebody somewhere would get hurt.

It’s a hero school. They have to award points for helping people complete a task… right?

The hero finished screaming at us, and we were led to a big gate area, Kala, having done a bit of spying ahead of time, informed me that behind it was a kind of miniature city, with streets and buildings and signs, and robots dotted throughout. The big one was towards the middle of the place, with a bunch of smaller and medium ones around it. To help out the most people, I should head there and hang around for a while, see what happens.

I bit my lip as I looked at the gate. It was about thirty feet tall, blocky, mechanical-looking, and painted a lighter shade of blue. All of us kids were all crowded in front of it, jostling to get closer for an advantage. I ignored the building heat as midday ticked closer and tried to take deeper breaths. Worse comes to worse, I would fail and have a fun memory or something. No consequences at all. This only had a chance at helping me. No reason to be nervous.

Past a risk of injury, death, embarrassment, humiliation, the chance at seeing my old bullies among the crowd, making enemies-

The doors creaked, and slowly began to open. My stomach hit the floor as the crowd surged forward, pushing me along with them. Kala flew above me protectively, making sure I didn’t get trampled.

A kid behind me shot up in the air probably thanks to a jumping quirk. Another person with an ugly explosion of blonde hair was flying along via explosions surfacing from his hands. A girl with wings managed to scrape past him just barely without getting her entire back burned to a crisp. A girl with what looks to be a frog transformation quirk, with bowed legs perfect for hopping, beat out the crowd at sprang out a small nearby robot, wrapping a way too-long tongue around its head before ripping it right off.

I was so dead.

I ducked under someone’s arm, which wasn’t comfortable since they had some kind of porcupine spike situation going on, trying to move forward out of the crush of yelling kids. A boy with a kind of golden light gathering around me shot in the space in front of me, hampering my progress.

Overhead, Kala waved her hand at me invitingly.

Ugh. Fine.

I activated my quirk and jumped up to grab a hold. Her entire body glowed a brighter blue, dimmer on the ends of her hair and shoes, as she hauled me about twenty feet up, gripping me with both hands.

We sailed up above the terrifying mass of heroes-to-be, rushing forward towards the center of the fake city.

I used my vantage point to take in my environment. The city looked real, if you ignored the lack of interiors, cars, pedestrians, and the walls surrounding the place. There were traffic lights and stop signs, paint of the roads, (which seemed like a waste of time and effort, really) glass in the windows, signs above shops and businesses. It was impressive, and pretty useless.

Kala went straight up suddenly, nearly making me lose it, to avoid a medium-sized bot as it tried to grab me out of the air. In a second, we were thirty feet down the road, with it seeming to try to decide who to engage: us, moving down the street and quickly escaping, or the horde of oncoming children.

It chose the latter, turning stiffly just in time to get hit full in the face by Mr. Fire and Fury with a shriek of bending metal and roaring kid.

Scary psycho.

My heart was pounding; I felt faintly dizzy, either from the height or near death experience. (or both!)

I noticed we started getting closer to the ground as we got closer to the center, which I had several objections to, but swallowed mostly out of habit.

She then changed her mind, yanking us both straight up again to rush past the wall of a tall beige building with horrifying speed. My arms started to ache from all the pulling, not to mention the slightly ethereal chill a ghost’s ‘skin’ gave off when touched. She hovered, careful of my feet, over the concrete flat top of what was probably supposed to be an office building, about half a block away from the giant robot. He was truly massive, bigger than almost all the buildings, and made with a blocky form like that a truck, but more colorful and out for your blood.

I looked around the area. All the kids were behind us, fighting those first few bots by the entrance. I could feel the rumble of explosions, robot footsteps, and war cries through the cement under my feet. It would take the more clever ones a few minutes to hike over here, and then the action would really start. Kala had retreated out my range, darkener her hue once more, so I shut off my quirk for now. She wandered over to the roof exit, waiting on me to hurry up and get with the program.

I sprinted over, opened the door, and shot down the narrow stairwell, her close behind. (and trying quite hard not to phaze through me, which I appreciated) I had maybe two minutes to get to ground level before the first kid had the opportunity to get themselves killed. I was thankful and angry at Kala. On one hand, she bought me protection from that monster of engineering outside. On the other, she made me run down six flights of stairs.

I nearly slammed into a wall I was so deep in thought, but I managed to only nearly sprain my ankle instead. The skin over my single bare finger was not happy by the sudden amount of difference it was being exposed to, it kept annoying me. I tried to focus on something else instead. I glanced out a window as I flew past. One kid was getting closer than the rest, someone with what appeared to be a morphing quirk, the ability to turn their limbs to random tools. I caught a glimpse of his entire right arm turning to a chain saw before I was back to staring at concrete.

Damn it, idiot kid. Hold up a few seconds, will you?

Two flights to go. The sound of my footsteps echoed and warped in the small space, filling my ears with a subtle but persistent crashing noise. I was sure my feet were going to go numb from the consistent pressure. I rounded another corner. One more, just a few more seconds…

Fitting the ground floor was jarring, since my feet had gotten stuck in the mechanical rhythm of sprinting down the stairs. My entire body jerked a bit, shortly before I threw myself out the front double doors, breathing hard.

Sunlight hit me like a truck, and my eyes reacted like those of a vampire’s: badly. I had to squint through the brightness to pick out what was happening in the scene in front of me.

The kid, a boy of about fourteen, had managed to scale the robot up to where a human ear would be if were some kind of giant, and was frantically clinging to it while trying to saw through the side of its head. The bot was shaking its head, trying to shake him off. If that happened, he’d break every damn bone in his body, easy.

There is no describing the horror I felt when one big, blocky arm started to rise to swat at him.

Dear God, he was about to be a decorative blood smear on the pavement, the poor sod.

“Kala!” I yelled frantically, turning on my quirk so fast it felt like I had slammed my hand down on a light switch. She was way ahead of me, wrapping her arms around my waist and throwing us both up once again. (wait, couldn’t she have just flew us both down the stairs…?) (mean) We rocketed straight up to match the height the boy had reached, hovering so close to him I could see the small curls of metal bits coming off where his saw arm met the bot’s head. The square that served as a fist about the size of a van was maybe three feet away and was moving faster.

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

Was it warming up or something? Getting ready for the main event?

Kala grabbed both of us by the hand, and in something that felt like numbing ice water being injected into my veins, yanked us both through the side of its head moments before we would have been flattened by the metal fist going about way too fast. The metal wall dented with a horrible shrieking sound that bounced inside the small, hot space.

Both of us solid folks crashed straight into a mess of wires, pistons, gears, fancy-looking mechanics, and big circular thing that was probably the computing power the robot was using. I was immediately buried under roughly two miles of wiring before hitting some kind of floor, but I was better off than Idiot Mcgee, who went right into the side of the big bot brain and fell down right by where Kala was gently fluttering around, investigating while she waited for us to get up.

I looked around. The head was exactly as it was outside, which meant it was a big cube with facial features jutting out, except smaller by a foot or so because of the thick walls, with the rounded computer running the thing square in the middle, surrounded by a mess of mechanics and wiring and generally important-looking stuff.

My head throbbed from where I had hit the floor, but my vision didn’t blur when I sat up, and I didn’t feel like running to the bathroom, so I figured I was fine. I assumed from one look at my legs, which had escaped the worst of my fall and yet were still bruised, that the pain receptors in my back would kick in soon enough.

I sprang to my feet. Moron groaned from where he had fallen, and I counted him as being out of the competition for getting into this school.

We all jumped when the face caved in with a horrible boom to my right, reducing it’s face to kind of mangled version of itself. The robot was trying to get at us from the outside in.

I concluded that if we stayed here long enough, it would probably beat its own brain in. I also concluded that by that point this joker over here and I would both be joining Kala on ghost status.

I scrambled over to him, slipping and sliding on the mixture of smooth and rough metal and coiling wires like polished ropes, discovering that he was barely conscious but otherwise looked okay.

I scooped him up in my arms, ignoring the strange loopy, cold feeling building in the back of my head, and allowed Kala to apparently ghost juice me, allowing me to temporarily phaze right through the back of the robot’s head.

In a moment of blind trust to my friend, I switched on my quirk, gathered the kid more securely in my arms, and took the step forward into nothing.

Chapter Text

I closed my eyes on reflex against the cold wind that pushed at me as I fell, meaning I didn’t see a lick of what happened next, but I can take a guess. I recognized the chill and feel to Kala’s grip on my knees, literally throwing me in nauseating spiral to the nearest building. I landed back-first, adding to my injury collection there, with my legs in the air and the kid safely tucked into the space between my chest and knees. My head didn’t take anything, luckily, but the nape of my neck sure wasn’t happy with me.

I cracked open my eyes, put two and two together, saw that I was indeed alive, the kid was fine (past the whole barely being awake thing, anyway) and we were both sitting there on the roof of a two-story building.

I pushed him off me as gently as possible and used the edging of the building to help me back up.

The kiddo would be fine here, nice and out of the way. I just hoped they’d find him later.

The thing was, there were hundreds of similarly suicidal maniacs running around all over now.

Someone is going to die and it isn’t going to be my fault.

However, this one might just be.

Another boy with a shock of green hair (dyed? Natural? Other?) seemed to be helping out on my crusade to try to not get people dead, having pulled a girl with a short brown ponytail out of the way of a bot’s destructive path. Everyone seemed to be staying the hell away from the giant robot, attacking the plentiful medium sized ones, but occasionally some unlucky fool stumbled into its range.

Such as a girl of maybe fourteen, short, black hair in an elegant bob, seemingly in some sort of daze, shuffled past on her way to get in a blow at a small one. I didn’t get a chance to see what her quirk was, I was being preoccupied by the metal foot about to crush her into a mushy human pancake.

One quick Kala Glide later, (God, the letter I had sent the teacher to ask if I could have the dead help me… that was an awkward one) I was slamming into said bot at it’s elbow, scythe right behind. Most importantly, the blade bit.

It cleaved right through without getting the least bit stuck, and true miracle, really, and sent the entire forearm clattering to the ground just inches from her.

I had time to see her shake herself, like coming out of her trance, shortly before I slammed roughly into the side of a building, since Kala had only succeeded in slowing me down. However, she was able to lower me to the ground pretty good, and only my right arm really got anything there. I flexed it about, pronounced myself (or my bone strength) a marvel, and continued on.

I watched the girl to see if she was alright. She was looking around like she was confused. Or just maybe in shock. The green haired kid grabbed her by the elbow as he ran by with his own target, and that was the end of that.

Or so I thought.

“How’d you do that?” came a tired voice from behind me. I turned around to see a kid who looked like the dead risen, with spiky purple hair and eye bags for days. I squinted at him and shrugged, ready to fling myself back into possible horrible bodily harm to help out total strangers. I pulled out my hand so Kala would have something sturdy to grab onto, but he took it instead, which was weird.

With that touch, every alarm bell I had from my early childhood went off.

Bad. Bad. Bad. Badbadbadbad very bad!

“Hold on. Answer my question first, okay?” His eyes weren’t malicious, but a strange brand of calculating, a real drive of determination thinly veiled. My thoughts were scrambling: half panicked, half logical.

The girl seemed to be in a daze… the boy didn’t seem to be actively trying to attack any of the bots for points… asking me a question as soon as I helped the Weird Girl… possible memory loss for her…

Mind control?

Hell no. Even if it really was an innocent guy, I wasn’t taking any chances.

Okay, so if it was mind control, it was most likely based on me talking back to him, maybe after he asks me something. Easy enough: I just don’t talk to him. It’s okay, it all fine.

It wasn’t all fine.

Bad memories flashed across my mind’s eye. The dark of the closet. The glimmer of stars, a dry clump of dirt clinging to a shovel as it moved. Hours of sitting in interview rooms, staring determinedly at the wall while families awkwardly sat across from me, unwilling to even look at me, trying not to have any sort of emotion on my face. Cold, all over my body, biting, numbing, chilling cold… Light too much light toobright!

“Woah, okay, you figured it out fast. Yeah, my quirk’s mind control.” His grip disappeared from my hand, I registered dimly. “It only works if you answer a question of mine though, so you’re fine. You useless against metal too? I thought so, or you would have started racking up points. But then I got interested when you saved that girl… anyway, I didn’t hurt her, I’m just trying to last-ditch get points in. You too? It’s a hero school, it would kind of make sense to give points for saving people. That’s smart of you, by the way. We should get out of here. Someone's throwing acid, which is probably dangerous but whatever.”

Hearing was pretty much my only functioning sense. I was distantly aware of a grip on my hand, moving semi-quickly , but it felt a bit like when a radio signal gets overridden by something else: it’s still there, but also not really. But my hearing as working as well as if I was having every bit of it go through a microphone.

It was kind of freaky, but also I appreciated having some sort of connection to the mortal realm as my mind did a couple of backflips.

“I can tell I freaked you out. It happens sometimes. I’ll just stick with you until you come back to the land of the living, if that’s alright. Um, my quirk doesn’t work the way people thinks it does. I can’t change what people are thinking, just order them to do things and have them go on their way. It’s like a memory blip for them, it just never happens within their head. So if you thought I’d go in there and wreck shop, one I can’t, and two, I wouldn’t. Uh, I dunno if this is helping, but it gives me a reason to stand here and look like I’m participating so… Wow, this is an incredibly unfair test. I think I’d make a pretty good hero, no public property damage, no one getting hurt. I dunno what quirk you have but it looked pretty useful, I bet you’d be awesome to. Pretty sad it’s robots, huh? If you don’t get in here, will you take another course or shop around at different hero schools? I think I’d take the business course if this doesn’t pan out. It doesn’t look… terrible. Second best, anyway, and I’m terrible at tech so engineering’s out.”

During that entire rant, I slowly came back into my body. Vision came back first, which was great since I kind of need it. Smell next, which was next to useless since it was clogged with the odor of smoke and metal. Then touch (more explosions through my feet, wooh) and finally touch, which exclusively held my clothes on my skin and a small breeze that had scaled the walls.

Mind Control Guy was standing a bit away from me, chatting in a low tone steadily as he leaned against the wall opposite to me in an alley. Cinder blocks, I registered stupidly. Concrete beneath my feet. A wooden wall behind me. Tin overhang.

Very useful, brain. You’re so helpful.

“Hi.” He said awkwardly when he caught me looking at me.

I tried to blink, but it came out more of a wink. I’m going to die. Most likely of embarrassment.

I tried to talk, but it sounded more like clearing my throat. Damn it. Even after a total breakdown, my body’s first reaction is to act cool.

“Okay. Uh, I should go…” He hesitated, then moved off slowly out of the alley like he was scared to move quickly in front of me. Then he slipped off into the crowd, silent like a living shadow.

God, he’s a good person.

I looked around. At first I thought Kala had left to give me privacy/keep saving people/spy, but then I looked straight up and saw her floating upside down, slowly doing cartwheels and she observed me carefully.

She wiggled her nose at me, floated down like a tumbling autumn leaf (tumbling is definitely the correct word there) and hitting the ground and rolling right through it in a slight fail, popping to her feet again seamlessly. (Well, she hovers about half an inch over, but close enough, right?)

“Hola, mi agimo.”

I glared at her. I didn’t have the brain power for Spanish right now. She shrugged. “Fights be done soon. Fewer bots.”

I nodded.

“Anyone dead?” I managed, wincing at the sound of my voice. Small, weak. Fragile. My body language didn’t betray me, but my vocal chords did.

She shook her head. “People fine. Green kid help when you gone.” Ah, the green-haired kid from before. Good for him, the marshmallow.

My entire body chilled as she glared at me. “Hide. Then go. Home.”

I nodded quickly. My entire body hurt, my brain was hovering on the edge of something bad, and I was dead tired. This was going to have to be good enough.

I slid down the wall to sit, my knees hitting my chest roughly.

My bed had never sounded so good.

Chapter Text

I slept for fourteen hours that night, and woke up with the grace of an elephant crashing headfirst into a lake.

I groaned out loud from my throbbing body, burrowing further into the warm covers. I was in a place somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, where you’re aware of your surroundings, but all is calm and slow and peaceful.

I felt freaking drugged.

I turned over and shoved my head into the pillow, half wanting to slip back into my coma, half wanting to escape this serene hell.

I had crashed, hard, when I got back here around two in the afternoon. Inhaled some food, took a shower, and stumbled off into sleep with Kala piling three blankets on top of the comforter for good measure. Because she is very much a hardcore Mom Friend.

My stomach rumbled at me, which was supremely unfair. It made sense though, since i had totally blacked and probably hadn’t eaten in a while. I ran my tongue over my teeth. I was pretty thirsty, too.

Ugh. Movement. Why.

I moved my head in a semi-upwards position since it was a bit hard to breathe through a half a pound of feathers and cotton, and looked around my room. God and horses, it really was spartan. The dresser, bed, nightstand, alarm clock. No hint of decoration or personality past the Halloween themed curtains made of black and white velvet, and the camo -grey and white thank you- bed spread. But those had been in every house I had been in for at least five years, they were as part of the drabness to me as the off-white walls.

I huffed and sat up on my heels, arms protesting heavily, my back more so. I really had beat it to hell.

I needed some sustenance, as the first order of business. Track down Kala, check in on the street rats real quick, maybe crash into bed again within three hours.

I wiggled out of the blankets and hit the floor in something that could be called standing. Technically.

This sucked.

I wobbled over to the door, grabbing a fresh pair of gloves on my way out since my current ones were probably deeply contaminated, and opened it, peering out. It was kind of dark out, but it looked like the sun was starting to come up. Around six o’clock then. I was just in time to appear like a normal human being.

No one was around, and none of the lights were on. I assumed everyone was still sleeping and started to make my way down the hallway as quietly as I could, changing out my gloves as I went. I’d burn them later, (haven’t died of smoky chemicals yet, so it’s probably fine) or trade them off with Death so he could do who-knows-what with them. Might even get a bit of free candy out of it.

I stumble into the kitchen/living room mixture of a room and open the fridge, taking out some egg-included breakfast premade by either the store or ‘mother’ dearest half for the protein. I knew she tried, and I kinda wanted to try for her, but also that seemed rather hard and a lot like risking your own neck, which is firmly against the rules of how to stay alive in my book. But for now I ate her food and played nice around her and her husband and left it at that. If nothing else they didn’t have to deal with me all day. I’d rather have a child I see about two times a day than a clingy one that won’t come off my leg. I’d get bruises from tripping.

You can decide if that’s deep or not.

I sit at the kitchen table and wolf it down, along with a tall glass of luke-warm water and an apple. Somewhat sated, I sit for a while and wait for the slight tremble in my limbs to fade, also downing some more much-needed water.

That done, I went back to my room to grab a jacket, then went out. Kala and the Horsemen would be somewhere within a few select locations, their homebase, some store within a short walk of there, a couple of parks, the library, and Kala’s school. I can imagine her giving them the grand tour, showing them the hacked computers and one stunned Famine the bit of rope she died on, complaining about the crumpling textbooks and that one ceiling tile that was slowly coming off the language hallway ceiling.

I was extra slow in moving around. Running was out of the question with my sore muscles. So I took the stairs slowly, every step sending a stab of low pain through both legs.

I might need to patch up my back somehow: it really took a beating. Besides that, my prediction for Mama Kala’s response is: several days of bedrest and absolutely no necromancy of any kind. Which was a real shame, since there was an awful lot of hurt spirits around. Two house-fire victims later, I arrived back at Street Rat HQ.

Headless, War, and Famine were all inside, lounging around with cards in hand, chatting. Disease and Death must be out somewhere doing something ridiculous.

I could almost see Famine’s ears pricking as I walked up, concealing my tiredness through the power of the most protein-filled power bar I could find and a fresh bottle of water. He looked up suddenly from his hand with an effect like a jack-in-the-box, which somehow was not improved when he burst into a smile. “Grim!”

