Actions

Work Header

but you gotta get up at least once more

Chapter Text

Midoriya Izuku wants nothing more than to be a great hero. He wants to be like All Might, to help others, to save people, to do so with a smile and provide hope for all who see him. At four years of age, he dreams, and he waits anxiously for his Quirk to manifest.

 

It fails to do so. He is devastated.

 

In some universes, he clings to his vision, and it leads him to All Might’s tutelage. In some, he is taken in by Sensei and becomes a villain of the likes that no one has ever seen. In others, he fades into obscurity, gives up his dream.

 

However, in this universe, Midoriya Izuku refuses to let his lack of a Quirk dampen his ambition. He can still help other people. If he works hard, he can still fight.

 

Izuku enrolls in a martial arts class.

 

On the dojo floor, he is equal to his opponents, Quirk or no Quirk. Here, it isn’t a chance twist of genetics that determines how far he can go, but his own determination. And Izuku is very determined. This alone is enough to earn the respect and help of many of his fellow students.

 

For the rest, all it does is earn jealousy, as Izuku learns when one of them tries to target him on his way home. He calls for help, but it’s quiet and no one comes. Izuku is hurt, but it's not much of a surprise; no one ever stops to help when Kacchan is pushing him around, either. Izuku gathers his strength and everything he’s learned so far and fights back. He doesn’t win, but he doesn’t lose, because his assailant backs off and runs away when it becomes clear that Izuku won’t go down easily.

 

His teacher and the owner of the dojo, Tamanaha Chiaki, is furious when she finds out. “I’ll kick him out and make sure he won’t be able to come back ever again,” she vows.

 

It’s too late to change anything or heal any of his injuries, but all the same, he’s weirdly touched. That may be the first time anyone besides his mom has ever been so determined to protect him. It’s a rare gift, and so, it’s a gift that he never counts on.

 

Kacchan bullies him now that everyone knows he doesn’t have a Quirk. It hurts, that his lack of a Quirk was all it took for him to be cast aside. Well, it just goes to show. Izuku stops waiting and hoping for someone else to step in. The next time Kacchan tries to destroy his books, Izuku shoves him away and punches him. Izuku doesn’t win this time, either, but he won’t ever make it easy for Kacchan to bully him or anyone else again.

 

Izuku still tears up during their altercations. He does not tell the teachers or his mom anymore. He just swings, and ducks, and hits the floor. He wipes his tears and gets back up again. Kacchan and his group of new friends are taken aback by his change in attitude. After a particular vicious fight that leaves them with black eyes and broken noses and Izuku with a concussion, most of them tone down their confrontations. Now it’s just insults and mockery and occasionally being knocked around. Kacchan usually ignores him, unless he wants a fight or he’s particularly vindictive. Those fights usually leave Izuku staggering home with new bruises and burns.

 

Well, it’s nothing he can’t bear. Izuku goes back to smiling and being friendly, but he’s still ostracized for his lack of a Quirk, and it seems like it’s too late to repair his friendships. Kacchan is distant and aggressive. Izuku always jumps at loud noises, now. That’s how things stay for a long time.

 

--

 

When Izuku is ten, he begins a new routine: 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and 10 kilometers of running every single day.

 

At first, it’s the worst sort of torture. His arms make weird clicking noises as he does his push-ups. His muscles feel like they are going to melt off. His feet are lead and don’t want to move. But Izuku, when he makes a resolution, has an iron will.

 

The best part of his day is usually the 10-kilometer run, sometimes in the mornings, sometimes at night. It takes him to different places. Izuku sees a lot of things, and what he sees is this:

 

Villains are everywhere. Heroes are not. Sometimes Izuku is there when the heroes are nowhere to be seen.

 

Izuku has always had a penchant for self-destruction, and it is the easiest thing in the world for him to start stepping in.

 

It is hard, and at first he is constantly injured. His unreal levels of pain tolerance are perhaps his only saving grace. But the first time he helps someone and prevents a simple back alley stabbing, even though he’s slumping against the wall and clutching his bleeding arm and trying to breathe around the pain, he can’t help the happy grin that stretches across his face when the woman he helped thanks him from the bottom of her heart.

 

She calls the ambulance for him and pays for his treatment. She also introduces herself as Uemura Erize, and she gives him her business card. As it turns out, she runs a local cafe. He stops there the next day on the way home from school, arm stitched and wrapped in gauze. She gives him a free cake and tells him to come visit; he will always be welcome here.

 

The warm glow from that is enough to carry him through the week.

 

He helps others wherever he can. Not everyone thanks him, but most people do. He has a drawer at home full of business cards and a growing number of helpful contacts. He’s been given volunteering opportunities that otherwise would have been closed to him. It feels strange to be greeted by friendly faces in the street after all the bullying he’s suffered in school.

 

He mentions this to Tamanaha-sensei. She raises an eyebrow. “It’s as I’ve been telling you,” she says, “you deserve kindness and respect. It’s good to see that there are people who are finally seeing your worth.” Izuku ducks his head and clutches his water bottle. It’s a nice compliment, and he really wishes it were true. “Now finish up your water and run through that kata again,” Tamanaha-sensei orders him. “I want to see that last butterfly kick performed perfectly before you leave today.”

 

He runs into an aspiring villain when he’s twelve -- two years into his new training regimen. They’re on the edge of town, as Izuku is on his daily ten-kilometer run. Izuku sees the villain because he is in the way of an oncoming train, and the railroad itself is rising up and bending to catch the train and wrap it in an iron cocoon. Metal manipulation, Izuku’s brain whispers, not magnetic field manipulation, or every magnetic material in the vicinity would have been attracted to him at near-fatal levels, judging from the strength it would take to warp iron to this extent.

 

This is an unfortunate quirk, because that means that the villain could probably squash everyone in the train like a bug if he really wanted to.

 

Izuku doesn’t pause to process the screams or the train windows opening or the conductor trying to appeal to the laughing villain. He needs to take out the villain before he can do any damage to the civilians.

 

And somehow, he does.

 

The villain is knocked out cold, a bystander is calling the police, and Izuku -- with some volunteers -- is doing his best to untangle the railroad from around the train. It’s going...surprisingly well. He had no idea he could bend metal like that. It’s sort of terrifying.

 

“That’s an amazing Quirk, young man,” says an older man with a sprinkling of gray in his hair. “Your strength today saved us all from injury and fear.”

 

“Oh,” says Izuku, startled, and then, “Thank you?” He wonders if he would be so thankful if he knew that Izuku doesn’t have a Quirk at all.

 

“Let me give you my business card,” says the man. “If you ever need an attorney at law, I would be glad to help. What’s your name?”

 

“Um,” says Izuku, suddenly seized by an intense desire to remain anonymous and in obscurity. He spits out the first name that comes to mind, which is, unfortunately, “Deku.” He winces.

 

“Noguchi Harunobu. It’s good to make your acquaintance, and thank you again,” says the man, and then they shake hands and the man walks away. It’s sort of bizarre.

 

Izuku gets many more thanks before the Police Force shows up. They take away the villain and ask for statements from some of the train passengers, and inevitably, they ask Izuku to relay what happened, too.

 

He explains, nervously, that he had been on his daily run and then he’d seen what was happening and “someone had to help, and I didn’t have my phone, and…” He looks down, too embarrassed to detail the fight with the villain. Everything had been so slow and clear, and he had been so startled that he took a couple wounds to the leg before he managed to end the fight.

 

The police scold him for recklessly endangering himself, but they also tell him that he was very brave, and that he may have saved a lot of lives today. Tsukauchi Naomasa, the highest-ranking there, also approaches him with a solemn face. He tells Izuku, with some measure of regret, that since public use of Quirks is against the law, Izuku will have to face punishment.

 

Izuku’s never run into this problem before with anyone else, but it’s still not much of a problem. “Oh, that’s alright,” he says. “I don’t have a Quirk.”

 

Tsukauchi stares incredulously at him, and then looks at the iron bar that Izuku is currently straightening with his hands.

 

“I really don’t,” Izuku insists. “I just train a lot. You can ask Tamanaha-sensei, she’s my dojo teacher, and my paperwork says I don’t have a Quirk, and my doctor has X-rays of the extra joint in my toe. Everyone knows I don’t have a Quirk.”

 

“Alright,” Tsukauchi says, “but I have to investigate to verify your claims. I hope you don’t mind.”

 

“It’s fine,” Izuku says. “You’re just doing your job.”

 

Later, as he’s being bandaged up by some paramedics, he ends up talking to an officer with a cat head whose name is Sancha. “If you ever decided to be a hero, you’d make it,” Sancha says. “And if you did, we’d be happy to work with you.”

 

Izuku suspects that Sancha is just trying to encourage him, or butter him up, because of sympathy or a devotion to nepotism in the heroics community. He’s not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, though. “If that’s the case,” he says, and looks down at his shoes. “Could you help me with something?”

 

Sancha briefly raises his eyebrows. “What is it?”

 

“If the story, um,” and Izuku wrings his hands a bit, “if the news manages to get ahold of it -- is it possible to keep my name out of it?” He looks up at Sancha hopefully.

 

There is an expression of -- surprise, maybe, or respect, on the officer’s face.

 

“I’ll see what I can do,” he says at last.

 

The story does get out. It’s pasted all over the news for the next two days: Train of Passengers Saved by Local Middle School Student. The news stations say they do not know who the student is because they wished to remain anonymous. Tamanaha-sensei smacks him upside the head when she next sees him, because Officer Tsukauchi came and visited her and nearly gave her a heart attack, but then she tells him, “Good job. You did well.” Izuku beams. Her praise does not come lightly.

 

A week later, Izuku sees the Police Force arresting a villain while he’s on his way to school. Sancha is there. Izuku waves hesitantly, and tries to convey the full force of his thanks through his smile. Sancha pauses, and nods, and they go their separate ways.

 

Izuku decides to bring Sancha some cake as thanks. Uemura-san is more than happy to give him a free cake from her store. It’s a reject cake, but only because it got squished a bit in its box during delivery. Izuku doesn’t have much money of his own, so he takes it and walks to the police station and asks if Sancha is there. The cat man looks startled to see him, but accepts the cake.

 

A few weekends later and Izuku stops another minor villain. The Police Force shows up, and Sancha is there. Izuku waves. Sancha approaches and gives Izuku an entire pouch of coupons to different food vendors’ stalls -- it’s a treasure trove. Izuku is so startled and grateful that he gives Sancha a hug.

 

Izuku continues helping around the neighborhood and he keeps accidentally introducing himself as Deku. He needs to come up with a better alias, but he never gets around to it, so he resigns himself to the name. “I just -- don’t want anyone to know it’s me helping them,” Izuku tries to explain to Sancha one day. “I don’t want attention and I don’t want anything connected back to me.” He falls quiet.

 

“I know,” Sancha says. “That’s why all of us have been calling you Deku in public.”

 

Izuku calls the attorney who introduced himself during the train incident, and asks about all the legal technicalities that will let Izuku keep on with his unofficial hero work.

 

The man mails him an entire packet of laws. Izuku makes sure he learns them inside out. The good thing is, most of the laws don't apply to him because they're concerning Quirk use, and he doesn't even have a Quirk. The other thing he learns is that he's technically a vigilante, unless he only interferes in situations that are already underway and have imminent risk of harm or death.

 

It just means he can't do any investigating or preemptive strikes, which is just fine by him. He's not concerned with that, anyways.

 

The Police Force becomes more familiar with him. His acquaintance with Sancha continues. He even has Sancha’s number in his phone, now. They give each other sweets and pastries whenever they’re having bad days and sometimes they go get food together. Tsukauchi tells them to remain professional while in public, and seems a bit worried and resigned every time he sees Izuku at another scene.  

 

Izuku’s thirteenth birthday passes with little fanfare. He gets cake from Sancha, a one-on-one training session with Tamanaha-sensei, and some new books from his mom. Kacchan blasts him through a couple trees and proceeds to pick a fist fight. Izuku punches him in the solar plexus and escapes by jumping into a nearby river, and the teacher scolds him when he arrives to school late.

 

“Deku,” Tsukauchi says to him one day, “Why do you keep putting yourself in danger like this? Why can’t you leave it to the pros? You’re barely thirteen.”

 

Izuku gives him a quizzical look. “I’m putting myself in danger because there are people who need help,” he says. What other reason is there?

 

Tsukauchi looks earnest and sad.

 

“Besides,” Izuku rushes to assure him, “I haven’t broken any bones in nearly a year!”

 

Tsukauchi just looks sadder, and Izuku is about to try and fix whatever he said wrong when Tsukauchi hugs him and says, “You’re a real hero, kid. You know that?”

 

Izuku freezes, and then he cries a little bit, because it means so much to him. “But I’m just doing what I can,” he says.

 

“Yes,” Tsukauchi agrees, and he gives him a pat on the head before being called away.

 

At age 14, Izuku is stronger than almost anyone he knows. He has to hold back in spars at Tamanaha-sensei’s dojo, and his blows can create winds strong enough to blow over a tree. Punches and kicks, and even Kacchan’s explosions, stopped affecting him a long time ago. There’s even a day when he gets hit by a car, pushing a pedestrian out of the way -- and instead of his bones breaking, it’s the car that crunches to a halt.

 

He apologizes to the driver, but the driver is too drunk to understand what he’s saying. The pedestrian says thank you. Izuku goes home and does his homework.

 

This year they’re deciding what high schools to go to. Kacchan wants to go to Yuuei, of course. No surprise there. Izuku’s first impulse is to apply to Yuuei, too, but then he hesitates.

 

Four years ago and he would have said he’d do anything to get into Yuuei. But he only wanted to go to Yuuei because he wanted to be a hero. He wanted to help. And yet, Izuku is already helping, right here in this city.

 

What would he get from going to Yuuei? Fame, attention, and money? He cringes at the thought of the first two, and while the third item would be nice, there are plenty of other jobs he can take.

 

And yet, Yuuei has been his dream school for so long -- and surely he could make it in if he tried?

 

“I don’t know what to do,” he confesses to his mom over dinner one day.

 

“You would be paid well if you went to Yuuei,” his mom points out. “And after all your hard work, you’d deserve it.”

 

Izuku frowns. “I don’t help others because I’m thinking about what I deserve in return,” he says. “It feels so shallow and greedy to help, just because I want them to give stuff back to me.”

 

His mom thinks it over and he’s not sure if she agrees, but she still gives him a hug and tells him, “Whatever you decide, sweetie, I’ll support you the best way I can. You’ve come so far, and I’m so proud of you.”

 

“Thanks, Mom,” he says, and hugs her back.

 

She pulls away and puts her hands on his shoulders, looking at him in the eye. “I mean it, young man,” she says sternly. “You may not be officially recognized by the Heroes Association, but you are a hero to everyone you’ve saved. You’ve made your dream come true. Now all you have to do is find another dream to keep you happy.”

 

It brings tears to his eyes, but it doesn’t bring him any answers.

 

He asks Tamanaha-sensei for advice. She thinks for a moment, and then she says, “You’ve been working so hard these past years, all for other people’s sake. Find something for yourself so you don’t burn out, and so you can be happy.”

 

Izuku furrows his eyebrows. “That sounds -- selfish,” he says, tentatively.

 

“Don’t be stupid,” says Tamanaha-sensei. “You won’t do anyone good if you wear yourself down to the bone, saving others. You gotta learn to be kind to yourself too. When’s the last time you did something unrelated to heroics just ‘cause you liked it?”

 

“Um,” says Izuku.

 

“See, that’s what I mean.” She raises an eyebrow at him. “Take a break, kid. You need space to rest. Heroics is already taking up so much of your time, make sure it doesn’t eat up all your personal life too.”

 

Izuku thanks her for the advice and spends the next two weeks thinking about it. He picks up some old notebooks and reads through them. He tries his hand at sketching, again. He makes some trips to the library.

 

Kacchan is cheered on when the class learns he plans on applying for Yuuei. After class, Kacchan asks him what kind of stupid nerd school Izuku is going to go to, and Izuku says he wants to be an engineer.

 

“What, not going to go for Yuuei like you always said you would?” Kacchan sneers.

 

“Kacchan, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you cared,” Izuku says with a straight face, and then he ducks the following explosion. “Now you won’t have any competition!” he shouts, pivoting on his heel and delivering a kick to Kacchan’s side.

 

Kacchan howls, so apparently Izuku said the wrong thing to diffuse the situation. “I never had any competition!” Kacchan yells, throwing a punch. “I’ve always been better than you! You fucking assrag!”

 

They brawl right there on school grounds until a teacher sees them and yells at them to stop. Izuku dutifully breaks away. Kacchan glares at him, snarls, “This isn’t over, Deku!” and storms away towards the rest of his waiting friends.

 

Izuku scrambles for something to say. He really didn’t mean to make Kacchan upset. “Good luck with your application, Kacchan, I have no doubt you’ll make it in!” he calls after them.

 

Kacchan turns around. “Is that sarcasm, motherfucker, are you making fun of me, I’ll fucking show you,” he yells. His friends hold him back, probably not wanting to get into another fight. Izuku decides it’s for the best to make an exit.

 

There’s a tunnel that Izuku passes through on the way home, sometimes. He takes that route today, humming a cheerful tune to himself to try and cheer himself up.

 

Something clinks ominously behind him. The hair on the back of his neck stands on end, and he turns around just in time to see a seething, roiling mass crash into him like a wave.

 

The muddy, rancid thing engulfs him with a triumphant hiss. Izuku thrashes around, but the mud only flows back around him again. It crawls into his mouth and nose and he wants to choke but he can't and he can't breathe, oh god he's going to die--

 

Think, says the distant part of his mind that has helped him survive so many fights. Izuku stops struggling; he needs to save oxygen. How do I get out of this? His eyes are clear. Izuku looks up at the muddy thing's face. He has a hand free -- he could just punch its eye -- NO, he panics, WHAT IF I KILL IT--

 

No. The villain has a body mostly made of some kind of mud. If he separates the head from most of the mass--

 

Izuku curls his left hand into a fist and punches.

 

The shock wave blows the villain's body apart, mud splattering everywhere. Izuku falls to the ground and bangs his knee. The villain himself goes skittering out the end of the tunnel, separated from most of the sewage-like stuff that it had gathered for a body. “What is this?” the face hisses, and Izuku notes with some hysteria that the face has shrunk to fit its diminished size.

 

Liquid body, his mind helpfully supplies, face size proportional to volume. Could contain in a bottle.

 

He latches onto the idea like a drowning man to a lifeline, eyes casting about for a bottle -- he has one in his book bag, doesn't he? -- he grabs his book bag and hurries to pull the half-empty water bottle out, unscrews the cap and pours out all the contents. There's a disgusting suctioning noise as the villain begins to ooze towards some of the mud splattered around the tunnel, presumably to rebuild a larger body, and Izuku panics again. He pulls his right hand back and punches, and the resulting winds peel sheets of droplets from the villain's body.

 

Izuku shoves the bottle into the villain's face and scoops the gelatinous mess into it as best as he can, even as the villain screams at him and tries to crawl up his arm.

 

“You can't do this to me!” it yells and nearly tips the bottle over. Izuku shouts wordlessly and rights it, and scrapes the villain back into the bottle, even as it clings to him and his clothes and his skin --

 

“Get off me,” Izuku hears himself say, “get off -- get off -- get off --”

 

He grabs the cap from the ground next to him and slams it on top of the bottle with a squelch . The villain's yells are abruptly muffled. The sewage-like mud dribbles to the ground.

 

Abruptly, Izuku is aware of his harsh breathing and his heartbeat thundering in his ears. He gulps down air in an effort to calm down. The taste of the sewage monster still lingers in his mouth and it hits him full force again along with the memory of gagging and slowly suffocating -- his heart speeds up again, his breath comes faster -- he clutches his stomach and folds in on himself --

 

He throws up on someone’s bright yellow shoes.

 

“Woah there, kid,” says a deep, and deeply familiar, voice. “What is it?”

 

Izuku grabs at his school uniform. It’s slimy and damp. He can still taste sewage in his mouth. “Panic,” he forces out, and gulps in more air, “panic attack--”

 

He throws up again. The stranger bends down next to him and rubs his shoulder comfortingly and rumbles something inane that slips out of Izuku’s mind like water.

 

“Breathe with me,” the other person instructs when Izuku finishes with his dry heaving. “In, two, three, four, five, and out, two, three, four, five. In…”

 

They do this for a few minutes before Izuku finally makes it past the hyperventilating and the tears in his eyes. He immediately feels embarrassment sweep through him. “Sorry,” he says, and looks up at the person who helped him. He shrieks and flies backwards.

 

All Might?” Izuku gulps down more air and almost goes into another panic attack before he closes his eyes and makes himself count to ten, forwards and backwards. He opens his eyes. Yep, All Might, the hero himself, is still there and still smiling at him. “What are you doing here?”

 

All Might lets out a booming laugh. “I was hunting this villain!” he says. “But it seems you have done a fine job yourself; I could not have done better!”

 

“I just threw up on your shoes,” says Izuku hysterically. Then to himself, again, “I just threw up on All Might’s shoes.

 

All Might laughs again. “Perfectly understandable!” he booms. “Do not trouble yourself over it!”

 

“Oh god,” says Izuku, and makes an aborted move to bury his face in his hands before he remembers that his hands are covered in disgusting gunk.

 

All Might ends up taking the bottled villain, leaving when Izuku assures him that he can walk to the police station fine on his own. Before he goes, though, Izuku sheepishly asks him to autograph his school notebook.

 

He does. He even writes Izuku's actual name. It's the most amazing moment of his life.

 

The hero leaps away and disappears. Izuku clutches the notebook to his chest. Then he gathers his scattered belongings and makes his shaky way to the police station.

 

When he walks in, he sees Tsukauchi holding the bottled villain already, talking to an emaciated man with peculiar blond hair and very strange eyes. Tsukauchi turns to look at Izuku when he walks in. “Izuku! What happened to you?”

 

Izuku, knowing his uniform is a mess, points wordlessly at the bottle.

 

Tsukauchi’s brows furrow and he calls for a paramedic. Izuku dutifully makes his way to the room set aside for emergency treatment. The nurse checks his nose and lungs, then gives him a couple pills and antibiotics and tells him to avoid strenuous activity for the next couple days.

 

When the nurse leaves, Tsukauchi and the blond man come in. Tsukauchi asks Izuku if he’ll be alright (he will), and if he’s ready to give a statement on what happened (he is). Izuku has been through these questions before, so it’s nothing hard. He relaxes at the familiar routine.

 

The only non-standard thing to happen is that the blond man interrupts and asks a question. “Why did you choose to keep fighting the villain, instead of calling a professional?” he asks, a little chiding, a little scolding.

 

Izuku frowns a bit. “The villain could have escaped while I was gone, like through the sewers it attacked from. Leaving it alone wasn’t an option.” He paused. “And...well, the heroes don’t always make it on time.”

 

“If you had left, you would have been safe,” the man points out, though this time he sounds more curious than anything else.

 

“I would have,” Izuku agrees, “but what about everyone else? We were in a suburban neighborhood, anyone could have been attacked. If I have the power to prevent another attack, then it’s only right I do.” He sets his jaw and meets the blond man’s peculiar eyes.

 

The man looks at him, and then nods, apparently satisfied. He leans back against the wall and doesn’t say anything else for the rest of the interview. As Izuku leaves the room, he hears the blond man ask something. Tsukauchi replies, “He doesn’t have a Quirk.” Izuku ducks his head and moves away, not wanting to hear any more.

 

Sancha gives Izuku a ride home in a police car, even though it’s against procedure. Izuku says thank you. At home, he peels off his uniform and washes them, and then he collapses into bed. The next morning, he stops by the police station before school and drops off some cookies for Sancha.

 

He applies to some of the better, science-focused high schools. Between his high grades, his time at Tamanaha-sensei’s dojo, and the community service hours he’s amassed over the years, he makes it in.

 

Izuku stops by Masaki Tashiro’s real estate office to check in on him, because the day before, Izuku prevented him from being held hostage. Masaki offers to rent a high-quality apartment to him and his mother for a low price, at least for the next three years. “I’ll think about it,” Izuku says, “but I should ask my mom first. I think she’s happy where we are.”

 

They talk some more. Izuku tells him about his acceptance into a good high school and asks how Masaki’s work is going. Masaki complains about an unfortunate investment his company had made before he had been promoted -- an apartment complex near the beach, but the beach is covered in trash and no one wants to live there. “The view would be great, if not for the stench,” he tells Izuku.

 

Izuku has never been able to resist helping. “I could help clear the trash,” he offers. “I mean, it’d be slow, but I’m pretty strong.”

 

Masaki waves him off, but the more Izuku thinks about it, the more he thinks it’s a good idea. That beach has been a terrible sight for almost his entire life, and someone’s gotta do it.

 

It’s slow work, but by the end of the year, he’s cleared the beach, and he’s gained so many community service hours from Masaki. And more than that: the beach has given him ample space to test the limits of the strength and ability that his training regimen has given him. He experiments with different attacks and effects until he’s satisfied he can control them all.

 

He demonstrates his strength for Tamanaha-sensei one day. They stand facing the ocean, a pile of unwanted trash in front of them. She watches as Izuku breathes in, breathes out, and then punches forcefully at the trash pile.

 

His fist doesn’t even make contact, but the trash pile is obliterated, and in front of them, the water has parted in a large wake halfway to the horizon.

 

Tamanaha-sensei raises an eyebrow, and says, “I need a drink.” She looks at Izuku. “I suspected you were strong, but this is a surprise. Why are you even at the dojo?”

 

“Because it teaches control, and that’s what I need,” says Izuku honestly. “It would be terrible if I couldn’t adjust my strength to hold a fork or turn a doorknob. And besides,” he adds, and looks at her sideways, “I like learning from you, you’re a really good teacher.”

 

“Brat,” she says. She starts drilling him twice as hard at the dojo, and she teaches him precision above everything else. It helps.

 

Kacchan is accepted into Yuuei, to the surprise of pretty much no one. Izuku says congratulations. Kacchan tells him that he should stuff it, because he doesn’t need congratulations, since there was no doubt he’d succeed in the first place. Izuku says to make new friends and make sure to stop by sometimes, Kacchan, no need to be a stranger. Kacchan says to fuck off.

 

Izuku is about to do so, but then Kacchan yanks him back and stares at him intensely. He looks angry. Izuku tries to figure out what he did wrong this time. “Kacchan?” he asks hesitantly.

 

“Fight me, Deku,” he says, shaking Izuku by his school uniform’s collar.

 

“Why?” Izuku asks,confused, and backtracks at the stormy look that descends on his friend’s face. “I just mean, we fight all the time already -- we can fight if you want, but why is this time different, you usually just kind of start swinging--”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Kacchan snaps. “It’s really pissing me off that a Quirkless wonder like you can keep up with me. I’m going to be a hero, and I can’t do that until I beat you once and for all.”

 

“But,” Izuku says, trying to understand. “You already win our fights all the time?”

 

“Do you think I’m stupid? ” Kacchan roars. “You’ve been holding back for months!” And with that, he attacks, leading with his right like he usually does. Izuku twists and uses his momentum against him, throwing him against a wall, and then Izuku shamelessly starts running away.

 

He hears explosions behind him and senses Kacchan propelling himself forward to catch up with him. “De-ku!” It’s a long, drawn out growl of a howl. “Get back here!”

 

“Make me!” Izuku yells back. He dodges to the side as a fiery blast shoots past him.

 

Kacchan manages to engage him a couple more times before he can make an escape. It’s only a temporary relief. At school, Izuku can feel Kacchan’s glare drilling into his head almost everywhere he goes, and Kacchan keeps trying to corner him into a serious fight. Izuku’s days become occupied with finding increasingly creative ways to escape that are still plausible for a Quirkless wonder like him to achieve.

 

Kacchan becomes increasingly irate, but when it becomes clear he can’t force Izuku into a fight, he starts taunting him instead. “Figures a cowardly little prick like you would hide, ” he yells up at Izuku one day, as Izuku is currently hiding on the top of an apartment building. “What, are you fucking scared that I’ll grind you into the dust, because that’s exactly what will happen.

 

More like I’m scared you’ll find out about everything, Izuku thinks. Maybe that does make him a coward. “Yes,” he calls back. “Please stop trying to murder me into a little puddle of blood.”

 

He tries throwing a fight with Kacchan once, but Kacchan notices, of course, and becomes even more pissed off. Izuku distracts him by throwing his water bottle at his head and runs away again.

 

School ends. It does not stop Kacchan from still trying to hunt him down. Kacchan somehow gets wind of his daily run and starts trying to ambush him while he’s working out. Izuku starts randomly varying the time of day he goes outside. Kacchan starts lurking with his friends near Izuku’s route and derails some of Izuku’s runs into high-speed chases. Izuku starts randomly changing his routes, too.

 

One morning after Izuku gets out of the shower, his mom calls him into the front room. “You’ve got a guest, Izuku!” she says to him just as he steps into the room. He freezes, still holding a towel up to his hair.

 

Kacchan is sitting there sullenly. He lifts his gaze to Izuku, and then his expression changes. Izuku suddenly becomes very conscious of the fact that he’s wearing nothing but his boxers.

 

“Oh dear,” his mother says.

 

I have to go, ” Izuku blurts and retreats as fast as he can to his room, feeling the heat rising in his face. He pulls on a t-shirt, shorts, and socks; the shoes are all by the front door, so he’ll have to go barefoot. Izuku opens the window, removes the screen, and climbs onto the windowsill.

 

His door is yanked open. “Deku, what the fuck are you doing?!” Kacchan yells, just in time for him to jump out the window.

 

He lands on the fire escape of the building behind his apartment building. Glancing back up at his window, he winces at the shocked look on Kacchan’s face and high-tails it before Kacchan can recover his senses.

 

Thankfully, that doesn’t happen again, but there is a memorable incident when Kacchan runs across him in a grocery store and tries to make him fight right there and then. The employees thankfully shoo Kacchan out, and when Izuku finishes paying for the groceries, one of them offers to let him use the back exit.

 

“We’re not technically supposed to do that,” she confesses, “but everyone hates abusers, we’re all in agreement about it.”

 

“Oh, um,” Izuku flinches at the word abusers. “H-he’s not...I mean, we’re not even boyfriends or anything, and he’s not -- doing that, he’s just like that all the time…”

 

She pats his head. “Sure,” she agrees, “but you don’t have to be dating or a family member to abuse someone.”

 

Probably sensing his discomfort, she shows him the exit and lets him leave. Izuku makes it home without incident, feeling unsettled, and decides not to think about it anymore.

 

The last straw comes when Izuku wakes up to the sound of rocks hitting his window. He rolls out of bed, turns on the light, and slides the window open just in time to be hit in the forehead with another rock. This is getting out of control, he thinks. “Kacchan,what are you doing here?” he demands, as much as he ever demands anything from Kacchan.

 

His friend scowls. “I’m not letting you run away from me again,” he growls.

 

Izuku sighs, closes the window, and climbs back into bed. He lies there with his eyes open, looking at the ceiling, listening to Kacchan throw more rocks and yell insults at his window. It only takes a few minutes for Izuku to wear down and throw the window open again. “Kacchan, get in here,” he snaps. “You’re going to wake the neighbors.”

 

Kacchan scowls extra fierce. Izuku walks away from the window and starts looking through his drawers.

 

A few bright flashes and firecracker sounds later, Kacchan is climbing in through the window like a grumpy cat. Izuku greets him by throwing a clean t-shirt and shorts at him and telling him to take his shoes off.

 

Kacchan pulls the t-shirt off his head and scowls some more. “What is this?”

 

“I’m going back to sleep, and if you’re not going to leave, you might as well sleep in here too,” Izuku tells him. “The bathroom is down the hall to the right. Good night.” He turns the light off and crawls back into bed.

 

Kacchan seizes him by the shirt and hauls him back out, then pins him against the wall. “Is this some kind of fucking joke to you?” he snarls.

 

“Kacchan, it is one in the morning, ” Izuku says, and makes a cursory attempt at shoving him off. Kacchan shakes it off, and Izuku doesn’t want to use more of his strength because it would be an abnormal amount for a Quirkless wonder like him to have. “I’m tired, and I want to sleep, and I am not going to fight you just because you have something to prove.”

 

Kacchan’s grip tightens. “Why not? ” he says finally, and he’s never said anything like that before, but Izuku supposes that he must be tired of this cat-and-mouse game too.

 

Izuku tries to string together a plausible reason that doesn’t involve saying something like I’m pretty sure I could kill you if I tried and that’s pretty terrifying all on its own, and I don’t want you to find out about everything I’ve been doing, and also you’d never leave me alone if I did beat you, so there is literally no way for me to win in this situation. “Because it’s a stupid reason, and you’re just trying to reaffirm that you’re at the top,” he settles on.

 

Kacchan narrows his eyes, disbelieving.

 

“You’re the only person from our school to ever get into Yuuei. What more do you want?” Izuku says, frustrated. “Do you seriously think that I could beat you , even if I went all-out? You’re not using your full strength either. Stop trying to pick a fight and just go to sleep.”

 

Kacchan considers this, and seems to be on the verge of letting go -- his grip is loosening -- and then the door creaks open and Izuku’s mom says in a sleepy voice, “Izuku?”

 

Izuku realizes what a compromising position he’s in. It’s night. Kacchan is in the room. Kacchan is pinning him against the wall. He makes a strangled noise, his mom looks over, she lets out a gasp.

 

“It’s not what it looks like!” Izuku says, but his mom is already apologizing and backing out of the room.

 

Kacchan steps away and Izuku hurries after his mom to do some damage control.

 

“Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t know he was going to show up,” Izuku says.

 

“Uh-huh,” she says blankly.

 

“He just wanted to talk,” he goes on desperately.

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Really! There was some stuff we had to work out--”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Mom please it’s not what you’re thinking,” he says in a rush.

 

She doesn’t say anything.  

 

“I promise it’s nothing untoward and can we talk about it in the morning?” Izuku begs.

 

“Okay,” she says.

 

“Okay. Um…I don’t know if Kacchan is going to stay or go so he might sleep over I hope you don’t mind I’m sorry good night!” He rushes out of the room.

 

Kacchan has apparently taken him up on his offer to sleep there for the night, because he’s changed clothes and sprawled himself over Izuku’s bed. Izuku hesitates at the door, wondering if he should maybe go sleep on one of the couches in the main room, but then he remembers they don’t have any extra blankets, so he creeps over and eases himself under the blanket. Kacchan doesn’t scoot over. Izuku stays on the edge of the bed and tries not to breathe or fall off.

 

Eventually, Kacchan turns over, looks at him, and says, “You’re going to fall off, shitrag.”

 

Izuku startles, and then he says, “Um, I’ll survive?”

 

Kacchan rolls his eyes and then pulls him onto the bed until he’s in no danger of falling. “Go the fuck to sleep.”

 

Kacchan has no problem taking his own advice, but Izuku is tense. It’s hard not to be, with Kacchan so close. Skin pressed to skin. Izuku’s within grabbing range and he's having trouble relaxing enough to sleep, still half thinking a fight will break out any moment. So he lies very still and listens carefully to Kacchan’s breathing to assure himself that Kacchan is asleep.


Izuku doesn’t know how long he lies there, wide awake, but at some point Kacchan turns over in his sleep and flings an arm and a leg over him. Izuku envies Kacchan and the deep, restful sleep he’s apparently having.

It’s nearing four in the morning before Izuku finally admits that he won’t get any sleep, and five before he finally summons the courage to slip out from under Kacchan. He goes to the main room and makes himself some breakfast, looks out the window and watches the dawn, and decides he might as well do his daily workout now.

 

When he returns from his run, his mom is awake in the kitchen and making more breakfast. “Good morning, mom,” he greets hesitantly.

 

“Good morning, Izuku,” she says faintly, and smiles at him.

 

“I’m sorry about last night,” he says. “Um, I can explain now?”

 

He explains, over his second breakfast, about Kacchan getting into Yuuei and being determined to prove that he’s stronger than Izuku once and for all. He explains about Kacchan’s attempts to fight him. It just sounds worse and worse the more he tries to explain, so he just ends up burying his face in his hands and trying not to despair.

 

“I-it’s okay, Izuku,” his mom says, “I understand, there’s nothing going on between you and Katsuki.” She pauses. “But it does seem a little untoward…”

 

“It’s fine,” Izuku hastens to say. “I’m used to it.”

 

His mom looks a little sad.

 

It’s almost eleven before Kacchan wakes up. “Good morning,” Izuku greets.

 

Kacchan just rolls back over and says, “Fuck off.”

 

“Oh, okay.” Izuku pauses at the door and says, “Lunch is in an hour, if you want to come?”

 

Kacchan grunts. Izuku leaves.

 

Lunch is a quiet affair and Kacchan doesn't come to join them, which seems to make his mom quietly relieved. She also takes this as opportunity to say, “I know you told me you two aren't in a relationship, but are you sure neither of you are interested?”

 

Mom,” Izuku says, face flooding red.

 

“I know, I know!” She waves her hands around. “But Katsuki seems very determined to interact with you…”

 

Izuku shakes his head. “He's just stubborn when there's something he wants. There's no way he's interested in someone like me.” If he's even able to be interested in anyone…

 

“Anyone would be stupid not to be interested in you,” his mom declares fiercely. “You're cute, intelligent, and a good person!”

 

Izuku flushes again. “It -- it doesn't matter! I'm not interested, either!”

 

His mom thankfully drops it after trying to defend his eligibility a bit more, and lunch passes otherwise normally. He checks his room when he finishes eating; Kacchan is gone, the window is open, and there are scorch marks on the wall for some reason. Maybe from last night while he was talking to his mom? Why didn't he notice them?

 

Izuku shakes his head and puts it out of his mind.

 

Kacchan stops hounding Izuku for the rest of the break. He only sees him again once or twice. It's something of a relief, but something of a disappointment too. Izuku busies himself with some reading -- math and physics -- to get a head start for high school. He also spends more time wandering the neighborhood, and consequently gets into more incidents. But still…

 

“I know it's probably just the fact that I have more time to run around now, but I feel like the number of incidents is increasing,” he confesses to Sancha over sushi one day.

 

“It is,” says Sancha in a low voice. “So take care of yourself, and don't blame yourself if you aren't always there to help, alright?”

 

Izuku tries, but his panic attacks get a little more frequent -- not enough to hinder his daily activity, but enough that his mom notices and seem a bit more worried.

 

The school year starts. His new school is a town away, and he only recognizes a couple other people from his middle school, none of them the main instigators of his bullying. They stay far away from him, which is nice. In fact, the utter anonymity of the whole thing is nice. No one knows or cares who he is and it is such a relief.

 

Izuku introduces himself to some of his classmates, and it goes surprisingly well. He has new contacts in his phone and people who associate themselves with him without mocking him. He almost mentions this to Uemura when he visits her cafe, but it's such a pathetic sentiment that he feels bad just thinking about it. Uemura celebrates his new school with a box of cookies.

 

Occasionally, he sees Kacchan walking home. Izuku is tentative. Still, he greets Kacchan, and when he doesn't get any over the top challenges or death threats, he starts asking after his day. Kacchan usually snubs him, but he’s used to it, and he gleans some information from their interactions anyways.

 

“I fucking owned the training exercise today,” for example. “Kirishima is a fucking idiot,” for another. “Fuck off and die,” when something has irritated him especially that day.

 

The day that Kacchan comes back later than usual, Izuku is sitting on a bench, sketching. Izuku looks up and asks if something happened. Kacchan scowls. “Villain Alliance,” he snaps. “Go look it up on the news or something. I don’t have time to waste on Quirkless screw-ups like you.”

 

Izuku nods. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he says.

 

Kacchan gives him a weird look and walks away.

 

Izuku watches the news anxiously that night, absorbing information on the villains that attacked Kacchan’s class. It’s a worryingly audacious move.

 

Years ago, he might have worried about All Might and the other heroes who fought, but they have healers and resources and allies; they don't need his worry. His first thought, instead, is what will happen if the Alliance attacks someone in his neighborhood.

 

Uemura-san, at the cafe. Tamanaha-sensei and the dojo and all the students who go there. Tsukauchi and Sancha, and the Police Force they work on. Masaki and all the residents he looks after. Even everyone at his new high school. He isn’t arrogant enough to think that they’re under his protection, but sometimes the heroes don’t arrive on time and he’s the only protection they have. What if he can’t protect them, though? What if he doesn’t make it on time? What if they turn out to be too strong for him, and what if someone from the community he cares for so deeply is killed?

 

Villains, after all, don’t care about civilian casualties.

 

The first thing Izuku does is ask around for a motorcycle or some kind of fast transport he can use. Fujimura Shuko, a mechanic whose grandson Izuku saved from a rampaging shark villain a year ago, volunteers to fix up his old motorcycle for Izuku. “Give me a couple days, and she’ll be good as new,” he tells Izuku cheerfully, “and then I’ll teach you how to drive this motherfucker proper.”

 

He stays true to his promise. Izuku is mildly terrified as he steers his new motorcycle down the highway, screaming, and Fujimura sitting behind him and laughing wildly as they careen to the side. Miraculously, the motorcycle survives. Izuku thanks him. He grunts and says, “If ya need anything else tryin’ ta keep this city safe, you call me, alright?”

 

The second think Izuku does is seek out Kobayashi Ruma, whose husband he helped two years ago, and ask how heroes are able to arrive on time to stop villain attacks.

 

“It’s hit and miss,” the electrician tells him. “There’s surveillance cameras and social media, and high-visibility news coverage, too. They've got dispatchers combing through those things 24/7, or police officers to receive calls, but human error and the time it takes to call and dispatch heroes means it’s hard to arrive before anyone gets hurt. It doesn’t help that the pro heroes have their own agencies. It’s uncoordinated and inefficient.” Kobayashi sniffs.

 

It’s no secret that Kobayashi despises the entertainment-driven and competitive nature of the hero industry, which sometimes comes at the expense of civilian safety. Izuku personally agrees with her.

 

“Okay,” he says. “You saw the news about the villains who attacked Yuuei, right?”

 

“Who hasn’t?”

 

“Yuuei is worryingly close to here and I wanted your advice on creating a more efficient warning system.” He bites his lip. “I don’t want to be too full of myself, but if anything happens near here--”

 

“I know,” she says. “You want to help. I still think you’re too young to put that kind of responsibility on your shoulders, but I’ll see what I can do.” She pins him with a glare. “And if anyone gets hurt, it isn’t your fault, okay?” She crosses her arms.

 

Izuku gives her a smile. “Yeah, I got it, obasan,” he says, even though they both know that Izuku will feel guilty anyways.

 

“Good.” She uncrosses her arms. Her eyes slide to the wall and he can practically see the gears starting to turn in her head. “I’ve been thinking about this for years, ” she says. “However, I need some funding, or at least people who can work with metal. Better if they’ve got factory machines. Got anyone you know like that?”

 

Izuku thinks about it. “I think so,” he says, “but they might not help until you have a plan and maybe some contingencies first, so let me know when you figure that out, okay?”

 

At school, he talks to one of his friends, Hirata Mitoki. He is brilliant at coding and everything computers, but school doesn’t interest him much, and his grades don’t truly reflect his intelligence.

 

“Hey, Mitoki,” he says, “I’ve got a project for you, if you’re interested.”

 

Mitoki looks up. “Izuku!” he greets. “Whatcha got?”

 

“First, there’s someone I’m working with to create a more efficient alarm system in case villains attack. I think it would be useful to make a smartphone app for that, too, one that can sync with her system if it’s within range.”

 

Mitoki looks intrigued. “What are you thinking for the app?”

 

Izuku shrugs. “Something next to the emergency button on a lock screen; you press that button, and it automatically sends an alert to a list of contacts that you choose. It also contacts the nearest hero or hero agency.”

 

“Hmm,” says Mitoki. “I’ve got some radio towers to hack. Maybe even a satellite.” He looks delighted. “What’s next?”

 

“Second,” and Izuku takes a deep breath. It's time for his first foray into vigilantism. “Can you hack into the Yuuei security system and get me footage of the villain attack?”

 

Mitoki’s eyes widen and he lets out a whistle. “When you take something on, you sure go the whole way,” he says, but he’s smiling. “What if I get caught, what then?”

 

“You’re too good to be caught,” says Izuku. “But if you were, they should be hiring you -- or at least, paying you a little -- for finding breaches in their security.” He looks earnestly at Mitoki.

 

His classmate laughs. “I love this,” he says. “I’ll take on your challenges. I’ll even do it free of charge. But I won’t say no to bribery.” Mitoki winks.

 

Izuku smiles. “Thank you,” he says. Then he adds, “During the yearly Yuuei Sports Festival, I can slip in as a spectator, so if you need me to plant any bugs or machines physically, we can do it then.”

 

“Damn, you’ve really thought this through!” says Mitoki. “You are so illegal. This is why you’re my favorite.”

 

An hour before Izuku goes to sleep that day, he gets a text from Mitoki that says, might have to take u up on that offer to plant a bug + hook me up w ur friend, im down!!

 

Izuku sends back a couple smiley emojis and Kobayashi’s phone number. He texts Kobayashi to tell her everything he set up, and she texts back, Okay.

 

He lets out a sigh and sits back, closing his eyes, trying to ease his anxious thoughts.

 

Everything will be fine, he tells himself, and he retires to bed early. The next day he adds another 10 kilometers to his run to work off his nervous energy.

 

A week passes. Kobayashi texts him, saying, Meet me at Uemura’s cafe tomorrow with that friend of yours. I’ve got plans laid out. Izuku and Mitoki go to the cafe, where Uemura hugs Izuku and plants a kiss on each cheek. “Izuku! It’s been a while!” she says. “I’ve got a new kind of cake; want to try it out?”

 

Izuku smiles shyly. “If you don’t mind,” he says.

 

“Of course!” says Uemura, and bustles away. Izuku and Mitoki spot Kobayashi at the back, and they sit down, exchanging greetings.

 

Uemura slides a cake in front of them. “On the house, as thanks,” she says with a wink. Izuku reddens and ducks his head as Uemura twirls away.

 

“Damn,” says Mitoki. “What did you do to get that kind of thanks?”

 

“It’s not important,” says Izuku,determined to ignore Mitoki’s curious stare. “Um, Kobayashi, you said you had plans?”

 

The electrician is smirking at him, but nods and pulls blueprints out of her bag.

 

Mitoki and Kobayashi have been collaborating, it’s clear. In the end, they settle on simple buttons that can be stuck to walls, signs, lamp posts, and other surfaces. When the buttons are pressed, they’ll send out a signal to the nearest wifi network and contact a server that Mitoki will set up; the server will notify all phones within a two-block radius of the button that a villain is near, and it will also contact the police and nearby heroes. The buttons can be sustained by batteries that won’t have to be replaced for at least six months.

 

Mitoki will create an app that effectively does the same thing, but it can piggyback on any cellphone signal, regardless of the availability of wifi.

 

“We’ll need to create prototypes first, of course,” says Kobayashi. “Now’s the time for you to put me in contact with any metalworkers or mechanics or engineers you know, Izuku.”

 

Izuku nods dutifully, even as Mitoki laughs and says, “How many people do you know, man ?

 

The next day, Izuku puts Fujimura in contact with Kobayashi. They get along like a house on fire and it’s a little bit terrifying. He also calls Sancha and persuades him to collaborate with Mitoki on the app. Izuku assures him that he only needs to help Mitoki when the testing stage comes around. Sancha reluctantly agrees; Mitoki is worryingly ecstatic about the news.

 

Izuku is accosted by a tense Kacchan on his way up the steps to his home. “Kacchan?” Izuku says carefully.

 

“Deku,” Kacchan growls, like his name is a personal affront to existence. “Where the fuck were you yesterday?”

 

“Yesterday?” He casts his mind back. Why would Kacchan ask…Oh. His meeting with Kobayashi and Mitoki meant he didn’t see Kacchan and ask about his day. “I was -- meeting some friends, about something important,” he explains. “Um...sorry I wasn’t here?”

 

Kacchan growls and shoves him against the railings, and then goes storming down the stairs. Izuku has the faint suspicion that he was worried that he didn’t show up.

 

“Wait!” he yells, leaning over the rails. Kacchan turns back, glowering. “How was your day?” Izuku finishes, and grins sheepishly.

 

“None of your shitty-ass business!” Kacchan yells back and storms away.

 

After his daily run, Izuku retrieves the leftovers of yesterday’s cake and walks the short distance to Kacchan’s house. When he knocks on the door, Kacchan’s mother welcomes him in and gives him a hearty slap on the back, before yelling for her shitty son to get fucking down here, a friend has come to visit and for once don’t scare him away! Kacchan skulks down and tenses when he sees Izuku. “What are you doing here?” he demands.

 

“I have cake?” says Izuku, and holds up the offering.

 

Kacchan glowers at him for a moment more, before snapping, “Give me that,” and swiping the box of cake from his hands. They go to the kitchen, where Kacchan’s mom makes him get out plates and cutlery for the guest. Izuku is witness to another argument between the two before he steps in and tells Kacchan’s mom that it’s alright and he can serve himself.

 

As they eat, Izuku tells Kacchan more about his friends and his school. Kacchan listens sullenly at first, but slowly thaws out to his normal bad temper; apparently even his dark mood can’t stand against cake. “Mitoki has been a good friend, even if his morals and views on the law aren’t exactly conventional,” Izuku is telling him, “and he’s been great to work with so far. He’s even helping me to--” He breaks off, and coughs. “--do a school project. On. History. Yeah.”

 

Kacchan raises a disdainful eyebrow. “Getting into something illegal, Deku?” he sneers.

 

“Oh, no,” says Izuku. “Definitely not. I would never. I wanted to be a hero for years, remember? I can’t do that if I’m breaking the law.”

 

Kacchan clearly doesn’t believe him. He snorts. “Whatever, don’t come crying when you fuck up.”

 

It’s probably the most civil conversation they’ve had since the school year started.

Chapter Text

“So how are your breaking and entering skills?” is how Mitoki opens up conversation with Izuku the next day.

 

Izuku pauses, spoon halfway to his mouth, and puts his food down. “Why?” he asks.

 

Mitoki grins. “Yuuei Sports Festival,” he says. “I got us tickets in from my cousin who knows a guy who works at a hero agency that’s gonna be scouting, and the tickets will get us Special Entry Permission IDs. I think I could hack into their servers, but I need to upload a virus to their system in person first. You in?”

 

Izuku squints. “So what’s the purpose of this, exactly? To get the footage?”

 

Mitoki waves a hand. “I already got the footage. But I’ve got a USB with a handy bug, and I want to try and get the stuff on it into the server, and I think I might only be able to access the terminal in person. I’ll give you the footage, but I hope you’ll try this with me too.” He flashes Izuku a brilliant grin.

 

“...Okay, I will,” Izuku says, trying to convince himself that this isn't a bad decision. “But only if you use it as leverage to get paid or get hired, alright?”

 

Mitoki looks cheered. “I will,” he says. “Now, here’s the security plans I was able to get, and some other stuff, and here’s what I’m guessing we’ll have for security. You got a good mind, Izuku, what do you think?”

 

Izuku demurs, but he ends up making a couple solid plans before the end of the day. Mitoki looks incredibly satisfied. “You’re the best friend a guy could ask for,” he says cheerfully. Izuku feels a thrum of foreboding run down his spine and smiles nervously.

 

He tells Kacchan a couple days later, “I’m going to the Sports Festival.” Kacchan pauses, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll be there to cheer you on,” Izuku says, and leaves before he can say anything incriminating. He hears Kacchan scoff, but his pace as he walks away is sedate.

 

The day of reckoning arrives. His nerves are beyond shaken, they’re shredded, but he said he would help his friend, and so he will. He obsessively goes over the plan again and again in his head. It relies mainly on the fact that Mitoki can fool the Yuuei security system temporarily -- sending a false location through their ID cards -- and also that they have detailed plans of the school memorized; hopefully, that will be enough.

 

Izuku has dyed his hair purple, put makeup over his freckles, put on a large cap and thick-rimmed glasses, and brought a high-collar jacket. Mitoki has dyed his hair blue and brought a large pair of goggles. They fall in line with the agency they’re supposed to be accompanying, and the two of them let themselves fall back -- duck under a curtain -- disappear into the latticework that supports the stadium bleachers. “That guy who got us tickets will cover for us, he owes my cousin a favor,” Mitoki whispers. “Now let’s find a weak spot.”

 

They eventually spot a metal patch job, big enough that if it were a hole they could crawl through it. Mitoki rubs his hands together. “Ohh, yes, I can’t wait to see your Quirk at work,” he says with a grin. Izuku sighs. He told Mitoki a while ago that he had an extremely versatile strengthening Quirk, and Mitoki has wanted to see it in action ever since.

 

“Just be quiet. We’re lucky the crowds will cover for the noise,” he tells Mitoki. He grips the corner of the metal and clenches, enough to carve grooves into the metal and make a handle. Then he peels the metal patch away like one might peel a particularly stubborn sticker.

 

“Holy shit, dude,” says Mitoki breathlessly.

 

“Come on,” Izuku says, and he picks Mitoki up and jumps out the side of the stadium to the ground about two stories below. He lands near silently and rolls, then pulls Mitoki behind some bushes. “Can you tell where we are?”

 

“Yeah,” says Mitoki, still sounding awed, “Yeah, I can.” He pulls uniforms out of his backpack and tells Izuku to change. “Now put on these glasses and smudge some dirt on yourself,” he adds, and Izuku does.

 

The two of them emerge from the bushes confidently as maintenance workers, heading towards the Department of Support. They busy themselves at a manhole cover, and then slip inside the sewers.

 

Mitoki leads them unerringly to the manhole cover by their goal. Izuku moves the cover and gets the both of them out. Mitoki spends a good ten minutes fiddling with some electronic box that Izuku doesn’t entirely understand -- “I’m looping the camera footage in the classrooms,” he explains -- and then, leading them back to the classrooms, Mitoki proceeds to demonstrate a worrying proficiency with lockpicking.

 

“There,” Mitoki whispers, and they get into the school computer lab. Mitoki logs in with one of the student’s accounts that he hacked, apparently, and takes five minutes to upload the dubious contents of his USB.

 

They retreat the same way they came in. Mitoki sets the lock before they go. They make it back to the stadium, but the hole has been discovered and there are people inspecting it.

 

Izuku ducks down behind some more bushes. They are very convenient. “Mitoki. They have to have vents for the belowground rooms. Let’s go.”

 

They find and wriggle into a vent, and Izuku pries away any inconvenient grates in the way. They drop into a waiting room. Izuku casts an eye around; the Yuuei kids must have been waiting here for the start of the competition, judging by all the stuff being left around.

 

They shed their disguises and stuff it back into Mitoki’s pack. Izuku pulls his hat firmly over his head and pushes the glasses up. “Okay, there’s gotta be a way back up that doesn’t require us to go through the arena…”

 

“I think I know the way. Come on,” says Mitoki.

 

They make it back to the stadiums and slip into the seats almost without incident. There’s a point in time where guards make rounds, and Izuku grabs Mitoki and jumps up and hangs from the ceiling to avoid being spotted, but they make it out fine.

