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Deku of the Dead

Chapter Text

 

When five-year-old Midoriya Izuku saw what his classmates had done to the caterpillar, he cried.

The caterpillar had been minding its own business and munching on a leaf when the Quirk-enhanced fingers of a small child plucked it nimbly from its twig, bringing its twisting and flailing form down to the dry, hard-packed dirt beneath the branches of a gnarled elm. Another boy, wearing the giddy grin of one drunk on their own power, reached out with a stony fist to smash it into an oozing yellow-green paste, drawing mixed oohs and aahs and ewws from the children gathered around him.

At the back of the group stood Izuku, mouth slightly open, a cocktail of emotions swirling through his little body. What cool Quirks! part of him marvelled, but another screamed how could they do that!? and a third felt almost betrayed that they'd used their Quirks for something so senselessly cruel. To Izuku, Quirks were something with which to help people, just like All Might, and for the antithesis of this ideal to unfold before his eyes was nothing short of a paradigm shift.

Mind clouded by grief, he ran forward on unsteady legs, pushing his way through the gaggle of children to the center of the commotion.

"Oh, oh, what's Deku gonna do?"

"Nothin'! Kacchan says he can't, and I never seen him do anythin'."

"Hey, hey, Kacchan! You were right, he's cryin'!"

The poor thing was nothing more than a wet heap of sand and mashed bug by the time he got to it, but that didn't stop Izuku. Still crying, half-blinded by tears, he scrabbled in the dirt, trying his best to push the caterpillar's guts back into the shredded remains of its skin, to put its shattered body back together again; it was dumb, it was childish, it was irrational, but he did it anyway, unable to believe that someone could have done such a thing.

"Eww! Look at him, he's touching it!"

"What's he gonna do? It's dead, idiot!"

Izuku ignored them.

You didn't wanna die, did you? he asked the caterpillar. You wanted to turn into a butterfly.

An unpleasant, unnatural ripple shuddered through the little pile of guts and gore that he'd scraped together.

I can still save you, right?

The remains of one stubby little proleg began to wriggle.

Come back!

The teacher didn't notice that anything was wrong until the screaming started. She looked up from her book to find a horde of five-year-olds running full-tilt for the safety of the playground, leaving a crying Izuku to kneel in the dirt before something her eyes couldn't quite make out.

With a sigh, she dog-eared the corner of her page, setting off across the schoolyard at a light jog; a couple of seconds later, she reached him, and halfway on her way to pat him on the back, she saw it: before him, the back half of its body dragging in the dust, the sludgy, torn remains of the caterpillar shambled slowly towards those who had wronged it.

The teacher screamed, too.


Deku.

The word referred to a puppet, a marionette, but in Izuku's case, it was a derogatory nickname slapped on him by one Bakugou Katsuki, his childhood friend-turned-nemesis. Bakugou's Quirk, Explosion, had been the first in their preschool class to manifest, and the boy himself had grown fat-headed on praise and adulation. By comparison, Izuku's hadn't manifested for another year after that, and in a fit of mean-spirited glee, Bakugou had seized on this and declared him to be useless - just like a puppet.

Izuku hadn't been particularly thrilled by this, but for the first year, he'd tolerated it, believing himself and Bakugou to still be close - hell, he'd almost enjoyed the nickname, for in spite of its meaning, its familiarity made him feel as if he were still part of their circle of friends.

After the doctors figured out his Quirk, however, "Deku" took on an entirely different meaning.

That day on the playground nine years ago, he'd made something dead move again, granting ephemeral life to something that absolutely shouldn't have had anything like it. True to his nickname, it was almost as if he'd been controlling a puppet, but that wasn't quite accurate. No, his Quirk was subtly different from mere puppetry or reanimation - it was something considerably worse.

"Could someone please tell me what the inverse of the matrix four-zero-zero-nine is?"

"One-quarter, zero, zero, one-ninth?"

"Correct, Sayaka-san. The formula…"

Izuku took notes in unsmiling silence, studying the chalkboard as the teacher scrawled out row after row of symbols and calculations. Rain hammered away at the windows, and the watery grey light they let in cast long shadows on the opposite wall; in the drowsy gloom, a couple of students nodded off at their desks, while a few others - Bakugou among them - were simply staring at the clock over the door, watching the last minutes of the school day tick away.

He was looking forward to going home today. Once he managed to slip away from Bakugou's inevitable attempt at taking out his frustrations on Izuku, he'd have the rest of the day and the weekend to try out the closed beta to an MMO he'd been keeping an eye on for a couple of months now. It wasn't the most socially healthy thing to do, but considering that the coolest kid in school had done his best to ostracize Izuku from an early age, he wasn't exactly swimming in friends.

When the bell rang, the whole class practically leapt from their seats, eager to escape their algebraic agony. Izuku scrambled to pack his things in time to blend in with the mass of middle-schoolers that swarmed the halls, figuring that if he could escape Bakugou's notice, he'd be able to get home on time today. Unfortunately for him, Bakugou was a step ahead, and the moment the teacher left the room, the furious blonde barred the door with two of his friends. Cronies, Izuku thought, but he didn't dare say it aloud. "What is it, Kacchan?" was what he said instead, voice dripping with resignation.

"You damn well know what, shitrag. Whaddya think you're doing telling the bitch that I cheated on the last test?"

The bitch was the student body's colloquial term for the English teacher, known for her no-nonsense attitude and colossally difficult homework assignments. Izuku himself didn't think she was all that bad - in fact, she'd been downright kind to him on his worst days - but it was common knowledge that their public middle school didn't spit out paragons of virtue and ethics so much as various types of delinquents.

"I didn't even cheat in the first place - which dumbass was I gonna cheat off of? But if that shit goes on my record, Yuuei's gonna turn me down, and then what? Someone's gotta pay for it."

As a matter of fact, Izuku had absolutely no idea what Bakugou was talking about. He'd never reported him for the numerous occasions on which he'd been beaten up, so why would he try to start trouble over a false accusation of academic dishonesty? Maybe it's one of the dozens of people you've antagonized over the years? "Kacchan, I - " he started, but Bakugou was having none of it.

"No, shitty Deku! You trying to sabotage me? You think you're gonna make it in with that Quirk? You're a fuckin' freak is what you are. What the hell kind of hero raises the fuckin' dead? How are you gonna fight if there ain't anything dead around? Gonna kill yourself and use your own body?"

Ouch. Bakugou, better than anyone, knew how much Izuku idolized heroes. In their childhood, before their Quirks, before Izuku had learned how to keep everything inside, they'd obsessed over everything remotely related to heroics, exchanging trading cards, watching television specials together and organizing games of "heroes and villains" with the other children. When Bakugou's Quirk had turned out to be the straightforward, powerful, and versatile Explosion, Izuku had been excited for his own - but he'd gotten stuck with "Necromancy", and what kind of hero desecrated the dead?

Still...I can't let go of this hope. It's the only thing I have to hold onto right now. "How did you know I applied?" Izuku asked, trying to keep his voice and gaze level.

"I'm not stupid. Do yourself a favor and stay the hell away from Yuuei unless you want me to really beat the shit out of you." For emphasis, he drove his fist into his palm with an explosive pop for emphasis, and Izuku recoiled from the noise.

To his relief, Bakugou left his threat at that, turning to leave without another word. His two friends - one of whom was the boy who'd plucked the caterpillar from its twig all those years ago - leered unpleasantly at Izuku as they followed.

He realized at the front door that he'd forgotten his umbrella, but he had no friends with whom he could share one, and his mother would be at work until later that evening. Making sure there were no onlookers, he aimed his palm at a branch that had been ripped off by the storm, spreading five fingers; before his eyes, the branch began to change, wooden ribs sprouting from the main branch at one end and leaves shifting to form a canopy over them. In a couple of seconds, the branch had formed a makeshift umbrella, and he made a dash through the rain for it.

The handle is soaked through, but a wet hand is better than getting rained on, he mused. He didn't particularly enjoy using his Quirk, but he couldn't deny it was useful on occasion. Other times, it was a little traumatizing, such as the caterpillar incident (which had left one girl with a crippling fear of anything that crawled) or the time a very young Izuku had accidentally used it on a bowl of his then-favourite katsudon. To this day, he was fairly certain it had squealed like a stuck pig, and he couldn't bring himself to eat it again.

This ability, the power to manipulate dead cells as freely as putty, was the essence of the Necromancy Quirk. As far as he knew, the cells retained their original properties; muscle could not become bone, bark could not become leaves, and their strength and integrity depended largely on how decayed they were. What he could do was modify the arrangement of those cells, as he'd just done, and thus repurpose them for his own ends. The branch was testament to this - as it was now, it wouldn't look at all out of place in a modern art exhibit.

Maybe I'll use my Quirk to become a sheltered modern artist, he joked to himself. I'll put out a statue comprised of dead mice, sculpted into a way bigger mouse. Then I'll put a thousand yen in its mouth and say it's 'representative of the way the rich are built on the backs of the poor' or something.

Chuckling a little, he made for the school's front gate, hiking his sunshine-yellow backpack further up his shoulders and hooking his thumbs under the straps.

He supposed he should feel lonely, walking home by himself in the rain, but there was something cozy about the solitude of an empty world. Working adults hadn't yet begun their commute home, and most students had already made their way to bus stops or train stations, leaving the streets largely deserted.

Art didn't sound like a bad career, if he was honest, but it wasn't the kind of thing that would give him a purpose. For some people, expressing themselves was purpose enough, but Izuku wasn't satisfied with that sort of thing. He wanted to make something of himself, to make a difference in the lives of the people he met on the street, and as far as he was concerned, the only way he'd be able to do that was to become a hero.

This conflicted directly with his own understanding that his Quirk wasn't particularly heroic, but if someone whose Quirk turned them into a washing machine could hit the number-ten spot, why couldn't Izuku at least try? Isn't the whole point of school to learn? he reasoned. I shouldn't expect to go in there as a hero already.

Still, he couldn't help but compare himself to Bakugou - Bakugou Katsuki, who not only possessed a powerful Quirk but the skill and intelligence to develop a wide range of practical and combat applications for it. He, if anyone, was an obvious shoo-in; Yuuei only admitted thirty-six students a year into the hero course from general applications, with an additional four spots reserved for recommendations, and he was sure Bakugou would be a strong contender for one of those spots come the entrance exams in April.

What if I'd turned out to be Quirkless after all? he had to wonder. I don't know what I'd have done. Probably turned into a Quirk otaku or something. After getting one himself, he'd lost some interest in studying the Quirks of others in favour of developing a more thorough understanding of his own, and the insecurity he'd started to feel every time another classmate's Quirk manifested evaporated as soon as his showed its face. Not to mention I've never heard of a Quirkless hero.

Lost in thought, he wandered home, barely paying attention to the way the sky churned overhead.

Knowing he'd absolutely lose track of time and forget about his homework if he did anything else first, he pulled his notebooks out of his bag the moment he got in the front door, slipping off his shoes and getting right to work. It didn't take him particularly long to complete the first assignment, but the second was incredibly tedious, and to make matters worse, the power cut out with a deafening crack about halfway through. A split second later, there was a little pop as his monitor went dark, and with a deep sigh, he leaned back in his chair, burying his face in his hands.

Great. Now what am I gonna do? He'd been working online, so he wasn't concerned about losing progress, but that didn't change the fact that he wasn't able to do the rest of the assignment.

His phone rang just then - "Watashi ga kita!" - and with a start, he leapt to answer it before he'd even seen the caller's name. "Hello?"

"Izuku? Are you home?"

Oh, it's kaa-san. "Yeah, I'm home. What's up?" he asked, reclining again. The chair creaked audibly.

"I just thought I'd let you know that I'm on my way home now, but I'll be stopping at the bank for a couple of minutes to sort out some business with my account. Have you eaten yet?"

"No. I was doing my homework, but the power went out. Why are you off so early?" he countered, brow creased with concern.

"The power went out at the office, too, so they let anyone non-essential go home. There's some stir fry left over in the fridge from last night if you're hungry."

"They let people go home early?" he repeated, incredulous. They'd leaned closer to Western values in the past two centuries, after the development of Quirks essentially enforced evolutionary individualism, but it was still uncommon for a business to let its employees go home early rather than wait out something like a power outage. "That's weird, kaa-san."

"Well...they did tell us to telecommute this evening after the power gets fixed."

There's the catch. "Well, if that's the case, I guess it makes sense," he shrugged, unable to resist the gesture even knowing she couldn't see him. "Are you okay?"

On the other end, there was a faint jingling sound as - he assumed - his mother pulled open the door to the bank. He could almost feel the dusty, air-conditioned lobby around him, its grey-beige carpet worn and rough where thousands of pairs of feet had trodden across it on their way to the counter, and Midoriya Inko actually chuckled. "Oh, sweetie, I'm fine. I was worried about you since you left your umbrella at home today, though…"

"I figured something out." He knew he sounded evasive, but he'd developed a bad habit of hiding his Quirk usage from even his own mother - the only person in the world who had an idea of what his Quirk was capable of, and the only one who'd accepted him anyway, in the way only a mother could. "Do you know when you'll be home?"

"I'll probably be home in an hour or so - just look at this line! Did I mention that there's stir fry in the - "

Crash.

A sound like breaking glass screamed out of the phone, from his mother's end, and Izuku jumped back, holding the phone a foot from his face. "Kaa-san!?" he cried out, anxiety levels spiking. "Kaa-san, what's going on?"

Shouting, indistinct but definitely not his mother's, came through the earpiece, followed by the heavy thump of a phone being dropped. Izuku immediately assumed the worst, leaping to his feet and yelling: "Kaa-san, are you okay!?"