He dropped his cards onto his mattress, facedown and apparently trusting his friends not to peek (or not caring if they did) and ran up to me like an excited puppy. Bowled into me like one, too.

He seemed to be particularly energetic today. I barely retained my footing as I wrapped him in a hug. “Hiya, there. Just thought I’d check in. How are all of you?”

Famine pulled away with a frown. “How are you? You need more sugars in you, you’ll collapse. Have an apple.” He pulled one out of… somewhere? on his person and handed it to me. I decided to suspend any theories I might have about him and bit into it politely.

“But you only have so much food.” Headless looked at me levely. I winced. “Yeah, alright, okay. I get it. Can I sit?”

War patted beside him as he aggressively studied his cards, all hunched over and focused. Headless cooly glanced at hi set before addressing me. “You seem pretty burnt out. How did it go?”

I sighed as I plopped down besides War, taking a quick gulp of water. “Ugh. The entire thing was based on how many of these giant robots you could blow up. Me and a couple other kids with quirks that didn’t really apply to that helped make sure none of the idiots got killed trying to rack up points and left it at that. Got pretty scraped up, too.” I tried not to grimace when I shifted and the partially scabbed gashes on my back moved, and failed miserably. War and Headless both looked me up and down for extra injuries, and I reviewed just how many Mom Friends I had in my life. I was half expecting the Motherly Hunger Games by now.

“Where?” Asked/ordered Headless, placing down his own cards and scooting off his mattress closer to me and War across the aisle.

I huffed, then caved. “Back.”

He looked at me steadily again. I sighed again and turned around so he could get a look. He carefully lifted the back of my shirt so he wasn’t touching me, and hissed in a breath.

“That bad? I think my pain receptors are broken or something.”

“That’s called adrenaline.” Famine chirped.

“Or shock.” War murmured, as he studied my face for any hint of discomfort.

“You’re bruised black and blue, and there’s some blood here too. Did you go through a brick wall or something?”

I blinked, thinking about the solid, hot inside of the robot’s skull and how I had slammed into the floor and wires, then later even harder on the concrete roofing. “Something like that.”

Headless hummed as he produced an entire roll of bandages out of his jacket pocket, holding about a solid inch of it against my skin for a moment to gauge my reaction. I flinched a bit when the rough texture touched me, but also recognized that I didn’t have that many shirts I could afford to bleed through. I gritted my teeth a bit and spoke. “Go on.”

Headless hesitated, then continued. Before wrapping me, he slathered my back in some kind of cream or poultice, then encased my entire chest from about four inches below the collar bone, as far down as he could reach. “That should be good.” He said quietly, pulling away cautiously.

I moved my chest a bit experimentally, internally wincing at the feel of the cloth on my skin, but showing no sign of it externally. I smiled just slightly at Headless, who took this as his que to retreat out of War’s territory. Famine was watching this entire thing with interest, before placing down a card in the pile in the middle of the shelter, looking quite proud of his move.

War apparently thought so too, and grimly looked at his hand, then swore lowly. Famine giggled, and War immediately forfeited, showing what would have been a winning set if it weren’t for Famine’s ace. Headless sighed through his nose and revealed his cards, basically all the middle-tier cards in the deck. None of us had known it.

He was an excellent bluffer, bless him.

He smiled proudly at Famine for a moment, then began to systematically gather and put away the cards while War gave Famine his reward: a full chocolate bar. He nibbled on one corner delicately before re-wrapping it for later. A quiet smile graced his face, and it was adorable, him all curled up with his knees to his chest and head on his knees, numming on that milk-sugar bar.

I thought over his friends. Headless wasn’t too bad of an influence, but War had gotten into fist-fights needlessly before, Death I suspected to running some kind of assasination ring, and Disease regularly played around with live subjects to experiment with his newest microlife.

Sigh.

It would’ve been worse in the system. It was like they had imprinted when they first saw each other: tearing them apart was out of the question, if they had (or didn’t) a say in the matter.

“Anyway, what’s been happening?” I asked them casually, “I don’t have anything new. I think I went into a coma.”

Headless looked me up and down again while War and Famine took turns trying to answer.

“Oh… nothing much-” War started.

“He punched someone who called you crazy.” Famine informed me with the straightest of non-straight faces.

“OKAY-”

“Then got in a fight over it.”

“IT WAS THE ONE DUDE!”

“Until it was two, yeah. Okay, and then I like touched a guy and he collapsed, you know, so Headless brought him to the hospital and Death disappeared and I think he might have done something bad but anyway Disease got better at cards! And made a new strain! He hasn’t slept in, uh- a long time?”

“Four days. He’s hallucinating.” Headless offered, now full out lounging on his bed as he listened, some kind of notebook that didn’t look cheap in his hands.

I sighed. “Right. Where are the dynamic duo, then?”

“Probably out wrecking shop somewhere.” War said in a scarily envious way, midway through tickling the life out of a shrieking Famine.

Famine was gasping for breathe when War put him down from where he had been held over War’s head.

“Oh, they might be out at that one shady place!” He declared suddenly, then coughed.

“Shady place?” I asked, thoroughly confused. It was like these lot had there own special language sometimes.

War snorted. “Which one?”

“The one I nearly got mugged on, silly!” Famine declared bodly.

Famien choked on air, and War, instinctively sensed a threat, (though in the past) started huddle over his smaller friend as a human shield, forming a kind of muscled cave around him as he leaned forward in a rather odd position.

Which left me, kind of sitting there to the side of all this, heavily confused.

“You… what?”

“Oh, I guess I have that kind of face. People see I’m scrawny and short and underfed-looking and all, and they think I’d make a good robbery victim. Deaths swooped in just in time before I could explain the candy economy thing. It was pretty cool.”

I could see Headless planning an interrogation of Death. There was that weird glint in his eye, that sudden blinding calm he adopted as he reigned in his facial features and recovered from whatever shock he had had.

“Yeah, okay. Um, you guys have any idea where Kala is?”

Famine blanked. “Who? Oh, a ghost friend?”

Headless, apparently having a mental library somewhere in that skull of his, sighed. “Yes, Famine, a ghost friend. No, Grim. I haven’t developed your quirk overnight. Does she have any hiding spots she might wander to alone?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’ll check them out. Just wanted to check in with all of you. Keep me posted, yeah?” I stood up to leave.

“Have you given up?” Headless asked suddenly. His normally cool gaze suddenly felt about as hot as that one explosion kid’s temper.

I paused in the entryway. “On what?”

“UA.”

I really stopped short there. “I-uh…” My face warmed on reflex.

Headless snorted. “I didn’t survive this long by giving up when the world told me to go die in a hole. Just keep that in mind. Now regroup with your ghost buddy.”

So I went and regrouped with my ghost buddy, high-tailing it out of there.

Kala had several spots around the city. The school, obviously. My apartment, for the convenience of things. But there were more personal spots too. One was this one hill where there was every once in a while this big firework show, and it was pretty much the best place for miles to get a good view. But it had a good scene even on a regular day, overlooking the light and sound city, just ever so slightly removed. Directly in front was a public park, with bunches of kids and couples and people out for a lunch-hour stroll.

That was my first stop, right after I kinda-maybe broke into my old middle school and checked she wasn’t in there somewhere.

The hill was small, but pretty tall anyway. The grass was wild and grew higher in random clumps along the slope, right on up until the top, where a not massive but not too young either tree stood, with a few groups of mushrooms gathered around.

I walked up the incline, slowly as not to a) further hurt myself and b) make a fool of myself by slipping and tumbling right down the hill again. I did a quick lap around the tree and through the grass, ignoring the view. No ghost mama hen. Alrighty then.

I stopped to help out a ghost who’s skull have caved in on one side before I moved on. Earthquake victim? I didn’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I honestly didn’t know anymore.

Next was this one cafe she had liked as a kid, and also a decent place to pick up some good ‘ol caffeine.

The outside just about matched her aesthetic. It was themed all cutesy with cream-beige bricks as the walls and these colorful splashed of the signs and door frame and overhand, all in varying shades of purple. The door itself was painted with a cup of coffee with a galaxy inside just besides the handle.

I pushed it open to the actual shop, a relatively empty place, mostly because of the ungodly hour of morning and the fact it barely what might be considered light outside.

The table sets were carved wood, one with an engraved chess board, one with a ye olde map of the world, another a fancy carving of a floating collection of roses. The front counter was a pleasant shade of cream, with wood the same shade of the tables underneath. There was more counters behind the chasheir, a disgruntled female of about 19, holding coffee machines and ingredients and different pastries on display. The entire place was lit almost solely via fairy lights and felt like a blact back to weird period of time that probably never happened.

I glanced around, and, seeing no wandering ghost buddy, proceeded to order my coffee and gently as possible before advising the dear employee to take a nice, long nap once their shift ended.

That done, there was only one more place I knew of before I was fresh out, since me knowing of her going beyond school grounds was still a pretty new development. Well, past the police station, which she would kind of hang around in front of but was too intimidated to go in I guess, but a quick walk-by of the nearest ones came up empty as well.

And that place was the library. Well, right before literally the tallest building in the city, but that was a hassle, so we’re going here first.

Yeah, she’s definitely a nerd.

The library was a rather impressive building: it used to be some big shopping mall before the chain went bankrupt and the city used the space as a public area instead of tearing it all down and building from the ground up.

Kala loved the modern feel, the repurposed signs showing all the genres, the rows and rows of neatly organized books among various different chill spaces filled with fluffy benches and couches and chairs. The check-out lines were now the librarians’ desks, and the customer service area had been revamped into a place where you submitted suggestions for books for the library to get it’s hands on, kinda like a geek’s lottery.

Just in case this place happened to not appreciate food or drink inside, I chugged the remaining coffee in my cup on the steps and dropped it off in a nearby trashcan before entering.

Walking in felt like entering a bookworm’s fever dream, it really did. I felt like any minute some famous book character as going to come crashing through the ceiling just because.

I reviewed my rather lax reading hobby. I generally liked the lighter fantasy, something stupid and silly to suck you away from all the problems and negatives of the real world, but Kala had gotten into scifi recentely. She might be trying to sneak off with a book she liked the look of, or hovering over someone’s shoulder as they read, maybe stalking the library’s resident cat/mascot. Basically, she could be just about anywhere in the massive building.

Great.

I checked out the sci-fi section first, since it was the closest row and the bright green sign was kinda hard to miss. I noticed the boring tile had been covered by a patchwork series of colorful carpets. I was suddenly glad I had wiped my feet on the way in as I reflected on the little bits of grass that must have stuck to my feet from back at the hill.

No ghost friendo.

The nearest chill-out-space? Full of friendly nerds, but no Kala… though the fairylighting was kinda cute.

Maybe I should buy some for my room. It’s not like they’d be hard to pack up again…

Craft store after this, then. (would some new sheets also be in order? Where do you get those?)

Oh my god she was going to make me climb the tallest building she could find, wasn’t she?

In a last-ditch effort, I toured the library and nearly ran into a couple innocent book nerds as I was looking around at the ceiling in case she had decided the appearance of normalcy was overrated. No mom friend.

 

Sigh.

I slid over to an open computer and looked up the highest building in the city, which just so happened to be sixteen blocks away. God damn it all.

This is a bit of a love/hate relationship, I guess, since we’re going to lovingly skin each other alive when we meet up again.

 

Oh god, she’s gone all protagonist on me. Was my first thought when I spotted her, floating just besides the edge of the megatall building, probably trying to get a dramatic wind to catch her non-existent hair. (does it exist? How does physics work with dead people, again? The handbook for this wasn’t very long.)

“I looked literally everywhere for you and I cannot tell you how annoyed I am right now.” I huffed at her back. She straightened up from her contorted position, did a quick backflip to face me, and rocketed over. I barely managed to switch on my quirk in time before we collided, sending me straight off my feet and the both of us right up into the air. She was hugging me with enough force to earn a strained, pained hiss out from my clenched teeth, fighting down a stabbing, yet throbbing pain in my back. She immediately set us down, using a bit of her floating ability to keep me from breaking a bone or two by hitting the roof too fast.

“Grim!”

Here we go…

“Hey, idiot. What’cha doing all the way up here?” I patted her lightly on the back, trying to not aggravate my back too much.

“Admiring the view.” She informed me as she stepped back to give me space to loosen up a bit. Her chin rose to excitedly look me in the eyes with far too much happiness, and it truly struck em for the first time that, one of these days, I’m going to wake up and it’s like she’ll be a little kid next to me.

Creepy.

“Uh. I looked everywhere, I wasn’t kidding. Coulda sent me note, you know?”

She silently groaned, her entire body going into the gesture at once. “Takes too long.”

“Uhuh. So… the test kinda flopped.”

Shock registered in her eyes as confusion washed over her facial features shortly before switching to mild rage. “Wrong.” She told me firmly as she crossed her arms in front of her.

“What? They’re not gonna take someone with a quirk that can be pretty much summarized as death, Kala. We’ll wait until we get the rejection letter to totally lose hope, but whatever I guess. Back to being a lawyer it is.” Lawyering wouldn’t be bad. Helping people was always nice, even if it’d be weird to switch from the dead to the living’s problems.

Kala huffed, a very familiar gesture to myself, which I found faintly creepy.

“No give up. Idiot.” Then she brightened a bit. “What we do now?”

I could tell by the look on her face she was thinking I was going to suggest something along the lines of yarn-bombing the library or pranking masses of people. However, I was suddenly ansty for a room makeover. “Uh. I kinda wanna redecorate my room. It’s been the same forever, and I want some stuff to switch it up I could move easily.”

Kala nearly tackled me again, which wasn’t great. She settled for a quick koala-hug when I shuffled bag a bit, hanging around my neck for a second before letting go. “Parents kicking out?”

“Nah. It’s just… better to be prepared.”

She glared at me. I winced as she grabbed me by the hand and marched me over to the edge of the roof. “Fine. Hold.” She muttered to me, then wrapped one leg around mine and hauled us both off the edge.

Chapter Text

You’d think I’d be used to this by now.

I wasn’t.

I was practically having flashbacks to the entry test by the time we were halfway down. I was hanging on to Kala with an iron grip, which really didn’t matter ‘cause it’s not like she can bruise, but anyway.

We stayed pretty stationary during the straight drop down, but my stomach all the way back up on the roof didn’t care that my vision wasn’t pinwheeling or that Kala could totally save us from getting squashed without batting an eye or that I totally should have been expecting this. My entire body except for one sane part of my brain was swamped in terror and convinced I was about to die a horrible, grisly death.

My heart was beating out of my chest. Adrenaline surged through my system, and the rushing wind convinced my lungs I couldn’t breathe. Cold slammed by body like a truck, and I made a mental note that I really, really didn’t like heights. Or at least, falling off of them.

I wrenched my eyes shut for my own good and started to convince myself I was on a rollercoaster or something: an experience I had heard people rave about, but never experienced myself. Couldn’t be too different, right? Or maybe an airplane…

“You good?” I came back into my senses very suddenly at the sound of Kala’s voice. I cracked open my eyes again to see the sidewalk, and a few scattering of people staring at me from the corner of their eyes as they walked by.

I swallowed. The roller coaster was over. “Yeah… fine. Just ah… no more heights please, if you can help it.” I ignored the people looking at me like a crazy person as I scooped my pride, dignity and sanity off the pavement and settled it back in.

Kala was unimpressed. “You want me to drag you through floors?”

I choked at the thought. Being forced through solid wood and glass and metal like that… even incorperal... no thank you.

I winced. “Yeah, actually, the heights might be better.” At least that made sense to me at an instinctual level.

She patted me on the arm, even though my quirk was now off and it didn’t connect. “No skyscrapers now. Tea, room?”

I nodded. We started walking, but Kala made me get a boba and regular tea before we stopped by the craft store.

 

We got a pair of white, gold and black fairy lights, two sets of white sheets, a pair of black ones, and gold ones, two becovers: one gold, one black, some posters of bands and heroes I vaguely knew, white sheer curtains and some heavier steel gray ones, some workout equipment (black, of course) a few books with a small bookshelf (more of a regular shelf, but whatever) and a small figurine of a cartoon bat with big ‘ol eyes and kawaii cheeks.

We first lined the ceiling to wall areas of the room with the lights, and when we had more line to work with, draped them across from side to side before we ran out. The shelf was put on the middle of the right wall, across from my bed and above the dresser, and Kala worked on putting up the books and the little bat dude while I stripped my bed and put out some white sheets, a gold pillowcase, and black comforter before stashing away the million blankets from earlier. We worked together on the curtains, since Kala could much easier reach the screws up top flying than I could with a ladder, and I was tasked with the posters (which went up in near random area of the room) while Kala fumbled with the workout stuff. That being, a yoga mat, two sets of weights, and a leg-roller thing for stretching and leg-ups. This was because you had to have consistently corporal hands to put up some wall decor, but it was no big deal if she dropped the mat a couple of times. Not like anyone was awake to come and investigate what the noise was: my foster parents didn’t usually get ‘till around eight, and were all-the-way coherent an hour after that.

I collapsed on my newly made bed when we had finally finished. God, that was too much work. Old pains from yesterday flared angrily from me having dared to put my arms above my head for two whole minutes.

Ugh. This sucked.

Kala slipped through the wall for some reason, probably to check if my parents were dead since they were usually getting up by now. Or like, in five minutes, but close enough I guess.

When she came back in again two minutes later, I was already starting to doze off. She thwapped me on the back, forcing me awake again from the chilly, cold feeling.

“Whaaatttt.” I groaned into the fluffy blanket/comforter.

She shoved a DVD under my nose, probably giving me another bruise. “UA.”

I was up in an instant, ignoring my burning muscles entirely, turning the disc case over and over in my hands. There was a small note attached. “Good job on the written test.” I muttered under my breath after squinting at the loopy handwriting.

Kala grabbed me by the hand, and suddenly we were back at the library, standing in front of the computer section. I whipped my head around to look at her. “You can teleport?” I hissed at her, without the proper motivation to be truly angry.

She shrugged. “Not all time.”

I huffed and plugged the disc into the nearest computer. A hologram popped up in front of the screen, which seemed weird, but was entirely disregarded when I saw who was speaking.

All Might, number one hero, and pretty much the world’s idol. Holy bleep.

“Hello Germanious Li!” Curse my parents and their naming decisions. “Did I say that right? Good? Good. Anyway! Guess who is the newest teacher at UA High School!”

I had exactly one guess as I watched All Might flex his muscles in a daze.

“In other news, you did excellently on the written test, but on the practical, you didn’t gather any points!” He said as if this was the best thing ever. I felt tears gather in the corner of each eye.

“HOWEVER! There’s a bonus set of points set specifically for those who perform great acts of heroism! What hero school wouldn’t accept true heroes?! With that in your score, you made a whopping 80 points and made it to third place! Mr. Li, welcome to class A-1 of UA Academy!”

I was frozen as the disc shuddered in the computer, then was spat out unceremoniously onto the keyboard.

I did it. I got in. I got into the best hero high school in the country. I’m going to be a hero.

I did it. Death quirk and all.

Kala had to lead me home by the hand, I was so shocked. I accepted a second breakfast from my foster mother, checking my gloves before hand out of habit, then holed myself back into my room again, breathing in the faint smell of new paint, aging paper and warmth left from the store.

F*** yeah.

 

I mentally surfaced five minutes later feeling like I had socked every bully I had ever dealt with in the stomach. Every teacher who every pushed me down were wrong, all my past foster parents, every fake friend, all the empty-eyed bystanders. They were all wrong.

I had done it. Better yet, I had done it out of pure spite, mixed with three grains of determination and a decent portion of suppressed rage.

I laughed into the blanket before four different types of exhaustion slammed me, and I was out like a broken lightbulb.

 

The Foster Parent duo got me up again for dinner, and after that Kala literally wouldn’t let me leave the apartment in the name of rest, so I got the reading of my five new books underway before turning in early.