 

“Man,” Mitoki says breathlessly as they sit down, “your Quirk is so useful. I wish I had something that I could actually use.”

 

Izuku shrugs and ducks his head, and wonders what Mitoki would say if he knew that Izuku doesn’t have a Quirk at all.

 

The Sports Festival is...amazing. The competition is cutthroat, and the obstacle course is interesting – but Izuku is most interested in the students participating. Kacchan is going neck-and-neck with a boy named Todoroki Shouto. He has an ice Quirk, but Izuku is fairly sure he's the son of the hero Endeavor. Maybe he inherited from his mother, then.

 

Todoroki is so striking. Izuku is never going to be able to forget that face or that strange coloring, or the way Todoroki slid past the finish line backlit by the bright fires of Kacchan’s destruction. The light on his hair, the shadows on his cheeks. If Izuku was a better artist, he would try to draw it -- but he’s not quite there yet, and the best he can do is envision the painting he wishes he could make.

 

Kacchan practically glows with the fury of placing second to Todoroki, and the clash during the second event seems to shake the air. Shockwaves reverberate, and Izuku feels like a ringing bell in the howling winds of a hurricane. He’s enraptured. He can’t look away. He’s utterly swept up and on the edge of his seat, eyes riveted, and there are so many things to look at but he keeps looking back.

 

Watching them, it makes Izuku feel like they could topple mountains or split oceans. The world could fall in front of their hands.

 

Team Todoroki manages to keep the headband, in the end. Present Mic, in the announcing booth, declares the winners and the upcoming matches, and everyone breaks for lunch.

 

When the third event starts, Izuku settles down and leans forward to study the Quirks some more, because when else will he get the opportunity to study so many powerful and versatile abilities at once? He pulls out his notebook and starts writing as the battles continue.

 

Next to him, Mitoki snickers and offers to get him footage of the festival, too. Izuku, eyes glued to the spectacle, agrees.

 

When the Sports Festival concludes, Izuku goes home and washes off the dye and makeup before he walks over to Kacchan’s house. He knocks, and when Kacchan answers -- still sweaty and in his Yuuei uniform -- Izuku holds up a cake from Uemura’s shop and says, “Congratulations on getting first place, Kacchan!”

 

Kacchan looks from the cake, then to Izuku. He wordlessly swings the door open and turns around and walks into the kitchen. Izuku follows him inside. They share the cake. Kacchan doesn’t say much, but then again, when he isn’t being angry or mocking, that’s what he usually defaults to.

 

Still, it’s nice to spend some time with Kacchan that isn’t based on Izuku being mocked.

 

--

 

Mitoki sends him the footage of the Villain Alliance attacking Class 1-A at Yuuei. Izuku takes careful notes on each one and develops as comprehensive a strategy for each of the villains as he can. Mitoki also gets him footage of the entire sports festival and Izuku practically has a field day.

 

Thanks, Mitoki, he sends.

 

no, thank YOU, Mitoki sends back. told Yuuei and they gave me SO MUCH YEN for finding the holes in their system. Seconds later, Izuku gets another text that says, they were pretty impressed with the heist B) even though they did notice something slightly off...

 

Damn it. That was such a bad idea.

 

Izuku is about to type a reply when Mitoki adds, ITS ALL GOOD THOUGH! theyre just happy to get their security patched. they even took my suggestions lmao!!!

 

The next text from Mitoki is a worrying set of diabolical emojis, along with the phrase i love back doors B).

 

Mitoki no.

 

mitoki yes!! and youll never guess what else, theres an AWESOME girl in the support department who somehow managed to find out about the whole thing and i have no idea how??

 

MITOKI NO.

 

dude relax its fine she just wants to hang out and take advantage of my amazing hacker skills. her name’s hatsume mei. she builds the best stuff, we are going to be best friends.

 

Okay, that is slightly better. After a moment of hesitation, he decides to relax. More best friend than me? Izuku teases.

 

you, izuku, are more than a friend, Mitoki sends. you are a GODSEND. you are my BROTHER IN ARMS.

 

Izuku puts down his phone and goes for a walk outside because he doesn’t know how to deal with that.

 

Eventually, he texts back, Thanks for everything, because he doesn’t have a clue how to respond.

 

no problem dude .

 

The next day, Kacchan tells Izuku that he’ll be going away for the next week to study under Best Jeanist for some kind of field experience training.

 

“Are you sure?” Izuku says hesitantly. “His focus doesn’t really seem to fit you.”

 

Kacchan glares at him. He holds his hands up placatingly. “Okay, got it. Good luck, Kacchan! I’ll be waiting for you to come back.”

 

Kacchan sneers. “I don’t need good luck, especially from the likes of you .”

 

Izuku smiles and laughs. “Well, luck or no luck, I hope it goes well!”

 

“It’ll go well,” Kacchan says. “I’ll make it go well.”

 

Typical Kacchan. Izuku bids him goodbye and goes home.

 

On Monday Izuku stops by Fujimura’s place, and the mechanic invites him in for some tea with him and his son. Fujimura enthusiastically updates Izuku on the alert system project. He and Kobayashi have finished a prototype and a half, but they want to make a few tweaks.

 

“There’s a shop in Hosu,” Fujimura says. “Got some good parts. Think you could stop by there and buy these things?” He slides a shopping list across the table at Izuku. He picks it up and reads the items; some metals and parts, things he doesn’t know.

 

“I can get them to you by Thursday,” Izuku decides. “Is that okay?”

 

Fujimura beams. “I’ll be waiting!”

 

Time passes quickly, and before he knows it, it’s Wednesday and it’s time to go to Hosu. His mom tells him to make sure he has his phone on at all times and to come home safe.

 

“I will,” Izuku promises, and kisses her on the cheek before he goes.

 

The train ride is fine, until it comes to an emergency stop and a hero crashes through the walls. Quickly following it is some sort of terrifying beast, large and hulking and its brain exposed to the world to see. It’s a noumu -- like the thing that attacked Yuuei with the Villain Alliance. It silently roars and peels the roof off the train. The passengers are screaming. Izuku glances around. There’s no one else; the hero who crashed through the train is nowhere to be seen. It’s just him.

 

Izuku runs towards the monster, yells at everyone else, “Stay back!” and launches himself at the noumu. He crashes into it, carrying it away from the train and far into the street outside. They land, and Izuku doesn’t hesitate; he hits the noumu’s head multiple times, and keeps going until the noumu stops twitching underneath him.

 

It vomits up a black, viscous goo on him, eyes unblinking, and it swipes him into a building. Hard.

 

The building crumbles around him. He knocks the rubble away and launches himself full-speed at the noumu. Everything around him slows. The noumu turns; it’s too late. Izuku sucker punches it in the stomach, and a hole straight through its torso blooms. Blood and other things he doesn’t want to think about spray over him as the noumu falls heavily to the ground.

 

Izuku shudders, and steps away, and feels the vague urge to dry heave. His hand is dripping. The noumu’s chest begins to regenerate. The creature itself shows no sign of moving.

There are people yelling. Izuku tries to clean himself up a little bit, but it’s not working, and with the weight of so many stares on him and all the screaming, he begins to feel lightheaded.

 

Izuku takes deep breaths. Then he turns and focuses on his goal. The noumu is defeated; the passengers are safe. The train won’t be starting again, and he’s already in Hosu; he can just run the rest of the way to the shop.

 

“Wait!” someone yells as he begins to step away. “It’s not safe!”

 

Izuku looks back. It’s the conductor. “I think,” Izuku begins, and then he shakes his head to get some of the noumu blood out of his eye. “I think I’ll be okay,” he finishes shakily, “and there’s stuff I have to do -- I’m sorry.”

 

There’s another passenger sticking his head out the window. “At least let me give you a change of clothes before you go,” he hollers.

 

The offer is too much to resist. Izuku walks back to the train and stops outside the window. The passenger tosses him a bunch of tissues. Izuku gratefully wipes his arms down, and then guiltily drops the tissues to the ground.

 

“It’s a terrible thing, and I was going to sell it to a thrift store,” says the stranger, “but it’ll do to get you out of that ruined shirt.” He presents Izuku with an eyesore.

 

It looks like a yellow tracksuit, with a bulky red belt, red gloves, and a tacky white cape.

 

“I’ll take it,” says Izuku, and grimaces. He peels his shirt off and changes into the suit as quickly as he can, shoving his ruined clothes into his backpack. The cape gets in the way, so he rips off half. “Thanks,” he says. “Good luck.”

 

“Thank you ,” says the stranger, waving him off, joined by another chorus of people as Izuku turns and begins running.

 

He sees the hero Endeavor in the distance, unmistakable because of the flames that dance across his beard and hair and skin. His arms are crossed, and Izuku can practically feel the force of his stare from where he is. Izuku shivers and continues on.

 

His plans come to a halt as he considers the smoke rising to the sky, the screaming people running past him. His stomach sinks. Izuku pushes off the ground and leaps onto the roof of a nearby building to avoid the traffic, then begins following the flow back to its source.

 

There, in the plaza: two noumus and the heroes desperately battling them. Izuku cringes at the destruction, at the wear that’s showing on the heroes. Something starts to click in his brain.

 

A wide-scale attack, drawing out heroes in multitudes. The Villain Alliance, who must be responsible for the noumus. And...Hosu: the hunting grounds of Hero Killer Stain.

 

Izuku has a horrible, sinking feeling that these facts aren’t unrelated.

 

Okay, Izuku. Think. What kinds of places does Stain favor? He’s read this before, he knows he has…Back end alleys. Deserted corners. Oh god.

 

Izuku pulls up a map on his phone, and then he starts circling around the plaza in increasingly large circles, checking the dead ends that he can. If his conjecture is false, he'll have left the heroes to deal with two noumus all on their own -- but he doesn’t want to think about what will happen if it’s true, and no one is there to check. He'll just have to trust the pro heroes to win this one. He has to.

 

As he gets further from the battle with the noumus, it gets quieter. And quieter. And then, quiet enough that he can hear shouts.

 

Izuku leaps over the rooftops just in time to see the Hero Killer himself standing over three prone forms in an alleyway. Todoroki Shouto -- Izuku recognizes him instantly. How can he not? The other two he doesn’t know, but it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t. The Hero Killer is about to kill the black-haired one in an armor-like suit. Izuku takes a shuddering breath, sets down his backpack silently, and launches himself.

 

He lands on the Hero Killer’s shoulders and swings to the side, using the momentum to twist Stain to the ground in a chokehold. Stain swings at him with a knife. Izuku ducks and grabs Stain’s wrist in one hand. He clenches his fist and hears the bone crack audibly. Stain yells, an ugly hoarse yell that grates on his ears, and somehow twists out of the chokehold. Izuku rolls backwards in time to dodge a swipe from the blade in Stain’s other hand.

 

The sword from the wrist that Izuku broke clangs loudly on the alleyway floor.

 

“You’re good,” Stain says in his horrible raspy voice. “Real good. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t a pro hero like you be fighting elsewhere instead of looking for false heroes who aren’t good enough to save?”

 

Izuku grits his teeth. “I’m not a pro hero,” he snaps, tense. “And everyone is worth saving. I won’t let you hurt them.”

 

“‘I won’t let you hurt them,’” Stain repeats. “That’s a nice line. However…” He flicks his blade. It gleams ominously in the light. “I have a duty to kill these men, and if you get in the way, I’ll kill you too.”

 

Izuku feels himself tremble for a moment. Stain has incapacitated many heroes, all of them far more skilled than him, and he’s killed others too. He’s a true murderer. Izuku could very well die here.

 

But he’s faced mortality too many times to let himself back down now. He takes a deep breath. “That’s fine,” he says. “But you’ll only kill them over my dead body.”

 

“No!” shouts one of the people on the ground.

Izuku leaps forward. Stain is smiling widely. He slashes with his sword, but Izuku kicks off an alley wall to change direction, and then he punches full force at Stain. The resulting wind force makes Stain stumble back into the alley, further and further from the three who are lying on the ground.

 

“Don’t let him ingest your blood!” one of them shouts. “If he does, it’ll paralyze you!”

 

Izuku breaths in deeply. “Got it,” he says, and then Stain attacks.

 

It’s all Izuku can do to dodge the strikes, but he hasn’t been spending years training at Tamanaha-sensei’s dojo for nothing. It only takes one opening, and then Izuku slides under Stain’s arm. With one hand, he hits the inside of Stain’s wrist; with the other, he smacks the outside of Stain’s hand, and the sword goes flying out of Stain’s suddenly loose fingers. Stain kicks him away and sends an arsenal of daggers after him. Izuku dodges them all, only to be suddenly confronted by Stain pulling a katana out of a sheath on his back.

 

Fast. Izuku can’t hold back here.

 

Izuku charges forward, low. Stain nearly stabs him with the katana, but he rolls to the side and kicks Stain in the back of his knees. Stain twists as he falls, katana slashing in a wide arc. Izuku jumps over it and kicks Stain’s elbow. It breaks with an audible snap.

 

Stain smashes against the alley wall, following the trajectory of Izuku’s kick. Before he can recover, Izuku rushes forward and hits his temple. He sags and falls to the side.

 

Izuku eyes the apparently unconscious villain and steps back. He notes, absently, that he’s barely even worked up a sweat. And he just fought Hero Killer Stain.

 

Izuku takes a deep breath, and then he turns around. The black-haired one and the stranger with the feathers are still on the ground, probably paralyzed from Stain’s Quirk, but Todoroki is pulling himself to his feet. “Are you all okay?” Izuku asks, and is proud of how steady his voice comes out.

 

“That was…” The black-haired one with the glasses looks shocked. “How?”

 

He doesn't have the mental capacity to parse those words right now. “Are you okay?”

 

“We will be fine once the Quirk wears off. Thank you for your aid,” Todoroki says. Izuku finds himself under the scrutiny of his oddly colored, and very intense, eyes. “Who are you?”

 

Izuku’s mind blanks under the stress of today and the overwhelming need to remain anonymous and far away from the spotlight. “I’m -- Deku,” he manages, and immediately wants to kick himself in the face. Why didn’t he get himself out of the habit of introducing himself as Deku while he had the chance? “Who are you?”

 

Why did he just ask who Todoroki Shouto is, when he already knows who he is? Oh god.

 

“Todoroki Shouto,” says Todoroki, and Izuku kind of wants to bury himself in the ground. “My friend is Iida Tenya. And...I don't know who the man in the feathers is.”

 

“Good to know,” says Izuku. “I’m going to,” he begins, taking a few steps away, but he sways to the side. He catches himself on the wall and tries to take a few more steps, and then he gives into the inevitable and lets himself sit down. His legs are weak. When he splays his hands over his knees, he can see them shaking.

 

“Deku?” says Todoroki carefully.

 

“Give me a moment,” Izuku manages to say. His heart pounds; his lungs heave. “If you had a bag or something. Now would be a really great time.”

 

Then he has a full blown panic attack right there in the alley, and Hero Killer Stain’s unconscious body a mere four feet away. It seems absurdly unreal, and Izuku is treated to a hysterical bout of laughter on top of everything else. Eventually the tears and the laughter wear down to ugly wheezes of air, and then to an undignified round of hiccups.

 

Todoroki seems at a loss for what to do. By the time Izuku gets over the worst of it, Iida has been released from his paralysis, as has the stranger -- who is apparently a pro hero. Izuku wipes his leaky faucet eyes and stands back up, and his eyes are immediately drawn to Iida. There’s still blood on his arms, dripping slowly on the ground as he helps the pro hero bind Stain with cords they found in the trash.

 

His legs still feel shaky, but he forces himself to jump back onto the rooftop and grab his backpack anyways. Fumbling the zipper open, he feels slow and clumsy and foolish, and it feels like long minutes before he manages to find what he’s looking for.

 

Todoroki glances over at him curiously when he jumps back down, and Izuku tries not to fold under his attention. “Iida,” he says, as loudly as he dares -- which, admittedly, is not very, so Iida doesn’t notice it. Izuku hesitates, but he has a higher purpose; he approaches the other boy and says a bit more loudly, “Iida, um, excuse me. Can you sit down? And tell me how to take off your armor? W-we n-need to treat your wounds.”

 

Iida straightens up, and his back is very straight, it almost scares Izuku more than anything else that has happened today. “Do not worry, I will be fine until our backup arrives!” he says with a smile. The light of the burning city casts ominous shadows over Iida’s face until his smile is half eaten by darkness. Like chiaroscuro, Izuku thinks -- as magnificent and vengeful as the paintings of old.

 

“You’re bleeding,” Izuku says. “A-and, that looks like it might have been near a big artery. And ambulances can take nearly fifteen minutes to arrive, especially in big cities, a-and the city is being attacked, it might take ages for anyone to come. You’re not allowed to bleed out for fifteen minutes when I have a perfectly serviceable first aid kit right here.”

 

The smile ( faux, Izuku knows, as false as the one his mother uses when she wants him to think everything will be fine) is replaced by a serious look, all the more foreboding for the lighting. “I--”

 

“No,” Izuku says quickly, because he doesn’t want to be talked out of this. “No. I can do something about it, right now. Please let me treat your wounds.” He reaches out towards Iida, and then falters, his hand an inch from the white armor.

 

Iida looks at him. A moment passes, and he bows his head, and wordlessly takes off the upper part of his armor.

 

It’s familiar routine after that: Izuku disinfects his hands, cleans Iida’s wounds, and after applying pressure and slowing the bleeding, bandages them. Treating someone else’s injuries is much easier than treating his own, so even though he’s out of practice, everything still turns out fine in the end.

 

Iida is silent as Izuku does his work, which he’s grateful for. He’s so tired, his bones feel like lead. His flesh feels strangely light and heavy all at once. There’s a faint tremor in his muscles that persists, long minutes after the panic attack is gone.

 

After that, Izuku helps Iida put his shirt and armor back on because his arms are a bit wrecked, and he doesn’t want to leave Iida feeling exposed or unprotected without his armor on. Stain managed to stab through the armor anyways, so it must not be much protection -- but at least it’s something.

 

The pro hero calls them out of the alley. Iida strides out after him silently, but somehow, Todoroki falls into place next to Izuku and looks at him askance.

 

“Are you alright?” he asks lowly.

 

“I’m okay,” Izuku says.

 

Todoroki frowns a little bit. “You were having a...panic attack.”

 

Izuku lowers his head, shame-faced. “I-I know, but I’m okay now. I won’t be a liability.”

 

Todoroki gives him a strange look at that last part, and Izuku can't blame him, because it’s a ridiculous claim to make for someone who just melted down in the middle of a crises. He left Iida untreated for so many minutes. Izuku can’t meet Todoroki’s gaze; he looks at the street instead, and tries not to think about the dusky fires that light up the skies.

 

They follow the pro hero for a while more, no sound but their footsteps on the pavement, before Todoroki speaks again. “If you don't mind me asking,” he says quietly, “why are you here, if you aren't a pro hero?”

 

“I was. Running errands,” says Izuku. He clamps down on the uncontrolled laugh trying to crawl out of the mouth.

 

Todoroki’s eyebrows do a strange thing. “Then why did you have a first aid kit on you?”

 

Izuku shrugs, slightly embarrassed. “I always take one with me when I go out,” he mumbles. “You never know when it might come in useful.”

 

“...and the costume?” Todoroki asks.

 

Izuku blinks at him, and then looks down at his clothes. The bright yellow costume and the white cape and his red gloves and red boots. “Oh my god, I'm an eyesore,” he says, mortified.

 

He hears a quiet huff of laughter from Todoroki. That's kind of nice, compared to what's just happened.

 

“I just -- needed a change of clothes,” Izuku mumbles, “and someone offered this to me, and it was supposed to just be a temporary measure, and… This is terrible. This is almost as bad as…” The time he threw up on All Might's shoes. No one needs to know about that, ever.

 

“It's alright,” says Todoroki. “Let's focus on the task at hand.”

 

There isn't a task at hand. They're just greeted by a group of heroes, who look shocked at their states and immediately ask what happened, and is that Hero Killer Stain, and how ? Izuku feels dizzy with all these new, loud people and their questions, and he just wants to back away.

 

Todoroki and the other pro hero take the lead in speaking to them. Izuku hangs back and lets them bear the brunt of the attention with relief, and he jumps when someone puts a hand on his shoulder. He turns his head to see Iida with a serious, and honestly a little angry, expression.

 

“You shouldn't have interfered,” he says stiffly, “but thank you for everything. You got hurt on our behalf, and for that I am sorry.”

 

It takes a moment for Izuku to process that. “I…shouldn't have interfered?” he says incredulously.

 

“It was not any of your business,” Iida confirms woodenly.

 

Izuku feels his face flush with frustration and the beginnings of anger, and it is terrible. Today has been too much. He doesn't want to deal with whatever this guy is so upset about. “So I should have walked away?” he says, and the anger that swells in him chokes him for a moment. “Why? What is your business, that it should be more important to me than saving someone's life? What could it possibly be?”

 

His voice has risen. He realizes that the heroes are looking over, and he immediately looks away guiltily. “Sorry,” he says . “I didn't mean to yell.”

 

“No, you're right,” says Todoroki, stepping into the conversation. There's a cold expression on his face. “Iida is being unreasonably stubborn because he is personally invested. He left his post to get vengeance on Stain for attacking and incapacitating his brother.”

 

“Todoroki!” says Iida in a shocked and reproachful voice, probably for spilling the truth to a complete stranger.

 

“For vengeance,” Izuku echoes, and it takes him a moment to realize the blank voice is his own. He blinks twice and focuses back in on Iida's face, trying to comprehend. “Why? Was it worth it?”

 

Iida opens his mouth to say something, and then he frowns and furrows his brow.

 

“Duck!” someone yells.

 

Izuku drops down and looks up to see an enormous pair of claws bearing down like a clamp, and next thing he knows, one of the pro heroes has been swept up by yet another noumu, staring down at them from under a great pair of leather wings.

 

“What?” Izuku says weakly.

 

The heroes are shouting. Uselessly. Not one of them makes a move to go after the noumu, and Iida is injured, and Todoroki's Quirk probably can't reach the flying beast. There's no one else.

 

Izuku takes a moment to let the sheer unfairness of it all wash over him, to let the tears prick at his eyes, and then he shakes himself off.

 

Sometimes, the heroes don't get there on time, he reminds himself, and grits his teeth. That's why you're here.

 

Izuku jumps onto the rooftops and bounds after the noumu, catching up in three easy steps. Then a crouch, and a leap, and he lands on the noumu's back. Then he grabs the front edge of one of the wings, feels the bone there, and snaps it.

 

The noumu careens to one side wildly. Izuku jumps off and grabs onto the kidnapped hero right before the noumu lets go of it, and then they're tumbling through the air. Izuku gets a firmer hold on the hero and palm thrusts downward; the wind buffets against them and slows their fall. Izuku lands in a roll, and then he sets the hero down.

 

“Holy shit,” the hero is gasping. “How in the world--”

 

Izuku ignores him and turns to face the noumu, who is shaking off the rubble from the building it just crashed into. The noumu swings around, looks at him, and charges forward.

 

He meets it with a punch to the jaw. It goes flying down the street, and it crashes into another building. It doesn't get up again.

 

He lowers his fist, and then he makes himself go through some breathing exercises because this is entirely too much.

 

The heroes come forward, shouting some more, and they are so loud and. Useless, his mind whispers accusingly. Izuku feels a surge of anger that makes his teeth grit together, and then he takes deep breaths and smooths it away for another time. He has other things to focus on. The anger subsides, but it buzzes at the base of his skull.

 

There's a rasping laugh. A chill crawls up his spine, and he shivers violently. He turns around and looks at Stain, who is awake and looking at him and smiling as if he's found something so particularly pleasing, he'd just like to crush it under his boot.

 

“You're an interesting one, aren't you,” he says. “Worth saving. But you don't even consider yourself a hero, do you?”

 

Izuku goes cold, but the body doesn't move.

 

Stain laughs. “This society we live in...You should be the one recognized. But instead...” He indicates the pro heroes around him with a jut of the chin. “These fakes, gorging themselves on attention and popularity without so much as a selfless thought – they're lauded far and wide for their selfish acts. What a backwards world.”

 

“Be quiet,” Todoroki orders Stain coldly. One of the other heroes echoes his sentiment and kicks Stain in the side, causing Stain to cough wetly. Izuku stares at the hero, unable to believe what he just witnessed.

 

“You see it too, don't you?” Stain rasps with a grin. “The corruption that crawls through the heroics industry. The cruelty, the shallowness.” He shifts, and Izuku is suddenly hit by a bloodlust so strong, it makes him – and everyone else – take an involuntary step back. “Someone must stain himself with the blood of the unworthy,” he hisses, and his aura presses down on them all like a howling black wind. “Someone must purge this society. So. Stay true to your calling, little hero. Don't forget what it is you fight for.”

 

Izuku trembles, but the body is still. The body says, “I won't.”

 

The heroes turn to look at him, and some of them are yelling at him for responding to Stain, for his implicit agreement with what Stain said. Izuku closes his eyes and feels the tears welling up  and wishes the day was over.

 

And then Endeavor arrives, and emergency workers arrive, and everything moves very quickly after that.

 

Izuku somehow finds himself being swept into an ambulance along with the injured Todoroki and Iida. He doesn't fight it. He drifts off briefly, but then jolts awake. He fumbles for his phone and finds he has four missed calls. Izuku dials his mom as fast as he can with his trembling fingers; his mom picks up within two rings.

 

“Izuku!” his mom says immediately. “Are you okay? Where are you right now? I've been so worried--”

 

She sounds as hysterical as Izuku kind of wants to feel, but right now all he can feel is sort of a numb and distant shock in his entire body, leaving his fingers and toes tingling. “I'm okay,” he says, and is surprised when his voice comes out completely normal. “I'm still in Hosu. I fought two monsters and Hero Killer Stain. I have a cut on my shoulder and I'm tired but that's all. They put me in an ambulance though and I think they need a statement. I'm probably going to be absent from school tomorrow.”

 

His mom sobs. “Oh, thank god,” she says. “I was so worried.”

 

Izuku calms his mother down and assures her that he will be fine. Then he tells her he has to go to answer some questions, he'll talk to her later. They say goodbye. Izuku drops the phone in his ruined bag and looks at it blankly for a while.

 

Someone has put a shock blanket around him. That's nice. Izuku wraps it around himself and waits the rest of the ride to the hospital in silence, listening to the paramedics fuss and avoiding the other two student’s heavy gazes.

 

The rest of the night passes in a blur. Iida gets a blood transfusion. He and Todoroki are bandaged by professionals. They’re all put in the same room for the night. The Police Force stop by around eight to pull them out individually for questioning, and then they all get some sedatives and are told to go to sleep.

 

Izuku is out as soon as he hits the pillow.

 

---

 

He’s slowly pulled awake by the distant murmur of voices.

 

“...let us live. If he wanted to kill us, he definitely could have.” A moment of quiet, then a cold, “Iida, what were you thinking?”

 

Izuku opens his eyes and stares muzzily at the ceiling. The bed and pillow are so soft, it feels like an out of body experience. Like he’s not really there. He shifts and pushes himself into a sitting position, looking over at the other two.

 

They’re awake, and apparently his movements have interrupted some kind of talk of theirs. Izuku takes in the subtle lines of anger on Todoroki’s face and the quiet, strained expression on Iida’s and he immediately says, “I’m sorry, I’ll just -- go back to sleep, please don’t kill me.”

 

“No, it’s fine,” Iida begins, and that’s when the door opens and conveniently interrupts them. Izuku looks over with relief, and then freezes when he sees a man with a dog head wearing a crisp suit accompanied by a couple pro heroes, and All Might. Oh god.

 

“Iida, Todoroki!” All Might booms. Then, “Young Midoriya!”

 

“You remember me?” Izuku says disbelievingly. Then, mortified, “ Oh my god you remember me. ” This time there’s nothing to prevent him from burying his face in his hands.

 

“Of course, young man! You made quite an impression!” says All Might. Izuku thinks about what happened and whines a little bit. “I must offer my congratulations -- but first, you have a visitor: the Chief of the Hosu Police Precinct, Mr. Tsuragamae Kenji.”

 

“Don’t worry, you can remain seated,” says the man with a dog head. “I know you had it quite ruff!”

 

Sancha is going to kill me for getting into so much trouble, Izuku thinks.

 

“So you’re the ones who put a stop to the Hero Killer! You’re real heroes, alright!” the Police Chief goes on to say. “Actually, regarding the Hero Killer…He sustained several burns, bone fractures, and other serious injuries, and is presently undergoing treatment for them.”

 

Izuku looks down. Wow, he never realized how fascinating the plain white sheets of his hospital bed were before now. He busies himself staring at them and not making eye contact with anyone, ever.

 

Then Tsuragamae proceeds to tell them why the Police Force has no Quirk users, and why heroes are allowed to use their Quirks in public, and then he says things like, “Those who aren’t yet qualified might harm others using their Quirks, if they lack the directions of their guardians or supervisors. Even if their opponent were to be, say, the Hero Killer himself, this is nonetheless a top violation of the rules.”

 

He also says, “You three, and your supervising pro heroes, must all be handed down an adequately impartial judgment.”

 

It’s almost like the speech that Tsukauchi gave him when he was twelve. Izuku feels a bit nostalgic.

 

“Wait, hold on, sir,” says Todoroki.

 

“Todoroki--” begins Iida.

 

“If Iida hadn’t moved in, then Mr. Native would have died.” Is that the name of the stranger who was paralyzed with them? “If Midoriya hadn’t arrived, we would have all been killed!” Izuku winces at the use of his real name, and raises his gaze from his very interesting bed linens to look at Todoroki with wide eyes. “So are you saying we should have followed the rules and let everyone die?! So if the end results turn out alright you think we should just fudge the rules, is that it?! Saving people is what heroes are supposed to do!”

 

“Good grief,” says Tsuragamae, “this is why they call you ‘eggs.’ Your education at Yuuei is hatching well.”

 

This doesn’t placate Todoroki at all. “You damn mutt--” he begins and stands up angrily, shocking Izuku with the sheer rudeness of it.

 

“Stop, he has a point!” Iida rises after him.

 

“Todoroki, he’s telling us this for a reason,” Izuku says. “If he was going to follow through on the punishment, it would have happened already. Wait for the rest of it.” He’s pretty certain what’s going to happen.

 

The Police Chief dips his head. “Yes. That was my opinion as the police. As for the rest of what I have to say… Well, at the end of the day, punishment and all that is only meted out upon official disclosure. A public announcement would invite the praise and admiration of the people for you, but it would also necessitate punishment. If, however, I were to fail to go public with the dirt of this affair, then it could be concluded from the Hero Killer’s burns that Endeavor was the one who took him down, and I could back up that version of events.

 

“Fortunately, there were very few witnesses. What I am saying is, we can bury your violation like a bone in the yard. However, this means no one can ever know of your dogged decisions and fetching feats!”

 

If it was just Izuku here, he would happily let the incident fade into obscurity. However…

 

“Sir, I think there’s a third option you didn’t consider,” he says quietly, and immediately feels everyone’s gazes on him. He should not have done this. “Mr. Native is a licensed pro hero, and in that case, he’s qualified to make emergency relief judgments. And Quirks can be used legally to provide emergency relief, which is defined as ‘providing life-saving aid in the event that one or more individuals are faced with life-threatening injury, danger, or potentially, death.’ Since Mr. Native was about to be killed by Stain, one could argue that he meets the conditions of being in need of emergency relief. If you went public with the events of last night, Todoroki and Iida could have a strong case in their favor and against punishment.

 

“In addition, since there were very few witnesses, Mr. Native could say that the ‘emergency relief’ was under his request, in which case Todoroki and Iida’s fight would be fully legal. Besides, as heroes-in-training, they can temporarily be placed under another hero’s authority should their technical supervisors be occupied elsewhere. As long as Mr. Native is willing to back up this series of events, Todoroki and Iida can get recognition for their fight against Stain.”

 

There’s a moment of silence. Izuku shrinks back a little, and hurries on with, “A-and the Todoroki family is well-off, thanks to Endeavor’s status as the number two hero… If they’re willing to provide a skilled attorney, the court case should be easy enough to clear.” He looks down at his blankets and curls his fingers.

 

Finally, Tsuragamae lets out a chuckle. “Well-researched, young man. That may very well work. Of course, you will have to gain Mr. Native’s cooperation on this matter. I leave the choice to you.”

 

“At any rate, we need to take responsibility for our negligence,” says one of the pro heroes in the room with a wry smile.

 

Iida bows deeply. “I’m so sorry, sir,” he says, which is such a complete turnaround from last night that Izuku can’t help but stare.

 

The Yuuei students consult with Mr. Native, who is a couple halls away, and eventually decide to go public with the affair and go to a court hearing to make a case against punishment.

 

“However, I admit I am still concerned,” Iida says, adjusting his glasses. “Midoriya, you said you are not a pro hero, nor are you a hero-in-training. How will this affect you?”

 

Well, he’s Quirkless, so most of the charges against him would be useless anyways. Not that he’s going to say any of that. “It’s alright, you can go ahead with it,” he says uncomfortably. “Just don’t mention me, please.”

 

Iida pulls himself upright. “But you are the one who defeated Stain in the end! Of us all, you are the most deserving of recognition!”

 

Izuku winces. “Maybe don’t tell anyone that?” He gets a serious frown in response. “O-or you can tell them what happened but leave my name out of it? I don’t want to be in the papers.”

 

Iida exchanges a glance with Todoroki. “I suppose that is acceptable,” he allows after a moment. “We will not forget the large role you played!”

 

Izuku would actually prefer it if they did, but he just says, “Er, thank you,” and lets that conversation drop. “I guess it’s settled then…” He turns back to the Police Chief. “Um, Mr. Tsuragamae, thank you very much for looking after our interests and being willing to go so far for us.” He stands up and bows. Todoroki and Iida echo his sentiments, and when he straightens, he sees them rising out of their bows, too.

 

“For your sake, I hope everything goes well,” Tsuragamae says solemnly. “I am sorry to cause so much trouble. However, as a fellow keeper of the peace…” He then bows deeply to them, too. “I thank you for your part in keeping this city safe.”

 

Tsuragamae departs. Iida talks to his pro hero supervisor and Todoroki talks to All Might. Izuku sinks back onto the hospital bed and thinks about how his life has spiraled out of control.

 

He’s roused out of his thoughts when he hears a chair scraping, and he opens his eyes in time to see All Might sit next to him. “Young Midoriya!” he greets. “Allow me to offer my congratulations on your amazing feat yesterday. To take down the Hero Killer himself, with no major injuries, is quite an accomplishment!”

 

Too many exclamation marks is making Izuku’s head hurt, but it hardly matters because this is All Might, his childhood hero. “I,” he says. “Thank you? I’m sure Iida and Todoroki weakened him before I got there?”

 

“Nonetheless,” All Might says, and claps him on the shoulder. “You have quite the penchant for taking down fearsome villains.” Uh oh. This is edging dangerously into questioning-Izuku-about-vigilantism territory.

 

“Does he?” says Todoroki.

 

“We've only met twice, ” Izuku says.

 

All Might nods. “The first time we met, he captured the Sludge Villain, and now, he has defeated Hero Killer Stain.”

 

“Sludge Villain?” Todoroki repeats, and looks at Izuku. He feels his face heat up.

 

“I don't want to talk about it,” he mumbles.

 

“You have nothing to be ashamed of!” All Might tells him.

 

“But your shoes ,” Izuku blurts out, and when All Might laughs heartily, he feels the heat spreading to his ears and neck.

 

“I have to confess, this is a story I would like to hear,” Iida says, apparently done talking with his supervisor now.

 

“Please don't,” Izuku begs All Might, but the hero tells the story anyways. He thankfully leaves out the part about Izuku having a panic attack and all the other stuff that happened afterwards, which makes Izuku sound a lot more competent and cool than he actually is. It's unbearable.

“I see,” says Iida, pushing his glasses up. “It seems you are quite the accomplished individual. I do not understand why you would wish to keep this story secret.”

 

Izuku keeps his mouth shut. There is nothing more he has to say on the subject.

 

As it turns out, there’s actually a reason that All Might wants to talk to him. He asks him to retell how he found Stain and the others and how he fought Stain.

 

“I was on my way to Hosu to buy some things, and the train came to an emergency stop, so I got out to walk to my destination,” Izuku begins.

 

“The train that was attacked by a noumu?” All Might clarifies.

 

“Um, yes,” Izuku says. “So I went on--”

 

“While the noumu was rampaging?”

 

“Um.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“I,” Izuku clears his throat a bit. He really does not want to take credit for that. “I punched it a bit?” All Might seems amused. “And then I went on -- and the city was in chaos, so I went to see what it was about, and it was a wide-scale attack that was drawing out heroes in droves, and Hosu was also the hunting ground of the Hero Killer so I was worried that the attack was being used to help Stain commit more murders, so I went onto the rooftops and went looking around just to make sure and that’s when I fought Stain.” He quiets after that and fidgets with his hospital blanket.

 

Iida picks up for him and he is pathetically grateful. “The fight was very fast. Midoriya disabled the Hero Killer’s arms and knocked him out, demonstrating a proficiency for martial arts.” Iida’s glasses shine in the unpleasant fluorescent lighting. “The two of them moved so quickly that I could hardly keep up.”

 

“Oh, well, you were lying on the ground, maybe that’s why?” Izuku says hopefully.

 

“No, he’s right,” says Todoroki. Damn you, Todoroki, Izuku thinks. “What is your Quirk? Strength enhancement?” For some reason, he looks very intent.

 

“Um. Yes,” Izuku says. It doesn’t sound very convincing to his ears. “I’m not used to pushing to such high speeds during fights,” he tries. That sounds better.

 

“And yet, you kept up,” All Might says, congratulatory. “Who taught you?”

 

This is more comfortable ground. “Tamanaha-sensei. She teaches at East Dragon Martial Arts,” he says proudly. “She’s been teaching me for almost a decade.”

 

“But she can’t push you to high speed fights?”

 

Izuku shrugs. “She’s not as fast as me,” he mumbles and picks at the hospital blanket. “Why?”

 

All Might beams full-force at him. He feels a little bit blinded. “Young Midoriya, I would like to offer you the opportunity to study at Yuuei!”

Chapter Text

Izuku stares. His breath freezes; his stomach twists and sinks. “What?”

 

“You have a fine sense of heroics,” All Might tells him. “At Yuuei, you would receive teachers who can help you reach your full potential and push you to achieve more. You could work with other students your level and build up a successful career as a pro hero.”

 

This is...unreal. “Are you...giving me a recruitment pitch?” Laughter bubbles up in his chest. “It's halfway into the first trimester. I didn't even apply to Yuuei in the first place.”

 

All Might nods. Then he says, “Last year, one of our teachers expelled an entire class of students.”

 

Izuku's jaw drops. Todoroki and Iida whip their heads around to stare at All Might, apparently equally shocked.

 

“An entire class? ” Izuku says, trying to collect himself back together. “But Yuuei only accepts the best students! How did an entire class get expelled?!”

 

“Yuuei...has high standards,” All Might offers. Izuku chokes. “However, if we have the resources at our disposal, it’d be a shame to let them go to waste. As such, Nedzu-sensei allows people to apply and transfer in part way through the year, should there be an open space.”

 

Like if someone had been killed? Izuku immediately thinks of Kacchan and the Villain Attack, and the fact that if Kacchan had died, Yuuei might have accepted another student in his place. He doesn't know what to think.

 

“It just so happens that a student was expelled from Class 1-A this year,” All Might tells him. “If you choose to apply, you will be competing against the General Education students as well, since those who do well there have a chance to move into the Heroics Department. Either way, there is a spot open at Yuuei, and it would be an excellent opportunity for you.”

 

Izuku thinks, Ten years ago, this would have been my dream. He says, “I don't know.”

 

Iida looks at him, frowning. “Do you not wish to be a hero?”

 

Izuku doesn't say anything about how he is already doing all the heroics work that he wants to, even if it is only barely above-board by some tiny technicality. He also doesn’t say anything about how he hates attention and Yuuei is always in the spotlight. Just having Todoroki and Iida’s curiosity is already bad enough; he can’t imagine how terrible it would be if he actually decided to attend.

 

He does say, “I don't want to be part of the heroics industry.”

 

He can practically see the questions forming, and he doesn’t want to answer any of them, so he barrels on defensively, “And anyways, why are you asking me? You're the number one hero, teaching at the best hero school in the country, and there’s tons of other people who actually applied. You can do better than--” Izuku cuts himself off and looks away.

 

“Better than someone who almost single-handedly took down Hero Killer Stain without receiving so much as a scratch?” Todoroki says sharply.

 

Better than a Quirkless screw-up like me, Izuku thinks dryly, and wonders why Todoroki cares.

 

“Indeed,” Iida says, apparently more than happy to back up Todoroki. “From what I have seen, you have excellent judgment and combat capabilities. You would be more than welcome in our class if you were accepted. I, for one, would be honored to work with you.”

 

Izuku squirms uncomfortably and all he can think about is that he doesn’t want anyone to know. About his Quirklessness, about his saving people thing, about him. “I'll think about it,” he says finally, not meeting any of their eyes. “When will I be released from the hospital? There's some errands I want to run.”

 

All Might is silent for a moment, and then he says, “Well, give it some thought. If you ever change your mind, you are more than welcome to apply.” He puts a card in front of Izuku. It’s a Yuuei business card, but when Izuku flips it over, he’s immediately confronted by two numbers hand-written in ink.

 

While Izuku is still staring at the card, shocked, All Might says, “Todoroki, Iida, you both have today off. Why don’t you accompany Midoriya on his errands?”

 

Izuku shakes himself out of it. “Wait,” he begins, but Iida and Todoroki are already agreeing.

 

All Might departs, and a doctor comes in and discharges them. Izuku gathers his things quietly, looks down, and sighs.

 

“Midoriya, something appears to be bothering you,” Iida says. “May I inquire what it is?”

 

“The only clothes I have right now are the clothes I ruined, the costume from last night, and this hospital gown,” says Izuku. “I have no idea what to do right now.”

 

Iida laughs, and looks very startled that he did, which makes Izuku laugh too, and then they’re both laughing. This is ridiculous , Izuku thinks, but he finds it hard to care.

 

When they finish, Iida straightens up and says, “Midoriya! I must offer my apologies! I have thought about your words, and your meaning is correct. When I fought the Hero Killer, I became incapable of rational thought, and heedlessly endangered myself and others, at their cost. I should have put my first thought to the safety of others instead.” He bows deeply.

 

“Oh,” Izuku says, startled. “Thank you, and just call me Deku, please.” The use of his real name is still making him twitch. “And, um, apology accepted. But I wasn’t hurt in the fight. I think it’s your friend who needs the apology more.”

 

He looks meaningfully at Todoroki, who quickly schools his expression into something blank, but not fast enough to hide that he felt something.

 

“Ah! You are correct!” Iida immediately turns to Todoroki and bows down. “Todoroki! I humbly apologize! I--”

 

“It’s fine,” Todoroki says in clipped tones, cutting him off. “You already apologized once. Just don’t do it again.”

 

Izuku looks at the two of them. “Are you two okay now?”

 

They look hesitantly at each other, and then Iida smiles at Izuku. “I hope so,” he says, and Todoroki nods.

 

“Good,” Izuku says decisively, and they leave the Hosu General Hospital behind.

 

(Izuku keeps the hospital gown on.)

 

--

 

Yesterday feels like an eternity ago already. Izuku looks up the address Fujimura texted him and gets directions, and then they walk downtown, about an hour away. The small talk mostly comes from him and Iida. They talk about school (“What do you want to do, if not be a hero?” “I’m going to be an engineer.”) and the latest T.V. shows (“I haven’t had much time to watch them lately…” “Haha, me neither! Studying to be a hero is hard work!”) before they hit upon a topic that Izuku can talk about for hours: pro heroes and their Quirks. Izuku warms up to the subject when Iida mentions one of his teachers at Yuuei, and it only snowballs from there.

 

He's halfway into his analysis of Midnight's Quirk and fighting style when he notices a thoughtful look on Iida's face. He trails off.

 

“Did I say something?” Izuku asks sheepishly. “Sometimes I get really caught up in things, I'm sorry.”

 

“Oh, no! Don't apologize,” Iida hastens to say. “Please go on. This is very interesting. I was simply thinking.”

 

“Okay,” Izuku says, regaining his confidence, and their conversation doesn't falter until they arrive at their destination. Todoroki raises his eyebrows a bit when he sees the shop filled with metal parts and supplies, and all Izuku can do is shrug.

 

“You can come in, but it probably won't be very interesting,” Izuku says to them, but they come in and look around curiously anyways. Izuku hunts down all the items on Fujimura's shopping list and brings them to the counter.

 

The man there rings up his items. “Interesting collection you've got there,” he comments.

 

“Friend's project,” Izuku explains. He pays, heaves the bag off the counter, and goes searching for his companions.

 

They’re conversing quietly outside the shop. “There you are,” he calls. They turn towards him. “I know Iida has to get back to the hospital for the results of his check up, but I wanted to know if you wanted to make a detour for lunch. The restaurant district is just a half hour away, and it’s already 11:30, anyways.”

 

Iida hesitates, but Todoroki agrees easily enough -- which is a bit strange, considering his thus far cold and aloof personality. They end up choosing a ramen shop. Lunch still manages to be a pretty merry affair, and between Iida's idiosyncratic personality and Todoroki’s occasional remarks, Izuku finds himself relaxing and laughing as lunch draws towards the end.

 

Izuku insists on paying for the lunch, even though it will put a strain on his wallet. Iida tries to protest until Todoroki points out that neither of them brought their wallets while on duty last night, so they don't have a choice anyway. Izuku grins.

 

“Don't look so triumphant, Midoriya,” Todoroki warns. “You've done enough for us. Next time, I'm paying.”

 

Everyone pulls up short. Todoroki suddenly looks wary, and Iida worried. Izuku blinks a couple of times, and then makes a decision.

 

“Only if you manage to beat me to it,” he says, tossing out the challenge. “And for the last time, it's Deku, not Midoriya!”

 

Iida relaxes and laughs, and Todoroki loses the wary look, instead choosing to arch an eyebrow. “I'm not letting you call me Shouto,” he says, and Izuku realizes that he must think his first name is Deku. That’s fine by him; he’d rather keep his real name under wraps.

 

“I'll call you whatever you want, as long as you stop calling me Midoriya,” says Izuku. Then he claps a hand to his face with a groan. “That sounded like the worst set-up to a pick-up line, I am so sorry.”

 

“Familiar with those, are you?” Todoroki says dryly.

 

“What? No, I'm not -- I mean, I just--” Izuku sees the tiny spark of amusement in Todoroki’s eyes. “You bastard,” he says, and scrunches up a napkin and throws it at the other boy's head. Todoroki doesn't even have the decency to let the napkin hit; he catches it and tosses it perfectly into a nearby trashcan. Izuku accuses him of being a show off, and as it turns out, Todoroki is quite excellent at banter if he wants to be.

They walk slowly back to the hospital, basking in the sunlight and the cheerful atmosphere. Izuku feels a bit sad when they finally get there.

 

“Hey,” he says softly, slowing to a stop outside the main doors. “Um, I enjoyed today, and I'd like to do it again sometime.” He bites his lip, but then musters up a hopeful smile. “Can I get your phone numbers?”

 

Izuku departs for home with two new contacts in his list. He texts them to make sure they can save his number in their phones: Hey Iida, it’s Deku! Let me know how your physical turns out! and Hi Todoroki, this is Deku! And then he goes on his way.

 

On the train, he checks the messages he has. There's one from Sancha that just says, I heard what happened from Tsukauchi.

 

Izuku has a feeling of foreboding. I'm sorry, I will bring you cake, he texts back.

 

You're okay? Sancha texts, almost immediately.

 

Yeah.

 

Good. That leaves me free to kill you.

 

Izuku, wisely, does not respond. He moves on to a text from his mother telling him to be safe this time for real, and come home soon. He messages her that he's on his way back. There’s a message from Mitoki that says, dude, where are you? and stopped by your home today, mom says you were in Hosu, are you okay?? and give me a smoke signal to let me know youre alive, man.

 

I’m alive and mostly unharmed, Izuku texts him.

 

mostly unharmed?? what happened??????

 

A bunch of heroes made me stay at the hospital overnight for shock, but I’m fine.

 

THAT SOUNDS LIKE THE OPPOSITE OF FINE what kind of life are you living???

 

Izuku chooses not to respond to that either.

 

When he gets back to Musutafu, he drops his hard-earned bag of supplies at Fujimura’s shop. The old man accepts the bag, and then he looks at Izuku appraisingly. “Got into some trouble, did you?” he says, and Izuku remembers that he’s still wearing the hospital gown.

 

“I’m very tired,” he confesses.

 

“Go home and sleep, boy,” Fujimura commands. “I can take care of things from here.”

 

Izuku thanks him, and then he goes home. His mom is tearful and relieved to see that he’s in one piece and uninjured; she gives him a warm hug, and then she tells him to sleep. Izuku changes into his pajamas and discards the hospital gown, and then he falls into bed and passes out for three hours.

 

When he finally wakes up, it feels like days have passed; he feels groggy, and his limbs heavy. Izuku pulls on a change of clothes and goes on a run to clear his head. Near the end, he’s struck by the urge to go to Uemura’s cafe, so he makes a detour. The cafe seems to be clearing out; the sun is slanting in through the glass windows. Izuku pushes open the door and pauses. “Mitoki?”

 

His friend looks up from the back of the cafe. “Izuku!” he says, sitting up straight and grinning. “You’re alive! And mostly unharmed! I have never been so relieved to see someone in my life.”

 

“Is that a cup of coffee?” Izuku asks. “At five in the afternoon?”

 

“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take,” Mitoki tells him wisely, and then looks him straight in the eye as he downs half the cup in one go.

 

“Oh my god, you’re going to die,” Izuku says, crossing the room and sitting down across from him.

 

“But what a good way to go,” Mitoki says. “Shit, man, when your mom told me you stayed in a hospital overnight at freaking Hosu, I almost had a heart attack.” He looks at Izuku closely. “What happened?”

 

Izuku winces and rubs the back of his neck with a nervous smile. “Um… My train was grounded because one of the noumus--”

 

“The what?”

 

“Like the big beast that attacked Yuuei with the Villain Alliance,” Izuku explains. “One of them disabled the train while it was attacking.”

 

“Holy shit,” Mitoki says. “Who stopped it?”

 

Izuku takes a beat too long to think of a lie.

 

“Oh man,” Mitoki breathes. “No way. You punched it?”

 

“There weren’t any heroes around,” Izuku says defensively.

 

“Not true, you were there,” Mitoki says confidently, and then he whoops excitedly. “Hell yeah, dude! Why haven’t you been invited to Yuuei yet?”

 

Izuku, yet again, is too slow to come up with a response, and Mitoki’s eyes widen. “No way,” he says, leaning across the table and grabbing Izuku’s hand. “Spill the beans!”

 

Izuku ducks his head and says, “I have to go, good bye.” He stands up and walks hurriedly to the door.

 

Behind him, he hears Mitoki yell, “Hey, Uemura-san, put it on my tab!” A moment later, he’s caught up to him. “Dude,” he says, lowering his voice, “does this have anything to do with you being Deku?”

 

Izuku’s brain freezes. Mitoki’s jaw drops. “I was right?

 

His heart is pounding. “Where did you hear that name?” Izuku says. Then, “Never mind, tell me when we’re somewhere private. Are you -- um, free for dinner today?”

 

“There is no way I am missing this explanation,” is Mitoki’s heartfelt response, and that’s that.

 

They walk over to Izuku’s house. His mom is a bit surprised but willing to accommodate a guest. At dinner, she seems a bit taken aback at Mitoki’s…well, everything. Izuku has told her about him before, but apparently he didn’t do Mitoki’s character enough justice.

 

They’ve finished dinner and gone to Izuku’s room before he finally works up enough courage to ask, “Mitoki, where did you hear about--?”

 

“Deku?” his friend finishes. “Heard the name a while ago, looked it up. Did you know you have a small internet following here in Musutafu, by the way? Then you asked me to help make that villain emergency alarm system, and your Quirk is strength enhancement, and you were worried about the villains that attacked Yuuei. I had my suspicions, but you confirmed them.”

 

“Oh my god,” Izuku says, and buries his face in his hands. He’s been doing that a lot lately. He can’t figure out if it’s because he’s developed a new habit or because his life is spiralling out of control.

 

“Also, you know what’s hilarious?” Mitoki says, because he has no pity whatsoever for his distress. “There’s a subforum I found called ‘Middle school kid who keeps saving people’s lives,’ and there’s a bunch of people there who keep arguing about who you are and what you look like.” He pauses. “Did you really save an entire train and straighten out an iron railroad?”

 

Izuku flushes. “That was years ago! Why are they still talking about that?” He shakes his head. “Nevermind, just -- please tell me they at least got some facts about me wrong.”

 

“Calls himself Deku, is really strong, seems to frequent Musutafu, kind of underwhelming at first glance,” Mitoki says. “People keep arguing about the relative handsomeness of your face, though, and also can’t agree on your hair. Say, why ‘Deku’? And why the desire for anonymity?”

 

“Um, I don’t really like attention,” Izuku says, “and ‘Deku’ because my childhood friend gave me the nickname, and I kept accidentally giving it out as a pseudonym, so it just stuck, I guess.” It’s a terrible backstory.

 

“Why’d your friend call you Deku?”

 

“Well… It’s an alternate reading of my name, and he kept telling everyone that it means useless, so…” Izuku shrugs.

 

Mitoki whistles. “And then you use it as your hero name ? That’s the most incredible ‘fuck you’ I’ve ever heard of.” Izuku winces internally, but Mitoki doesn’t notice, just tilts his head with a grin. “So what happened in Hosu? How’d you get invited to Yuuei?”

 

“It's not an invitation, it's an invitation to apply,” Izuku corrects, and he digs around in his wallet for the business card. Mitoki leans over as he flips the card to the back.

 

“No way,” Mitoki says, awed. “ All Might gave you his number? Dude, you can’t say no now, you have to go.”

 

Izuku lets Mitoki ogle the card and flops back on his bed. “I can’t.”

 

“What? Why not?” Mitoki bounces over. “You’ve got everything going for you! You have the support of the number one hero himself!”

 

Izuku struggles with himself for a moment, and then he bursts out with, “You have to promise not to tell anyone. ” He looks at Mitoki pleadingly, and Mitoki quickly sobers.

 

“I promise on my life,” he says. “What is it?”

 

“I can't even be a hero,” Izuku says.