He could only assume that he'd been heard, because the next words he could make out were "who're you on the phone with?" It was a man's voice, gruff, aggressive, and Izuku could feel ice creeping through his veins just listening to it.

"It's just my son, I promise, he's in middle school - " His mother's voice, terrified but familiar, responded, and in spite of himself, Izuku felt just a little relieved that she was okay for the time being -

Click.

- then the line died, and that relief went out the window, quick as it came.

For a few minutes, Izuku sat there, staring at his phone - at the "Call Dropped" next to "Midoriya Inko" - then he ran for the door, putting on his shoes as fast as he could manage and pelting out into the rain with his makeshift umbrella.

The bank was maybe half an hour's walk away, but he was running full-tilt now, sprinting like the devil himself was at his heels, and the rain sure as hell wasn't going to stop him - the branch umbrella shifted again, dead yellow leaves rippling unnaturally, and the canopy stretched straight out, forming something closer to a shield than an umbrella; he covered his face with it, splashing through puddles up to his ankles, ignoring the way the water drenched his socks.

In twelve minutes flat, he'd run into the city and now stood on a street lined with glass-walled high-rises, squinting through the rain to try and spot the bank's logo. By the time he did, a crowd had started to gather, and he could already hear sirens, but he couldn't just sit by and wait while whoever was in there threatened his mother's life for - for what? What's worth ruining your life and hurting people for?

A surge of frustration shot through him as he reached the back of the meagre crowd, standing on tiptoe to try and see above the gaggle of heads and into the tinted glass windows. He couldn't see what was going on inside, but as it turned out, he wouldn't need to.

The moment the police arrived, officers on foot manually forced the crowd to the other side of the street while those in cruisers used their vehicles to block off the road, quickly setting up an impromptu roadblock and hunkering down for what they evidently expected to be a protracted stalemate - only for someone to step out of the bank not five minutes later, brandishing a handgun.

Izuku was baffled. What kind of person goes to rob a bank, then immediately comes out to confront the police when they're outnumbered like this? His best guess was that the man's Quirk gave him some sort of advantage in a firefight, and judging from the way the responding officers assumed a defensive position, they'd either guessed the same or been trained to respond as such for the sake of safety.

An officer with a megaphone barked orders, the cherry-red metal a splash of color against the drab cityscape. "Hands in the air! Get on the ground! Drop your weapon!"

"What's the matter? Aren't you better than me?" the man shouted back, raising the handgun as if to take aim. "Can't take me out yourself?"

Without any sort of warning, he fired, the bullet whizzing through the air to strike the side of a police cruiser; as if awoken from a trance, the crowd began to scream and scatter, making for the safety of buildings and alleys. Izuku himself took shelter behind a parked car on the opposite sidewalk, his heart pounding out of his chest; the danger here was real, he was terrified, but there was no flight response.

He didn't want to run away.

The police returned fire, hailing the robber with bullets - but as Izuku had guessed, this was no ordinary person, and when the man didn't so much as flinch under the onslaught, he knew the police most likely didn't stand a chance against him. They were most likely going to need a hero, but they couldn't put in a specific request until they knew what the man's Quirk did, and who knew how many people could get hurt before then?

They'll probably issue a general SOS and the closest hero to the scene will respond, but it's not like being a hero makes you immune to bullets. He could recall with vivid clarity the case of a low-ranked hero who'd been shot to death in an alley around a year ago (lured in by one villain and ambushed by three more) and he grit his teeth, fists clenched with fear and frustration. Can't I do something?

It wasn't wise to act as a civilian, even if you had a powerful Quirk capable of resolving the situation while posing no danger to property or bystanders. Vigilantism was a criminal act, and in the eyes of the law, you would be just as much in the wrong as the villain you'd sought to apprehend. However, with his Quirk, would he even be detected…? It's not as if they can even tie it back to me, right? I won't be acting at all, just pulling the strings from back here.

In a city, death was everywhere. Generally, the dead weren't human; the rotting carcasses of rats and mice littered the spaces in-between, the insides of walls, basements, sewers, cellars; old and sick strays sought the refuge of dumpsters and alleys in which to take their last, foul breaths; limp, decaying pigeons lay still and silent on rooftops and in ceilings, feathers stirred only by passing breezes; insects abound, slender legs curled over stiff bodies light as paper. Reaching out, Izuku could feel them, feel what was left of them as some kind of essence in the periphery of his consciousness, and all he had to do was grasp at the threads connecting them to breathe one last breath of life into their broken-down bodies. He could sense them, slowly but surely creeping up on him, no doubt reeking of rot and muck and filth and dropping bits of flesh and fur as they went - and as horrifying as it was when the first rat shambled into view across the street, pulling itself up through a storm drain and missing the front of its face, he felt a surge of relief that he wasn't alone.

The screams started not too long after, echoing off the glass and concrete around him, but he didn't care. He was used to them, and the people screaming were in no danger of anything except an unplanned loss of lunch.

Come to me. Breathe your true last.

The police, always on the lookout, had noticed the rats gathering around the edges of the crime scene, though they hadn't seemed to realize that every single one was dead. Here and there, cats peeked out from the alleys; one was most definitely alive, an expression of terror crossing its narrow face just long enough for Izuku to see before it withdrew into the shadows behind it.

The dead were, as always, unnaturally still in a way that sent chills down the human spine. Izuku had grown used to this over the years, but as his - army? he'd never reanimated this much at once before - grew, it inevitably struck fear into even the man holding the gun at the front of the bank, who'd been shouting between shots for the past couple of minutes. Struggling to bring his focus back into the here and now, Izuku surveyed the situation from behind the car, squinting across the asphalt at the bank.

One officer cradled a bloodied arm, and Izuku could only guess that he'd been unfortunate enough to take a bullet. Most continued to hide behind their cruisers, occasionally leaning out to try and assess their chances of either survival or landing a shot of their own; the man was effectively immune to bullets, and Izuku couldn't see any kind of -

Wait.

The man turned, and both he and the wall behind him seemed to ripple, like the air above the road on a hot and sunny day. When he spoke again, he raised his hands as if gesturing, and it happened again - the air shuddered, and suddenly Izuku had an idea of what his Quirk might be.

It's almost like I'm watching a mime...that would explain why bullets aren't working. He's creating walls in the air in front of him, and he knows where they are, so he can shoot from between them. The fact that he had to make another one when he turned tells me they either have a time limit or…do they obey his miming? If he decides to walk through them, do they break? That, Izuku realized, would explain why the man hadn't actually advanced on the police yet. If his Quirk actually made him bulletproof or enabled him to manipulate the surrounding space on the move, he'd have wiped them out already - but if he was vulnerable while moving, he would have to choose between playing defense and offense, unable to do both at once.

It was, Izuku reflected, a lot like one of the bosses in an MMORPG he'd played. The boss was only vulnerable when moving, and if it was allowed to stop, it would set up a network of indestructible crystals, forming an impenetrable barrier while using long-ranged magic to attack. Putting aside the obvious ramifications of comparing real life to a game, he knew then that he held the upper hand. Either the man would break his own barriers and flee, or he'd attempt to stand his ground and be overwhelmed.

Go, he murmured in his mind, and as one, the dead shambled towards the gesturing man.

Predictably, the police were not pleased with this arrangement, one even going so far as to aim his weapon into the mass of decaying animals before another officer stopped him. Those closest retched as the putrid horde passed between their cruisers, making a beeline for the robber, and Izuku got to watch the blood drain from his face as the more intact rats reached him first.

The man fired, and even though the bullet was obviously nowhere near him, Izuku could still feel an echo of phantom pain from the long-dead nerve endings of a cat, shooting up the "strings" connecting his mind to its body. The cat in question didn't so much as flinch, rearing up on its hind legs to paw fruitlessly at the invisible wall before it as rats scurried past, seeking an opening. Panicked now, he put one more shot into the cat (dead as it already was, this did nothing) before frantically turning to continue his miming act from all angles without breaking the walls he'd already put up. It didn't work - the rats swarmed, higher and higher, and within seconds they'd climbed up and over one another, over the cats clawing at the base of the invisible walls until they completely blocked the man from view, a roughly rectangular mass of cold, wet, slimy bodies dripping fur and gore and letting out raspy, dead squeaks drawn from rotting lungs.

Now!

He clenched his fist, and instantly, the rats began to melt, their flesh giving way and forming a semi-solid slurry that spread like plague across the surface of the air-walls; Izuku, still behind the parked car, breathed deeply, committing all of his focus to feeling out any gaps or cracks in the barrier until a tendril only a millimeter wide was able to slip through. The rotting sludge oozed on through, wrapping itself around the robber's body - the man attempted to run, immediately dropping his Quirk's barriers, but he hadn't realized that Izuku's control over these dead things was not limited to soft tissue, and a cage of bones and claws welded together as if by some twisted smith burst forth from the putrid flesh-mass.

His job done, Izuku released his Quirk's hold, and very suddenly, the roiling, seething thing that had trapped the robber went still as death. The robber, trapped, had no further options, and as the police cautiously stepped out from behind their cruisers, weapons raised, Izuku slipped away. His mother would be fine now, he was sure, and she would undoubtedly put two and two together once any footage or eyewitness reports about the incident came out.

Might as well go home and pretend I was never here, he figured. Kaa-san doesn't need any more stress than she's already got.

Izuku was thoroughly drenched by that point, having dropped his umbrella in favour of using his Quirk. Picking it up, he took pointless shelter beneath it and heaved a deep sigh. His plans for the day were ruined; there was no way he could simply go home, reheat a very late meal, and do his homework now, not when he knew he'd be replaying these events over and over again in his mind for at least the rest of the evening.

As a matter of fact, it didn't even occur to him just then that what he'd done was something heroic - no, it wasn't until long after he got home that the idea even came into his head, and it wasn't of his own volition.

His mother called him from the phone at the police station, and even though he'd been the one to shut the robber down, he was still relieved to hear her voice again, and Midoriya Inko was just as relieved (if not more so) to hear her son's.

"Izuku, I'm so glad you're okay. I'm so sorry you had to go through that…"

"Kaa-san, you were the one involved in a bank robbery," he had to remind her. "I'm glad you're okay."

When his mother arrived home - she'd been given a checkup by emergency personnel on-site and questioned about the incident at the police station afterward - he found out something else: the bank robbery hadn't really been a robbery at all, but a staged crime with the purpose of drawing out the police. The man responsible, Tsurubaba Guraikuso, had failed the police academy's entrance exam and, in a fit of mental instability and rage, decided that he was "better than" the entire Shizuoka prefecture's police department, resolving to "prove himself" by winning a many-on-one firefight with his Quirk.

It's a good Quirk for that line of work, Izuku admitted to himself, but taking up a vendetta against the police isn't how you join them.

The big story on the news that night was, predictably, the robbery. They didn't normally have the television on during dinner, but considering Inko's direct involvement (and, unbeknownst to his mother, Izuku's), both of them agreed that tonight could be an exception.

Izuku didn't know what he'd been expecting, but in the moment, he'd completely forgotten about how incredibly distinct his Quirk was, and now that he'd been removed from the situation, it was glaringly obvious that his mother of all people would recognize it. Sure enough, the moment the news displayed photographs of the aftermath, Inko's worried gaze had shifted into a terrifying glare and snapped directly onto Izuku, who pretended not to notice. The cage of bones had been broken, while the carcasses hadn't yet been cleaned up and anything resembling blood or an animal had been blurred, but anyone who knew what the Necromancy Quirk's effects looked like would be able to tell in a heartbeat what had happened.

"Izuku."

"Yes, okaa-san?" he replied, still unable to look directly at her but giving himself away with an overly-formal address. Fortunately for him, there was a knock at the door just then, and before Inko could react, he sprung out of his seat, eager for any way out of the inevitable punishment to come.

"Izuku - "

Too late. He pulled the door open without checking the peephole first, and on the other side of the threshold, there stood a truly bizarre man with the head of a gigantic centipede. The eyes were human, however, and to the man's credit, he merely bowed a greeting even as Izuku recoiled in shock. "Is this the Midoriya household?" he rumbled, meeting Izuku's gaze with his own, and an antenna flicked.

"Yeah, it...that's this, um, us. Did you, uh, did you need anything?" Unbothered as he was by death and rot, Izuku wasn't particularly fond of insects, and this man's Quirk was giving him the creeps.

"Yes. I'm looking for Midoriya Izuku. I don't suppose that would be you?"

...Also, he's really tall. He's gotta have forty centimeters on me. "I'm Midoriya Izuku," he confirmed, clamping his jaw shut to stop his teeth from clattering together.

"Well, then." Without a single wasted motion, the centipede-man withdrew his wallet, unfolding it to display what was unmistakably a hero license. "I'm from the offices of Sir Nighteye. We're requesting your cooperation in our ongoing investigation of the vigilante responsible for the resolution of the bank robbery in which your mother was taken hostage."

"Vigilante?" he repeated, before he could stop himself. "Wait, what?"

"You haven't seen the news?" the other countered, quirking one antenna like an eyebrow. "An armed man engaged with prefecture police and was incapacitated by a Quirk not on the hero registry."

Shit. "That...we were just watching the news," Izuku finished lamely. "What investigation are you doing?"

Belatedly, it occurred to him that the office requesting his cooperation belonged to none other than Sir Nighteye, All Might's most famous former sidekick, but before his inner hero fanboy could kick in, the man spoke again, and his words turned Izuku's blood to ice.

"The Quirk used at the scene doesn't match any on the hero registry, but it does match up very closely with the Quirk defined in your civilian registration."

"I - " Izuku started, but the hero at his doorstep wasn't done.

"I'm also afraid it's not exactly a request - we don't have the authority to arrest you, but I would prefer not to have to involve the police."

Chapter Text

 

"Wait here. Please try your best not to touch anything."