The next morning was the crazy bit. I got up with the burning realization that while I had gotten into a kick-butt school for hero work, I haven't graduated yet. I wasn’t a hero… for now. But that could change, with some work.

Logically, my body wasn’t the only thing that needed work. (granted, I could comfortably jump across buildings and run for literally miles. All that bullying made for good cardio practice!) I had only stretched my quirk a few times before, after learning how to hold it pretty much all day from a young age so I could help out all the spirits around me. Besides, about a third of it didn’t have an off switch.

That said, I had two weeks to train like mad.

First I went out for a two hour workout, going easy for the sake of my half-dead body. Later on I’d probably push it to three, but right now I felt like I would collapse if I had to run for another fifteen minutes.

Next, procrastinating of being told by the Apocalypse Gang I was right, you were wrong, nanana, I literally just wandered the streets for hurt and suffering ghosts. Sometimes this just meant someone to talk to, a living person to gush their life’s (and death’s) problems to. This was easy- I just had to lead them to a semi-empty place, plop down, and pay attention.

Others, this took some serious healing work. A burst lung. Ribs stabbing the dead heart with every movement. Broken bones, crushed organs, torn or cut muscles, huge cuts and gashes, gun shot wounds, burns, the whole bit. Some of these people looked like they had died in a warzone.

They were… a bit harder.

Kala was on my heels the whole time. “It’s not good to push yourself to exhaustion every day.” She reminded me as I patched up a young boy with an ear that had been torn off, perpetually clutching it to his chest with one grubby hand. His smile had been blinding when I made the pain go away, ripped skin becoming whole. “You need to eat lunch.” She informed me after I finished up with a bullet to the gut, dragging me off to a nearby deli for a quick sandwich. “Drink some water.” She said with firm, steely eyes and a water bottle I was pretty sure she had stolen as I helped a woman with a crushed left leg. “Give yourself a break!” She yelled in my ear at three in the afternoon, baking hot and nearly collapsing from the strain of my burnt-out quirk.

I took the chance to listen to an older man that hadn’t quite gotten out of the way of a villain fast enough, but had managed to shield his little grandson. He was hanging around to watch over his family, check in on them from time to time, help them with exams and the shopping and the like. The only problem was he so wanted to join his partner in the next life…

I, having slouched down on a cement brick wall and eventually ended up sprawled on the concrete, didn’t want to force his opinion one way or the other on either option. Felt too much like manipulation.

I looked at the man across from me, distracted by his sudden animated conversation with one relieved Kala. He seemed happy… but also a bit distant, like he was constantly thinking about something else besides his surroundings.

“Sir? I suppose it depends on how you’re feeling. It’s up to you. How do you think your surviving family is doing? How about you? You’ve got all the time in the world, and I’m not going to rush you. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave you to think. If you have anything else to talk about, just ask around for my address.” I didn’t wanna tell it outloud myself, knowing a living person could hear me and things could get messy from there.

Kala squawked as I tried to get up, shooting a foot in the air before flying over to me. “Oh no you don’t, you little rascal. Sit down!”

She put both hands on my chest and shoved me back down again. Damn, she must really be angry at me.

That’s too bad.

I’m freaking suicidal, if you haven’t noticed.

I push her off gently before flicking my quirk off again, meaning once I was on my feet she could really only make me stumble when I walk or something. And yell. A lot.

See, ghosts are invisible to most people, but they can still talk and everything. The current working theory is that they create sound waves below what the human ear can perceive at normal speaking level, but when they yell, they just barely scrape into what most people can hear. This means two things: if a spirit screams loud enough, you can get that weird whispery effect, and two: my ears have some funky stuff going on in there.

Kala’s insistent sudden shrieking feet could possibly be picked up on anyone within a half-foot radius, as well as being incredibly annoying and ear-shredding.

This and that I kinda just looked like I was talking to plain air might be why a serial killer targeted me. Again. That, or my exhaustion was more visibly pronounced than I would like.

“Hey, Sho, you alright man?” I voice I didn’t recognize piped up behind me, deep and rough at the edges. It had that crackly air some older ghosts picked up over time, especially if they didn’t talk for a while. This is most likely why I didn’t immediately shank the beefy guy when he straight up launched me into a nearby alley by my right arm. I almost hadn’t had time to register the hand on my elbow before the ground was very suddenly gone. I definitely picked up the sudden increase in volume on Kala’s protests. God, I should check my hearing. Would I have time to snap a few times before getting mugged?

Common tactic, pretending to be a friend of your victim. But he couldn’t be a specter: they wouldn’t be able to touch a random living kid right out of the gate for any reason short of some pretty gnarly hallucinations. (Don’t ask about that particular story, please and thank you.)

I hit the ground by my shoulder, which I thought, very suddenly, was pretty lucky with how my back was dying on me today. I could feel the bruise developing quickly as he pulled me up to face him from the ground by the neck.

“Right, kid. Here’s the deal: you’re jack-crazy, so no-one’s going to miss ya. Give me all ya got and I’ll kill ya quick.” I very much doubted he would find a bunch of herbs and notes in school books (which I was very much not using for school, thank you) at all bribe-worthy.

“Uh… no?” It came out as a question, which probably wasn’t great for my situation. His grip around my throat tightened, and Kala was going crazy in the corner of my eye, trying to tackle him. She kept flying right through, though. Then, her foot got stuck somewhere somewhere inside of him, maybe in his intestines, and he gasped. I tried to get a good look at him as my Healer Side kicked in. Thick build, mixture of fat and muscle all over, decently in shape, but doesn’t eat right. Doesn’t look the sharpest or sanest tool in the shed either. His dark beard was scraggly at best, and my nose rebelled as I caught a whiff of his hoodie.

Things weren’t looking good for Madman Mcgee. And they looked even worse when I spotted a sudden spot of red on his grey hoodie around where Kala was struggling and cursing and stomping. At first I assumed she really had hit something mega-important, but then my smart-brain caught up and informed me there was no way that would break skin. There was something else here…

Or someone, I realized as some kind of shadowy mass body-slammed my attacker right of me, further bruising my poor, poor arm. “Need a little help, kid?”

Chapter Text

“Need a little help, kid?”

My head whipped over to my right, where a man in a black trenchcoat, some kind of purple body suit, a dark tophat, and heeled combat boots the color of my soul was holding up a thoroughly vanquished would-be-mugger. My head then whipped over to Kala, since I had assumed she had gone into some weird form of shock since I hadn’t seen her this still since I met her.

“Uh. Not really, after you… uh?” He couldn’t be a hero, reeling him in like that. Vigilante? Weirdly big-hearted villain? Mystery man to haunt my dreams???

“Lovely. M’name’s Dark Fire. You are?”

Now I was probably in shock. The man took off his top hat and bowed lowly to me in a mocking yet respectful way (?????) with Mugger still in hand and a partially shattered brick wall behind him.

“Ah. I’m Grim.” I can’t help but stare at the gathering bruises on the criminal’s face and neck, all that I can really see, though I’m sure his chest area is doing fantastic after being used to break a brick wall.

“That’s a new one.” Dark Fire supplied brightly, straightening back up very suddenly with an amused, slightly insane grin. I don’t think his prisoner of sorts is breathing.

“Nevermind that, that’s murder!” I could see the soul of the man oozing out of his crushed torso, a kind of strange shade of terracotta.

“Oh, does it bother you?” I’m smart enough to recognize a portal when I see one, and this guy definitely just poked one into existence with the edge of his top hat with another more than a side tip of his head. My mind spins as he straight up just drops the guy’s body into the space, at which point it promptly closes.

“And that’s like, double murder!” I exclaim in three different kinds of shock/stupid. Kala is at this point wheezing at the entrance of the alley.

Dark Fire shrugged. “Well, no going back now. Less of a mess, anyway. Say, do you happen to be insane, by chance?”

How does one answer that question to this man without a true rabbithole of possible crazy responses?

“Uh. I don’t believe so.”

He sighed just a little bit. “A shame, that. In any case, you and I should be on our way. You look like you could use a hot meal.”

“I’m not homeless.” The words just flew out of my mouth. God, I’m stupid today.

“Never said you were, if you’d recall. You vegan or anything else?” he stepped towards me as he opened another portal, this one from his hand and lined with some sort of black and white flame. Out popped a pure black leather wallet, and gonzo el portal. (is that racist?) [pls don’t be offended Grim is but a small helpless fool- Author]

I cleared my throat, slightly uncomfortable. However, free anything was appreciated at all times. Food maybe most of all.
“Vegetarian.”

“Fantastic. Come with me, small one.” He strode forward and wrapped an arm gently around my shoulders to guide me forward.

I didn’t know to be offended or not. Kala’s non-stop laughter was not helping matters as I squeezed closer to Portal Man to avoid a collision as we excited the alley.

I huffed under my breath out of habit. “I’m not that small…” I barely dared to breathe that statement. Why am I such an idiot?

“Well, I never did specify an amount, did I? Maybe I meant you’re small to the sun.” This guy is absolutely bonkers. And dangerous to boot. And also buying me a late lunch.

What fresh ****?

Am I too tired to deal with this? Probably. Oh my God, I’m going to die. As an idiot. This a disgrace to my honor. Or the tiny piece I have left, anyway.

“Right. Where are we going?” I said a bit louder.

“To get food. Hopefully nutritious. Ooh, and water. Would falafel suit you?” He eyed a indian shop carefully, taking in the employees customers, visible dishes, furniture, architecture, everything like a possible threat.

“Uh, yeah. A pita would be fine.”

He chuckled darkly. “Oh, I was thinking something a bit more dramatic than that. Here, drink this.” He handed me a water bottle, having pulled it seemingly from thin air, no portal in sight.

I stared. “How…?”

He put a finger to his lips as his smile lines scrunched up, shushing me quietly. So I focused my attention on the bottle. It was clear, but didn’t look to be plastic. And the water looked fine, but then again, so did a hangnail.

I squinted at it and sniffed the not-plastic. I kid you not, it straight up smelled like nothing.

I am losing my mind internally at this point, but smart enough to follow order to sip at the tasting-totally-fine-water.

Was he carrying it around in his pocket. No, I would have seen it in there immediately, if not when he took it out. But without a portal how…?

Does he have a second transportation quirk? Some physics bending, reality shattering level of portaldom-ness?

While I had been lost in thought, he had either bought or swiped not just a pita with falafel, far too much green, tomato, and sauce, (I’m not sure which) but also apparently stolen someone’s hat and plopped it onto my head. It was a beanie made up of soft purple and grey yarn, and incredibly warm. I ran my hands over it, in a mixture of shocked, suspicious and surprised. I was completely unprepared for this man.

“Eat it, if you don’t mind.” He said as he twirled his top hat around aimlessly with his free hand. I obediently bit into the still warm pita, and found it quite good, for street food. (if he did buy it…)

I looked around quickly, and noticed something weird with the ghost population nearby. Everyone seemed to be running away from me. One teen in silvery-blue jeans poked his head out an alley, had his jaw drop, and straight up ran back the way he had come. Even Kala was flying a good five feet behind me, eyes trained on Dark Fire like she was waiting to test out a good tackle on him.

That was the moment where I truly started to sweat. I nibbled on my pita as I examined him. Nearly black skin, almost coal colored actually, and shocking purple eyes. I guess I know where he got the color scheme front. I took notes like a witness to a crime. Tall, about 5 foot 6. [I’m sorry I’m American okay. Eagle screech.] Couldn’t see a hair color, but that outfit was pretty definitive, if the skin and eyes wouldn’t work. Well built but athletic, perhaps 160-65 pounds.

Dramatic, loud, confident, deeper voice, almost psychotically happy, and thoroughly disarming. I had a pretty decent police report to file, then.

I then moved on to debate exactly how suicidal it would be to ask what the heck he was doing to the ghosts on a scale of 1 to 10. Probably around 8. Great.

“What are you doing to all the spirits?’ I asked him quietly, as to not make an passerybye think I had gone nuts, even if this dude did.

He looked over at me with new interest hands clasped behind his hand, hat safely back on. “Hmm? Ah, you can see. Nothing, really. Walking. Being nearby. Well, I suppose talking to you in the first place would be rather alarming to them.” His head cocked to one side again as my opinion of hm shifted rapidly from whacko crazy to this dude knows some important stuff to holy bleep he’s like me.

He yawned as I stared at him, all these increasingly strange thoughts cycling through my head on loop. He’s like me. He’s like me. He’slike me. He’slikeme. Ohmigodhe’slikeme.

I wondered if he really did have a reason to wear the gloves past fingerprints. My blood chilled at the thought. If he was crazy…

Dear every god I don’t believe in: SOS. Help me. Please. I’m begging you here. Thank you, Grim No Last Name. (or any that applies. On paper, it’s Zhou.)

Okay. It’s alright. A guy who might know some funky things about my quirk that I don’t and also could kill me with the tap of his hand. Normal stuff. Perfectly fine. All cool. (I mean, he did buy me food, after all.)

I force myself to keep walking normally, which is second nature after the fourth time I stumbled into the spiritual aftermath of a murder scene. And then there was the time of the earthquake… anyway, I probably don’t seem visually shocked, which may very well have saved my bacon in more ways than one.

On one hand, this guy could help me fully figure out my quirk, which still might have hidden parts I haven’t discovered yet, on the other, he seems completely bonkers and might even have the ability to kill with a casual hand gesture. In other news: a very delicate situation.

I’m fairly good at those.

“Right.” I remember to respond, which is a bit awkward because I end up talking into my pita just before buying myself time with another bite. I have enough adrenaline going in me to make the pain go away, which is always appreciated. It also has the annoying side effect of making me want to sprint away from this man as fast as physically possible.

Dark Fire is watching me out of the corner of his eye, hands still behind his freaking head as he strolls along, with an air of slight amusement, and a touch of concern. I wonder if he really does think I’m homeless after all.

“You got a phone, kid?” ****. ****ing *** piece of **** my god I will-

“Yeah.” Didn’t say I would do anything with it.

“Will you give me some way to contact you on it?” Wow that is a weighted question.

“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.” My heart pounded in my throat. I felt like I was engaging in a verbal duel. One I was entirely unprepared for and definitely hadn’t seen coming.

There was a small hum from beside me, and my heart rate spiked again uncomfortably. God damn it, circulatory system, sit down already!

He casually moved over a few inches as he walked, like he was giving me space to breathe. My body obliged, breathing coming down a bit from it’s near-way to fast. (we don’t say frantic, no we don’t what’s that word it’s not in my vocabulary) He took his arms down from above his head, which I was glad for, even if I felt like a wild animal he was trying not to scare off. Like he was making himself smaller as to be less intimidating.

I was so tense, Kala looked ready to scoop me up and fly me over to the nearest rooftop. Maybe tag this guy on the way over, keep an eye on him even while she mother-henned the bleep out of me.

“Perhaps I could give you a way to contact me, first? No strings, no time limit, of course.” His voice dropped dramatically, but I could hear him just fine. Maybe that was my instincts going haywire, though. Can you gain better hearing through pure Panic™? If that a thing?

“You gonna stalk me or something?” I swore he smiled brightly under that mask of his.

“No, no. I was thinking of having a man at a set place you could talk to, and he’d come back to me to report. Would… that street corner there suit?” He gestured casually, not pointing, more of waving his hand in the air, to one store on the end of the street at an intersection, a nice little café/bookshop/convenience store combo.

“Put him in a uniform or something so I can tell him apart.” Dark Fire nodded thoughtfully at this situation, seemingly encouraged and happy at my active suggestion.

“Alright. How about… businessman look, bright purple sparkly tie, gold tip?” That sounded plenty distinctive.

“Sure. Whatever. Can I… go?”

He nodded quickly, like trying to hold himself back from reassuring me further. I got the odd sensation that I had just been adopted by this man, in a way. Funny, that had only ever happened with the dead…

“Of course. My man will be there starting six AM tomorrow.” I looked closer at the store, trying to figure out why it in particular had been chosen. Was there something special about it? Didn’t seem to be too many extra cameras, very low security, bit of a weird customer base by whatever…

“Why… there?” I asked him, turning a bit to look at him properly, only to find nothing at all. The stranger with mercenaries or something like that was completely gone, leaving me alone on the sidewalk. I did a reality check. Yup, he had definitely been here. I still had the pita. I patted myself over for microphones or something on a whim, and found a random fifty dollar bill that hadn’t been there before, as well as a new contact in my phone with the screen asking me if I wanted to block them or not already pulled up. The contact name read SPARKLE TIE GUY in big, bright purple letters. I felt my lips thin as I realized I had been reverse pick-pocketed. I clicked the block button and slipped my phone back into my pocket. I was keeping the contact, but no way was I letting him talk to me. No need to panic; everything was fine. Totally fine.

Especially so when Kala slammed into my back to give me a hug, koala style. Despite the fact I was wearing my satchel, and still had my arm behind my back in my jean pocket. Mom Friend Comforting was too important to worry over small details like that.

Chapter Text

I was forced to take a long nap, though I procrastinated and checked in on the Horsemen in a desperate hope they would get her off my back, only to have Headless join the cause. I slept for five more hours, completely missing lunch by a long shot.

When I walked into the kitchen, I was just planning on scarfing down whatever I could find, or preferably what had been left out for me, and otherwise going out for some fast food. But the single, thick letter at the front door caught my attention. My foster parents always went through the mail at breakfast, so either this arrived later on, or had been left on purpose. I scooped it up and started when I read the address. UA High, addressed to me.

Was it an apology letter? Had the earlier disk been a mistake? Was I not really in UA after all? My heart and muscles panged simultaneously at the thought.

However, Kala was glaring at me openly with her arms crossed, a not-so-subtle message to get eating, idiot.

I brought the letter over to the dining table in the kitchen and started on some cold noodle soup that had been left at my seat. I barely tasted the food as I eyes the mail. Halfway through, I turned to Kala, who gave me a reluctant nod.

Instantly, I grabbed at the envelope, and ripped it open. A stack of papers fell into the hands. Surely if it was an apology, it wouldn’t be this long? A spark of hope was left.

I flicked through the papers. It was just a bunch of dense text for the first few pages, until I landed on a less full one. SCHOOL RULES AND UNIFORM SHIPPING. The heading declared. I slumped back in my seat, relieved. They weren’t replacing me, I was in.

I turned back to the first page in the pile. It didn’t have a title, so I read the first few lines. My gut twisted.

Costume design.

Of course they would expect us to design our own suits. Who else knew your abilities and quirk better than yourself? But the pressure in my stomach still didn’t sit well, even if it made sense.

I kept reading. Looks like they were providing hypothetical examples of how some quirks could translate to different parts of a costume, or good aspects to include like bullet proof cloth or armored areas around sensitive areas, the face, torso, neck. Basic stuff.

Looks like you had pretty much total creative freedom too, as long as you made it effective. You drew up a design and notes, sent it off to some hero costume-building company, and they made it for you.

Creative liberty and a total lack of guidelines on something that could cost you life or limb if done incorrectly: my worst nightmare.

Great.

My brain spiraled with ideas. Goth, obviously. What else would fit a death quirked hero? A cape, because drama. But not a long one, because if a villain was beneath me or popped out to attack and I jumped away, they could still easily grab and shank me. A short one, then. Around the shoulders. With a hood. Could be covered or passed off as a hoodie if I go undercover, and could easily hide weapons or surprise items under there if it was fitted right. I could have a sheath for the separate scythe pieces or for the entire thing, some gun holsters, knives, whatever. Pockets. Lots of pockets. Maximum utility under there. And the hood should also be removable easily, but can’t come off on accident either. They should be able to handle that, right.

I start scribbling out a list of possible parts to it.

Black jumpsuit, tight so no one can grab at me. Bulletproof. As stabbing proof as possible. A mask? Maybe. Boots. Thick soles, and combat. Half for the awesome points, but half because I didn’t want to get my feet sliced open on random sharp pieces of debris I might walk on eventually. Definitely no to little heels. Not because I thought my masculinity was under fire or something, but because I had never worn them and had heard horrible, bloody rumors of their effects. No thank you.