 

“...Did you hit your head or something? The hospital must’ve missed it--”

 

“I don’t have a fucking Quirk, ” Izuku snaps. Mitoki stares in disbelief, and Izuku barrels on before he can try and say otherwise. “It’s on my papers. It’s in my blood. I have the useless toe joint in my foot to prove it.” He shoots out of the bed and starts pacing back and forth. “I’m just a -- a fraud. Who’d ever believe me? Who’d ever respect me if they knew? I used to get bullied every day! I have freaking panic attacks every week! I barely have anything going for me. I don’t know why I was invited. I tricked them somehow, or -- or they need to fill up spots in their school -- or--”

 

“Okay, that’s enough,” Mitoki says. Izuku whirls around, opening his mouth to argue, but his friend cuts him off again. “No, you listen to me. I’ve read those stories. You’ve saved people. You are a fucking hero. So you don’t have a Quirk, so you’ve got some problems of your own. So what? You’re a hero in every way that matters.”

 

Izuku is shaking. “I’m not! There’s so many people I haven’t managed to help! Every person I help, and there’s another two or three I don’t find, and five more I don’t arrive in time to keep from getting hurt--”

 

“Do you think you’re the only hero who has that problem?” Mitoki demands. “News flash: no one expects you to carry the world, Atlas! You’re only fifteen! You’ve already done so much, you’ve already made a difference!”

 

“Because of training, ” Izuku says--

 

Everyone trains! Even heroes! Where has your mind gone, Izuku? You’re smarter than this! Your lack of a Quirk doesn’t invalidate all the good things you’ve done. It just makes them all the more meaningful! You overcame an obstacle no one thought you could ever surpass, and you got where you are today entirely through the force of your own effort and will! If there’s anyone who doesn’t respect that, they’re a fucking idiot! I’ll punch them in the face!”

 

Mitoki glares harshly at him, panting from the force of his rant.

 

Izuku breaks eye contact first. “Atlas doesn’t even carry the world, he’s carrying the sky,” he mumbles.

 

Mitoki stares at him, and then he starts laughing helplessly. The tension breaks, and Izuku starts laughing too.

 

“Dude,” Mitoki gasps, wiping at his eyes, “I came here thinking the biggest surprise of my day was that you’re Deku, but then you dropped this on me. What’s next?”

 

“I defeated Hero Killer Stain,” Izuku says, and giggles hysterically.

 

What? No way,” Mitoki says disbelievingly. “No way.

 

“The other two people involved have to go to court to make a case that they don’t have to be punished for their public use of Quirks,” Izuku says. “But, I don’t have a Quirk, so.”

 

“I can’t believe this,” Mitoki says. “You’re immune to the Quirk regulation laws. Holy hell. That’s why the police have never arrested you, even though you’re not a registered hero.”

 

“Personally, I think it’s just nepotism,” Izuku admits, and it really isn’t that funny, but they end up laughing anyways.

 

The last thing he does that day is look up the phone number for the Hosu Police Force, call, and ask to speak to the Chief.

 

“Hello, how may I assist you?” Tsuragamae’s voice comes over the phone.

 

“Um, hello,” Izuku says. “This is Midoriya Izuku, and I wanted to know if I could keep my name out of the official reports? All my files say I don’t have a Quirk, anyways, and I’m still a minor--”

 

Tsuragamae chuckles. “No worries, Deku,” he says. “I have heard quite a bit about you from your friends in the Police Force. No charges will be filed since your actions were all technically above board, and your name will remain anonymous.”

 

“Oh, thank god,” Izuku says with relief. “And thank you so much, sir.”

 

It feels like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

 

He visits Uemura the next day, after school. She hugs him and gives him a cake and scolds him for worrying her. Then she tells him to take better care of himself.

 

“I’m not even wounded, though,” he says, confused.

 

She makes a tsk-ing noise and tells him he’s missing the point.

 

Tamanaha-sensei smacks him upside the head when she sees him again. “Brat, you missed two days here. What happened?”

 

“I was in Hosu,” he says.

 

Her face changes. “What happened? Are you okay?”

 

“I’m alright, I didn’t get wounded. But there’s a lot of stuff that happened,” he admits, and he tells Tamanaha-sensei everything. She smacks him again for endangering himself, hugs him because she’s glad he’s safe, and tells him that she and his family are going to go to a dinner together tomorrow.

 

“What? I mean, okay, but why?” he asks.

 

She purses her lips. “I have some things I want to talk to you and your mother about.”

 

Izuku’s stomach immediately sinks,but she puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Izuku, I promise you’re not in trouble, and it’s nothing you have to worry about. I’d just like to set aside some time specifically for this, okay?”

 

He nods, feeling a bit better. Tamanaha ruffles his hair with a small smile. A batch of students are coming in through the door -- the next class session is starting soon, so Izuku bids her goodbye and takes his leave.

 

Last of all, he makes a visit to the police station. He sits down in the waiting room, and...well, waits. It’s a while before Sancha passes by. The cat-headed man does a double-take, and then he almost runs over to Izuku. “I’ve been worried sick, ” the officer says. “I can’t believe you.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Izuku says. “I brought cake.”

 

Sancha’s face twitches. “Bribery will get you nowhere. I’m still mad.”

 

Izuku has learned that Sancha is only angry because he gets worried, so he sheepishly accepts Sancha’s brief lecture. He still makes Sancha take the cake.

 

He gets a text from Iida. My nerves have been damaged in my arms. I have some stiffness and limited mobility in my fingers. There is a chance a surgery can heal it, but I believe I will allow my arms to remain as is until I am worthy of being called a hero.

 

Izuku looks at the text, solemn. He doesn't know how to respond. Eventually he settles on, I'm sorry to hear that. I hope everything goes well for you.

 

Saturday, the news about Hero Killer Stain has broken, and it's all anyone can talk about. Izuku avoids the television for the day. He does read one article that features an interview from Todoroki and Iida. He learns what transpired before he arrived: Iida had attacked and been paralyzed, Todoroki arrived and held Stain off until Iida's paralysis wore off, the two of them had launched an offensive but were beaten back by Stain's Quirk again, and that's when Izuku arrived.

 

True to promise, none of Izuku's names appear, but he's still getting credit anyways.

 

“Out of respect for his wish for anonymity, we are not giving out the identity of the one who ultimately defeated the Hero Killer,” is what the Police Force's official statement says. “However, we thank him for his part in keeping the peace.”

 

“He deserves the recognition, so while we cannot attribute actions to his name, we wish to honor his heroism,” is Iida's statement.

 

“We owe him our thanks,” is Todoroki's.

 

It's kind of terrifying, all the speculation on the events in Hosu. There are articles on the official story, on Todoroki and Iida's upcoming trial, on who the anonymous helper might be.

 

Izuku gets tired of looking at them and turns his computer off.

 

That evening, Tamanaha-sensei takes him and his mom to a popular yakitori place. They order, and Tamanaha-sensei asks his mom, “Has Izuku told you everything that happened in Hosu?”

 

“Yes,” she answers.

 

“Good, because that’s what I wanted to talk to you two about.” His teacher turns to him. “Izuku, I want you to consider going to therapy.”

 

He feels betrayed. “Why?”

 

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but the events of Hosu decided it. You’re starting to fall apart with stress, and I mean that in the nicest way possible,” she adds, probably because she sees something uncomfortably honest on his face. “I think you would benefit from telling someone your troubles and worries, and it may help keep you grounded in reality as well. I know you suffer from delusions of worthlessness or some kind of nonsense like that.”

 

“I do not,” Izuku protests, but thinking about his conversation with Mitoki, yeah, he kind of does.

 

“Izuku has many secrets, though,” his mom says, frowning.

 

“Heroes experience trauma and PTSD, like any other person,” Tamanaha-sensei says. “They need therapists, too, so there are lots of clauses to protect patient confidentiality, especially under the certain circumstances that heroes -- as well as Izuku -- meet. Trust me, I checked.”

 

Izuku can barely envision it. Talking about all his secrets to a complete stranger? He can’t do it.

 

“Do you have any therapists you trust?” Izuku’s mom asks, echoing his thoughts.

 

“In fact, I do,” Tamanaha-sensei says. She hands Izuku’s mom a crumpled list of numbers. “I myself have experience with these people and would recommend them. Please give this some consideration. Izuku, therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes getting help is the bravest thing you can do.”

 

“...Okay,” Izuku agrees. “I’ll think about it.”

 

She nods, satisfied. “Good. However, that’s not the only thing I wanted to talk to you about.” She looks at his mom. “You know about Izuku’s invitation.”

 

His mom smiles. “Yes, it’s wonderful that someone high up is appreciating him and all that he has done.”

 

“I’m going to offer my opinion on this,” Tamanaha-sensei says, and waits a beat. Neither Izuku nor his mom object. “I think you should go, Izuku. There’s only so much I can teach you at my dojo. You need new opponents and new fighting styles, and more importantly, you need people who can push you and keep up with your abilities. I can’t do any of those things anymore.”

 

“That’s not true!” Izuku says indignantly. “You’re the best teacher anyone could ask for!”

 

“When is the last time you’ve worked up a sweat under my teaching?” she says, and Izuku doesn’t have an answer for that. “Exactly. However,” -- she lowers her voice -- “All Might himself has expressed interest in having you as a student.” She lets her voice rise again. “I can’t imagine anyone more capable of teaching you.”

 

Izuku feels tears pricking his eyes. “You can’t kick me out of your dojo,” he says. “I’ve been a good student. I’ve followed all your rules.”

 

She sighs. “I’m not kicking you out. But I’ve taught you what I can, and as your teacher, I have the right to decide when my students are ready to move on. You are more than ready. Consider yourself a graduate.”

 

It feels like it should be a triumph, but Izuku just feels upset.

 

“Izuku, I only want the best for you,” she says. “And I can’t give you that any more. I hope you continue to visit, but I also hope that the student will surpass the master.”

 

“Thank you, Tamanaha-sensei,” Izuku’s mom says. “I think… I think we both need some time to process this all. Shall we enjoy the rest of the dinner?”

 

They spend the rest of the dinner making small talk, but Izuku’s thoughts keep circling back to everything that was said.

 

On Sunday, Izuku gets a text from Todoroki. Midoriya, it says. There are things I'd like to speak to you about.

 

Well, okay. Izuku’s mind flashes through the five stages of grief. It's Deku. Where and when? After some thought, he adds, Not tomorrow though.

 

Tuesday after school at Yuuei. Meet me at the Replica City District.

 

Okay, see you then. Izuku puts his phone down, but something’s bothering him. It hits him. Wait, I need an ID to be allowed in.

 

I spoke to Nedzu-sensei. He said he'd arrange everything, call him if you have questions.

 

Izuku stares at his phone. Isn't that the principal himself??

 

Todoroki doesn’t respond, so apparently he is. Izuku puts his head in his hands and lets out a very small scream. Then he pulls himself together and calls one of the numbers on the Yuuei business card.

 

It rings thrice, and then it picks up. “Hello, this is Nedzu-sensei! And you must be Midoriya Izuku!” Izuku nearly drops the phone.

 

“What? How did you--?”

 

“This is my personal office phone, and it isn’t handed out lightly!” Nedzu-sensei laughs. “When an unknown number called, I knew it had to be you! Now, how can I help you?”

 

“Oh, well,” Izuku says, scrambling to get his thoughts back together. “My friend wants me to meet him at Yuuei at the Replica City District, I think, but I need some kind of ID…What should I do?”

 

“Ah, yes, young Todoroki! He spoke to me about this.” Nedzu-sensei lets out another hearty laugh. It feels vaguely ominous. “I have taken the liberty to send you a guest ID via drone, which you should receive soon! It will only work when I activate it, however.”

 

“I’m meeting Todoroki on Tuesday,” Izuku offers hesitantly.

 

“Yes, yes, of course,” Nedzu-sensei says. “I’m looking quite forward to it.” The vaguely ominous feeling turns into a sense of an impending trainwreck. “Now, was that everything?”

 

“Er,” Izuku says. “Yes?”

 

“Excellent!” Nedzu-sensei says. “I do hope you will enjoy your time here at Yuuei on Tuesday. Have a nice day!”

 

The phone clicks. Izuku puts the phone down and lies down on his bed.

 

A few minutes later, his mom pokes her head through the door and tells him that a small package has been dropped off for him. They open it, and inside is a guest ID for Yuuei.

 

“This is really happening, isn’t it,” Izuku says, holding the ID like it might burn him at any moment.

 

“It is,” his mom confirms. “Honey, I’m so proud of you. Look at you, growing up so fast--”

 

Izuku waits until his mom is done, and then he flees back to his room.

 

On Monday, he runs into Kacchan for the first time in a week, on his way home from school. It’s sort of a relief. A breath of normalcy. “Hey, Kacchan,” he says with a smile. “How have you been?”

 

Kacchan glowers at him. Apparently, his time with Best Jeanist did not go over well.

 

“It’s been a pretty long week for me,” Izuku tells him. “I mean, with everything that happened in Hosu…Well, I’m glad you’re okay.” He smiles wryly.

 

Kacchan’s eyes narrow. “Were you in Hosu?”

 

Izuku shrugs. “I ran some errands.”

 

Kacchan grits his teeth and his fists tighten. Izuku senses some pent-up frustration about to be released full force at him. “Fucking Deku! Why can’t you just stay the fuck out of the way, you and your stupid useless self? You don’t even have a fucking Quirk! All you do is get in everyone’s way! Why don’t you fuck off and die!” Kacchan’s hands ignite with explosions, and with a roar, he attacks.

 

It’s been awhile since this has happened. Izuku bends backwards into a bridge to dodge Kacchan’s attack, flips to the side, and kicks Kacchan further away.  It looks like this is going to be another one of those days where Kacchan won’t stop until he’s worked out his anger, so Izuku doesn’t take the opportunity to run away; he sticks mostly to defense, with the occasional attack when Kacchan gets too close.

 

Eventually, Kacchan winds down, panting. Izuku backs off. His school uniform is singed and charred. With a grimace, he takes off his tie and ties the jacket around his waist. His undershirt is missing half a sleeve and there are scorch marks, too. Izuku bites his lip, takes a deep breath, and settles back into a ready stance.

 

Kacchan is watching him with an expression he can’t read.

 

“Okay, I’m ready to go again,” Izuku says. Kacchan frowns a bit. “Or are you done?”

 

That riles Kacchan back up. “Fucking Jeanist, ” he spits, “I’ll kill you, ” and they’re off again. Kacchan seems to be frustrated by Izuku’s dodging, so Izuku starts fighting back, just a little bit, and engages Kacchan in a series of holds. Kacchan seems to take a visceral delight in breaking them and hitting Izuku back. It dissolves into a graceless brawl as they roll across the ground. The fight concludes when Kacchan releases an explosion right in Izuku’s face. He reels back, blinded, and that’s all the space it takes for Kacchan to flip him over and pin him on the ground.

 

For a few moments, there’s no sound but their breathing. Izuku tries to blink the spots out of his vision, but it’s slow to clear, and he can’t make much out. “You really took me by surprise there, Kacchan,” he says.

 

Kacchan doesn’t say anything. He just shifts his weight a bit, and Izuku becomes very aware of how close they are. He turns his head towards the sound of Kacchan’s breathing. “Kacchan?”

 

He can feel the hot breath puffing on his skin.

 

“Kacchan, you can get off now,” he prompts.

Kacchan doesn’t move for a moment more, but then Izuku feels the weight lifting and body heat disappearing. He sits up and blinks some more, hoping that it will clear his vision. It doesn’t do that much, so he just stands up and heads towards where he last remembers there being a wall, sweeping his hands in front of him.

 

“Deku, what the fuck are you doing?” Kacchan snaps.

 

“Making a good attempt at finding my way back home, I think.” Izuku bumps into the curb and it takes a nerve-wracking moment to find his balance.

 

Kacchan snorts. “Get over here,” he orders.

 

Izuku turns his head towards his voice and starts making his careful way over, but apparently it’s too slow for Kacchan. He hears approaching footsteps. Kacchan grabs him by the wrist and starts dragging him away.

 

“Um,” Izuku begins.

 

“Shut the fuck up, Deku,” Kacchan snarls. “You’re useless.”

 

Izuku shuts up and lets Kacchan drag him off to who knows where. They breach a set of stairs. By the time they get to the top, Izuku’s vision has started to clear, and he realizes that they’re standing in front of his apartment.

 

“Thanks?” he says. That was a surprisingly nice gesture, coming from Kacchan.

 

Kacchan grunts.

 

“Oh,” Izuku says, remembering. “I’m not going to be here tomorrow because I’m meeting a friend. I hope you have a good day tomorrow, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.” He gives a hopeful smile towards the blob that is probably Kacchan.

 

“What the fuck ever, Deku,” Kacchan snaps, and stomps down the stairs. Izuku calls a goodbye and doesn’t get a response, but that’s okay.

 

The next day is Tuesday, so Izuku packs the ID and hides it at the bottom of his backpack. School goes by quickly. He takes the train home, then runs the few kilometers from the train station to Yuuei. It’s a walk in the park compared to his usual runs, even with his extra burden.

 

He gets in through the gates of Yuuei without any problem, but all the same, he feels like an imposter without a Yuuei uniform on. It’s after school, so there aren’t very many people around, thankfully. Izuku starts forward, then stops.

 

He has no idea where the Replica City District is.

 

There’s trees all around, carefully tended to. There’s the main building. Izuku looks back and thinks about finding a classroom and walking in and hoping for the best, but his anxiety makes itself known and immediately shoots the idea down.

 

Then he points out to himself that he doesn’t really have a choice anyways, so he steels himself and walks right back in.

 

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the courage to go into any of the classrooms, so he ends up walking around aimlessly while trying very hard to look like he knows what he’s doing. The first few people he passes, he doesn’t have the nerve to approach, but the fourth set of footsteps he hears, he steels himself, closes his eyes, and turns around.

 

“Excuse me!” he calls. “I’m a bit lost! Can you help me find the Replica City District!” And then he goes into a bow because he’s sweating and nervous and also incapable of looking at anyone in the face right now.

 

“...How lost are you,” says a mostly monotone voice.

 

“Really lost,” Izuku mumbles, straightening up. He looks at the other student. “Oh, you’re Shinsou Hitoshi!” he exclaims. “You nearly made it to the final battle in the Sports Festival! Did you get into the Heroics Department?”

 

Shinsou’s eyebrows raise. “...I did not.”

 

“What? Really?” Izuku says, and then flushes. “I mean, because I really thought for sure you would make it, because you did so well and your Quirk is so useful, and....I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be a bother -- I’ll go--”

 

“It’s fine,” the other boy says, cutting him off. He looks at Izuku a moment more. “You're a guest.”

 

“Yeah,” Izuku says, looking down.

 

“Why aren't you being accompanied by someone?”

 

“I don't know,” Izuku says miserably.

 

Shinsou looks at him a moment longer, then shakes his head. “Come on,” he says curtly, turning around and walking down the hall.

 

“Thank you,” Izuku says, relieved. And then, “Oh, I didn’t mean to be impolite, I’m Deku, it’s nice to meet you.”

 

“Hm.”

 

Shinsou doesn’t seem like the type to appreciate conversation, then. Izuku doesn’t say anything else. Now that he has a companion, though, he feels more free to look around the halls and admire the building. Outside, too; a lot of effort has gone into making Yuuei clean and presentable. It feels a bit artificial, but all the same, the atmosphere isn’t bad.

 

Shinsou takes him down one of the many paths. Eventually the trees ahead of them clear, and there’s a large white wall with a gate set into it. Waiting there is Todoroki, dressed in what seems to be his hero costume, since it's the same thing he was wearing on the night they met.

 

Todoroki looks up and sees Shinsou. He straightens up, and his demeanor becomes colder than it already is normally. Shinsou slows to a stop, expressionless. Izuku remembers that Todoroki was the one who beat Shinsou in the end and winces.

 

“Midoriya,” Todoroki greets, not taking his eyes off Shinsou. “You’re late.”

 

“It’s Deku,” Izuku says reflexively. “I know, but I wasn’t sure where the Replica City District was, and there aren’t any maps around, so I asked the” -- he’s about to say first, but then he realizes that’s inaccurate -- “fourth person I found.”

 

Shinsou slides his eyes over at him. Izuku winces. “Todoroki, maybe you could just...go ahead? I’ll catch up with you.”

 

Todoroki gives him a measured look, and then a short nod. He turns around and opens the gates into the district and steps inside.

 

As soon as he’s out of sight, Izuku says, “I’m so sorry, I should have realized--”

 

“Why are you meeting him?” Shinsou says.

 

“I don’t know,” Izuku says immediately. Then, “He just told me he had something he wanted to say to me and told me to meet him here.”

 

“Hm.” Shinsou looks at the district a moment more.

 

“I’m sorry,” Izuku says again, feeling mortified enough to give a small bow to avoid looking at Shinsou. Also to show how sorry he is. “And thank you very much for showing me the way here. Sorry for causing such an inconvenience.”

 

“Midoriya.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“...Stop apologizing.”

 

“O-oh, okay, I’m s--” Izuku cuts himself off. “Thank you again for everything. Um…There’s a cafe called the Here and There Cafe. You can get a free cake there, tell the owner I said I’d pay for it.” He twists his fingers together. “I hope you have a good day,” he blurts out, and then he flees into the Replica City District, flustered. This is a disaster.

 

Todoroki is waiting there, leaning coolly against a wall. Izuku thinks about all the other people he knows and decides it’s unfair how many cool and composed people he’s surrounded by.

 

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Todoroki,” Izuku says. “Um, what did you want to talk about?” And why here?

 

Todoroki straightens and steps away from the wall. “There’s a hypothesis I want to test,” he says. “I want you to spar with me.”

 

Izuku immediately regrets agreeing to meet him. “Rules?”

 

“We go until one of us can’t get up or surrenders, or until ten minutes are up.” Todoroki holds up his phone to show the timer set to ten minutes already. “No serious injuries, meaning no broken bones or internal bleeding. Anything else goes.”

 

“Okay,” Izuku agrees hesitantly. “Call time.”

 

Todoroki nods. “Three, two, one. Start.” Immediately, a wave of ice crashes towards Izuku. He turns and leaps onto the roof of a nearby building. Todoroki summons a pillar of ice to bring him up to the roof, too, so Izuku mentally resigns himself to not running.

 

When the next wave of ice comes, Izuku punches it, and it shatters around him like fine crystal dust. He uses the cover to charge forward at Todoroki and deliver a kick towards the stomach. Todoroki catches the kick, so Izuku uses that as a pivot point, spins mid-air, and aims another kick at his head. Todoroki’s forced to let go and duck. Izuku lands and punches away another wave of ice.

 

“Is destroying buildings fine?” he calls, leaping to a couple rooftops away.

 

“Try not to,” is Todoroki’s answer as he comes in pursuit.

 

Izuku spends the next couple minutes retreating. He considers drawing the fight out until ten minutes is up so he doesn’t reveal too much about himself. But Todoroki already saw him take down Hero Killer Stain.

 

Well, he’ll just go up to Stain’s level, then. With the next wave of attacks, Izuku blows away the ice and slips under Todoroki’s arm, aiming a couple blows to the solar plexus. Todoroki throws up another wall of ice. This time Izuku leaps over it and aims a kick at Todoroki from above. The blow is dodged, of course, and Todoroki follows up with some blows of his own. Izuku pushes him back, but slips; there’s a layer of ice on the ground.

 

Annoyed, he punches the ground, and cracks spiderweb across the ice until his boots can find a grip on it. Then he swings around and aims a kick at Todoroki. The air buffets Todoroki backwards until he creates ice footholds, which is all the time it takes for Izuku to close distance and plant a shoe in his gut. Todoroki bends over, wheezes.

 

Izuku flips Todoroki onto the ground and takes a step back, watchful. “Do you give?”

 

Todoroki doesn't respond. Izuku backflips out of the way of a sudden series of ice spikes. Todoroki stands up and launches another offensive.

 

Izuku’s growing tired of this; he wants to end it quickly. So the next time he sees an opening, he takes it. He kicks Todoroki in the jaw, obliterates the following ice wave with a stomp of his foot, and with a kick, rushes forward.

 

Todoroki is bending his knees to meet him, ice already forming to counter his charge. At the last possible second, Izuku pushes himself up into a flip above Todoroki’s head and kicks off a wall to land behind him. Todoroki spins, fire sparking on his right arm, but Izuku has already drawn back his hand and punched.

Todoroki flinches, but Izuku stops his blow just before it hits his face. The displaced air blows Todoroki’s hair back, kicks up a great cloud of rubble and dust, and leaves a large, shallow crater on the building opposite them.

 

There's a moment of quiet as the dust settles.

 

“Yield?” Izuku asks.

 

“...Yield,” says Todoroki in a soft voice, and something about the way he looks at Izuku has shifted.

 

If Izuku’s being at all honest, it makes him a bit uncomfortable, but he just eases out of a fighting stance and forces a smile. “Let’s go get your phone before the alarm goes off,” he suggests.

 

Todoroki nods. He does this little shake of his head -- almost like a dog shaking off water -- to get his hair back into place. It seems so incongruous with his serious demeanor and the fight they just had. Cute, Izuku thinks, and then is bewildered by his strange and fickle thoughts.

 

They retrieve Todoroki’s phone and turn off the alarm before Izuku asks, “So what was your hypothesis? Why the fight?”

 

Todoroki tucks his phone into his pockets and starts walking towards the district exit. Izuku trails after him. He’s silent for so long, Izuku half thinks he’s going to ignore the question altogether. Then he says, “I need you to answer some questions first.”

 

Izuku really doesn’t like this. He has a creeping suspicion that Todoroki’s hypothesis has something to do with his Quirk.

 

But he’s here already, so he might as well. Izuku lets out a short sigh. “Okay.”

 

They’ve reached the district gates. Todoroki produces a key and locks the doors behind them. Then he looks at Izuku and says, “Who is your father?”

 

Izuku is...lost. “His name is Midoriya Hisashi and he has a Quirk that lets him breathe fire.”

 

“Your mother?”

 

“Midoriya Inko, she can attract small objects to herself.” Where is he going with this line of questioning?

 

“Who would you say you take after more?”

 

“...My mom. We have the same hair and eyes. And face. But I’ve never actually met my father, so I wouldn’t know.” Izuku tilts his head to look up at Todoroki. “Why?”

 

Todoroki starts walking down the path and does the thing again where he doesn’t answer the question for a really long time. Eventually he says, “When the Villain Alliance attacked, I fought briefly alongside All Might. I saw him at his full power, up close.”

 

Izuku tries to make sense of the pieces he’s being handed, and fails. “What are you…?”

 

“I had my suspicions when I saw you using your Quirk against Stain,” Todoroki goes on. “So I asked you for a spar. What I felt from you…was similar.”

 

I think you’re imagining things, Izuku thinks.

 

Todoroki looks over at Izuku and asks, “Do you think you could be All Might’s illegitimate kid or something?”

 

Izuku struggles really hard not to start laughing or spontaneously combusting right there on the spot. “Todoroki,” he begins, and has to pause while his face does something weird. “That's ridiculous.”

 

“I suppose it’s possible your Quirk evolved separate from All Might’s, but it seems highly unlikely to me,” Todoroki says. “Both of you have Quirks that give you unprecedented strength, speed, and resilience, enough to create winds and shockwaves or destroy entire buildings with a single punch.” Izuku pauses to think about it, and to his dismay, from an outside perspective, there are a worrying number of parallels between them. Which is weird, and kind of terrifying, actually. “It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that you two might be related somehow,” Todoroki is saying, but Izuku is already questioning himself.

 

What if All Might really is his father? It would make sense. After all, no normal human should be able to do the things that Izuku does… And their abilities really do have a lot of similarities… But then, if he is--?

 

“Are you aware you’re mumbling right now?” Todoroki says. Izuku jumps and immediately feels embarrassed.

 

“I’m just…It makes sense, but,” he runs a hand through his hair, “it doesn’t make any sense either! Because…” He has his toe joints. And Quirks don’t manifest late. Only their discovery is late, if the activation… circumstances… of the Quirk…

 

What if he has a strength enhancement Quirk, and its activation circumstances require its wielder to meet a certain level of physical fitness? No one is exactly sure what All Might's Quirk is, it could be true. Oh god, what if All Might really is his father? It could happen, if All Might had a one night stand with his mother and left. But if that happened, then Midoriya Hisashi is a fabrication. A comforting lie. Has his mother been lying to him this whole time--? And if he inherited a Quirk, then...All these years, being told he was useless, working himself to the bone, doubting himself -- for nothing?

 

No. He can't accept it. He's always been a Quirkless, useless weakling. That's one of the fundamental pillars that his life revolves around. It's the reason he's been bullied and ostracized, and the reason he started training, and the reason he can go around helping people with impunity. There's no way -- he's Quirkless, he has to be--

 

At the rising panic in him, Izuku firmly shuts off his brain and makes himself go through a breathing exercise, counting numbers in his mind. When he finally feels ready to rejoin society, he opens his eyes and tells Todoroki, “I think you might have just made me question my entire life.” It's supposed to be a joke, but it comes out far more honest than he would like and there's an unsteady waver at the end. “Let's talk about something else.”

 

Todoroki raises an eyebrow. “Such as?”

 

Izuku blows out a breath of air. “Why are you weaker on your left side?”

 

He never really noticed the quiet ease in Todoroki’s expression until it fled. “Why?”

 

“Most of the openings I used were from your left side,” Izuku explains. “Your main offense and defense is your right. There’s a lot of bad habits in that.”

 

Todoroki does the silent thing again. They’re almost at the main building in Yuuei before he starts speaking again. “I’m the result of a Quirk marriage. My father, the hero Endeavor, married my mother so he could create a son to usurp All Might from his position as number one. In my memories…my mother is always crying.” He falls quiet. Fists clenching slightly, before being forcefully relaxed. “My left side can create fire. My mother told me it was ugly and poured boiling water on my face.” He touches a hand to the scar over his eye.

 

Izuku tries to imagine the consequences to a child when their parent hates part of who they are so much. It’s -- terrible, and Izuku makes sure not to look at Todoroki right now because he doesn’t know what expression he’s wearing.

 

“I’m going to be the number one hero,” Todoroki says. “But I’m going to do it without ever using my left side. That is my total disavowal of my father.”

 

A hero?

 

Without ever using that power?

 

Something twists uncomfortably in Izuku’s chest, alongside every other uncomfortable feeling that has been awoken today. It takes a moment to identify the feeling as anger. It sweeps through him; his blood is buzzing under his skin.

 

“You…” Izuku begins. Todoroki looks over at him, face blank. Izuku tries to keep his words in, but to no avail. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

Todoroki’s expression starts taking on the first stirrings of anger, but Izuku barrels on. “I’m sorry to hear about your father, and your mother too. But becoming the number one hero? Don’t make me laugh.”

 

The temperature around them is dropping. Todoroki is starting to say something. Izuku doesn’t care. “All these people here, determined to help people, aiming for number one -- they’re using all of their power, they’re giving everything they have. And you’re telling me that if someone needs help, you’ll only use half your power to save them? If you’re in a fight and civilian lives are on the line, you won’t even give your all to make sure no one dies?! You said it yourself -- heroes save people! That’s what they do! And if you’re going to only save someone halfway, then maybe you shouldn’t be training to be a hero at all!”

 

“I don’t need to use my father’s power--”

 

“This isn’t about your stupid father!” Izuku shouts. “It’s your power! Get over yourself! Five years ago I would have given anything to have even a quarter of your power, and you’re just going to let it go to waste for -- for what? For pride? For anger? For a grudge?”

 

It’s the look on Todoroki’s face that makes Izuku snap out of it. He grits his teeth and looks away, breathing harshly, and tries to clear his mind.

 

“I’m going to go,” he says abruptly. “I stepped out of line, speaking to you like this. I’m sorry.” He tries to say Sorry for everything I said, but he still means every word. He takes a shuddering breath. “I’m going to leave before I say anything else I regret. I’m sorry. Um.” Fuck.

 

“Wait--”

 

Izuku holds his backpack to his chest and runs out the school gate.

 

“Midoriya!” Todoroki calls. Then, “Deku!”

 

The last call is almost enough to make Izuku turn around, but he doesn’t trust himself to say anything right now, doesn’t trust himself to see past any of his anger. He turns the corner and leaves Yuuei behind.

 

Chapter Text

Izuku is in turmoil for the rest of the week, replaying Tuesday’s events in his mind over and over again. He alternates between panic and anxiety about Todoroki’s hypothesis, shame and self-loathing for his actions, and anger at everything else. His mom notices the mood swings, and she tries to help, but every time he looks at her all he can do is wonder if she’s lied to him about his father his whole life. Realizing she’s only setting off the cause of her son’s distress, she stays away from Izuku, and it only makes him more miserable, knowing that he’s hurting her like this.

 

It’s awful. His classmates have noticed it. Uemura has noticed it. Kobayashi and Fujimura try to coax him out of it by talking about progress on their prototypes, but he can’t focus. Tamanaha-sensei doesn’t know anything because he’s been avoiding her dojo since the conversation on Saturday. Even Kacchan isn’t as aggressively over-the-top during their meetings.

 

The worst part is, it’s affecting his ability to go around the neighborhood and help people. He’s becoming exactly the kind of person he accused Todoroki of being. Izuku has a small breakdown in his bedroom and the most awful part of that is probably when his mom knocks on the door and asks if she can come in and he tells her to leave him alone -- and then the sound of her slow, sad footsteps fading away.

 

Friday is when Kacchan finally snaps. Izuku is so tired he almost walks right past him, and then Kacchan grabs him by the shoulder, spins him around, and barks, “What the fuck is wrong with you, Deku?”

 

It’s not the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but to his horror, Izuku can feel the tears rising up. “It’s not any of your business,” he snaps, knocking Kacchan’s hand off his shoulder and hating the crack in his voice. “Leave me alone.”

 

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do, Deku,” Kacchan snarls, shoving him. And then he throws a punch at Izuku’s face, and Izuku’s so miserable that he just lets him.

 

His head snaps to the side. He doesn’t bother righting it or even retaliating or running away. That must be what tips Kacchan off that something is really wrong, because he grabs Izuku’s jacket and shakes him and yells at him, “What’s the fucking problem?” Izuku’s lips tremble, and the first tears rebelliously start slipping down his cheek. “Fucking spit it out already!”

 

To his horror, he feels his face contorting as the tears start coming faster. He keeps his mouth shut. If he opens it now, he’s pretty sure he’s going to start sobbing, and Kacchan already finds him weak enough, he doesn’t want him to see this too.

 

Kacchan’s voice rises, but Izuku can barely focus on the words anymore. He just closes his eyes, trying to hold everything back, and it’s not working, and everything just keeps spilling out. He’s vaguely aware of Kacchan shaking him some more, but Izuku just can’t find it in himself to care. What does it matter if Kacchan is roughing it up a little? Izuku’s secrets are all poised to collapse like a house of cards, his father and his Quirklessness might be a lie, and to top it all off Todoroki fucking Shouto can’t be assed to give more than half an effort at everything he does.

 

Then someone says, “Dude, what the hell, what the fuck are you doing?” Someone shoves Izuku away from Kacchan -- or Kacchan away from him --

 

Izuku opens blurry eyes to see Kacchan kick Mitoki away and snarl, “None of your fucking business, shitrag, what the fuck are you doing?”

 

“It’s my business if you’re making my friend cry, ” Mitoki snarls back, climbing to his feet. “Who do you think you are?”

 

“Stronger and better than you’ll ever be,” Kacchan sneers, rounding on Mitoki. “If you don’t fuck off, I’ll tear off your fucking arms and shove them down your throat.”

 

“Hah, yeah, as if,” Mitoki says. “Listen, pal, you mess around with my friends, and I’ll mess around with you.”

 

“Someone like you could never even dream of touching me,” Kacchan says contemptuously. It’s exactly the wrong thing to say. Mitoki points his hand at Kacchan, and small needle-like projectiles shoot out of his sleeve at Kacchan’s face. Kacchan’s eyes briefly widen, and then he blasts them away and shoots forward at Mitoki with a growl.

 

Mitoki isn’t a fighter; he isn’t even entirely fit. It’s no contest. In moments, Kacchan has Mitoki flat on the ground. Mitoki thrashes and spits furiously, and somehow he releases another spray of those needle things from his mouth.

 

Izuku tackles Kacchan out of the way. Some of the needles catch in Kacchan’s Yuuei uniform; Izuku knocks the rest from their trajectory. “Stop,” Izuku shouts as he rolls to a sitting position. “Stop it, you’re not helping!”

 

Kacchan rolls to his feet and pulls Izuku up, too. Mitoki gets up on his own with a glare. “This asshole was making you cry! What else was I supposed to do?”

 

“You’re a fucking idiot,” Kacchan snarls.

 

“He’s not an asshole, he’s my friend,” Izuku snaps, furiously wiping away at his tears.

 

“Oh, yeah? Real bang-up job he was doing--”

 

“Like you could do any better, fucknut--”

 

“Stop it!” Izuku shouts again. They quiet down and glare sullenly at each other. Izuku takes a deep breath and says, “Mitoki, this is Kacchan. He didn’t make me cry. He was just worried and wanted to find out what was going on.”

 

“The fuck are you saying?” Kacchan growls. “I don’t give a shit about you.”

 

“Oho, looks real worried to me,” says Mitoki.

 

“Shut your fucking mouth. Deku, what the hell are you doing with some pathetic, two-bit loser like this ?”

 

Mitoki immediately connects the dots, looking back and forth between Izuku and Kacchan. “Oh man. No way. This is your childhood friend? The same guy who went around telling people your name means ‘useless’?”

 

Kacchan glares.

 

“Yes, he is,” Izuku says, too tired to try and be diplomatic here. “And he’s going to go home, and you’re going to go home, and both are you are going to leave me alone and let me sleep.” He glares at both of them through his tears, and then he turns around and walks towards his apartment building, shoulders hunched as he rubs at his eyes.

 

Behind him he hears, “Where the fuck do you think you’re going, you piece of shit motherfucking asshat? He said to leave him the fuck alone.”

 

“Yeah, dude, like you’re one to talk,” says Mitoki. “I bet you were totally going to chase after him and be a completely awful person, and the only reason you aren’t is because you want to be better and cooler than me. Well, news flash: you’re the worst fucking friend ever and Izuku deserves someone better than you.”

 

“Oh, like you ?” Kacchan says, the disdain so deep it could make up an entire sea.

 

Izuku takes a deep breath and turns back around. “Mitoki, please stop provoking Kacchan, and Kacchan, go home. I’ll be fine. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, alright?” Kacchan glares at him, and then glares at Mitoki, and then very grudgingly storms away.

 

Izuku watches him go. “Mitoki, are you here for an actual reason, because if not, I’ve had a really long few days, and I just want to be left alone right now.”

 

“Yeah,” says Mitoki. “I wanted to apologize for shooting you with the needles. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

 

Izuku sighs. “It’s okay.” He hesitates. “...Where did you even get those needles?”

 

His friend grins. “I was testing out weapons for Hatsume and I kept them.”

 

Izuku opens his mouth, hesitates, and very deliberately decides not to ask. “Thanks,” he says, instead of contemplating the sheer disaster that is someone willingly putting Mitoki in charge of testing weapons. “Is there anything else?”

 

“Your mom called me because she’s been really worried about you, and she asked if there was anything I could do to help.” Izuku feels like the worst person on the planet. “I’ll leave you alone if you want, but I was thinking that maybe you could take your mind off things by helping me and my friend put together some of her inventions. It’s pretty fun, and you’re thinking about being an engineer, right? It’ll be really fun.”

 

It does sound fun, but.... “Thanks, Mitoki,” he says, “but all I want to do right now is sleep.”

 

“Yeah, I gotcha. Offer’s open through Sunday, though. Just text me, alright? Take care of yourself, dude.”

 

Mitoki leaves; Izuku finally makes it into his apartment and sleeps.

 

Saturday morning he wakes up, drags himself out of bed, makes himself go through the motions of his workout. He eats breakfast and realizes right afterwards he has no idea what he just ate. He forces himself to take a shower and loses a span of time, staring at the wall in a haze of cloudy thoughts.

 

After lunch he does his homework. He picks up one of his favorite books and tries to read it, then stops when he realizes he’s read the same paragraph four times and it still hasn’t registered in his mind. Outside, the sky is blue with some distant wisps of clouds. Traffic. Birds calling. Surreal, he thinks, and watches himself as he gets up, grabs his phone, and walks out the door. His mother calls goodbye. He isn’t sure if he responds.

 

Uemura looks up when he enters her shop. “Izu-kun!” she says. A look of concern appears. “How are you today?”

 

Izuku walks up to the counter, and then looks down at it, puzzled. Why did he come here? “...Can I have something to do?” he asks eventually.

 

Uemura looks even more concerned. “Sure, honey,” she says. “Today’s restocking day. Why don’t you go to the back room? You know the drill.”

 

He passes maybe an hour, losing himself in the work, but then he’s finished and there’s nothing to do. Uemura finds him standing aimlessly in the kitchen, looking at his hands like they’re the strangest thing on Earth. She pushes him into the front room and makes him sit down at his favorite table. Somehow, a cup of tea and a slice of cake have made it in front of him. Izuku looks at them blankly, then reaches out with a spoon and mechanically scoops up some of the cake. He doesn’t bring the spoon to his mouth. He just looks at it and thinks about how distant everything seems right now.

 

The bell at the door chimes. Someone goes to the counter and asks something quietly.

 

“That’s me,” Uemura says. “How may I help you?”

 

“...Midoriya said I could get cake here. On his...tab.”

 

“Oh! Are you a friend of his?”

 

“...We’ve met.”

 

“You’ve come at a great time, dear. Why don’t you go sit down with him over there? He’s in a bad spot right now; he could use some company. Go ahead and choose a cake, I’ll bring it right over.”

 

Izuku raises the spoon. It hits him how much effort it will take to move the spoon to his mouth and eat. He puts the spoon back down. But Uemura got this cake just for him. Maybe he should eat it. Izuku raises the spoon again.

 

“Here you go,” Uemura says cheerfully next to him. She puts a plate down on the table, but in front of someone else. “Enjoy your cake!”

 

It takes a second to raise his eyes to Uemura’s retreating back, then to look over at his companion. He rocks back slightly in his seat. “Shinsou?” he asks distantly.

 

“Midoriya,” the other boy returns. He scoops up some cake. “You look well.”

 

The line has such a deadpan delivery that Izuku almost doesn’t register its meaning. “Oh,” he says. Then, “I’m alright.”

 

Shinsou looks at Izuku’s spoon. Izuku follows his gaze. The spoon’s starting to list, the cake in danger of sliding off. He should probably do something about that, but instead, he just watches as it creeps closer to the edge.

 

Shinsou sighs. Something washes over Izuku like a wave of cold air. “Put the spoon down.”

 

The spoon is put down. Izuku looks at it in astonishment.

 

“Focus,” Shinsou says.

 

With a rush, a quiet roar, his surroundings snap into sharp, painful truth. Everything is so immediate -- so real -- the colors are bright, the sounds are loud, and all of the fog in his mind is torn down violently into shreds. Izuku gasps, pained, and all the emotions of the past four days come roaring back, crashing through him like a tidal wave. He tries to jerk away, but he can’t move, there’s just a full-body flinch and he can’t make himself breathe -- he’s helpless -- he’s going to die--

 

“Shit, okay -- stop focusing.

 

The world slips away like distant mist. His emotions don’t go with them. Izuku’s breath comes in short, jerky gasps, and his eyes are tearing up, and there’s water spilling out. He’s shaking. He can’t make himself move.

 

The feeling of cold air abruptly disappears, and Izuku immediately curls in on himself and shakes and tries not to cry too hard.

 

Breathe. One, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five.

 

Izuku straightens up and scrubs at his eyes. “S-sorry,” he says, gaze skittering around Shinsou’s face but never to the eyes.

 

He sees enough to know that Shinsou is looking at him kind of helplessly. “Are you...do you want to talk about it?”

 

It couldn’t hurt to vent a little, right? “Todoroki,” Izuku begins, “Todoroki said -- I mean, he doesn’t--” The tears well up again. Izuku puts a hand over his mouth and rests his elbows on the table and tries not to cry more.

 

“I’m...sorry,” Shinsou says.

 

Izuku takes a deep breath and sits back up. “Why? You didn’t do anything.”

 

Shinsou looks at him disbelievingly, as if to say, Did you or did you not almost have a breakdown because I tried to help you focus?

 

“You didn’t,” Izuku insists anyways. “I’m just. I’m just not doing that great, right now, and you came at a bad time. That’s all.”

 

Shinsou lets out a breath of air. “...If you say so.”

 

There’s a couple minutes of silence. Izuku picks up his spoon and makes an actual effort at enjoying his cake. He feels bad that he interrupted Shinsou’s time, and he also feels uncomfortable and awkward.

 

Then Shinsou clears his throat and says, “I don’t know if this is true, but,” he scratches the back of his neck, “I hear ice cream is good for break ups.”

 

Izuku tries very hard not to gape. “You think -- me and Todoroki?”

 

“Is that…” Shinsou is turning a bit red now. “Is that not it?”

 

No, ” Izuku says. For one, Todoroki is way out of his league. “I mean -- why would you -- how did you come up with that?”

 

“...He told you to meet him somewhere but he didn’t tell you why,” Shinsou says, “and -- just now--”

 

Izuku is pretty sure his face is as red as Shinsou’s, at this point.

 

Shinsou coughs and starts to stand up. “I’ll just...go.”

 

“No, it’s alright!” Izuku hurries to say, reaching over and grabbing Shinsou’s wrist. “Don’t let me keep you from enjoying your cake! It’s really good cake, too, Uemura-san runs a really good shop!”

 

Then he becomes extremely aware of his hand on Shinsou’s, and the surprisingly warm skin. He turns red and lets go of Shinsou’s wrist and fidgets with his own clothes. Shinsou slowly sits back down.

 

“It is good,” he concedes.

 

“The best,” Izuku says firmly. “I like coming here a lot. Sometimes I help in the back.”

 

Shinsou dips his head. “How do you know the owner?” he asks.

 

“Oh, um...Five years ago, there was this alley, and a guy with a knife,” Izuku says, and looks down.

 

“She helped you,” Shinsou surmises, when Izuku doesn’t say anything more.

 

“She was very kind,” Izuku agrees. She technically did help him -- just not in the way Shinsou probably thinks. “I visited her shop after that, and it’s been one of my favorite places ever since.”

 

The Here & There Cafe makes him feel safe and loved. It’s such a nice thing that Izuku still isn’t used to it, still feels a little out of place coming in here, still rations his visits as though he might use up all his welcome.

 

Izuku shakes himself out of his thoughts. “What about you, Shinsou?” he asks. “What are your favorite places?”

 

Shinsou blinks. And then,reluctantly, “...The Cat Cuddles Cafe.”

 

“What is that?” Izuku asks.

 

“...They have cats you can play with. There’s an hourly fee.”

 

“Oh,” says Izuku. Then, a bit wistfully, “That sounds really nice. Maybe I’ll try visiting.”

 

Shinsou relaxes an infinitesimal bit. “They’re open every day from 10am to 10pm, but only to 7pm on Saturdays and Sundays,” he offers.

 

Izuku looks at the clock. It’s only four. The idea takes root in his head, and the more he thinks about it, the more it appeals to him. He doesn’t have anything to do today, and there’s no one he particularly wants to visit, and it would be really nice to pet some cats right now. “Do you, um, know the way from here?” he asks.

 

Shinsou nods. “It’s on Block 62,” he says. He hesitates, and then says, “It’s on my way home. I could show you.”

 

“Would you?” Izuku teeters between refusing to inconvenience him and letting himself have a nice thing, and for once in his life, the nice thing wins. “Thank you so much!”

 

He pays for both their treats, even though Uemura tries to give him a discount. He just tips what she won’t take. Uemura tells Shinsou to “take care of Midoriya, now, he deserves to have good friends who appreciate him more.” Izuku turns red. Shinsou says he will.

 

They take a bus to the other side of the city, and then Shinsou leads him down a couple streets. They talk a little bit about Yuuei, then heroes, and then they hit upon the topic of vigilantes -- something Izuku knows quite a lot about, and so they talk about it for most of the way there.

 

Shinsou holds the door open for him. “You know a lot about this,” he says, sounding in equal parts curious and impressed. Izuku smiles sheepishly and steps inside.

 

Shinsou speaks to a friendly woman at the counter and pays for an hour each for him and Izuku. The woman shows them through a door. And past the door is a large room, filled with cat trees and cushions and rugs, light spilling in from the windows at the far end of the room. There are people here and there, attending to the room or to its main attractions.

 

And better than that: cats.

 

“This is amazing, ” Izuku breathes, eyes wide.

 

Shinsou laughs quietly next to him.

 

“Here,” he says. He leads Izuku to a tortoiseshell cat napping in the sunlight. “This is Fuku. He’s the friendliest cat in the room.” Shinsou puts his hand forward for the cat to sniff, and once the cat lies back, he strokes him a few times.

 

Izuku follows Shinsou’s example. “His fur is so soft,” he says wonderingly.

 

“Fuku is a favorite here,” Shinsou says, and Izuku thinks he can detect a hint of pride in his voice. “His favorite is chicken. He likes feathers.”

 

Once Izuku is done cooing over Fuku, Shinsou picks up a gray cat with a cheerful golden bell on a pink collar. “This is Tamiko. She likes napping on people’s laps and attention.” He hands her to Izuku.

 

Tamiko looks at him, and then she starts licking her paw, right there in Izuku’s arms.

 

Izuku laughs. The beginning of a smile appears on Shinsou’s lips. “Try sitting down,” he suggests, so Izuku does, and Tamiko settles herself down right there on his lap and imperiously accepts his attention.

 

A gray tabby with long fur pads over curiously and sniffs Izuku. “That’s Taka. He’s Tamiko’s brother, and he’s pretty active,” Shinsou tells him. Taka sniffs around a little bit more. Then he walks over Izuku’s lap and over Tamiko and walks away, tail getting into Izuku’s face.

 

Shinsou introduces him to the rest of the cats. They manage to persuade Tamiko off of Izuku’s lap, and then they spend some time fooling around and playing with some of the other cats. As time goes on, Shinsou relaxes and becomes more open -- still quiet, but more willing to smile, more willing to laugh.

 

There’s a moment when they’re sitting on the floor with a friendly cat named Isao, and Isao climbs onto Shinsou’s lap. Isao’s purring, looking around, kneading Shinsou’s leg. And then he turns and licks Shinsou’s cheek.

 

Shinsou lets out a startled laugh, and turns his head just so, and the golden sunlight catches on his hair and cheek and eyes like a summer shroud. And that moment of unguarded happiness is such a change, such a contrast from the tired and wary boy he first met; it hits Izuku in the chest and tangles his breath for a single, suspended moment, the way Shinsou lights up from the inside and seems to glow with that mysterious, effusive joy.

 

The moment passes. Izuku blinks. Shinsou, still smiling, says, “He kissed me.”

 

Izuku thinks to himself that Shinsou should have more happiness in his life.

 

He’s disappointed when their hour is up, but as he leaves there’s still a new energy in his steps that wasn’t there before.

 

As they get further from the cat cafe, Izuku can see Shinsou shutter himself away. It’s a little bit saddening. So when they get to Izuku’s bus stop, Izuku works up his courage and says, “Thanks, Shinsou.” He tilts his head up to look at the taller boy and smiles, trying to convey the full force of his gratitude. “I think that was the best hour of my life.”

 

There’s a slight flush on Shinsou’s face. “It’s no problem,” he mumbles, looking away.

 

“If you ever want to hang out again,” Izuku says, “I wouldn't, um, I wouldn't mind.”

 

Shinsou glances at him, and looks away, and nods.

 

They part ways. Izuku takes the bus home, and then he walks to Kacchan’s apartment.

 

Kacchan opens the door, and upon catching sight of him, glowers.

 

“Hi, Kacchan. Sorry for snapping at you yesterday,” Izuku begins.

 

Kacchan slams the door in his face.

 

Izuku is still blinking at the abruptness of it all when the door is yanked open again and Kacchan throws a box at him. Izuku catches it, blinks some more, and registers the fact that the box is covered in flour.

 

“Fuck off until you’re normal again!” Kacchan yells. The door slams once more. Izuku waits a couple moments, but it looks like that’s it.

 

He opens the cardboard box. Inside is...cake? Izuku is touched, but he also feels a little bit unsettled. This is probably the single nicest thing Kacchan has ever done for him.

 

The cake isn’t as good as Uemura’s, but it’s still pretty good. Izuku has a slice and saves the rest for when he’s having bad days.

 

Finally, on Sunday, Izuku calls Mitoki.

 

“Izuku!” Mitoki shouts into the phone, over the sound of hammering in the background. “Are you doing okay?”

 

Izuku can’t help but smile a little at that. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m doing alright. Sorry about everything that happened. I wanted to see you for a bit today, actually, and spend some time together, maybe? You mentioned something about helping with a project, right?”

 

“Yes!” Mitoki says immediately. “Damn straight, I’d love to see you. And also have your help. Hey, listen, we’re working on the project right now, you want to come over?”

 

Izuku gets an address from Mitoki. The house in question seems like a perfectly normal, perfectly mundane house, but when Izuku steps on the doormat, it sprouts what look like toothbrushes and starts cleaning his shoes.

 

Izuku presses the doorbell. There’s an audible thump from inside the house; the peephole in the door elongates into a telescope-looking thing that somehow manages to give off the impression that it’s staring intensely into Izuku’s eyes.

 

“Hi! What’s your name?” says a bubbly-sounding voice.

 

“Um, Midoriya Izuku?”

 

“Hello, hello! Don’t forget to take off your shoes!” The door swings open of its own accord, and after a moment of hesitation, Izuku steps inside.

 

He half-expected mayhem. It probably says something that he’s more unsettled by the homey, cream decor than anything. There’s also no one in sight. “Hello?” he calls. He waits maybe half a minute, hesitant to explore the house. Finally, there’s some muffled footsteps, and then Mitoki pops into sight. His hair is a mess, his clothes grimy, and he’s wearing the same awful goggles from that time they broke into Yuuei.

 

“Izuku! You came at just the right time!” he declares. “Come on, and grab your shoes.”

 

Izuku blinks. “Er, but the...door said not to--”

 

Mitoki waves him off. “Just ignore it. Come on!”

 

Izuku grabs his shoes and ducks as multiple tongues of flame shoot out of the wall. “Keep the shoes at the front door, please!” the bubbly voice says. What is wrong with this house. Izuku flees after Mitoki before anything else can happen.

 

Mitoki takes him into what might once have been a garage, if a tornado upended a mechanical workshop, an Italian bistro, and an arts and crafts store on the floor. This does not bode well.

 

“Mitoki, where’d you run off to?” says the same bubbly voice from the front door. In the middle of the room is a large table and some kind of robot...thing. The figure standing next to it shuts off the welding torch in their hand and flips up their mask to reveal an innocent-looking girl with a cheerful smile and short pink hair. “Oh! Is that your friend?”

 

Izuku finally connects the name “Hatsume Mei” to the Support Department student who made it into the final round of the Sports Festival using her inventions alone, and mostly using her match as a giant sales pitch. She scares him. He was not prepared for this at all.

 

“I told you the doorbell rang,” Mitoki says triumphantly. “This is Izuku, and he’s great at heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure he’s also mildly fireproof.”