Moashi Juuzo, alias Centipeder, stepped through an unmarked door and left Izuku alone in the cramped waiting room.

...Try not to touch anything? Am I a toddler now? Equal parts annoyed and terrified (and by equal he of course meant "mostly the latter"), Izuku took a seat in one of the aged chairs; the chair, clearly unused to such attention, let out a creaky scream of terror and bowed ominously, threatening to collapse under his weight.

He opted for the chair next to it instead.

Unlike the ultra-modern, oft-televised offices of such prominent heroes as Endeavour or Best Jeanist, Sir Nighteye's single building was - in a word - shabby. The wallpaper, a drab olive pattern, had only grown duller with age, peeling here and there to reveal wood-paneled walls that Izuku suspected were several decades older than Sir Nighteye himself. A not-so-fine layer of dust coated every horizontal surface he could see, excluding the (unoccupied) receptionist's desk and most of the chairs, and the moment he was able to focus, his Quirk picked up on what appeared to be a large quantity of both dead spiders and - bizarrely - dried beans, all resting in the far corner of the room.

This place can't have been cleaned anytime within the past year.

After a frantic call to the Hero Bureau by his mother to confirm that Moashi Juuzo was, in fact, a hero and Sir Nighteye's sidekick, an anxious Izuku had voluntarily accompanied the man to the agency after being reassured that he would not be put in jail. Parked out front of his house had been an official-looking black luxury car bearing a golden seal on the driver's door, and in circling around to the passenger door, Izuku noted the colossal pair of wrought-metal glasses framing the headlamps.

There was a crash from the floor below, and he could distinctly hear a girl swearing; the next second, Centipeder returned, one antenna crooked in an upside-down vee-shape. "Sir Nighteye would like to see you personally," he informed Izuku. "Excuse me - I think Bubble Girl has broken another tea set."

Bubble...Girl? I've never heard that name before. Now that he thought about it, for all his love of heroics, he'd never really looked into sidekicks. They were full-fledged pro heroes in their own right, but as they'd chosen to work under other (typically higher-ranked) heroes, they didn't achieve nearly the same amount of recognition as someone who'd opened their own agency. Even if a sidekick was higher-ranked than an independent hero, the independent hero would retain their identity, while the sidekick would almost always be referred to as such, rarely identified by their hero name.

In the worst case, they might not even see direct combat. The number three hero, Hawks, was much too fast for any of his sidekicks to compete with, and Izuku remembered reading that they more or less spent their days cleaning up after him while he blazed ahead heedless of the messes he made.

"Midoriya-san?"

"Oh - um, sorry."

With a nod, Izuku scurried through the faded pine door. He expected it to stick, or jam, or creak - but to his surprise, the hinges were well-oiled and the door opened smooth as butter into a short hallway, lit only by a dim electric bulb in a fixture styled after an oil lamp. At the end of the hall lay another door, identical to the one he'd just gone through except for the ominous aura radiating from the other side of it.

He swallowed hard and pulled the second door open.

The scene that greeted him was something out of a noir film: the room was dark, and a tall, slender man sat still and bespectacled behind a carved oak desk, spider-like hands folded in front of him. With the moonlight to the other's back, Izuku couldn't make out his features, but his glasses reflected the bulb in the hallway beyond, giving the surreal impression that his very eyes glowed.

"Sir Nighteye...san," Izuku managed to stutter out, bowing.

The other didn't return the bow. "Sit," he commanded, voice neither high nor low and bearing the monotonous drone of a salaryman. It was, Izuku felt, a very average sort of voice. "And close the door."

Nodding, he straightened, fumbling behind him for the brass doorknob until his fingers closed around it and he was able to pull the door shut. For a moment, the room was lit only by moonlight - then lamps around the walls flared to life, and Izuku got his first good look at the hero known as Sir Nighteye.

The most surprising thing about the man was his hair, green with yellow streaks. He couldn't tell if it was dyed - with the development of Quirks, the concept of "natural" colors had flown out of the window and into the stratosphere, never to be seen again - but it certainly didn't fit the rest of Sir Nighteye's image, which matched his salaryman's voice to an uncanny T.

He's gotta stand out somehow, I guess.

Taking a seat, Izuku did his best not to slouch or look away, keeping his expression carefully neutral as he met the hero's glowering gaze and disapproving frown. He'd perfected this mask over the years as a sort of concessive defense mechanism: he knew that the way others saw him was rooted in his Quirk, and if he showed them the dead mask they expected to see, he wouldn't attract attention. On his end, he'd been able to push down his feelings of loneliness, of isolation, of misery, and thus been able to make it through school with near-top marks and no social life.

Nighteye offered his hand across the desk. A confused Izuku remembered enough about American culture to understand the gesture, and hesitantly, he shook it, letting go as quickly as he could. For the first time, the hero nodded, picking up a pen.

"Midoriya Izuku."

"Yes, that's...that's me. Sir."

"You used your Quirk to interfere in a standoff between the Shizuoka police force and an armed bank robber."

It wasn't a question.

"I...yeah."

"Why did you deem yourself worthy of resolving the situation?"

...What? 'Deem myself worthy'? There's nothing I can really think of to say to that, because… "I didn't," he replied, simply. "I was just there, and - "

"Clearly, you did, on some level," Sir Nighteye interrupted, voice deadly smooth. "I'll say it another way: what qualified you to operate in the capacity of a hero back there?"

"I - nothing, I just realized that I could do something," Izuku countered, a shaky edge creeping into his own voice. "People were getting hurt, and - "

"Irrelevant," the hero cut in again. "If you'd had anything other than the flukish luck of a rookie back there, more people could have gotten hurt, and much more severely to boot. Imagine, if you will, what would have happened if your Quirk hadn't had an advantage over that man's."

"Then I wouldn't have used it," he heard himself say, then winced at his own loose tongue. Deep breaths, he told himself. In, out. In, out. Stay calm.

Sir Nighteye blinked. It was a strange, delayed sort of blink, as if he'd been expecting to be surprised, braced for it, and subsequently been surprised by the existence of the surprise rather than the actual surprise. His recovery was quick, however, and he was back to his glare in no time. "And how would you have known you had the upper hand in that engagement?"

"I was able to watch him long enough to see that he would only raise his weapon when he stood still," Izuku explained, trying his hardest to focus on the facts at hand and not the anxiety threatening to burst out of his chest. "When he moved his hands, the air around him would change, and when he walked again, it would go back to normal. I don't know what exactly his Quirk is, but - "

"So you acted based on your own assumptions about the function of his Quirk."

"...I guess so, but - "

"What would waiting for qualified heroes to arrive have done?" Nighteye pressed, leaning forward just enough for the gesture to be intimidating. "Would it have made the situation worse somehow? If his Quirk only let him fire when stationary, then was intervening the correct choice to make?"

Am I really being told by a pro hero to just sit by and watch when people need help? Still, he wasn't Bakugou, wouldn't run his mouth when it wasn't necessary, and he bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself spitting out what was on his mind. Taking another deep breath, he tried a different track. "I'm sorry," Izuku sighed. "I understand that what I did was probably unnecessary, and definitely outside the law."

A couple of seconds elapsed in silence before Sir Nighteye narrowed his eyes, still holding the pen in one hand. "Saying sorry won't turn back time. If you had make a mistake that resulted in someone being killed, sorry wouldn't cut it."

"But...don't you think someone like All Might would say that's what makes a person truly heroic? Not being able to stop yourself from helping someone who needs it?"

For a moment, he couldn't quite believe he'd actually said it, and he could see the way Sir Nighteye's mouth twitched. "He has nothing to do with this," he replied, crisply. "I no longer have anything to do with All Might."

"You have a Silver Age poster of him on the wall, though," Izuku pointed out mildly. "I thought that meant you might still have some respect for him."

"Don't tell me who I do and do not have respect for!" Nighteye seethed; evidently, the topic of All Might was a sensitive one. Izuku was taken aback, but his mind and body had become disconnected enough for him to avoid flinching.

He didn't respond immediately, and with a sigh, Nighteye deflated a bit. "I apologize. That was a logical inference."

"Uh...apology accepted." Izuku shifted uncomfortably in his seat, unsure what else to say. When Nighteye spoke again, his voice was softer, calmer.

"Are you applying to Yuuei, Midoriya?"

"I guess I am," he shrugged, unfazed by the hero's sudden shift in attitude. "I haven't thought a lot about it. My Quirk isn't really suited for hero work. It scares people."

"And with that lack of conviction, you still saw fit to act the way you did earlier." This wasn't a question either. "I'll say it again. If you don't believe you can be a hero, then why act like one?"

Izuku didn't answer. To be honest, I don't know what to say to that, he mused. Why did I jump to act? Kaa-san was involved, but she wasn't in danger just then, the police were. Still, I couldn't just run and hide. In fact...I didn't even think about running away. "I don't know," he blurted out. "I didn't think I had a choice."

"There's always a choice," Sir Nighteye countered, and there was a weight to his words that Izuku couldn't quite interpret. "I'll tell you what. You're clearly not going to back down, so I'll tell you the same thing I've told every student and hero looking to work under me for the past ten years. If you're able to take this pen from me within the next three minutes, I will concede that perhaps you have the ability necessary to become a hero, and therefore were justified in your actions. If, on the other hand, you cannot manage this task, you will be issued an official warning. Do you understand?"

"I - yeah." Get the pen? What the hell kind of test is that? he wanted to ask, staring at the pen. It was an almost deceptively simple thing to ask of him.

"You may start - " and here Nighteye flicked his wrist, withdrawing a stopwatch from his sleeve as if he'd been waiting on this moment " - now."

Right on cue, the stopwatch began to tick.

It's like he planned our entire conversation right down to this second...that's not a coincidence.

His first grab for the pen told Izuku that he wasn't going to be able to catch Nighteye off guard or outspeed him; with a start, he realized that he couldn't remember Sir Nighteye's Quirk from any of the books he'd read as a child. If his hero name were anything to go by, it involved his eyes, but what about them? Does he see better at night? That doesn't seem like enough to become a hero...and one of All Might's sidekicks, no less.

He tried again, and once more, the pen was out of his reach before he'd even gotten a quarter of the way to it.

No, that's definitely not it. The way he's reacting...it's less acting in response than it is acting in advance.

Just to be certain, he tried a third time, only this time he swung his left hand in from the other side at the last possible second. Before he'd even fully brought his arm above the desk, Nighteye had already thrown the pen into the air and caught it again, avoiding both of his hands at once, and this confirmed Izuku's suspicions.

Somehow...he's able to see what I'm going to do next. That would also explain why he was able to set that stopwatch to start at exactly the right moment. A glance at said stopwatch told Izuku he had about two minutes remaining - two minutes to figure out a way to do something that Nighteye's Quirk wouldn't be able to see. If he's allowed to use his Quirk...I can use mine, right?

Trying not to make it too obvious, he stared hard at the pen, trying another two-sided grab to give the illusion of concentration when in reality his focus was on the world around him.

There were dead bugs pretty much everywhere, but Izuku had discovered long ago that their fragile forms decayed beyond what his Quirk could salvage within the span of a day or two. No matter what form he tried to give them, those cells wouldn't stay together, would fall apart under the force of a light breeze, and there was no way he'd be able to use them to get the pen…

But do I have to use them to get the pen? he mused. I can grab it myself...what I need is to put him into a position where I can do that.

It was a long shot, but it was the only one he had, so with another halfhearted lunge for the pen, he reached out to the dead things on the windowsill, behind the bookshelves, and in silence, the bodies of flies and spiders and beetles began to twitch. A moment later, they started to crawl, all towards one another, limbs and wings and shells mashing together into some kind of hellish thousand-legged ball of nightmares; within seconds, he'd assembled his weapon, an uncomfortably writhing mass of bug-flesh and body parts, and as Izuku lunged across the table, the thing took flight, careening unsteadily through the air to latch onto Nighteye's collar and split into half a dozen bundles of legs that crawled rapidly down the back of his shirt and up his arms.

Nighteye, who'd swung the pen to the side to keep it away from Izuku's lunge, jumped, his composure breaking entirely as he used his free hand to swat instinctively at his shoulder - and in that instant, Izuku was able to grab the pen, wrestling it from the hero's now-rigid grip and falling back into the chair.

He released his Quirk and sensed the horrors he'd created crumble to dust.

"Well then," Nighteye breathed. "That was certainly a...creative...solution, Midoriya." He looked more nauseated than anything, and without thinking, Izuku blurted out:

"Does that bug you?"

For a second, Nighteye looked like he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing - then, to Izuku's surprise, he started to laugh.

"That was single-handedly the worst contextual pun I have ever heard." He fixed his glasses, which had been knocked askew at some point in the last couple of minutes, then cleared his throat, brushing his hands over his suit jacket to straighten it. "Tell me - did you already know about my Quirk?"

"Ah - no, I couldn't remember," Izuku admitted. "What is it?"

"Foresight allows me to see into the future of any one subject at a time so long as I've made physical and eye contact with them," the hero explained, and suddenly all the little oddities of their meeting fell into place.

"So that handshake was to activate your Quirk?" Izuku guessed.

"Correct."

"And you knew every angle I'd try to get the pen from."

"I did."

Another thought occurred to him then. "But that also means you knew I would get it."

Nighteye dipped his head, and Izuku frowned.

"I could see that, yes. What I was unable to see were the means by which you would obtain the pen, and that was what piqued my interest."

I've never been more confused in my life. A guy that can see the future...does nothing to change it? Don't people with future sight in manga and games always do their best to change the fate they see? Furthermore...what kind of pro hero loses his composure because of a bug?

Too tired and confused to ruminate on the hero's motivations, all Izuku could think to do was nod dumbly, and Nighteye stood, gesturing for him to do the same. "I keep my word, so I'll let you go," he said. "But I must ask two things of you in exchange."