Oh, and a locking mechanism on the (gold colored) laces, so when tied they could be attached to the main part of the boot so they wouldn’t untie midfight and cause my death, but keep the authentic combat boots feel.

What would my mask look like? Skull was a bit on the nose, and also not very hero like. Maybe just a simple gold mouthguard, a splash of color, and a solid protective barrier over my mouth, nose, and, hopefully, eyes. I wrote into the notes that the designers could have some leeway with shape.

Gloves. The thickest you can get them while still being usable to me, with matching small holes over the pad of the pointer finger in case I had to knock someone out in a hurry. And a bag for herbs and my notebooks, my medical supplies, water, whatever else I might need. Or could the pockets under the cloak handle that? A satchel wouldn’t be very effective, someone could slice right through the straps. Maybe I could have extra little pockets around the hips and stomach or something.

I sat back in my chair, staring at my list. Kala was fiddling with her phone, probably trying to get it to work. She had the actual wiring and whatever ghostified, by there were cracks in her screen perfectly aligned so she couldn’t tap on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, meaning no music apps for her. She was very angry at this discovery, and was constantly trying to soak that one spot of glass without messing with the insides of her phone. However, all her mobile games were still there for her, which she appreciated.

She shoved the screen in my face, and I started swatting at her before she glared at me and got me to look. It looked like an art app or something. There was my bullet list to one side, which she must have copied down as I wrote it, and a human digital mannequin floating to the other. The app asked for body dimensions, which she typed in and I didn’t question how she knew all that down to a fourth of an inch, but whatever.

Suddenly there was my costume, almost exactly as I imagined it. Dark hood, and the length could be adjusted. Tight bodysuit underneath, and boots. Kala’s finger tapped at the cloak, and it turned translucent, showing the sheaths strapped to the suit underneath. A box popped up, asking us to be more specific about the design of the mouth guard or choose from a range of designs available.

I snatched the phone out her hand and looked closer at it. HERO COSTUME BUILDER the top of the screen declared.

Of course there would be a hero costume designing app. Why wouldn’t it exist?

I selected the simplest mouth guard possible and added white in thick lines along the top and bottom, and fiddled around with the coloring on the rest of it. Gold colorings on the soles of the boots. A line of white along the leggings. Gold lining the edge of the hood, the cuffs of the sleeves.

I grinned as I looked at it, Kala hovering proudly over my shoulder contentedly, legs all curled up in the air above the rest of her. It was perfect.

I spent the next two hours drawing the design into my blueprint, writing out in incredible detail the specifics of my quirk. Why I needed the gloves down to how fast acting the toxin is, my abilities concerning ghosts including my range to make them visible to others, how I heal them, how I figured out how to heal them, the whole lot of it.

When I finished, I was totally wiped. Again. My brain felt kinda empty, so Kala and I settled down in front of the TV. “Okay. Let’s watch like, two hours, then head over the park for butterfly time or something.” Kala lit up at the idea of playing with the local ducks or butterfly populations, and was even happier when I turned on the history channel. We were both trying to figure out different ghosts’ backstories or different ways to treat wounds from different ages, so the information was welcome. (Kala was trying to figure out the semi-complete life story of a child worker from a factory on a different continent like forever ago I had saved from his own crushed body a while back, and I had a whole list of people)

That done, we headed over to the park for some chill time. I sat down on a bench beside the lake/pond thing, underneath a tree for shade, as Kala launched herself into siad pond for some duck playtime. A few seconds later, and both parties were play-celebrating their reunion, and songbirds and butterflies were gathering on the shore.

She really was grumpy disney princess sometimes.

I settled back into the bench, enjoying the quiet. Not mainly people were in this small little dot of a park at this time, meaning it was perfect. A few workers strolling through on their break, but no yelling, screaming children, or anything else. Tranquility.

I petted a duck that had died from what I called a bread overdose, where they ate too much of the bread they were offered and couldn’t fit anything actually nutritious into their stomach, so they starved to death with a full belly. He was very friendly, nuzzling against my hand and everything. I wondered if he and that one overly aggressive ghost goose were having a war again.

This was nice. You don’t always have to be worrying about something or actively working on it, I reminded myself silently. Take a chill pill once in a while, or your brain will explode out of your skull or something.

I wondered if any of the passing joggers thought I was weird for petting what looked like nothing. I then decided I didn’t really care that much. Even if they thought it strange, it wasn’t mind-boggling enough to stick in their memory. They’d think about for a second, find it odd at best, and immediately forget me.

I sighed, a weirdly happy sound from my mouth, and pulled out my phone, where I had snapped pictures of all the forms UA had sent. Class schedules, clubs, uniform specifics, extra information for parents about exactly what we were doing, a list of contacts for the various staff, how I did on each entrance exam, a bunch of papers my foster peeps had to sign to give me access to off-ground trips. Regular school stuff, really.

Cool. First day of school was a while away. I had time yet to stress out of my brain. For now, it was chill time. And, apparently, watch Kala chase the butterflies around time.

 

That was two days before Dark Fire’s official entrance to Japan. I saw it on the news during breakfast, having heard the man’s name through the wall and spent the next three hours camping out on the couch and eating breakfast at a snail’s pace as I absorbed the information.

He was a villain from America, called a super-villain in some cases. The longest lasting, (thirteen years, hot damn) nation-wide influence through what can only be described as a less-violent gang, and America’s first in all of those classes.

All in all, though, he seemed rather good-hearted for a ‘supervillain.’ He funneled millions from the one percent to the desperately poor, supported the floundering education system, 911, their emergency phone service thingy being stupidly underfunded, allegedly helped homeless shelters take in minors or just make his own (safer) ones, and apparently once ripped a gang to pieces via killing off their leader person and flushing out everyone else. Apparently the crime rate in that area of NY was so low, the authorities straight up refused to intervene. Gave out insulin, gave anonymous donations for healthcare… he seemed like a pretty chill dude, actually. One who saw laws as pesky things who got in the way of helping others, sure, but good-intentioned. I could also definitely appreciate the time he spray painted the statue of liberty purple and had some street artist make a mural on the crown, book and torch.

But Japan had mixed emotions on him. He was a wanted murderer, after all. (against a seriously bad dude, but that didn’t seem to matter) And everyone was mega-confused on several things: why he was here, and why the gang violence rate flat-lined overnight. It seems like the same thing that happened in America was taking place here: people were switching out from the violent street gangs to Dark Fire’s vigilante-style organization, probably with his help. He essentially swallowed every gang of any size within a week, according to the statistics. Heroes were in a panic, the police had launched a full investigation. Endeavor gave a speech about he will catch this foul fiend and blah blah blah. The US government gave a returning speech basically saying this was not the kind of guy to publicly tease. I felt like I was witnessing a game of global verbal chess.

Now you may be asking: how did they know he was in Japan. How did they know it wasn’t some other big vigilante, someone a bit closer to home?

Well. Mainly from the way he snuck into Endeavor’s mansion, kidnapped everyone inside via someone who’s apparently his secretary or something who can teleport, dumped them all two blocks over at a therapist’s office for some reason (which so happens to be next door to a law firm who suddenly had a huge stack of papers as evidence for a child abuse case. Several of them.) and proceeded to torch the entire grounds with his weird shadow flames. The big shot hero was being treated for really bad burns, some bruising, and also a really bad concussion from when Mr. Secretary one-shotted him by ninja kicking him in the face. On Endeavor’s hero agency: spray paint, in black, grey and red, declaring a message. Hello Japan! On one side. Goodbye ‘hero’ on another, Dear criminals : watch your back, and lastly -Dark Fire =) (yes, he actually put down the smiley face. He really did that. And also the entire signature was laced in painted flames, so you know)

He was pretty clear (and dramatic) in his entrance. And he made a couple of points. He didn’t like anyone who broke the law, whoever they were, or how rich, powerful, or under whose orders. At best, the law was a loose series of suggestions. And most importantly of all, he was here, and he was here to play the game for real. Four hours later, a story surfaced in the US about Dark Fire’s continued movements over there, dismantling a trafficking ring and dumping everyone involved on the front steps of one of the biggest hero agencies in broad daylight, beaten three breathes away from death. The actual prisoners were funneled into a series of hospitals and psychology offices. It took the police three hours to track them all down, and lo and behold, a stack of papers revealing their life stories, current locations, and mental and physical states appeared on every desk at lunch time, when everyone was out of the office.

 

The day had come for my first day at UA, which was exactly as stressful as you would imagine. The uniforms had come in the mail all right, the costume company was fine with my design, everything was in order for things to go smoothly. I had even split the last few days of vacation between training and pranks/hanging with friends to both destress and prepare.

And yet I was still panicking. I had my backpack on my shoulders, all ready to go, Kala firmly at my side (she’s apparently my partner in crime now wherever I go. I’m not complaining) and uniform on. All I had to do was take the train to school, walk in, and start the day.

 

Ahhhhhhhhh.

This is the most prestigious school, for the most idolized job, by the best people, in the whole freaking country. There was a lot of pressure. Certainly more so than middle school. With Kala giving me the answers and my biggest problem was how to prank/avoid the bullies, I had kind of just been cruising a long, waiting to outgrow both my school days and the foster system so things could really get started. None of this social pressure stuff had been in the plan.

I had been going to get a good, well-paying job, help out the spirits at night, take vacations and whatever to help outside the local area, and keep up with my health as much as possible. That was it. No fancy herowork or media coverage or politics or hard classes of anything.

For the first time, I reflected on whether or not taking the path any other kid in the country would kill for was really worth it. For me, that is. I mean, health benefits and everything are nice, but it’s a real possibility that I could be limited to rescue work or a certain area as a hero.

I imagined the sheer amount of willpower it would take for someone to get to be a really big, good, inspirational hero. The years of training, risk of life and limb as part of your job, fighting between coworkers, having to work with others in the first place, (ugh) having to explain my quirk wherever I show up or go, the therapy and hospital bills.

Yeah, I cared about what others in the past and present thought about me. The constant bullying had been hell and all, but was that really my big, inspirational start point? Wasn’t very heroic of me…

I thought on that. Staring at the wall, sitting on my bed, looking like an idiot. I thought about my drive to help people, how I willingly put myself to the edge of exhaustion to help those that happened to be both dead and injured around me because no one else could. I didn’t have to do that by a long shot. And I thought on why I had been so scared of getting through the test, of why the bullying started in the first place, constantly worrying about whether people found me weird, all of it. Why? Because I had a weird, strange quirk. I mean, a person passing down the street with horns gets less attention than me because there quirk is useless at best. But once it can theoretically be used as a weapon, bleep no, society doesn’t wanna deal with it. Well, guess what? Super strength can easily do more damage in the same time as a horde of ghosts. And just because my quirk wasn’t something parents wished for their kids to have didn’t mean it was a bad thing, either.

Then I imagined having the ability to broadcast that. To tell kids that they didn’t have to hide or suffer for their abilities, because it was okay to be able to manipulate shadow or make other see the dead, or hallucinate. To stop thousands of cases of bullying, domestic violence, blacklisting, all of it.

Holy ****.

I could do that.

I could do that.

I laughed a bit to myself as I hefted my bag, standing up. Guess what was going to happen then.

I left the apartment with a fire in my eyes and plan tucked away for editing in my heart. I was going to this, but first, my plan to do it had to be perfect. For all the people out there. Every last one of them.

Including me.

Chapter Text

Kala loved her small idiot. She really did. Or else she probably would have wandered away from that grubby mess of a school halfway through his freshmen year.

But sometimes he shows his idiot side more than his loveable side. That or he was dead (hah) to the world in the series of comas he calls sleep.

Anyway, those are the occasions where she’ll go wandering off to explore. (she tries to not think of it like a dog on their regular walk going down the sidewalk, and more like a lioness patrolling her territory. Of course. What else would it be?)

She usually goes through the library, stealing the occasional book or reading snippets over people’s shoulders or heads. (one time she accidently phazed through their skull and saw their brain, all mushy and shadowy and stuff, which was a whole new type of freaky that will never, ever happen again.) Or pranking that one convenience store owner who was totally quirkcist, at least towards Grim and his ‘lack of a quirk.’ (she understood the lie for pranking purposes, not for anything else. Another reason for the Idiot v Actual Goth Teddy Bear List.) Or looking for new pretty spots around the city. Once she stumbled into a festival, which was a fun time. (she can make glitter move in big clouds, a new and exciting discovery that has huge important in her will to live. Or like, die. Whatever)

Or we continue on the saga to ghostify another article of clothing besides her school uniform, which apparently did it automatically when she died. Which was bs, but anyway.

This consisted of patrolling the nearby larger fashion stores, (since they wouldn’t miss the ‘stolen’ merchandise) looking for something she liked that also had thinner fabric for easier transforming time. The trick was trying to meld it when no one was around, since she wasn’t sure if half-transferred stuff glowed or anything spooky, and she’d rather not get another screaming fit. She’s had enough of those, thank you.

So far, minimal success. Mission Get Out of a School Uniform would wait for another day, though, because she wanted to figure out these friends of Grim’s: the so-called Horsemen. (who had an admittedly metal name, she would say)

They seemed interesting, certainly, and she could see why Grim liked them. And also that any one of them would take a bullet for both each other and Grim. However, this didn’t mean she wasn’t going to put her snooping skills (and being dead) to good use juuuuussstttt to check.

They were hanging out in that alley again, playing candy poker or whatever it was. A good deal of betting was going on, using mostly candy bars and soda bottles. Apparently poki was worth a whole lot, which she could appreciate. She settled down beside the mattress/bed thing of the Death guy, who if were in an anime would totally have one of those dark scribble clouds over him like, permanently. And different degrees of murder eyes depending on how he was feeling and the time of day.

Death put a package of poki, some chips, and a third of a milk chocolate bar on the line in the winnings pile, and Disease gasped dramatically, holding a hand to his chest. “Why, Death! How brave of you to assume…”

That was either a meme, weird form of a bluff, or inside joke. She wasn’t sure, and Disease probably wasn’t either. He was chaotic enough for it.

Headless was unmoved by the two’s antics, and War silently put another full candy bar next to Death’s.

Headless sighed. “Alright. Death, War, take half the earnings. Disease, roll.”

Disease laughed. “What is this, DnD?”

“I’m the DM.” Headless dead-panned.

“‘Course you are. Never said ya weren’t, mate.” Disease showed a hand of cards to him, and Headless’ brow rose.

“Right. Everyone put something worth at least three C down, or one S.”

Death and War’s eyes narrowed simeltainsuly. I started floating absently, floating gently over all their heads with arms hanging down and legs curled up, stomach down.

Death put down three whole candy bars. War whistled gently and put back just one. A long, furry tail as tall as his torso unfurled from behind him, waving slowly in the charged air. The fluffy black and red fur all up and down stood on end, making him look a mixture of expectantly anticipating and happy. All eyes were on a giddy Disease, just a slight bit smug.

“Go on. Draw so I can shuffle.” Headless grunted impatiently, eyeing War’s tail like it might club him. He leaned back against the alley wall, which had a blanket drawn up over it to cover the brick, from where he was laying out feet on the pillows towards the main card and candy piles.

Disease selected five cards, looked at them carefully, and handed them off, face down, to Headless, who began to pull a magician’s trick of sliding them around willy-nilly in a dizzying display of excellent hand coordination, confidence and long days filled with small hobbies and boredom.

“Aight. Choose one, you hungry weasel.”

Disease laughed good-naturedly, picking up the one in the middle with a sharp-toothed grin. Did he have fangs in there? I got up closer to him in an effort to look. Maybe he’s a vampire.

He whooped as he got a good look at the card again.

He put it down proudly, showing a 2 of hearts with a dramatic wave of his whole hand. War groaned as Death pouted, and Disease swept up all four bars. Death huddled protectively over his chips, poki and single remaining candy like Disease might swipe his remaining trove. He might just try, at risk of life and limb.

This made no sense, and I loved it. It got even better when I noticed the 2 had been scratched out with a 1 with bright pink marker.

“You little observant scoundrel!” War muttered, ruffling Diseases’ hair as he laughed. Famine, having been sitting on the side the entire time, tackled him in an enthusiastic hug. This brought Headless’ attention straight to him. He picked up a water bottle like he was plucking a feather.

“Drink.” Headless said, prying Famine off like a leech.

Famine made a face of disgust as he caught sight of the water and was placed in War’s lap, who encircled him in his arms gently as he could as Headless tried to coax him into drinking even juuust a little.

“Drink and eat or I’ll find a chair, tie you to it, and put an IV in your arm.” Death threatened in sign language from where he was lounging on his bed/nest of blankets. (I learned the language quickly after meeting Grim, since it was a great way for him to subtly reply to me)

“No you won’t! Or you would, but noooooo! Headless stop or I’ll yell!” Kala snorted at the childish response to the series threat. Headless sighed.

“Will you let me do this after?”

Famine nodded, suddenly totally calm and limp in War’s grip, who seemed to be petting his back.

Headless sighed through his nose. “Fine.”

It looked kinda like Famine unhinged his jaw a bit, and the scream produced by his little body was loud enough to make me shake slightly as I hovered in the air. Wow, didn’t know that could happen. I would be impressed if I wasn’t checking my hearing.

There was a muffled bang from maybe half a block away in response, and a brightly colored head covered by a mask bolted around the corner.

Famine shrieked again, this time with more passion as he figured out what was happening. “Since when was there a hero around here!?”

Death wrapped small tendrils of shadow around the exposed supplies, excluding the beds, and shoved it into a half-open crate, and shoved it closed before the shadow dissipated again. Apparently the candy was more important than taking their chances with the rando hero.

“What are all you kids DOING?” The hero yelled as he stopped before the small group, who were sharing careful glances.

Death’s and Disease’s face were the picture of calm, while Headless paid the hero no mind. He simply handed Famine the water bottle, who drank just a bit and made a face. War smiled and hugged him tightly, and Famine swatted him as best as he could.

“Gamblin’.” Disease said in the weirdest way, like an innocent angel speaking from an imp’s body. He had a southern american twang, a second-hand accent that was also somehow permanent.

The hero blinked. I got a good look at his costume. Red hood-type mask, bodysuit with black accents, solid black boots. Probably a public safety hero, the poor chap. I could see the shock hitting his brain like a baseball bat. On drugs. And a sugar rush.

Death put a gentle, passive-aggressive hand over Disease’s on his knee. My liking meter for him ticked up. Damn him for making me like him.

“You… what? Well, I’ll have to take you in for that, I suppose. Um. Are you guys… homeless?”

“No.” Death signed, the perfect picture of goth innocence. He quickly slapped a hand over Disease’s mouth before he could tag anything onto that statement, forcing Headless to grudgingly translate.

“Right. Yeah. You’re coming with me.”

“Unfortunate.” Headless sighed through his nose and scooped up Famine, who giggled as he whooshed upwards suddenly. War frowned at the stolen cuddle time, and used his tail to help him stand casually before it shrunk down. The hero squinted at him, but never got a good look behind War’s giant frame. War was not about to be accused of public quirk use without a license, of all crimes.

Disease batted his eyelashes at the thoroughly flushed hero, grinning like the imp he was below his angel eyes. “Lead the way, hero.”

Kala didn’t know why she followed them to the police station. Maybe she was still trying to figure out the whacky rules behind that card game. Maybe she was interested in what this troop of idiots was going to do next. But she definitely was not getting attached in any way.

They were in separate interrogation rooms, despite Headless trying to mom Famine, who was five seconds from a crying fit at the idea of being both separated from his friends and under this sort of pressure. Compared to his negotiation back in the alley, I wondered how much of this was a tactic to get what he wanted. That or he needed a hug.

In any case, I stuck the most with him, sitting on the table between him and the lie-detection hero, holding his hand even if he couldn’t feel. At one point, his hand even went solid in mine, and I smiled as it struck him that someone was here. I had no idea if he remembered me, but I sure did.