 

“Mildly fireproof?” Izuku and Hatsume ask at the same time. Hatsume leans forward, looking interested, and Izuku is overcome by a feeling of intense foreboding.

 

“He can survive explosions from this one asshole with no problem, and only at the expense of his clothes,” Mitoki explains.

 

“What?” Izuku is bewildered. “How did you know that?”

 

“Thanks for confirming,” Mitoki says.

 

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Hatsume exclaims. “I have just the thing for you to do!”

 

That thing turns out to be holding hot, heavy pieces of metal for Hatsume as she’s welding together her newest invention. An anti-bird cannon she intends to attach to the roof, she explains. Also a prototype for anti-flying-objects-and-people-in-general, she adds. Izuku fears for the safety of Yuuei.

 

“We haven’t found a volunteer for the controlled test of it yet, though,” says Mitoki. He pauses, tilts his head back, and gives Izuku an earnest, wide-eyed smile. “Hey, Izuku, you’re pretty resilient, right?”

 

Izuku gives him as deeply suspicious a look as he can muster. “Mitoki,” he says. He tries to assemble a metaphor profound enough to express exactly how he feels about this suggestion, but words alone cannot encompass the depths of his emotion. “Mitoki, no.”

 

“You helped me break into Yuuei!” Mitoki protests. “This is barely anything!”

 

“Finish that app, then we’ll talk,” Izuku says dryly.

 

He passes the afternoon in the garage, losing himself in the easy rhythm and flow of work. Hatsume tells him what to do and he does it, and every now and then he gets a front-row seat to Mitoki and Hatsume arguing. Half the time he doesn’t even know what they’re arguing about; the best way to fix the cannon? The pros and cons of different programming languages? The existence of the Loch Ness Monster? Izuku is pretty sure they’re just arguing for the hell of it.

 

From what he’s gathered, Hatsume only recruited Mitoki because she wanted someone who could help her debug things more quickly. The doorbell, apparently, was one of their first collaborations. (Hatsume was the one who suggested it, but Mitoki was the one who wanted to add the jets of flame.)

 

Despite their bickering, it’s clear that Hatsume is the one ultimately in charge, as she orders Mitoki to do this and do that and add a function to make a thermal map of the surroundings, Mitoki! Mitoki snarks back cheerfully, but he always does what he’s told; he seems perfectly fine being treated like a subordinate. He doesn’t have much ambition or direction on his own, but he loves a good challenge, which is probably why he gets along with Hatsume so well.

 

As for Izuku, Hatsume starts calling him “minion” halfway through the day. Hatsume really seems to just plow right through social graces.

 

When he finally leaves, Hatsume tells him, “We’re working on this more next weekend, so come back soon, minion!” and doesn’t bother seeing him to the door. Mitoki waves goodbye from the front steps and tells him to feel better soon. Izuku says he already does, and he bids him goodbye.

 

At home, Izuku gathers his courage and finally opens the texts from Iida and Todoroki he’s been ignoring all week.

 

Two days ago, from Iida, a series of texts: Midoriya, Todoroki has informed me of Tuesday’s events and would like to make amends. Are you amenable to meeting him again?

 

There are a couple more texts in this vein. Izuku feels bad for ignoring them, and even worse now that he sees what they say.

 

He opens Todoroki’s singular text before he can back out of it. Midoriya, I would like to speak to you. If you are willing to meet in person please let me know.

 

Izuku imagines the upset and anxiety he might have caused Todoroki and Iida, and he winces. He tries to type a reply. The words don’t come; he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t even know how he should feel about the entire thing anymore.

 

He puts the phone down and tries to help his mom with dinner, but she shoos him away from the kitchen, so he just climbs to the roof and watches the drifting clouds. He doesn’t want to think about this anymore. He keeps thinking about it anyways, returning to it over and over again like a dog with a bone.

 

At dinner, his mom asks him what’s bothering him. Izuku looks up, startled.

 

“You have that look on your face where there’s a problem you need to solve, but you aren’t sure how to go about it, and you’re a little afraid, too,” his mom explains. That’s...a really specific expression. He’s kind of ashamed for being read so easily.

 

“Sorry,” Izuku says to his plate.

 

“It’s alright,” his mom assures him. “But I wanted to know if there was anything I can do to help.”

 

Izuku looks at her, and he thinks about all the questions that his day with Todoroki raised, and he thinks about how upset the questions might make his mom, and mostly he thinks about how scared he is of the answer.

 

He puts down the fork as his heart starts pounding again. His mom, recognizing the signs, starts up a smooth and meaningless litany of things she saw, some coworkers she talked to, some neighbors she visited recently. Izuku focuses on her voice until his heart stops thinking he’s just run a marathon.

 

“Sorry,” he says again.

 

“It’s alright, honey,” his mom says, also again. “I’m sorry for bringing it up. I didn’t mean to upset you.” She looks sad, and that’s all Izuku ever seems to do these days: make her sad. He’s just as bad as his stupid dad, he thinks, Hisashi who left her alone as a single mom and never sent any money or letters and hasn’t been seen for over a decade. And now Izuku’s running off and doing all these heroics and putting an emotional toll on her too; he wishes he could be a better son.

 

He doesn’t want to ask her any of his questions, but he doesn’t want to keep this from her any longer, either. And she deserves an explanation for how he’s been acting this past week, right? “Mom,” he begins, and stops. “Are you...are you absolutely sure that Midoriya Hisashi was my father?”

 

His voice wavers at the end, and a flood of tears rises to his eyes. It’s so unfair.

 

His mom doesn’t look upset, surprisingly. Just a bit taken aback, and then she looks concerned, “Oh, honey,” she says. “What happened?”

 

The story of his fight with Todoroki comes spilling out of his mouth. She listens, she nods, she gasps when Izuku tells her about the theory that All Might is his father, and once the floodgates are opened every single one of his fears that it might be true comes rushing out.

 

He ends up crying again. It’s awful. His mom rubs his shoulders and makes sympathetic noises as he tries to form sentences in his brain.

 

“It’s okay,” she says, after he apologizes for doubting her for like the fifth time, “I understand why you were upset, and it’s okay. I’ll tell you what I can.”

 

She shows him his birth certificate and her marriage certificate, and she shows him some of her old photos of his dad. Izuku traces the worn photos and takes in his father’s face and clothes. He doesn’t look anything like him, but -- it’s nice to finally have a face to label “father.” Still…is this really enough to say…?

 

His mom, seeing his lingering doubts, offers to set up a doctor’s appointment to make sure that Izuku definitely doesn’t have a Quirk. He feels terrible that she’s going to all these lengths for him, because it’s such an inconvenience -- but he can’t stop himself from agreeing and feeling some relief, knowing that he will have an answer. The end result is just another ugly knot of emotions that sits uncomfortably in him as he goes to sleep that night.

 

They go to the doctor’s appointment on Wednesday. The doctor takes an X-ray of Izuku’s feet and asks some questions about his parentage. She pulls up some of Izuku’s records and looks over them for a couple minutes, and then she shows them Izuku’s X-rays. There is no possible way Izuku has a latent Quirk, she concludes. Izuku has many of the vestigial traits that preclude having a Quirk. Nothing has changed since ten years ago.

 

Izuku is so relieved he tears up. His mom pats him on the back reassuringly. The doctor looks faintly concerned as they leave.

 

At home, he finally replies to Todoroki. All Might definitely is not my father, is all he texts, because he has the social grace of a lumbering bear and doesn’t know how to handle an apology.

 

Fuck, how is he supposed to go about this? He reopens Iida’s texts and stares at them for a while, unsure of what to say, before he finally types out, I don’t know. I feel anxious about meeting Todoroki again.

 

He hesitates, then adds, He told you everything that happened, right?

 

Yes, Iida texts back almost immediately. Izuku winces; he doesn’t exactly want to get into a text conversation, but apparently that’s happening now.

 

I feel kind of awful about it, and I don’t really know what we'd even talk about, he texts. I mean, he doesn’t have to apologize, I’m the one who ended up yelling at him. It’s not his fault.

 

Nearly ten minutes pass without a response. It seems to be important to Todoroki. Please give it some consideration, Iida finally texts him.

 

Izuku pulls his knees to his chest and puts his head in his hands, takes some deep breaths, and tries to think around the buzzing anxiety in his head. It just feels so awful thinking about the incident, but he can’t live with this forever, can he? He needs to find some closure for this. Or something. At least, get this over with so he can leave it behind. But...he doesn’t really want to face Todoroki by himself.

 

He bites his lip, and then he sends the text before he can talk himself out of it. Would you be willing to come along and mediate, maybe? You don’t have to, but it would be helpful I think.

 

Iida texts back very promptly. Of course! I would be more than happy to help. Where and when would you like to meet?

 

They decide on Friday after school. Izuku hopes that the meeting won’t sour all their weekends.

 

The next day, Izuku crosses paths with Kacchan for the first time since Saturday. Izuku waves; Kacchan just scowls, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Deku,” he growls. “Where the fuck have you been?”

 

“Ah, sorry, Kacchan.” Izuku smiles wryly. “I just decided to leave you alone until I felt better… I didn’t want to get you caught up in that.” And also, Kacchan said to fuck off until he was normal again.

 

Kacchan gives him a hard look for a couple moments. Then, “Fine, whatever,” he scoffs, turning his head away and shoving his hands further into his pockets.

 

Izuku blinks. Was Kacchan...concerned about him?

 

“No, I fucking wasn’t! I don’t give a shit what you do, you can take care of your own damn self!”

 

Oops, Izuku said that aloud. “...Thanks, Kacchan,” he says, still feeling a little bit bewildered at all... this. “I mean, I really appreciate it.”

 

“Did you even hear a fucking word I said?”

 

Izuku shrugs, a bit listless. “I always hear what you have to say,” he says dully. Hard not to, with the way Kacchan yells so much. It’s trying to understand everything else that’s hard.

 

When there isn’t an immediate response, he looks back up. Kacchan has a -- strange expression on his face. Like his quieter moods, but more unsettled. Or maybe more shaken. Izuku can’t tell; it’s not a look he can ever remember seeing.

 

Izuku opens his mouth to ask, but -- “I’m fine,” Kacchan snaps, cutting it off. He grinds his teeth and turns his face away again, his spiky hair obscuring Izuku’s view of his eyes. He seems upset, not quite angry -- or, if he is angry, at nobody other than himself.

 

Something’s changed with Kacchan, Izuku can feel it down to the fibres of his bones. “You’re different,” he observes. Kacchan’s lips peel back.

 

“What do you know, Deku?” he says, too smooth to be a snarl, but threatening nonetheless. “We aren’t even in the same school anymore, how can you say what’s changed?”

 

“Kacchan, I’ve known you practically longer than I’ve known my own name,” Izuku says dryly. “Do you think I’d really miss it?”

 

Kacchan opens his mouth, and then shuts it with a click. It’s faintly satisfying to know that he was right.

 

“It really has been a while, though,” he says. And then, he offers impulsively, “Do you want to go downtown, Kacchan? Just to catch up a bit.”

 

He doesn’t know what he was expecting when he offered it. But he wasn’t expecting Kacchan to say, “...Fine.”

 

Izuku blinks, speechless for a moment, but a hesitant smile creeps across his face. He can’t help the hope that stirs in him. “Okay, let’s go.”

 

Neither of them have any money on them, so they just wander to a local park, where Izuku gravitates towards the swings hiding in the shade of the trees. Kacchan joins him wordlessly there, sitting down on the swing next to him as he gives himself a few whimsical pushes.

 

It might have been years since he was last on a swing. This is...nice. Izuku tilts his face up towards the sky to feel the wind in his hair.

 

“What’s it like, at Yuuei?” he asks.

 

Kacchan lifts his head to give him a weird look.

 

“You’re being taught by actual pro heroes,” explains Izuku. “I always wondered -- if the experience would live up to the expectation. The hiring pool, pro heroes who are also willing to teach, has to be small. Are they as good as everyone says?” He tilts his head. “And how is the curriculum different…? My high school isn’t much different from middle school, aside from having harder classes and people who are interested in the same things as me.”

 

Kacchan turns back to face forward, kicking at the ground. After a moment he says, almost thoughtfully, “On the first day, the teacher showed up zipped in a bright yellow sleeping bag and rolled across the fucking floor into the classroom.”

 

Izuku’s jaw drops. “Oh my god,” he says, and starts laughing.

 

“It doesn’t mean shit that Yuuei’s the top hero school,” Kacchan says. He seems to be getting warmed up to the subject. “Everyone’s still a fucking idiot. The teachers are always saying crap like ‘you’re the future of this country’ but just fucking yesterday Kirishima bet Kaminari that he couldn’t eat three plates of tacos in forty minutes and Kaminari ate so much he puked.”

 

“Oh my god.

 

“It’s exactly the same kind of fucking shitstorm our middle school was. Only, the fights are better.” Kacchan rolls his eyes. “Training exercises every other day. At least they’re fucking good at that.”

 

If he’s calling anything good, it must be good. Despite Kacchan’s biting words, he still seems...happier. Maybe more comfortable in his skin. It makes Izuku smile, but it also aches, that they’re going different ways.

 

Today seems to be a day for sentimental thoughts, and what a sentiment. He doesn’t want Kacchan to leave him behind. It’s a thought that belongs better unformed and unnamed in the early hours of the morning so it can be quickly lost to sleep.

 

“What are the rest of your classmates like?” Izuku asks, before he can get caught up in that train of thought.

 

“How should I know?”

 

Izuku bites his lips so he can keep himself from laughing. “Kacchan, we’re a third of the way into the school year. You can’t tell me you don’t know your classmates.”

 

“I don’t fucking care about any of them.”

 

“You call Kirishima by name.”

 

“He’s such a fucking annoyance, of course I’d remember his name.”

 

“What about,” Izuku wracks his brain for names from past conversations. “Half-and-half? Or, um, angel face, or pinkie.” Are those even the right names?

 

Kacchan blows out an annoyed breath. “Half-and-half’s only got a nickname ‘cause he’s a bitch to beat. Pinkie won’t leave me alone, she thinks she ought to be friends with me an’ hair-for-brains, which is fucking dumb as hell. And Uraraka is, whatever, she holds her fucking own. Doesn’t mean I care.

 

“Right,” Izuku says, “which is why you know who they are, right?” He grins. “You must really like or really respect Uraraka if you’ve started calling her by name .”

 

“Shut up,” Kacchan snaps. Then, begrudgingly, “She fights well.”

 

And isn’t that a story Izuku wants to hear. He thinks Uraraka might be the girl who could make things float, who nearly defeated Kacchan in the Sports Festival.

 

“I guess things really are different at Yuuei, huh?” Izuku says. If so many people can hold Kacchan’s attention and tentative respect, well. He tilts his head. “Is that what…? What changed, I mean?”

 

Kacchan is silent. Izuku wonders if he’ll give an honest answer, or if he’ll give an answer at all.

 

“No,” Kacchan says.

 

Izuku blinks. “Then what is it?”

 

“It’s none of your fucking business,” Kacchan snaps, though with less bite and intent than usual. Still, Izuku can tell that this is one of those things he won’t budge on, so he nods and doesn’t press any further, despite the gnawing curiosity.

 

There’s a lull in conversation after that. Kacchan isn’t much of a talker when he’s not angry or talking about something he’s interested in, and Izuku is content to be quiet.

 

But then Kacchan  mutters, “What about you, huh? The fuck got you feeling so weird last week?” and Izuku nearly does a double-take.

 

“I -- I got into an argument,” he manages to stutter out, but internally he feels like he might have just experienced the human version of a blue screen of death. Is this still reality he’s living in? Is this the actual world? “Um. We only met a while ago, and he -- said some things that upset me, and… and I said some things I shouldn’t have either.”

 

He’s obsessively played the conversation in his mind countless times since last Tuesday. This isn’t about your stupid father! Get over yourself! It makes him cringe every time he remembers it, but there’s also part of him who is still angry and up in arms about the whole thing. Izuku grimaces and decides to move on. “He says he wants to, um, meet me and talk about it? I said yes, but I’m a little… I mean, he’s a good person. But he really upset me. I’m still kind of angry, I think.”

 

There’s a beat of silence. Then Kacchan says, “Kill him.”

 

Izuku stares. “Kacchan, no, I want to be friends!”

 

“Kill him only a little bit,” Kacchan suggests.

 

Izuku lets out a startled laugh. And Kacchan, he looks as sharp and full of fire as he always does, but the lines of anger perpetually drawn around his eyes aren’t quite as harsh, and there’s a slight tilt to his head, and -- “Was that a joke? ” Izuku says incredulously. “Did you just -- was that--?”

 

“It wasn’t a fucking joke. Kill him dead.”

 

Izuku tries to suppress his laughter, but his shoulders start to shake, so he turns away and puts a hand up to his face. It doesn’t work.

 

“What the fuck are you laughing at, Deku,” Kacchan grumbles.

 

“I just,” he starts, and all of a sudden this all aches. Cradled by the soft shadows of the trees, and the summer heat starting to bloom, and the backdrop of people laughing and children playing; and most of all, just being side-by-side with Kacchan in a way that hasn’t happened since he first found out he didn’t have a Quirk. It’s almost warm here. It’s almost comfortable, and Izuku thinks he wasn’t prepared for how much it would burden him.

 

“I didn't think we could have something like this,” he says quietly, near-inaudible, as though the sound of his voice might shatter this precious moment in time.

 

Kacchan is silent. Izuku mentally slaps himself. It was dumb, expressing that kind of sentiment; he can’t expect anything from Kacchan. “Anyways, I don’t think that will work,” he says with a wry smile. “I mean, I did win a fight against him -- but that’s not really the point.”

 

Kacchan’s expression abruptly darkens. “You were fighting with him?”

 

“Oh,” Izuku says. The world snaps into sharp focus. Fuck, he fucked up, he stepped wrong somewhere and Kacchan’s gonna get so mad. “Um, yes?”

 

“What the fuck does that fucking piece of shit assrag think he’s fucking doing?” Kacchan seethes. “Huh, Deku? The fuck you got a reason to fight?

 

“Well, I mean -- he asked, I guess?”

 

Kacchan gives Izuku the most murderous look, and Izuku remembers belatedly that he spent nearly two months refusing to fight Kacchan.

 

“He just needed help with a hypothesis,” Izuku explains hastily. “And it wasn’t even a serious fight, anyways -- it was just a one-time spar. It’s not going to happen again. I’m not fighting with anyone else, Kacchan.”

 

“I don’t fucking care what stupid shit you get up to in your free time,” Kacchan snaps, but the sense of an impending attempt at homicide dies down to a normal level of simmering anger, so Izuku figures everything’s okay now. He lets out a silent breath of relief.

 

“I’m meeting him tomorrow,” Izuku tells Kacchan, “but in a public place and with someone else as an intermediary, so hopefully it will go well.” He smiles crookedly. “I guess I won’t see you tomorrow, either. Sorry. Maybe we could do something later instead.” He laughs a little even as he says it, because no way the suggestion won't be shot down, right?

 

Kacchan kicks the ground beneath the swing moodily. “Yeah, whatever,” he says shortly. “What do you want to do.”  

 

Izuku’s brain nearly short-circuits.

 

“Kacchan,” he begins carefully, “Is everything okay?” Seeing Kacchan’s blank stare, he clarifies, “I mean, are you feeling alright? Everything is fine?”

 

“Of course it is.” Kacchan snorts. “Why the fuck would you ask that.”

 

Izuku doesn’t even know where to begin. Kacchan isn’t the kind of person to just casually accept an invitation like that, for one; and more than that, the last time he and Izuku willingly spent more than two hours together was a few months back when their mothers decided they should all go camping together. Izuku can’t shake the feeling that Kacchan is trying to be nice . He hasn’t even tried to hit Izuku yet today or anything. It’s weirdly unsettling, and he just...he can’t understand what changed; he can’t understand why.

 

But maybe this is a chance for something better, and Izuku doesn’t want to let that go.

 

“How about mountain hiking?” he suggests. “It’s short notice, though, so maybe we could go next Saturday?”

 

“Yeah, whatever,” says Kacchan. “Just don’t fucking fall behind, I’m not waiting for you if you fall.”

 

“You could bring some of your friends from Yuuei, Kacchan,” Izuku says. “Like Kirishima. He sounds nice.”

 

“He’s a fucking idiot, how the hell does that sound nice?!”

 

They walk back home together, and Kacchan accompanies him to his apartment for some reason, which is kind of weird, but Izuku’s apartment is only a slight detour for Kacchan anyways. Izuku waves Kacchan goodbye and tries not to feel too weird about the fact that they have actual plans to do something together.

 

Friday after school, and Izuku shows up at the designated meeting location, a park near Yuuei grounds. The myriad trees provide plenty of shade along the path, but they also block Izuku’s view, so he spends a couple minutes wandering around looking for Todoroki and Iida.

 

“Midoriya!” a familiar voice calls. Izuku turns around and sees Iida standing up and waving his arms very seriously. Todoroki is sitting on the bench next to him, hands on knees, face blank. He nods at Izuku as he approaches.

 

“H-hi, Iida,” Izuku says, smiling. “And, um, hi, Todoroki.” He bites his lip and averts his gaze. The words he’s been carefully planning out and rehearsing seem to have flown out of his head, but he pushes through the adrenaline and anxiety looming at his back. “I, um, I owe you a better apology than the one I gave you last Tuesday. Um. I'm sorry I said the things I did, it was really, um, insensitive of me to trod all over your experiences like that, I think. A-and I shouldn't have yelled, either...I really crossed a line. I-I'm really sorry about that.” He bows awkwardly.

 

“...It’s fine,” says Todoroki. “You already apologized, anyways. I’m here to apologize to you.”

 

Izuku looks up at Todoroki, gut twisting with an unfamiliar emotion.

 

Todoroki isn’t looking at him. He’s looking at his left hand instead, as if it requires his utmost attention, like it’s holding his captive audience. It’s a little bit silly and shy, and a little endearing too. “I gave your words some thought,” he says to his hand. “And while it could have been said better, I…understand why you said it.” He lowers his hand and glances at Izuku before coolly turning his gaze elsewhere. “‘Deku’… I stumbled across some information about you online. You've helped a lot of people without asking anything in return. I'm still not sure if you're a hero or a vigilante, whether you're licensed or whether the police are turning a blind eye… But that's besides the point. For someone who has devoted so much to helping others, I must have seemed unbearably arrogant to you, using only half my strength and claiming I could be the number one hero.”

 

Todoroki looks back at him and stretches out his left hand. Orange flames spring to life along his hand and arm. “I have decided, from now on, that I will use my full strength to help others,” he says quietly.

 

Oh.

 

Izuku’s stomach sinks, or maybe develops butterflies, or maybe it’s just adrenaline flooding his limbs again. He reaches a hand forth until he can feel the heat dancing in his palm. In the shadows of the trees, the firelight is warm and welcome. Healing. Like new beginnings, or the sunlight of spring. A smile creeps its way across his lips, and he tilts his head up to look at Todoroki.

 

“I’m glad that you aren’t holding yourself back anymore,” he says quietly. “I’m glad you’re letting yourself change and grow. And -- I can’t wait to see you become the best person you can be.”

 

Todoroki’s eyes widen, startled, before he schools it back into an impassive expression. “...Thank you, Midoriya,” he says slowly. “That...means much, to me.”

 

Izuku smiles. Their fingertips are nearly touching. His hand lingers close a moment more before he lets it fall back to his side.

 

“I'm glad everything is resolved between you two!” Iida says. Izuku and Todoroki both twitch; Izuku nearly forgot he was there. “I have to admit, I anticipated that this meeting would run longer; the next bus doesn't leave for another forty minutes.”

 

Izuku laughs sheepishly. “You set aside that much time for this?” he says, scratching at the back of his head. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to inconvenience you like that. Thank you so much for coming.”

 

“Yes, thank you,” Todoroki agrees. “Sorry for the trouble.”

 

“Ah, it's no trouble at all,” says Iida. But it's clear that he's happy, from the way his smile seems to pull him up straight and brighten his entire being.

 

“I don't have too much to do, so I'll wait with you until your bus gets here,” says Izuku. “There are some nice shops nearby if you want to check them out. Um, there's actually a good ice cream place, too.”

 

“I see.” Iida looks contemplatively in the direction Izuku indicated, rubbing his chin with one hand. “That seems like a good suggestion. Todoroki, would you like to come along?”

 

“...Sure. Why not.”

 

And that's how they end up in an ice cream shop.

 

They’re sitting outside the shop at one of the tables, picking up their last discussion about heroes and their Quirks, when Iida trails off mid-sentence to smile at someone. Izuku turns in his seat and sees two girls approaching, both still in their Yuuei uniforms. One of them has a brown bob and a bright smile; the other girl has long dark hair tied with a bow and reminds Izuku of a frog. “Hi, Iida! And Todoroki!” says the brown-haired girl, bouncing up to their table. “I didn’t expect to see you guys here!”

 

“Hello, Uraraka,” says Iida with a smile. “It’s good to see you as well.”

 

“So, whatcha doing here?” Uraraka asks, and then she peers around Iida to look at Izuku. “Oh, hello, who’s this?”

 

“Um, I’m,” Izuku says, and stops.

 

“This is Midoriya Deku, and Midoriya, this is Uraraka Ochako and Asui Tsuyu,” Iida says by ways of introduction. Wait, Uraraka? As in the student Kacchan considers a good fighter and seems to respect? He blanches slightly.

 

“Nice to meet you, Midoriya!” Uraraka breaks in. “Are you friends with Todoroki and Iida?”

 

“H-hi, just call me Deku, please,” Izuku says. He looks at his two companions helplessly, but Iida seems unaffected and Todoroki is as blank-faced as ever. “I mean, I…guess we are?” If friend is an adequate enough term for strangers who met by going through a traumatic experience together . “We only met a short while ago, though.”

 

“Really? What school do you go to?”

 

“It’s a math and science focused school,” Izuku says. “I want to be an engineer, I think.” He smiles nervously; Uraraka seems extroverted enough that he’s a little scared.

 

Asui says, “Ochako, we should get our ice cream before sitting down with them.” She tilts her head and looks at Izuku. “Hi, Deku. It’s nice to meet you.”

 

“Nice to meet you too,” Izuku says, smiling. Her quiet demeanor is much more comfortable than Uraraka’s friendliness, and she called him by the name he gave. He likes her already.

 

“You’re right, Tsuyu. We’ll be right back,” Uraraka announces. She grabs Asui’s hand and heads towards the counter to look at the menu choices. There’s an easy, comfortable familiarity between them that makes Izuku feel envious, and at the same time, sad.

 

Uraraka and Asui pull up chairs and sit down with them when they've gotten their orders, breaking up their conversation about Yuuei teachers as everyone shifts to make space. Asui has picked ice cream, but Uraraka has a popsicle. “So, how did you meet?” she asks them cheerfully.

 

Iida clears his throat and takes a sudden interest in the nearby window, and Todoroki conveniently takes a bite of ice cream at that moment. He and Izuku make eye contact and it becomes clear that the burden of explaining is going to fall on Izuku. It also becomes abundantly clear that Todoroki and Iida are both terrible liars. Izuku hates his life.

 

“We met because -- I ran into a spot of trouble,” Izuku explains awkwardly. “And they happened to be there too -- so we just worked together to get through it, I guess.”

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Todoroki mouth together incredulously. Izuku kicks his foot under the table.

 

“Oh, wow,” Uraraka says. “I’m glad you guys are okay now! What happened?”

 

Izuku grimaces inwardly. “I don’t really want to talk about it,” he mumbles, and hopes that she’ll back off.

 

Uraraka nods understandingly and takes a bite of her popsicle. Wait, what? She doesn't even flinch, Izuku watches, dumbfounded, as she chews it, easy as anything, oblivious to Izuku’s slight terror. Isn’t it freezing? Isn’t she afraid of getting a brain freeze or making her teeth hurt or her mouth go numb? Izuku doesn’t ever want to get into a fight with her. He tears his gaze away from her and accidentally meets Asui’s eyes.

 

“Hi,” she says. “I always say what’s on my mind, no matter what.”

Alarm bells start ringing in his head. “That’s great,” Izuku says, his voice a bit higher than usual. He wants to kick himself in the face. Izuku straightens in his seat and glances at Iida and Todoroki in hopes of escape.

 

“Two weeks ago,” she says, her voice dropping in volume, “was it you?” She looks at Iida and Todoroki. She knows.

 

“N-no,” Izuku stutters out, and he immediately feels horrible for lying and just puts his head into his hands. “Please don’t ask me that.”

 

Uraraka inhales audibly. Todoroki sighs. Iida says sharply, “Asui!” and gives  a significant look at the rest of the shop.

 

“It’s okay,” Asui says, “no one else is listening in, and I was very quiet.”

 

“Please do not speak of this to anyone else,” Iida says, but even though it’s phrased like a request, it’s clear it’s more of a command. “We said we would do our best to honor his wishes, and it would only be right to continue doing so.”

 

Izuku tries to sink through his seat and into the floor, but the world continues to fail him in predictable and unsurprising ways. “I’m so sorry for all the trouble,” he mumbles. “I know everyone’s been hounding after answers…Maybe it would be easier if I just…” His stomach sinks just thinking about it, so he cuts off that train of thought and looks at his shoelaces instead.

 

“Oh no, it’s totally okay!” Uraraka says hastily. “We won’t tell anyone, right, Asui?”

 

Asui nods. “We won’t tell,” she agrees. “Sorry for putting you on the spot… I should have been more considerate of your wishes.”

 

“O-okay,” Izuku says. Today really seems to be a day for apologies, and having so many of them directed towards him feels distinctly uncomfortable. “Let’s just, um, finish our ice cream? What kind of things do you like to do?”

 

They make small talk. Asui is quiet and straightforward yet oddly sweet, Uraraka is just bubbly and full of stories, and apparently Todoroki goes back to being quiet and aloof when he’s around his classmates. Iida, on the other hand, seems to get along with Uraraka and Asui splendidly, so Izuku suspects that they’re already good friends.

 

Soon enough, Iida and Todoroki leave to take the bus, but Izuku lingers a bit longer to chat with Asui and Uraraka before finally bidding them goodbye. As he’s leaving, he catches a glimpse of Asui and Uraraka lacing their fingers together; Uraraka rests her head on Asui’s shoulder, and Asui leans slightly into the touch.

 

Izuku is surprised by the feeling of longing and envy that washes over him, how much he wants intimate physical contact, too. But he can’t remember the last time he really felt safe with anyone touching him besides his mom.

 

It bothers him all day; he can’t shake the feeling. Loneliness is a familiar friend, but it’s been awhile since it hit Izuku this hard.

 

Lying awake at four in the morning and watching the ceiling and walls, he can’t help but envy the Yuuei students. They seemed so happy and confident in themselves, and more than that, they looked so at ease with each other. Like Iida’s happy smile when Uraraka came, a gentle spring sun; like Uraraka leaning over Asui to look at the ice cream selection; like Uraraka and Asui holding hands. He wants it so bad, it hurts, and he turns over and buries his face into his pillow and tries not to let the early-morning unreality undo him.

 

He just has to keep moving. Izuku rolls out of bed and washes his face, then goes for a run until the sun comes up.

 

That weekend, Izuku goes to see Kobayashi. She opens the door when he knocks, gives him an appraising look, and says, “I see you’re feeling better. Want to hear an update on the prototype?” And that’s pretty much the end of the whole Todoroki incident.

 

Kobayashi tells Izuku that, while probably not the prettiest or sleekest design, the prototype is finished. It’s simple and easy to use. “Fujimura and I even managed to get ahold of a company that will produce these for us, too,” Kobayashi informs him smugly. “Now we just need to fundraise.”

 

“I’ll take care of that,” says Izuku. “How much do we need?”

 

“Think you can get us a million yen?” says Kobayashi.

 

Izuku’s eyes widen, but then he pulls himself together. “Okay,” he says, determined. “I’ll do it.”

 

He talks to Uemura at the cafe about ways to fundraise; she runs a business, a chain store, she should know how to do this. “Oh, I’d love to help,” she says cheerfully. “I can afford to donate some cakes and pastries for a bake sale. Also, this Saturday, the ladies in my neighborhood are meeting up. We do that every week. Come meet me at my house at four, and be ready to present your project. They’ll be an enormous help!”

 

Oh god, public speaking. And what is he talking to the ladies in Uemura’s neighborhood for? “Okay, I will,” Izuku says anyways. He trusts her judgment.

 

On Monday, Mitoki, at school, shows him the nearly-finished app. “I just have a few kinks to work out,” he complains. “Debugging is the worst, you know? I hate that.”

 

“Isn’t that basically all Hatsume has enlisted you to do?”

 

Mitoki looks offended. “Of course not! I also help her program and point out when she’s terribly, horribly wrong.”

 

“Such as…?”

 

“When she didn’t add missiles to her suit design,” Mitoki says immediately. “Who does that? She already had rocket thrusters set up and everything, and she didn’t even think of it before I pointed it out.”

 

Izuku digs down to the core of that statement and is slightly scared by what he finds. “…You added miniaturized rocket launchers to a suit?”

 

“Hell yeah we did. You should come check it out sometime.”

 

Izuku suspects that Mitoki is enabling Hatsume to an alarming degree, which is, frankly, too terrifying for him to think about in further detail.

 

The next couple of days go well, and Izuku tentatively lets himself relax. Things seem fairly normal, and it’s reassuring, the familiarity of it.

 

He shouldn’t have been fooled.

 

It’s 6 a.m., and Izuku is on his usual morning run near the outskirts of Musutafu, running by dilapidated apartment buildings and cracked sidewalks and fenced-off houses overgrown with vines and weeds. The morning air is crisp and clear, and Izuku has settled into a relaxing and rhythmic pace, when he hears shouting.

 

Hey! Get off--! What are you doing?!

 

Haha, I’m going to carve you up like a turkey and bleed you dry! Hahahahahahaaaaa!

 

His heart rate picks up. Izuku veers off his usual route and turns the corner. There, by the side of the street: a blonde girl with an oversized sweater laughs as she tries to stab a man in a top hat and trench coat, and he is only barely staving her off.

 

“Hey,” Izuku barks sharply, sprinting towards the two. The girl rounds on him with a laugh, eyes half-lidded and a too-wide smile, and Izuku catches her wrist before she can stab him. He pulls her away from the man, twisting her arm until she drops the knife. It clatters on the old asphalt and he kicks it out of reach, ducking as she lashes at him with the knife that has suddenly appeared in her other hand.

 

He breaks her hold on that knife and tosses it away, too. “Stop that,” he reprimands, letting go of her and stepping away with a frown. His eyes flick to the man in the coat. “What happened? Are you alright?”

 

Before the man can answer, Izuku’s attention is stolen by the girl latching onto his arm. “Awww, Deku-kun, you’re so sweet!” she says breathily, and the shape of his name in her mouth makes his hair stand on end. “I’ve been waiting sooo long to meet you. You’re even cuter than I thought you would be!”

 

“I… I’m sorry?” Izuku takes a step back, and she takes the step with him, grinning. Red dusts her cheeks. “Who are you?”

 

“I’m Himiko Toga,” she says cheerfully, “but you can call me Toga-chan! Let’s be friends!”

 

Something feels very, very wrong. Izuku’s senses tingle, and he pulls his arm out of her grip and ducks to the side. The air shifts. Something misses. Spinning around, he sees the man in the top hat, hand outstretched. He just attacked me?

 

“Himiko,” the man commands.

 

“Haha, you got it, mister,” she says. Knives slip out of her sleeves and into her waiting hands, and she attacks.

 

Izuku fends her off easily, but his focus is on the man, who seems to be in charge. He must be a long distance or stealth fighter if he’s letting Himiko do the brunt of the attacking. Sure enough, he hovers around, waiting for an opening to take advantage of, and Izuku would really rather not let that happen. He hits in rapid succession some of Himiko’s pressure points, and she drops to the ground. She isn’t upset by it. She’s laughing. Izuku feels increasingly uneasy as he circles around.

 

“Who are you?” he says lowly. “What do you want?”

 

The man sighs, annoyed. “Himiko, you’re a failure,” he says, though not with any real emotion behind it. He puts a finger up to his ear. “Come in.”

 

A communications device.  Izuku tenses, and his senses tingle just in time for him to throw himself out of the way.

 

The impact shakes the ground; rubble flies into the air, and dust clouds his vision. In the epicenter of it all is a hulking blond man with a crazed grin. He turns to face Izuku, revealing a thick ripple of scar tissue down his face and a menacing mechanical eye. With an excited roar, he charges at Izuku, and the flesh under his skin swells grotesquely before the very muscle fiber itself rips his skin apart in a heaving mass.

 

Horror and disgust course through Izuku’s veins. He puts up his arms to block, but then -- to his surprise -- the man’s blow actually sends him flying back down the street. Izuku rolls with the fall and springs back to his feet. This man is strong -- Izuku isn’t sure how far he’ll have to push in order to defeat him.

 

“Still standing?” laughs the man. “Ha, not too bad for a boy fresh out of middle school. Though I suppose it’s to be expected.” There’s a maniacal gleam in his eyes as the muscles along his back and arms bulge and multiply. It’s horrifying, the slick sounds they make and the way the visceral red gleams in the sunlight. “Let’s see how you take this!

 

If Izuku can’t end this quickly, he has to somehow take this fight out of city limits to minimize damage. As the man charges at him with another furious battle cry, Izuku clenches his fists and tries to mentally gauge how much strength to put behind his counter.

 

The next blow only causes him to skid back a couple inches, and the next one, he doesn’t budge at all. Izuku nods to himself mentally; the only problem after that, then, is that his opponent’s muscle mass makes him much larger an adversary than Izuku is used to fighting against.

 

He’ll manage; he’s been fighting people bigger and stronger than him his entire life. When the man attacks him again, Izuku uses his momentum to flip him over his shoulder and slam him against the ground, but the man recovers quickly and attacks again with a wild laugh. He manages to grab Izuku by the leg, and he smashes him into the concrete a few times. The pavement buckles under him. Izuku gets some dust in his eyes and his clothes are all scraped up now. He stares up at the man from where he’s sprawled on the ground, rubbing at his eyes tiredly.

 

“What? You’re still in one piece?” the man says, irritated. “Then how about this?”

 

Izuku rolls to the side just as the man brings his fist down. Chunks of asphalt and rock explode outwards. Izuku raises a hand to shelter himself from the debris; a large chunk of rock shatters against his arm and pelts the street. He hopes no one is in the neighborhood right now. Oh hell -- the property damage is going to be terrible, isn’t it? Sancha is going to be furious about all the incident reports he'll have to write.

 

He rolls out of the way of another punch, only to get thrown back by the shockwave. Climbing back up, he scans his surroundings briefly: a mostly destroyed street, a building that got half crushed somewhere in the fight, and -- wait, is that Himiko--? She's laughing hysterically, lying limp on the ground; her clothes are dusty and torn, her skin scraped and bleeding. Izuku just hit her pressure points. She won't be able to move for a while more, which means--

 

“Aw, Muscular!” she shrieks. “Be careful! I -- haha, I would look -- terrible with a broken face!”

 

“Oh?” Muscular glances over at her like she's a particularly annoying fly who just reminded him she exists. “If you're too weak to fight, then just die,” he says, not with any real emotion behind it, but factually, as though this is expected of her. There's no expression on his face but mild irritation as he pulls back his arm.

 

“Muscular,” shouts the man in the top hat from down the street. Muscular’s face doesn’t even twitch as he brings his fist down.

 

Izuku flies forward. He crosses half the street and scoops Himiko up in a single instant, then throws himself forward to avoid the blow. The ground shatters behind them and sprays them with shards of rock and concrete. Izuku breaks their fall with a somersault, trying to shield Himiko from the worst of it, and then he rolls to his feet.

“Sorry,” he says to Himiko. “I didn’t mean to put you in danger like that. -- Hang on!”

 

He dodges Muscular’s next attack, and the next, and it gives him an opening to kick Muscular in the ribs. Crack. Muscular stumbles, and Izuku takes that opportunity to kick the side of his knee, breaking that too. Muscular falls heavily onto the ground; his expression is wilder now, less euphoric and more like an animal scared, and he swipes for Izuku with so much force a wind howls through the street and clears a pathway through the debris. Izuku halts the blow it with one foot, shifting Himiko in his arms, and he stomps Muscular’s hand to the ground. A crater blooms under his shoe; cement flies upward; Muscular yells as the muscles in his arms are crushed and the bones in his arm crack. “Careful,” Izuku murmurs to Himiko, just before he kicks Muscular in the temple.

 

The villain slumps, and then he lurches forward at Izuku for one final attack with his good arm. Izuku stomps on it. Muscular goes down again, this time, Izuku hopes, for good.

 

“F...fuck…” Muscular rolls his eyes up, straining to see Izuku. “Ha… Can’t believe I lost to…”

 

Izuku looks away. He really wishes he was strong enough to end this fight cleanly and without breaking any bones.

 

“What are you… gonna do, huh?” Muscular asks. “Gonna… kill me…? Finish… what you…?”

 

“If you say ‘finish what you started,’ I am seriously going to punch you,” Izuku says. He grimaces. “That was bad wording, but you get my point.”

 

Himiko shifts, and Izuku down at her. Her expression has been wiped clear of her hysterical laughter, and instead, she’s looking between Muscular and Izuku, seemingly awed or baffled.

 

“Sorry for, um, forgetting about you at the beginning there,” Izuku says to her apologetically. “And, um, sorry about the pressure points too. You should be fine again in maybe half an hour.”

 

“Half an hour?” she repeats.

 

“Sorry,” Izuku says again. “But, um, I won’t let anything happen to you during that time, okay? You’ll be fine.” He puts her down -- out of Muscular’s reach, just in case -- and eases her to the ground as gently as he can.

 

He needs to call the Police Force. This is seriously not something he is equipped to deal with.

 

Wait. Isn’t he missing something?

 

Izuku spins around. The man in the top hat, his hand clamps on Izuku’s shoulder. The world folds in on him until everything goes black.

 

--

 

[7:45 AM] Mom: Honey, where are you? Breakfast is waiting.

[7:50 AM] Mom: Your backpack is still here. Did you forget it again?

[7:56 AM] Mom: The train leaves in four minutes.

 

[3 missed calls from Mom]

 

--

 

[8:35 AM] Mitoki: hey man where are u

[8:35 AM] Mitoki: u sick?

[8:35 AM] Mitoki: u work out so much and ur so healthy i didnt think it was even possible for u to catch a cold

[8:36 AM] Mitoki: im pretty sure u could actually survive the apocalypse if u tried so if a virus manages to knock u out then like… its time 2 make the best gas mask the worlds ever seen… its humanitys only hope

[8:36 AM] Mitoki: ur ok tho right? lmk when u can so ik u havent pulled another hosu or something lmao

[8:37 AM] Mitoki: once was enough

 

[8:42 AM] Mitoki: srsly dont ever scare me like that again ok? lmao

 

--

 

[9:01 AM] Sancha: Izuku, where are you? Your mother came down to see us at the Police Station and asked if we knew where you were.

[9:01 AM] Sancha: Did you get into a situation? I’ve never known you to take more than an hour to respond to an urgent text or phone call.

 

[9:07 AM] Sancha: If you don’t respond soon, I’m enlisting your friend to help.

 

--

 

[10:16 AM] Mitoki: U PULLED ANOTHER HOSU

[10:16 AM] Mitoki: FUCK I SWEAR TO GOD IM GONNA INSTALL A GPS IN UR STUPID PHONE SO I CAN COME FIND U WHEN U GET INTO TROUBLE

[10:17 AM] Mitoki: wait

 

--

 

[3:22 PM] Unknown number: Helloooooooo minion! Did you get yourself kidnapped? Well, not to worry! Mitoki and I have figured out how to send a bug to your phone via text!!!!

[3:22 PM] Unknown number: We took the idea from the ‘Find Your Smartphone’ app, except our version is so much better than that simplistic thing!!! Our code is more powerful, AND can target specific phones from long distances. It’s so simple I can’t believe I never thought of it!! This is so ☆☆ EXCITING!!! ☆☆ I’m going to sell this system to the Police Force as soon as I perfect it!

[3:23 PM] Unknown number: Mitoki says he wants half the cut. That’s okay, I guess. He’s not a bad partner. Haha, he actually does half the work! Is this what “friendship” feels like??

[3:23 PM] Unknown number: He seems really stuck on the idea of making the ultimate gas mask though!!! He’s really weird.

[3:24 PM] Unknown number: Anyways, see you soon, minion! I have your location right at this very moment! You know, Mitoki told me about that project of yours. You should invite me onto your team!!! Whatever Mitoki is doing, /I/ can make it better. And since I like you so much, I’ll only charge you 8000 yen an hour!

[3:24 PM] Unknown number: If you always kick up this much excitement and innovation, I’ll even let you stick around. ☆☆☆

 

--

 

[2 missed calls from Tsukauchi]

 

[3:25 PM] Tsukauchi: I imagine you must be in dire straits if you haven’t responded to anyone all day.

[3:26 PM] Tsukauchi: I hope you’re safe. Please call when you can. We need to have a talk about balancing heroics and self-care in your life.

 

--

 

Izuku’s phone buzzes sadly, lying cracked and discarded at the bottom of a dumpster behind a bar somewhere. There is no one there to hear it but the flies.

 

--







 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Izuku falls to the wooden floor with a gasp. He lands with an ungraceful thump and tumbles to his feet, muscles tense, eyes sweeping his surroundings. A hand clamps around his neck and he stiffens, but -- “If you value your life, don’t move,” someone whispers in his ear, and the smell of an unbrushed mouth washes over him. “As soon as all five of my fingers touch your neck, you’ll disintegrate into ash.”

 

Izuku’s heart pounds. He’s too frozen to even say anything. He flicks his eyes to the side, trying to catch a glimpse of his captor -- but he only glimpses patches of color that he can't quite focus on.

 

“I've been ve-ry interested in meeting you, Deku,” the man says lowly in his ear. “You keep making waves, don't you? Your fight with Stain was so enlightening.” The hand spasms violently around his throat. “Haha. I never thought I’d hate someone as much as much as I hate All Might. We have so much to talk about.

 

“But for now, we have an audience. So stand up,” the person behind him orders. Izuku slowly pulls himself to his feet and takes in the room around him.

 

It’s plain and rather dirty. The plaster on the walls is peeling and grimy, the floorboards are unswept. In the corner is the man in the top hat -- did he capture him? And directly in front of them is laptop, and the light next to the webcam is on.

 

They’re on video right now. Is it recording, or is it live? Who is seeing this?

 

“Your student, or your planned successor,” the man says in a clearly gloating tone. “We know you’ve been keeping an eye on him. We know all about him.” His breath puffs on the back of Izuku’s neck. “Deku, the vigilante. Who would ever have thought that you would choose someone like that? You hypocrite.” The man laughs, childishly angry. Izuku’s mind whirs.

 

Is he being used as a hostage against Tamanaha-sensei? But she isn't looking for a successor. Who is this message for, and what did they do to earn this man’s hatred? The utter despise in his tone feels like lead in his blood.

 

“I thought about killing him,” says the man maliciously. “‘Why not make him into an example of what we’ll do to you?’ I thought. But this... this is better.” He starts laughing again. “I won't even need to tear down your precious justice myself. So.” The man behind him leans forward, forcing Izuku to bend with him as he does. “If you want him back alive, you have three hours to destroy Yuuei.”

 

No.

 

Before Izuku can register what he’s doing, he’s wrenched back two of the man’s fingers so far they break. The hand cracks under his grip as he flips the man to the ground. A scream, a thump, a wheeze, and Izuku has already darted to the door, jiggling at the door knob.

 

Get back here,” the man howls, and Izuku chances a glance back. His captor is young and gangly with matted gray hair and disembodied hands all over him -- the most prominent one over his face. Izuku breaths in sharply. The villain and his many hands lurches towards him, and Izuku’s emotions spike.

 

He slams his fist into the wall and the entire wall is smashed into rubble. The ceiling starts dropping down on them, and Izuku just steps over the plaster and starts running. He’s in a hallway now, full of doors; he doesn’t know where the exit is. It doesn’t matter. Izuku smashes the wall again, and in a cloud of disintegrated plaster and wooden chips, he steps into what looks like a bar.

 

There’s maybe a dozen people in there, and all of them turn to look at him. Izuku looks around wildly for an exit. There. A door -- he runs and a black void opens in front of him, and next thing he knows, he’s run into a wall. Everything’s all turned around. The people in the bar are behind him yelling, not in front of him -- the exit is across the room still -- where is he? what’s going on? -- Izuku knocks out the first two people who come hurtling at him, but after that he doesn’t bother with precision, he just sweeps them aside and runs for the door -- the black void opens in front of him again and he’s back in the room against the wall he doesn’t know what’s happening he’s trapped in here he can’t get out he can’t get out he can’t --

 

His breath comes in gasps. No, the door isn't his only escape point, but he has to be fast. He smashes the wall behind him. As the wall and ceiling come crumbling down, kicking up dust and chaos and obscuring his vision, he turns and runs for dear life, he runs and doesn’t stop and destroys every wall that stands in his way.

 

He’s out in the street in the late afternoon. No, it’s dusk and the sun is setting. The streetlights aren’t on. No, he’s downtown. No, he’s in a train station and there’s a woman telling him he can’t get on board if he doesn’t have a ticket. He doesn’t have any money. “Where am I?” he asks, bewildered, and the woman gives him a strange look and tells him that he’s on the west side of Hayatari, is he lost and does he have anyone he can contact? Izuku backs away and runs out of the train station.

 

Musutafu. He needs to get back to Musutafu -- which way is it? He goes back into the station and checks the routes; there’s a train that left just a couple minutes ago, if he’s quick about it he can catch up. Izuku runs out of the station again and follows the tracks until a train comes into sight, and then he jumps on and latches to the back. Above him, the sky is already dark. Has he lost some time? His thoughts feel splintered and gone. He pats at his pockets for his phone. Isn’t that what he was doing when the man in the top hat somehow captured him? His heart thumps painfully in his chest. Izuku squeezes his eyes shut and starts counting in his head.

 

He jumps off the train before it pulls into the station. He recognizes this part of the city, now, he can make his way home on foot. The minutes pass by in a blur. Wait. The people who captured him -- they knew about his patterns if they were able to stage an attack to draw his attention. They knew about his habits, and his actions -- what if they know where his home is, too? Is his mother okay? But what if they don’t know and going home only draws their attention to his family -- what if they’re following him --

 

“Deku?”

 

Izuku spins around, and his kick nearly clips Kacchan’s temple. Kacchan blocks the blow with one hand, looking at Izuku quizzically. “Shi -- sorry,” Izuku says, backing up a couple steps. “I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”

 

Kacchan frowns at him. “It’s...fuck, whatever, it’s not important. It’s like nine in the evening. What are you doing skulking around here right now?”

 

“I’m,” Izuku grasps for words. “I...I don’t know. I was just. Someone just, kidnapped me? I can’t go home. What if they find me? O-or -- what if they find my mom -- I--” He begins pacing. “I don’t have my phone, I don’t have any money on me right now--”

 

“Wait,” says Kacchan. Then, venomously, “You were kidnapped?

 

Izuku winces. “I know, sorry, that was stupid of me--”

 

“Stupid of--? Fucking hell, Deku, that’s what you want to say?”

 

“I don’t know! I’m sorry!”

 

“Just -- fuck, shut up, just let me fucking -- think for a sec -- sit the fuck down, Deku, you look like you’re gonna collapse at any fucking second now.”

 

Izuku’s legs fold under him and he sits heavily on the curb.

 

“I’m going to call the Police Force,” Kacchan says. “And then I’m gonna call your mom, okay? Don’t fucking do anything, just sit there and wait.”

 

He does.

 

Kacchan rattles off information to the Police Force quickly and curtly, then ends it with “Just fucking get over here, asshole, I don’t know all the facts either!” before aggressively ending the call. Then he calls Izuku’s mom, and--

 

“Since this morning?” Kacchan grits out. His phone case is creaking alarmingly in his grip. “Just -- and no one fucking told me? Fucking--” He cuts himself off and thrusts the phone at Izuku. “She’s your mom, you can answer her stupid questions.”

 

Izuku takes the phone and stares at it tentatively. Midoriya-obasan , says the contact name. He puts the phone to his ear. “Mom?”

 

“Izuku!” She sounds like she’s on the verge of tears. God, why does Izuku keep doing this to her? “Are you hurt? Where are you right now?”

 

“I’m…” He glances down at himself. His clothes are kind of roughed up, but that’s about it. “I’m okay. I’m sitting on the curb with Kacchan right now. I, um, I don’t actually know where we are.”

 

“We’re by my house, idiot.”

 

“We’re by his house,” Izuku repeats dutifully.

 

“I’m coming over there,” his mom says.

 

“No, don’t, ” Izuku says immediately.

 

“What?”

 

“I,” fuck, “it’s not safe being around me -- what if they’re watching right now and try and kidnap you too or they hurt you or--”

 

“You’re there, aren’t you?” she says. “And Katsuki is studying to be a hero, too. I’ll be okay. I’ll be there soon.” And then she hangs up.

 

He pulls the phone away and stares at the blinking call ended with betrayal before Kacchan neatly takes the phone out of his hands. “We’re both here. She’ll be fine,” he says, echoing almost exactly what Izuku’s mother said.

 

Izuku takes a deep breath and buries his head in his hands.

 

“We’re going inside,” Kacchan says.

 

“What?”

 

“Inside,” Kacchan growls, evidently annoyed. “We are waiting inside my house. I don’t want to fucking wait out here.” He holds a hand out to him impatiently, and Izuku only hesitates a second before taking it. Kacchan pulls him to his feet and leads him up the steps to his apartment. The door is ajar; inside, the T.V. is on. They step inside and take off their shoes.

 

“Mom, Deku’s staying here for a bit.”

 

“What?” Kacchan’s mom sits up from where she’s been watching T.V., eyebrows raised quizzically. “Why, hello, Izuku! It’s so nice to see you again! Katsuki needs to bring his friends over more often. But it’s a bit late for a visit, don’t you think?”

 

“He was kidnapped,” says Katsuki.

 

“What?”

 

Kacchan pushes Izuku roughly towards the couches. “Sit down,” he says. Then, “I said, he was fucking kidnapped, and he showed up outside just now, so he’s staying here until the Police Force drags their collective asses over here or something.”

 

Izuku sits down on the edge of the couch just as Katsuki’s mom shoots up and says, “Are you fucking kidding me?! I gotta call the Police Force!”

 

“I just fucking did that! Did you think I was standing around uselessly outside or something?”

 

“Well, how was I supposed to fucking know--?”

 

She really has her son’s temperament. Izuku watches them argue until Kacchan snaps at her to stop yelling, Deku’s been gone the entire fucking day and doesn’t need this kinda shit right now, okay ? She pulls up short before rounding on Izuku and demanding whether or not he’s had anything to eat at all, and is he hungry, and does he need anything to drink? Izuku blinks and tries to formulate a response, but she’s already heading into the kitchen to grab him something, and he can hear the distinct clicking of the stove being turned on.