"What are those?" Izuku asked.

"The first - " and here Nighteye held up one finger " - is that you refrain from playing the hero again. The second - " another finger " - is that you apply to Yuuei."

"...That's it?"

"That's it. I told you earlier - if you were able to take the pen, I would acknowledge your potential. I'm doing that now. You were sharp enough to find an opening in my Quirk within two minutes and use yours to take advantage of it. Apply."

Nighteye didn't elaborate, and Izuku wasn't quite sure how to respond, so he decided to simply leave. With another brief bow, he made for the door and pulled it closed behind him as he left the room; when he was out of earshot, Nighteye let out a sigh and slumped back into his own chair. It was, perhaps, for the best that Midoriya not know the full extent of what Foresight had seen.

"That poor child."


On his way out, Izuku ran straight into a boy a couple of years older than him - or he would have, had the boy not simply phased out of existence entirely, disappearing without a trace. Dumbfounded, Izuku could only stare straight ahead until he felt a tap on his shoulder.

"You lost?" someone asked from behind him, and he whipped around to see the very person he'd just failed to collide with standing there with his hands on his hips and a grin on his face. "It's like a maze in here, isn't it?"

"Uh...not really, no. I was just leaving." One-on-ones were, without a doubt, the type of social interaction he hated the most. More often than not, his brain would simply short-circuit when his turn to speak came around, and the social pressure was enough to turn him off the conversation even if the subject matter was of interest to him. He much preferred group situations, where the ball he'd inevitably drop would be swiftly and naturally picked up by another.

Unfortunately, the other boy - tall, blonde, and built - was completely unfazed by Izuku's bland reply and complete lack of notable traits. "Ah, you're the kid Sir picked up off the news, right? Midorba-kun?" he asked, bright and chipper as a thrush in spring.

"Midoriya," Izuku corrected icily, surveying his social adversary. "Who are you?"

"Glad you asked! Togata Mirio, Yuuei intern for Sir Nighteye. Pleasure to make your acquaintance." Togata stuck out his hand for a handshake, much like Sir Nighteye, and when Izuku reluctantly reached up to reciprocate, his hand went straight through the other's. "Whoops," Togata chuckled. "Sorry 'bout that. Try again?"

The hand was solid this time, and Izuku was able to grasp it for as little time as he possibly could. Togata laughed again, and Izuku scrunched up the left side of his face. "Do you do this to everyone you meet?" he blurted out, dimly aware that he was most likely being rude. Not that it matters. We'll never see each other again, anyway.

"Ah - yeah. You're the first person not to be surprised by it, though," Togata replied, smile dwindling to a smaller, friendly one instead of the colossal beam he'd been sporting seconds ago. "So, how'd it go?"

"...How did what go?" Izuku asked, starting to feel a little dazed. Most people would have taken the hint by now and left me alone.

"The pen test! He gave you the pen test, right? He gives everyone the pen test when they come to work here, then says something like 'I knew this would happen' and leaves you wondering why he even tested you in the first place."

"I got the pen," he shrugged, feeling no need to elaborate further, but Togata would not be deterred.

"Oh, nice! How long did it take ya?"

"...A little under two minutes."

"Awesome!" A fist pump - a genuine, enthusiastic fist pump - accompanied this comment. "I almost ran out of time, ya know. I only managed to get it because I decided to phase right through the floor and spin on my way out so there was no way I couldn't grab it. He'd have probably kept it away from me if he'd just gotten out of his chair, though," Togata added, as an afterthought.

"Okay," Izuku shrugged. "I'm going home now. It was - "

Wait a second, he said something interesting a minute ago.

"Did you say you were an intern from Yuuei?" he asked, changing track at the speed of light.

"Oh, yeah. Were you looking to apply?"

"I guess - I mean, yeah," Izuku corrected, recalling Nighteye's speech on conviction. "I'm applying."

"Awesome!" - and Togata sounded like he meant it. "One thing, though. Your Quirk needs some kind of material to work with, right?"

"How did you know?"

"I was there when Sir was going over the news footage," the blonde chuckled. "I'm not sure how willing Yuuei would be to let you bring in an army of rats, though."

"It doesn't have to be a whole animal," Izuku pointed out, his fascination with Quirks giving rise to the very foreign urge to talk. "As long as it's comprised of dead cells, I can work however I need to within the number and type of cells available."

Togata was silent for a moment, evidently deep in thought, then - "So, could you theoretically make a skeleton dance?"

In spite of himself, Izuku almost laughed; the question was absolutely not the one he'd been expecting. "It depends. If it still has muscle attached, yes. If it's just a skeleton, I theoretically can, but I would have to do it by moving individual cells around and it probably wouldn't look right."

"Wow, so you can talk," the intern teased, grinning. "Still, that's pretty cool. I'm sure the support department at Yuuei would be willing to let you bring in some kind of equipment to help you with the practical part of the entrance exam."

Izuku frowned. "The practical?"

"You didn't know? They change it every year, but there's always a section designed to test your physical ability, plus whether or not you can think on your feet and use your Quirk in a combat or rescue situation. My friend was scrawny in middle school, so he had to spend two whole years getting in shape for it even though he's got a cool Quirk."

Two years!? There's only a year left before the exams, and…

Looking down at his own thin arms, Izuku shuddered. Togata laughed out loud.

"You've got time. Tell you what - I'll even help you out if you like. I can't promise I'll be free too much, but the least I can do is send you a copy of my friend's diet and exercise plan. Sound good?"


When he checked Togata's text message the next day, Izuku didn't think he could do it.

"Vegetables with every meal? Two daily servings of protein?"

It wasn't that he ate poorly - it was just that he didn't eat this well. The exercise schedule was even worse, with several hours of rigorous training each morning from the beginning and more of it as his body (hypothetically) improved. There was barely any time left for homework, and Izuku couldn't even begin to figure out where he'd fit in his accustomed long hours of doing nothing.

Even so, the more he thought over the previous day, the more plausible it seemed that he could, in fact, become a hero. Maybe he wouldn't be number one, but even becoming one at all was more than he'd originally hoped for.

Speaking of hope...is that what this feeling is?

He was up front with his mother about what had transpired at Sir Nighteye's office, and to his surprise, she'd been overjoyed and more than willing to help him with the diet the intern had recommended…

...which was how, a week later, Izuku found himself snacking on a piece of dried seaweed after lunch, squeezing a grip trainer with his other hand and enjoying the feel of a cold towel on the back of his neck. It had taken him a while to actually put the cut of mackerel in his mouth - memories of childhood Quirk mishaps abound - but the taste was fine, and he managed not to activate Necromancy on it, a feat highly conducive to eating normally.

He'd started the suggested workout routine on Sunday, taking care to head out for a run before his morning shower each school day; to his surprise, despite sacrificing two hours of sleep on Monday (he'd gone to bed too late), by the middle of the week he'd started to feel more awake and alert in class than he could remember being since primary school.

For a borderline hikikomori like himself, the exercise was difficult, but he found that a pair of headphones and several hours' worth of podcasts or radio helped him take his mind off of the burning feeling in his limbs and his chronic shortage of breath. The routine was strict, but not impossibly so, and as the days dragged by, he began slowly but surely to improve. Maybe it was only running a couple more seconds before he tired, maybe it was only lifting another pound, maybe it was only jumping another inch - but each little milestone brought Izuku a sense of satisfaction he couldn't ever remember feeling. For the first time in his life, he'd started working at something, started seeing results, and the sensation was intoxicating.

Towards the end of July, three months in and right in the middle of summer break, he received another message from Togata.

Ready to start on your Quirk?

Izuku stopped in the middle of his run to stare at his phone.

what? he texted back. i already know how to use my quirk

Could you use it to fight off a human opponent without any materials? came the reply.

no, Izuku had to admit.

Where are you?

He'd just been running past Dagobah municipal beach when his phone buzzed, so he texted back: dagobah

Be there in a flash!

Following was an emoji of a running man. Izuku shook his head and turned to survey the junk lying strewn about the dirty sand; the beach was commonly used as a dumping ground, and the local government took no action to stop it aside from a poorly-made sign that read NO DUPMING. It was a mark of how little the officials cared that the misspelling had been around long enough to become something of a local legend among children, where the Dupming was a mythical garbage-beast from China and the sign was meant as a ward against its presence.

"What kind of monster listens to signposts?" Izuku snorted aloud. "For that matter, what kind can read them in the first place?"

"Well, depends on if you wanna call villains monsters," another voice piped up from behind him. Izuku didn't have to turn around to know who it was.

"Some are," he shrugged. "You got here fast."

"I was only half a kilometer away, actually!" Togata chuckled. "Pretty funny, huh?"

"No."

He'd only met up with Togata a few times since that day in April, mostly to check in on both his fitness regimen and the Yuuei application process, and as far as Izuku was concerned, their relationship was nothing more than acquaintances. Togata was friendlier, going so far as to call him "ol' buddy ol' pal" the last time they'd seen one another in person. Izuku hadn't responded.

"I see you haven't changed a bit," the blonde observed, not unkindly. "Ah, well - how's the workout routine treating you?"

"Yes."

"Great!" Togata plowed on. "So - your application's in, right?"

"Yeah."

"They send you any info on the exams yet?"

"Nothing in particular," Izuku shrugged. "Just the date and to be prepared for an entry-level combat simulation."

"Are you prepared for an entry-level combat simulation?" the other prompted. Izuku shrugged again, and Togata pinched the bridge of his nose. "That's what I thought. Is there anything nearby you can use as a weapon?" he went on, changing track, and Izuku took a deep breath, focusing on his Quirk.

There.

With an uncomfortable rattling sound, a dozen dead rats came scampering out of the junkyard that was Dagobah Municipal Beach; when they reached Izuku, their flesh melted off, leaving only their bones intact. Before Togata's horrified eyes, the twelve skeletons fused seamlessly into a one-pound bone rod, which Izuku picked up without hesitation.

"That's what you came up with?" Togata asked, raising one eyebrow at the rat slurry. It occurred to Izuku that he'd never seen what Necromancy was capable of.

"I mean, I could have put a point on it," Izuku reasoned. "But stabbing you probably wouldn't be a good idea."

"That's...that's not what I meant at all," he sighed. "Y'know what - good enough. Take a swing at me. Let me see your form before we get to work on it."

Izuku complied, winding up for a diagonal swipe at Togata's shoulder; he expected the bone rod to phase right through his Quirk-enhanced body, but instead, Togata reached up and blocked the hit with his forearm. Despite Izuku's newfound fitness, the other boy's arm barely budged an inch under the force of the blow, and in the moment before Izuku pulled the rod away, Togata flipped his wrist around to seize the weapon and yanked it straight out of Izuku's hands.

"Predictable start to your attack," he commented. "A windup like that will give anyone who's paying attention time to react. Your swing was a little clumsy, too - oh, and you were staring at my shoulder like you wanted to have it for dinner! After impact, you also kept still for too long, which let me get ahold of your, uh…what do you even call something like this?"

Izuku thought for a moment. "A boner?"

Unexpectedly, Togata laughed. "Wow, Midoriya-san. I didn't think you had it in you to make those kinds of jokes."

Wait, what jokes? Izuku wanted to ask, but his erstwhile sparring partner was already moving on.

"Anyway, I'm not a certified combat instructor, but I am a second year hero student, so I like to think I know a thing or two about fighting," the blonde continued, grinning as he cracked his knuckles. "I promise I'll go easy on ya - just keep an eye on what I'm doing, okay?"

"What are you - " Izuku began, but in an instant, Togata slipped into the ground, and almost at the same time, something poked Izuku hard in the back of the head; whirling on the spot, he had just enough time to register a pair of fingers shooting straight for his eyes to throw his hand in front of his face - only Togata's hand phased harmlessly through Izuku as his other hand, curled into a fist, socked him gently in the midriff.

"In the space of two seconds, I've had three chances to take you down," Togata said cheerfully. "If I had actually hit you on that first poke, you would have been too disoriented to even react to the second hit."

"What you're saying is that I suck at fighting," Izuku concluded, reasonably, ignoring the fact that his senior was now completely naked.

"That's a pretty harsh way to put it. I was in the same position when I was your age, though, so don't worry too much about it."

"Then how did you get into Yuuei?"

"It was kind of dumb luck," the other told him, putting his clothes back on. "The exam that year happened to be a free for all, students versus robots, and because my Quirk lets me phase through physical attacks, I was pretty much invincible against them. All I had to do was reach inside and tear out the wiring and they shut right down. Still wasn't anywhere near the top of the class, but I got in!"

That's true. I don't have to be number one. I just have to get into the top thirty-six, Izuku mused, recalling what he'd read while researching the application process ("Yuuei's hero program admits two classes of twenty per year, with four of those students admitted via recommendation"). That's doable, right?

"What do you suggest I do?" he asked.

"Well, you don't need to be a martial artist, but it would help if you learned the basics. There are gonna be kids there who have been training for this for years, and you at least need to be in between them and the ones who think they'll be able to coast by on having a strong Quirk."

Bakugou Katsuki immediately came to mind.

"So," Togata continued, "Sir says you're pretty analytical. What did you notice about the way I attacked you compared to the way you attacked me?"

"Wait, he still talks about me?" Izuku interrupted, raising one eyebrow, and Togata laughed.

"I mentioned I'd be coming to give you some basic combat instruction over summer break is all. He seemed glad you were taking my advice to heart. I think he was worried you weren't gonna take Yuuei seriously."