His interrogation was first, since they only had one walking lie-detector, they had to go one at a time.

“Okay, kid. So your friend said you were gamblign what’s that about?”

“Candy.” He had apparently figured out the detective’s quirk, so instead of spinning some fantastic lie of a story as I suspected Disease would, he just decided to be the cryptic innocent angel instead.

The detective sighed, looking in need of a long nap.

“Right. Wanna tell me why our hero heard a scream?”

“Water.” His face held only a small, permanent smile, like the corners of his move never fully flattened.

The detective was suitably confused. “... Do you want some?”

“No.”

A drawn-out sigh. “Was the water spiked?”

“No.”

“Okay. Were you assaulted?” Wow, he got aggravated quick.

“No.” The detective looked a minute away from straight up leaving.

“Are you hurt?” His eyes raked over his body, the showing ribs.

“Nope.”

He sighed, and stood up to go talk to Disease next door. I stuck around with Famine for a minute, stroking his hand, before melding through the wall.

Disease’s cell looked different. For one, he was hand-cuffed to his chair by both wrists, whistling cheerfully and quite loudly at the walls. The volume heightened when the door opened, the sound bouncing chaotically off the walls. The detective grimaced even before the door was closed, staring at the smiling boy and listening to the horribly shrill noises he was making.

He mercifully stopped as the detective dropped into his seat tiredly.

“Hello.” The detective started out.

“Hiya. Beautiful weather we’re having, ain’t it?” He grinned like a maniac.

“Hm. You look a little… stuck. How’d that happen?”

“I pick-pocketed the secretary.” The detective’s quirk pinged. No matter, he’d get the story from his colleagues.

“No you didn’t. In any case, would you mind telling me how you wound up here, son?”

Something dangerous flashed in Disease’s eyes at the nickname. Kala floated in a U shape above his head for a better view, just in case. His smile turned almost vicious.

“Well, let’s see. My friend, you’ll never guess which one honestly, has the best quirk where they can see the ideals of different things, like spring all fresh and bright and stuff and health. I’m sure health is a monster. Well, ya know, a wild vegetable attacked us, as they do, a carrot, I believe, but only he could see them so he gave us a little warning and someone screamed as something starting throwing around toothbrushes and stealing innocent chocolate. Well, we had taken bets on who would yell first and I won fair and square. That’s the short version. Ya want the long one?” The detective sighed as his vision swam with red text. He could barely see it when Disease batted his eyelashes at him. My friend has the best quirk where they can see, health is a monster, screamed, stealing chocolate, taken bets, and I won. As much as he could tell, those were the only slivers of truth in that entire rant.

He counted to five. “No thank you. What did you bet with?”

 

“Sugar loaves and the souls of the blessed.” Sugar showed up in white. Great.
“It’s not gambling if it doesn’t involve money, son.”

Disease’s eyes narrowed, either at the response or the nickname. “Crystallized sugar can too be money.” Somehow that all turned up white. ‘Did they bet with candy?’ Mr. Detective wondered. Oh, if only he knew. Kala cackled.

“Right. Of course. Well, I think I’ll go talk to your other friends.” Disease grinned at that.

“Talk at ‘em, ya mean. You do that, mister. Have fun with it, I dare ya.” Kala could see the reasoning here. They could have tied War down as well, but handcuffs wouldn’t stop him when he was really trying. Disease was deliberately trying to indirectly give this man a concussion.

She loved him.

She patted him on the head with her foot (Grim would have disapproved, but he wasn’t here) before slipping into Headless’ little cube of sadness.

He seemed to be meditating, calmly sitting in his metal chair, eyes closed, lips moving slowly as he thought hard enough Kala thought the train of thought would come right out of his head and run her over.

He didn’t even look up as the policeman entered, off in his own little world.

The detective sat down across from him and tapped experimentally on the metal table, producing a metallic clicking noise. No response.

“Excuse me.” He tried. Headless’ eyelids twitched, but that could have been coincidence.

“Sir. I have to talk to you.” Headless’ eyes opened gently, and he blinked at the man before him.

“Ah, sorry. I was thinking. And you are?”

“Naomasa Tsukauchi. But I’m more interested in who you are, thank you.”

“My name is Headless. Inspired by the Headless Horseman. No, it wasn’t my choice. What seems to be the problem?” She suddenly reminded her a customer service employee. The change from Mom Friend to Tired Millennial/Damage Control was almost spooky.

“Your other friends are quite the bunch. One made up quite the story, and the other was very flat in their answers.”

“Yes they are. I assume you want to hear my part of the story?”

“Yes.”

“And I assume you have some sort of lie-detection quirk, yes?”

“Indeed.” The dectived fixed his yellow coat collar as Kala suspended herself over the steel table, head down and hair trailing, slowly spinning to get a good look at each person.

His eyes glinted with interest. “Fascinating. How does that work? Will it show up if the person believes what they are saying but it isn’t true? What if they are silent, and so emitting something? Can you see those blanks somehow? How do you tell? Is it a bit like a sixth sense or does it tag onto another one? How did you figure it out originally, that it was lies? I’m curious.”

“That does not concern you.”

“You tell, I tell. A deal, if you will.”

The detective’s lips pursed a bit as Headless’ eyes twinkled cleverly. He looked a mixture of a scientist and politician, a dangerous combination Kala loved. A smart swindler, who knew? It was a fantastic discovery. She should have looked at these weirdos sooner.

“I’d like to talk to your friends first, if I may.”

Headless sighed out a bit through his nose. “That’s not for me to decide, is it, Naomasa Tsukauchi-san?”

The title of respect felt off, somehow in that sentence. Kala adored it. She would have hugged the kid if she could. She tried anyway.

Was it possible she could have Grim translate for her, make a friendship. Of course it was, or else she would keep him up all night singing whatever annoying songs came to mind until he did.

As the policeman was in the doorway, Headless spoke again. “Death is mute, and War is… aggressive. I would be cautious, in your shoes.”

The detective couldn’t see it, but Headless winked with a dark but interested smile on his face. Content as well as in anticipation. Omigod how did she pick up so many new children so fast???

 

Kala and Death were equally unimpressed when Naomasa Tsukauchi walked into his room armed with some blank paper and some half-used pencils, the points all worn down. “I understand you can’t or won’t talk. Would you be willing to write your account instead?”

Death raised a single arched eyebrow at him, otherwise reactionless. His breathing didn’t even change at all when the detective came in, or his line of sight. He had been staring at the door for some time, waiting calmly.

He was Kala’s type of creepy, with the bad-boy aesthetic to boot. Deliberate, unsettling, odd, capable, and awesome. She liked him the minute she saw him, really.

The writing stuff was laid down before him, and the policeman sat down. Grim didn’t move staring icily straight into his eyes unblinkingly. His quirk wasn’t on, since the room was well-lit, but for all the detective knew, this somehow was his quirk.

Death took up the pencil, and it began to delicately scratch out words upon the page. His handwriting was elegant and deliberate, blocky and perfect like computer text. He was three sentences in before his hand moved just right, and Kala could see what he could. It appeared he was writing out some law about how only verbal testimonies or something were on the record, and written ones aren’t and therefore don’t happen, shortly before continuing on by writing out what was probably his human rights quoted word for word in tiny script.

The power moves are strong in this one.

Kala was in love.

Not really. Bein’ ace (maybe demi, who knows, certainly not her) and dead and all. But you get it.

The detective left very quickly, taking the papers with him, and his pencils (one of which was mysteriously broken, wonder how that happened oh noooo) and Kala could have sworn Death winked at her.

She went to see the brawl between War and Naomasa Tsukauchi before she could decide if it was at the retreating detective or herself.

 

War was indeed aggressive. He was bellowing as soon as he laid eyes on the policeman.

“What have you done with my friends?!” He yelled from the back wall, where he had been pacing restlessly in contrast to his buddies.

“Talked a bit, so far. Very interesting group, you are. Would you mind telling me your version of events?” War glowered at him with a glare hot enough to melt metal. Kala snickered as she settled in on the ceiling, laying down comfortably on her back for a good view, scooping her shorter black hair out of the way of her view.

“Yes.”

Kala tried to puzzle through what that answer meant. Maybe it was meant to confuse you? Or it was ‘would you mind if I asked you what happened’ and he was like ‘yeah I would now feck off.’

“Alright. I’ll ask you some questions then. What happened in that alley?”

“Cuddling.” I got the impression he was a kind of gentle giant but he could also kill you. It was a confusing vibe, but appreciated. Also, he had the best passive aggressive expression on his face like he was trying to compose himself and it really wasn’t working. It was unbelievably cute.

Oh nooooo I’ve adopted them. How did this haPPEN.

“Any specifics?”

“That if you keep me here for much longer you really have a crime to pin on me? Such as breaking your nose? How’s that, Mr. Detective, sir?” Kala laughed. This one was a treasure. Not a national one, but a treasure.

The man sighed yet again, fixing his glasses on his nose calmly. “Of course. Well, we’ll be doing a group session last up just to confirm, if you wouldn’t.”

War glared harder. Kala added in, even if it had no effect. It was always fun, either way. Even better if only Grim, could see it, actually, ‘cause he’d be trying not to laugh and keep up his cool kid persona.

10 minutes later they were all shepherded into a larger cell. Disease had been delighted when two policemen had actually carried his chair over to the other room because they didn’t trust him to walk on his own. He sang the whole way down the hall at the top of his lungs.

Once they were all settled in a long row of metal chairs, the detective sat down one last time facing all of them and counted to ten before jumping in.

“Well kids, I have no proof to charge any of you as a crime, which I may comment you would get off easy for as minors just in case that sparks any sort of discussion-”

He paused and scanned them over, looking for a reaction. Headless was muttering again, Disease and Famine looked bored, Death was trying to see into his soul using his eyes and willpower, and War was still… being himself. Angrily.

Kala settled down on their laps like a person on those therapy couches in the movies and booped Famine on the nose as she snickered.

“But I would like to talk about your little camp in that alley of yours. Do you happen to be homeless?”

Death started signing rapidly to Disease, who was assumedly chosen because of the way it looked like his soul was slowly leaving his body out of sheer boredom, and began to translate… in his own way.

“Aight, so he says we just hang there as a HQ for us, like a treehouse or something. Ya know the movies and all? City version, ‘suppose. Anyway, we play card games and tag and stuff. We don’t live there, the beds are just comfortable and for naps and stuff.”

War and Famine nodded sagely in agreement with suddenly straight faces. It looked almost practiced, choreographed. Headless seemed to have entirely checked out of this dimension. Kala heard something about lies and thought barriers and irises, maybe mind reading? It was weird. But she loved her smart hooligan child, so back off.

Naomasa Tsukauchi took out some papers from his pockets. “We have reports of repeated robberies in the area. Small stuff. Convenience stores, gift shops, small groceries. A vague description gave young people, maybe even below their teens, taking basic things needed for living. Food, water, the basics. Any correlation at all?”

“Nope.” Disease chirped happily as he grinned with cheerful malice, popping the ‘p.’ He really was a smert chaotic gremlin.

The detetive sighed one last time. “Alright, you are all free to go. Just as a comment, there’s a shelter three blocks down and the station is always open. We’ll be keeping an eye out for you lot as well. Understood?”

They all nodded in synchrony. Then Disease spoke up. “Hey, will you be wanting ‘ese cuffs here back?”

Kala left when the group was trickling out of the station in a little huddle, off to other things. The group had the official Kala Seal of Approval, and she had a coffee shop to try to eat pastries in. (once she picked up a sprinkle donut!) (and she wanted to see if she could hack the computers at the public library, just to try it out. The usual. Her middle school’s had been pretty easy, after all.)

Chapter Text

UA is an intimidating school. It was a massive wall surrounding it with a gate and security and everyone knows it had all kinds of uber-powerful people rattling around inside. Confidence, power, and strength practically oozed from the place.

Man did I feel out of place.

Kala was ‘walking’ directly above my head to keep me grounded through pure ridiculousness, and also show me she was there, and still very much herself. Or maybe so I could always clearly see her, no matter how swamped with people the hallways were.

The hallways were so clean it was almost freaky. No public school had a right to be this well taken care of. It was illegal. Especially compared to my middle.

The kids were so different too. You could tell their drive, innocence, excitement, and viewpoint of their quirk from three miles away.

I felt outclassed. Or maybe… different-classed.

My childhood innocence had pretty much died the first time I saw an earthquake victim, on my way to the grocery store when I was five. I couldn’t remember looking that bright, ever, really. If I had, it was a damn long time ago. It was like I was grittier than them somehow, in every sense of the word, different but not.

I was an alien walking among men. I felt like I had been transported from a different world entirely. Or like it was a world just different enough to freak me out. Afterall, I could still see the spirit kid with a smashed arm and black eye near the corner of the hallway, blankly watching the flow of new and old students.

I began to plot out how to help them without having my future classmates think I was totally nuts.

“We could have them guess quirk.”

I loved Kala’s evil genius mind.

Time to play my favorite game: Guess My Quirk!

I imagined all the possibilities: having Kala lift things, appear and disappear really quick so they think they’re hallucinating, yell in their ear. (damn the possible hearing damage to my own ears straight to hell) (plus it apparently produces this really spooky whisper voice, don’t ask how I figured that out)

I grinned in anticipation, mind whirling with ideas. This was going to be fun after all.

 

My class was a full house. A-1 looked like an interesting lot, too. I noticed this right after I got over the ridiculous door, which was about three times as big as it needed to be for no express purpose. One girl was bright pink, another totally invisible. I recognized the green and blonde-haired kids from the entrance exam, (and only them. Everyone else was a walking question mark) but no sign of brainwashing dude. I silently hoped he was in a different hero class, or maybe at another hero school. Hopefully a good one.

I settled down towards the back of the classroom. I couldn’t see a teacher anywhere, so I decided to do as I liked until they showed up.

I try to scope out the quirk people might have. Invisible girl was pretty easy, and I already knew Explosion Kid’s. One kid’s head looked like a bird’s, so I pretty much skipped over him. One kid with bright yellow hair was holding his phone weird, with as many fingers as he could fit right where you plugged in the charger. I looked closer at the screen. His charge was actually going up, one percent at a time.

Well okay then.

One girl had a noticeable croaking sound as she talked, and it you looked closely, a forked tongue. A frog or a snake quirk, maybe? Transformative or permanent?

Then there was the boy with actual engines in his leg, talking animatedly to green-haired boy and a ginger-haired girl with a bob in the doorway. Three guesses as to what he could do. Another had a yellow, furry tail coming out of the seat of his pants. Cool, to say the least. I supported the slightly lame quirk at this school one hundred percent.

The hairstyles also appear to be rather special. One kid has half red-half white hair, which doesn’t look dyed either, (and was so hostile to my passing stare that I had to swat Kala to not immediately start the pranking with a target in mind) and Anger Issue’s was so prominent I could probably find him in a crowd every time.

The three fast track friends, one of their names I think was ‘Lida’ after hearing him and explosion kid go at it, were suddenly interrupted by a quiet and droning voice. “Go somewhere else if you want to play at being friends.” I couldn’t see this newcomer, they were still outside the classroom, but from the sheer worn-out-ness of their voice, I could already relate.

Ginger Hair turned around in shock, staring. (she reminds me a living bubble somehow…) “This is the hero course.” This new person continued, “Okay, it took eight seconds before you were quiet. Time is limited. You kids are not rational enough.” Ah, was this our teacher? My kind of dude.

He seemed to have rolled pretty high on intimidation somehow, too. Sweet.

“I am your homeroom teacher, Shota Aizawa. Nice to meet you.” The man stepped out of the doorway, and I got a good look at him. He was in a black jumpsuit with some kind of thin, wide scarf looped heavily around his shoulders. He had long, untamed black hair in locks, and impressive eyebags.

...Interesting.

My liking of him spiked as I noticed the neon yellow sleeping bag he was carrying around with him. I assumed that from my classmate’s reaction that he had somehow been worming along in it somehow along the ground, which had such weirdly high intimidation points attached I couldn’t even describe it.

“It’s kind of sudden, but put this on and get out onto the field.”

I have never seen a group of teenagers scramble to do as they were told so fast. Yeah, I liked this guy.

 

A quirk assessment test on the very first day. This guy was pulling all the stops right out of the gate.

“What? What about the entry test and orientation?” Bubbly girl exclaimed, in immediate distress. Poor girl, she was probably going to be in shock by the end of the day.

“If you’re going to be a hero, you don’t have time for such leisurely events.” I wanted to cackle, partially at the response, partially at Kala trying to mess with various points of Aizawa’s body to see if he would react. He didn’t, but she was having fun.

I missed a sentence or too, but then he turned to face us and the entire glass jerked as one, forcing me to pay attention fully again. “You kids have been doing this since junior high, right?”

He held up his phone, expressionless. “Physical fitness test where you couldn’t use your quirks. The country still uses results from students not using their quirks. It’s not rational. Well, the ministry of education is procrastinating. Bakugo, you finished at the top of your physical exam, right?”

Explosion hair Was in action immediately. ‘Bakugo’, huh? He parted his mouth like he was going to say something, only to be cut off by the teacher, fully in charge.

“What was your best result for the softball throw?” Aizawa was having none of it.

“67 meters.” Bakugo answered, somewhat subdued.

“Try doing it with your quirk.” Aizawa ordered seriously. “Do whatever you want as long as your within in the circle.” He gestured to a wide chalk circle on the ground nearby.

So Bakugo did. The results were… well, explosive. He put an explosion behind the ball so it rocketed off into the distance with a loud exclamation of “DIE!”

What even is this kid?

“This is the most rational way to form the foundation of a hero.” He held up his phone again, showing a score of 750 meters.

Holy hell.

Okay then.

There was whispering among my classmates of disbelief and slight horror. I stayed silent, standing a bit out to the side from the rest of them. Then it quickly changed to murmurs of excitement at the chance of not being reined in like normal.

“It looks ‘fun’ huh?” Aizawa said suddenly, watching us with eyes of ice and shadowy aura. His Goth Level increased by two points! “You have three years to become a hero. Will you have an attitude like that the whole time?” he paused for a second, and then an air of mischief came over him. “Allright. Whoever comes last of the eight tests will be judged to have no potential and will be punished with expulsion.”

The communal heart rate of all the students when up by at least twenty beats. Even I myself was feeling the energy in the air.

Everyone was a mixture of scared, shocked, and horrified. It was kind of glorious, to be honest.

“Welcome to UA’s hero course.”

With that, we were off.

 

At first there were more protests, things like ‘it’s unfair’ and ‘the first day of school!’ and such.

Aizawa countered with the fact that a hero is expected to face unfairness unexpectedly as part of the job, with a slight undercurrent of ‘you are all mortal and can die at any time. Shortly before continuing on about the amount of commitment heroism demands.

Yup, this guy was very intense. It was awesome.

There was a fifty meter dash as the first test after Speech Time. Not too complicated, very self-explanatory. Engine guy did great, frog girl was cool to watch, Bakugo exploded his way to speed, what you might expect.

I basically just had Kala wrap her arms around me and violently fly directly to the right to whip-lash my way across the line, quite purposefully making my classmates think I had some kind of flying ability.

Hahahaha. In their dreams. Nah, I was too goth for that.

Anyway, I had a time similar to Lida, at 4 and a half seconds. Just 1 slower than him, pretty chill. Definitely better than some of my other classmates.

While watching the rest of my classmates and waiting for my body to figure out I wasn’t dying, I was met with the glorious sight of Sparkle Boy, a dude for French, it wasn’t even funny. I think he must bathe in glitter every morning when he gets dressed, and then just carries it with him throughout the day. His quirk was some kind of laser from his abdomen, and really reflected him pretty well. Slightly awkward, weirdly pretty, (not handsome. Pretty.) and mildly useful if you’re clever about it.