 

The doorbell rings. Kacchan opens the door wordlessly and Sancha steps in. He zeroes in on Izuku and comes stalking over, worry outlined in every sweep of movement. “Izuku! Are you hurt?”

 

“He's fine,” Kacchan says, crossing his arms.

 

Tsukauchi and the distinctive blond man from so long ago step in through the door as well. “Izuku,” says Tsukauchi with relief. “It's good to see you well. You gave us quite a scare.”

 

“Sorry,” he says, looking down. “I lost my phone. I don't know where it is.”

 

“‘Sorry’?” Tsukauchi repeats disbelievingly. “You were kidnapped, why are you sorry? None of this was your fault.”

 

Well, Izuku sure feels sorry anyways. “There was just -- this man,” he says, gesturing vaguely with his hands. “And when he touched me it was like everything went black and next thing I knew I was in some strange room with--” Izuku suddenly stops. The hands. He can't believe he didn't recognize them until now. That was the Villain Alliance, wasn't it? Then--

 

“With?” Tsukauchi prompts.

 

But that’s knowledge Izuku shouldn’t have. “A guy with dry white hair and these disembodied hands grasping onto him at his neck and arms and sides -- he said if all five of his fingers ever touched me I would disintegrate. And then he was recording a video, I think. He said--” Izuku can't help but laugh a little bit, out of hysteria more than anything. “He said he was addressing my teacher? But it doesn’t make sense for him to be talking to Tamanaha-sensei -- I don’t know who he could’ve been targeting.”

 

Presumably, it’s someone with a penchant for justice and a need for a successor -- which doesn’t sound like Tamanaha-sensei. She’s a neutral good at best and a chaotic neutral at worst, and she loves her dojo more than life itself, so Izuku is pretty sure she’d rather burn the dojo down in a burst of blazing glory than let anyone else touch it after her death. But no one else Izuku knows fits the description either--

 

"You're muttering to yourself again, “ Kacchan says.

 

“Oh,” Izuku says. Tsukauchi and the blond man exchange glances. Who is the blond anyways, and why does he look so emaciated and thin?

 

“Who the fuck is Tamanaha,” Kacchan demands.

 

“The best martial artist in the city,” Izuku says proudly. He's certain of it -- Tamanaha-sensei is skilled enough, he thinks she could beat any pro hero in a purely martial arts fight. “She taught me everything I know about fighting.”

 

“She taught you to fight?” Kacchan repeats.

 

Izuku looks at Kacchan’s expression. It is a little bit hilarious. “You didn’t think I learned all my tricks from you or by myself, did you?” he says incredulously. Kacchan is struck into silence, and Izuku starts laughing so hard he has to turn away. Kacchan shoves him down the couch and throws a pillow at his face. Sancha catches the pillow before it actually hits Izuku, though, and places it gently next to him.

 

“How is Tamanaha, by the way?” Tsukauchi asks.

 

Izuku’s smile fades. “I don’t know.” He glances at Tsukauchi and looks away again. “I haven’t seen her in a while.”

 

Sancha frowns where he’s standing to the side. “Why?”

 

Well, he's been avoiding her, but he's not going to say that outright. “She told me to get therapy,” Izuku says instead, and indignation somehow creeps into his voice.

 

“I like her,” Sancha says to Tsukauchi immediately.

 

“Hey!”

 

“Aa, that's right.” Tsukauchi smiles, but it doesn't quite chase away the worry in his eyes. “You aren't injured, right? Then we can save the questioning for tomorrow, I think. It's time to get you home. Everyone's been worried.”

 

“I can’t go home,” Izuku says, astonished. “What if they -- I mean, what if they find my home or something? And m-my mom is there, a-and--”

 

“If they kidnapped you, they probably already know where you live, dipshit,” says Kacchan. “Whether you stay in the gutter all night or just fucking go home and sleep, it’s not gonna matter.”

 

Tsukauchi stares blankly at Kacchan, and Sancha’s head swivels to pin him with a murderous glare.

 

“It’s the fucking truth, ” Kacchan snaps. “God, Deku isn’t fucking dumb or something, you can just say it.”

 

“Thanks, Kacchan,” Izuku says dryly. He scrubs at his face. Great, and now he doesn’t even feel safe returning home himself. Maybe if he asks, Masaki will give him a discount on an apartment somewhere else; it’s a bit late for a phone call, but it shouldn’t be too much trouble to ask to squat in an empty residence for a night.

 

Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s the moment the doorbell rings again. The blond man, being closest, opens the door, and Izuku’s mom rushes in. She sweeps Izuku into a hug, and he buries his face in her shoulder and clings to her like she’s the only thing that can keep him safe. “Izuku, I’m so glad you’re alright,” she says, and she’s bawling, and Izuku can’t help but tear up too.

 

In the background, he hears Kacchan’s mom enter the room and say something to Tsukauchi. A couple other people join in, and then they get derailed when Kacchan and his mom start arguing over pretty much nothing again. Izuku sniffs and wipes at his eyes, and he says, “Mom, I’m…” It’s hard to force the words out. “I’m scared of going back home. I don’t want to be found there. Is it possible to, um, rent a hotel room tonight, or…”

 

“You’ll stay here,” Kacchan’s mom says, at the same moment Kacchan says, “Just fucking stay here for the night or something.”

 

There’s a beat of silence.

 

Then Izuku’s mom says a lot of things like oh no, we couldn’t possibly, we don’t want to impose, we couldn’t possibly put you in danger, and Katsuki’s mom says a lot of things like your son was literally just kidnapped by a bunch of villains and you need somewhere to stay, our son’s training to be a hero we’ll be fine, I’m willing to risk a night, and Kacchan does a whole lot of glaring at both his mom and not looking at Izuku when Izuku tries to catch his eye.

 

“Well,” says Tsukauchi deliberately loudly, not that it does anything to stop the two mothers from talking, “I suppose that’s settled, then. Unfortunately, unless you wish to sleep in a holding cell, the Police Force can’t offer you protection on such short notice. Tomorrow may be a different story. Make sure to sleep well before you stop by, alright, Izuku?”

 

“Um, okay?”

 

“Wait, is that fucking it?” says Kacchan. “You just come here, check he’s alright, and then you just fucking leave it ‘til tomorrow?”

 

It is a little outside protocol, but still. “Well… I wouldn’t mind leaving it until tomorrow, for one,” says Izuku, and he must look really tired or something, because Tsukauchi and Sancha and Kacchan all look at his face and then Tsukauchi and Sancha immediately agree to leave him to rest for the night, and Kacchan crosses his arms and doesn’t protest it.

 

Sancha gives him a quick hug and Tsukauchi pats him on the shoulder before going, and the blond man is gone too, when Izuku checks. (Just who is he?) Izuku’s mom and Kacchan’s parents have apparently worked things out, because Kacchan’s mom strides down the hall declaring that she’s going to find a futon for Inko to sleep on and maybe dig out some of her old PJs. She yells Katsuki, Izuku is taking your room, you can sleep on the couch tonight as she goes. Kacchan grumbles but trails away to apparently clean his room a bit. Izuku’s mom sits Izuku down at the table to eat the quick dinner that Kacchan’s mom made just now.

 

He doesn’t realize how hungry he is until the food hits his mouth, and it’s almost embarrassing how quickly he gets through the bowl. His mom just sits quietly with him, looking worried, as Kacchan’s mom yells at her husband and son to get things ready for the night.

 

And everything after that feels very surreal.

 

Izuku does his best to brush his teeth with just his finger and a bit of Kacchan’s toothpaste. He almost doesn’t take a shower, but Kacchan tells him that he looks like someone just rolled him off a couple cliffs and put him through a sand blaster, and then he throws pajamas and a clean pair of boxers at him and shoves him into the bathroom. Izuku stands there for a second, feeling increasingly weirded out by Kacchan’s… everything, and most especially by the fact that Kacchan just gave him one of his clean boxers to wear.

 

… There’s a giant gap in his memory between when he was kidnapped and when he came back into consciousness at the villain hideout -- around twelve hours -- and apparently it’s this that’s causing him to overthink the most. Izuku sighs, strips, and takes the stupid shower.

 

And after that, Kacchan’s mom shows him to Kacchan’s room and tells him he’s welcome to use it for the night, and Katsuki is sleeping on the couch so he doesn’t have to worry about him bothering him, and he can go to any of the family if he needs anything at any time.

 

Izuku thinks that since he and Kacchan have already shared a bed before, they might as well do it again for maximum efficiency, or something. Maybe this time he’ll actually fall asleep instead of staring at the ceiling ‘til 4 a.m. On second thought, he kind of does want to rest well tonight.

 

He keeps the bed to himself.

 

It’s been awhile since he was last in Kacchan’s room. It hasn’t changed much; the bedsheets are bold red and black, and there’s a collection of dog-eared books scattered haphazardly on a nearby desk and bookshelf; some All Might posters and memorabilia have been carefully set up around the room. There’s a couple mild scorch marks and some patches of old white paint from where Izuku and Kacchan once painted over some burns. They’re very prominent because they don’t have any finisher.

 

The weirdest thing about his relationship with Kacchan, Izuku thinks, is that Kacchan used to be so mean to him at school -- and then he could turn right around and paint walls with him.

 

Izuku doesn’t want to think about this. He closes the blinds and turns off the lights, then closes the door. He can still hear his mother talking to Kacchan’s mom in the living room, a quiet murmur as they catch up with each other. Or maybe they’re discussing the latest event in Izuku’s disastrous life. The thought of it makes him tired, so he just climbs into Kacchan’s bed and curls up under the blankets.

 

The sheets smell like Kacchan. That’s a weird thought, but it’s true. It’s strange being in here all alone.

 

Izuku sighs; it’s no use thinking about it, and he’s tired, he wants rest. He puts it out of his mind, and breathes, and counts: one two three four five. One two three four five...

 

He doesn’t even notice when he passes into sleep.

Chapter Text

Despite going to sleep earlier than usual yesterday -- 10 p.m., it’s nearly unheard of -- Izuku doesn’t wake up until nine, and even then it’s only because Kacchan kicks open the door to retrieve his clothes. He dozes while the shower runs, and only reluctantly pulls himself back to the land of the living when Kacchan re-enters the room to rummage through the closet.

 

“Good morning,” Izuku mumbles. He rolls halfway out of bed, arm hanging over the edge. “Do you have clothes I can borrow?”

 

Kacchan doesn’t respond. Izuku drags his body, heavy with sleep, into a sitting position on the side of the bed. He rubs his eyes, and so he doesn’t see the shirt that smacks him in the face. Izuku catches it as it falls, just in time for a pair of pants and a plaid flannel to hit him too.

 

With a deadpan expression, Izuku lets them fall into his lap. He holds up the shirt for inspection, and he feels his eyebrow twitch. “Kacchan,” he says.

 

“What?”

 

“This is my shirt.”

 

“No fucking really?

 

“You stole this from me,” Izuku accuses. “Months ago. This is the shirt I gave you when you slept over. I’ve been looking for it for ages!”

 

“You can have it,” Kacchan says scornfully. “It looks fucking terrible.”

 

“It looks just fine, thank you!”

 

“It’s a mint green dinosaur on a bright red background. Wearing some kind of god-awful blue tank top. It says suns out, guns out.

 

“I don’t see your point,” says Izuku.

 

“His arms don’t even have any fucking muscle to them,” Kacchan says. “They’re limp noodles. Am I supposed to be fucking impressed? It’s a stupid-ass shirt.”

 

Hey ,” Izuku protests. “I’m wearing this ‘stupid-ass shirt,’ and it’s not stupid at all -- you’re a stupid-ass shirt, leave my clothes alone.”

 

Kacchan inexplicably colors. “Fuck off, Deku,” he says, and, “You’re the stupid-ass shirt. Why the fuck do you even have that? All your clothes are awful. They deserve all the fucking criticism they’re getting.”

 

Izuku makes a face at Kacchan. He pulls off the cotton tee he wore as pajamas last night and slips into his perfectly fine dinosaur shirt, thank you very much , and pulls on the jeans. They’re a couple sizes too big. Izuku looks at them in inordinate disappointment for a second, and then he turns and says, “Kacchan, do you have an extra belt or anything?”

 

He only catches a brief glimpse of Kacchan’s frozen expression before Kacchan jerks towards the closet and says, “Why the fuck are you so tiny?” in an annoyed tone of voice.

 

Izuku is fairly sure he caught Kacchan staring at him.

 

---

 

For some reason, Kacchan has chosen to make spicy noodles for breakfast, but Izuku just shrugs mentally and digs in. He’s hardly complaining.  Kacchan hands him an extra container of spice and Izuku adds another couple of spoonfuls to his bowl.

 

He asks Kacchan if their parents have left for work. Apparently, Kacchan’s parents have, but Izuku’s mom went to the Police Station about half an hour ago. “She wants you to go when you have the chance,” he says. “And me too ‘cause you don’t have your phone so if anything happens we can use mine.” Kacchan scowls down at the phone in question. He’s been texting someone for the past couple of minutes, getting more irate with each text he receives. Kacchan taps out a reply; the phone buzzes again within seconds, and he chucks the phone across the room. It embeds itself between two cushions on the living room sofa.

 

“Kacchan, we need that phone.”

 

“I fucking know that.”

 

When Kacchan makes no move to retrieve the phone, Izuku does it himself.  And then, because he can, he scrolls through the recent notifications. Kacchan does not stop him.

 

[8:35 AM] Unknown number: Bakugou-kun, we are all concerned as to your whereabouts this morning! Has something occurred to prevent you from attending class today?

 

[9:13 AM] Kirishima: hey bro where are u? u missed aizawa-sensei’s lecture on kidnappings and hostage situations lol

[9:14 AM] Kirishima: [Attachment: 1 image]

 

[9:17 AM] Pinky: HEY BAKUGOUUUU WE MISS YOU WHERE ARE YOU :((((((

 

[9:19 AM] Uraraka: hey bakugou!!! are you sick?? i was looking forward to sparring with you today but you didnt show up!!

[9:19 AM] Uraraka: class just isnt the same without you shouting invectives angrily whenever something doesnt go your way.

[9:20 AM] Uraraka: and you still owe me 200 yen, you jerk. >:p

 

And, from just now:

 

[9:32 AM] Unknown number: WHAT

[9:32 AM] Unknown number: WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOUR FRIEND GOT KIDNAPPED

[9:32 AM] Kirishima: BRUH KAMINARI SAYS YOUR FRIEND WAS KIDNAPPED?

[9:32 AM] Uraraka: omg bakugou!!! tell ur friend i hope theyre ok! >:o

[9:32 AM] Kirishima: WHAT HAPPENED DUDE

[9:32 AM] Pinky: IS YOUR FRIEND OKAY????? 

[9:32 AM] Kirishima: IS THIS WHY AIZAWA-SENSEI GAVE US THAT LECTURE TODAY

[9:33 AM] Uraraka: who knew u had friends outside of yuuei who can actually put up with u

[9:33 AM] Uraraka: take care of them!!!

[9:33 AM] Pinky: 

 

“Why, Kacchan,” says Izuku, “I had no idea you were so popular.”

 

“They won’t fucking leave me alone.”

 

“They’re worried about you,” says Izuku. He grins. “Wow, your mom would be ecstatic to know you have so many friends. This is at least five people, it must be a new record.” He doesn’t count the people who followed Kacchan around in school because they were looking for power or popularity.

 

“Fuck off, shithead!”

 

“Are you going to give them a proper response or what?” Izuku asks.

 

“I already fucking told them what happened.”

 

“It kind of sounds like you just said ‘my friend got kidnapped so I’m staying home today’ and didn’t explain anything at all.”

 

Kacchan makes a valiant attempt at murdering Izuku with his eyes.

 

“Well, I guess I could just respond for you,” Izuku says innocently, and he swipes the notifications left to type a reply to Unknown number . He gets out he went missing before Kacchan puts him in a headlock and makes a grab for the phone. They roll across the floor yelling at each other as Izuku tries to send a coherent text message and Kacchan tries to stop him.

 

In the end, neither of them get what they want, because Izuku still manages to send a message, but thanks to their roughhousing and autocorrect, it says he went missing yesterday do 2 r hit befor he shorts to in front of my hodt.

 

The phone buzzes immediately. Kacchan sits on top of Izuku and furiously sets about doing damage control, and Izuku just lets himself lie on the floor and watch the myriad expressions crossing Kacchan’s face. It’s pretty entertaining.

 

Kacchan ends up throwing his phone across the room again, and then he snaps at Izuku to finish up his breakfast so they can go to the goddamn police station already.

 

On the way there, Kacchan is quiet, but the stewing kind of quiet, where he’s got something on his mind and is getting steadily more and more worked up about it. Izuku should probably head that off before something gets exploded. “Kacchan, what are you thinking about?”

 

Silence descends. Izuku winces internally, but then Kacchan says abruptly, “Deku, why the fuck did the Villain Alliance kidnap you?”

 

“The Villain Alliance?” Izuku repeats.

 

“That’s what I fucking said. Some shithead with a bunch of hands all over him, yeah? Why the hell would he choose you?

 

You. Quiet, Quirkless Deku who wouldn’t be of use to anyone.

 

Izuku mulls over what to say to Kacchan -- how he can tell the truth without revealing his nearly illegal extracurricular activities. “I… He wanted to send a message to someone. He said whoever it was had three hours to destroy Yuuei.” Izuku is silent for a moment more. “So either he mistook me for someone else, or someone I know actually has the firepower to, you know, destroy Yuuei in three hours and I didn’t even know.” He lets out a small laugh. “I mean, crazy, right? I don’t know which is worse.”

 

He neglects to mention that the man with the many hands knew perfectly well who Deku is.

 

Kacchan frowns. “How did you even escape?”

 

Uh. “Decline to state?” Izuku tries.

 

“Don’t fucking mess with me, Deku.”

 

Starting this conversation was a mistake. “...Panic and stubbornness, probably,” he settles on, because technically it’s true.

 

“Panic.”

 

“Yeah, I panicked.”

 

Stubbornness.”

 

“You know me,” Izuku says wryly. “I just don't know when to quit.” Refusing to give up on his dream, getting training, his stupid training schedule and somehow his impossible strength. That's the only thing that's saved him, probably. He doesn’t know if he’d still be alive today if not for that.

 

“Don’t give me that shit,” Kacchan snarls, coming to a stop and grabbing Izuku by the shirt. “You don’t fucking defeat shitheads like that with panic and stubbornness. What aren’t you telling me?”

 

Izuku opens his mouth, but his mind blanks, and the pause drags on for too long. Kacchan’s grip tightens. “You were about to spit out some stupid excuse, weren’t you?”

 

Izuku bites his lip and tries to think of a misdirection, but he can’t, and he’s a terrible liar and Kacchan knows all his tells. “I-it’s not much,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter…”

 

Kacchan narrows his eyes. Lie. “You really think you can fucking hide this from me?” Izuku can feel the presence of his anger like a physical pressure, a heat in the air. “You don’t get to keep secrets from me like that!”

 

As he speaks, Kacchan steps closer until he’s too much in Izuku’s space and looming over him. Izuku’s heart rate picks up. He tries to back away, but Kacchan steps forward with him -- and then keeps going, forcing him back until he’s pinned against a building wall. Izuku has never been more intensely aware of their height difference. “Kacchan--”

 

“Shut up!” Kacchan slams him against the wall, and Izuku’s head bangs on the brick. He brings his hands up to -- to what? Fighting back will only make Kacchan angrier and he can’t leave because Kacchan has the phone-- “What are you hiding from me?!” Kacchan yells, slamming him against the wall again.

 

“I-it doesn’t concern you,” Izuku manages, and Kacchan’s face twists into something frightening and violent.

 

“If it concerns you, it concerns me,” he snarls. “Tell me what happened.”

 

Izuku’s breath comes in quick, shallow gasps. “No.”

 

“No?” The shirt begins to smoke under Kacchan’s palms. “Try again, Deku. Tell me what fucking happened.”

 

“I-I…” He can’t tell Kacchan, he’ll be so mad. But he can’t lie, either, and he can’t not say anything -- what can he do? What is he supposed to do? “I was…” His blood is rushing in his ears; his stomach gives out on him; his limbs are tingling and his fingers have started to shake. An uncontrolled terror sweeps through him. “I…”

 

“This isn’t that fucking hard, Deku” Kacchan says, low and smooth. His hands twitch and Izuku flinches, expecting some kind of explosion -- but nothing happens, only Kacchan looks down on him with what might be a snarl or a sneer of a smile. “Tell me what you did.”

 

Izuku squeezes his eyes shut and counts. What can he afford to give up today?   One, two, three, four, five. He shoves Kacchan away and runs.

 

“Deku! Hey, fucking Deku!”

 

But if Izuku’s had practice at anything, it’s probably running away from Kacchan and slipping into the crowd. He doesn’t stop until he’s sure he’s safely away, and then he slows to a fast walk, keeping his head down and his eyes on the ground. He just has to keep moving. The police station is only a few kilometers away from here. But Kacchan knows that’s where he needs to go. Izuku has lost a lot of time by running to this section of the city, and Kacchan could be there already; Izuku needs to get there without being recognized.

 

He mentally runs through a list of people he knows, and then he makes a detour.

 

The thrift store is small, squashed between two business offices and announced by a hand-painted sign. Donations are accepted. Can trade in clothes for credit, says a paper hanging in the window. A couple brass bells chime tinnily as Izuku slips in through the door; there's a girl behind the cash register chewing gum and reading a teen fashion magazine, sitting on a chair so low her head only barely peeks over the counter.

 

“H-hi,” he starts. The girl looks up sharply and attentively, and he shrinks back at the intensity of it. Her eyeliner looks sharp enough to shank someone. “Is, um, is Moriai-obaasan here?”

 

“I'm her granddaughter,” the girl says. She flicks her bangs out of the way and peers at him intently. “Why? Who are you ?”

 

“Um, I'm Deku,” he says.

 

Something in her eyes sparks and ignites at the name. “Deku?” she says eagerly, leaning forwards. “You seem pretty timid for someone who jumped six stories out of a burning building to save my grandma.”

 

Before he can stop himself, he says, “You'd be amazed what shock and adrenaline can do to someone’s personality.”

 

She grins. “That's more what I expected. Hi, I'm Moriai Kazue. How can I help you, good sir?”

 

Izuku tries to figure out how to say this in a diplomatic and not-alarming way, but he can’t really think of anything. Well, the direct method is best, right? “I need to… not look like me.”

 

She tilts her head to the side, birdlike. “Really? What for?”

 

“Specifically, I need to get down to the police station without my fr-- my friend recognizing me,” he says, stumbling briefly over the word friend. “I don't have anything but the clothes on my back right now, but I'll return any clothes I can get here, and I can pay you later. Whatever you need.”

 

Moriai grins. “Nah, I'll give it to you for free,” she says, moving towards the side of the counter -- but oddly so, her head staying level with her previous position the whole way. The reason becomes clear when she rolls out from behind the counter in a pink-accented wheelchair. “But you gotta do me a favor, alright?”

 

“What favor?” Izuku asks warily. 

 

“When you come and return the clothes, you gotta meet my friend.”

 

“What for?”

 

“You're a hero,” she says simply. “I think you can help.”

 

That's not ambiguous at all. “Okay, you've got a deal,” he says anyways.

 

Moriai beams at him. “Great! Let's get started, then! Got anything in mind?”

 

Izuku glances down at his shirt. “Something…less bright?”

 

She laughs at that. “Ha, is that all? I can do you one better.”

 

Moriai zips away in her wheelchair, disappearing among the clothing racks crowded in the store. Izuku only hesitates a moment before he follows her.

 

By the time he leaves, he is almost completely unrecognizable. Moriai has given him a pale orange top,  a warm green skirt with a minimal red flower pattern, white stockings, and a floppy white sun hat with a green ribbon on the top. “Not bad!” she pronounces. “Now give me your shoes and wear these flats instead.”

 

Izuku is a little sad to see his shoes go, but he has to admit the end result is rather nice.

 

She shows him out the back, tells him to wash the clothes before returning them, and locks the door with a grin and a “Don't forget our deal!” Izuku cracks a smile at the bluntness of her self-interest, but the -- honesty of it is nice. Or, no, that’s not quite right. She’s direct with what she wants, but she’s so nice and clear about it that it feels completely different from Kacchan’s surly disposition.

 

Kacchan. An uneasy feeling rises in his gut, but like most uncomfortable feelings, Izuku swallows it down and ignores it for another time.

 

No one gives him so much as a second glance as he makes his way down to the police station, but when he nears, he sees Kacchan loitering across the street, scanning the passersby with a terrible heat in his gaze. Izuku ducks his head and walks as casually as he can, keeping his eyes focused on his destination. If he’s fortunate, he’ll be able to sneak in without incident. With all the bad luck that’s hit him recently, though--

 

The wind blows the sun hat off. Izuku grabs it mid-air and jams it back onto his head, but it’s too late: Kacchan has already gotten a clear look at his face.

 

For a moment they both just stare at each other, and then Kacchan's expression twists as he starts across the street. Izuku yanks open the door and runs in as fast as he can.

 

Sancha is there, and he looks up as he enters. “Izuku!” His expression changes as he processes exactly what he sees. “What in the world are you wearing?”

 

“Don't ask, and don't tell anyone that I'm here,” Izuku says urgently. “Where’s my mom?”

 

“… Just down the hall,” says Sancha, still staring at Izuku.

 

“Awesome,” says Izuku, and he sprints away just as the door behind him bangs open.

 

He glances through the rooms as he passes by until he finds a familiar face. Peeking through the window of the door, he can see Tsukauchi, his mom, and the blond man from last night sitting around a table and talking and laughing with each other. Izuku knocks on the door and slips in. The skirt snags on the door handle, so it’s less of a dignified entrance than he would like, and all three of them are staring at him now.

 

“Um, hi,” Izuku says, and gives a sheepish wave.

 

“Izuku, why are you…” Tsukauchi trails off. Apparently, words fail him. Izuku feels deeply sympathetic for his plight, but--

 

“I think there are more important things to talk about than why I am wearing a skirt,” Izuku says with as much dignity he can muster. He sits down between his mom and the blond man, leaving him facing Tsukauchi. “Should I…” He clears his throat and glances at his mom. “Should I tell you what happened yesterday?”

 

Tsukauchi looks at him for a moment more, but he thankfully lets the subject of the skirt drop. “In as much detail as you can, please,” he says, pulling a small voice recorder out of his pocket.

 

Izuku still hesitates a moment before he begins, because he doesn’t want his mom to know every true detail of what happened. But she reaches over and squeezes his hand, gentle and warm and alive, and she says, “I’ll be okay, Izuku,” and he takes a deep breath and starts.

 

It only takes around fifteen minutes to wring out all the details, but Izuku already feels tired and worn again. Tsukauchi ends the recording with a final click, and then he sighs. “Thank you, Izuku. I know reliving the experience is difficult; you’ve done well.” He gives Izuku and smile. “I know you have some questions, and I can answer some of them. During the span of time you were gone, we conducted an investigation of our own.”

 

“I thought you can’t officially investigate a missing person report until three days have passed,” Izuku says, surprised.

 

Tsukauchi grimaces. “Yes, about that. The video that the villain was recording -- it was live. We saw it. The connection was cut after you destroyed the room and the computer was crushed under a section of the ceiling.”

 

For a moment, Izuku feels a welling of anger -- that Tsukauchi made him recount the entire video experience if he already knew what happened. Then he takes a deep breath and centers himself. Tsukauchi is a professional; he needs full, unbiased accounts from everyone. Of course he wouldn’t tell Izuku any information he already has until he’s sure it won’t affect Izuku’s account.

 

The emotion he feels after that is...well, embarrassment. “You saw all of that?” Izuku says in despair. The fear, the panic-induced destruction -- it’s hardly something he would want anyone else to witness. Wait. “Who was the video for?”

 

Tsukauchi grimaces again. “It’s...er, well, there’s no good way to say this. The video was intended for All Might.”

 

Izuku stares. Then, softly but with feeling, he utters a single, heartfelt “Fuck.”

 

Tsukauchi lets out a startled laugh. “Language, Izuku!” his mom admonishes at the same time, and the blond man to the side chuckles slightly as well, looking surprised at himself for doing so.

 

“I can’t believe I dragged All Might into this,” Izuku says in despair, and he lets his head fall on the table with a clunk. “I’m a failure. The absolute worst.”

 

“I think it would be more accurate to say the opposite is true,” says the blond man.

 

Izuku sits back up and frowns at him. “All Might isn’t a failure,” he says, indignant. “He’s a hero. He’s helped so many people. What part of that seems like a failure to you?”

 

The man blinks at him, taken aback, even as Tsukauchi smiles a secretive smile and puts a hand up to his mouth. Izuku looks at Tsukauchi suspiciously, because even though Tsukauchi is an earnest and genuinely good person, he can also be a tricky and disarmingly sneaky bastard. He isn’t a detective for nothing.

 

“Izuku has always admired All Might a lot,” his mom tells the man with a cheerful smile. “He would watch his videos all the time as a kid. He loved the smile, you know, and he always wanted to--”

 

“Mom,” Izuku says, mortified. “That’s not -- I was like four! And the smile is only part of it, okay? I admire him for a lot more reasons than that! Like, he’s really brave and risks a lot to help others -- and okay, yeah, he smiles a lot and it’s cool because it inspires hope and confidence in a lot of people! And I think that’s why he does it, and I think that if he can keep smiling despite how sad or tired or afraid he is, then he must be really strong, you know? It’s just…” He sneaks a glance at the blond man before looking away, flushing. This is so embarrassing. “It’s just really important to me… I really look up to him for that.”

 

“So the smile is a big part of it,” his mom teases, grinning, and Izuku curses himself for digging himself further into that grave.

 

“I… You’re right,” says the blond man. “Of course. But I was, er, trying to say that it’s not you who dragged All Might into the situation; it’s All Might who got you involved.” He lowers his gaze. “If not for him, you would not have been targeted by the Villain Alliance.”

 

Izuku wants to argue with that, but he can’t if it’s true. “Yeah,” he says reluctantly. “I guess. But it’s still not his fault,” he adds stubbornly. He’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

 

Tsukauchi, the bastard, is laughing quietly at the side. Izuku’s ambient suspicion levels rise again. He feels like there’s some big joke here he’s missing out on, but when he glances at his mom, she looks just as confused as he feels. The blond man, on the other hand, looks slightly embarrassed and irritated by the whole thing, so whatever it is, Izuku thinks he might be in on it too.

 

“Tsukauchi-kun,” the blond man says. Yes, that’s definitely a tone of embarrassment and slight irritation.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” Tsukauchi says with a smile, but he doesn’t seem sorry at all. “The irony is just too much for me, Toshi-kun. Let’s move on, shall we? Izuku, we received the video message at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday. We immediately recognized the man with the hands as Shigaraki Tomura, who we believe to be the leader of the Villain Alliance and the one who ordered the recent attack on Yuuei.”

 

“Kacchan mentioned that,” Izuku says. “Do you know the names of any of the other members…?”

 

Tsukauchi shakes his head. “Nothing else that has been confirmed, yet. Shigaraki we know only because he introduced himself.”

 

That’s a little bit frightening. The Villain Alliance seems to have a lot of power, in terms of resources, people, and the ability to keep themselves hidden in the shadows when all of Japan’s law enforcement is trying to find out who they are.

 

“Following your escape, the Police Force in Yokohama received some calls informing them of some mysteriously destroyed buildings,” says Tsukauchi. “As for the hours you can’t recall very well -- I think you ran all the way to the city of Hiyatori. That’s nearly forty miles away from Yokohama, Izuku.”

 

“Oh my god,” says Izuku.

 

“As far as the missing hours between your kidnapping and the video go, that may be the fault of the man in the top hat. He handed Shigaraki a marble-like object, and it… transformed into you, for lack of better description. It may be that he trapped you in a compressed prison of some sort, or that he transformed you into an object for easier mobility.”

 

Izuku nods. That does answer some of his questions, but… “Tsukauchi-san,” he begins, and he has to stop and search for words. “Is it safe to go home?”

 

Even as he says it, he knows the answer is no. He can see it reflected in every face there.

 

“I’m sorry,” Tsukauchi says gently. “But there is something of a protection program for people who are actively targeted by villains. Some hero agencies have rooms where you can stay as long as you can pay; there are some safe houses maintained by the Police Force, and heroes who volunteer will take rotations staying at the house with you. Alternatively, if a hero is willing, you can stay with them full-time either at their house or at a safe house of your choosing.”

 

“And we’re very fortunate,” Izuku’s mom says, clapping her hands together and smiling at the blond man. “This is Yagi Toshinori, a faculty member at Yuuei, and he’s agreed to let us stay with him.”

 

“Really?” Hope flares to life, but with it, suspicion. Life is never this nice to him. “Why?” Wait, that sounded rude. “Sorry, I mean, not that I’m not thankful? But you don’t even know us.” He frowns. “I’ve only met you like once before.” And even then, it was because he was questioning Izuku about his choice to fight the sludge villain.

 

“No, it’s a reasonable question,” says Yagi. He looks at the ceiling thoughtfully. “I suppose… Because I have the space, and I happened to be here. But more than that… All Might feels a sense of responsibility for what happened to you. You could call this -- a personal favor to him.”

 

Izuku filters through all that and comes away with, “You know All Might personally? ” Izuku tries not to sound too awestruck, but judging by the way Tsukauchi is laughing, he either didn’t succeed or he just played into the giant unspoken joke in the room again.

 

Yagi clears his throat and adjusts the tie of his ill-fitted suit. “Er, yes,” he says. “We’re well acquainted.”

 

Izuku has a thousand things he wants to ask, but his brain is experiencing a critical failure and manages to supply exactly none of them. “I have so many questions,” he says, upset.

 

“You’ll have time to ask them later, honey,” his mom says.

 

“What kind of political literature does All Might like?” Izuku blurts out at the same time, and he feels his cheeks burn as Tsukauchi and his mom both begin to laugh.

 

“I -- political literature?” says Yagi. “Out of all the things -- your first question is about political literature ?”

 

“It’s important for heroes to be aware of the sociopolitical structures that are in place in Japan!” Izuku says defensively. “And maybe I’m a fan of Mitsugi Sui and Shibata Kenzo’s dissertations and I think everyone should read them -- but that’s besides the point! Stop laughing at me!” He directs this last part at Tsukauchi, because the man has been laughing this entire time and Izuku still doesn’t know why.

 

“Izuku,” Tsukauchi says with a serious face, “I promise one day you will look back on this meeting, and you will find it as funny as I do now.” He can’t even get through the entire sentence without cracking up again.

 

“Tsukauchi-kun,” says Yagi.

 

“Right, right.” Tsukauchi visibly takes a moment to compose himself again. Then he says, “Well, I believe that’s it, so all you need to do now is move in with Toshinori. He’s offered his own house for this.”

 

“...Are you sure? ” Izuku asks.

 

His mom says, “Be polite, Izuku.”

 

“Sorry,” Izuku says. “I just mean -- wouldn't it be smarter to use a safe house? If something happened to your actual house--”

 

“I'll be able to afford the cost, even if the house is destroyed,” says Yagi. “Don't worry about it.”

 

Izuku pulls a face. Worrying is second nature to Izuku by now, but he just says, “Okay.”

 

“Oh, and before I forget,” says Tsukauchi, “we were able to recover your phone. It's a little banged up, but otherwise in good condition.” He pulls the phone out of his pocket and hands it to Izuku.

 

The screen has been cracked, but the phone starts up fine. Izuku blinks at the flood of notifications on the screen, and he reads through them quickly.

 

 

This isn’t fair.

 

“Izuku, why are you crying?” asks Tsukauchi.

 

“I don't know,” Izuku says, wiping at his eyes. He looks at the notifications again, and -- it hurts, all this evidence that everyone noticed. That everyone cared. He doesn’t deserve this much love, for all the trouble he’s caused; or maybe it’s just that love hurts like fire when there’s self-loathing to burn away.

 

He wipes his eyes again, sniffing, and puts the phone into the pocket of the skirt Moriai so thoughtfully provided. “Thanks, Tsukauchi-san.”

 

His mom, looking sad, wraps him in a hug, and he lets himself rest in it for a moment before he pulls away. She squeezes his shoulder and turns back towards the other adults

 

“I have a car we can use to move all your belongings,” Yagi says. He holds the door open, and Tsukauchi and Mom both step through. “It's just out front. Are you coming, my boy?” he adds, looking at Izuku, but his feet are frozen to the floor.

 

Kacchan might still be waiting there.

 

“I. Yeah,” he says, and he makes himself step into the hallway. “I'll just -- go out through the back and meet you at my house?”

 

“Why?” Tsukauchi examines his face closely. “Is something wrong?”

 

“Nothing,” Izuku says. He accidentally meets Tsukauchi’s eyes, and he can see the dawning realization that he just lied through his teeth.

 

“No one is in immediate danger, or you would have told someone already,” Tsukauchi says slowly. “No one else is being threatened, or you would have said something, too. Who’s threatening you, Izuku?”

 

His mom puts her hands to her mouth, and Yagi has this intense look, like all his attention has been honed to a razor edge. Just for once, Izuku thinks, just for once he wishes Tsukauchi wasn’t so good at his job.

 

Because if Tsukauchi finds out that it’s Kacchan , then won’t he be angry at Kacchan? And if Kacchan wants to be a hero, he needs to have a good relationship with local law enforcement -- and all this will only make Tsukauchi want Kacchan to stay away from him, and then Kacchan will be so mad--

 

No. Think, Izuku, there has to be a way out of this. “I’m not being threatened,” Izuku says. And that’s true; Izuku only feels threatened, so Tsukauchi’s Quirk won’t catch him in a lie.

 

“You felt threatened enough to come here in a disguise,” Tsukauchi says.

 

“It’s just personal business. I can take care of it on my own.” Izuku takes a couple steps to the side, closer to the hallway that will lead to the back door of the station. If he keeps bluffing, he can get out of this fine.

 

“Izuku,” his mom says softly, but there’s a core of steel in it. “Stay here. Let us help you.”

 

“There’s nothing to be helped.”

 

“He honestly believes it,” Tsukauchi murmurs to Yagi, who’s standing by his side. “Or, he thinks he does.”

 

“There is,” Izuku’s mom says with such bone-shaking certainty he feels the ground fall from under him. “Something is wrong, so we will help you. Let us help you. Tell us what’s wrong.”

 

“You’re already helping me. You know, with everything that happened yesterday, and finding a new place to live.” Izuku glances at Yagi. “It’s not important.”

 

“Important enough to make you feel unsafe,” Tsukauchi says, striking to the core.

 

Izuku opens his mouth, but he has no words, no way to deny it. For the second time today, Izuku feels completely trapped, and this time he doesn’t have the option of running away.

 

“I’m going to find out what’s going on,” Tsukauchi says.

 

“Wait--”

 

Tsukauchi turns and strides down the hall. No. Nononononono he can’t do that, he can’t -- Izuku runs after him and grabs his arm and digs his heels into the floor, forcing Tsukauchi to come to a stop. “You can’t,” he says frantically. “It’s fine. There’s nothing out there, don’t look, don’t--”

 

Tsukauchi tries to pull away, but Izuku stubbornly holds on. “Izuku, I am conducting an investigation,” he says. “Please do not make me charge you on an obstruction of justice.”

 

Izuku gapes for a second, because that’s a dirty trick -- “Please,” he says -- and Tsukauchi looks down at him, solemn but determined, and Izuku knows whatever he has to say won’t be able to shake his resolve now.

 

“If not this, then I’ll do it another way,” Tsukauchi says, and as Izuku watches, he pulls his phone out of his pocket and, in only three taps, makes a call. Izuku stares at the phone with growing horror, and he hopes that it isn’t who he thinks it’s going to be--

 

“Sancha,” says Tsukauchi, “can you do me a quick favor and tell me who’s waiting at the front? Is there anyone waiting outside the station? That sort of thing.”

 

Izuku has to strain his ears to hear the response. “Sorry, I can’t. I’m keeping an eye on a kid called Bakugou Katsuki. He’s the blond kid from last night, if you remember.”

 

“Why are you keeping an eye on him?”

 

This time, the response is too quiet for Izuku to hear. Tsukauchi looks grim as he says, “Thank you, Sancha. That’s all I need to know.”

 

Before Tsukauchi can even hang up, Izuku has already run down the hall.

 

He bursts into the front room. Sancha looks up from the front desk, phone still in hand; Kacchan, sitting near the window, shoots to his feet, just in time for Izuku to grab his hand and yell “WE HAVE TO GO, RIGHT NOW,” and drag him out the door.

 

“Deku what the f--”

 

“Come on!”

 

Kacchan pulls back, looking over his shoulder -- and then he turns to face forward and runs with him down the street. Their feet pound in rhythm on the pavement, practically flying around the corner, and Izuku doesn't let them stop until he knows they're far away from the usual patrols and easily accessible streets. One last turn, and a sharp tug on Kacchan’s hand, and he pulls them into an alley so small you’d miss it if you blinked.

 

Izuku lets go of Kacchan’s hand and paces the narrow alleyway, ignoring the cluttered trash bags and strings of past clothing lines hanging sadly from rusting balconies, ignoring Kacchan bending over to gasp for air. Removing himself and Kacchan from the vicinity has temporarily put off the inevitable questioning that will come, but he'll have to go home and collect his belongings eventually, and he'll have to face them all -- he doesn't have any good answers for the questions they'll ask, and they'll want to know why Izuku was running and why he was afraid. They'll ask about Kacchan and when they find out what their friendship is like, they'll hate him. He can’t let that happen. Kacchan is -- as incontrovertible a part of his life as the sun, and he--

 

“Deku,” says Kacchan, still a bit out of breath but standing straight and glaring at him again. “What the fuck was that about?”

 

What is Izuku supposed to say? “Nothing,” he says, and then, “Something. They kept asking--” He cuts himself off. Kacchan will be upset if he finds out what nearly happened. “I don't know. I needed to get out of there.”

 

Kacchan steps forward, a stormy look descending, and Izuku stops his pacing in its tracks. Takes a step back. “You don’t know? What kind of lousy excuse is that? You knew exactly what you were doing.”

 

“I… Only in the barest sense?”

 

“Can't you give a fucking straight answer for once?!” Kacchan snarls, taking another step forward. “You’re always dodging the question, you’re always running around and hiding whatever it is you’re so determined to fucking protect -- you’re always misleading me,” he adds, with the kind of shocked outrage that accompanies a freshly dawning realization. “Fucking Deku--! Has this just been some shitty game for you this whole time?”

 

“No, no, it’s not,” Izuku says hurriedly. “I wouldn’t do that. I’m just--” He bites his lip. What is there to say? Everything else Kacchan said is true.

 

“Then what is this?” Kacchan demands, frustration lacing his voice.

 

“It’s…” Izuku doesn’t say anything. His eyes dart towards the end of the alley, and then to the fire escapes and balconies.

 

As if reading his intentions, Kacchan grabs his wrist. “Oh no you fucking don’t.”

 

“Kacchan, please let go of me,” Izuku says, far more calmly than he feels.

 

“So you can ditch me without any fucking answers, again?

 

“Yes,” Izuku says frankly.

 

Kacchan looks poleaxed, as though he can’t believe Izuku would admit to it so openly. Izuku feels a flash of spiteful amusement. Yeah, he thinks, I would leave you without answers if you could. How does that make you feel?

 

Kacchan’s eyes narrow, and his shock quickly rewrites itself as anger. Izuku waits for the inevitable first punch, or an explosion, or at least a little bit of smoke, but Kacchan does none of that. He just looks at Izuku and says, “You really are Deku, huh.”

 

Izuku blinks. “What?”

 

“Did I fucking stutter?” Kacchan sneers. “You really are useless. The only thing you ever do is run away.”

 

Izuku blinks, and then he says defensively, “That’s not true. I--” He does run, a lot, but all the time he doesn’t -- he’s helped people. He’s saved lives. And, if things go well, Kacchan will never know. The irony does not escape his notice. “You don’t know that.”

 

“Don’t I?” The quality of Kacchan’s anger shifts like rain to thunder. “You really want to tell me that? Ha! You run from the villains, you run from the police , you run from your fucking problems with that shithead loser who fought you, and you run from me -- are you ever going to fucking stop?!”

 

Izuku grits his teeth. “I -- I wouldn’t run unless there was nothing else I could--”  

 

“Don't give me that bullshit!” Kacchan snatches his other wrist and leans forward with some strange heat in his eyes. Izuku braces himself for a litany of verbal abuse, but-- “You’re stronger than this!” Kacchan shouts, and Izuku feels like he’s just been slapped. “Running away is fucking beneath you, but that’s the choice you keep going back to. How long are you gonna keep pretending you’re that goddamn weak, you fucking coward?”

 

For a second, Izuku can’t breathe past the hurt and anger welling up in his stomach like hot metal. “You,” he begins. You don’t know anything about the things I’ve done. You have no place to say that.

 

You don’t know anything, and you still think I’m stronger than this.  

 

Kacchan’s grip tightens on Izuku’s wrist, palms hot with the beginnings of fire, and Izuku looks up, searching his eyes for -- for what, he doesn’t know. “Kacchan,” he says, “you… can’t really mean that, can you?” His voice wavers. Kacchan sounded like he honestly believed what he said, like he thinks Izuku can do better. Like Izuku is important, or brave, or strong--

 

Stronger than this. It’s -- a joke. A giant, cosmic joke, because Kacchan has never thought of him as strong. And if he has, then…

 

Kacchan is always at his cruelest when he’s trying to be kind.

 

Wind stirs the hot, dead air of the alley. Discarded trash rustles across the cobblestones. “I meant every fucking word,” Kacchan snaps, and his red eyes are full of a subterranean heat. “You’re a coward. You’re always afraid. You can’t even answer a single stupid goddamn question.”

 

Oh. Izuku’s world settles back into place, a little worse for wear after being shaken up, but mostly intact all the same. Kacchan must have said all of that to get under his skin; it was just about getting some answers, nothing more to it. Izuku laughs, giddy with relief and just a tiny pang of disappointment, feeling a little bit stupid for thinking that Kacchan would ever say something like 'you're stronger than this' to him and mean it. That’s just not how their relationship works.

 

“Hey, what the fuck are you laughing at?” Kacchan snarls. “Is this some kind of joke to you?”

 

“No, no,” Izuku says, scrubbing away his tears with a grateful smile. “I’m just… glad, that’s all.”

 

“Glad?” Kacchan stares at him. “You’re… What the hell goes on in that head of yours?”

 

A flash of inspiration hits, and the words are all there. “Well, you just want to know how I -- defeated the villains to get away, right?” Izuku says. “I didn’t.”

 

Kacchan looks ready to throw him out a window. Izuku would know, since that actually happened once. What a life. He sighs and sits down, folding his legs under him so he doesn’t stretch the skirt. It takes a second for Kacchan to join him.

 

“Look, Kacchan,” says Izuku. “I had a really good teacher, alright? Tamanaha-sensei is amazing. I meant it when I said she was the best martial artist in the city, and she knows a lot of tricks. And they weren’t expecting me to fight… I had the advantage of surprise.” He looks down at his hands for a moment, and then he glances back up at Kacchan with a self-deprecating laugh. “I mean, even I didn’t expect me to fight back, you know? But I totally panicked.”

 

A look of recognition flits through Kacchan’s expression. “You…”

 

“Yeah,” Izuku says. “And then -- once I started, I couldn’t stop. You know? I just kept going, is all, and I got out, and I ran.”

 

He thinks about the bar, and all the villains, and how every time he tried to leave he found himself back in the room. He remembers Shigaraki’s fingers around his neck and the promise of death, and he remembers the moment of shock when he realized he’d bent two of Shigaraki’s fingers back so far that they broke.

 

Shock factor. And then, once Izuku panicked, he couldn’t be reasoned with. Couldn’t be threatened into compliance. Those who can’t be communicated with are always the hardest people to fight, and in this case…

 

“I was lucky,” Izuku says. “If they’d been any more cautious, or if I’d been any bit more clear-headed, I…don’t think I would be here.”

 

Kacchan gives him a long, measured look, an odd weight to his gaze, before he finally nods, just once. All the tension Izuku’s been holding drains out, and he deflates with the force of relief. He smiles wanly and scrubs at his face.

 

Judging from the shadows in the alleys -- it’s not even noon, and he already wants to go back to sleep. This much of an emotional rollercoaster should be illegal to fit into one hour. But at least he’s at the end of it, and he can finally let himself rest.

 

“I want to meet your teacher,” Kacchan says.

 

“What?” All the tension he thought he’d let go of comes flooding back. It is, Izuku thinks, what a syringe of pure caffeine injected into his veins would feel like. “Why?”

 

Kacchan narrows his eyes. “Do I need a reason?”

 

“N-no,” Izuku backtracks, waving his hands. “Not at all. I was just wondering--”

 

“Keep your wondering to yourself,” Kacchan says. “Well?”

 

Izuku hesitates. “I… I guess.” He sets his mouth in a line. “But I want to wait.”

 

“Why?” Kacchan demands.

 

“Because I,” Izuku starts off, very confidently, and then he deflates a little bit as he admits, “...am still avoiding her. Just… Can you wait a couple weeks?”

 

“Fine.”

 

The silence that falls is easy this time. The distant sound of traffic filter back into Izuku’s awareness, just a gentle faraway rush of wind and tires and the occasional loud engine rev. Kacchan leans back on his hands and looks at the sky thoughtfully; he looks back at Izuku, one eyebrow raised. “So, what are you gonna do now?”

 

Izuku lets out a breath and brushes his bangs out of his eyes. “I guess… I should head back to my house. Mom and I are gonna move out ‘cause it’s not safe to go back home anymore… We’re going to live with a, um, I think he’s a hero? It’s for a witness protection thing, except I’m not really a witness, I’m just a possible target.”

 

Kacchan’s lips tug downwards.

 

“What’s wrong?” Izuku asks, concerned.

 

“Nothing’s wrong.”

 

Izuku snorts and kicks Kacchan’s leg lightly; Kacchan glares at him. “Aren’t you the one who told me not to give any bullshit?”

 

Kacchan doesn’t say anything, but Izuku isn’t that surprised. It’s one thing for Kacchan to express his anger at someone else, but anything concerning himself and he’s tight-lipped. Time to play the guessing game. “Are you worried about your home?” Izuku asks.

 

Kacchan snorts. “As if. I’m gonna be a hero; a couple of villains ain’t gonna scare me off.”

 

Izuku frowns. “The only other thing I can think of is that you’re upset I’m moving away,” he points out.

 

Kacchan glares at him. “Yeah? What’s fucking wrong with that?”

 

“It’s not like we visited each other much, anyways,” Izuku says. Kacchan glares harder. “Except… After school. Oh.”

 

“‘Oh’? Is that all?” Kacchan demands.

 

“Sorry,” says Izuku. “I was just, um, surprised? It sort of slipped my mind. But we can still hang out after school, you know, it’d just be a little bit more effort or something. Maybe. Depending on where I’m moving to. And we can always do stuff on the weekend or something.”

 

Which reminds him--

 

“Hey, weren’t we going to go hiking tomorrow?” Izuku asks.

 

Kacchan gives him the weirdest look. “You just got fucking kidnapped.”

 

“But I’m not kidnapped anymore .”

 

“Deku, I swear to fucking god.”

 

“Is that a no?”

 

“Like hell it is.”

 

Izuku beams. Kacchan turns red and shoves him to the ground.

 

“Hey, hey,” Izuku says, batting away Kacchan’s hands. “These aren’t my clothes. No damaging the goods, alright?”

 

“No damaging the goods--?” The expression on Kacchan’s face is hilarious. If only Izuku could figure out what it means. “Where the fuck did you even get a fucking skirt, Deku? Are you fucking serious?”

 

“I called in a favor,” Izuku says with a very serious face. Kacchan stares at him, and he can’t help but crack up. Kacchan punches his shoulder.

 

“Don’t fuck with me,” he grumbles. “And who the hell dressed you? There’s no way your sense of fashion is this good.”

 

Izuku frowns. “We’ve been over this! My sense of fashion is just fine.”

 

“You think it’s a good idea to wear puffy vests over your hoodies.”

 

“You say that like it’s a bad thing!”

 

Kacchan looks at Izuku with the most incredible are you fucking serious face he’s ever seen.

 

“Fuck it,” Kacchan says. “I’m not fucking arguing with you about this. You are a lost cause. Come on, Deku, I’m tired of sitting in this alley, let’s go back to your house.”

 

--

 

Izuku convinces Kacchan to leave for his home before they reach Izuku’s street, thankfully, so Izuku doesn’t have to worry about any disastrous head-on collision between Tsukauchi and his friend. He finally checks his phone, and -- yeah, sure enough, he has a couple of missed calls. There’s an unfamiliar car in front of the house, though, so Izuku just walks up to the door instead of calling back.

 

The door’s open, and he can hear talking from within. “Mom?” he calls.

 

She appears from the kitchen and swoops in for a hug. “Izuku! I’m glad you’re okay! I was so worried when you ran off, but Tsukauchi-san said he’d go find you.”

 

“Ah.” Izuku smiles nervously. “Should I give him a call?”

 

“Yes, that would be polite,” she nods. “Once you’re done, you can help Yagi-san and I pack everything. He’s a lot like you, actually! I think you’ll like him.”

 

“Ah.” Izuku feels sudden trepidation. He doesn’t think he would get along very well with someone like him, actually, given how much he hates some of his own qualities. Well, he’s not about to tell that to his mom. “Got it.”

 

He sits outside the door while he calls Tsukauchi. It only takes one ring for the phone to pick up, and the first thing Tsukauchi says is, “Izuku, if I ever made an exception for my no-swearing rule, it would probably be for you.”

 

Izuku laughs, but he feels a little bit like dying. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m home with Mom now. Sorry for, um, making you search for me.”

 

Tsukauchi sighs. “It’s… Well, apology accepted. Try not to make me do that again. Twice in as many days is two times too many.”

 

“Sorry,” Izuku repeats guiltily.

 

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

 

That just makes Izuku feel worse. Why is he such an inconvenience to everyone around him?

 

“That said,” Tsukauchi continues, “I would like to know what is going on between you and your friend, Bakugou-kun.”

 

Izuku doesn’t move.

 

“Sancha tells me you requested he tell no one you were there, right before Bakugou-kun entered. You were wearing a disguise and you felt threatened by your friend. I’m worried,” Tsukauchi says.

 

“We worked it out,” Izuku says. “We’re fine now.”

 

“But you weren’t fine before?”

 

...

 

“Izuku?”

 

Izuku hangs up.

 

Why did he just do that? He shouldn’t have done that. It was so rude. Oh god, Tsukauchi is gonna hate him now, and he knows something’s up now, too. Just when Izuku manages to fix one part of his life, he messes up another.

 

He takes a couple minutes to fall apart internally, and then he picks the pieces back up and goes inside to pack.

