The mission goes south and he's not even sure how. One moment Izuku is calling for backup, fighting off four— no, five B-class villains. Someone gets the jump on him, grasps his face from behind faster than he can dodge— and the next moment, he's on a clean linoleum floor, scrambling until his back hits the wall.
"Don't you dare even think of applying to UA!"
Kacchan is standing over him, flanked by people Izuku doesn't recognize, and he looks furious. Why is he mad? Izuku can't remember. Their last argument was… a week ago, Kacchan said Izuku was taking too many extra patrol hours again. Another hero's child was sick and he had to cover their shift. Kacchan was exasperated. Eighty hours a week is too much! It kind of was too much, but it couldn't be helped. Kacchan was just worried for Izuku's safety if he overworked himself.
Now, though, Kacchan is a different kind of mad. His eyes burn holes straight through Izuku, evaluating him and finding him unworthy. Izuku looks away. It hurts in a way he hasn't experienced since high school, or maybe even before. Some time, long ago, when Izuku was a worthless pebble that Kacchan couldn't seem to resist stepping on any chance he got.
Kacchan has something in his hands. A notebook?
"What's that, his diary or something?" one of the other boys scoffs.
"Defenseless Izuku," Kacchan mocks.
Izuku watches the boys taunting him. He can't even remember their names, and he can't seem to listen properly to what they're saying. Kacchan's face is so distracting; there's something different about it. It's soft and round. Kacchan is young, he's a baby, can't be more than 14 or 15— but his eyes burn so cold they make Izuku shiver.
"How could a loser like you ever hope to compete with me?"
"N-no, that's not what I want at all!" Izuku says. His voice sounds so small and high-pitched in his own ears.
"Why did All Might pick you, then?! You don't deserve this power!"
"What? I didn't… have a quirk yet, what are you…"
Izuku's head hurts. Nothing makes sense. Kacchan explodes the notebook and the sound rattles his skull.
"You can't even use it properly. You're going to get yourself killed. Pathetic." Izuku gulps and cowers there on the floor. "I'm the only one from this shitty school that has a chance of making it into UA. All Might's quirk is wasted on you. Just give it to me, and take a swan dive off the roof of the building. Maybe you'll be born with a quirk in your next life!"
"Wh—" Izuku squeezes his eyes shut, shakes his head and tries to understand because this already happened, but this is not how it went at all. The details elude him, though, and what scares him more than anything is that he has no idea what this Kacchan is going to do next. "I can't give it to you, Kacchan, you know that!"
Kacchan steps forward, leans over and places a hand on Izuku's face. He panics, trying to cover himself, but the two other boys grab his arms. He can't get away. He should be stronger than them, so why can't he get away? Kacchan's nails scrape his skin and his palm is wet with nitroglycerin sweat. Lethal.
"GIVE IT TO ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE, DEKU!"
Izuku is dead before the sound of the explosion reaches his ears.
How long has it been? Izuku's head feels fuzzy.
"He's resisting. It's cute. He will wear down eventually."
"See that he does. We don't have time to waste being delicate."
"Oh, make no mistake, there is nothing delicate about it. This mind has a wealth of painful little cracks to dig my nails into. I'll pry him open if it's the last thing I do."
The person places a hand on Izuku's face and he shivers. Don't touch me, he thinks, but a memory comes forth anyway.
The wind rustling Izuku's school jacket is colder than he remembers. His throat aches, his mouth still coated with a layer of tainted slime from the villain now trapped in All Might's cargo pockets.
"Powerful people put their lives on the line for helpless people like yourself every day."
Izuku falters. All Might in his skeletal form looks vulnerable and frail in comparison.
"That's why a weakling like yourself should rely on heroes with strong quirks to save you," he said pragmatically.
"O-oh… I see."
"So give it back, young Midoriya. Return my quirk so I can pass it on to one worthy to wield it."
"What? All Might, that doesn't make any sense!"
The wind shifts and the sky grows dark. All Might's blue eyes seem to glow as he looms over Izuku with wicked intent. Izuku backs away, scared. This is wrong, this is definitely not what happened. He looks at his surroundings. The more he concentrates on anything, the more the details start to blur. He shakes his head, trying to make sense of something… the timeline is off, somehow, but the reason is beyond him. All he knows is that All Might looks dangerous and predatory.
"You should have followed young Bakugou's advice when you had the chance!" he bellows.
Izuku backs away until his hip hits bruising hard on the rooftop railing, but his hero reaches for his face, his palm eclipses his vision and he tries to brace himself against the sudden force. His hands slip, he loses his footing, and the world tilts. He flails in a vortex of his own limbs. His head smashes the back of the railing under All Might's hand, and he falls, splintering and splattering against the pavement a hundred feet below.
"It isn't working. Try something else."
"Maybe a more recent memory?"
Izuku's head feels heavy. He can't see anything. Blindfold? He's so confused. Maybe he's still dreaming.
"It was too quick. Drag it out longer. More painful."
"Alright, here goes nothing."
"N-no, noo," Izuku groans. A hand grabs his head, and another vision sucks him under.
Somewhere, there is a Kacchan who loves him. The real Kacchan lives to build him up, not tear him down. He tries to visualize that Kacchan now.
Izuku is pinned to the cracked asphalt of UA's training ground beta. The scene is almost familiar— but foreign as well. This Kacchan grinds gravel indents into his cheek, scowling with unmitigated derision. He hates me, Izuku thinks.
That's not right! This fight was a turning point. This fight was the birthplace of acknowledgment and rivalry; of a kinship of shared burdens and spite negotiated with blow after blow at almost full force.