During all these races, Aizawa was stubbornly silent, seemingly deep in thought as he contemplated the times coming up on his phone. He had an intense way about him he carried even when distracted, it was refreshing. I kept an eye on him.

The next test was grip strength. Really no way around this one past my own abilities.

65. A bit above average apparently. Also not the lowest score, thank goodness. (the workouts paid off!)

After that was the standing long jump. The same deal as before: I just let Kala blast me forward (though not nearly as fast this time, thankfully) and scored above average once again. I was doing fine.

Just above fine, actually.

Repeated side steps, whatever that was, was our next test. Also pretty easy to hack: just kinda have Kala grab me and run back and forth a bit to wrack up the score.

Ball throw: my anticipated favorite. After bob girl (who apparently had an anti-gravity quirk) just chucked it up and watched it disappear, earning her infinite points, I was torn between the original plan of just having Kala float forward with the ball in hand and just having her float up a bit and throw it into the stratosphere.

Before that decision would be made though, Green Haired Kid had a drama moment. He stared intensly at the ball like it was his mortal enemy for a while before throwing it forward with a seriousness to rival Bakugo’s.

Something weird happened when hid, though. Parts of his arm started glowing in a lightning pattern, green tinted orange.

Weird. Super strength? Alright, fair enough.

But when he threw it, no extraordinary result was produced. A measly 46 meters.

Huh?

Aizawa was staring at him weirdly. His eyes had gone… red?

What was his quirk anyway?

Something about the scene made me focus in especially and pay attention to the small details.

Green made suitable sounds of confusion before there was a slight rustle as Aizawa’s scarf lifted clear off his shoulders in a bold statement against gravity, worming forward in the air towards the boy. “I erased your quirk.”

The class collectively swallowed.

“The test was clearly not rational enough. To let someone like you in.” Ow, that one must hurt a bit.

Super Strength was more fascinated than insulted. “You… erased my quirk?”

That is what he said, I thought bitingly.

I could see the lightbulb going off in his brain. “Those goggles! Ah! You can erase someone’s quirk just by looking at them! The Erasure Hero, Eraser Head!”

Wow, okay, he’s a nerd, dually noted.

Suddenly the entire class was involved in some type of gossip circle. “Eraser Head? I haven’t heard of him.” Said one. “I have, he’s an underground hero.” Said another.

Blah, blah, blah. Personal space much?

I wormed my way out of the crush of bodies in order to get a better look at this murder-scene-in-progress.

“From what I can tell, you can’t control your quirk, can you? Do you intend to become incapapacitated, again and again, and have someone save you?” The words grew more and more harsh as he went on in a steady way.

“No- no! That’s not my intention!” Poor Broccoli Head yelped out. Like an injuried puppy. Shaking and wide-eyed. He was about to have a heart attack, from the way he looked.

The scarves whipped out, wrapping securely around his chest by the biceps and yanking him towards the teacher. “Whatever your intention, I’m saying that’s what the others around you will be forced to do. In the past, there was an oppressively passionate hero who saved over a thousand people by himself and created a legend. Even if you have the same reckless valor, you’ll just be decked and turn into a useless doll after saving one person.”

Oof, ow and ow. This was getting rough.

In other news, Aizawa seemed to be rather fond of speeches.

I noticed a bit of yellow in the corner of my eye. I looked over to see the one and only All Might, legendary hero, Symbol of Peace, half-hidden behind a grey building wall like he was trying and failing to hide.

Huh?

“Izuku Midoriya. With your power, you can’t become a hero.” And… that’s the conclusion, I hope.

My brain was going wild. How and why was All Might here? Was he a teacher at this school as well? Why was he hiding? Why was his gaze locked so intently on Aizawa and this Midoriya boy?

So many questions, so little time.

I glanced back to homicide scene. Midoriya’s face was twisted with determination, a strange and telling reaction. Taking Bakugo’s earlier comment about him being quirkless… was he some sort of late bloomer?

Ah, that would explain it. He would have been bullied through childhood, acting like your normal quirkless individual, before having his quirk bud, freaking out, and being unable to control it.

Poor sap. He got the worst of both worlds, really. At least super strength was an alright quirk to have, socially.

Aizawa released him back to the ground.

“I’ve returned your quirk. You have two turns for the ball throw. Hurry up and get it over with.” The hero finished curtly.

The man knew how to effectively talk. At length.

All Might, shifted as if worried. What on earth was these two’s relationship?

Midoriya stood like a statue in the circle, probably taking a second to recover his bodily functions. I could practically see the gears in his head turning in meantime, grinding away at this new information.

A smart one? Interesting…

It would explain Bakugo’s grudging interest yet dislike of him. Nothing much most quirks can do for the brain, really.

I entrusted Kala to inform me on whatever crazy stuff my classmates were doing and zeroed in on this suddenly entertaining kid. What would he do now?

Mumble a lot, apparently. Staring at the ground like he had lost his mind and let his brain go wild. Yep, definitely a thinker.

Another few seconds of that, and jumped into action.

This time when he threw, only his finger glowed. I grinned. Yeah. A thinker.

Then it turned to careful passiveness (a mask I often wore when suddenly shocked) as the very air and ground around the kid rumbled. Clumps of dirt jumped up, gathering on his clean uniform, and creating a legitimate tunnel of wind almost straight up.

Holy ****.

I was in some form of shock as the kid stilled, and I got a good look at his finger.

The skin was not supposed to be that shade of red.

My healer instincts kicked in strong, and I praised myself for bringing my satchel out here.

“Mr. Aizawa.” The kid straightened up, clearly in pain and struggling not to cry. “I can still move!”

Concerning.

Aizawa and I seemed equally shocked. The spooky man started smiling. Smiling. It didn’t feel like a common event.

 

I walked forward, hyper-aware of how the dust swirled around my feet. “Sure you can, kid. Show me your hand.” I unhooked my satchel from my side and took out various herbs and instruments.

The kid, probably still in shock from the endorphins, was too placated by my approach to protest. I dragged him out of the circle while I worked, talking. Cream for the skin damage would be needed and did he actually break the bone?

“If your super strength goes through your body like a current it’s smart of focalize the point, but it’s kinda dumb to channel it through the bone. That’s a fast-track way to get arthritis. Hold still. Try to hold it to the skin and muscle if you can, your immune system can more easily handle it that way. Uh, and incorporate some kind of insulator if it really is electric, you were glowing for a minute kid, wouldn’t wanna shock someone would we?”

“No-no! AaH.” I got the kid to exclaim, distracting him as I forced the (out of place, not broken somehow) bone back into its proper place.

“Feels better doesn’t it? Okay, your skin’s pretty fried but that’s what scar tissue is for. Put this cream on,” I pulled out a small-ish container of green-tinted paste I carried around (one of many different types and containers.) and pushed it into his unhurt hand. “Every few hours. Try moving it every few hours, if it hurt let it be. If not, gently move it back and forth to get the muscle up and running again. Besides that, go see a doctor.” I gave an extra ration of cream just in case and let his hand go, suddenly re-aware of everyone’s eyes on me.

The kid recover fast from the jarring pain. Again: concerning. He and I would be having some conversations in the future. “You… you know first aid? Do you work with plants?” He was getting into an intellectual frenzy, I could see.

“Yeah I do, figured it’d help if I was going to be a hero. Not quirk-wise, no.” I replied curtly, returning to my position away from the class huddle.

Midoryia was practically seeing stars as he anxiously and almost absent-mindedly followed my instructions, trailing behind me.

“That’s so smart! Do you make this yourself? What’s it made of? What’s it do?”

“Secrets of the trade. It numbs pain and helps accelerate healing. It can stopping small bits of bleeding too, but that shouldn’t be necessary.”

“Wow! You’re like a doctor!”

“More of a witch.” Damn my human instincts. I could feel my cheeks start to tinge.

Damn. Damn. Damn it. Damn his cuteness. Damn his sudden, laser-focus attention. Damn my teenage hormones.

Your showing weakness, whispered a part of my brain. I made a conscious effort to ignore it as I listened to the kid ramble at me, asking about arthritis and bone structure and skin healing cycles.

Maybe this would be a bit less lonely than I had been expecting.

(and yes, Kala had a very fun time in the stratosphere.)

Chapter Text

The next two days, after that scare, was relatively uneventful. There was this mock battle thing that was a breeze when I had Kala scout while I stalled, which means I punched some kid I didn’t yet know the name of yet a bunch, shortly before being yanked through four floors of concrete and being slammed into the ‘bomb.’ Thanks, Kala. Anyway, the day after that, we voted for class rep, (poor Midoryia was about to have a fit if he hadn’t asked to Lida to take up the mantle, I could feel it coming) Aizawa fell asleep in homeroom, there was a brief stampede at lunch, the staff covered up the protective wall around the school’s gate being turned into mulch, (which is fair. I wouldn’t like it my supposedly impenetrable wall was turned to smoke-flavored ash and rubble either) and no one was expelled and/or dead by the end of the day. Whoop.

The next day was really the special one. You thought nearly being forced through a window by two dozen shoving bodies was bad, wait until your forced onto a bus full of freshmen for a field trip on the third day of school!

So here I was, listening to Bakugo threaten to kill people, sitting beside Ice Guy, this dude in a white jumpsuit with chunky beige bits all over and ice covering half his body in a thick, almost spiky layer. He was interesting. After my mock battle, I had people-watched a while, feeling out my new classmates a bit. He was smart, tactful, blunt, to the point, all good things in my book. (I hate people who beat around the bush like they’re either on damage control duty or acting like your mental health’ll collapse with one good hit. Hah) He was also drawn off, which I could respect. Detached, wary. Probably had a good, juicy backstory with that scar of his, too, blotting out a big spot of skin all around his left eye in a roughly circular shape. It’s a wonder he’s not blind in one eye, really.

I enjoy actually interesting people in my life, so I decided to drum up a conversation to distract myself from the raging pyromaniac up front.

“It’s cool if you want nothing to do with other human beings, but you could at least introduce yourself before becoming a social hermit. You know, be polite.” He had been maintaining a burning concentration on Bakugou and Midoriya so much so I thought his stare would melt right through their souls. When I spoke up, this soul-searching, confidence-incinerating gaze was turned upon me.

“Shoto Todoroki.” The man looked like I just challenged him to a duel, not making idle chit-chat on a bus. The hostility was intriguing. Kala, on the other hand, not so much. She sat between me and him pointedly, making looking at him a little screwy for my eyes and stuck out her tongue at me when I signed the symbol for ‘stop’ with one hand discreetly.

“Charmed. M’name’s Grim. Not actually, but it’s the one people call me. And just saying, I think your social hermit tactic has one of two explanations. One, you think you’re better than us with your quirk, social stance or intellect, so we’re below you and stuff. And two, your so hyper-fixated on becoming a hero any and all human beings that can’t propel you to that goal is irrelevant and you are also going to have a mental breakdown if or when you actually get the job. And of course there’s always the traumatic event in your deep, dark past that caused permanent trust issues you’ll have for the rest of time, but it’s statistically less likely. You don’t have to respond at all to this, I’m just curious. Also, if you’re the ‘not here to make friends' sort, I think sunshine squad over there will nullify that.” I jerked my head over to the teasing-fest occurring over Explosion Man-Child’s honor.

Suddenly, his eyes went from cold Danger/Attack Mode to grudging, maybe wary, interest. Progress! Kala huffed and settled further into the seat to pout.

“Grim…”

“That is my name. If you don’t wanna talk or are formal verbal attack strategies in your head, that’s cool, I can talk enough for both of us. Say, how willing would you be to help me out on first aid duty? I think our friend the bone breaker over there’ll have some more incidents in the future, and ice helps with swelling. Heat would be good too, with an injury like that, but whatever. You’d just have to form a little bit of ice around his finger or whatever, regenerate it when it melts. Easy stuff, compared to what you can do.”

“What is your quirk?”

I sucked in a breath and shook my head in a jokingly sympathetic manner. “Hm, no can do on that one. I enjoy messing with people. What’s your theory?”

He was quiet, staring at me for a second. Then he spoke, carefully, calmly, slowly. Just like the ice he would summon. “Your too familiar with first aid to have a simple air manipulation quirk. There’s nothing there to force you to carry around medical supplies with you wherever you go. Flight is possible, but you don’t seem to the type to test how high of a fall your body can withstand.”

“Eh, depends on the situation. Is that a ‘I dunno’ I hear? Excellent, you’re smart. Keep going, I’ll drop clues for ya. You’re quirk seems to be a sore spot. You’re way more comfortable with ice than heat, or maybe you have fire too. That’s chill. Ice is less lethal, and you can’t go around burning villains to death, can you?”

There was several things going on in his eyes. A strange sense of relief, validation, and a quick bolt of fear. Oh my!

Uh, I sounded like a bubbly person. The sacrifices I make for angsty strangers, huh?

“We here.” Kala announced before I could think up something more to say without mentioning his subtle emotions. His quirk was likely a sore spot for some reason, something deeper even than a vague societal fear like I had lived with for so long. But bringing it within a half a conversation of introducing myself would be brash at best, and disastrous at worst. To be any help at all, and anything like a decent human being (or maybe even friend, eventually, both of us willing) would take time and information, things I was more than willing to wait for.

I echoed her statement, with more words obviously, and engaged with the class rep as he yelled out orders for us getting off the bus like lines of soldiers. I liked him. Even if he was almost frighteningly earnest and still had that rosy-cheeked innocent feel, he was smart and logical, which I appreciated in others.

USJ, or Unexpected Simulation Joint (weird freaking name, but whatever I guess) was a big glass dome of a structure with solid white, thick walls just below. It looked kinda like an iron ring being delicately covered by a giant contact lense. But lines with iron in strategic places, I guess.

Inside was a hero by the name of Thirteen, wrapped up in a bulky space-style suit. I was familiar with him, having researched rescue heroes in my first year of middle school an anticipation of either becoming a hero or vigilante. (in that precious, small band of time just before I let my dream be fully crushed and scattered into pieces across my thoughts. I lost that dream like you lose a loved one, really it was kinda pathetic. Me trying to hang onto an innocence I barely ever had, before realizing I had better things to do with my time besides daydream and get cornered by cheapo-bullies.)

He was also a fan of speeches. Stuff about how quirks can kill easily, (duh) but we were not doing that, instead using them to help others (double duh) and then dramatically waved his arms to indicate the rest of the building before exclaiming something about natural disasters and rescue heroes. At that point in time, I had zoned out from all the already-known information in favor of meticulously scanning my surroundings, a relic from my younger days.

Six zones in total. Two had domes over them, hiding them from view, but I could get a good guess through a mixture of the pattern on the top and process of elimination. A lake with a large boat, so a shipwreck perhaps, something like a massive landslide in miniature, the crumbled buildings and ripped up grounds pointing to an earthquake, the fire dome area likely a wildfire of some sort, a towering mountain about a hundred feet high for a rural region perhaps, and the last domed one was probably a bad storm or hurricane from the chaotic blue pattern on the outside. A wide palaza out brownish concrete was in the middle of the whole building, lined with greenery and with big, walkable paths leading all over the building

A good thing I had been looking around, too. Because I saw the exact moment the villains arrived.

I had seen villains before, of course. Past the random traumatizing events, whenever I had had enough of the abusive parent of the month and ran off to find the Horsemen of just have some time to myself, I ran into them in the dark sides of the streets. Huddled in alleys, just looking for a vent for their pent uf up anger or vague hate of being oppressed by society.

I had fought. I had survived, and saved at least two people’s lives, if not day and general well-being. I was no vigilante, I just did the right thing as the small, desperate, ratty kid I was.

Serial killers, murderers, robbers, and the like. Your various scumbags running wild and free.

But nothing like this. They had been unorganized, sheltered below overhangs, in large crowds, shoddy apartments, and dark alleyways.

This was different. They were organized, purposeful, intent on a purpose. I knew that immediately, if not from their body language then from their sudden appearance through a portal quirk of some kind. They looked jarringly different across the unmarred pavement behind them, the lush plant life, and tranquil lake.

My heart rate sky-rocketed instantly as my body entered what I lovingly called Fight Mode. One hand wrapped around my scythe in anticipation as I widened my view of focus. Aizawa spun around like he had some kind of sixth villain sense, eyeing the villains as he too got spooky, his metal scarves floating up around his shoulders.

The red-head beside me with the hardening quirk muttered a question about the test starting early like on the first day. Poor chap.

Aizawa corrected him after a moment. “No. Those are villains.” The entire class started, except me. (even Todoroki…) Stock still. Calculating, cold.

I almost switch personalities when I get too… threatened. (it’s almost like a turtle hiding in their shell all the sudden if you move to fast in their direction. Except this turtle is more likely to body-ram you with said shell than hide away)

Most of them were your usual assortment of low level thugs: people without the quirks, drive, motivation, and/or guiding hand to truly achieve something with their existence. There were three or four really dangerous folks in the bunch. Hand Man, the guy with the severed hands all over him like he had walked out of a horror movie, inexplicably blue natural hair, and probably about to keel over from lack of blood in his veins under that pasty, pasty skin. Mist Dude, their entrance and exit, the dignified portal gentleman with some sort of metal tie where you would think the throat would be. (protecting his solid body? It would make sense if he had to stash his internal organs somewhere, after all) And then there was the monster between them: the black-skinned one with the exposed brain, horrifying amounts of muscles, and freaky beak mouth.

I wasn’t concerned about all that, though. What I was really throwing hands at inside was the fact that I could see souls inside him. (them?)

Not ONE soul, which already wouldn’t make much sense considering it (they????) look fairly alive. Moving and all, participating in evil schemes, breathing, screaming war cries that sound like the apocalypse’s car alarm. Several, all different faint colors all rattling around like spare change in someone's pocket. (The color of a soul can mean several things. They’re usually on a recently dead or sustained ghost, like one maintained by a family shrine like the one in my bag I have for my biological parents if they really were out there, or literally just sitting up from their corpse. They can also show up on a ghost who’s really, really, REALLY emotional in that moment, like Kala had literally been blue with sadness when I met her. But if the emotions thing was the case, with several souls, I don’t even think the body, bird, human thing would even be standing. So they were either sucked out of their bodies and placed all together somehow, or being kept up by some horrific cocktail of funky chemicals. Not unheard of, seeing as basic herbal medicine can still reach someone from beyond the grave if you try real hard.)

They killed people. Extracted their souls. Chopped ‘em up like vegetables somehow, probably to keep them from regenerating and breaking out the flesh bag. (ANOTHER person that must have died past the original three, given that they didn’t use one theirs) Shoved them all into the same corpse. Reanimating it. Pumped them through of chemicals. Shoving them into battle, probably also having taken away all ability to move on their own. (since unless all of them organized without being able to communicate at all to let one and only one person take control, the body would be imobile without external input to tell the nervous system what the hell to do)

What kind of horrific science experiment-?

I made a note to ask my ethereal connections if they had caught wind of this, because it was that or risk an mildly-illegal patrol of the understreets.

Screw the mass of frenchfries between me and the bigshots, this was a whole new level of villainy.

I glanced over at my classmates. Frozen in shock, fear, horror, of course. Mouths hanging open, eyes wide, muscles tensed.

Their poor mental states.

Kala. I signed to the still ghost over my shoulder, staring at the villains like the rest of the kiddos in the innocent squad. (or really K, because I wasn’t going to take the time to spell it out right now) Contact every spirit you can. Call them, and if that doesn’t work, run out and find that kid in the hallway, he’ll have a working phone on him no doubt. Run around and fetch every spirit you can. Quickly!

This would get me backup, sure. But it would also keep her away from the action.
Her own death had been more than enough. If loneliness could wreck her so thoroughly as it had, witnessing this for any longer would destroy her mind for years to come.

She did as told, zipping through the thick walls and disappearing from sight.

This all happened within the space of a few seconds. I took a deep breath just as Aizawa told Thirteen to protect us helpless kids whatever and jumped into the crowd of thugs.