 

--

 

They spend the next hour gathering all their necessities: mostly clothes and toiletries, but also blankets and pillows and personal items. Izuku packs all his books in a box because he can’t bear to leave them behind, but he’s too embarrassed to put in his All Might poster and figurines. His collection of business cards and contact information is tucked away in a box with his jackets. He also takes the chance to discreetly change his clothes.

 

His mom insists on packing all their plates and cups and such as well, and then she gets worried about the food they have in the fridge. She and Yagi decide they’ll make a second trip back here after everything else has been moved in. The three of them pile their belongings into Yagi’s car, and depressingly enough, they all fit in one go.

 

Yagi takes the driver’s seat, his mom takes shotgun, and Izuku sits on the right by the window. He watches his house recede from sight as they drive away, and this feels -- oddly final, a point of no return. Izuku doesn’t know what will happen to him from here.

 

In the front of the car, Yagi and his mom strike up a conversation. Izuku zones out and watches the city traffic pass him by; sunlight pools on his lap, pedestrians chat on their way to lunch, trains clatter in the distance. It’s almost surreal, how much nothing has changed, even though so much has happened in the past day alone.

 

“What do you think, Izuku?” his mom says.

 

He starts. “What?” he asks. His mom laughs.

 

“How do you feel about eating at a restaurant for lunch?” she repeats. “Yagi-san just suggested Kitsune no Yomeiri. Let’s have something nice to unwind from everything that happened yesterday!”

 

“Kitsune wedding”? It sounds nice, but it also sounds high class -- he doesn’t want to go somewhere that costs like 9000 yen a meal. Izuku frowns, but Yagi preempts him by saying, “Don’t worry about the cost; I can pay the bill.”

 

“U-um. Are you sure? I mean, if it isn’t too much of an inconvenience for you,” Izuku says.

 

“My job pays well,” Yagi says, and Izuku belatedly remembers that Yagi works at Yuuei.

 

“O-okay, then,” Izuku says.

 

Yagi nods and seems like he’s about to say something, but he breaks out into a violent coughing fit instead. He puts a hand to his mouth, but even from where Izuku’s sitting he can see the blood running down his chin.

 

“Oh my goodness,” his mom says in a high-pitched voice. “What’s happening? Are you okay? Oh goodness. I’m sure I have tissues in my purse somewhere -- Izuku, call a hospital--!”

 

“No, it’s fine,” Yagi says, and hacks up some more blood. “This happens sometimes. There are tissues in the glove compartment.”

 

“This happens sometimes,” Izuku repeats. “You’re coughing up blood! That’s a sign of internal bleeding! You can’t tell me you’re just -- constantly internally bleeding!”

 

His mom hastily opens the glove compartment and hands a wad of tissues to Yagi, who accepts them with a quiet “Thanks” and absently wipes the blood away from his mouth.

 

“What just happened?” Izuku asks, a bit hysterically.

 

Yagi shrugs. “I received an injury years ago. The doctors were able to save my life, but there were complications.”

 

“Are you okay?” Izuku’s mom asks, concerned.

 

“I’m alright,” Yagi says. He sounds as uncomfortable as Izuku does whenever someone asks him the same thing.

 

Izuku’s mom fusses over Yagi some more -- telling him to drink some water and not stress himself -- and Izuku tries not to feel too traumatized by the whole thing.

 

All in all, it’s a very subdued group who enters Kitsune no Yomeiri. It doesn’t help that the restaurant is so fancy. Red lanterns shed a soft golden light where the sunlight from the tall and open windows doesn’t reach; the lower panelling of the walls looks to be a rich, dark wood, and above that, the wallpaper is an understated, pale gold pattern of flowers on tree branches. The tables are draped with white tablecloth, accented with a deep and rich red, and here and there are artfully arranged vases of flowers and glass sculptures of foxes. People in neatly pressed suits and elegant dresses engage in conversation throughout the room. Izuku feels extremely out of place in his hoodie and shorts.

 

His mom looks a bit intimidated, too, but Yagi is fearless, despite his bright and ill-fitting suit. He requests a table for three, and they are seated near the windows. Izuku is grateful to get a seat with no one behind him and all the exits in sight. A waiter brings them a teapot and pours them all a small cup, and he hands them neatly bound menus as well.

 

Izuku opens his menu hesitantly and looks blankly at the prices listed next to all the dishes.

 

A single dish is more money than he spends in like a month. Izuku is -- he is so uncomfortable. He doesn’t belong here. He pretends to peruse the menu, but really he’s just listening to his mom and Yagi discuss which dishes to order and trying not to fidget in his seat.

 

Dishes are ordered. Yagi and his mom somehow strike up a conversation. Izuku looks out the window and thinks, This is real suffering. I am suffering right now. Kidnapping is nothing compared to this, right?

 

Conversation is interrupted when someone with offensively bright yellow hair waltzes up to the table, slings an arm around Yagi’s shoulder, and says, “Hey there, Toshinori-kun! Fancy seeing you here, and of your own free will too!” He laughs. A man dressed in mostly black steps up behind him with a long-suffering expression beneath his long black hair.

 

Izuku nearly has a heart attack, because first of all, Present Mic. And second of all -- Eraserhead.

 

Yagi sighs but smiles slightly. “Hello, Hizashi-kun,” he says. “How are you today?”

 

“I’m on a roll,” Present Mic says. “I convinced Shoucchan to go out somewhere to eat instead of returning to his sad and empty apartment.”

 

“My apartment is fine,” Eraserhead says, disgruntled. “And even if we have no more classes to teach today, there is still work we can do.”  

 

Present Mic doesn’t seem to hear him. “Nemuri-san would have come, but something came up, so she’s just going to meet us at a bar later tonight. You want to come?”

 

“Ah, no,” says Yagi. “I’ll be busy this weekend, but thank you.”

 

Izuku grabs his mom’s hand under the table. She looks over at him. “Mom, holy shit,” he says as quietly as he can.

 

“Language, Izuku,” she admonishes, but she smiles all the same.

 

“It’s Eraserhead, ” Izuku whispers. “He’s -- he’s such an amazing hero, Mom, oh my God, I can’t be here, I have to go right now. Mom. What do I do.”

 

She puts a hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh. “You’ll be fine, Izuku,” she says. “Haven’t you met All Might before?”

 

“Yeah, but -- this is Eraserhead, ” Izuku whispers. “You know? Like -- he’s--” He makes an urgent gesture with his hands, but he doesn’t even know what he’s trying to say. “Mom,” he says again, because he is too incoherent to say anything else. His mom has no pity. She is laughing at him and patting his hand. This isn’t what he needs right now! He needs to -- like -- turn around and jump out a window, right this instant. He needs to dump a glass of water on his head. Both of those sound like excellent options, right after excusing himself to go to the bathroom so he can hyperventilate in the stalls.

 

He is a fool. He is such a fool. During his whispered conversation with his mom, Present Mic and Eraserhead have both pulled up chairs to sit at the table: Present Mic on Yagi’s right, and Eraserhead between Present Mic and Izuku. Eraserhead is so close that if Izuku happened to pass out he would probably fall on him. Oh god. Izuku takes a deep breath and looks straight ahead and does his best to pretend like he isn’t internally just a thousand exclamation points screaming at the same time.

 

Yagi introduces them all to each other. Present Mic grins at Izuku enthusiastically; Eraserhead just nods once curtly. Izuku manages to say “Hello, it's nice to meet you,” in a normal tone of voice. It's an accomplishment.

 

“So you’re Yagi-san’s coworkers? How nice,” Izuku’s mom remarks.

 

“Unfortunate,” Eraserhead says at the same time.

 

“Come on, Shouta-kun, don’t be like that,” Present Mic says. Yagi, however, seems unbothered and unsurprised.

 

“Yes, I work with them closely,” he says to Izuku’s mom. “If the need ever arises, they’re good people to go to.”

 

“Don’t drag us into your mess,” Eraserhead says in the deadest voice Izuku has ever heard.

 

“Oh,” Izuku’s mom says, and puts a hand to her mouth again. “Then -- you know everything that happened?”

 

Present Mic laughs. “You betcha!” he says.

 

“Oh my god,” Izuku says to no one in particular before burying his face in his hands.

 

His mom pats him reassuringly on the shoulders, but Izuku can find no comfort in it. They know. Izuku is ready to walk into the sweet embrace of death.

 

“Hey, no worries,” Present Mic says. “That was an incredible stunt you pulled off yesterday. It saved us a lot of hassle at Yuuei,” he jokes, probably to relieve the tension. It doesn’t work. Izuku would really just like to have an airplane crash into his chair, instantly obliterating him so he doesn’t have to face this conversation anymore.

 

“I mean, that punch,” Present Mic continues, grinning. “You were like a mini All Might.” Oh my God, Izuku thinks. Not again with the All Might parallels. He’s had enough of that after the Todoroki Incident.

 

There’s an odd lilt to Present Mic’s voice -- like amusement, like a joke not everyone is privy to. Like Tsukauchi, actually, which kind of irritates him, now that he thinks about it.

 

“I’m not -- a mini All Might,” Izuku says, face burning.

 

Present Mic laughs. “Punching down walls and destroying buildings? You practically could be!”

 

“Then I guess he owes me fifteen years of Child Support,” Izuku says. Wait why did he just say that. There are two professional heroes here. WHY. Death, any moment now would be good--

 

Present Mic is roaring with laughter. Even Eraserhead has cracked a smirk. Yagi just looks mildly embarrassed.

 

“Izuku,” his mom admonishes.

 

“It’s true, though,” Izuku mumbles defensively.

 

“You picked a good one,” Present Mic tells Yagi, which -- doesn’t make any sense at all.

 

Yagi shakes his head. “I didn’t,” he says, and there’s an odd and deliberate weight to his words. Present Mic quirks his head to the side, birdlike.

 

“Oh, right!” he says, and he laughs, clapping Yagi on the shoulder. “My mistake. Hey, what brings you to this restaurant, by the way? You usually never go out to eat unless I drag you somewhere!”

 

“Ah, well, this was the first place I thought of,” Yagi says.

 

Present Mic looks like someone just gave him an early birthday present. “Aw, yes,” he exclaims. “I knew I’d rub off on you eventually--”

 

“Inevitable, given your flaky personality,” Eraserhead deadpans.

 

Present Mic laughs. “Aw, you love me, Shouta-kun.”

 

“Only for the free meals.”

 

“What, not for my stunning personality?”

 

The easy way Present Mic directs the conversation helps Izuku slowly relax, until he’s not so acutely focused on the fact that Eraserhead is sitting only a few inches away from him.

 

Dishes arrive. Present Mic and Eraserhead request some additional dishes, and then they all begin to eat. Izuku’s mom and Present Mic manage to bring the conversation to life, until Yagi has been drawn into their pace and Eraserhead is even contributing a dry observation or sarcastic witticism every now and then.

 

Now that Izuku has calmed down, all the burning questions that failed to come to mind earlier are crowding in his head. He tries to articulate them mentally because -- there’s just so much. He can barely focus on the sheer luxury of the food here because he has so many questions.

 

He doesn’t realize he’s stopped eating food in favor of mumbling to himself and picking absently with his chopsticks until his mom nudges him, and he looks up and the whole table is staring at him in various degrees of amusement. He flushes and puts down the chopsticks. “Sorry,” he says. “Did I miss something important?”

 

“Nothing much,” Present Mic says, smiling, “but you seemed pretty lost in thought there. What’s on your mind, kid?”

 

Izuku takes an instant to be consumed in flames of mortification, but then the rest of him overpowers them through the force of curiosity and the thought of take the opportunity! Take it! Take it! “Ah, I was just,” he begins, and stops, and thinks about it some more. “I was reading Nishikawa Shiho’s treatise, Upon the Back of Cerberus, the other day, and she was talking about the existence of heroism as an entity dependent on villainy, but also on public image and entertainment -- and how that, um, how that affects the relationship between law and crime. You know, like, heroes are not an organized and unified force like the police are, you just need a license and you can set up your own hero agency. But then you need publicity, and the best way to do that is to fight and defeat a villain in front of cameras, right? Then everyone finds out about you, and you get business. But you only get business so long as you have villains.

 

“And I know part of the revenue heroes get is from publicity stunts like advertising, but the way Nishikawa explains it, heroes are only desirable for ads if they are highly visible figures who defeat villains and regularly appear on camera. Otherwise, ad agencies don’t care for you at all. Right? So ultimately, a hero’s livelihood depends on villains.

 

“But with such a thriving heroics industry, you need a lot more villains than you need heroes, just so heroes can keep on with their fighting, right? But when you think about it, there’s not much incentive for villains to go on really public rampages. Heroes will come, their faces get all over television, everyone knows about them and they can’t go back to their lives peacefully. So why do villains keep, um, you know, being villains, given how heroes usually defeat them in the end?

 

“So Nishikawa suggested collusion between heroes and villains -- staged fights, bribes, things like that. There was that whole Sugita scandal like three years back, stuff like that, you know? So Nishikawa, she points out that heroes have a lot of incentive to ensure villainy continues -- so no one is really speaking up about the greater class imbalance and a shrinking middle class and a greater number of people in poverty, or she says they may even be encouraging it so then there’s an entire class of angry people who have the motivation to break the law.

 

“She cited a lot of examples over the past two decades. Like, the number of people who make less than a living wage has been rising, right? Things like that. And--” Izuku cuts himself off. “I mean, you’ve probably read all this already… So, um, sorry for rambling… I just was curious, um, just, what do you think about the theory? How would you, um, propose to mitigate these problems? And, um… Yeah.”

 

Yagi and Present Mic are staring at him -- something his mom seems to be greatly amused by. Eraserhead, however, has raised his head, and for the first time during this meal there is a visible spark of interest in his eyes.

 

“You read Nishikawa?” he muses. “Who else?”

 

“Um -- I really like Mitsugi Sui and Shibata Kenzo,” says Izuku. “I thought Urata had some interesting ideas too, but she also supported authoritarian governments as a way to ensure equality -- and historically that hasn’t really been that great of an idea. So, um, I try to be careful. And Karasu, I like his books. He's…” Izuku trails off, feeling self conscious. “He’s, uh, pretty insightful, I guess. Um, yeah.”

 

Eraserhead hums in acknowledgement. Then, “Nishikawa is fairly radical in her ideas; not to say they are wrong, but they do need some criticism.” He looks at Izuku. “Taking one of the examples you mentioned: heroes bribing villains to stage fights. Where does the hero get the money to bribe the villain in the first place?”

 

Oh. That is a good point Izuku didn’t think of before. Hmm. “A loan or seed money?” he suggests, then frowns. “But that would defeat the purpose of making a profit -- because one publicly staged event isn’t a guarantee of getting sponsors or donations. It’s a big risk.”

 

Eraserhead nods. “Consider how big your bribe must be, as well,” he says. “For example: would you willingly sentence yourself to jail for one million yen? Most people would say no. One billion is a different story. But would a hero be willing to pay one billion yen for one staged fight? Unlikely. A far more profitable venture for heroes would be to destroy their own property and agencies so they can collect insurance money.”

 

“Is that an actual problem in the community?” Izuku asks, curious.

 

“Yes. Insurance companies have become much harsher with their policies.” He sighs. “Much to my annoyance.”

 

“They usually require proof that it was a villain who destroyed your property, now,” Present Mic interjects. “Then they launch a follow-up investigation to make sure everything turns up clean. That can take a couple months.”

 

“As for the rest of Nishikawa’s theory, it may hold some water,” Eraserhead says. “Read Isayama Beni. She analyzes the effects of having quotas in law enforcement. American police forces were once required to arrest so many people a month, for example. Heroes don’t have official quotas, but many of her ideas are still applicable.”

 

“Okay, I will,” Izuku says, mentally adding the name to his list of books to read.

 

“Miura Seiho also has an excellent analysis on the role of entertainment in heroics. Behind the Screens. She is very critical -- many are not ready to hear her ideas, but they are worth consideration.”

 

There’s a moment of silence, and then Present Mic lets out an impressed whistle. “Congratulations, Shouta-kun,” he says, smiling widely. “You’ve found a kindred spirit!”

 

Eraserhead levels him with an unimpressed glare. “Shut,” he says. Just that. Present Mic laughs at him, Yagi cracks a smile, Izuku’s mom just claps her hands together with a delighted laugh. Eraserhead rolls his eyes and looks back at Izuku. “Find me when you’ve read some Isayama,” he orders, and he proceeds to ignore Present Mic’s laughter and teasing remarks.

 

As 1:30 draws near, Present Mic announces that he and Eraserhead should go, and he insists on splitting the bill with Yagi. Yagi puts up a protest, but Present Mic steamrolls right over it and pays half the cost anyways.

 

Present Mic departs with a flourish, dragging Eraserhead with him. Eraserhead, on his part, seems annoyed but ultimately unaffected by being manhandled. They disappear out the door. Izuku and his mom and Yagi trail after them, stepping back out into the afternoon light.

 

“Congratulations, Izuku,” his mom says. “You survived a meeting with one of your favorite heroes!”

 

“He said to find him, ” Izuku says, clutching at the hem of his hoodie. “I’m… I need to just lie down on the sidewalk right now. Can we just -- take a couple minutes to do that--”

 

She clicks her tongue, but she’s smiling. “Not the sidewalk, honey. It’s unhygienic. Why don’t you wait until we get into the car?”

 

“Okay,” Izuku agrees, and he does that.

 

--

 

Yagi’s home is a small two-story house away from the heart of the city, nondescript and looking a little bit worn. They park the car.. It suddenly occurs to Izuku that the motorcycle he asked Fujimura for an eternity ago is still in his apartment building’s parking lot.

 

He should retrieve that when he can, but he never actually explained to his mom that he had a motorcycle. He’s a bit embarrassed to tell her now. He can just -- swing by and pick it up without telling anyone; that should be fine. He hopes.

 

They move all of the boxes inside. The interior of the house is -- comfortable at first glance, but there’s something musty and unlived about it, like most of the house has been untouched for years untold. The kotatsu in the room adjoining the kitchen looks well-used, though, judging by the pillows and scattered papers and -- are those medicine bottles? Izuku is getting more and more concerned about Yagi’s health every minute.

 

Yagi shows them to two different rooms they can use, and then he tells them he’ll sleep in a room downstairs. “I don’t take much space,” he says, which begs the question of why he has all this space in the first place then, “so I… won’t get in your way. Please make yourself welcome here.”

 

“Oh, no, no!” Izuku’s mom protests. “This is your home, not ours! We’ll try not to be too much underfoot -- you have been so generous already!”

 

Yagi voices a protest, but she is very insistent that he not trouble himself too much on their account. He eventually caves, but not before Izuku quietly departs to set up his -- new room.

 

That takes another couple hours, setting things up. Izuku feels… oddly bereft by the end of it. He runs his hand over the stack of notebooks on the table in his room, then looks at his books on an unfamiliar shelf, then looks out the window at an unfamiliar street. There are actually trees planted outside. This is really nice real estate. Izuku knows that much, at least, from visiting Masaki at his agency sometimes.

 

He still feels uneasy about Yagi offering them his home. It’s just that -- Yagi is a perfect stranger. It’s true he offered a reasonable explanation for his choices, but Izuku still feels like there’s something missing from the equation. He doesn’t know why his mom agreed to this. But she has good intuition, and he trusts her -- he’ll just keep an eye out.

 

It’s going to be hard to relax and wind down now that he shares a home with someone he doesn’t know.

 

--

 

Izuku’s mom cooks dinner as usual. She seems mildly horrified by the meager supplies she finds in Yagi’s fridge, and insists she go grocery shopping first thing tomorrow. Izuku chops vegetables as she bustles around; it's just about the only cooking skill he has. Well, he can manage soup and noodles, but not very. Best leave it to people like his mom and Kacchan, who actually know what they're doing.

 

Speaking of Kacchan… “Hey, Mom, I’d like to go hang out with a friend tomorrow, if that's okay?”

 

She purses her lips and throws some vegetables in the wok. The kitchen is filled with a sizzling roar; steam rises from the hot metal. Eventually, she says, “Sure, honey, but you have to stay in a public place and keep your phone on at all times. Who are you meeting?”

 

Izuku hesitates. “Er, Kacchan. For mountain hiking?”

 

Her hand stills on the spatula. Izuku tenses. He’s misstepped.

 

“I want you to be able to relax and enjoy yourself,” she says slowly. “I want you to be happy. I was going to wait before talking to you about this, but… Izuku, I don't want you to hang out with Katsuki-kun anymore.”

 

He knew this was coming, but it still feels like a punch to the stomach.

 

“Why?” he manages.

 

“Because of what happened this morning,” she bursts out. “You were scared, Izuku! I don't want you spending time with someone who does that to you! He's bad for you! You can spend time with your friends tomorrow, but not Katsuki-kun. I won't allow it!”

 

“He's my friend!” Izuku snaps. “We don't always get along, but--!”

 

“There's a difference between having disagreements and being bad for each other,” she snaps right back.

 

“We already agreed last week to hang out with each other today!”

 

“No. You will not go see him,” she says. “That's my final word.”

 

They finish cooking dinner in terse silence, only broken by a couple questions or instructions. Dinner is a stilted affair. Yagi excuses himself from the table halfway through the meal, citing lesson plans for Yuuei he has to complete. Izuku’s mom does not stop him.

 

--

 

Izuku’s emotions feel ugly. His thoughts vacillate between a seething anger and a strange calm, where the world is sharp as glass and all Izuku can think is, I don't have to listen to Mom.

 

I can tell her I'm going to Mitoki-kun’s and go hang out with Kacchan, anyways.

 

I can leave in the morning without telling her. She won't realize until I'm already gone.

 

His train of thought stutters and blanks. Eventually the thought drifts up to the surface: he hasn’t yet told Mitoki or Hatsume that he’s okay. He fumbles for his phone, reads over the last messages sent to him (and ignores the lump rising to his throat), and types out a message to Hatsume:

 

[8:47 PM] To Unknown number: Hi Hatsume-san. Thanks for finding my phone. And everything else. I'm okay now.

[8:48 PM] To Unknown number: I don't mind if you want to help Mitoki-kun on the project! But I'm not really the one you should be asking about that.

 

He's about to send a message to Mitoki when he gets a text back from Hatsume.

 

[8:48 PM] Unknown number: izuku-chan!!!!! youre alive!!!!!!!!!

[8:48 PM] Unknown number: you asshole ive been worried sick 

 

Well, that doesn't sound like Hatsume.

 

[8:49 PM] To Unknown number: ...Mitoki-kun?

[8:49 PM] Unknown number: oops yeah im stealing hatsumes phone lol

[8:49 PM] Unknown number: “im not the one you should be asking” aw i feel so touched <3 lol

[8:50 PM] Unknown number: im totally down with bringing hatsume into the fold though, its gonna be fun

[8:50 PM] Unknown number: IM GONNA INTRODUCE HER TO KOBAYASHI

[8:50 PM] To Unknown number: Oh no

[8:50 PM] Unknown number: its gonna be amazing!!

 

Izuku is pretty sure Hatsume and Kobayashi will be at each other’s throats by the week’s end, actually. They’re both too stubborn and willful to not clash… Which is probably exactly what Mitoki is looking forward to. Izuku slaps a hand to his head and lets it drag down his face.

 

[8:51 PM] To Unknown number: What are you doing with Hatsume-san’s phone, anyways?

[8:51 PM] Unknown number: i blackmailed her into taking a break from her project and we’re getting ice cream right now lol

 

[8:52 PM] Mitoki: [1 attachment]

 

 

Oh dear. Hatsume-san looks upset. Brooding. Possibly plotting Mitoki-kun’s death.

 

[8:52 PM] To Mitoki: You blackmailed her??

[8:53 PM] Mitoki: u know the thing she used to find ur phone? between that and her other projects she hasnt slept since like tuesday. someones gotta intervene

[8:53 PM] Mitoki: but speaking of the thing

[8:53 PM] Mitoki: what happened??????

 

Izuku stares blankly at the screen. How is he even supposed to explain everything that occurred? He can barely even keep track of it himself. He has to restart his sentence three times before he gets it right.

 

[8:56 PM] To Mitoki: I got kidnapped by the Villain Alliance but then I escaped on my own.

[8:57 PM] Mitoki: what the SHIT

[8:58 PM] To Mitoki: Um...yeah. I was actually going to text you after texting Hatsume-san.

[8:58 PM] To Mitoki: I don't really know how to explain everything over text.

[8:59 PM] To Mitoki: Can I come see you tomorrow?

[9:00 PM] Mitoki: taken out of context that last text makes it sound like we're having some kind of secret sordid love affair

[9:00 PM] To Mitoki:

[9:00 PM] Mitoki: lmao i can just imagine the look on ur face rn

[9:01 PM] Mitoki: dude of course u can come over tomorrow

[9:01 PM] Mitoki: any time is cool just give me a heads up

[9:02 PM] To Mitoki: Thank you

[9:02 PM] To Mitoki: I will

 

Maybe he can visit Mitoki-kun as a cover for mountain hiking with Kacchan.

 

The thought drifts away from him, and he drifts away too, and then he realizes he’s just been staring at the wall for the past fifteen minutes. He should do something about it. Like getting up, maybe. That seems like a nice thought. He thinks about getting up for a while, but nothing actually happens. His body stays sitting right there on the bed.

 

At some point, his mom comes in and says something. She’s sorry for upsetting him, she says, but she’s trying to do the best she can for him. She hopes he can try and understand what she’s seeing. Izuku remembers he should nod, but it’s like his body is lagging behind his thoughts -- it takes a few seconds for the action to actually occur.

 

She looks concerned. Izuku says he’s fine. She doesn’t believe him, and she talks at length. He feels like he’s watching her from afar, like everything around him is a movie and he’s just a bystander. Her face and visage seems somehow flat and empty. Izuku, what’s wrong? she asks. Nothing, he says. She doesn’t believe him and talks to him some more but her words keep slipping through his head.

 

Izuku just tries to nod in the right places, and she finally leaves, looking dissatisfied. A distant pang of…something. Regret? Izuku thinks about the feeling long after it has been smoothed away to numbness, and then he doesn’t think about much at all. The sky outside darkens and dyes his room umber, then ink-blue. The street lamps outside flicker on and cast a bright yellow square of light through the window. The sound of distant traffic slows down. The phone buzzes. It should be checked. The phone fades away into the background.

 

By the time he comes back to himself, it’s past midnight. Izuku scrubs at his face and pulls the blinds closed, then checks the phone.

 

[10:25 PM] Kacchan:  1 pm. bring a meal. dont be late.

[10:25 PM] Kacchan: [1 attachment]

 

It’s a picture of a map. Kacchan has traced a route and circled the destination in the same distinctive red pen he takes all his notes and does all his work in.

 

Izuku quirks a smile, but his face feels heavy and doesn’t hold it for long.

 

Tomorrow will be better, he tells himself. Tomorrow.

 

He slips under his blankets and finally goes to sleep.

 

--

 

It’s six a.m. Izuku silently gets dressed, grabs a bag, some supplies, and his phone and keys, and then he removes the screen from his window and climbs out. It’s a bit tricky to replace the screen when he’s outside, but he manages. He drops to the ground and sets off at a jog for his old apartment. The sky above is still slightly gray with fog.

 

Fujimura’s motorcycle is pretty much exactly where he expected it to be, lurking in the back of the parking lot. Izuku pulls out the goggles and beat-up helmet Fujimura gave him out of his bag and hesitantly dons them. He sits himself down and tries to remember how to use the motorcycle. Maybe he should invest some time in actually acquiring a license.

 

Ha, yeah right. When’s he ever had the time?

 

The engine shudders to life beneath him, and Izuku guides it gently out of the parking lot and down the street.

 

And the utter emptiness, the utter freedom at his fingertips seems to yawn open in front of him, a great and ghostly maw with dead eyes and too-large teeth -- inhuman -- indifferent -- ready to swallow him whole--

 

Izuku pulls the motorcycle to the curb sharply, slamming on the brakes over the sound of his harshly beating heart. Fuck. He can’t do this. Izuku lowers his head and forces himself to breathe calmly: one two three four five. One two three four five. It doesn’t help. Is this what a life without structure and responsibility feels like? He has over six hours until it’s time to meet Kacchan; six hours of freedom, six hours of nothing. No one knows where he is. No one will be able to find him. If he chose, he could drive this motorcycle out of the city right now. And once he did, he could just -- keep going.

 

Who would know until it was too late? Not his mom. Not Kacchan. His hands are trembling on the handlebars. He can see it in his mind’s eye: the highway out of Musutafu, the sun rising in the sky, and he could disappear into a distant prefecture of Japan, never to be heard from again. It would be so easy.

 

It’s terrifying.

 

Izuku sucks in a deep breath, and he lets it out slowly, counting to ten. The image lingers in his head: him, the road. Him, gone. And for long moments, because he can, he wants to. He wants to see--

 

Try not to make me do that again, Tsukauchi’s voice says. Twice in as many days is two times too many.

 

One last shuddering breath, and Izuku finally settles back into his own skin. The image slips away from him like a dream, leaving him unsettled by how strongly it took hold.

 

He needs to -- to ground himself. Uemura’s cafe? No, his mom knows he goes there a lot; she’ll be sure to call. None of his usual haunts will work. He needs something she doesn’t know about, something recent, something new.

 

Shinsou’s cat cafe.

 

Izuku breathes. He revs the engine, kicks back the breaks, and moves forward.

 

--

 

The cat cafe doesn’t open until seven a.m., so Izuku sits himself at a coffee shop across the street and gets himself some breakfast. A few of the people in there recognize him and strike a conversation; apparently he prevented them from being crushed by a car during a villain attack, about a year or so ago. Izuku doesn’t remember them. They laugh and tell him it’s okay; they just wanted to say thank you, and how are you? Who are you? We weren’t able to find you in the official hero registry?

 

Izuku explains, a little awkwardly, that he’s not a hero, but he’s not a vigilante either and the Police Force are fully aware of him and what he’s doing. It’s all legal, he adds. They want to know how. A bare technicality, Izuku says, though he’s been thinking about getting an official license at some point.

 

They offer to treat him to breakfast and he accepts, but as soon as he takes a bite his stomach turns. It’s going to be one of those days where his anxiety is too bad to let him eat, he can tell.

 

The trio persuades him to at least have a smoothie, which he manages. They also invite him to take a commemorative selfie, but he only accepts once they promise they won’t share the photo on social media.

 

They spend the next half hour talking to him about the happy lives they’ve been living since he saved them. They’ve rented an apartment together and one of them has landed the job she’s always wanted. They’re thinking about adopting a dog together.

 

Thank you, one of her companions says. We’re truly grateful for what you did. That we have the opportunity to be together here today. Thank you.

 

It was just a car, but -- It’s no problem, Izuku says, and bids them goodbye as they leave. They hold each others’ hands as they walk out the door.

 

Izuku pays for two hours at the cat cafe, and Isao greets him almost immediately, purring loudly as he winds around his legs. Izuku scoops him up and holds the purring cat in his arms, taking comfort in his warm presence of life. He sits himself by the window in the sun and spends most of his hour there. Fuku climbs into his lap and Isao settles into his arms, and it is so peaceful Izuku nearly dozes off.

 

His phone buzzes. It’s from his mom. Where are you, sweetie?

 

Izuku manages to text back with one hand, Went out for breakfast, at a cafe. Am safe & in public. Sorry for leaving without telling you, you were asleep & i felt cooped up.

 

When will you be back?

 

I don’t know. I’m going to go see Mitoki + the others, so I might not be back until after dinner? I’ll tell you where I’m going.

 

He can practically feel his mom frowning.

 

Don’t go anywhere alone, she finally texts back. Be back before eight. Please stay safe.

 

Izuku is so surprised he nearly drops the phone.

 

It’s a sign of trust, he thinks. She is deliberately trusting him to do what’s best for him. She’s trying to fix things from last night.

 

His stomach sinks, because he’s about to turn around and break that.

 

Isao purrs reassuringly against his chest. Fuku is warm in his lap.

 

Izuku closes his eyes, and breathes.

 

--

 

Around 9:30, Izuku presses the doorbell to Mitoki’s apartment. A minute later, the door swings open to reveal a barefoot, sleep-mussed Mitoki still finishing putting on his shirt.

 

“Are you…Did I wake you up?”

 

“No,” Mitoki says, yawning widely. “I just fell asleep again after I got your text.”

 

Izuku huffs in amusement. He’s about to drop a witty comment when Mitoki throws his arms around him, and he flinches. “I’m really glad you’re okay,” Mitoki says, squeezing briefly before stepping away. Izuku lets out a shaky breath. His heart pounds hard -- just once -- against his ribs. “Come on in. Did you eat breakfast? I have breakfast. Kind of. Cereal and milk, anyways. I can’t cook so you will have to settle for slightly burnt toast at most.”

 

“That’s okay, I already ate,” Izuku says, which is kind of a lie but also not really because he did have a smoothie. A small one. Half size.  “How are you -- um, how are you doing?” He feels like slapping himself, he is terrible at conversation, this was such a bad way to open up the dialogue he wants.

 

“Bad,” Mitoki says immediately and so cheerfully that Izuku’s mind briefly stalls. “Come on, you can keep me company while I chow down. Tell me everything.”

 

“Are you -- are you sure? If you’re -- if I’m imposing--”

 

“No way, dude, I’m totally fine having you over. Besides, I gotta get the juicy details from someone, right?” Mitoki waves him in. Izuku toes off his shoes and looks up to see Mitoki trip over the cluttered floor and curse.

 

“You okay?” Izuku calls, shutting the door and locking it.

“Yeah, I just tripped over this piece of -- oh, whoops.” Mitoki holds up what looks like an industrial-grade water gun. “I don’t remember leaving this out last night.”

 

“What,” Izuku says. “What is that.”

 

In response, Mitoki picks up a nearby sock, tosses it into the air, and shoots it. A glob of resin-like liquid smacks into the sock and slaps it against the wall with a wet splat. The sock starts to slide very, very slowly down the wall. It’s like watching molasses.

 

“Check out me and Hatsume’s real life glue gun,” Mitoki says triumphantly.

 

“Uh,” says Izuku. The sock oozes down maybe another half a millimeter. How is he even supposed to respond to this. “I don’t understand.”

 

“Because glue guns! Picture this: I shoot your shoes and glue them to the ground instantly. Bam, stuck.”

 

“...That actually sounds pretty useful.” It could help the Police Force with capturing and holding criminals, at least. “Are you going to sell it?”

 

“Eh, that’s up to Hatsume. It doesn’t matter to me.” Mitoki pauses contemplatively. “We should probably come up with a way to dissolve the glue before we sell the gun.”

 

Izuku stares at the sock, which is apparently now permanently glued to the wall. “…Congratulations on your new modern art piece. How are you going to explain this to your parents?”

 

“My mom will be mad, but my other mom will probably just find it hilarious, so it’s cool. We’ll just put a frame and a title and caption on it.”

 

They finally go to the kitchen where Mitoki makes himself a breakfast. Over the next half hour, Izuku haltingly retells the tale for what feels like the umpteenth time. Mitoki is a good audience, with all the right reactions, though when Izuku mentions staying at Kacchan’s house overnight Mitoki gets all squinty-eyed and only says, “Huh.”

 

Izuku decides not to tell him what happened yesterday with Kacchan, and only mentions moving to Yagi’s house.

 

“Dude, that’s pretty sweet,” Mitoki says. “It sucks you can’t go home but at least everything else lined up for you, yeah? Who is this Yagi guy, though?”

 

“I don’t know,” Izuku says. “I only meant him maybe -- a couple times before? He’s connected to Tsukauchi-san -- ‘cause Tsukauchi-san calls him by first name, so they have to know each other really well… And Tsukauchi-san is a good judge of character so Yagi-san’s probably a good person? Oh, Yagi-san also said he was offering his home because of a personal favor to All Might…”

 

Mitoki bursts out laughing. Izuku glares half-heartedly at him.

 

“All Might keeps coming up, ” Mitoki gasps. “The thing in Hosu, and now this, it’s like he’s got a personal eye on you or something!”

 

“Don’t joke,” Izuku grumbles, kicking Mitoki’s chair lightly. “Too many people are bringing up parallels with him already, I don’t need this too.”

 

“Isn’t that a good thing? All Might is the number one hero, any comparison has got to be flattering.”

 

“It’s just troublesome and embarrassing. I wish people would stop bringing it up.”

 

Mitoki starts laughing again. Izuku sighs and waits for him to finish.

 

When he does, Mitoki says, “Man, you gotta do something about your life.”

 

“I know,” Izuku says glumly. “But despite my best efforts, it continues to happen.”

 

“Yeah. Take this day to relax or something, man. Actually, I’m gonna go check up on Hatsume to see if she actually got any sleep last night, and we’ll probably make more stuff this afternoon. Wanna come?”

 

Izuku hesitates. “Well,” he begins, and stops.

 

Mitoki waits a moment more. Then, “You got something else lined up?”

 

“I… I was gonna go hiking with Kacchan this afternoon.” Mitoki’s eyebrows shoot up. “My mom said no, but… I mean, she doesn’t know what I’m doing twenty-four seven. I was thinking about, um. Going hiking with him anyways. But.” He looks at Mitoki askance.

 

“...You need someone to cover for you.”

 

“Just like -- if she asks where I am,” Izuku says hurriedly. “And she probably wouldn’t even ask you, but just in case it comes up in the future or something.”

 

Mitoki frowns and picks at his napkin for a long minute. “I dunno if I’m comfortable with this,” he finally says. Izuku’s stomach sinks. Mitoki looks at his face and hastily elaborates, “I’d be cool with pretty much any other friend, but like, the first time you told me about this ‘Kacchan’ guy it was ‘cause he made up a nickname to call you stupid and useless, and the first time I actually met him he was yelling at you and you were crying.”

 

“Okay, I guess it does sound really bad when you put it that way,” Izuku says, curling his hands into fists on his knees. “But -- he’s getting better about it. He’s just bad at expressing his emotions is all. He’s a really perceptive and ambitious person and he’s gonna become a great hero.”

 

“Is he really a good friend to you?” Mitoki asks, looking at him closely.

 

“Yes,” Izuku says forcefully.

 

Mitoki chews on his lip and casts a look down at the floor, but he seems to be wavering. “Please,” Izuku presses.

 

“...Okay,” Mitoki relents. “I’ll cover if your mom asks me anything. But you gotta come hang out with me and Hatsume for a bit now, okay?”

 

“Okay.” Izuku can’t help smiling. He nearly gives Mitoki a hug, but -- that would be kind of awkward and weird, and wouldn’t that make this into a bigger deal than it already seems, and he’s terrible at initiating these kinds of things anyways. “Thanks, Mitoki,” he says instead, trying to convey the full force of his gratitude.

 

Mitoki coughs and looks away. “It’s -- it’s no problem,” he says, and downs the last of his milk so enthusiastically he spills it on his shirt. He doesn’t seem to notice, just kind of pats it absently with his napkin and stands up and walks deliberately towards the living room. “Lemme just go grab that glue gun and then we’re good to go.”

 

They walk over to Hatsume’s house -- “It’s only like twenty minutes from here,” Mitoki says cheerfully -- and they ring the doorbell without any weird gadgetry making an appearance.

 

“What happened to all the things at the door?” Izuku asks Mitoki.

 

“Her parents asked us to remove them after they burned a guest’s coat.” Mitoki’s explanation is cut short when a groggy Hatsume opens the door. She’s dressed in a tank top and overalls with a utility belt around her waist, but it’s obviously mussed. “Did you get some sleep?” Mitoki says with a cheeky grin.

 

Hatsume glowers. “...Yes.”

 

“Did we just wake you up?” Izuku asks.

 

“Yes,” Hatsume says. She swipes the glue gun from Mitoki’s hands. “If this has a single scratch on it I’m never letting you touch any of my babies ever again.”

 

“The stuff we build falls apart or blows up all the time,” Mitoki says, looking amused.

 

“A single scratch, ” Hatsume repeats, and sniffs. “You’re lucky I’m even letting you back in the house.”

 

“Sorry,” says Mitoki. “I couldn’t think of a way to get you to take a break.”

 

Hatsume looks at him a moment more. “Power Loader-sensei does the same thing -- he’s always worried about ‘overworking’ and ‘burning out,’ so… whatever,” she finally says grudgingly. Is that Hatsume talk for ‘it’s okay’? “ But,” she adds when Mitoki grins, “I don’t gotta be happy with it.”

 

“‘Don’t gotta?’ Aw, Hatsume-chan, I think I’m rubbing off on you.”

 

Hatsume rolls her eyes. “Don’t flatter yourself,” she says, waving a hand in the air and walking inside. Mitoki follows her in, and after a moment of hesitation, Izuku does too. “I think I figured out what’s wrong with the robot suit, finally -- the pneumatics weren’t hooked up to the right places on the left leg. Sooooo I was thinking--”

 

They walk past a man and woman sitting and reading at the table. “Hi, Hatsume-san and Hatsume-san,” Mitoki says, waving absently to them, but quickly getting reabsorbed into Hatsume’s conversation. Hatsume’s parents respond absently themselves, but eye Izuku with more curiosity, so he introduces himself briefly. They nod, tell him to try not to destroy too much, and go back to their reading. They’re very… laissez-faire. Hatsume must be happy with the way things are run here. He enters the garage, where Hatsume is chattering away excitedly and gesticulating wildly as she points at a gutted robotic suit on the table. Her previous grumpy lethargy has disappeared, completely subsumed by her usual bubbly personality. Truly amazing.

 

“Ah, minion! Perfect!” Hatsume zips over to Izuku, grabs his hands and twirls him around, then zooms away to the corner of a garage. “Wonderful to see you are all recovered! Thank you for the wonderful ideas you generated! It’s all wonderful! Mitoki-kun, tell him what we need him to do.” There’s a rattle as she knocks over a box, which she doesn’t seem to notice, rummaging instead through a bin full of -- stuff. Izuku thinks he recognizes some voltmeters in there. “Oh, I’m so excited to build some new babies! But we need to fix up Iida’s suit first.”

 

Wait. “Iida-kun’s suit?” Izuku asks.

 

“Hatsume thought his hero costume sucked, so she’s making a new one,” says Mitoki. “It’s great. It kinda did suck though, ‘cause it was mostly for the aesthetic and some protection and didn’t really play to his strengths. So we’re giving it a boost -- here, see, we’ve powered it to give you some extra thrust whenever you want, that’s the power source and we added a coupla voltage amplifiers here and here--”

 

For the next couple of hours, Izuku helps them fix up Iida’s suit. He’s kind of glad Hatsume took on the challenge; Iida’s old suit didn’t do much against Stain’s swords. Soon enough, though, it’s noon and he needs to go. Mitoki offers him lunch. He declines.

 

“Thanks again for -- everything,” Izuku says to Mitoki at the door.

 

“It’s all cool,” Mitoki says. “Just take care, alright?” He sees Izuku off and then disappears inside.

 

Izuku feels -- surprisingly good, given how bad the start of his morning was. Those emotions already feel distant. Maybe today will turn out fine.

 

He returns to Mitoki’s house to get his motorcycle, and then he sets off for the city limit. For once, he’s in good spirits, and hopefully, the mountain hike will go well.

 

--

 

One o’clock, and Izuku rolls into a small dirt parking lot at the base of a mountain, one prefecture away from Musutafu. There are a few banged up cars and motorcycles there; no one is in sight, but there is a dirt trail disappearing up into the trees. Izuku follows the path uncertainly; where exactly is he supposed to meet Kacchan?

 

Fortunately, that question is answered when he hears talking and laughter -- and the distinct sound of Kacchan yelling at someone. Izuku quickens his pace. He hopes Kacchan isn’t yelling at some random passerby.

 

Rounding the curve of the path, he sees an open picnic area with wooden benches to the side. Kacchan is yelling a boy with spiky red hair, a bright floral shirt, and a bright smile. To the side is a girl with pink hair and pink skin, laughing uproariously as the red-haired boy makes a comment and sets Kacchan off again. Kacchan snaps at them and swipes at the red-haired boy, who ducks with a laugh.

 

Izuku tentatively allows himself to relax and walks closer.

 

“--stood up,” the red-haired boy is saying, patting Kacchan sympathetically on the shoulder. “It’s okay. Happens to the best of us -- even the strongest, handsomest, and manliest of us.”

 

“I haven’t been stood up, ” Kacchan snarls, smacking the boy’s hand away. “For the last time, it’s not a fucking d--”

 

“Hey, Kacchan,” he calls, waving as he walks over. The unfamiliar boy and girl turn to him with alarming enthusiasm, while Kacchan only tilts his head the bare minimum required to glare at him. Then Kacchan’s face sort of twitches, but incredulously.

 

“Deku,” he says. “Seriously?”

 

Izuku looks blankly at Kacchan. Kacchan looks blankly back at -- not at Izuku, but at his clothes. Izuku glances down, but he can’t tell what he’s looking for. “What?”

 

“Your taste is atrocious,” Kacchan informs him flatly.

 

The pink girl bursts out laughing; Kacchan turns to glare; the red-haired boy shushes the girl but looks on the verge of laughter too.

 

The McTerrible Outfit, Itself  

 

“Don’t be rude, Kacchan,” says Izuku, unimpressed. “I think it looks cute.”

 

“You are fucking hopeless.”

 

“Wh -- listen, where is this criticism coming from,” Izuku says, crossing his arms. “We went over this yesterday. My sense of fashion is just fine.”

 

“Your favorite shirt is a t-shirt that says ‘T-SHIRT.’ Don’t talk to me.”

 

Izuku sputters. “You -- you have no right to be talking! Your favorite just says ‘FUCK OFF’ in all caps!”

 

“Yeah, as a fucking joke--

 

“You’re wearing it right now ,” Izuku adds in furious realization, pointing an accusing finger at Kacchan--  

 

You’re the one who made me the shirt, fuckhead!”

 

“Well, you’re the one who bought me the ‘T-SHIRT’ t-shirt!”

 

Kacchan swipes at Izuku, and Izuku ducks. “Shut up! You’re a fucking eyesore!” Kacchan kicks one foot out from under him and puts him into a headlock, but Izuku drops to the ground and forces Kacchan to fall with him, then rolls over and pins Kacchan under him. Kacchan, however, bucks him off and blasts him across the clearing. Izuku lands on his feet and skids back through the dirt; when he looks up, Kacchan’s fist is flying at his face. Izuku ducks, grabs the wrist, and throws Kacchan forward with his momentum. He crashes into the bushes with a minor fireworks display.

 

“Ha, take that,” Izuku says triumphantly. “Who’s an eyesore now--

 

“Still you, shithead!” Kacchan rises to his feet with a grin, leaves and dirt spilling off his jacket, and leaps forward. Izuku clashes with him halfway, catching Kacchan by the shoulders and trying to twist him to the ground -- but Kacchan wraps his legs around Izuku’s neck and flips him down instead. Izuku lands with a heavy thud, reaches up, wraps his arms around Kacchan’s waist, and performs the beginning of a suplex, but Kacchan twists away before he can finish it, then circles around him in search of an opening.

 

Izuku feels a fierce smile tugging at his cheeks, and on a wild impulse, he darts forward in an uncharacteristically bold first move. Kacchan catches his kick and manages to throw him back, but he lands nimbly. Kacchan charges with a yell, but he leaves his right side open -- as he is wont to do -- and Izuku seizes the opportunity to throw Kacchan over his shoulder again with a “ Ha!”

 

But Kacchan has grabbed onto his shirt. “Eat shit, dickhead,” Kacchan yells as Izuku stumbles forward, and they fall together in a glorious tangle of limbs and yelling and explosions.

 

The red-haired boy catches them.

 

Then he dunks Izuku on the ground. Izuku rolls to his feet easily, eyebrows raised, but before he can say anything -- “Dude, get down,” the boy says. “You’re on fire!”

 

Izuku looks down. His shorts are, indeed, slightly on fire. He smacks the flames out with his hands. “Oops. Sorry about that.”

 

The boy stares at him. His jaw has dropped slightly. The pink girl, somewhere behind him, repeats, “‘ Sorry about that!’” and starts laughing uproariously.

 

“Bakugou, your friend is crazy,” the boy says, sounding slightly in awe.

 

Kacchan ignores him in favor of slapping Izuku on the shoulder. “You’re still on fire.”

 

“Oh, ah, okay.” Izuku smacks out the fire on his sleeve. “Anywhere else?”

 

“No,” says Kacchan, and then he punches Izuku in the shoulder. “Dumbass.”

 

Izuku rolls his eyes and kicks Kacchan in the shin. “ You're the one who set me on fire.” Then he turns to the red-haired boy and the pink girl with a bright smile. “Anyways, sorry about that. Kacchan, introduce me to your friends!”

 

Kacchan says in the flattest voice, “They’re not my fucking friends.”

 

Izuku quirks his lips. “So what are they?”

 

“Leeches.

 

Kacchan’s companions start laughing again. The boy clasps his hands together and beams at Kacchan so brightly, he’s practically sparkling. “Aw, Kacchan, you love us!”

 

“Never call me that again.”

 

“But Kacchan,” says the girl, putting her hands to her cheeks demurely, “you’re so dear to us!”

 

“FUCK OFF AND DIE.”

 

Izuku snags Kacchan’s shirt, cutting off his forward movement. “Don’t punch your friends, Kacchan,” he says. “That’s rude.”

 

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do, shit-for-brains Deku.” But Kacchan just smacks Izuku’s hand away and folds his arms crossly, so Izuku considers it a victory.

 

The boy and girl both stare at him. “Hey, Ashido,” says the boy, “did you just see what I saw? Did Bakugou just back down from a fight? On command?

 

“He, like, he totally did, oh my gosh,” says the girl. “He’s...he’s learning self-control…” She sniffs, and pretends to wipe a tear away. “He’s growing so much! I'm so proud!”

 

For a moment, Izuku thinks Kacchan is going to say fuck it and punch his friends anyways, but Kacchan just closes his eyes and breathes very calmly through his nose. When he opens his eyes, he looks at the boy dead in the eye and peels back his lips in a mirthless grin. “No one will believe you.”

 

The boy looks astonished. “You -- what? Oh fuck, you're right--”

 

“Uh-uh, no way! He's got a witness!” The girl slings her arm over the boy’s shoulder with a cackle. “Your plans are foiled!”

 

“You are a lifesaver, Ashido-sama,” the boy says. He gets down on one knee. “You are truly a goddess. Where would such a lowly man as I be without you--”

 

“You can call me Alien Queen,” Ashido says imperiously, holding out a hand for the boy to take. “Bow down before me.” Then she lets out an impressively evil cackle. “Bakugou’s reputation is going down the toilet!”

 

“If either of you breath a single fucking word to anyone, I will tell everyone what happened with the pigeons.”

 

Ashido gasps, and suddenly she is in Kacchan’s face, clutching at his jacket dramatically. “ No , you wouldn't, ” she gasps. “You wouldn't expose yourself like that!”

 

“If I'm going down, I'm dragging you fuckers with me,” Kacchan says, and his smile is all teeth.

 

Ashido throws herself backwards with her hand over her head, exclaiming, “Bakugou, we never should have trusted you!” and the boy bangs his fist on the ground and moans, “He would! He absolutely would!” Izuku puts a hand to his mouth to stifle a laugh and wonders at their relationship to Kacchan.

 

“Ugh, shut the fuck up, your bitching is giving me a headache,” Kacchan grumbles, hauling the red-haired boy to his feet. “Introduce yourselves so we can go already.”

 

“Okay!” says Ashido, recovering instantly from her theatrical flailing. She bounds forward into Izuku’s space and seizes his hand to shake enthusiastically. “Hi! I'm Ashido Mina!”

 

“I'm Kirishima Eijirou,” adds the red-haired boy from the side, grinning easily and giving an insouciant wave. Oh -- Kirishima! The one Kacchan mentions the most! Then maybe the girl is ‘Pinky’? “Deku, right?”

 

“Ah -- Midoriya Izuku, actually,” Izuku says. “Izuku is fine. Deku is just Kacchan’s nickname for me. You’re his classmates, right?”

 

“You betcha,” says Kirishima, striking a thumbs-up pose. “Man, your fight with Bakugou was incredible! I was kind of surprised when you just started duking it out like that!”

 

“Ah,” Izuku says again. “Um, that's just how our friendship is, I guess. We fought all the time in middle school.”

 

“Yeah!” Ashido cheers. “Those moves were soooo cool! First you were like bam , and then Bakugou was like boom, boom --” She demonstrates with little mock jabs at Kirishima, who puts a hand to his forehead and falls back dramatically. “Haha, no wonder Bakugou’s so good at fighting! He cut his teeth fighting you!”

 

Izuku shifts uneasily and glances at Kacchan. Comparisons between them are always a touchy subject, especially if they imply that they’re on an equal level.

 

“Deku doesn’t have a Quirk. There’s no way he’d ever beat me,” Kacchan says moodily.

 

“You don’t have a Quirk?” Kirishima says, looking astonished.

 

“He was just using his pure, raw fighting prowess!” Ashido clenches her fists soulfully. “He’s really just that good!”

 

Izuku clears his throat uncomfortably. “I had a good teacher, and it wasn’t an all-out fight,” he says. “Um, anyways. It’s nice to meet you? Sorry for starting things off with a fight, and, um. Are you here to, um, go mountain hiking?”

 

“We sure are,” Ashido cheers. “We’re all decked out and ready to go!”

 

Izuku considers her clothes (bright, but passable) and Kirishima’s clothes (dressed for hot weather), both lacking any supplies but a small bag. They don’t look especially prepared. Then again, Izuku isn’t, either. He just has a bag and a bottle of water. “Okay.”

 

“You’re just going to accept that?” Kacchan demands incredulously, flinging out an arm to gesture at Kirishima’s everything. “He’s wearing crocs for a mountain hike!”

 

Kirishima flashes a smile. “Don’t they look nice with my shorts?”

 

“They’re bright pink! You’re wearing camouflage!”

 

“I think it looks fine,” Izuku says.

 

“Your opinion doesn’t count,” Kacchan says.

 

At the same time, Kirishima grins triumphantly and says, “See, he gets it,” He holds his hand up, and Izuku obliges him with a high-five. “Dude, your friend is a riot, we’re going to get along great.”

 

“I should never have let you two meet,” Kacchan says flatly.

 

Ashido laughs, throwing an arm around Kacchan’s shoulder. Kacchan tries to push her off, but she effortlessly ignores it. “I’m so glad you brought us here, Kacchan,” she says. “This is going to be so much fun!”

 

“You invited yourselves here , ” Kacchan says accusingly. “And I told you not to fucking call me that.  Deku’s the only one with that shitty habit. Don’t fucking pick it up from him.”

 

“Awww, your relationship with Izuku-kun is so precious,” Ashido coos. Kacchan puts her in a headlock, but Ashido mysteriously shimmies her way out of it and dances over to Kirishima, cackling. “Okay, let’s go!”

 

“Lead the way, Bakugou!” Kirishima says, giving Kacchan a thumbs up.

 

“Fall off a cliff and die.”

 

The hike seems like it’s off to a good start.