Almost. Someone should tell that to the gaping, gushing wound in Izuku's abdomen.
He knows Kacchan's quirk as well as he knows his own; they have a vital characteristic in common. Neither of them can use full power in battle with people who lack a durability quirk. If they fought each other without holding back, one or both of them would die. He knows it— they both have known since high school, which is how they managed not to kill each other at ground beta. But here Izuku is with his wrists pinned to keep him from fruitlessly applying pressure to the wound where blood and soft, viscous contents of his abdominal cavity spill as his chest quivers in vain attempts to draw breath.
"Stupid, stupid Deku," Katsuki-who-hates-him hisses in Izuku's last moments. "You won't let it die with you. You've already let All Might down. You let the whole world down, didn't you." Izuku tries to shake his head because this isn't what happened but he can't get his body to cooperate anymore and he feels cold, frozen and dazed, and he can't remember when he last breathed air. His diaphragm is probably too damaged to expand his lungs.
"Give it to me. You never had a chance. Redeem yourself now before it's too late."
Katsuki leans down, hovering in front of him as his vision fades and Izuku could do it. All Might never told him how it works exactly, but he could entrust his power to this hating Katsuki and relinquish it in the bloody kiss his would-be lover places on his lips.
He could do it, but this isn't the boy who will grow into the man he marries. This is a Shadow— a darkness under the surface, a future his past self had not dared to fear. This is a Shadow, and Izuku would die before he gives One for All to such a creature.
So that's what he does.
Hero couples are not permitted to go on high-risk missions together. Too much personal attachment compromises peoples' priorities— it's common sense. Katsuki understands this, but the rules don't make it easier to wake up in a cold bed for the third week in a row.
Izuku's mission wasn't supposed to take this long. Katsuki knows his husband can handle himself, so he wasn't worried until almost a week after the assignment was meant to be over. He starts to get suspicious when several heroes get called to work on a joint-agency case and he's mysteriously left out of the loop. Even Red Riot is summoned, but Katsuki isn't given clearance.
Whatever, it's fine. Deku will be fine. He's a fucking badass. Katsuki just has to trust him to take care of himself.
Izuku jolts awake on a tile floor when icy water is splashed in his face. He coughs and sputters, dragging jagged gulps of air around a lungful of freezing water.
"Back from the dead again?" a voice calls. Izuku knows that voice, but he can't place the memory. It isn't safe— he needs to get up and prepare to fight, but he finds he's been restrained. His wrists and ankles are tied, legs bent and the two knots are connected behind his back, rendering him completely immobile.
"Let me go!" he yells. His voice is rough from coughing.
"I would love to let you go, Hero Deku. I'm not keeping you here for your conversational skills."
Izuku can't see the speaker. He doesn't know where he is, his body arches against the ropes holding him still, and he digs deep within to find his quirk. It's there, under the surface of his skin but somehow inaccessible. The masculine voice makes him want to curl in on himself and hide where he'll never be found.
"Who are you? What do you want?" he groans weakly.
"I think you can figure that out for yourself, Hero. What's the one thing that sets you apart from others? The only exceptional thing about you?"
He shakes his head and hears water splatter against the tiles. He feels like he's in a fog. Something isn't right; he can't keep thoughts in his head, and he can't think directly at the problem. It's like it moves when he tries to focus, like an off-center burn on his retina. He strains against his bindings, but he feels so weak and his head hurts and he's so cold. What was he trying to remember again? Something about what the guy said. Exceptional… what makes Izuku special?
"I… Quirk? You c-can't take that," he says through clenched teeth. Probably shouldn't tell them that One for All can't be forcibly taken. They might just kill him if they find out they can't get what they want. He has to wait it out, try to find an opportunity to escape. Or wait for someone to find him. "How do you know about it anyway?"
"Oh, we have our resources."
"I'll never give it to you!"
"We'll see about that."
"It's not going to happen," the doctor says.
"Oh dear, so you think something's really wrong with him?"
Izuku can't move. Mommy is here, watching, staring at the doctor with tears in her eyes. Izuku looks up, up, up at his mom, and he's so small, it strikes him just how tiny he is. The doctor clears his throat, he looks… smug, almost… taunting… Mommy is so sad… Izuku doesn't understand. He was a hero… right? He had been a hero? Was that all a dream?
"It's clear as day on the scans," the doctor continues with a dismissive wave at the x-ray of Izuku's foot. "The boy's not meant to have a quirk. Power is wasted on him." He talks about Izuku like he's not there, which is okay, since he doesn't feel totally there, anyway. "It's best he gives it up now."
That night Izuku watches his favorite All Might video again. He asks Mommy if he can still be a hero, even if he isn't supposed to have his quirk.
Mommy's face darkens. "I'm sorry, Izuku," she says.
It's not what he needed to hear. Mommy turns away. That's wrong, she wanted to let him down easy . She comforted him with a hug. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
"I'm so sorry, but you heard the doctor. You aren't meant to have a quirk, it's unnatural. It'll just hurt you."
It's a close thing. He doesn't do it, though.
There's a calm between each storm, he thinks.
Maybe. It's a bit of a muddle. He's not sure what's now anymore. He's not sure it matters.
This time they wake him up with a kick in the ribs. He startles out of death throes into blindingly drab reality. His body feels so tired, his limbs are tied so tightly that trying to access One for All to escape is more likely to break him than his binds. It's a waiting game. He tries to stall.
"They… will save me," he wheezes, lungs screaming in protest behind bruised ribs. "They will save me."
"Hmm. Perhaps," the voice says. "We'll see how much of your mind remains when the real heroes find you."
Izuku shudders. They might have a point.