Unexpected. He was good with sneak-attacks, not flat-out fistfights.

But having Thirteen vaccumn them up with Black Hole would be legite murder, so I guess this was really the only option short of herding us back out the front door and abondoning USJ for the time being. (why don’t we save all the kid’s hides anyhow? Did Thirteen secretly lock the door when we came in and swallowed the key on accident or something? Property damage is no biggie next to all of our dead bodies, eh?)

He’d need some sort of help, I could-

Portal man appeared in front of us in the blink of an eye. Spouted something about murder and roles and motives and stuff.

The world dissolved into whirling purple.

The ground dropped out from underneath me.

I fell. It was worse than usual. I couldn’t see, feel, hear, nothing. Just that ever-present rush of something up against my entire body as I rocketed through some kind of void.

I welcomed the violent hit of the ground on my stomach (yay for my back not being made worse!) as my squishy body re-met the ground. The rough, irregular ground. Not the smooth concrete of the walkway or plaza.

Damn it.

My vision refused to cooperate over the roar of endorphins, so I tried closing them for now and using my smart brain. If he separated us as an intent to kill us all and DIDN’T drop us from lethal heights, than some of those cronies must be in among the different artificial biomes around the building, having planned on having them shank us instead of making us a series of decorative blood smears on the ground. How considerate to leave something to mourn.

From the texture of the ground, I was either in the landslide, mountain or earthquake area. I wasn’t wet, cold, or overly hot, and my skin was unhappy enough for it.

Their thugs would have abilities suited to where they are. Water quirked people in the lake and such. Earth manipulation and similar was possible.

Basically, without Kala or my classmates at my back and facing an army of small-time baddies with either a farming tool or two stabby bits and a polished stick, I was screwed.

Ugh.

I launched into standing all at once, a real skill I had developed over the years.

I was in that landslide zone, and it was frighteningly quiet. I noticed a pair of blue gloves and dark boots struggling on the ground and recognized the pair to be Invisigirl’s. Sensing an incoming existential crisis from her, I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring way.

“Nice to be alive so far.” I reached my hand out to her. Warm touched my glove as I carefully maneuvered my exposed pointer finger out of her easy reach. “I’m Grim.”

“Tora Hagakure.” A surprisingly light but still shaky voice answered.

“Well, hi, Hagakure. Don’t worry, this ain’t my first rodeo.” I grinned. Or my second, third, or fourth. Fifth times the charm, huh?

Her voice sounded halfway between concern and comforted. “H-hello. Ah, is anyone else nearby? Didn’t he say something about killing us?”

“Pretty much. Twenty bucks there's some lowlifes nearby. Let's go see if we got any other classmates nearby.”

I scanned the area. Chunky, uneven ground, random tops of fake buildings looking up at odd angles, low, billowing clouds of ‘smoke.’ (smoke machine? Steam? Artificial hot spring? Hiding place?)

Sitting in a shocked stance upon one such building nearby was a ghost, with a hard hat over black, curly hair, yellow vest stained red with what definitely wasn’t strawberry jam, and an ethereal sledge hammer across his lap.

Hallelujah, amen.

The guy was less than ten feet away and obviously curious at our sudden appearance. I could only hope he would venture closer while I stalled so I could get a word in.

Hagakure and I trooped forward across the slope we found ourselves on. Having the high ground would be good in a fight, especially with my scythe’s range…

Holy ****.

The ground at the sudden flatland was covered in a thick layer of spiky ice, sporting several ‘icicles’ (ice daggers of easy death and dismemberment) and several iced up villains. Everything but their faces was totally covered, which couldn’t be too comfortable. I could only hope they had been inhaling when they got slushied, or we’d have a couple dozen homicides on our bill along with our own immediate deaths.

Todoroki was hiking down to one villain in particular, muttering something to him in a thoroughly threateningly way.

Hey, I got the strange kid with me! This is great!

“Well, that’s a surprise. I love this kid. Come on, let’s say hi.”

I hopped down and was very glad for my note in the design margins to make the soles with high traction in every situation. They had succeeded, by some miracle, and I barely moved at all when I hit the smooth ice inches from an ice spike.

I was then a gentlemen and helped Hagakure down just in case she didn’t have the same deal, watching carefully as the construction guy walked closer in some form of shock. I’d hate to ask him to fight if he didn’t want to and I hardly could ask for consent like this, so maybe I could swipe his hammer…?

No time like the present. I let Hagakure be stunned by Todoroki’s dramatic antics and chanced a quick whisper conversation.

“Hey, construction guy. You willing to do me a favor with the not-dying thing?” If Boots heard me, she’d just think I’m crazy and avoid me for the rest of our school careers together, no backlash at all.

He jerked in the usual shock most dead people did once they figured I could indeed see them, and nodded shakily.

“Imma need verbal consent, my man. You can’t die, but you can sure get hurt. I’ve got herbs and spells for that, but I’m no miracle worker. You willing to risk it for my biscuit?”

“I- yeah. Can I talk to you after?” Oh good, a life story, easy peasy. With busted ribs, this would be an open-and-shut case.

“Absolutely. Thanks in advance. Be ready to hand me your hammer if I make this motion, yeah?” I twisted my hand around in a funky way that even sign-language didn’t cover, (like a hand-curl met a squid in a fistfight, and neither won) and he nodded again.

Fantastic.

I turned back to Hagakure quickly as she recovered. “Woah.”

“Yeah, pretty much. Looks like the little baddies are taken care of pretty well. The big ones are in the square there, past Sensei.” I pointed to Hand Man, and Bird Brain, standing there and repeatedly rolling for intimidation, and Aizawa bad-assing his way through a big crowd of small-fries. “You feel up for a big fight, or wanna help out our new friends?” The first would be a disaster for her. However, some sneak attacks in our classmate’s favor could very well save some lives.

I could practically smell the sudden heroism and potential under-ground hero-ness coming off Hagakure. “I need to help my friends.”

“Lovely, have fun, I’m with powerhouse and Big Bird. Stay safe, do your best, stay quiet. Head for the earthquake zone, I can hear Bakugo from here, and at this rate he’ll blow the entire section to the sky if no one reigns him in.” It was true. The distant rumble or constant explosions shook the air around us, and extra smoke poured out of one particular building in said zone.

Idiot. You clever young idiot with anger issues, get your head on your shoulders.

I resisted the urge to clap Hagakure on the shoulder, based on the fact I couldn’t see it and could easily knock her upside the head on accident.

I slid down to Todoroki, where he was probably torturing a crying villain for some reason, to make myself known. Hagakure skated away towards the nearby earthquake zone with a determined nod, thank every god I don’t believe in. Sledge Hammer Dude floated gently after me, making the hair on the back of my neck nervous at the judging gaze.

“What’s goin' on over here? I see you didn’t have any trouble.”

“No. I have been trained too well.” I’ve noticed, hot stuff, get on with your speech already, we’re a bit short on time. “I’m gathering information on the attack.” A vicious swirl of white streamed from his hand and onto the poor, captured villain.

Goody! I get to know what’s going down. Happy day.

“Anything so far?”

“The blue-haired man is their leader, and has some form of a crumbling quirk. The one beside him is ‘Nomu,’ and apparently very frightening. Their exit is the portal villain we’ve already met. They’re here to kill the Symbol of Peace.”

Well, that was six different types of laughable. Good luck killing him on his own terf, and worse comes to worse we’ve got a crazy effective martyr and one talkative ghost I would be more than happy to translate for.

“Cool. We going to punch ‘em up when your done? I’d hate to stand idly by until help arrives and scream when something moves.”

Half-and-half stubbornly ignored my words, for the most part. “I am. You should help our classmates, they’ll be in need of help.”

“Yeah, Hagakure’s got us covered on that one. And they’ll be in a whole lot more trouble if Big Bird over there gets to them, yeah?”

I love the power of slightly unintentional blackmail.

Todoroki grimaced, and the white ice coming off him thickened. I noticed him shivering lightly and recalled the heat-causing plant bits I have sealed away under my cloak, tucked away in a small pocket on my chest. Wouldn’t want Blue Eyes to get hypothermia, would we?

“I didn’t sign up for the hero course for the fun of it. I came to help people. I’m more than willing and capable to do it right now. Also, Frog Girl and Super Strength are riskin’ it over in the Lake.” While we had been chatting, stuff had indeed gone down. The ship had sunk, there was a yelling mass of bad-guys centered in a large whirlpool, all slamming into each other willy nilly, (gods above only knows how the whirlpool thing happened. Super strength kid, maybe?) and the said pair were hanging out by the shore, mere feet from Creepy Leader Guy.

Todoro jerked in surprise, apparently cutting short his interrogation in favor of bolting for the square.

Perfect. I waved Hard Hat after us and took off down the hill after him, and he obediently zipped over my head.

Help would come. I could handle this. The distress call was out, the war had been waged, and death was just sleep with some commitment. This was gonna be fun.

 

Leader Man was in desperate need of chapstick. He also wouldn’t shut up.

He kept muttering about all sorts of stuff, but things really picked up speed when Portal Gentleman popped in by him and informed us ‘a child has escaped.’ (Iida? Iida.) (Also, Thirteen wasn’t dead, which is also good news.)

“Game over. It’s game over.”

Yuh huh, yuh huh. Glad to see your blazing determination, buddy boy.

This Nomu guy looked like he could take a hit, but he was as observant as Harry Potter himself. He didn’t so much as twitch as Todoroki and I hurtled down the cliff, and Boss Man and Yellow Eyes were too busy arguing passive-aggressively to notice.

I thought hard. If Chapstick (who apparently had issues with the skin on his neck as he scratched away) was the leader, the police would be glad to have him detained, but Portal was their transport man, so pinning him was pinning all of them. But Bird Brain was the bodyguard to all of the above, so who do we go to first?

“Let’s go home.” Oh good, I don’t have to squat.

I saw Midoriya over in the lake start muttering again like mad, and take a break to say something to Tsu. (is that her name? I thought Midoriya called her that earlier… though he does possess an epic stutter on him...)

This felt wrong. Doing all this and simply retreating at the first sign of danger? That didn’t feel the slightest bit smart. Too rudimentary for the meticulously planned attack. Was it possible Hand Man wasn’t actually their leader somehow?

Or would they go on a rampage on their way out?

Something clicked in the darker side of my brain.

God damn it.

I flashed Hard Hat the signal and yanked away the hammer. I’d be needing this.

“He has a crumbling quirk. He’ll kill anybody he touches, except you. Get in the way off anyone he tries to hit! You won’t die, it’ll just hurt before you regenerate.” Ghosts had a set amount of ectoplasm, the shimmery stuff they were made out of. They could bleed and lose some, but they’re body made it back up just as quick. Thus, there was literally no way short of transporting them to afterlife or straight up atomizing them to get fully rid of a ghost.

This made sense theoretically, anyway. I hoped with everything I had I was right.

He zipped right over and got between the wet pair and Hand Man… just before he leaped forward, going straight for Froggy.

God DAMN IT!

His hand connected with hammerless Hammer Guy. A gross flaking came of his stomach, where his hand had touched, had blue and red fleks meeting the air freely, before his ‘skin’ indeed patched itself up. He had an unpleasant, pained look on his face, but no serious damage. Well, past how his ribs had been already.

I resisted the urge to whoop out loud and made a mental note to patch him up real good later on.

Okay. First to Big Bird to scoop up Aizawa. Portal was next due to his closeness, and then I could smash up Hand Man.

Simple.

 

Not simple. Bird Brain apparently wasn’t just a mutant, which makes sense, since the quirks of the people bouncing around in there would all be in effect at once, but it’s hella annoying.

Especially since one of those quirks was shock absorbtion, as blabbed to me by Stupid Leader extrordinare right after I hammered (literally) him right on the exposed brain. (which is unbeleivably stupid if they really did engineer ‘em, leaving the base of the nervous system exposed like that is so incredibly dumb) Well, right after Blue Hair got over the ‘what?’ reaction when his quirk didn’t do the quirk thing, then the ‘Eraser?’ one, and finally putting two and two together to get four, instead of three as he had, and started screaming at me about how he’s going to totally rip me apart and stuff. I was more worried by the slight jiggle the brain had had when I hit it than him, and the fact that I could easily hurt one or all of the souls trapped inside, which wouldn’t be all that great. So I yelled at him a bit (“DO YOU EVER SHUT UP, BIG SHOT?”) to get him to close his stupid, raving mouth and give me time to think.

I scowled as the big ‘ol beak jerked up to look at me, nearly launching me off his head entirely. Maybe the eyes…? Only so strong an iris could be before the metal would punch through it, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to chance the ribs. The ears?

“Nomu, attack!” Was called out just I rammed the ghostly hammer into its right eye. It’s other eye held a glimpse of pain as it straightened (no longer flattening Aizawa!) (dear gods, that’s a lot of blood.) (I don’t see a ghost…) and forced me to go rocketing straight up as it tried to grab me with it’s big, crushing hands.

No, nope, nada, zip, not today, Satan.

My fear of death may be hovering comfortably at zero, but my fear of that death was at like, a two. Out of a hundred.

Still- no thank you.

Man, I hadn’t had a good bit of fear like that in years! And when the fear gets going, I don’t go the Panic Town, but rather a temporary one-way ticket to Endorphins City.

I laughed out loud in a probably crazy-sounding way as I took advantage of my sudden altitude, flipping over midair to create enough force to get me on a straight trajectory for Mist Man’s lovely metal tie-box-thing.

I threw out my scythe behind me as I went, nailing Nomu right in the other eyes, then one last hit to the left ear (the one closest to Leader) before letting go. If it attacked on verbal commands, he’d have a slight bit of a harder time of it if one of the eadrums was cracked to hell.

I land on Mist Man’s metal bit with a clang, by some miracle he hadn’t teleported me away somewhere. Probably in shock at my complete lack of fearful reaction. “Hello, Mist Man. I’ve got a bone to pick now.”

“I am Kurogiri.” He says as I am surrounded by purple once again, but not yet the solid stuff of a portal. Still, I’m probably in trouble. Sigh.

“A pleasure.” A familiar voice above me responds.

My brain is totally silent for an entire second. Then-

That little-

War snaps away the purple cloud around me with a snap of powerful demon wings he had grown. Disease is on his back, and the two book it for other areas of the building before I can properly scream at them. Headless and Death come raining down beside me, and I see a brief glimpse of Famine before he’s sucked in a totally black portal seperate the Misty’s distinct purple and he’s gone.

“How-” I get out. Headless waves me off.

“Disease bugged your suit.”

I squawk. “Since when did he do mechanics?!”

“Last week. And I’ve sent him over to heal Thirteen, and if he doesn’t I will personally wrangle him to I don’t even know where. You alright?”

Of course I’d be their top concern. “Not a scratch.” I grit out in silent fury as I hop off Mist-in-a-suit. Death wouldn’t need any help- he’s named that for a reason past his demeanor. Headless was likely here for his leadership and to check up on me.

There’s swearing and the sound of metal on metal from directly over our heads, and the Leader is yelling and generally throwing a total tantrum. I glance over. Construction guy has slipped off his thick leather gloves and somehow gotten them onto the destructive man-child, rendering his quirk useless.

Hahahaha. I love this man already.

“Lovely. The heroes are on their way, Disease ensured it, so we’re on limited time-” I’ve broken Todoroki. He looks so totally lost as he distractedly ices Crumble Man and turns to Misty-Mcgee. “-cue you and any injured students. Anybody of note?”

I snap back into the current conversation all at once. “I-uh, they’re a kid with an explosion quirk and lagging common sense in that zone over there, the earthquake one. He’s probably heading over here now, if he hasn’t crushed himself in there. Otherwise, Thirteen and I dunno.”

Headless sighs. “Very well. Alright-”

“Oh yeah, siNCE WHEN COULD DEATH MAKE PORTALS? AND DISEASE HEAL!?” Portals I could deal with, I could make peace with Death being a secretive dude. But Disease was such a force of chaos with a loose tongue it was a total contradiction to my mental image of him.

“Oh, a while. You never asked.” Headless was totally calm, used to War and his strong… opinions. Apparently he had swapped one angry child for another, in his eyes.

Todoroki is wrangling the Leader Man, who is trying to over-activate his quirk to burn through the gloves. It’s working about halfway, and Construction guy is wincing at the burning ectoplasm, poor chap. Midoryia jumps out of the water with a crazy burst of super-strength-induced-speed to save him from a crumbled neck, and joins the fray. Tsu gets on board the fighting train, tackling him roughly to give Midoriya more of an opening. Team work’s amazing. The villainous leader is also very quickly losing his cool, screaming and yelling a whole bunch, which is pretty amusing.

“WHY WOULD I ASK?” Anger felt good, I realized as I checked back into my little argument. I hadn’t felt anger since… a while? Man, I really am an emotional wreck. Erg.

“Okay, you’re angry, that’s new. Did you sleep alright last night? How’s the back?” He stops talking and flicks his eyes up in curiosity as his neck is cut off halfway by a band of purple about half an inch thick. A portal halfway down, hot damn.

“Stop.” Pants Misty from above us, probably in six different types of pain. I don’t even bother looking up. I can see the inky shadow blocking my view in my peripheral. “Or I will kill your friend.”

Death sniggers out a laugh, a truly chilling sound, and Headless smiles with one side of his mouth, a silent smirk I feared since the day I first saw it. He then smiled more politely, though I doubt it had any effect. “You do that.”

Off came Headless’ head with a simple popping sound, like some gruesome toy. He was entirely unaffected by this, and I catch him before he can hit the ground. I immediately regret this decision as he continues to interrogate me. Who knows how he has the breath for it, quirks are all kinda funky.

There’s a low boom, a mixture between an explosion and wood shattering, from the front entrance that cuts him and his little domestic rant off.

All Might, in all his yellow-suited glory, is at the door. And he knocked real, real hard.

Headless sighs again. “Oh dear, we’ll have to cut this short. Death, handle the bird character.”

On this silent order, a series of portals open in various places on Nomu. The neck, just above the waist, and the legs for good measure. Within the blink of the eye, the monstrosity is neatly sliced into smaller pieces, and gives a freaky pained screech before lying still in a heap on the pavement.

“Shock absorption.” Headless says clear as a bell through all our shock. “It’s obvious why you were so confident with him. But shock absorption has a limit, especially when high amounts of pressure are placed on a small area very fast, very simple physics. The reasoning behind a bullet, actually. Ah, Death? Try not to kill many more people. It looks terrible on the record, and we have a rather nice base at the moment.”

An animalistic grunt from above, and dead silence from Kurigiri. He’s either already dead or in serious concentration. Oop, nope, there was a portal right there on my foot, and then there wasn’t. He’s totally alive.

“IT’S FINE NOW. WHY? BECAUSE I AM HERE!” All Might booms. Very intimidating, much fear, good ego.

All Might wasn’t smiling, I register in some weird trance. The adrenaline is kicking in hard, and I can’t stand still any longer. My sense of hearing is totally offline anyway, after that one last shout.

Grim’s offline. He’s left the chat.

A new challenger emerges- Dark Past!

I fix my gaze on Hand Man, setting Headless’ head gently onto the ground before jumping forward. The sledge hammer is heavy and unwieldy in my hand. Fine.

I smile. I once incapacitated a knife-weilding monster with a mechanical pencil.

My three buddies over with Leader man are horrified in different ways. Todoroki is ensuring Nomu really is dead, bless him. The man behind all those hands is probably still talking, poor man, as Tsu and Midoriya smack him around. Wouldn’t it be a shame if someone joined in?

I hit him like a freight train.

 

Famine didn’t like fighting. Blood leads to more blood, and that isn’t much fun.

This is why he doesn’t draw blood.

He knocks them out and moves on.

He was covering the parts of the dome Headless had called the ‘storm’ and ‘fire’ zones. Which was fine. He could knock someone out anywhere, really. Just had to get his hand on them.