 

--

 

As they start hiking up the mountain -- Kacchan grumbling about their lack of preparedness along the way -- Izuku gets drawn into conversation with Kirishima and Ashido. They pepper him with questions: where did you learn to fight? How did you meet Bakugou? Do you have any embarrassing stories about Bakugou? Most of their questions are about Kacchan, actually. They are delighted every time Izuku absently drops a new fact about him, and every single time, Kacchan ends up punching at least one of them.

 

“Okay, but I have to ask,” Kirishima says at one point. “What’s the story behind the ‘FUCK OFF’ shirt?”

 

“Oh, that,” says Izuku. He looks at Kacchan and raises an eyebrow questioningly.

 

“What are you looking at me for? I’m not telling the fucking thing.”

 

“Contributing to conversations is a great way to make new friends, Kacchan,” Izuku says seriously. “Or, in other cases, to keep them.”

 

Kirishima and Ashido gawp at each other, and then Ashido leans in for a high-five. Kirishima whispers dramatically, “Ooohhh my god. Ohhhhhhhhh my god. Is he dead? Does he have a death wish? Do I need to plan for a funeral now?”

 

“Fuck off, Shitty Hair,” Kacchan yells at Kirishima. “And fuck you too, Deku, I can fucking make conversation if I want to.”

 

“Then you should tell us the story, Bakugou!” Ashido bounces to Kacchan’s side. “Did Izuku-kun really make you that shirt?”

 

“None of your fucking business.”

 

“He gave me the ‘T-SHIRT’ t-shirt for my birthday because I’d ‘probably love something as stupid as this,’” Izuku explains, making finger quotes. “I couldn’t just let that lie.”

 

“Were you telling him to fuck off, or were you implying that he had the same tastes as you?” Kirishima asks, looking morbidly curious.

 

“I request the right to remain silent,” Izuku says seriously.

 

Ashido picks up Kacchan’s arms and peers at the shirt. Kacchan swats at her and she magnanimously ignores it. “You are, like, really good,” she says admiringly. “This totes looks like a professional job!”

 

“Ah -- probably because it was,” Izuku says. Everyone turns to look at him, and he rubs his neck uncomfortably. “I knew someone with a screen printing machine, and, um, he made the shirt as a favor to me. That's why it looks so nice. I don't even have nice handwriting.”

 

And another conversation that occurs when Kirishima and Ashido make a detour to climb a cool-looking tree and dangle around in the branches, and Kacchan tells them they’re all idiots, and Kirishima says That’s not true, you love us! And Kacchan yells that he’d happily get rid of them in an instant--

 

“Don’t be a liar, Kacchan,” Izuku says innocently. Kacchan turns to him with all the fury of a thousand nuclear explosions burning in his eyes. “You like them both.”

 

“Aw, Kacchan, I, like, love you too,” Ashido calls, at the same time Kirishima says, “Ha! I knew it! Really? Tell me what you know!” and Kacchan tries to punch Izuku.

 

“He has both your numbers saved in his phone,” Izuku says.

 

“Fuck off, shitty Deku!”

 

“And he mentions you two in conversation a lot when I ask him about his day,” Izuku continues, “even if it’s just to say things like ‘Kirishima is an idiot of scientifically impossible proportions,’ but that means he remembers your name and actually cares to mention you, which is more than what he does for most--”

 

“Shut the fuck up! You’re so embarrassing! Fuck! Why don’t you just jump off the top of this fucking mountain!”

 

Izuku gets pulled into another scuffle with Kacchan. When they finally get back on track for mountain hiking, though, he sees a pleased flush on Kirishima’s face.

 

He learns more about Kacchan’s classmates, just listening to Ashido and Kirishima talk. They mention Todoroki and Iida and Uraraka and a couple others (a Kaminari and a Sero come up), and they happily regale Izuku with tales of battle simulations and training sessions and all the things that have gone wrong. Kacchan occasionally interrupts with a comment, or a correction, or a particularly creative invective.

 

It was a good call to tell Kirishima and Ashido to call him Izuku. Hopefully if they mention him to the other students at Yuuei, they won’t connect “Izuku” and “Deku” and Izuku can continue on with the precarious balancing act that is his life.

 

Who is he kidding, this is inevitably going to end in disaster. But at least he can try and put it off.

 

By the time they get to the top of the mountain, it’s four o’clock and Kirishima and Ashido have apparently accepted him into the flock. They’re friendly, they’ve tossed out a few nicknames for him, they’ve started including him in their trend of casual touching. Ashido even throws her arms around him and cheers when she sees the picnic site.

 

“Lunch!” she says, and she picks Izuku up and swings him around, laughing. “We made it! Look at the view! You can almost see Musutafu from here!”

 

Izuku awkwardly pats her on the back. “Er, can you put me down, Ashido-san?”

 

She swings him around one last time, but instead of setting him down, she carries him to the edge of the picnic area and says, “Look how high up we are! Imagine falling from this height!”

 

“I don’t need to imagine,” Izuku mumbles. The slope starts flattening maybe ten stories down, and Izuku’s jumped down that far before. Really the only inconvenient thing would be the trees.

 

“Hm? What was that?” Ashido asks, putting him down and looking at him curiously.

 

“Nothing,” Izuku says.

 

She blinks. “I thought you said--”

 

“Hey, Ashido! Izuku-kun! Let’s eat!” Kirishima calls, waving at them from the picnic table he’s occupying with Kacchan. He has a bento set on the table already, and Kacchan is digging into his lunch as well.

 

“Oh my god, you’re right, I’m totally starving!” Ashido bounces over and slings her small backpack onto the table. Izuku trails after and sits next to her, across from Kacchan and Kirishima. He’s happy to just listen to the conversation that springs up between Kirishima and Ashido, occasionally offering his own comments.

 

Then Kacchan slams his lunch on the table and says, “Deku, where the fuck is your food?” and the conversation grinds to a halt.

 

Izuku tries for a nonchalant shrug, fails, and looks away. “I didn’t bring any.”

 

Kacchan’s brain almost visibly stalls. “What the fuck,” he says, then, “I told you to bring something. We just went on a three-hour hike, asshole, it’s another three hours back down.”

 

“I’m not hungry. It’s fine,” Izuku says, waving his hands, “I don’t really have much of an appetite, anyways. Last night was the biggest meal I’ve had in like a week, actually.” He laughs uncomfortably and scratches his head.

 

“Dude, Izuku-kun,” Kirishima says. “That’s not good, yo, you gotta keep up your strength when you work out like this. You want some of my lunch?”

 

“Yeah! You can have some of mine, too,” Ashido says determinedly, shoving her bento at him with a fierce look on her face.

 

“Ah -- I’d rather not,” Izuku says, trying to wave them off.

 

“Don’t be fucking stupid, Deku,” Kacchan snaps. “Eat the damn food.”

 

Izuku chews the inside of his cheek, and then he reluctantly accepts the chopsticks from Ashido’s outstretched hand and takes a bite of her food. It tastes nice, but at the same time, his stomach roils and he feels repulsed by the feeling of anything in his mouth. He can barely swallow it. He puts down the chopsticks and puts a hand to his mouth, closing his eyes, trying to tide over the nausea swelling in him.

 

When he opens his eyes again, all three of them are staring at him. “Oh no,” Ashido frets. “Was the food bad? I didn’t think it was bad…”

 

“No, it was fine,” Izuku says hurriedly. “It’s got nothing to do with your food. I knew that would happen. That’s why I didn’t bring a lunch.”

 

“Wait, are you sick?” Kirishima asks. He looks alarmed. “Did you -- come mountain hiking right even though you were sick?”

 

“Ah, no, it’s okay, I’m not sick! This just happens sometimes.”

 

“Just happens sometimes?” Kacchan demands. “What do you mean, this just ‘happens sometimes’?”

 

“Kacchan, you’re going to burn your bento box,” Izuku says.

 

Kacchan’s fingers tighten around the box, but he stops emitting smoke from his hands. “The fuck’s wrong with you?” he seethes. “Never shoulda fucking listened when you said we should go mountain hiking today, ‘specially since you were just fucking kidnapped --”

 

“I’m not kidnapped anymore --”

 

“Oh my god, that was you?” Ashido leans over and grabs Izuku’s shoulder, and he has to fight the urge to flinch. “Are you okay? Oh my god, you’re, like, a civilian!

 

“A civilian who’s been keeping up with you just fine, thanks,” Izuku retorts, and he immediately feels contrite. “Sorry. I mean. Look, I’m fine, alright? I’ll eat more when I get home, or something. I’m fine, I’ve dealt with this before, and it’s not a big deal.”

 

“Just a clarification,” Kirishima says, “by ‘this,’ do you mean the kidnapping thing or the nausea thing, ‘cause if you’ve dealt with kidnapping before I think you’ve had a little too much kidnapping in your lifetime.”

 

Izuku is so surprised he laughs. “Ah, no, the nausea thing,” he says. “It’ll pass in a couple days.” Actually, he has no idea if it will. It’s not often his anxiety is bad enough to give him nausea, but when it is, it lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. He’ll just have to bear with it, though.

 

“What the fuck even is the nausea thing?” Kacchan demands. “You just said you ain’t sick, so what the fuck--”

 

“Oh, shove off, Kacchan,” Izuku snaps. “I came here to enjoy myself and relax, not to face my problems like some kind of -- problem facer.”

 

Kacchan stands up abruptly, shadows falling over his face. Damn it, Izuku messed up. “Did you hear fuckin’ nothin’ from yesterday?! Stop fuckin’ runnin’ awa--”

 

Izuku’s already fraying temper snaps. “It’s been one day! Can you give me just one day! But sure, if you want to spill all our personal problems to your friends then be my guest! Tell them all about yesterday!”

 

Kacchan snarls and lunges across the table for him. Adrenaline floods his limbs and he slides away, already bringing his hands up in fists -- he shouldn’t have lost his temper like that, he fucked up, he fucked up -- but then Kirishima hauls Kacchan back. “Whoa, hey, Bakugou -- maybe chill out a little bit?”

 

Ashido stands up, and for perhaps the first time that day, she has a serious look on her face. “You shouldn’t be fighting him like this,” she says. “That isn’t okay.”

 

“It’s fine,” Izuku cuts in, and scrubs at his face. “We fight all the time. Sorry to have made you watch all that though. Sorry, Kacchan. I’m… Look, the problem facer thing was just a joke. I’m gonna try to do better. But I just need a breather, okay? Just -- just for today.”

 

“It’s okay to take more than today,” Ashido says. “You were just kidnapped.” Why does everyone seem so stuck on that? It’s not like he even remembers most of it.

 

“Yeah, people get trauma from that kind of thing, it takes time to get over it,” adds Kirishima. “You, uh… you gotta take care of yourself, you know?”

 

“Sure,” says Izuku. “But, um, Kacchan was right with what he said yesterday, so -- yeah. It’s advice I’m gonna take.”

 

Kirishima slowly lets go of Kacchan. “Okay,” he says, looking doubtful. “If you’re sure.”

 

Izuku nods and sits back down. Ashido hands him a bottle of water and watches him expectantly until he drinks some. Kacchan subsides, but isn’t entirely satisfied, judging by the moody way he starts stabbing at his lunch with the chopsticks.

 

Kirishima and Ashido manage to pick up the conversation again, but Kacchan’s dark mood keeps everything a little bit strained until they start hiking back down the mountain.

 

--

 

The trek down is fine, and then it’s just wild,  devolving rapidly into chaos as almost everything that comes into contact with Izuku these days does. By the time they all tumble down into the parking lot, the sun is setting, and they’re all flushed and slightly out of breath and more than a little scuffed up. Hopefully no one will notice their minorly destructive trailblazing. Izuku is grinning uncontrollably, Kirishima is exclaiming incredulously at him, Ashido is holding up Kacchan’s hand so she can fistbump it, and Kacchan looks as relaxed as he ever does.

 

“Oh my god, that was--” Kirishima shakes his head. “We are never telling anyone what happened.”

 

“Agreed,” Izuku laughs.

 

“Aw, but it’s such a great story, Kirishima,” Ashido says, looking at him beseechingly. “It, like, totes needs to be told!”

 

“No,” says Kacchan.

 

“No,” agrees Kirishima. “You’re outvoted. We’re shaking on it.”

 

They shake on it, and then Kirishima and Ashido start walking to the bus station.

 

“You coming, Bakugou?” Kirishima calls back.

 

Kacchan starts after them, but Izuku -- seized by impulse -- grabs his hand. “Wait.”

 

Kacchan pauses and looks back at him.

 

“I’ve got a quicker way back home,” he says, and smiles sheepishly at Kacchan’s what the fuck are you talking about glare. “Surprise?”

 

“No way you have a car,” Kacchan says suspiciously.

 

“No,” Izuku agrees. “I’ve got a motorcycle.”

 

What?”

 

Izuku laughs and points at Fujimura’s motorcycle. “There’s room for two. You want a ride?”

 

Kacchan stares. “How the hell did you get a motorcycle?”

 

“I know some people,” Izuku quips. Kacchan gives him a Look. “Haha, no, really! But -- you know, if you wanted to, I don’t mind if you come along.”

 

Kacchan hesitates, and then he says, “This thing better not fall apart while you’re driving it.”

 

“I promise it will not go the way of events from this afternoon.”

 

Izuku gives Kacchan the motorcycle helmet and goggles, but Kacchan refuses the goggles. (“You’re the one driving, asshole, you better be able to see.”) He also tries to make Izuku take the helmet, but Izuku’s more likely to get out of a crash unscathed than Kacchan. Izuku pretends not to notice him until Kacchan finally snaps and says, “Fine, I’ll wear the fuckin’ helmet, but if you go a fuckin’ hair over the speed limit I swear to fuckin' God I'll smash this thing to smithereens and make you fuckin' walk back to Musutafu.”

 

“Sure thing,” Izuku says. “Come on, then, we don’t want to get back too late.”

 

Kacchan looks at the motorcycle like he’s trying to mentally put together a jigsaw puzzle. Finally he swings his leg over the wheel and settles behind Izuku, and -- uh oh, Izuku really did not think this through. They are too close. He can feel Kacchan’s body heat against his back. “Kacchan,” Izuku says, and he has to clear his throat, “you need to -- put your arms around my waist.”

 

A moment of hesitation, and then Kacchan leans against him and laces his fingers around Izuku’s stomach like a belt. Izuku makes himself take a measured breath, and then he turns on the engine.

 

“Wait,” Kacchan says.

 

“What is it?”

 

“You do have a license, right?”

 

“...Don’t concern yourself over small details,” Izuku says, and before Kacchan can do more than sputter and drop a few swears, he revs the engine and shoots out of the parking lot.

 

“Deku what the FUCK,” Kacchan yells in his ear, past the roaring of the wind, and -- Izuku pictures the expression Kacchan must be making right now and he can’t help but laugh.

 

“Just enjoy the ride!” he calls, and Kacchan yells some gibberish in response, his words blown away. Izuku takes that as permission to speed up.

 

The wind rushes cold and tingling against his skin, threading through his clothes and his hair and carrying with it the sweet smell of the forest and night air. The setting sun gleams orange gold over the treetops, then colors the highway warm with summer airs. The motorcycle hums ready under him. It feels like freedom, like euphoria, like endless horizons stretching before him and beckoning him to find. It fills him with peace -- and with something that, if he were brave enough, he might call joy. Far too soon, Musutafu draws into sight, sparkling with evening lights under the dusk moon. Izuku laughs, wildly and breathlessly, as he urges the motorcycle on faster and further until the city limits force him to slow.

 

Izuku takes them through the back roads, where the Police Force are less likely to be, and a few minutes later pulls over to the curb in front of Kacchan's house, hands and legs tingling with the memory of the motorcycle's purring engine. "Here we are," he says to Kacchan -- a bit unnecessarily, but he can't find it in himself to care. His cheeks hurt from smiling. "Let's do this again sometime!"

 

Kacchan doesn't respond immediately, but when he does -- "Deku," he says, with some strange overtone that Izuku doesn't quite understand, and he tightens his arms around his waist and buries his face more firmly into the crook of Izuku's neck.

 

"What is it, Kacchan?" Izuku asks. He almost tilts his head, but Kacchan is in the way. "Did you -- not like it?"

 

"It was fine," Kacchan says roughly.

 

Izuku feels his smile light up, without any volition of his own, and far stronger than he remembered he could smile. "That's good," he says softly. "I'm really glad we got to spend some time together like this."

 

Kacchan just squeezes him tighter.

 

Izuku is content to just sit there for a while like that, but Kacchan pulls away and gets off the motorcycle, leaving an imprint of cold where his body was pressed against his. Unbuckling the helmet, he says, “Don’t do anything stupid,” and hands the helmet over. Without another word he turns and walks to his apartment, quickly hidden by the shadows.

 

“Bye, Kacchan,” Izuku says, quirking his lips in a smile. He puts on the helmet, starts up the motorcycle, and leaves.

 

He drops off the motorcycle in a parking garage and then jogs the rest of the way back to Yagi’s home. It’s half past seven and the stars are out; but still, he’s back before curfew. Izuku rings the doorbell.

 

His mom opens the door and takes in his scuffed clothes and the smile on his face. “It looks like you had a good day,” she says with a smile. “Did you have fun?”

 

Izuku briefly flashes back to the events of the afternoon. 

 

 

Best not mention it.

 

“Yeah, it was really nice seeing Mitoki-kun again,” Izuku says, taking off his shoes. “We helped Hatsume-san put together a hero costume for one of the students at Yuuei.”

 

“I’m glad you had a good day,” his mom says. She wraps him in a warm hug; he basks in it. “Are you hungry?”

 

“No, I ate dinner already,” Izuku lies. “Thank you though! How were things today?”

 

They chat for another hour on the couch before Izuku leaves for his room and collapses on the bed. Today was exhausting. Socializing is just… so much.

 

He showers and spends the rest of the night curled up on the bed, looking up Eraserhead’s recommendations; it’s so absorbing he ends up staying awake until 1 a.m, when his heavy eyelids finally force him to shut his eyes with the promise of “just for a moment.”

 

His mom has to shake him awake at 11 the next morning. God, this is going to throw off his sleep schedule for days, isn’t it. Not that he had a great one in the first place.

 

He stops by Uemura’s cafe. Uemura, upon seeing him, purses her lips. “And where have you been, young man?” she says.

 

Izuku blinks. “Oh, I’m -- sorry?” he says. “I was, um, sort of kidnapped on Thursday.”

 

“You were what? ” Uemura’s expression changes completely. “Are you alright? What happened?”

 

“Y-yeah, I’m fine.” Mostly. If he wishes really hard. “The Villain Alliance grabbed me, and I, uh, escaped by myself that night, but then on Friday I had to go tell the Police Force about everything, and I had to move, and a lot of stuff happened… and yesterday…” Izuku bites his lips, and shrugs. “I’m sorry I haven’t been by… How have you been?”

 

“Oh, dear,” says Uemura. “I was wondering why you didn’t show up yesterday. This explains so much. Here, Izu-kun, have a cake.”

 

“Yesterday?” He watches her pull a slice of strawberry-chocolate cake out from the display.

 

“You were supposed to come meet the ladies in my neighborhood,” Uemura explains. “We were quite disgruntled when you failed to come -- but a kidnapping! This hero activity is getting dangerous, isn’t it?” She sounds worried.

 

“It’s -- um, it’s okay,” says Izuku. “I got myself away, so it turned out okay. I’m so sorry I missed the meeting on Saturday… It totally slipped my mind.” He feels terrible.  

 

Uemura frowns as she places the slice of cake in front of him. “Don’t worry about it; you had extenuating circumstances, after all,” she says. “You are taking some safety measures now, aren’t you?”

 

“Um. Yes,” says Izuku. “Tsukauchi-san at the police station helped get all that set up on Friday…”

 

“Good,” says Uemura decisively. “You need to take better care. I’ll tell the ladies what happened, Izu-kun, and whenever you’re ready you can swing by on a Saturday.”

 

Izuku eats the cake and feels horribly guilty the entire time for missing the generous opportunity Uemura gave him.

 

On Monday, school resumes like normal. The utter -- normalcy of it all feels a bit jarring. It feels like years since he’s set foot in a classroom. His classmates greet him and ask him where he’s been, and he has to make up some lie about being sick, and his teachers give him the homework he missed and tell him to get notes from someone else.

 

Izuku asks Mitoki for the notes, but Mitoki says, “I haven’t taken any notes since the beginning of the year, and I skipped on Thursday. Sorry, dude. You could try Sanjuro, though, he’s pretty good about that all.”

 

Sanjuro, thankfully, gets him everything he needs.

 

It takes him a few more days to pick up his usual rounds through the city, both because he has to adjust his routes and because Yagi and his mom have joined forces to try and limit his extracurriculars.

 

“No staying out later than seven,” his mom says firmly.

 

“Eight,” Izuku tries.

 

“Sunset is at seven during the summer months,” Yagi points out. “By the time it’s eight, the sky is already dark.”

 

Izuku feels very teamed up on. He finally agrees to a curfew-at-dark rule; at least there’s enough time for him to visit all the connections he’s made over the years before the sky gets dark. It cuts down on the number of incidents he’s able to stop, though. He feels kind of guilty about all the people he isn’t helping, now, but his mom is worrying so much and he doesn’t want to cause her more stress.

 

Life with Yagi is a surprisingly easy transition. He’s pretty quiet, mostly working in his study or sleeping; he seems determined not to inconvenience them. It’s odd, because sometimes it feels more like Yagi is the guest here than they are. His mom quickly takes over the kitchen and unofficially claims the living room for her sewing projects and such. Izuku mostly sticks to his room, and occasionally the kitchen or living room when he needs a different environment to think in.

 

Things are pretty awkward between them all, at least until the day Izuku comes home and finds Yagi sitting at the kotatsu with a long-suffering expression and a stack of papers to grade next to him.

 

Izuku peeks over curiously. “What are you grading?”

 

“Essays,” Yagi sighs.

 

Izuku blinks. “I thought you said -- you taught, um, Foundational Hero Studies? Hands-on work, right?”

 

“Yes, but occasionally I give classes on how the hero system came to be, as well as the laws regulating it.” Yagi scans through a paragraph and pinches the bridge of his nose. “And so, a research paper.”

 

Izuku smiles. “I guess good heroes don’t necessarily make good students, huh?” He sets down his backpack and sits on the opposite side of the kotatsu, digging out his notebooks and homework and pencils.

 

“The entrance exam measured battle skill and potential and strength of character, not academic prowess,” Yagi acknowledges. “We have a… range of students.”

 

Izuku hums in response, and then settles in to do his homework for the day. Yagi doesn’t comment. His mom comes in and, seeing them working quietly together, disappears for a moment only to reappear with her sewing supplies in hand. She sits down between them, across from the T.V., and makes a few minutes of light conversation before concentrating on her work.

 

It becomes an unspoken habit afterwards to do all their work at the kotatsu together.

 

--

 

Izuku has had to change the time of his daily workout to the afternoon -- his mom won’t let him go running early in the morning anymore -- so one day, while he’s out, he runs into Kacchan in the vicinity of his old neighborhood.

 

“Hey, Kacchan,” Izuku says, waving. He smiles nervously at the brooding look on his friend’s face. “How’ve you been?” Kacchan just glares darkly at him, so he ventures hesitantly, “Is something--?”

“I’m fine!” Kacchan barks. Izuku flinches back. Kacchan stares at him for a second, and then he turns and punches a nearby wall. The hard, fleshy impact makes Izuku wince. “It’s fucking fine. What the fuck are you doing back here, huh, Deku? Thought you moved away with a fancy hero .”

 

“I’m just on a run,” Izuku says hesitantly.

 

“A run,” Kacchan repeats. The corner of his lip twitches upwards derisively. “You’re so fucking stupid, Deku. Why the hell do you even try with these things? They’ll never make you better than you actually are. You’re gonna be Deku for the rest of your fuckin’ life.”

 

He’s in a really bad mood. What set him off? “Kacchan, do you… um… want to fight?” That usually helps Kacchan vent his feelings and cool down a bit, but most of those cases, Kacchan’s anger is sort of like a volcano ready to erupt. This anger feels more like a fire simmering in the ashes of a plagued wasteland -- darker, and somehow more tarnished. It’s making Izuku nervous.

 

“No, I don’t want to fucking fight!” Kacchan grabs Izuku’s shirt, snarling. “What the hell makes you think you could fight me? You’re fucking Quirkless! You aren’t a hero! So then how the fuck are you still keeping up with me?!”

 

“B-because,” Izuku grasps Kacchan’s wrists, “I have a--”

 

“--a really good teacher,” Kacchan finishes, and his eyes waver and flash like heat waves on a summer day. “Yes, you’ve said that, bastard. When am I gonna meet this amazing teacher of yours?” He leans in closer. “How about right now, Deku? You aren’t too busy, are you?” His tone makes it clear that there’s a correct answer to this, but --

 

“Kacchan, I don’t think that’s --”

 

“I didn’t fucking ask what you think. Didn’t you say you’d introduce me to her?”

 

Izuku bites his lip. This is a bad idea. Kacchan’s in no state to meet Tamanaha-sensei; she’ll kick him out in a heartbeat, and then he’ll just be even angrier. “I just don’t think you should meet her right now.”

 

“Too fucking bad,” Kacchan snaps. “We’re going.”

 

Izuku wants to protest, or fight back on this -- but he’s so tired of fighting. Is it really worth the effort, just to put off a simple meeting?

 

It’ll be fine. Izuku has gotten through a lot worse than this. He can get through Kacchan in a bad mood. “O-okay. It’s… it’s this way.”

 

Izuku takes the shortest route there because he doesn’t want to be alone with Kacchan right now, but it still takes fifteen minutes to get to Tamanaha-sensei’s dojo, a building in a run-down and quieter neighborhood. Tamanaha-sensei is helping a couple students through a drill, so Izuku gestures for Kacchan to sit on the sidelines quietly with him until she finishes. Kacchan levels Tamanaha-sensei with an accusing glare -- judging her capability and worthiness, he can tell.

 

The students get a water break. Tamanaha-sensei glances over and meets Izuku’s eyes, and her expression warms slightly, in the sense that she smiles and looks slightly less like a glacier given humanoid form.

 

“Hi, Tamanaha-sensei,” Izuku says, waving. “Sorry for dropping by unannounced.”

 

“It’s been a while,” she says simply. Izuku winces. “Where have you been?”

 

Izuku shrugs and looks down. “Figuring stuff out, I guess… A lot of stuff happened.” Tamanaha-sensei waits expectantly. “Um, I’ll tell you about it some other time. I’m actually just here to introduce a f-friend.”

 

“Oh? Who is it?” Tamanaha-sensei looks over at Kacchan, who stares back at her challengingly. She just raises an unimpressed eyebrow.

 

“Ah, this is, um, Bakugou Katsuki. Kacchan, this is Tamanaha-sensei.”  

 

Izuku can see the moment when Tamanaha-sensei processes the name, because her entire expression goes icy, murderously cold.

 

“H-he’s a good friend!" Izuku says hastily, trying to head off the impending trainwreck he can sense coming. “He’s going to Yuuei, and he’s going to be a hero--”

 

“Leave.”

 

Her voice cuts him off like the cold, shining steel of a knife. Her gaze is pinned on Kacchan.

 

“...Excuse me, fuckhead?” says Kacchan, remarkably calmly.

 

“Leave,” Tamanaha-sensei repeats in a cool and lethally smooth voice. “You are not welcome here, nor will you ever be.”

 

“Tamanaha-sensei!” Izuku protests. “Kacchan's my friend! He'll be on his best behavior, I promise--”

 

“I don't care how good his behavior is,” says Tamanaha-sensei in that same awful, perfectly level tone. “I will not forgive him.”

 

Kacchan sneers. “Forgiveness? What the fuck do I need that for?”

 

“There's nothing that needs to be forgiven!” Izuku says.

 

“Oh, isn’t there,” Tamanaha-sensei says. “You may have forgotten the days you used to come here with new bruises and burns, but I haven’t. And a recent conversation with Sancha-san has suggested things are not resolved as I once thought they were. Bakugou is not welcome. He will leave, or he will suffer the consequences.”

 

Izuku tries to form words, but he can't, he doesn't have a rebuttal to that -- Kacchan rises to his feet, snarling, “Fuck you, bitch, you don't know a fucking thing about me and Deku, so you can take your fucking consequences and shove them up your--”

 

Tamanaha-sensei kicks Kacchan, and Kacchan ducks, only to be met by Tamanaha-sensei's other foot. What follows is the most ruthless and brutal fight Izuku has ever seen Tamanaha-sensei engage in; Kacchan has his explosions, but she never gives him a chance to use his hands against her. In seconds, she knocks him to the ground, and she steps back, expression as cold and unmoving as the carved stone face of a sphinx.

 

“You are talented. Perhaps I would have commended you for it, if not for your actions.” She turns away. “If you do not change, your career as a hero will come to an untimely and fiery end. Get out.”

 

She moves away, and everything about her screams cold, cold, cold . The students seem wary when she resumes the lesson. She ignores it and continues with tightly controlled poise. Kacchan glares at her back, then glares at the students who dare to look in his direction.

 

Izuku cringes. Kacchan picks himself up and stalks angrily towards the door.

 

“Kacchan--”

 

“Shut the fuck up, useless Deku,” he snarls, knocking Izuku's outstretched hand away. “I'm never looking at that fucking hag's ugly face ever again.”

 

He leaves. Izuku stands there, dumbfounded, torn between chasing after him or going after Tamanaha-sensei.

 

He doesn’t know what to do.

 

--

 

Class ends. The students trickle out. Tamanaha-sensei sits next to Izuku where he’s been sitting numbly for the past half hour, trying to process the mess of emotions swirling in his head.

 

“How are you doing?” she says, and waits.

 

Izuku picks at the bottom of his hoodie, and it’s a few seconds before he can make himself respond. “Why did you…? Kacchan’s -- he’s strong, and smart, and he’s -- he’s getting better. He’s a lot better than before. Why can’t you give him a chance?”

 

Tamanaha-sensei purses her lips. “I don’t find him worthy of one. He has hurt you, badly, and he showed no signs of remorse when I brought it up.”

 

“He’s just bad at expressing his feelings,” Izuku says. “He does that by fighting. His words aren’t -- they’re not a good picture of him. He’s going to be a hero.”

 

“Some hero,” says Tamanaha-sensei, unimpressed. “I’m sorry this is distressing to you, Izuku, but I will not allow people like him in my dojo.”

 

“You don’t have to let him in your dojo. Just -- give him another chance. Like -- could you, maybe, forget about the things that happened, and let him make a new impression on you or something? On his own merits?”

 

“He’s already done so,” Tamanaha-sensei says scornfully. “He has made his bed; he may lie in it.”

 

“Why? Don’t people deserve second chances?” Izuku demands.

 

“Perhaps.”

 

“Tamanaha-sensei, I know he’s brash but he’s -- he’s going to do great things. You can’t just discount him like that.”

 

“He hurt you,” she says, narrowing her eyes.

 

“It’s fine, ” Izuku snaps, voice climbing to a not-quite-yell. “It’s not a big deal. I can deal with it, he’s fine with it -- why can’t you just let it lie ? It doesn’t concern you! Stop holding a grudge against him on my account! It doesn’t -- it doesn’t even matter! Can’t you just be kind to him?!”

 

Tamanaha-sensei looks at him with the most awful combination of righteous anger and hurt he has ever seen. “You cannot possibly ask me to forgive that boy for you,” she says.

 

Izuku tries to glare right back at her. “You’re not even the one he hurt in the first place!”

 

“The problem is that he did hurt someone! And as far as I’ve seen, he has never taken responsibility for it!” Tamanaha-sensei snaps. Izuku’s shoulders tense. “Tell me I’m wrong, then! Has he ever apologized for what he’s done to you?”

 

Izuku flinches back like he’s been slapped.

 

“I thought so,” Tamanaha-sensei says, voice quiet but no less hard. “I will not allow abusers in my dojo.”

 

Izuku feels like he’s been dunked in a bucket of ice water. He realizes a moment later that he’s stood up and stepped away from Tamanaha-sensei defensively. “ Abuser?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Don’t say that--”

 

“That’s what he is.”

 

“He’s not . He’s not an abuser.” He cannot be. He absolutely, one hundred percent cannot and is not allowed to be, because Izuku cannot fucking deal with that.

 

“Oh? He isn’t?” Tamanaha-sensei’s lips twist. “So then, he respects your boundaries? He doesn’t use physical violence or intimidation against you? He backs off when you say no?”

 

Stop it,” Izuku snaps. “He’s not -- abusing me. I’m not some kind of victim --”

 

“What he’s doing to you is wrong .”

 

“I know it is!” he shouts. “I fucking know, alright? But I’m not powerless! I can fight back, and I do! Don’t make me out to be helpless, I’m not, he’s not--!” His voice cracks in the middle of the sentence. “I’m not being abused! Stop saying that!”

 

Tears are welling up in his, and he wraps his arms around his head like he can physically stop himself from crying. He hates himself. Hates the way he always tears up during emotional moments like this, hates how he can’t make a coherent argument, hates that he’s losing it right here on the dojo floor.

 

Tamanaha-sensei’s anger morphs into concern, and she half stands up, hesitating when he backs away. “Izuku,” she says, and pauses, like she doesn’t know what to say. Good, Izuku thinks vindictively, good, I don’t want to hear what you have to say.

 

“I’m sorry for pushing you,” she says. “I should have known you weren’t ready .”

 

Those aren’t the words he wants to hear. Something in him cracks, and he starts to cry.

 

“Izuku,” Tamanaha-sensei says again, just his name, no expectation of another sentence after that. Izuku puts a hand to his mouth and bites down on the ugly keening that keeps worming out of his throat. “Izuku,” she says. “Can I touch you? Can I hug you?”

 

The question tears at him. He doesn’t -- he wants safety and warmth and comfort. He wants to not think about this, to return to ten minutes before when Kacchan hadn’t been so unapologetically and unequivocally labeled an… an… that.  He wants to not feel angry at Tamanaha-sensei. He wants to stop being sad. He wants to be happy.

 

“I didn’t want this,” is all he can force out, wiping furiously at his treacherous eyes. “I didn’t -- want--”

 

“I’m sorry,” Tamanaha-sensei murmurs, and slowly she puts her hand on his shoulder and looks at him, waiting. Izuku leans into the touch and tries not to cry harder. “I’m sorry, Izuku,” she repeats, and gently guides him to sit down on the floor with her. “Go ahead and cry. There’s no one else around; just us. Do what you need to do.”

 

It shouldn’t hurt. It shouldn’t, that Tamanaha-sensei is trying to help, that she’s trying to take care of him. It’s not fair. Izuku curls up and lets himself drop his head against her shoulder. His tears must be soaking her shirt, he thinks, but he can’t make himself pull away, can’t make himself stop being horribly selfish for this one moment and he just can’t care anymore.

 

“I don’t want to think,” he gasps, “that Kacchan…” He can’t finish the sentence. “That Kacchan is…” It’s too much, it’s unthinkable, and he feels so pathetic for crying even harder.

 

Tamanaha-sensei hugs him gently, rubbing soothing circles on his back. “I know,” she says sadly. “I know, Izuku, I’m so sorry.”

 

They stay like that, Izuku sobbing out his guts on the floor mourning the loss of something unnameable and vital, and Tamanaha-sensei holding him as though she can keep him from falling apart.

Chapter Text

Izuku cries himself out on the dojo floor, and when he’s done, all he has left is numbness and a deep-set exhaustion sinking into his bones.

 

Tamanaha-sensei picks him up off the floor and drives him home. He’s too tired to protest. He mumbles out Yagi’s address when she asks for it, and as the car rumbles to life, he draws his knees up to his chest and buries his face in his arms. He wishes he could rock back and forth to bleed off the tired, anxious energy flooding his limbs, but the seatbelt restricts his movement. All he can do is squeeze his eyes shut and recite his favorite passages under his breath, as if the repetition could drown out everything that has happened today. As if he could block out his thoughts about what… about…

 

Izuku grits his teeth and switches to reciting the opening passage of Ozaki Mashiro’s On the Premise of Peace. The convoluted syntax and expansive lexical field consumes all his attention, so much so that when he feels a touch on his shoulder he reflexively lashes out with his fist. Bang. Izuku blinks and looks at the dent he’s just made in Tamanaha-sensei’s car door. His stomach drops, and so must his face because Tamanaha-sensei tells him it’s okay, just worry about going home.

 

He nods numbly. They make it up to the door before everything starts going to pieces again.

 

When Yagi opens the door, his eyes fall on Izuku and he straightens from his perpetual hunch. Tamanaha-sensei shoos them both in over Yagi’s questions, and Mom looks up from where she must have been sitting with Yagi at the kotatsu, and she takes one look at Izuku and demands to know what’s going on.

 

Tamanaha-sensei explains, in clipped tones, that Kacchan showed up at the dojo and demanded a fight, and Tamanaha-sensei had kicked him out. And then she turns and looks at Izuku and asks if he wants to explain what happened, or if he wants her to say it, or if he wants to leave.

 

Izuku can’t go, though, not when they’re going to have questions about -- about… “I’m fine,” he says, as calmly as he can, “Kacchan just… I asked Tamanaha-sensei why she kicked him out of the dojo, and she said…”

 

And just like that, all the words seize in his throat and his thoughts grind to a halt as the unspoken revelation he never wanted roars to life in his mind. Izuku grabs his head as if the pressure could make him stop thinking about it, he has to tell Mom but he doesn’t want to do that he doesn’t want to think about it and he doesn’t want to remember the awful look on Kacchan’s face before he fled out the door or Tamanaha-sensei’s cold fury and he doesn’t want to remember asking what did he ever do to you and most of all he doesn’t want to remember Tamanaha-sensei’s answer of he hurt you, just that, he hurt you and Kacchan did -- it did hurt and Izuku never asked for her to see it, he never asked to know it, he never wanted to put a name to the -- the -- don’t name it don’t say that it’s not ab-- it’s not stop saying that stop thinking STOP THINKING ABOUT IT STOP STOP STOP STOP --

 

What happened, someone demands, What did you do and someone else says I’m sorry, I should have known better and their voices are the harsh strafing of wind on his ears and they build and build until they fill the air like the great clamoring roar of a bronze bell’s gong and it rings and screams him into blood sharp slivers of bones, presses him to the ground, and there are hands grasping and there are voices crying and there are nerves on fire underneath his heaving lungs

 

and Izuku

               just

                        wants it

 

                  all       to

 

 

 

stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is heavy, dark, and cold.

 

It presses gently down on vision, on his mind; soft it crushes his spirit down, until he lives in only one sliver of himself, and the rest has been taken for the darkness to sleep in instead.

 

But as time stretches out interminably long and doubles back and circles round his head, the darkness slowly lifts. Like a fog it rises and rolls away to the thunderclouds, but it leaves something cold and overwhelmingly empty and lingering behind.

 

He is, Izuku reflects, lying on the floor.

 

The wooden boards beneath his skin have warmed. The familiar weight of many blankets has been draped over him. The room is dark. Izuku opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling, and on the wall the clock slowly ticks towards five o’clock.

 

Two hours later, by the time his mother enters his room, Izuku has managed to pull on his school uniform and gather half his supplies, but there he has halted. The fog has rolled back in again. His mother picks up his notebooks for him and coaxes him down for breakfast. She tries to talk to him. The sound of it bounces around in the hollow space of his throat where words should be, traps itself there, folds in and falls. Izuku eats breakfast, blank, mechanical. The train departure time draws near. Izuku stumbles out the door, his body clumsy and barely functioning, and his mother stands at the door and watches as he goes.

 

He gets to the train station. He climbs onto the train. He almost shuts down again when all the crowd of people pour onto the train and all the colors and the lights and the noise press the darkness back in on the edge of his senses; he is almost too frozen to make it out the train door; but he does get out. He does walk to school. He walks into the classroom and walks past his classmates and walks past Mitoki and almost falls into his seat, his bag spilling limply to the floor, and the vast emptiness that yawns in him takes so much space he cannot even say hello.

 

The day passes in a haze. Izuku starts when someone tugs his sleeve, but it’s just Mitoki saying something about I did your bit of the classroom cleanup, are you okay, um, okay you're not responding, let's just uh let's get you to the train. Izuku blinks and looks at the clock. School is over. He is left with the uncomfortable feeling of not being able to remember anything that has happened today.

 

He makes it home, somehow. He sinks into his bed and passes out for who knows how long, only waking up to text Mitoki a brief thanks for today. The phone buzzes almost immediately, the screen reading no problem dude, and did something happen? you were super out of it. Izuku’s heart thumps. He can't do it. He rolls over and goes back to sleep.

 

None of his homework is done for the next day.

 

The teacher gives him a short lecture but seems to notice something is wrong, and he finishes speaking with a mild frown before moving on with the class. Izuku closes his eyes and breathes. The paralysis that has taken ahold of him recedes as the hours pass by. But then during break, some of the students are testing out a small robot of theirs and their chatter buzzes harshly in Izuku’s ears. He squeezes his eyes shut, puts his hands over his ears to drive off the noise.

 

Someone touches his shoulder, and Izuku reflexively lashes out. A crunch, a yell and a shout -- he flinches and tries to roll out of the way of the attack he can feel coming but something is in the WAY -- he's trapped. He has to move,  he has to escape -- something cracks  too close, his heart leaps into his throat he has to run away he has to MOVE-- IZUKU someone calls IZUKU IZUKU IZUKU that's not right that's not the right name --

 

Izuku’s vision clears. He's on the floor. The wreckage of his desk is clutched in his hands, everyone has turned to look at him, and in front of him is Mitoki, clutching his bleeding nose and repeating Izuku’s name over and over again.

 

“Sorry,” Izuku croaks. He forces his fingers to unclench; the metal leg of his desk, warped and bearing the grooves of his fingers, clatters to the ground. “I thought -- I thought you were--”

 

“It's okay,” Mitoki says, blood dripping down his chin, “just -- let's, uh--”

 

He reaches out for Izuku’s shoulder. A wild, terrified instinct rears its head, and before he realizes what's happened, he’s smacked away Mitoki’s hand and scrambled away. Oh no. Oh no no no no he didn't mean to do that and Mitoki is going to hate him, Mitoki already hates him, Mitoki is going to think he doesn't want to be friends anymore -- his stomach falls, his heart jackrabbits and hammers desperately on the inside of his ribs so hard Izuku thinks they might break -- and Izuku squeezes his eyes shut and folds his arms around his head and forces himself to breathe.

 

The teacher enters. The teacher lets out an exclamation of surprise. The teacher sends Mitoki to the nurse and him to the office. The office sends him home.

 

To be more accurate, since Izuku’s mom can't take time off work, a staff member walks him to the train station and waits with him until the train home arrives. And since it isn't a rush hour, the train is fairly quiet, just the rumbling of the engine and the landscape passing by the windows. It’s almost enough to calm him down again.

 

He makes it to Yagi’s house, feeling slightly better, until he makes it to his room and he has nothing but his own thoughts to keep him occupied. His classmates must hate him. Mitoki must hate him. His teacher must be so angry, and the school is going to have him expelled. He’ll never be able to graduate; he'll never have a job, he'll end up homeless on the streets and unable to support his mom who has worked so hard to keep them both alive and well, he'll never be able to help anyone -- he’ll always fail. He’s been unlucky since the day he was born. He shouldn't have fooled himself into thinking he could ever keep any friends. Just look at what happened with him and Ka--

 

Izuku doesn't go to school for the rest of the week.

 

Instead, he sleeps. He sleeps early and wakes up late, and when he wakes up he goes back to sleep. When he's hungry he creeps into the kitchen and eats maybe a bowl of rice as fast as he can so he can climb back into bed and sleep. And when he can't fall asleep, he buries himself in his blankets and hates himself for every thought he has and he hates himself for every moment he's been alive.

 

And most of all he hates himself for how the -- the conversation with Tamanaha-sensei has sunk its claws so deep in him. No matter how much he tries to keep it off his mind, it keeps resurfacing -- and he can't do it, he can't think about it or he'll fall apart, but it keeps coming back and he doesn't want it -- he hits his head on the wall, bites ugly red marks in his hands, digs his nails into his skin so hard he might bleed, anything to stop thinking about it for even a moment more. But it won't leave. It won’t let him escape. It keeps wrapping itself around his feet and dragging him down into the earth until he can feel the mud and the cold and the dirt clogging up his lungs.

 

Izuku is suffocating under the weight of it. He can’t bear it. He doesn’t want to be awake; doesn’t want to be forced to face the reality that has chained him by the heels. And in the coldest, quietest part of his heart, silent and lost in the shadows, he thinks -- he doesn't even want to be alive.

 

His mother only allows this to go on for four days before she decides it must come to an end.

 

“Izuku,” she calls softly, cracking open the door to his room. The light from the hall is a knife slash through the gloom. “Are you awake?”

 

Izuku peels open his eyes and pulls the blanket away from his face. But the miserable cafard roosted in him weighs him down too much to do more.

 

His mom crouches down by his bed. “Izuku… I understand that you… you've had some difficult revelations, recently.” Izuku cringes. “And -- that's fine. I want you to, to take your time to… take as much time as you need. I want you to have the room to do things the way you need to. But…”

 

Here it comes.

 

“You've been in here for days,” she says, voice raw. “I can't -- I won't allow you to waste away in here. I won't accept it. So.” She meets his eyes, her gaze burning with something implacably of love. “You have to leave this room for three hours each day.”

 

Izuku stares.

 

“And,” she continues, straightening her back, eyes flashing with steel,  “if you aren't ready to go back to school next week, then get your schoolwork from your friends and complete it at home.”

 

“I can't,” Izuku says, aghast, voice hoarse from disuse. This is too much. An impossible task. He opens his mouth to speak again and coughs on the dryness of his throat, and it takes too much effort to push the next words out to his tongue. “You can't -- ask me to do that.”

 

“I can,” she says, unyielding. “Because you can do it. And you don't have to do it on your own. Yagi-san and I will be here every step of the way.”

 

He reels. He can't -- let them do that. He can't be more of a burden on them than he already is just by existing, he can't -- “Wait,” he tries, “please” -- but his mom has already turned away, picking clothes off his floor and pulling open the blinds on his window, filling the room with light.

 

“It’s one o’clock,” she says. “There's food on the table. There’s yet time to spend your three hours outside.” And then she turns to him with a brilliant smile, betrayed only by the nervous line of her shoulders. “It’s time to get up, Izuku!” And she sweeps out the door down the hall humming a strangely familiar tune, and the sun is already starting to burn away the mustiness of his room, and Izuku is left sitting on his bed, wordless, staring after a world moving forward without him and waiting to drag him along.

 

Izuku breathes. He clambers out of bed, legs tired and unsteady with disuse. He pulls on a pair of shorts, puts on a t-shirt, and grabs a jacket. After that, his energy deserts him, and he spends an indeterminate amount of time staring at the jacket in his hands and thinking about how much he should get up -- and how much he cannot do that. But finally, Izuku gets up off the floor and slowly makes his way out to the living room.

 

He feels drained already, he doesn't think he can take a single step more. Yagi looks up from his work as Izuku drops to the floor across the kotatsu from him and curls in on himself.

 

“Izuku-kun,” Yagi says, looking mildly surprised. He smiles tentatively. “It’s good to see you.”

 

Izuku cringes. “Sorry.”

 

Yagi’s eyebrows raise quizzically. “What for?”

 

Izuku gestures vaguely with one hand, looking at the floor instead of meeting Yagi’s eyes. For being inconvenient. For wasting space. For being alive. “I've been… I shut myself in my room all week, I…”

 

His words stop there, caught on the lump in his throat. But Yagi seems unbothered, simply nodding and returning to his work. “It’s perfectly understandable, given the circumstances. Do not trouble yourself over it.”

 

Izuku stares.

 

And then he begins to laugh, rocking back as he hugs his knees to his chest. This is -- incredible. Hilarious, but not really. Yagi-san looks alarmed, and then just a little bit quizzical as Izuku keeps laughing. “Th-that’s w-what All Might said,” Izuku gasps, and the complex look that flashes over Yagi’s eyes is almost enough to startle him out of laughter. That's right, Yagi knows All Might very well, doesn't he? “Did he -- did he tell you about--? How we met?”

 

“...Yes,” Yagi says slowly, unsurely. He sounds so uncertain Izuku takes pity on him.

 

“I fought this--” Izuku waves his hands around, trying to convey the slime mud sewage terror suffocation can’t breathe can’t breathe rank dark fear of the slime monster, but he can’t, he can’t find the words to describe it or the tongue to speak it. Yagi is patiently silent, however, waiting as Izuku looks down and fiddles with the hem of his hoodie. “--he, I, I threw up. On his shoes.” He smiles, feeling a bit wild and hysterical. “The shoes were bright. Yellow.” Another long silence lapses as Izuku rocks gently where he’s sitting, all this nervous energy building in him and nowhere to go. “Then All Might said. ‘Perfectly understandable. Do not trouble yourself over it.’”

 

The entire memory is burned into his mind with the perfect clarity of wonder and awe and complete and utter humiliation. He could probably recite the entire encounter word-for-word. He almost looks back up at Yagi to see what he's thinking, but he doesn’t think he’s comfortable enough to look at anyone’s eyes right now.

 

“Do you guys spend a lot of time together?” he asks. “You must be -- pretty close -- if, um, I mean. If you have… picked up words… and phrases… um… from each other.”

 

He starts picking at the floor instead of his hoodie. The carpet fibers feel pleasant on his palms.

 

“We have known each other for a very long time,” Yagi says carefully. “I was… I suppose you may say I was an important part of All Might’s conception. As a hero.”

 

Izuku looks up at that, awed. “Wow,” he says, and some of that wonder must seep into his voice, because Yagi looks a little embarrassed. “You were part of All Might’s backstory? That’s so cool.”

 

“Er… yes, well,” Yagi clears his throat. “I--”

 

“Not that you aren’t cool,” Izuku says, the words tumbling out of his mouth when they have no right to do that, what is he doing. “You always wear clothes that are too large for you and you’re bad at cooking but you’re nice and really considerate, and you did a lot for us. Me and my mom, I mean. I’m really glad. I mean, it’s important to me. Thank you.” Oh god that was so awkward and uncalled for why does he let himself say anything at all.

 

“It’s the least I could do,” Yagi says. Now he just looks tired. Did Izuku say something wrong? Why is he so consistently terrible. “For many reasons -- the least of which you know.”

 

“It can’t be that complicated,” Izuku mumbles. “You helped us when we needed help, and you gave us a new home. That’s not the least of anything.”

 

“Then,” Yagi says after a pause, “allow me to say that it is a decision that troubles me very little, and one I would make again. I am happy to provide a home so long as you need one.”

 

Izuku lays his head on the kotatsu. “You’re a really nice person, Yagi-san,” he murmurs, tracing the pattern of the wooden grain.

 

“As are you,” Yagi replies, and when Izuku doesn’t respond, he picks up his pen and starts writing again.

 

It’s peaceful. Quiet.

 

Enough to make Izuku feel brave enough to ask…

 

“Yagi-san,” he says, not lifting his head up from the kotatsu, “have you ever felt like your world has fallen apart?”

 

Yagi’s pen stops scratching on his paper. Izuku shouldn’t have said anything, he’s stepped over the line -- he needs to apologize but how -- “Yes,” Yagi says quietly, and Izuku’s thoughts grind to a halt.

 

Well, of course he has. He's a hero, isn't he? Loss and death is part of the job. Izuku half laughs, half chokes back a sob. “What am I supposed do?” he says, and his voice sounds so despairing that for a second Izuku barely recognizes it as his own.

 

There's a pause. Then:

 

“You grieve,” says Yagi. “And then you keep moving.”

 

Izuku lets out another laugh, unable to help the disbelieving edge that has crept into his tone. Move on -- how the hell is he supposed to move on? Kacchan is, he was -- a constant, a given, as immutable a fact of life as the day, and -- Kacchan’s face flashes through his mind, along with the echo of his voice: I’m going to be a hero, and heroes always win. His throat constricts. The floor falls out from under him. He clutches the cloth of the kotatsu to ground himself.

 

“-zuku-kun. I am sorry. I didn’t explain myself,” Yagi is saying. He sounds worried, maybe. Izuku closes his eyes and focuses on the feeling of cold wood under his cheek. When he raises his head again, Yagi just looks sad.

 

“I did not mean to say that recovery is so easy, or to imply it is a simple matter of willpower,” Yagi says. “What I meant is… in the end, you don't need to be strong enough to overcome your troubles; you only need to  refuse to be paralyzed by them. Take some time to rest, and then get up and try again.”

 

“I…” I can't , Izuku wants to say; the words are on the tip of his tongue.

 

What is it, though, that he can't do? He can't brush his teeth? He can't change clothes? He can't go outside his room for three hours a day? All of a sudden, it seems pathetically absurd, and part of him is crying there's no way I can do it and part of him is insisting you can get changed in the morning if it's the only thing you do that day.

 

And yet when he tries to imagine the entire process of getting up in the morning -- get out of bed, walk to the drawers, pick some clothes, change, walk to the bathroom, pick up his toothbrush, pick up the toothpaste, all these steps multiplying before his eyes until they stretch to the horizon -- it feels impossible, to him, impossibly draining when he is already so tired of being alive.

 

“I don't know if I…” Izuku’s throat closes up.  

 

Pathetic. He's pathetic. Izuku wants the ground to open up beneath him and bury him alive.

 

Yagi looks sad, like he knows there is nothing he can say to make anything better, but there is still a flint-cold hardness in his gaze when he says, “Your only other option is to stay like this forever.”

 

The words strike him: not like a weapon strikes flesh, but how a boot strikes rock and sends the body tumbling to the ground. And the body turns over and brushes the dirt off the rock and holds it in its hands, and the truth it finds there is no savior or turning point but something far simpler and uglier than Izuku ever wanted it to be.

 

“It isn't fair,” Izuku mumbles. He doesn't know what he means, what isn't fair -- that all this hurts and continues to hurt and maybe won't ever stop hurting as long as he's still alive, or that the only way to escape it is an ending he can't bring himself to do.

 

“I know,” says Yagi quietly, an apology without really being an apology, and here is his message, soft and understanding and yet implacably steel: you need to get up, or you'll never move forward again. And more painful than being here, Izuku thinks -- more painful would be to stay.

 

The truth is less simple and more complicated than that. But in the end, this is what it boils down to, so--

 

“How do I,” Izuku starts, and he stops and clears his throat so maybe Yagi won't notice his voice wobbling, “How do I start… moving again?”

 

“I have learned,” says Yagi, “that when it seems everything is going wrong, doing something is always better than doing nothing. I cannot save everyone in the world, but I can take out the trash.”

 

Izuku laughs, but Yagi doesn't, and that's when Izuku realizes that he was completely serious.

 

“Just that?” Izuku asks disbelievingly. “Just taking out the trash?”

 

“If I feel up for it, I sometimes do the dishes too,” Yagi tells him, and this time when he laughs Yagi cracks a smile as well.

 

--

 

The next day, Izuku goes out on a walk.

 

He only gets a few blocks away before the noise of the city overwhelms him and sends him crouching back to his room, shaking through what feels like another panic attack or maybe his body shutting down.