Well, that's a valid concern. Up until that evening, I was treating the application like a courtesy instead of a goal. As for the way Togata-san fought… "One, you didn't attack from the front," Izuku noted, holding up one finger. "You went for my blind spot and forced me to waste time turning around as well as getting in a free hit. Two - " a second finger " - you didn't hesitate between attacks, and judging by both your speed and what you said to me about being predictable, you deliberately eliminated any unnecessary movements to minimize any chance that I might be able to react. Three...you were aiming for weak points instead of going for a solid hit, weren't you?"

"If only you fought as fast as you talk," joked Togata. "That's pretty spot on, though. I'm surprised."

"I used to play a lot of fighting games," Izuku blurted out. "So I noticed your lack of telegraphed motion right away. The first and third were a lot more obvious, though."

"Who'd have thought being an otaku would come in handy in combat?" the other teased. "I never could get the hang of those games. It's a lot more fun in real life, anyway."

For the first time, Izuku noticed something guarded in the intern's eyes, but it was gone as soon as it came, and he was left wondering if he'd simply imagined it. Togata was always so open that it hadn't even occurred to Izuku that perhaps he too was simply hiding the things that bothered him, just in a different fashion.

"Anyway," his temporary tutor went on, "it'd be a good idea to figure out how to use your Quirk in combat, too. The bone weapon thing is a good idea if you can work out a way to make it a little less gross."

"Wait, what's wrong with it? It's just a baton."

"Midoriya-san, it's not the weapon that's the problem...it's the fact that you just melted a bunch of dead animals to take their bones. Unless you're planning on becoming an underground hero, you gotta focus a little more on your image, too."

Oh, it's the whole...rat slurry thing. "That's fair," he conceded. "I, uh, don't really think about my Quirk being gross anymore. I guess it is if you think about it, but I had to get over that part a long time ago."

Togata laughed again. "Just try not to rely so much on smothering criminals in decaying flesh. Otherwise I'll feel terrible for whoever your cleanup crew is."

"My...cleanup crew?"

"Yeah, a lot of heroes don't really have the time to clean up after their own fights, so their agencies typically have dedicated teams where one member marks the location of incidents as they happen and the rest clear away debris and stuff."

"Oh, so like Hawks's sidekicks?" Izuku asked.

"I hear he's a special case. He's so fast that he needs a cleanup crew of actual heroes or else he'll leave a trail of chaos and broken windows across Japan. But!" Togata added, "that's beside the point. We need to work out a way for you to fight without rat slurry because one, it's gross, and two, in the event there's nothing dead around, you'll be useless."

Izuku was silent a moment.

"I could punch things?" he suggested.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Togata sighed, though Izuku could see the hint of a smile behind his exasperation. "Midoriya-san, you literally just put together a weapon on the spot using what you had. Is there anything else you could create when nothing's died nearby?"

"Not really. My Quirk is limited to dead things."

"Well, if you think about it, lots of stuff is dead," Togata reasoned. "Like wood - that's just dead trees. Clothes are just made of dead plants and stuff."

"It's not that simple. I can't control everything that used to be alive, just things that were recently alive."

Togata frowned. "How recent is recent?"

"It depends on the subject," Izuku explained. "Insects decay too quickly - I get maybe a day on them before they just fall apart under any kind of force, and another day or two before the cells are too far gone to control. Small animals last anywhere from a week to three weeks depending on the weather. Larger ones…" A pause, then a confession: "I've never reanimated anything larger than a cat," he admitted. "If I were a villain, I would have a lot more opportunities to work this stuff out, but...I couldn't bring myself to hurt an animal like that."

He thought back to the caterpillar, where everything about his social life had started to spiral downhill, and bit his lip.

"I'm glad to hear that, though," Togata offered, and Izuku thought his smile seemed just a bit warmer. "I'd have...well, let's just say if you'd been that kind of person, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Anyway, uh - how about bones?"

"What about them?"

"How long can you work with those?"

"I'm not sure. I've never come across a bone that I couldn't use my Quirk on. They're kind of useless without muscle tissue, though."

Togata pointed to the bone rod.

"It can't be that useless if you chose to use it for a weapon," he pointed out.

"Well, bone is five times stronger than steel by weight," Izuku returned, mildly. "Steel is just a lot denser."

Togata bit back an a lot like you and decided to go for the direct approach. "Why don't you apply to bring in some bone for support equipment?" he asked. "There are plenty of students who have Quirks that need some kind of assistance for general use. One of the guys in my class has a Quirk that lets him use squid ink and tentacles, but the poor dude can't breathe air, so he has to wear a fish bowl on his head. Doesn't stop him being doing hero work or being popular with the girls!"

Wait, a weird Quirk that's popular with girls? Izuku may have been denser than a neutron star, but he was still a fourteen-year-old boy, and the news that such an unpleasant Quirk could actually function as a boon put an idea into his head. "Hey, now that you mention it, girls like kittens and stuff, right?" he blurted out, mind racing a mile a minute in entirely the wrong direction.

"Midoriya-san, please don't bring a box full of dead kittens to class."

Damn, how'd he know? "Right," he said instead. "You're suggesting I bring in a bunch of bones. Where am I gonna get those?"

"A butcher shop?" Togata proposed. "They don't need the bones for the most part. Sometimes they sell the big ones for dogs to chew on, but if you can find a butcher who's willing to let you go dumpster diving, that'd be perfect."

Izuku tapped two fingers against his chin. "That's not a bad idea at all," he agreed, finally catching on. "So I could bring in a pile of bones and use them to fashion weapons?"

"Yep! You could start training right now, even. Just take some of your exercise periods and use them to work out how to handle whatever kind of weapons you're thinking of. You have about seven months to prepare for the entrance exam, so I think you should limit yourself to just one or two types and get good with them. That'll be enough to get you through."

"I've never handled a weapon in my life, though," Izuku told him. "Won't that be an issue?"

"That is a predicament," Togata agreed. "Tell ya what - I'll help you get a handle on the basics first, then ask Sir if he knows any civilian dojos that teach weapon skills. Sound good?"

Izuku shrugged one shoulder. "Sure."


On his way home a couple of hours later (Togata had insisted on sparring until Izuku could land a solid hit, though Izuku felt that his temporary trainer was taking it easy on him), he reflected on just what Togata had suggested.

"Bone weapons, huh?" he murmured aloud. "Never really thought about doing that before."

He'd undoubtedly been influenced by the image of necromancers in media as summoners of the undead, powerful mages who could reanimate swarms of minions from either the corpses of their fallen foes or seemingly nowhere at all, whose death magic could fill ancient bones with an unlife so powerful they could move unaided - but who were weak physically and often vulnerable when some divine warrior inevitably cut down their revenant army.

That necromancer, he was certain, was what had guided his own Quirk usage - but Quirks weren't magic, no matter how close they seemed. Izuku didn't know why Necromancy worked, but he had a handle on how, and it was limited enough that he'd need to fight for himself and use the things he reanimated for support rather than the other way around.

It's not like anything has changed with my Quirk, though, he reminded himself. I shouldn't forget that I can still play the summoner if there are enough dead things around. Switching to Quirk-aided fighting is just how I can cover for the situations where there aren't.

The next morning, he began his search for a butcher shop - quite literally.

"Ni...ku...ya," he muttered, keying in the kana on his phone. The search popped up in an instant, and according to the map, the nearest butcher was roughly half an hour's walk northeast.

With a sigh - I need to go for a run anyway, he reasoned - he headed for the bathroom to fix his bedhead with the tried-and-true method of running a comb through his hair a couple of times. His mother was at work, so he left a note on the table: going to get bones, be back later.

In retrospect, it was not a reassuring note.

After double-checking that he'd indeed put on pants, Izuku slipped on his trainers and took off at a light jog, double-checking the map on his phone at every turn to make sure he didn't get lost and end up in another dumpster. To his relief, he actually made it to the shop without having to turn around (or getting turned around), but that relief changed to disbelief when he saw the neon CLOSED glaring an angry red at him from the door.

Well, that's a pain, but I can't exactly blame the butcher. It's not like he's obligated to be here whenever I want him to. Izuku had only just accepted his defeat when a voice like a thousand knives grinding through wet meat broke through the humid summer morning and straight into his inner ears.

"The hell ya buyin' a pork chop at five-thirty in the morning for, kid?"

"No," he replied, before he'd even processed what was happening. Immediately, he kicked himself - what if they know another butcher who's open? "Uh, sorry. I'm not looking for pork chops."

"Well, I got plenty of other chops, too. I usually get here early to set everything up before I open, but I can't turn down a kid who woke up before dawn on summer vacation just to check out the shop."

"Wait, you're the butcher?" he asked, turning around for the first time that day. "That's great. Give me your bones, please."

The butcher, a hulking woman with light hair in a traditional bun and a jaw square enough to be used as a carpenter's level, raised an eyebrow. "Only if you give me your meat. Then we'll be even."

"Aren't you supposed to have meat here already?" Izuku asked, baffled. "I don't have any meat. I don't think most people carry meat around." Wait, do they?

To his surprise, she just laughed, a booming laugh that carried around the block and echoed off the storefront. "Relax, kid, I'm makin' a joke. You looking for stock bones?" she asked, strong fingers fishing in her apron pocket; a moment later, she extracted a brass key and, with surprising dexterity, unlocked the door to the shop with it. "Ladies first."

Izuku waited patiently for her to go inside. When she didn't, he assumed there'd been some misunderstanding. "I'm a boy," he informed her.

The woman erupted in a shrieking cackle that undoubtedly broke several noise ordinances. "That's the joke, kid. Just give me one sec and I'll see if I've got what you're lookin' for."

He waited patiently again as she strolled through the doorway, her muscular frame barely making it through. After a couple of minutes, she came back, carrying a brown paper bag with some unpleasant stains on the bottom.

"This what you're after?" she asked, holding it up. Izuku accepted it in silence and looked inside, but the bones she'd found were far too small for his purposes.

"Do you have anything bigger?" he returned, offering the bag, and she frowned as if he'd said something strange or unpleasant.

"How big are we talkin'?"

"Do you have any femurs?"

"Kid, you're not messin' with me, are ya?" The butcher seemed wary, but Izuku couldn't for the life of him figure out why.

"No," he said plainly. "I just need components to create a boner with."

There was a moment of stunned silence before she reached for the phone. Izuku thought she might be contacting another butcher in the area, so he said nothing until she said "Hello, police?" at which point it clicked for him.

"Wait!" he yelped. An encounter with the police is the last thing I need! "I'm not going to hurt anyone with it! I'm applying to Yuuei next year and I need it to practice fighting for the entrance exam!"

"What kind of fighting are you doing!?" she hollered back, a mixture of confusion and horror on her face.

"Just basic techniques with a staff, why?"

"How does that involve - what you just said!?"

"My Quirk lets me manipulate dead matter, so I thought I'd be able to use it to turn bones into a staff that I can use my Quirk on...I swear I'm not planning on hurting anyone with it!"

Comprehension dawned on the butcher's face, and like Togata, she burst out laughing. "Kid, you gotta find a new name for that weapon. Never mind," she added into the phone. "I'm pretty sure he's harmless - just a little too innocent."

Still wondering what exactly was funny, Izuku decided that he'd just go with the flow. "So, do you have any?"

"'Course I do - meat's gotta come from somewhere, and the bones can be used for other things. Regular folk don't usually buy the big ones - it's usually restaurants n' all that - so I don't keep 'em on display. How many ya need?"

Izuku thought about it. "Can I see them first?"

Begrudgingly, she allowed him to follow her into the back room, where various cuts of meat hung or dried; in the far corner, by the back door, he spotted a large plastic container full to the brim with neatly-arranged bones of a fairly uniform size. Unprompted, he reached for one, but was stopped by a firm hand on his shoulder. Another appeared in front of his face, offering him a pair of disposable latex gloves.

"In case you decide you don't want 'em, I don't want 'em gettin' contaminated by anything," the butcher explained, tone not unkind.

"Oh. Sorry."

Hands now covered, he pulled out the first bone; it was much heavier than he'd anticipated, but not difficult to lift, and with the butcher's permission, he placed it on one of the metal countertops at the edges of the room. He placed a second bone at the end of the first, then a third at the end of that one before he was satisfied.

The bone was usable, strong, different from the dusty or decaying material he was used to working with. Carefully, he separated any last remains of flesh or fat or organic slime from the bone, letting it fall to the cold steel with a series of wet spattering sounds, then took a deep breath of air tinged with a scent he could only describe as meat. Five fingers spread and pointed at the bones, he gave the command:

Fuse.

Before the butcher's disbelieving eyes, the three bones blurred, shifted, melted, and by the time she'd processed what she was seeing, they'd formed a single, long rod, tapered at either end. Satisfied, Izuku picked the weapon up, a smile spreading across his face, and gave it an experimental twirl in the open space of the butcher shop.

Perfect.

It wasn't a permanent weapon, but it was good for what he intended to use it for, and that was what mattered. Only when the butcher cleared her throat did he realize that he'd have to pay for the bones he'd just fused.

"That's fifty-four hundred yen, kid. Each."

Shit. "They're that much?" he asked, his elation vanishing on the spot. His allowance, while scarcely spent, was not high enough to withstand a sudden hit of over sixteen thousand yen.

Fortunately for Izuku, the butcher was a kind woman. "I'll let you have them for free under one condition," she chuckled. "That Quirk of yours - can it separate meat from the bone?"

"Yes," he replied, a little confused. "It works on a cellular level, so - "

"How old are you?"

"I turned fifteen two weeks ago."

"Oh, perfect. That means I can legally hire you."

To his credit, Izuku managed to grasp her intentions. "So you'll let me have the bones if I work off the money they cost?" he guessed, and she nodded.

"If you wanna work here part-time, I'll pay ya for it. Lord knows I could use another hand around here. My Quirk makes me a whiz with a knife, but even I'm not enough to keep up with everything sometimes. I told ya, I come in early to get set up, but I'm willing to let those bones go if you help me out."