This was incredibly easy the instant he landed in the smoke-filled dome. Fire first, then.

He gently touched two cronies on the shoulder as he lands on top of them. The glorious rush of calories in his system makes up for his guilt in landing on them in the first place.

Parasite-
You’ll never be anything but a-

He looks up. The fire’s pretty bad, as expected. No hero students are nearby, but there’s a crowd of villains about ten feet away, staring. He jumps up with sudden energy and walks over calmly.

“Who the he-”
“A kid?”
“Another hero brat?”
The ‘brat’ man gets it first. A hand to the face, right on the nose, enough to bruise but not break. A flurry of motion after that, targets in the form of clear skin all he can see.

He only breathes again when they all lay unconscious on the pavement, and carefully drags them away from any gasoline or fire.

Have to protect. Grim, kids, villains, friends, heroes. I’m not important. PROTECT.

So he did.

A dark blip on the rooftop leads him to the left, and he runs over just in time to see another crony get slammed against a wall by said darkness. (Death? Nope, a weird bird thing, alright) A nervous looking kid with a blocky head not a year older than him stands there, shivering a bit despite the blazing warmth as he gives a thumbs up to the source of the dark bird, another student, on a roof above them.

He backed away. Wouldn’t wanna spook them.

A shout from another direction, to the right again. “An eleven-year old?!”

He’s fifteen.

Three minutes and some bodies later, and a waiting portal transports him, only skipping a LITTLE BIT WAR, to the storm zone.

 

War had been expecting explosions and smoke and yelling when he steps out of the portal from the inky, solid-between-places place thingy.

He got the second one, and silence.

He winces as rocks turn to gravel under his shoe. He’s really big and loud, just how he is. No helping it, really.

He looks around. He’s in what’s supposed to be the hallway to an apartment building, he thinks, except it’s all concrete and rocks and smoke-stained walls. No kids, just bunches of out-of-it villains heaped around the floor and a helpful trail of smoke in the stairwell to tell him the kiddos have already taken off. He taps his wristwatch twice, the signal to death to take him away, and another black doorway swallows him up.

He walks out into a mountainside, a little cliff of rough rock. And a punch. An elbow actually, the punch was for someone else. A young kid, probably deeeeeep in shock from that smile on his face, and off to the side two more kiddos, girls, have their hands up and are staring. One gives a little squeaky noise at his sudden appearance.

There’s a flash of crackling yellow as he catches the offending arm and digs into with suddenly grown claws like daggers. Bones snap. Blood runs. Screaming, yelling, cursing. Electricity tries and fails to break his suddenly-a-conductor skin.

How cute.

War grows some wings, his latest obsession in a fight after Disease mentioned in his argument as to why geese should be banned (he doesn’t know either) that one of their wings has the force of a baseball bat behind it. War imagined that scaled up to his body, and off goes the lightbulb.

He thinks he breaks about three bones in the first hit, (which also sends the electricity villain flying) which is rookie numbers. This is a true fight. One for honor and safety, over differing ideals. No reason to hold back, to reason to stop. (“-war is an honest fight of ideals. WW2 doesn’t count, idiot-”)

The kiddos are safe. Grim’s safe, and his anger, the anger he has all the time from all sorts of situations and people, is draining away. It’s all okay.

 

Disease is thoroughly disappointed by how quickly the remaining villains this Eraser Head guy had left went down. He throws off a green-tinted pressure bomb full of sleeping gas, (the chemical composition behind it was FASCINATING and was only half lab made too and-) they all start yelling, and then they’re on the floor. It really is no fun.

Especially when he has to hike up a bunch of stairs to get to the dude he’s supposed to heal and stuff.

He zips over the last stair (he contained himself to three at a time, a nice comfortable pace) (for a horse) (and him) and rolls to a stop right next to a bunch of students who are smartly covering their noses and eyeing him carefully. He pops up quick enough to give himself whiplash and looks around. Standing, standing, standing, standing- NOT.

Found ‘im.

“Heya, kids. Mind if I patch up Astro here for ya?” He takes out a vial from his pocket, full of something clear that is not water.

“Who are y-” One girl with a shocking shade of pink skin starts to ask, white goop (acid? ACID!) streaming out of her hands all of a sudden, but he keeps himself from scooping up the substance (then he’d have to dig out his non-glass containers, and Grim and Headless would get made at him stalling) in favor of hitting the ground again in a sprawl and dumping the not-water on the twitching hero's back. That’s where his costume’s all shredded so he’s probably hurt there. Even if not, it’s not like he can help with anything but the skin anyway. The muscles underneath will have to start to heal naturally, but at least he won’t bleed out!

He moves around the millions of bacteria in the liquid with practiced ease. He’s certainly handled more stuff that a few ounces before, and this isn’t an acid, so it’s a hop skip and a jump to move around.

He watches in a haze as the skin trembles against the cool liquid, then inches forward to knit neatly over the open wound. The bacteria swarm back into the liquid, he uses the germs to move the liquid back into the container. The cork cap goes back on just as a series of gunshots going off, knocking him prematurely from his trance.

Snipe, a prohero with a shooting quirk, Disease remembers suddenly. He’s backed up by a lady in a skin-tight suit, Cementoss, (that city-parts moving guy) a mouse-bear thing is perched on the shoulder of another hero he doesn’t recognize, and a couple other proud-looking bodies, one with rather glorious, flowing blonde locks he can most certainly appreciate.

Well, that’s bad news bears for him. Especially as the gun’s end moves over to him. His left leg, specifically.

“Welp, that’s my cue, kiddos. (eugh, War’s rubbing off on him) Yar teach’s fine. The muscle’ll grow back. See ya, heroes!” Three taps to the wrist, a quick bolt forward, and he’s gone.

He snickers into the void around him.

Maybe healing is fun after all. He’d have to experiment, of course…

 

I hit him like a freight train-or at least I tried to. Before Kala’s stick arms wrapped around my chest in a Mama Bear hug, keeping me in place midair. “KALA!” I grit out in a murky form of anger.

She flies backwards, dragging me with her, until she’s submerged in the ground with me sitting down just above on the concrete.

The ghosts had arrived, I noticed finally. In full force. Like, a small army levels, streaming right through the concrete walls all around me in a mob of about 50 people.

People of all sorts. More construction workers like our brave Glove Soldier. Regular people in jeans, dresses, suits, all sorts. Some are as gruesome as you would expect, and all are brandishing various weapons. One guy rolled up in a glowy car, which was only a little bit wrecked and still totally functional. A legit samurai in full armor and a sword stood seriously off to one side. An entire battalion of soldiers with ancient-looking guns. (WW2 peeps? Older yet?)

The car, my first spirit one ever, is enough to force me out of my defensive mode. Damn, that one guy has it good, huh? Only the windshield was noticeably roughed up, and the man had an easy-to-fix portion of glass as big as my fist protruding from his neck. A relatively painless, quick, and clean death, by most’s standards. Yep- hella lucky.

Pretty cool, actually.

Kala flies out from under me towards Leader Guy Who’s About To Die and knees him in the face as she bolts past, causing an unpleasant crunching noise just before she dodges both of my extremely confused classmates.

Normal fighting tactics apparently don’t apply to the dead.

I concluded that he was most certainly not long for this earth as I heard an engine rev clear as day behind me, and scooped up Headless’ head and started to drag his body out of the way-just in case. Even if he was badgering me about my eating habits again.

I looked over and up. Deep swaths of black and purple made up a thick, irregular sphere overhead half the plaza. I hoped Death was having fun. He got worked up sometimes and didn’t always feel good about letting it all out, but this was a guy we could all agree we didn’t like too much.

 

I wonder how my classmates are getting on, very purposefully dodging barbed questions about my foster parents. (“I’m fine, Headless I swear. YES, They’re feeding me, honestly-”) I hadn’t heard explosions in a while, and the lake seemed to be doing alright now that villain cronies were getting bodied left and right by various spiritual forms diving right in after the squirming forms. A dozen or so of them probably had concussion before the spirits even got to them.

All Might blasts forward with his freaky leg muscles because Death’s portal trick apparently could only keep Nomu down for so long before some freaky regeneration quirk kicked in and his body knitted itself back together. He was standing up awkwardly, like he was using exclusively his core muscles to stand and had forgotten about the rest of his body entirely.

Todoroki had built a huge ice wall with a near-frantic hand arm movement to take the blast aimed at him (since I guess the order didn’t tell him who to attack) when Hand Man yelled “Attack!” again right before Samurai rammed the handle of his sword into his stomach to shut him up, murmuring something about children being present. Shards of icicles flew all over in the super-duper-fast resulting wind wave, and I saw a suppressed flinch from Todoro at the force of the hit.

Nomu turns to All Might dramatically just as the Number 1 Hero tackles him, landing a good punch to the shoulder. He didn’t at all seem bothered by the attack, but the trapped souls under the flesh bag swirled faster and faster. If All Might didn’t somehow vaporize them, I’d have to try to help when the dust settled.

Punches started hitting. It’s a full on slug-fest. Leader Guy Who’s Bad At His Job started yelling about shock absorption again and how they had engineered Nomu to kill All Might at his best and yada yada yada.

The two figured became blurs of bulky strength that raged across the space. The guy in the ghostly car revved again, having seen his chance, and rammed forward, speeding past me in a silvery stream. I was calling him a raving idiot in my head, just as All Might left a gap between his body and Nomu’s, giving him juuuuust enough space to hit Nomu’s chest head-on without getting the hero as well. (slow clap for that one)

Guess what- the front of a car had both more surface area and weight that All Might’s fist. Some basic physics logic later, and the Nomu’s shock absorption shattered like a china plate. All Might saw this, drew back his fist, and punched so hard I was wondering what this man’s bones were made of. Certainly not calcium.

To me it looked like the souls stuttered and grew a little less bright, but not going out. It looked a bit like the body was creaking as they shot up towards the dome overhead, encased in a wind tunnel not unlike Broccoli Head’s with the softball, but on a bigger scale. They went right through the metal ceiling and out into the stratosphere beyond. If they hadn’t exited orbit soon, I’d go searching for them. I had no idea if I could extract a soul from a body like that, but I was willing to try.

 

I blinked a couple times as my brain accepted that as a part of reality and yes, that really did happen. A man with that much power could do anything. Bring down whole cities, kill a whole crowd of people, anything you could think of that would involve brute strength.

He could punch me out of existence.

I swallowed harshly as another bolt of fear went through me. Regular death was fine. Betrayal by someone I should probably trust and being vaporized out of this mortal plane wasn’t.

I exhaled to calm myself down as a series of gunshots went off, announcing the heroes’ entrance. Death startled, I could see the bits of shadow flicker, and Portal Man took the chance to grab himself and Bad Leader and get the hell out of here using more fun portals (taking at least three caught-by-surprise spirits with them). Poor Tsu and Midoriya hit the floor at the sudden lack of the enemy that had been fighting, and Todoroki gives himself a minute before starting to melt his ice. The other two both collapse to the ground further. Death growled for a hot second as he hit the ground, dodged a bullet as he glanced over at me to check up, and dived through his own portal. Headless yells out a cheerful goodbye as he too disappears into void-looking whatsit shaped like a port-hole window.

All was quiet as I looked up at the solid wall of heroes at the top of the stairs. The kids huddled over Thirteen’s fallen form were suddenly still, probably crying off all the emotions, and the entire building felt like it went eerily still. Well, except for the milling crowd of ghosts as they made preparations to have a legit bodyguard squad (I believe Kala called it the Grim Protection Squad, which felt like a reference I didn’t understand) around me and full together a rescue mission for their unknowingly-kidnapped friends.

Some of my past teachers would say I have a problem with authority. I don’t.

I have a problem with authority that gets in my way.

And that might be a problem, considering my border-line vigilante workings.

Here we go again, I thought wearily.

 

Soon the police showed up and shooed us all outside, checking for injuries and stuff. I used the temporary chaos to heal as many ghosts as I can in quick succession, with hammer guy getting top priority and also a friendly exchange from several new ethereal friends. I made sure I was the last kid to leave the building and allow my new ghostly bodyguards to troop after me as I went through the door.

A detective talks to us outside. He’s in a brown trenchcoat over his police uniform, and has short black hair and a square-ish jaw. A kind but serious face, a strange mixture to me.

He informs us, all up in loose lines (a bit squashed as most huddled together) that no one was seriously hurt, besides Midoriya managing to wreck four whole fingers. (uuuuuuggggghhhhh wwwhhhhyyyy)

“You’ll all be required, however, to have therapist sessions in the near future. The staff recommends Hound Dog to talk to in order to deal with the mental trauma.”

Trauma? TRAUMA? What trauma?
I thought the entire thing had been rather bloodless. I mean sure, there were a few jumpscares and death threats, but surely these kiddos had played an immersive horror game or something once in their entire lives, yeah?

Trauma. Heh. Right, sure, yeah, I’m totally mentally scarred from this whole experience. Woe is me.

Please. The only thing I have now I didn’t earlier is a grudge or five.

“Besides that, you’re free to call your parents and return home for the day. School will be out tomorrow as well, and then it will be back to business as usual.” With that, he turns to talk to another officer, silently dismissing us.

Up front and blunt, my favorite. I wondered if I could use this trauma-session thing to skip English class.
The other kids immediately launch into a gossip session. My middle school years tell me to steer clear, so I back up a step or two and listen in carefully.

“Where were you, Eijoro?” Hagurake asks the tail guy. He has a fuzzy yellow tail that looks powerful on him, and I think War might have some new inspiration in mind soon.

“The squall zone.”

Red-Head spoke up. “You were pretty strong by yourself, huh?”

Eijoro nodded and blushed a bit. “I survived using hit and run tactics. I thought everyone was alone.”

I sensed a budding relationship between Wonder Woman and Tail Wonder and smirked lightly.

I not-so-randomly wandered over to Midoriya, being fussed over my some EMTs and being told to go to the nurse’s office. “Hey, Super Strength, show me your hand again.”

His head jerks up like it was attached to a string, and puts out his hand with little resistance. I get to work, going at first with my usual methods of healing before stepping back with a Plan B. “Your bones are looking pretty shattered, and you’ve got major internal bleeding. Go to Recovery Girl, stat. That’s basically a painkiller and a bandaid next to what you need.”

I huddled against the outer side of the concrete wall, on the outside keeping up my Cool Boy persona, on the inside, deep inside a spiritual trance. I had never tried this on a living person.

The wispy spirit-essence stuff was in uproar. Bands of red and black were flying all over, gathering around me in a strangely protective-feeling way, and yellow and neon blue ran around in my peripheral. Usually everything was tranquil and sluggish in here. Had something big happened?

I looked around. I didn’t see anything that could resemble what might be an ethereal natural disaster, so why were all the dead peeps panicking so bad? Was it the Nomu? Oh, that made sense, okay.

I zeroed in on Midoriya’s more humanoid (bright green, what else?) soul, (the dead eventually just gave up on keeping regular shape under their original appearances when they died, becoming weird energy blobs instead to save energy) it’s slim green right hand looks like it’s in freaking pieces, the little bits of light rattling in their shape like marbles in a small jar just nearly filled to the top. I reach out with my own shimmery hand (which looks unsettlingly familiar to the cosmos or the night sky, speckled with all sorts of colors over the black) and take his gently, carefully rearranging and setting it in place. It didn’t start to immediately heal over like a scab as it did for a dead person, but that made sense. He had a body to deal with, not just ectoplasm. Alright, well, at least the bone was in place again instead of in fragments. Hey, I could save someone from a punctured lung this way!

I come out of the state like coming up from the bottom of a pool, and recover quickly as Midoriya stares at me as he walks away. I think fast, and wink as he hisses in a breathe and reaches for his now-rightly-shaped hand. “Maybe just for a checkup.” I’m happy with how the skin already looks better, turning a shade lighter in purple within a few seconds.

Excellent.

I can feel Todoroki’s eyes burning holes into my soul, but that’s alright. I wink at him too, and settled into a more comfortable position to listen to the mounting gossip. I can try to be friendly and help with his emotional problems on a later date just as easily as now. Plus, Kala looked like she was going to kill me if I didn’t start talking to her.

“You fine?”

“Yes.” I signed up at her, floating like a dome above my head. I tip my head back casually to look at her properly. “My friends saved me. Thank you, Kala.”

She snorted. “For a lot, yes, stupid child. Socialize.” I made a quick face before snapping back into my rest **** face.

I gave her the puppy dog eyes. She sighed, long and hard. The samurai's armor clunked and clanged as he figured out how to pat me gently on the shoulder. “You can try to learn.”

“Or I could not.” I smiled just a little up at her as my hands moved quickly, not caring if my classmates thought I was totally nuts anymore, just for a few minutes.

Middle school had been a series of pitfalls in my first year. Better to not engage than to risk it for that golden, oily biscuit. Friends turn on you. Blackmail’s a thing, and bullies are an eyesore. No way around it. Just because we’re at some fancy hero school doesn’t mean hero nature isn’t tucked away somewhere in here.

She snorted and grabbed me by the shoulders, which was actually pretty weird because she did this by hooking her feet on my shoulder blades and towing me closer to my maybe-friends, Glasses and Bubble Girl.

“Wow! I thought you just did first aid! Do you have a healing quirk after all?”

“Uh, kinda?” I didn’t know how to respond. I was sure that if I looked at this girl’s soul, it’d be sun-bright. “I didn’t lie earlier. But yeah, I uh, helped him out.”

“That is highly admirable!” Lida told me earnestly, moving his arms like an antique doll I saw once, all centered on the shoulders, no elbow at all. “Truly right of you as a hero-in training.”

I backed up just a smidge from the waving appendages, ignoring Kala’s glare. “Uh, you too Specs. I heard you covered all of us and ran for help?”

“I did indeed! I feel bad about not being able to help my classmates in need, but it was the right thing to do!”

“‘Sure was, Four Eyes. You guys hurt anywhere?”

“Nope, Midoriya’s the only one.” I hummed as a sudden burst of pain occurred on my stomach and back. Ugh, I’ve hurt both sides now. Headless would be livid if he found out I messed up his bandages.

“That’s good.” I hid my small flinch as a slump of casual relief, and dug through my bag.

“Hey, uh, Uraka, was it? You said your quirk can make you nauseous? Uh, I’ve got stuff for that. Here, it’s basically my version of ginger candy, but like, healthy.” I held out a whole bag to her, my own proud creations. She took them like they were gold nuggets in there, making me suddenly distinctly uncomfortable. It didn’t help when Kala called me socially awkward and adorable from above. I resisted the urge to swat her.

“Oh, thanks! It was Grim, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me. Call me Grim. It’s Grim Zhou, but uh, they’re my recent foster parents so…”

Her eyes were alight with understanding, something I was not used to. “Of course, Grim-san.” This was Lida, his own version of understand below layers and layers of earnestly. I take a deep breath at the title of respect. “That is perfectly respectable. I am curious, may I ask what you quirk is?”

“You can.” I grin at him. Ochoko laughs heartily and echoes his question properly.

“It’s complicated, but I’m curious if you can figure it out. You’ve all got remarkably simple quirks, I’m interested in how this will play out. In any case, are you free to calm down with me? I’m feeling ready for some coffee and sugar loaves and there’s a cafe I know of.”

Is this how you be a normal person? I didn’t know, but nice, hot coffee did indeed sound good.

The two sunbeams beamed. I thought they might actually start producing light. What planet were these guys from again? “That’d be great, Grim-san. You wanna lead the way?” I push down the weird feeling in my chest, like an odd form of happiness. It wasn’t quiet or subtle like it usually was for me. What was going on?

I ignored Kala’s growing smirk resolutely. “Yeah, sure. You two good with taking the bus?”

And that is how I was adopted by two frighteningly normal alive children, and didn’t immediately ruin it. Over coffee, maybe-psychological-trauma, and a high sugar intake. Truly the best way to the heart.