As it turned out, "setting up" mainly involved slicing the day's prime cuts and arranging them up front in a way that was visually appealing. To Izuku, this was simple work; all the butcher had to do was lay out the unprocessed meat in front of him, and within a couple of minutes, he'd managed to extract the bones, fat and offal, leaving only a pile of perfectly-cut steaks. The first time he did this, his erstwhile business partner clapped her hands with glee.

"Damn, kid, you've really got a knack."

"I've had a lot of practice," he shrugged. "I've never really had any friends, so I've had a lot of time to myself."

"How come?" she asked him, bluntly, and he smiled a little.

"You're the first person who's seen my Quirk and hasn't thought it was disgusting. Who'd want to be friends with a kid who can raise the dead?"

The butcher was silent, and when he glanced back at her, her expression was unreadable. A little confused, Izuku decided not to address it, choosing instead to lay the steaks out in the display case up front.

The sun had started to peek over the horizon by the time they finished, but the butcher assured him that she'd have been working well into the morning without his help and let him go for the day. "I can't make you hang around, since you're not legally workin' here, but you've saved me a hell of a lot of time," she said. "Just come back sometime, alright? I'll have a place for ya if you're lookin' for work."

"Okay. Thank you very much."

He bowed respectfully, then took his leave, hoping that he'd be able to make it home in time to see his mother off to work. The bone staff, separated into three pieces and tied together with a length of twine, rattled in his hand as he walked, and he couldn't help but laugh a little.

In just three and a half months, his drifting, aimless life had taken a turn towards heroism - something he'd previously treated as an idle fantasy - and despite the problems it had caused him in the past, he couldn't help but feel glad that his Quirk was unusual enough to attract the attention of one of All Might's former sidekicks. Overall, he felt better than he could remember feeling in a long time, and as he went to send a photograph of his new equipment to Togata, it also occurred to him that for the first time, he had someone he could - quite possibly - call a friend.

After a moment's deliberation, he added a message to the photograph.

Thank you.

Izuku didn't hesitate to send the message. It was long overdue.

Chapter Text

 

For the second time in thirty seconds, Izuku's backside slammed into the padded dojo floor.

"You got some nerve comin' in here with a weapon like that when you ain't even able to use it," the instructor grunted, offering him a hand. Izuku accepted, and the stocky man pulled him to his feet with a grin. "We're gonna hafta start with the real basics for a greenhorn like you."

Izuku frowned, patting his forehead to ensure there were no horns there, but said nothing. Perhaps he'd simply misunderstood.

He'd replaced some of his exercise schedule with training, which was exercise in its own right - getting up off the floor every forty seconds was making his legs burn. Today was his first day, and he'd brought the - the bone staff, he corrected himself, having decided that the name "Boner" was more trouble than it was worth for reasons he remained unable to figure out - along to get a feel for it. He figured it was best to train with the weapon he would be using in the exam; if he were to use a standard wooden staff, the change in weight could throw him off on exam day. Additionally, he could modify or repair the weapon using his Quirk in case some aspect of it felt wrong or it sustained damage.

Unfortunately, it had drawn quite a lot of attention upon his entry into the dojo, as it wasn't every day that someone walked in with a bo-staff made of reconstructed bone. To be perfectly accurate, it wasn't any day that someone walked in with such a thing, and the instructor assigned to Izuku (when he'd filled out all the paperwork and paid the membership fee) had been intensely curious as to just who he was.

Despite handing Izuku his own ass on a silver platter, the stumpy man turned out to be quite kind, patiently teaching his latest protege the correct way to hold his weapon while tactfully avoiding physical contact with it. (Izuku, for his part, had cleaned the staff thoroughly with soap and water, but he understood the man's caution.)

"Ya might be greener'n your hair, but ya learn quick," came the compliment, when Izuku managed to deflect an attack for the first time. "Stance helps, doesn't it?"

"Yes," Izuku agreed. "Bracing myself with my back leg...I should have thought of that earlier. It would have helped me keep my balance."

They practiced and sparred (both armed and unarmed) a while longer, and by the time Izuku left the dojo a couple of hours later, he was sweating and bruised - but also a little proud.

He visited the dojo for training as often as possible, making sure to take at least a day between lessons to let the information "sink in" and practice on his own. Week by week, he could tell that he was improving, and a day before the start of winter break, he managed to get a hit in on his instructor for the first time.

"Shit," he said, a moment after the weapon made contact with a burly upper arm, but the man barely moved, and after a couple of seconds, Izuku realized he'd started laughing.

"I'll be damned. Good job, kid. I bet you'll send any bullies at your new high school runnin' away scared stiff."

Are there bullies at Yuuei? Izuku wondered. I thought they had a good reputation. "Yes," he replied, on instinct, and when his instructor fixed him with an expectant glance, he decided to elaborate. "Uh - thank you," he said instead. "It means a lot to me. Your compliment, I mean."

Another round of guffaws. "I know yer not a talker. Don't try and force it," the man told him. "Sometimes ya gotta let yer actions do the talkin'. Some folk like t' do that more'n others. Better to be a man of action than one who talks all the time but never does nothin'.

Izuku frowned. "I want to make friends at Yuuei, though," he said plainly.

"Those'll come with time. Yer goin' into the hero course, yeah?"

He'd been rather tight-lipped about his motives for joining the dojo, but here and there, Izuku had let a hint slip. It wasn't a stretch to conclude that a young man with a weapon built for his Quirk was interested in becoming a hero.

"I'm going to try."

"Ya won't just try - you are gonna make it. A kid who's willin' t' put this kinda effort in just for the chance stands out. Bet you anything there's dozens of slackers thinkin' they can coast by on shootin' lightnin' or laser beams. Effort shows, n' any teacher worth their salt can see it a mile away." This declaration was followed by a grandfatherly wink, and Izuku felt the little bubble of pride he'd begun to carry in his chest grow.

The next day, his classmates were almost uncontrollable. A combination of desperation for their break to begin and anxiety over their second-semester exam scores had them frothing at the mouths all through Japanese and Algebra. The only students exempt from this were Izuku - who, having no social life, had always had spare time to study - and Bakugou Katsuki, the class's natural genius. Even without studying, his marks were never far behind Izuku's, something about which he never missed a chance to gloat.

"Hey, Deku. How long did you have to study to solve this problem? Imagining your shitty ass wasting so much time on this simple shit makes me feel sick."

Izuku ignored the taunting, choosing to pack his bag in silence. It was raining again, and while he'd once again forgotten his umbrella, he had remembered something else. A small smile spread across his face as he spotted the separated bone staff, its pieces arranged like a bandolier around the inside of his bag. I can probably use this to make an umbrella frame, he figured. Then some leaves for a canopy. I should think about carrying other materials with me, but for now, this will be enough to get me to the mall for okaa-san's present.

"You listening, shitty Deku?" Bakugou interjected, barreling into his thoughts like a furious, piss-soaked badger. Izuku shook his head.

"Not really. You're worse at holding a conversation than I am."

He hadn't even realized what was coming out of his mouth until he'd already said it and their classmates stopped to stare. Nobody stood up to Bakugou Katsuki, least of all the outcast that was Midoriya Izuku - the weirdo, the loner, the caterpillar kid. Not one of them stopped to consider how he'd ended up that way as they held their collective breath, eager for a smackdown, but Izuku simply wasn't having it.

"You wanna die, Deku?"

"No," Izuku said mildly. "Kacchan, if you're trying to make conversation, you're doing it wrong." He was about to repeat something Togata had told him - if you can't think of anything to say, try to get the other person to talk and play off of them! - but Bakugou's temper was long lost, and the first explosions popped and crackled their way across his palms.

"You really think you can talk shit to me now?" he snarled, teeth bared, eyes narrowed, and Izuku stood up, expression sharpening.

"I just want to leave in peace. I have something I need to do. Please leave me be."

He was fairly certain a few of the people listening had never even heard his voice before.

Izuku had always been one to bow and scrape before his former friend - though those days were long past, he couldn't quite forget how close he'd once been to the raging beast in front of him. Even after he'd started training for Yuuei, he'd kept responding to the blonde's taunts, insults and threats the same way he always had; it hadn't been until the last couple of weeks that a seed of hope, of confidence, had planted itself in his chest and grown from the pride he'd felt welling up there as his martial ability developed alongside his newfound fitness.

Perhaps if he'd simply been going home he'd have let the taunting slide, but even for something as simple as a Christmas present, Izuku couldn't bring himself to let someone else ruin his plans to make someone happy who deserved it for taking care of him all these years.

Even though I've never been an ideal son...even though our family has always been just the two of us...okaa-san never stopped supporting me, no matter how hard it was on her. Am I really going to let someone else send me home feeling shitty again?

He supposed Christmas shopping was odd grounds on which to take a stand against a lifetime of bullying, but he'd already made his decision. No turning back now.

"Wonder if they'll give you a discount after I fuck up your face?"

Izuku knew what was coming a second before it came, and with reflexes borne of months of hard work, he shifted his body to the right, lunging forward to cross his right hand over his own body and grab Bakugou's wrist as an explosive punch struck air where Izuku's head had been a moment prior. The pop of the blast sent some emotion shuddering through his body, and before he could properly identify it, he'd brought up his left fist to sock Bakugou squarely in the gut. Well-muscled as the blonde was, he was still unprepared, and the air in his lungs escaped in a sputtering cough.

What Izuku felt was anger.

"Stop it!" he demanded. "Just - cut it out, Kacchan!" Why? What the hell is it that keeps pushing you to do shit like this?

"Die!" was the response he got, but as another explosion - larger this time - snapped in his hands, Bakugou winced. "The fuck?" he growled, turning his palms towards his own face. "Deku, what the fuck - "

"The calluses on your palms keep you from feeling the effects of your Quirk, right?" Izuku asked. His voice was quiet, one hand now raised to point five fingers at Bakugou. "They help me use mine, too. They're just dead skin, after all." Maybe you'll start to understand what it's like to have a Quirk used to hurt you.

With that same hand, he pointed to the floor, where two small mounds of dead, callused skin had neatly detached themselves from Bakugou's palms to repose peacefully upon the tile below. Angry red weals sprang up in their place, and Izuku knew it would be a while before the skin would toughen again. Jaw set, he picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder, determined to leave before things escalated any further - until a sudden impact with the back of his head sent him reeling, pain throbbing through his skull.

A perfectly normal punch, no explosions added.

Izuku turned to face the second punch, knowing that Bakugou wasn't one to let up after a single hit, and managed to react in time to swipe the incoming fist away with his own forearm; the blow grazed his ear, and he bit his lip, flinching a little from the pain. The third hit, an overhead swing, came hard and fast, but instead of trying to retreat away from the blow, Izuku threw himself into it.

His balance is off, and the pivot for his swing is just beneath his shoulder at the back, he noted. It's safer to be well within the range of his arm than to be at the edge of it. The impact only gets stronger further from the pivot point, and I might be able to interrupt him like this.

Caught off-guard, Bakugou stumbled as Izuku's shoulder rammed into his chest. The latter knew he would soon recover - he was a good fighter, but anyone could fall victim to the element of surprise The blonde might have been brash and arrogant, but he wasn't stupid enough to keep underestimating someone who'd bested him even once.

Even so, this is nothing compared to sensei. He's fighting in a style I'm familiar with. I can do this.

As his opponent's other fist shot up towards Izuku, he struck Bakugou in the face with an angled uppercut from the right, sending him reeling backwards. It hurt his hand, but he knew he'd dealt enough damage to force Bakugou to reconsider before things got uglier.

"I'm leaving."

It was all he could think to say before he strode from the room.

Bakugou Katsuki did not follow him that day.


When they finally returned to school after the break, the first thing Izuku noticed was that Bakugou seemed to be avoiding him. Whether or not this was a direct consequence of their confrontation that day before break was unclear, but Izuku didn't particularly care.

During his dojo sessions, he tried his hand at a couple of different types of weapons, using his Quirk to reconfigure the bone-staff on the fly; he knew he wouldn't be able to get through the exam using just a staff, and Togata had suggested showcasing some degree of creativity with his Quirk. In the end, he found himself most comfortable using a polearm-style weapon, sculpting one end of the staff into a blade while keeping its weight evenly distributed. This wasn't unexpected - a polearm was only a minor modification away from the weapon he'd spent the past seven months practicing with.

It would help a lot to be able to use different types of weapons, but it's smarter to stick with something I'm capable with, he reasoned. What matters right now is getting through, after all. They're not looking for a self-trained hero - that would be ideal, but the exams are designed to showcase students who have the potential to be heroes.

As January crept into February, bringing with it the nastiest bout of winter frost, Izuku trimmed down his exercise time in favour of study time. The written exams weren't on the level of academic institutions like Shuchiin (where anything less than full marks or a rich family meant rejection) but heroes were expected to possess at least some level of intellect. Very rarely were exceptions made for the dimwitted; Izuku had heard that All Might was one such exception due to his overwhelmingly powerful Quirk, but he also found it difficult to imagine the greatest hero in the history of the world being an idiot.

Besides, better safe than sorry.

The day before the exams, their homeroom teacher asked the question every single student there had been waiting weeks to hear.

"How many of you are applying to Yuuei Academy?"

Without fail, every hand in the room shot up besides Izuku's. He raised his slowly, the prospect of the exams more terrifying than exhilarating. Aren't any of you worried in the slightest? he wondered, surveying his classmates. Your Quirk lets you magnetize ants. Yours allows you to precisely fold fitted sheets. How is that any different from being Quirkless when it comes to being a hero?

He supposed it didn't matter. They'd get a healthy dose of realism during the practical tomorrow.

Sleep came fitfully to him that night; it wasn't until well after midnight that Izuku finally drifted off, and it was well before the sun had fully risen when the sharp screech of his alarm clock dragged him back into the waking world.

"How come when I need to wake up early, I can't sleep, but when I have the next day off, I fall asleep before I hit the pillow?" he groused aloud, forcing himself to stand and shower. As usual, he didn't make much of an attempt to fix his hair beyond combing the knots out of it and letting it dry; the few times his mother had made him try, it wound up springing back into a spiky mess within the hour, and she'd since given up.

As hungry as he wasn't, breakfast was necessary, and by now he was accustomed to eating without an appetite. After wolfing down what he could - some leftover vegetables and a (strangely crunchy) egg - Izuku changed into his uniform and packed his school-issue tracksuit into his backpack alongside the deconstructed bone-staff.

I did file a support equipment request, right? He had to think about that one; it was entirely possible he simply thought he'd done it and subsequently forgotten to actually do it. Thankfully, the confirmation email sitting in his inbox was very much real, so he heaved a sigh of relief. Showing up with a bag full of surprise bones sounded much like something he would do.

Before he left, Izuku took a moment to leave a note - Yuuei's entrance exam is today. I'll call you when I can - then paused before he reached the front door. After thinking on it, he doubled back into the kitchen, picked up the pen, and added a postscript.

Osewa ni narimasu. Thank you for all that you have done for me.

Feeling better, he made for the train station.


Yuuei's main campus was, in a word, huge. Even the stoic, stone-faced Izuku couldn't resist a few wide-eyed blinks as he stepped through the front gate into the sprawling compound.

Ahead of him lay the administrative building, where his fellow examinees and prospective classmates trudged up a flight of marble steps for orientation, but he'd arrived early enough that he had a couple of minutes to step aside and survey his surroundings. Not thirty seconds of that time passed before someone tapped lightly on his shoulder; glancing back at them, Izuku was greeted with an open, honest smile set in a round face framed by brown hair.

"Might wanna get in while ya can," the girl told him. "We'll have lots of time to look around once we get in, y'know!"

A little dazed by her positivity, Izuku frowned. "Only thirty-eight - " he began, then stopped, remembering the conversation techniques he'd gone over with Togata the last time they'd met.

"Wait, why do I need to learn how to talk to people for the entrance exam?"

"You really think a future hero can afford to go around giving one-word answers and being depressingly realistic? They'll evaluate you based on how well you get along with the other examinees, too!"

"Oh."

"Just oh?"

"...You're right. I'll give it a shot."

"That's a start."

"You sound confident," he tried instead, offering a smile he didn't really know how to form. To his relief, the girl actually laughed, beaming brighter than the sun behind her.

"Well, if I came in without believing I could make it, why try in the first place?" she countered.

"That's fair," he said, turning and making for the administrative building before remembering that cutting off a conversation by walking away was rude. To his relief, the girl fell into step next to him, taking his departure as let's go rather than okay bye. "I thought we were early, though."

"Early's on time, on time's late, late's fired," came the return. "Well, for us, not accepted. It's somethin' my dad likes to say," she added, seeing Izuku's brow quirk. "My parents run a construction company, so I grew up around business stuff."

"My mother's a nurse, so I grew up learning how to take disposable gloves off properly," he blurted out. "And, uh, I can wash my hands in exactly twenty seconds."

To his surprise, she burst into a fit of giggles, and Izuku felt some unfamiliar sensation stir in his chest. Unfamiliar, but not bad, he decided, allowing himself a smile - a real one, not the awkward baring of teeth he'd fudged earlier - and looking up at the building's façade as they walked up the steps together.

"Oh yeah? I learned how to load a lumber truck when I was six," the girl prodded, still grinning.

"I once fed a whole boiled egg to a goose at the hospital pond."

"Wait, what?"

"I was eating ramen," he explained, not picking up on why exactly she was confused. "I didn't like eggs much when I was a kid. My Quirk and animal products don't go too well together."

"Oh, what's your Quirk?" she asked, perking up.

Shit. That went in the wrong direction. What if I tell her and she reacts like everyone else? Izuku bit his lip, trying to think of a way to divert the question elsewhere, but nothing came to mind. "Uh. Sorry, I - people don't like my Quirk," he finally admitted, looking anywhere but at his erstwhile conversation partner as they made for the auditorium.

"Why not?" the girl went on, eyes wide and innocent. "Is it dangerous?"

"Yeah - no? Uh. It's just creepy, I guess."

"How can a Quirk be creepy? Does it let you peek up skirts or somethin'? Or do you turn into a big spider? That sounds kinda cool, actually. The spider one, not the peepin' one."

"It's Necromancy," he sighed. "Dead stuff."

"Ooh, like zombies?" the girl went on, completely unfazed; on the contrary, there was a spark of enthusiasm in her eyes that reminded him very much of Togata's expression whenever Izuku made some kind of creative breakthrough on his Quirk usage or social skills. "That sounds cool, though! I bet a lot of villains wouldn't be able to do anything against a zombie - I hear you gotta go for the head, right? Not that my parents let me watch horror movies at home."

Izuku shook his head. "No. But also yes. I've never used it on a person before, so I don't know. I can manipulate dead matter at a cellular level, so I can trigger muscle tissue and 'reanimate' things, but I got chewed out for it by a pro hero last summer, so I've been trying to learn to use it to add on to my own abilities instead of pretending I'm a summoner or something."

"Wait, how'd ya get chewed out?"

Unfortunately for her curiosity, at that exact moment, they stepped into the darkened auditorium, and within a matter of seconds, they'd been separated by a tired-looking proctor who handed each of them a temporary identification card and sent them on their way to different sections of the room.

The last he saw of her he saw was her cheerful smile and wave.

Orientation was, as Togata had warned him, an excruciatingly dull affair in which a rigid woman with a powerfully soporific voice droned through a word-by-word reading of the Yuuei orientation slideshow, which was available online year-round and which Izuku (and, judging from the number of sleeping examinees, at least half of the others in the room) had already gone over multiple times. He listened anyway, just to make sure she wasn't throwing in any new information, but there was none.

The written exam wasn't particularly difficult; the biggest challenge Izuku faced was a wrist cramp that struck him halfway through and forced him to use his left hand to write. Fortunately, he'd developed a habit of answering the long-form questions first, so the messiest of his handwriting was relegated to a few scattered characters and lopsided multiple-choice circles.

They took a break for lunch afterward, and it occurred to him to search for the girl from earlier, thinking perhaps she'd come alone and would (like him) appreciate the company, but by the time he managed to spot her in the crowded cafeteria, it seemed she'd made fast friends with a small group of girls their age. He turned away, searching for a seat and completely missing the fact that she'd noticed him and was, even as Izuku scanned the empty tables by the far wall, frantically waving to get his attention.

They returned to the orientation room for an introduction to the practical exam, but this time the speaker was someone far more charismatic, and he noticed a few of his fellow students perk up at the sight of the man now standing behind the podium. Granted, a two-speed desk fan would have demonstrated a greater variation in tone and cadence than the woman from earlier, but that didn't change the fact that they were now being lectured by the one and only Voice Hero, Present Mic.

"Hey you guuyyyss!" he hollered, by way of an introduction, then struck a dramatic pose with a hand cupped around his ear. When there was no response, he frowned. "Seems like today's company isn't very electric!"

Still no response. Izuku had the distinct impression he'd missed something.

"Al-right!" Present Mic continued, a comically large smile springing back onto his face. (The fact that it looked natural was, Izuku thought, exponentially more disturbing than his sudden change of mood.) "In just a few minutes, it'll be time for the annual Yuuei Academy entrance exams! Who's pumped!?"

Nobody was pumped.

"This test's as easy as they get, listeners! One - you head on down to our training grounds! Two - go Plus Ultra and smash some robots! You're gonna run into four different kinds: one-pointers, two-pointers, three-pointers, and zero-pointers!"

This seems a little too simple, Izuku observed. I've spent the past year training my body and learning to fight so I can one-on-one some robots? Plus, isn't this skewed too heavily towards students with combat Quirks? Hell, if I wasn't allowed to bring in support materials, I wouldn't even be able to get in...there's no way I could fight something made of steel with my bare hands. On the flip side, wouldn't someone like Kacchan have too much of an advantage? What if you've got a flashy Quirk but you're a complete idiot?

Unfortunately, Izuku didn't have time to break down the implications of the exam during the allotted 10 minutes for questions. As Present Mic went on, more and more students turned to murmur amongst themselves, and audible shock rippled through the crowd when he announced that this year's exam was themed around a villain attack, and that volunteers from the Hero Association would be playing the part of innocent civilians, feeble and unable to fight off the robots themselves. In addition, at random points during the exam, structures would collapse to simulate collateral damage or a natural disaster, essentially ensuring that the prospective hero students were always on their toes rather than simply searching for the next robot to smash or the next "civilian" to "save".

That's more reasonable. Now people with Quirks better suited to rescue work have room to show their skills, and the students with combat Quirks have to think on their feet instead of just blowing things up.

Questions were called shortly thereafter, and several dozen hands shot into the air.

"Why are the zero-pointers worth zero points if they're so hard to take down?" a girl asked, after a boy sheepishly requested directions to the restroom.

"Great question, listener! That's because, like the name, there's zero point in fighting them! It's important to know when to prioritize escape over victory!"

Something about those words struck Izuku as a little ominous. Why are they trying to teach us that kind of lesson in the exam? he mused. That doesn't seem like the kind of thing you'd pick up in passing just from running into a difficult enemy. Maybe it's some kind of comprehension test where you get bonus points for responding properly instead of stubbornly trying to win a fight where you're outmatched.

Feeling more confident, he trailed along at the rear of the mass of students heading to the training grounds. As they neared the simulated city, his heart started to pound in his chest; the sheer height of some of the buildings there rivaled Tokyo's tallest office blocks, and he shuddered a little at the thought of this concrete jungle collapsing in on itself.

They were split into two groups, A and B, and sent to opposite ends of the training ground, where they were shown to changing rooms where they could assemble and put on any support equipment they'd brought, on top of changing into their tracksuits or - in some unfortunate cases - homemade hero costumes. Izuku had settled on his usual dark grey fitted tracksuit; loose clothes would only impede his movement, and the color...well, I just like the color.

He wasn't surprised to find that not many students had brought support equipment, and he was used to being stared at, so it didn't at all bother him when all eyes found the bone weapon he'd assembled in the locker rooms.

Do not call it a boner, he had to remind himself, approaching the steel gate that separated the examinees from the training ground.

"Al-right, listeners!" Present Mic's voice boomed; he'd chosen to forgo using the speaker system in favour of simply amplifying his voice with his Quirk, ensuring it reached every corner of the training grounds. "When I say go, those gates will open, and that'll be your cue to head on in! You have one hour! Go!"

Most of the students had, presumably, been expecting a countdown and were stunned for a moment when the gate flew open with a bang, but there were plenty who did not, and Izuku - ever-prepared - was among them, running full-pelt for the test that would determine his future. Predictably, those with movement Quirks quickly gained an edge, leaping and bounding ahead of the others, but that was fine, he'd be fine. First through the gate doesn't mean first in the exam, he reminded himself. Where can go?

The faster students ran for the center of the training ground, and Izuku figured they believed the highest concentration of both robots and rescue targets to be smack in the middle of the arena, with the sparsest distribution around the edges. Whether or not that's the case, I'll take the middle ground and head just a little further in, he reasoned. If things do get more intense at the center, then I'll be somewhere that I can handle, and if there's an even distribution of robots and victims across this entire city block, at least the showoffs are out of my way.

Turning into an alleyway, Izuku found himself face-to-face with his first opponent; judging from its massive arms, it was a one-pointer, but despite its bulk, it had a crippling, obvious vulnerability.

This stupid dipshit's a fucking unicycle.

Years of online gaming and exposure to Bakugou Katsuki had not been without their effects on Midoriya Izuku.

Without hesitating, he leaned left, dodging the hook it threw his way; the metal fist whooshed heavily through the air where his head had been, and as it reeled back for a second attack, he used his Quirk to shift the bulk of his weapon to the head, driving it hard into the bottom corner of its body and sending it sprawling backwards. Before it could recover its balance, his spear punctured the flat plate on the underside of the body and tore through the robot's fragile insides to emerge from the top of its head.

One.

This was good. He was doing fine. He'd run into an enemy and, thanks to the training he'd done over the past months, hadn't hesitated in his first "real" fight. Then -

"Help! Please, oh god - help me!"

Caught off-guard for a moment, Izuku wondered if one of his fellow examinees had already gotten into trouble, then remembered what Present Mic had mentioned about Hero Association volunteers.

That's gotta be one of the actors playing a disaster or villain attack victim. Nodding to himself, he took off in the direction of the yell, bracing the spear against his chest as he ran. The metallic clank-clank-clank of a robot's footsteps reached him before he saw her, a woman in her early twenties in a purple cardigan and white skirt, her long brown hair streaming behind her as she ran full-tilt for the safety of the "hero" that was Izuku.

"Please! Hero, I'm begging you!"

Lady, this benefits me as much as it does you, he retorted, shifting his focus to her assailant - a two-pointer, judging from its appearance. Four plate-armored legs gave it the agility and balance that the one-pointers lacked, though its main body was much smaller, trading power for mobility. This, Izuku knew, would be more challenging; lacking a normal combat Quirk, he'd developed a fighting style based on fast, precise strikes rather than bulldozing his way through obstacles and opponents.

To test his latest adversary, he went for a straightforward stab to the head, and sure enough, the robot brought up one of its legs, deflecting the blow and sending a jab at his midriff with the other leg as it reared back. He backstepped, bracing himself against the concrete, and the machine's steel limb met only air.

It can both parry and riposte against anything I throw at it with simple spear techniques. This thing isn't going to be fazed by what I'm doing right now, and it's not like I can knock it off balance or rely on it having an opening. At the same time...I'm not limited to a spear, am I?

Unconsciously, a grin worked its way onto his face. It had blocked with one leg, and it wouldn't be able to strike back with the other if he was on the same side as the blocking leg. Furthermore, he knew exactly the kind of weapon that he could use to facilitate the kind of rapid movement it would take to put himself in a position to move past its defenses.

When Izuku came at the two-pointer again, he swung a scythe over his head; as expected, the right leg came up to block the blow, and the scythe tip glanced off of the steel plate, but this was exactly what Izuku had been counting on; rather than retreating, Izuku pulled hard on the scythe, hooking it behind the plate and kicking hard off the ground to vault himself onto the robot's back. The sudden, unsupported weight sent it crashing to the ground, and even as its tail lunged for Izuku, he shifted the scythe blade back into the haft of the weapon and drove the bone-spear through the robot's head just as the impact of the tail threw him several feet.

That's embarrassing. To make matters worse, the woman he'd "saved" had stuck around to observe his fight, and he felt himself flush as he rubbed the spot on his lower back where the steel scorpion tail had rammed him.

"What are you waiting for?" he called to her, before she could say anything. "Run! Get out of here!" Put the clipboard away! Don't write down that I let it hit me in the ass! As he turned to retrieve the bone spear, however, a low rumbling shook the earth around the two of them, and a moment later, a three-pointer burst from the side of the building closest to her; it was larger than both the one- and two-pointers, sporting a heavily-armored body held up by three thick legs and bearing two large heads on top.

And how in the hell am I supposed to fight that? he wanted to scream. The two-pointer had been more challenging than the one-pointer, but this was on another level entirely; he wasn't even sure how he could get high enough in the air to even strike at its smart car-sized heads.

Bakugou, he was certain, was experiencing no difficulties right now.

Unlike the last two robots, the three-pointer didn't hesitate to resort to ranged attacks, likely as a byproduct of its sheer bulk, and Izuku found himself staring down the loaded chambers of a missile bay -

He had exactly two seconds to react before the ground where he'd been standing turned into a cracked crater.

Holy shit, is this even legal? I don't remember signing a waiver that said "sure, go ahead and shoot explosive missiles at me".

Still, he knew this wasn't a battle he could afford to fight, at least not with his current range, and he found himself lamenting his lack of foresight. He wasn't yet at a level where he could do something like run up one of its legs or use mid-flight missiles as stepping-stones (that was what pro heroes did, right?), but he was at a level where he could help the woman behind him outrun the robot.

"Do I just have to get you to the gate?" he asked, bluntly.

"There's a mock medical site in the middle of the training ground," she replied, breaking character for a moment. "They didn't tell you?"

Izuku shook his head, but before he could say anything else, there was a mechanical whirring and a series of loud clicks from the three-pointer. A glance told him that the robot had reloaded its missile bay, but rather than firing again, it began crawling across the cracked street towards the two of them at an alarming speed, its bulk swaying unpleasantly from one side to the other as it tore up the asphalt. Thinking it was still focused on him, he took off for the outside of the arena, thinking that he'd be able to give the woman enough reprieve to escape, but no - its focus was solely on her, and with a frustrated huff, Izuku changed direction mid-stride and tackled her out of the way just as a massive claw slammed into the pavement, dragging the thing's entire body forward and bringing its two heads close to the ground. When Izuku helped his erstwhile rescue target to her feet, the three-pointer's attention shifted back to him, and the missile bay lit up again.

That's it, he realized. They won't use ranged attacks so long as they're targeting the Association volunteers, or if they're too close for the attacks to be accurate. That must be why both of the robots from earlier resorted to close combat from the start. I guess the volunteers have something on their person that tells whatever tracking system these robots have to ease up.

He weighed his options for a moment. Using a civilian as bait wasn't heroic, but at the same time, if he could show that he'd figured out the robots' targeting mechanisms this quickly, would he receive any kind of extra consideration? It was a gamble, but it was the only way he had to win this fight right now.

Leaping away from both the woman and the three-pointer, he managed to avoid the second barrage by rolling as he landed, and they shot straight over him to detonate on the side of what looked like a grocery store. As he'd expected, the robot changed targets again, and as it hauled itself towards the volunteer once more, Izuku was forced to repeat his tackling save - only this time, he got to his feet, leaving her on the ground long enough to drive his spear through one of its heads.

Unfortunately for Izuku, this seemed to trigger a change in its behaviour, and when it picked itself up from the ground, it went for another missile strike almost immediately. It was half by sheer luck that he even managed to avoid them - he'd not quite gotten his spear all the way out of its metal box of a head when the robot started to rise again, and as a result, he'd been dragged forward several feet. To his dismay, it also didn't change targets, choosing to stay focused on Izuku alone, and it hit him belatedly that perhaps its two heads took turns deciding what to do.

So if I'd destroyed the other, would it have kept doing those claw attacks? he wondered. Did I just make this way harder on myself than it had to be?

It paused to reload, and Izuku knew he'd not be able to keep running away or trying to bait it - it was too fast for his civilian charge to run away from, and it was no longer performing the one action that left it open to attack.

Think. You need range. Is there anything you can use to give yourself more range?

Lengthening the spear would compromise its structural integrity, making it more likely to break. He didn't know how to use any kind of flail or whip, so even if he had the materials to create them, they were out of the question (and, frankly, not quite ranged enough for this fight). Throwing the spear was an option, but he only had one shot, and while the robots seemed a little too fragile - seriously, the non-armored plates are like aluminum foil - he wasn't willing to risk losing his weapon. What he needed was something capable of firing a projectile that wouldn't lose him his weapon if he missed.

A bow would work, he reasoned, but I don't have anything to use for a string...or do I?

His own hair was out of the question - he didn't have enough of it. The woman with him, however…

"Hey!" he called to her. "Can you do something for me?"

"What is it?"

"Put your hair in a ponytail!"

"I'm sorry, what? Why!?" She was, understandably, confused.

"Just do it! Trust me!" he shouted back, just as the three-pointer unleashed another volley of rockets. It didn't seem particularly inclined to move, so in the seconds he had before it reloaded, he made a dash for the volunteer, who'd reluctantly complied with his request and who was regretting it as Izuku gently took the ponytail in one hand. "Thanks. I promise I'll give it back in a minute."

"Wait, what?"

Release.

Her hair separated cleanly where she'd tied it off, leaving Izuku holding a foot-long rope of hair about two inches thick. Without hesitating, he slammed it against the spear and activated his Quirk again; before their very eyes, the hair braided itself into a solid bowstring, fastening itself to either end of the length of bone. In no time at all, Izuku found himself holding a grisly recurve bow that looked like something out of a horror movie, but he didn't have time to think about it - there was that whirring sound again, and he was forced to move away from the woman to prevent her from becoming an even more grisly splatter on the pavement underfoot.

Izuku had never used a bow, but his target was huge and he was out of options, so with a silent prayer to the void, he used his Quirk to separate a sliver of bone from the body of the weapon, notching one end and modeling the other after the spearhead that had so far torn through three robot heads with brutal efficiency. Gritting his teeth, he dodged the three-pointer's final assault, dropped to one knee, and took aim, staring down the length of the makeshift arrow as he nocked it and drew the hair-string back.

Aim just a little higher because of gravity, right?

He loosed the shot.

At first, he didn't think it had done anything; the bone arrow had punched straight through the thing's colossal head, leaving a visible hole, but it didn't give any sort of response. Then, as it took a step towards Izuku, its entire body sagged and crumpled to the ground with a deafening crash, leaving an overwhelming silence in its wake.

Izuku disconnected the hair from the bow, returned it to its original state, and jammed the bone into the puncture mark left by the arrow, feeling around in the torn-up wires until he was able to reconnect the arrow with the rest of the weapon. He then strolled over to the woman and held out the chunk of hair. "Sorry about that," he said. "If you turn around, I can reattach it for you."

He couldn't read her expression; it was somewhere between shock, horror and awe. At length, she simply burst into nervous laughter, turning around without a word and allowing Izuku to use his Quirk to reattach each strand to its root. When he'd finished, she patted the hair, as if she couldn't quite believe it was actually there, then gave Izuku a hard stare.

"You'll probably get points off for that, but I can't say it wasn't clever," she admitted. "As a hero, though, you'd want to minimize the danger in which you leave civilians."

"You could have run away at any time," he pointed out. "I'm sure I'd have figured something out eventually."

She sighed. "Yeah, but sometimes disaster victims are in shock and it won't occur to them to do anything except stand around until someone else pushes them to act. Got it?"

A nod. "I understand." It does make sense, he reflected. Back when I intervened in that bank robbery, all the cops were in shock and didn't even respond to what was happening until the guy was immobile. was in shock when that three-pointer smashed through a wall out of nowhere.

As they made for the center of the arena, Izuku tallied the points he'd gotten so far. He had at least six, but compared to someone with a powerful combat Quirk, that was nothing at all. Bakugou most definitely had many, many more.

It didn't take the two of them long to reach the mock encampment - a haphazard cluster of white tents with red crosses emblazoned on the sides - and here Izuku parted ways with the person who'd (unwillingly) supplied him a temporary bowstring, returning to the fray just as Present Mic's voice echoed across the training grounds. "Forty-five minutes left!" he boomed, and Izuku bit his lip.

Six points in fifteen minutes. I need to steer clear of any more three-pointers - they take too long. Focus on rescues and the one- and two-pointers.

The next fifteen minutes were largely spent keeping his eyes peeled and barreling straight for any smaller robot that entered his line of sight; they didn't seem to possess any kind of networked intelligence, because each one fell to the exact same tactics as the first two. One-pointers would fire an opening shot, he would take cover or roll to evade it, they would pause to - reload? cool down? - and he would kick them backwards and spear them through the body and head in one motion. Two-pointers would use their agility to get in close, perform the same blocking maneuvre, and inevitably fall when Izuku used his weapon as a hook to vault himself onto their backs and spear their heads. He even figured out that all he needed to do to stave off the tail attack was use the spear to jump back off of the robot before its sensors caught up to his position.

At one point, he came across a volunteer beleaguered by a one-pointer and a two-pointer that had pushed him into a dead-end alleyway, and for the first time he'd been forced to block, concentrating most of his weapon's mass into a bone buckler at the center of the shaft. The impact was enough to crack the shield and send him staggering backwards, winded and bruised, but they're still too slow and dim to keep up the pressure, so if I retaliate in time, I can still win this!

He ended up using the scythe again, this time to lop off the two-pointer's tail in order to buy himself enough time for the one-pointer to take aim at him and throw another punch, crushing the two-pointer instead as Izuku jumped and buried the scythe in the back of its bulky head.

In spite of the three-pointer and the two-on-one, something about the exam still felt suspiciously easy, and as he took a minute for breath, he watched another examinee strike an extravagant pose and decimate two one-pointers at the same time with a brilliant blue laser from his midriff.

Was Togata-senpai exaggerating how difficult the exam was supposed to be? Izuku wondered. It feels like everyone who's anyone is just tearing through these things like paper. I don't even have a Quirk I can use to directly attack and I've gotten twenty-six points, not counting rescues. Is this really - ?

Boom.

At precisely the half-hour mark, a series of explosions raced across the arena like a napalm strike, lighting up the tops of the tallest buildings - chunks of concrete blasted into the air, then hurtled toward earth like meteors - shards of glass fell glittering from above -

Looks like I spoke too soon.

Izuku didn't have time to watch, however. In no time at all, the air some fifty feet over his head detonated, and the tops of the buildings closest to him began to fall. Thinking fast, he ran straight ahead, directly opposite the path of the explosions, and made for a cluster of shorter buildings where the rooftop rubble hadn't had so far to fall to the ground and lay still and unthreatening upon the pavement (as opposed to the crush hazard half a block to his right).

That most likely didn't do a whole lot for my rescue points, but...wasn't that a little too extreme for the collapsing building thing? Present Mic made it sound like they'd just be periodically taking damage. For a moment, he reached out with his Quirk, feeling for dead tissue, but he detected only the vague impressions of hair, the hallmark of living people. At least nobody within range died. That's good, but something's not right here...shit, what if someone really did get hurt?

As the closest debris slammed into the ground, Izuku decided he'd make his way into the affected parts of the arena and try to help out any volunteers or fellow examinees that he could. He reactivated his Quirk, figuring he'd try and use it to track down anyone who wasn't moving - that is, anyone who could be stuck or injured - and, with a response time borne of long training, immediately dove forward into a roll, whirling as fast as he could as the person he detected directly above him landed gracefully in front of him rather than on top of him.

"Nice moves, kid."

Izuku didn't respond, bracing his weapon with both hands as he used his Quirk to remove the spear head, opting for a less-lethal approach. A quick once-over of the newcomer was not reassuring; it was clearly an adult male, his build slender, his entire body covered by a skintight black suit. This outfit was reinforced with shiny silver knee and shoulder pads, with a brown utility belt rounding off the ensemble. All in all, it wasn't anything like what any of the examinees he'd seen had been wearing, and even if this man were somehow an examinee, there was no reason for him to confront Izuku this way.

There's no doubt about it. This is an enemy.

"No" was the only word that left his mouth.

"No? Just no?" his latest adversary taunted.

This guy can't hold a candle to Kacchan, he told himself, holding his silence. Don't be goaded into doing anything rash. Just see what he wants.

"Y'know," the other continued, unprompted. "The boss said this'd be an easy job, but I never seen a wannabe hero just stand still thinkin' there's a villain right in front of 'em. You waitin' for an introduction?"