 

But he went outside. That's the important part. Izuku stays inside for the rest of the day, but the next, he goes out again and this time he sticks to the quieter roads and manages to complete his walk.

 

It isn't much to anyone watching, maybe, but it's a start.

 

--

 

And a few days later, Izuku goes on his walk, buys a bouquet of flowers on impulse, and marches himself to Mitoki’s apartment.

 

When he rings the doorbell, though, it's not Mitoki who opens the door.

 

“Well, well, well,” drawls the woman leaning against the door frame. She bears almost no resemblance to Mitoki, except for the sly smile and lazy drawl. “A suitor! Never thought we’d get ‘em so soon.”

 

Izuku’s cheeks burn. A suitor? “It's not like that!” he protests. “I’m just--”

 

“What? Why else would you have flowers?” she says, with such a familiar faux-innocence that Izuku has to swallow down the reflexive Mitoki no.

 

“It's an apology,” Izuku says instead. And then he adds in a mumble, “For accidentally breaking his nose.”

 

The woman gives him an incredulous look, and then she starts laughing uproariously. “That was you? Man, you sure pack a mean wallop for someone who looks so sweet.”

 

Izuku is sure his entire face has turned red by now. “Is Mitoki-kun here?”

 

“Sure, he’s in the building somewhere,” she says, waving him in and grinning widely. Turning towards the living room, she calls, “Hey hon, where’s Toki-chan run off to?”

 

“Rooftop,” calls a woman lounging on the couch, turning slightly to look over, and Izuku gets a glimpse of familiar red hair and dark eyes.

 

“Rooftop,” the woman at the door tells him. “Just go down the hall, take a right, and go up the stairs. Toki-chan should be somewhere there.”

 

“Right,” says Izuku, feeling a bit flat-footed. “Um. Thanks, Hirata-san.”

 

“Oh, no problem.” She smiles. A moment later her smile takes on a cooler and more menacing quality as she tilts her head and looks down at him, surveying him like a hunter from the shadows. “Don’t ever hurt Toki-chan like that again, you hear?”

 

“Um.” Izuku clutches the flowers in his hands a little tighter, looks down and away. “I won’t. I’m sorry.”

 

The cold aura surrounding her disappears. “Oh, well, if that’s the case, it’s perfectly fine,” she says with a smile, slouching casually against the doorframe. “Go on then, who knows where Toki-chan will run off to if you don’t hurry.”

 

Izuku thanks Mitoki’s… mother? And hurries away from the apartment, feeling uncomfortable and guilty. The first time he meets Mitoki’s family and it’s after he broke his nose. He doesn’t think he can ever face them again.

 

The stairs take him up a few floors before he finally reaches the rooftop, hesitantly pushing open a door that says rooftop access -- do not open , and he is immediately blinded by sunlight. Izuku squints and shades his eyes, venturing tentatively further out. The rooftop takes shape around him. It’s nothing like he expected.

 

Instead of the flat, dirty, and dilapidated expanse that is typical of the ill-maintained houses in the poorer districts, the roof is covered with plants. Large beds of dirt, hosted in cobbled crates and roughshod tubs and grimy bathtubs, overflow with greenery. There are even a few trees. Circling above the garden with a whine is a small drone, tracing scribbles through the air before descending gently to the ground, landing lightly at Mitoki’s feet. “Yo, old man,” Mitoki says, bending down to pick up the drone, “wasn’t expectin’ ya back so soon.”

 

“Um,” says Izuku. “Hi, Mitoki-kun.”

 

Mitoki whips his head around. “Wh-- Izuku?”

 

Izuku thrusts the flowers into Mitoki’s arms. Mitoki fumbles with them and stares, then looks up and stares at Izuku, and Izuku takes that opportunity to bow down deeply and say, “I’m so sorry for punching you and breaking your nose.”

 

“You -- here? What? You got me flowers?

 

Izuku hesitantly straightens up and glances sidelong at Mitoki’s poleaxed expression. “It’s… it’s what people do when they visit someone in the hospital, right…? I mean, you’re not in the hospital, but I think I broke your nose, and… I mean, we’re, um, we’re friends, too, so I thought…” He bites the inside of his cheek, running his hand through his hair. “Is that… weird?”

 

“You got me flowers,” Mitoki repeats, and then he throws his head back and laughs, bright and bold and happy, sun glinting on his copper-red hair. “This is… Haha! Thanks so much. I’ll treasure these with my life.

 

“Uh.” Izuku twists his fingers together. “I don’t… maybe don’t put that much value on them, they’re going to die in a few weeks anyways?”

 

The comment makes Mitoki laugh again, though Izuku can’t for the life of him fathom why, but the loose and free manner Mitoki carries himself with makes the anxious knot in his chest loose and unfurl.

 

“Man, just -- Izuku-chan,” Mitoki says finally, wiping at his eyes. “You’re incredible, you know that?”

 

What does that even me? How is Izuku supposed to respond? “...Thanks?”

 

“You’re so cute,” Mitoki declares, reaching over and squishing his cheek. Izuku feels his cheeks heat up. “It’s unbelievable, what the heck? Apology accepted, immediately and with extreme prejudice, I’m so glad to see you again.”

 

Seeing Mitoki beam at him, wholly and unguardedly happy despite the tape on his nose and the bruising around his eyes, makes something settle uncomfortably in his chest, unworthy and guilty and tasting like lead.

 

“I haven’t been a very good friend to you, have I,” he says quietly.

 

Mitoki’s eyebrows raise briefly, but he quickly smiles. “Hey, don’t worry about that stuff, you’ve got a lot on your plate, right?”

 

“But I haven’t,” Izuku protests. The realization slowly dawns on him, and he digs his fingernails into his hands. “I mean -- even besides the fact that I punched you -- I just, I disappeared from school for I don’t even know how long. And I’ve been ignoring your texts, and I never spend time with you for the sake of spending time with you, it’s always because I need some help, or you want to make me feel better, and -- and you’ve done so much to help me and what am I -- what have I even been doing for you --”

 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Mitoki says, holding up a hand to stave off the barrage of words just pouring out of Izuku’s mouth, “take, uh -- take a second to breathe, dude.”

 

Izuku snaps his jaw shut obediently and makes himself breathe.

 

“I guess it’s true,” Mitoki says eventually. “I don’t… get a lot out of our friendship, I guess. But I’m not friends with you ‘cause I want to get something out of it. I help you ‘cause I like you and you’re a good person. That’s all.”

 

Izuku looks at Mitoki, and Mitoki looks back earnestly, but there is a sort of thinness to it that Izuku recognizes at once.

 

“That would make sense,” Izuku says, “if I ever just hung out with you, just to have some fun. But the only time I’ve done that is when I was feeling bad, and. And that’s still you trying to help me.”

 

Mitoki frowns, fingers tapping restlessly on the stems of the flowers he’s holding. He doesn’t say anything. Izuku feels a sort of -- vindication, but a bitterness, too, both that he was right and that Mitoki didn’t tell him that he was.

 

“I’m sorry,” Izuku says. “I didn’t notice I was doing that. It must have -- it must have been tiring, or draining, and I really haven’t been a good friend if I never noticed after all the things you did for me. So. Thank you. I didn’t deserve it, and you deserve better.”

 

Mitoki quirks his lips, looking off at the city like he can't find what he's looking for, and then he sighs and tugs Izuku down to sit on the ground with him. “It's…” okay, he doesn't say, because it's not okay, and if he had said it was, Izuku would have fought him about it. “You're right. I do get tired, and sometimes upset, and I guess sometimes I've been a little hurt too, but never actually said so. But this isn't… It's not a matter of deserving.”

 

“No,” Izuku agrees, “it's just a matter of being a good friend.”

 

He meets Mitoki’s gaze straight on, and Mitoki looks away.

 

“I’ll try and do better,” Izuku promises, grabbing Mitoki’s hand. Mitoki looks down at their hands, then back up at him. “Tell me next time I’m being stupid, okay?”

 

“...Okay,” says Mitoki, smiling slightly. Then, in a more teasing tone, “You’re bein’ pretty dumb right now.”

 

Izuku sputters, but before he can voice any objections, Mitoki leans over and wraps him in a warm hug, and he freezes, caught between the instinct to push him away and the desire to lean into his embrace. “You’re a real good guy, you know that?” Mitoki says.

 

Izuku’s mind goes blank. Mitoki doesn’t wait for a response though, just pulls away and flashes a bright grin. “Hey, if you wanna get started on making up some friendship credits, d’you wanna watch me fly this drone into that building over there?”

 

This is familiar territory. Izuku’s mind kicks itself back into the gear for the sole purpose of telling Mitoki exactly how he feels. “Why would you even do that?” he asks despairingly. “I mean -- do you mean you're going to fly it into the building, or into the building, because I wouldn't put either one past you -- stop laughing--”

 

Izuku ends up staying the whole afternoon. They spend the first couple hours playing around with the drone. Mitoki insists on teaching him how to use it on the grounds that it “might come in useful someday, you never know when you’ll want to use a drone, Izuku-chan.” Then he drags Izuku back down the stairs to play a few co-op video games. Mitoki places the flowers in a lampshade as a makeshift vase, introduces Izuku to his parents (“This is Mom 1 and Mom 2.” “Toki-chan, those are terrible names.” “Alpha Mom and the Terminator.”), and then drags Izuku up to his mess of a room. (The sock on the wall, Izuku notices, really has been framed and captioned.) They spend the next three hours hammering away at a co-op game, laughing and messing around, before it’s nearly dinnertime and Izuku needs to go.

 

Mitoki waves him off from the door and tells him to come back soon. Izuku walks back home, feeling tired but happier and lighter than he has in days.

 

He doesn’t think he’s ready to go back to school, yet. It feels like too much. But maybe he can do some other things instead.

 

--

 

 

He starts by making his rounds through the city again. Most of the people he regularly visits express relief at seeing him again. Even Masaki in the real-estate business says something.

 

“Last time you forgot to stop by, it was because you were kidnapped,” he says, looking amused and puffing on his cigarette. “And before that -- well, it coincided quite well with the incident in Hosu, didn’t it?” Izuku squirms under his gaze. Masaki laughs. “Don’t go disappearing again, now,” he tells Izuku, “or you may have the entire city up in arms.”

 

“I don’t even know that many people!”

 

“No,” Masaki agrees, “but you know a lot.” He taps the stack of paperwork on his desk thoughtfully, watching Izuku with an unreadable gaze. Then, “Well, Deku-kun, if for some reason a fifteen-year-old brat like you ever needs some real estate advice, you know where to find me.”

 

It’s a pretty clear dismissal, so Izuku says his goodbye and leaves.

 

When he visits Uemura-san’s cafe, he’s smothered almost immediately with a hug. “Izu-kun, dear,  it’s great to see you,” Uemura-san says, releasing him and stepping back. “Sit down, sit down and have some cake, we have a new recipe that you need to try out. -- How have you been, hon?”

 

“Ah,” says Izuku wisely, and stops. Uemura-san glances over, and whatever she sees makes a small furrow appear between her brows.

 

“It’s not… It’s not anything disastrous,” Izuku hurries to explain. “I just don’t think I can talk about it.” Even thinking about it makes him want to bring his hands up to his face and bite his nails, so he shoves his hands into his pockets and looks away.

 

“Of course,” says Uemura-san gently. Then, “Go on and sit down, dear, you wait just a minute.”

 

The cake sample she gives him is slightly larger than the usual portion, but she doesn’t say anything, and Izuku is too shy to mention it, so he eats the whole thing and savors it and thanks Uemura-san for her kindness.

 

Then he asks if he can come to her neighborhood meeting this Saturday, and she beams brightly and assures him that he absolutely can.

 

As he waits for Saturday to arrive, Izuku busies himself with other things. He picks his daily exercise routine back up. He manages to compose an email to send to his teachers at school, explaining that his absence is due to personal difficulties, but that he’d like to try and keep up with the coursework. Would it be possible to send him the curriculum and assignments? His teachers are happy to help, and soon Izuku is taking up a good three or four hours each day skimming through the lessons and doing his homework. Mitoki agrees to deliver any assignments that Izuku can’t send or receive via e-mail, and whenever he stops by, they usually end up hanging out for a few hours. It’s… nice.

 

When he’s not busy keeping up with school, Izuku goes out on his rounds through the city; and when he realizes that’s not enough to occupy his entire day, he starts volunteering at all the places he has connections to: Uemura’s cafe, for one, but other shops and businesses taking inventory or cleaning the premises, and at a few charities, organizing their stock or delivering packages.

 

It’s a lot to do, but it’s good. It keeps him so busy he has hardly a moment to even think about anything relating to -- to the Tamanaha Conversation, and when he collapses in bed each night he falls asleep almost as soon as he hits the pillow. It keeps his mind off things. And -- Izuku knows he won’t be able to keep it up for long, he can already feeling himself burning out -- but he doesn’t want to rest, to give himself a moment of reprieve when the memory of Kacchan storming out of the dojo will just rear its ugly head again.

 

And if that means running himself into the ground, then fine. That's what he'll do.

 

Saturday rolls around. Izuku runs off to volunteer at the soup kitchen in the morning, skips lunch and patrols in the afternoon, and then arrives at the address Uemura-san gave him at 4 o’clock. He raps the door lightly, feeling a bit jittery with nerves -- but the spry old woman who opens the door welcomes him warmly and gives him a cup of tea. He relaxes as time goes on, and when Uemura-san finally arrives and introduces him, he feels ready to present his project.

 

It turns out that the ladies in Uemura’s neighborhood are all artists or artisans of some sort, and they think that it’s a wonderful idea he has, a villain alarm system. They’ll support it as best as they can, they say. At Uemura-san’s suggestion, they all agree to produce three pieces each for an art auction, six weeks from now.

 

Izuku talks to a man living downtown who knows someone who’s friends with the event organizer at the local art gallery, and the man convinces his friend to talk to the gallery about hosting the silent auction there. The gallery actually offers to host it for free. Izuku sets the date and stops by Kobayashi’s shop to tell her the good news. She shows off the updated prototype to him, and then suggests he think about crowdfunding some money for testing and refinement as well. Izuku says he’ll do when he can.

 

Then he texts an acquaintance at school, Sanjuro Tokuda, who helped him catch up on homework that one time he was kidnapped. Can I commission you for a few posters? Izuku sends.

 

Sure. What for? he texts back.

 

When Izuku explains what he wants the posters for, Sanjuro lowers his commission price by 50%. It’s a good cause, he says. And you’re a friend, so I’ll just ask for 2,000 yen each.

 

It’s an amazing deal. It leaves Izuku’s wallet empty, but he hardly cares, because he’s finally making way on this project.

 

Inevitably, the universe throws him under the bus.

 

Izuku’s patrols always frequent the poorer parts of the city; the heroes tend to congregate more in the economically well-off areas, leaving the run-down sections and slums to fend for themselves more often than not. And so, of course, he ends up straying close to his old neighborhood -- near where Kacchan lives.

 

He’s passing by a park when he catches a glimpse of bright blond hair. His heart leaps into his throat, and he immediately ducks around the corner and picks up the pace, hoping that Kacchan hasn’t seen him. No such luck.

 

“Oi, Deku,” Kacchan calls, rounding the corner after him. His shoes tap-tap on the pavement. “Wait up.”

 

Izuku’s feet come to a halt by themselves. He wants to keep walking, but he’s scared to, too -- but he can’t bring himself to turn around and greet Kacchan like nothing’s wrong, either. He just stands there, frozen in place. His legs are shaking. Izuku looks down at his trembling hands and puts them in his pocket, clenching them into fists in hopes that maybe they won’t shake so much then.

 

“S-sorry,” he manages to say, fixing his gaze on a crack in the pavement. “I, I have something to do.”

 

Kacchan grabs his shoulder and turns him around. Izuku flinches. Doesn’t look up at his face. “What’s fuckin’ wrong with you?” Kacchan says flatly.

 

Izuku twitches violently at that, almost unable to believe what he just heard. “What’s wrong with me?” he says incredulously. What’s wrong with him? Everything, probably, and shouldn’t Kacchan know the best of all? He’s the one who -- … He’s the one who started this whole thing, insisting on going to Tamanaha-sensei’s dojo, and instigating the Tamanaha Conversation, and bringing up all those truths Izuku was trying to ignore--

 

-- and he wasn’t there for it.

 

He wasn’t there for the Tamanaha Conversation. He wasn’t there for the fallout. He has no idea what happened after he stormed out of the dojo. Kacchan is the reason his life is in tatters, and he doesn’t even know.

 

Izuku doesn’t realize he’s started laughing until Kacchan barks, “Hey! What’s so funny?” and starts shaking him roughly.

 

“Don’t touch me,” Izuku says sharply, hitting Kacchan’s hands away, and then he starts shaking all over because he fucked up he fucked up and Kacchan is gonna be so mad. Kacchan stares at him as he backs away and puts his face in his hands and chokes down convulsion after convulsion of hysterical, manic laughter.

 

“Deku,” Kacchan says curtly, an unspoken demand to explain himself.

 

Izuku gulps down mouthfuls of air between giggles. “Can I help you?”

 

“What happened? ” he says, and Izuku has to try very hard not to break down embarrassingly again.

 

“What makes you think something happened?” he says instead, looking up at Kacchan, lips curling into a smile that really doesn’t make any sense at all.

 

Kacchan stares down at him, unimpressed. “The last time you got weird like this, it was ‘cause some jackass made you cry.”

 

And oh, the sheer irony of that statement almost leaves Izuku in tears.

 

“Y-you have no idea,” Izuku wheezes, wiping at his eyes. “You s-seriously have no idea.” Of all the jokes the universe could play on him, it’s this. He wants to scream.

 

Kacchan isn’t slow to put it together, though. Izuku can see the pieces slotting into place, all the gears turning as Kacchan regards him with a narrowed gaze. “This isn’t about the other day, is it?” Kacchan drawls. His tone warns very clearly that there is a right answer to this.

 

For once, Izuku is too far gone to care. “Oh, of course not,” Izuku says, and the wild edge to his tone makes Kacchan scowl.

 

“You didn’t seriously listen to what that old hag was saying, did you?” he demands. “She’s got no idea what she’s fucking talking about. She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t get it.”

 

The correct response here is: you’re right, I’m sorry, I should have gotten it, I’m a fuck up who can’t do anything right and I’m sorry I keep messing this up for us.  

 

“Maybe you could explain it to me,” says Izuku instead, “because I don’t get it either.”

 

Kacchan stills.

 

“Hah? What the fuck do you mean by that?” he says calmly, too calmly. “We've known each other for fucking years.”

 

Izuku feels warm and tranquil all of a sudden, like some strange sereneness has settled over the entire scene and nothing about it can touch him. His hands and feet tingle with the pins and needles. He can barely even feel the shaking anymore. There’s no turning back now.

 

“Kacchan,” he says, and takes a deep breath. “When… When you found out I was Quirkless, you decided I couldn’t be friends with you anymore.”

 

Kacchan’s eyebrow ticks. “Yeah? So what?”

 

“When you picked on other students and I told you to stop,” Izuku continues doggedly, “you… would pick on me instead. With all your friends.” His most visceral childhood memory flashes in his mind: the first time he stands up to Kacchan and his coterie, fists up and legs trembling, and Kacchan leaves him lying on the ground and dizzy with pain in the middle of the park. No one stops to help.

 

“So what?” says Kacchan, sounding haughtily and supremely disinterested. A flash of anger, or hurt, or -- something in between, or both -- flashes through Izuku so viscerally that for a moment he thinks he can't see. “You fought back, didn’t you?” Kacchan says, and he's so -- so callous, of course, of course he doesn’t care because Kacchan isn't understanding or soft or kind, not to him. Especially not to him.

 

“My entire life,” Izuku agrees, and he didn’t mean for it to sound bitter, but it does. Bitter and raw and sick. “I fought back. I shouldn’t have had to but I did, and I spent half my life having to learn to defend myself from you when I didn't even have a fucking Quirk.”

 

It's like the floodgates have been opened, then, because even though Kacchan is staring at him with the beginnings of anger and his lip is curling up into a snarl, Izuku can't stop. The words keep pouring out like hot and burning bile, forcing themselves out from the deep pit of hurt that has been hiding behind his guts all along. “I don’t get it! I don’t get you!” he says, his voice climbing in volume. “We were friends, and then we weren’t, and at your house you would be just fine to me and we could still spend time together without it having to be a fight, but as soon as we were back at school you’d turn right around and attack me! I don’t get it, and I don't get you, and I don’t get why sometimes you can be so good and sometimes all you do is -- is--”

 

He cuts himself off. He still can’t say it. Kacchan’s red eyes are blazing with fury, and his jaw works as he spits out, “Shoulda fucking known it’d bother you, you always were stupid about these things. You never fucking get it. It’s in the fucking past! Get over it! Or maybe you’re too weak to do even that, if you let stupid shit like that bother you--”

 

“I still have scars!” Izuku shouts.

 

He pulls short as soon as he says it -- something he never meant to say aloud and something he never meant to be true, but he won’t ever be able to take it back, not now that Kacchan is staring at him like someone just knocked the world out from under his feet. “I still have all these -- these fucking--” He gestures sharply at his own body with shaking hands, words stolen from him by fury and hurt and fear. “--from when I didn’t know enough to defend myself! You gave those to me! I never did anything to you, and you--!”

 

He cuts himself off. His body feels oddly warm, his heart is beating fast, and the pins and needles have overtaken his arms. Kacchan doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t look like he can.

 

“You hurt me,” Izuku says finally, fists clenched at his side and voice shaking. “I didn’t want to think about it. I didn't want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want anyone to know. But Tamanaha-sensei said it out loud and now I can’t pretend everything’s okay, because -- it’s not okay. I’m not okay. It hurt. It hurts.

 

“Deku--”

 

“I’m going,” he says, cutting Kacchan off before he can say anything else and Izuku loses any semblance of holding himself together. “I can’t -- I don’t--” He spares a glance for Kacchan, but looks away too quickly to understand the emotions flitting across his face. “Don’t follow me.”

 

He walks away.

 

To be specific, he walks down the street on his light and shaking legs, head down, dizzy with fear. As soon as he turns the corner, he breaks out into a run, and once he starts it takes hold of him and doesn't allow him to stop.  He stumbles through crowds of pedestrians, heedless of direction of traffic and who he’s bumping into, but it's too much pressing in on him at once and he has to get out -- he's running blind, and he keeps running, keeps taking random twists and turns until his trembling knees give out on him and he collapses in an alley, and then he has a panic attack so bad he throws up twice.

 

After that, there’s nothing left in his stomach for anything more than dry retching, so violent it makes his eyes water. And that’s when the crying happens, finally: it wells up violently and bursts out of him, dragging out of his throat in long horrible keening wails that leave him breathless and exhausted when he’s finally out of tears. He puts his head in his hands and makes himself breathe. One two three four five. One two three four five. It doesn't help.

 

He doesn’t know how long he stays there, trying to calm himself down, but by the time he makes it back to Yagi-san’s house, the sun is already setting. When he walks in through the door, his mom turns around with a greeting and a reprimand both waiting on her lips. But something must show on his face, because she takes one look at him and foregoes both in favor of giving him a warm hug -- so safe and comfortable, Izuku feels like he doesn’t belong.

 

--

 

When Hatsume texts him the next day, requesting (read: expecting) him to come over and help carry out some weapons testing, Izuku almost doesn’t respond. He wants to stay inside. He wants to sleep and forget that yesterday happened, forget that he is alive, and forget the cold heavy weight of knowledge that sits heavy on his chest. But he doesn’t. Doing something is always better than doing nothing, he repeats to himself, and then tells it to himself again, over and over like a mantra until it is nearly empty and devoid of meaning. Only then does Izuku grit his teeth and heave himself out the house. But the burden stays with him, carrying the awful emptiness of yesterday all the way to Hatsume’s door.

 

“Took you long enough, minion!” Hatsume declares, throwing the door open before he can even knock. Her bubbly demeanor, already overwhelmingly enthusiastic on Izuku’s good days, jars on his ears. “Me ‘n Mitoki just about started without you!”

 

He should say something at this point, right? He looks around for an appropriate response. “Okay,” he settles on finally. Ah, he forgot to make an expression. But he doesn’t think he has the energy or ability to play at emotions right now, not when everything in him feels so horrible and still and small.

 

Hatsume pauses in her gesticulating, cocks her head to the side, and stares at Izuku with unreadable gold-coin eyes. Then, “Are you alright?” she says, looking serious, intent, almost the way she looks when she’s hours into a project and the world has slipped away. Izuku has never been on the receiving end of her utterly focused attention like this, before, and suddenly he feels disjoint from the entire scene, as if he’s an alien that’s briefly inhabited a body that is not and never will be his own.

 

He almost says “I’m fine” on reflex, a phrase he’s said for years and years after various scrapes and scuffles on the street until it has become little more than white noise. But it catches, somewhere on the way up. Maybe because it’s not true. Maybe because at this point, Hatsume is his friend, and he wants to tell her the truth. Maybe because she asked him, really looked at him, and wanted to know if he was okay. “I’m not,” he starts. His voice wavers, his throat tightens. He shouldn’t have said anything, but he’s already started and he’s going to see this through. “I’m really… really not doing too good right now.”

 

Hatsume frowns very hard, the same way she frowns when her latest circuit looks perfect and yet refuses to cooperate. His skin itches with that expression directed at him, and he looks away, wiping angrily at his eyes until they finally stop leaking.

 

“Do you want a hug?” she says.

 

Izuku is struck mute by surprise for a moment. “But you don’t like physical contact?” he asks, chancing a look back at her.  

 

She wrinkles her nose. “Yeah. But I like you , and I want to test these glue guns. Your help is absolutely indispensable!” Is that… is that Hatsume-speak for I want you to feel better? He thinks he feels something warm in his chest, but he’s not entirely sure. “So do you?” Hatsume says, sounding a little bit uncomfortable now, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

Izuku feels the corner of his lips tug up on its own. “It’s okay, Hatsume-san,” he says. He doesn’t want to push boundaries. “Thanks, though. I really appreciate it.” Just the fact that Hatsume would be willing to initiate physical contact outside of necessity is… incredibly touching, already. That’s enough for him.

 

Hatsume uncrosses her arms, looking more relaxed already. “Great!” she declares. “I guess you don’t have to do anything you don’t feel like doing, but we’re testing the glue guns by shooting things in the backyard and shooting things will definitely make you feel better. Come on!”

 

Hatsume is right. Shooting things does make him feel better. He settles into a rhythm quickly: Hatsume tosses up an object, he shoots it and glues it to the fence, and feels a bit of vindictive and destructive satisfaction at successfully hitting the object. It’s mindless, easy work, and Izuku’s focus smooths the world away until it’s just him, the next target, and the cold-smooth grip of the glue gun in his hands. Point. Shoot. Reload. The rhythm is almost lullaby-like, hypnotizing all of Izuku’s thoughts away.

 

But then Izuku is jolted out of it when someone brushes past him, and for a second he thinks it’s someone here to attack him again and he needs to defend -- but as he half spins around to punch the oncoming attacker, his thoughts register wait that’s Mitoki, and I don’t want to break Hatsume’s gun, and he’s so caught between all three conflicting bits of information that he fumbles and almost breaks the gun anyways.

 

Mitoki asks if he’s alright. Izuku takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and counts, and very carefully sets the gun down and walks into Hatsume’s house to hide in the bathroom. Even as he goes, he can feel his dark mood settle back in and take up a more secure roost up in his bones.

 

When he finally emerges, he steps into the backyard only to find that Mitoki and Hatsume have replaced the glue in the guns with paint, and are in the process of making an incomprehensible mural of sorts on the fence. “Why do I even leave you two alone,” he says despairingly, to which Hatsume responds by tossing him a paint-filled gun and cheerily telling him that this is for science.

 

Well, Izuku can’t argue with that. He spends some time getting a feel for the changes, and then very carefully shoots a slightly lopsided smiley face onto the fence. Even if he feels miserable right now, he can make something that at least seems happy. Right?

 

Mitoki, of course, loves it. “Your shooting is real impressive, Izuku-chan!” he says, clapping Izuku on the shoulder. Izuku stares at the hand in a sort of bewilderment and numb apathy. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’ve had experience with this before.”

 

Izuku raises a single eyebrow at Mitoki’s side of the fence, which sports a multicolored splotch in the shape of a cat. “You’re one to talk.”

 

Mitoki winks and strikes a pose. “First-person shooter games, baby.”

 

That startles a laugh out of Izuku. Who knew that video games could be so effective at teaching such useful life skills? (He knew. He has read multiple articles on this, just like he has every other incredibly unnecessary and useless topic on Earth.)

 

Mitoki considers him for a moment, and whatever he sees there makes a fox-like smile spread across his face. “Hey, Izuku-chan,” he says, “are you feeling better now?”

 

Izuku is sort of afraid of answering this question. “Um. I guess?”

 

“And shooting stuff is really therapeutic, right?” Mitoki presses.

 

Izuku does not like the direction this is taking. “I’m afraid of the consequences of saying yes and am withholding my response.”

 

“Aw, c’mon, it’s nothing bad,” says Mitoki, which only cements Izuku’s suspicion that Mitoki is planning something. “You’ve heard of paintball, right? Picture this: a no-holds-barred paintball match, everything goes.”

 

“This is a terrible idea,” Izuku says immediately.

 

“All out weapons-testing, Izuku-chan,” Mitoki says entreatingly. Izuku can actually see the moment that Hatsume keys into the conversation. Her head twists around, her eyes gleam, her goggles also gleam with an enthusiastic and terrifying brightness, and there is going to be no stopping this now, is there.

 

“This is not just a terrible idea, it is a spectacularly bad idea of horrifying proportions,” Izuku tells them anyways, in a vague sort of attempt to at least mitigate some of the damage that is probably going to come out of this.

 

“All out weapons-testing,” Hatsume says, as if that makes up for everything. “I like this idea! A paintball match, you say?” She dips her head, shoulders shaking, and then she throws her head back in a loud and exuberant laugh. “All at once… all of my babies, being put to use at once… Yes. Let’s get started on this! Anything in the garage that’s in testing or has been completed can be used. Every person for themselves!”

 

“Hang on a second,” Izuku says, alarmed. “We shouldn’t do this! First of all, we haven’t even established a boundary--”

 

It’s too late. Hatsume has dashed off. “Better be quick, Izuku-chan,” Mitoki says, “otherwise me’n Hatsume are gonna get all the good stuff first.” A wink and a pair of finger guns later, Mitoki too is dashing off after Hatsume.

 

“Oh no, you are not allowed to have that much destructive potential in your hands at once,” Izuku says, and he runs after them -- only to make sure they don’t get too carried away with this game, of course. Someone has to be the responsible one here and it’s a terrible state of affairs when it’s Izuku who has to take up this role.

 

He can’t even keep it up in the end because he gets just as invested in the game as they do.

 

Two hours later, and Izuku is embroiled in one of the most intense impromptu matches he's ever been a part of -- and that's counting his fights with Kacchan. Hatsume-san is terrifying, passionate, and determined to hit her target at any and all costs, and it's only with some fancy footwork and precarious acrobatics that Izuku keeps dodging her scarily brilliant plans. Mitoki, on the other hand, is scary just because Izuku never knows what he's going to do; he’s not in it to win or lose, just to raise a little bit of chaos just for the hell of it, laughing the entire way.

 

Izuku has kidnapped an entire box of supply and ammunitions just to make sure the two of them can never get their hands on it… and also to make a few modifications to his paint gun, himself. All that time spent with them hasn’t been for nothing, after all, and he definitely needs every advantage he can get. Right now, he’s in possession of the impromptu flag Mitoki made with a metal rail, a couple of clothespins, and some of Hatsume’s clothes she had lying around in her workshop. Hatsume stole it from Mitoki, and then Izuku stole it from Hatsume, and now it has become the unofficial goal of the game to steal the flag by any means possible. It’s the most fun Izuku has had in days.

 

He's in the middle of fiddling with a gun when he hears someone bike into the alley and come to a halt. Izuku turns around with a Sorry for the bother, I'll get out of the way on his tongue, but it immediately dies as soon as he sees Shinsou on the bicycle. Instead, what comes out is, “Ahahahaaaaaauuuhhh hi, Shinsou-kun! I didn’t see you there! … I can explain.”

 

Shinsou stares at him flatly. His gold coin eyes move first to the paint gun in his hands, then Izuku’s incredibly paint-stained clothes, then the bin of miscellaneous items that Izuku is elbow-deep in. Oh god, there is nothing not incriminating about this scene. Shinsou lifts up a single, dubious hand to point, and says in the most incredibly dead voice Izuku has ever heard, “Is that a skirt.”

 

Izuku's cheeks heat up, and he tries unsuccessfully to kick the flag behind the bin. Not for the first time, he internally curses its large and unwieldy form. “It’s not mine,” he says, and then short circuits a little bit because out of all the things he could have said, why that.

 

“...Right,” Shinsou says slowly. “Not yours.”

 

“It’s for a weapons testing,” Izuku tries to explain, but now that he thinks of it, he’s pretty sure that statement only makes the entire situation look even more bemusing than it already is. He tries to think of something better to say, and is forced to give up. “This all is very reasonable when you’re actually there from beginning to end,” he says. He can’t look at Shinsou. This is the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to him.

 

“I'm sure it is,” Shinsou says dryly. “I somehow don’t know if I want to ask.” Izuku is kind of glad, because he really has no way of explaining Mitoki or Hatsume, which makes explaining this whole fiasco an even more futile task. Evidently, though, Shinsou’s curiosity is too much for him, because he eyes Izuku’s artillery of equipment and asks in a dubious tone, “Is this some sort of. Death match?”

 

Izuku opens his mouth to say no, but then he snaps his jaw shut and frowns, because while this isn’t specifically a death match, it is arguably cutthroat and merciless enough to count as one.

 

His lack of explanation must be clear because Shinsou just huffs in laughter and starts turning his bike around in the alleyway. “I'll just be going, then. Good luck with… whatever it is--”

 

Izuku's senses prickle. “Shinsou-kun!” he shouts. “Watch out!”

 

-- but it's too late, and he can only watch in horror as Shinsou's beautiful, clean school uniform is splattered with red paint.

 

Hatsume appears around the corner triumphantly, holding her gun. “Ha ha, take that, you fiend, I have come to reclaim the flag!”

 

“Er,” says Izuku. “You got the wrong person.”

 

Hatsume tilts her head, birdlike, then turns to look at Shinsou. Shinsou himself is still, unmoving, on his bike, red paint dripping onto the ground. “Oh, that would explain that,” she says. Then she levels her gun at Shinsou. “Good enough. Hand over the flag, or your friend gets it!”

 

That seems to break Shinsou out of his stupor, because he bares his teeth. “Whose friend,” he snaps, and... and that's fair, Izuku has only ever talked to Shinsou twice and neither time was really the epitome of friendship -- but it still stings. “You leave me out of this,” Shinsou says acerbically, and makes to wheel his bike past Hatsume.

 

Hatsume shoots the front bike tire, covering it in blue paint. Shinsou jerks to a halt. Hatsume looks very smug. “Nice try! I’m not falling for that.”

 

Shinsou turns towards Hatsume furiously, but Izuku finally forces himself to move, and in a flash raises his modified paint gun and nails Hatsume twice in the face. She yells and throws herself around the corner to protect herself from his fire, and probably to wipe off her goggles too. “Go!” Izuku shouts, running up to Shinsou. “Go go go!”

 

“What–” Shinsou twists around and starts peddling. “What about–”

 

Izuku doesn't wait to hear the rest. He grabs the basket at the back of Shinsou's bike and pushes, running out of the alley. Hatsume leaps at him. Izuku ducks. Everyone is yelling but the world is clear and quiet and in a single smooth movement, Izuku jumps onto the basket and raises his gun and shoots Hatsume a rainbow of colors, red and purple and blue.

 

Hatsume reels away. Shinsou shouts something rude and pedals furiously, and Izuku is quickly carried around the corner.

 

“Okay, that’s that,” he says, shaking off the gun and grimacing as a bit of paint drips onto his hand. The downside of his modifications: they are not yet leak-proof. He grips the basket and waits for Shinsou to stop and let him down, but he doesn't, he keeps going for a couple streets more before he finally turns into the space between two buildings, panting.

 

Izuku jumps off the bike, feeling slightly guilty at how out of breath Shinsou is. “Thanks,” he says to Shinsou, who’s leaning against the wall on one arm. His back is turned to Izuku. “Sorry for catching myself a ride on your bike. You didn't have to take me this far. So, um, thanks again.”

 

Shinsou’s breath is starting to even out. He wipes at his uniform, face turned away to shadow. As Izuku watches, Shinsou looks down at the paint on his hand and is still.

 

“Midoriya,” says Shinsou.

 

Izuku starts, then stands up straight. “Yes!”

 

Shinsou turns his head halfway towards Izuku. His eyes glint gold in the shadows of the buildings around them. “How,” he says, “do I use that gun?”

 

Izuku blinks. “Well, it's... you load your ammunition here, like this,” he pops out the case and pops it back in to demonstrate, “and then you just...point and shoot.” He glances at Shinsou and bites his lip. Should he--? Well, he did get Shinsou involved in this whole mess, so… “Here, do you want to--”

 

He hands the gun to Shinsou. Shinsou turns the gun over in his hands a few times, and then he aims it at the wall and shoots. Green paint blooms on the wall. Shinsou contemplates it for a moment, nods, and then turns back to Izuku. “I'm joining,” he says.

 

“I’m sorry I got you into this mess but if you turn that gun on me right now I will be swift and without mercy,” Izuku says immediately.

 

Shinsou snorts. “No, I meant,” he begins, and stops. “I meant I'm joining because I'm not going to passively accept the fact that Hatsume Mei ruined my school uniform.”

 

“It’s not ruined, the paint is water soluble,” Izuku feels the need to tell him. “It’ll wash out real easy.” He considers his next words, then releases them in one breath. “Please don’t hold a grudge against her. She’s just trying to cheer me up.”

 

“…She’s cheering you up by… shooting you with paint guns.”

 

“I know, she’s really something, isn’t she?” Izuku laughs sheepishly, scratching the back of his neck. Wait, there was paint on his hands, wasn’t there? Oops.

 

“I was more wondering why it is that she thought this would help you cheer up in the first place,” says Shinsou.

 

“It’s fun,” Izuku explains.

 

Shinsou squints at him, so Izuku elaborates, “There’s a sort of catharsis in vindictively and wholeheartedly ruining something’s functionality. With paint. It’s a little messy, but I think it’s generally just some really good, wholesome fun. Shooting people. With paint.” Uh.

 

“Right,” says Shinsou. “Well, I’m joining in with you, so I guess I don’t have any room to ask that question anyways.” He pauses and looks at Izuku with some sort of intent. “You don’t mind, right? I have my bike, I'm sure that'll be a good asset for you, if nothing else. And I've been getting stronger under the physical education program at Yuuei, so I’m better at close-combat fighting if it comes down to that, and--”

 

“Why would your bike be an asset to me?” Izuku says, confused. It’s Shinsou’s bike, not his, so unless they were teaming up, it wouldn’t be…. Oh. Ooohhh. That actually makes a lot of sense. “Wait. You want to -- team up? With me?”

 

“Well – yes,” says Shinsou. Now he just looks uncomfortable. “Is that not...”

 

“It's fine!” Izuku says quickly. “I just -- didn’t expect it, is all. But if you’re sure…” Shinsou nods. “Okay. Um… well, right now, our objective is to go back and retrieve that bin of ammunition I left behind in that alleyway, and then we are going to make a plan to recapture the flag.”

 

“Flag?”

 

“The skirt.”

 

“…Right. Somehow I’m not surprised. What's the plan?”

 

Izuku tugs at his bottom lip thoughtfully. “Well...”

 

He gives Shinsou a quick run-down of the area and their opponents, makes Shinsou practice aiming with the paint gun, and then they launch an audacious attack on Hatsume’s garage itself.

 

Hatsume is taken completely by surprise, and while Shinsou vindictively unloads shot after shot of paint at her, Izuku scoops up a decent gun and as much ammunition as he can, and then dives out the window, yelling for Shinsou to come along. They're halfway down the block when Mitoki ambushes them. That holds them in place long enough for Hatsume to come bearing down and rain down her vengeance on them all.

 

The game goes on until the sun starts dipping down in the sky, painting the clouds purple and gold. Izuku ends up crouching behind a dumpster with Shinsou, grimy but elated. Izuku's face is flushed with excitement and happiness. He looks over at Shinsou with a wide grin on his face, and Shinsou looks back with a smirk, and the elation Izuku feels is reflected in the sly and challenging gleam of his eyes. And – as Izuku looks back at the dusky shadows of the alley, the sky above aflame with the setting sun and Shinsou by his side, he thinks – this is the happiest he has been in weeks.

 

“Shinsou-kun,” Izuku says. Shinsou looks back at him, eyes bright. “Let's be friends.”

 

Shinsou's eyebrows go up, but then he smiles, real and genuine, and it softens the sharp and shadowed look of his tired, determined face. “Yeah,” he says softly. “Let's.”

 

They stay like that a moment longer, crouching in the alleyway and just smiling at each other, before Izuku remembers to pull out his phone and ask for Shinsou's cell phone number.

 

By that time, it’s late, and Shinsou needs to go home. They manage one last attack on Hatsume’s house to retrieve Shinsou’s bike, which was an unfortunate casualty in a fight with Mitoki earlier that day, and then Shinsou departs. He waves at Izuku lazily, and there’s even a hint of a smile on his face as he turns away and bikes down the road.

 

Or maybe it was a smirk. Shinsou’s face lends itself very naturally to smirks, really, Izuku has noticed that a lot working with him today. It’s a very aesthetically pleasing smirk and Izuku can’t say that it doesn’t look nice, but the point is that Shinsou seems made a lot more for smirks rather than smiles. Maybe because he doesn’t have a lot of cause to smile…?

 

And that’s really sad, because Shinsou is just so bright when he’s happy, and Izuku would… well, he’d really like to see that more.

 

Izuku texts Mitoki and Hatsume that he’s leaving -- thanks for today. yesterday wasn’t so good, but this really cheered me up -- and gets back always happy to attack my friends =) and We resume the match tomorrow!!!! from the both of them respectively. It’s so quintessentially them that Izuku can’t help but laugh.

 

He’s about to put his phone away when another impulse strikes him. He hesitates for a moment, but the euphoria of all the paintball fighting today carries him right over his anxiety and sends his fingers tapping along the phone’s keyboard. Hi Shinsou-kun! This is Deku. Thanks for today, I had a lot of fun. Let’s hang out again soon!

 

As soon as he presses send, he rereads the message and is consumed by the merciless and undying fires of regret. He buries his face in his hands, and if his phone weren’t the most expensive thing he owned he’d throw it across the street. Why is he allowed to manage his own life? Who thought that was a good idea? Izuku fantasizes about sinking down into the earth and burying himself there for a few years until all traces of him and his texts have been erased and forgotten, but his thoughts are interrupted when his phone buzzes. It’s a text from Shinsou and Izuku is way too scared to open it so he procrastinates by walking back home and putting his paint-spattered clothes in the sink to soak.

 

It’s not until after dinner that he finally looks at Shinsou’s message. Thanks. I had fun too. The message is punctuated. Izuku loses all his will to live, but his apparently bottomless appetite for self-punishment compels him to continue reading. That sounds nice, says the second text. Izuku eyes it suspiciously. He doesn’t trust how straightforward it is. It’s punctuated too. Did he annoy Shinsou? Did Shinsou actually not enjoy the day? But then why would Shinsou even give him his number? Out of social obligation? Is Izuku just being a bother? Izuku throws his phone on the bed and rolls onto the floor, covering his face. Everything is the worst and Izuku wants to die.

 

Except the next morning, Shinsou sends a selfie of him holding a cat, along with the caption Isao says hello, so maybe this will actually be okay after all.

 

(Izuku saves the picture itself because it's very cute.)

 

--

 

He finally manages to scrub all the paint from his clothes in the sink -- water soluble, thank god -- and then, compulsively, he cleans his room and washes all his other clothes as well.

 

As he’s rearranging his drawers, Izuku finds the disguise that he borrowed from the girl in the shop. Little flashes of that day come to him before he can stop them -- a hot hand on his shoulder, a glimpse of Kacchan’s angry red eyes -- and he squeezes his eyes shut and clench his teeth. One, two, three, four, five. One, two, three…

 

When he finally forces his eyes open, he looks down to find that his hands are clenched around the garments, white at the joints. He peels his fingers apart. The clothes drop to the floor.

 

He should return them and get his other clothes back. Especially his red shoes. He’s really missed them. It’s been -- what, weeks now, and -- oh god, he’s been so rude. These aren’t even his own clothes. He should have returned them ages ago. Izuku scrubs at his face and just sort of… fails to do anything for a few hours, for no particular reason except doing things is unfairly hard.

 

The next day, he makes his way to the clothing shop. Now hiring! says a bright new sign pasted in the window. He cautiously slips in through the door. Moriai-obaasan’s granddaughter is there at the counter, bent over a pair of knitting needles busily working away in her hands. She flicks a cursory glance up as the bell rings, and when her eyes fall on him, she brightens and straightens up. “Deku! It’s good to see you! I half thought you’d forgotten about our deal.”

 

“Our deal?” Izuku repeats, blinking. He casts his mind back. Oh, right, the vague promise to talk to her friend about… something. “Right, our deal. Sorry I took so long to come back, things just… happened, and…” He rubs at the back of his neck and glances away. “Sorry.”

 

“It’s cool,” says Moriai, smiling. “You came at a great time, actually! Let’s get those clothes put away and then we’ll be on our way.” Izuku hands his borrowed clothes over, and she shoves them under the counter somewhere. “Come on,” she says with a bright grin, and she rolls her wheelchair over to a dingy white door behind the counter that says EMPLOYEES ONLY in faded red letters. Izuku follows her into what seems to be an inventory room, filled with mountains of cloth and unorganized clothes; she doesn’t stop there, though, and wheels herself out the back door into the alley behind the shop.

 

There’s a platform made of metal grating that she rolls her wheelchair onto. At her beckoning, Izuku steps onto it beside her. “Alright, help me out here,” she says, pointing at a rope dangling from the top of the building. “Normally I can do this by myself, but since you’re an extra passenger, you’ll need to help pull it with me.”

 

“Got it,” says Izuku. Moriai flashes him another bright smile. They put their hands on the rope and haul; far above, something starts turning, and the platform rises up off the ground.

 

The platform comes to a stop at the top of the building, next to some winch-like device housed in a large wooden box. Moriai flips some latch and the platform locks into place. Whistling merrily, she rolls off the platform. Izuku gives the device one last admiring glance -- he’d love to see its internal mechanisms and talk with whoever designed it -- and follows her around the tall trellis room dividers that have, for some reason, been set up on the roof. The trellises have been grown over with vines and flowers; a garden of sorts, then?

 

He steps around the trellises and is greeted with a plethora of plant beds sprawling across the sandy stone material of the roof. Vegetables, herbs, blooms of color, flowers of every shape and size waving gently under the sunlight. What really catches Izuku’s attention, though, are the watering cans that are moving through the air and watering the plants… on their own. And -- are those weeds weeding themselves? They’re being uprooted somehow, floating through the air and depositing themselves in a large compost bin at the edge of the roof.

 

“Konoye-chan, I told you that you need to garden by hand for this to count as exercise,” Moriai says admonishingly.

 

Izuku looks over. Moriai has wheeled herself between the plant beds, and she’s speaking to someone who must be lying beyond them. Izuku approaches hesitantly. What kind of person…?

 

It’s a girl napping in the sunlight. Her dark hair has been braided into thick dreadlocks; some of it drapes over her left eye, some of it is tied up in a ponytail. She yawns and stretches under the sunlight and glances up at Moriai lazily with her single visible eye. “I am exercising,” she says. “I’m exercising my Quirk.”

 

Moriai crosses her arms and raises her eyebrows. “That’s what you’ve said for the past three days.”

 

“It’s been true all three days,” the girl says earnestly. Then her gaze drifts over to Izuku. She scrutinizes him for a second, and her eye alights with recognition. “Deku?”

 

Huh. “Have we met?” he asks, rubbing the back of his neck. “I'm sorry, I don't remember every person I…”

 

“Don't worry about it, I understand,” the girl says with a smile, waving him off. The watering cans set themselves down. “I'm Tanaka Konoye. Nice to meet you. What brings you to my humble abode?”

 

“Moriai-san invited me here,” Izuku says, instead of literally any other question he wants to say.

 

Tanaka raises an eyebrow and glances up at Moriai. “Special occasion?”

 

“Eh… of sorts,” Moriai says, in the sort of voice Izuku instantly recognizes as someone about to reveal something he won't like.

 

Apparently Tanaka recognizes it too, because her eyebrow only climbs higher on her forehead. “And that would be…?”

 

Moriai clasps her hands together in her lap very earnestly. “So, I know you have been thinking about becoming a vigilante lately, but you're not too keen on actually fighting crime or doing anything you can't put on your college application. Soooooooo I figured, who better to talk to about the issue than a vigilante themself?”

 

“What,” Izuku says. What?

 

Tanaka covers her face with one hand and heaves a deep sigh. “Thanks, Kazue,” she says, in the same way someone might thank their cat for gifting them a dead mouse. “You. Really didn’t need to do that for me.”

 

“It's perfect,” Moriai says earnestly. “Both of you have powerful Quirks and strong moral compasses, both of you were invited to apply to Yuuei, both of you refused--”

 

Izuku and Tanaka both whip their heads around to stare at her. “What?”

 

“--so the two of you have a lot in common!” Moriai finishes, clapping her hands together and beaming.

 

What? ” Tanaka repeats.

 

“How -- how did you find out?” Izuku demands.

 

“It’s true?”

 

“A journalist never reveals her sources,” Moriai informs the two of them smugly.

 

“That’s bad journalistic practice! Everything in the news is all about getting reliable sources so people know your information is trustworthy,” Izuku says indignantly. Wait, that’s not the issue here. “And more importantly -- I can count on one hand how many people know about that! Er, two.” All Might, the principal, Todoroki and Iida, Mitoki, his mom, Tamanaha-sensei… That’s a lot, actually. “Are you just -- connected to Yuuei somehow, or--”

 

“A journalist never reveals her sources,” Moriai repeats, winking. “Let’s focus on the important things here, i.e. you and Konoye-chan being vigilante best friends. I’ll leave you to it, then. Goodbye!”

 

And, faster than Izuku thought was possible, Moriai wheels around the trellises and disappears.

 

Izuku sits down on the wooden edge of the nearest dirt bed and puts his face in his hands.

 

Tanaka heaves a sigh, and a moment later Izuku hears clothes rustling. He looks up to see that Tanaka has finally gotten into a sitting position, resting her crossed arms on the edge of the dirt bed. “Ignore her,” she tells him. “She’s always like that. She won’t tell anyone else, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

 

“How did she know?” Izuku says despairingly. Moriai is apparently a mystery and a terror and he isn't sure how he feels about that. “Is she just, directly plugged into the goings-on of Yuuei, or something? Did All Might tell her about it?”

 

“All Might?” Tanaka’s eye sparks with interest. He shouldn’t have said that, he’s made a mistake. “What’s he got to do with it?”

 

“Nothing!” That's not true. “Everything.” Also not completely true, except for the part where it kind of is. “He keeps showing up in my life somehow. Even when he's not actually physically present. At this point his non-presence is just as powerful as his presence, and is almost an entire person in and of itself. I'm starting to feel like I'm being haunted by a particularly well-meaning and extremely famous ghost.”

 

“Sounds like an appropriately famous mentor for an appropriately famous vigilante,” Tanaka says with good humor, which is completely missing the point.

 

“It’s not vigilante activity,” Izuku says, instead of explaining to Tanaka the exact circumstances of All Might’s inexplicable presence in his life. “Technically.”

 

She props her head up on one chin and widens her eye in faux surprise. “What do you mean, the number one vigilante in all of Japan isn’t a vigilante?”

 

“The. The number one,” Izuku repeats, and feels his brain go quiet and take a moment to reboot.

 

“Relax,” Tanaka laughs. “Maybe not number one, but certainly one of the more popular ones. You have a social media tag and everything.”

 

Izuku frowns. That would explain why more people have been trying to talk to him after every incident he stops, actually. He hasn't paid much attention to it, because his post-incident procedure is always to leave as soon as possible with as little attention as he can. “But I'm only… I only stay around Musutafu, and typically vigilantes are only known among the locals.”

 

“True, but social media has an amazing ability to spread things around. At this point you're way more than a local legend,” Tanaka says, leaning back thoughtfully. “You're more like… a famous cryptid. Or a video game Easter egg encounter that can only be unlocked under a really specific set of circumstances, such as having your apartment be decimated by a stone golem on a Tuesday afternoon and then being set on fire by an exploding car that got launched into the air. Just as a completely theoretical example.”

 

“A...cryptid?”

 

“You’re infamously hard to catch, except for the people you take a liking to, who are also notoriously tight-lipped,” Tanaka explains. Her dimpling cheeks suggest that she is vastly entertained by everything about this. Izuku is kind of touched that everyone is being so reticent for his sake.

 

She lets out another yawn, then. “Sorry, I was in the middle of my afternoon nap when you showed up. Sorry about Kazue dragging you all the way here for me, too. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do.”

 

Izuku shakes his head. “She helped me out when I was in a tight spot; I’m just doing her favor.” Even if said favor is apparently about advising someone else about how best to stray from a proper, legal civilian path. “So… vigilantism.”

 

Tanaka heaves a deep sigh, head drooping. Then it droops some more. Then she just lists to the side, and Izuku, alarmed, reaches out to catch her -- but no, she’s just lying face down on the edge of the plant bed. “Shoulda just stayed in Yuuei… Get expelled once, and she holds it against you forever,” she mutters.

 

“You’re the one who got expelled from Yuuei?” Izuku says disbelievingly. What are the chances?

 

“Did you hear about that whole fiasco from someone…?” Tanaka glances up at him. “Mm, yeah. They couldn’t really let me stay in the school after I set their computer lab on fire.”

 

“You what?”

 

“Just kidding,” says Tanaka. “I actually broke into the gradebook and changed everyone’s grades to a failing grade.”

 

“You what,” says Izuku.

 

“I’m just messing with you,” says Tanaka with a smile, waving one hand vaguely in the air. This is really too much for Izuku to handle right now. “It’s not a very interesting story, so let’s just ignore it for now. I’m not particularly interested in being a hero -- too much work -- but I still want to help people. I’ve got a pretty handy Quirk. So that’s why I was thinking about vigilantism. -- It’d get Kazue to stop bothering me about getting out of the house and exercising more, too,” she adds under her breath. Izuku probably wasn’t supposed to hear that.

 

“So, just a way to help others using your Quirk,” Izuku summarizes. Tanaka nods. “There’s plenty of jobs for that; you shouldn’t have a problem finding one. What is your Quirk, though?”

 

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” says Tanaka. “I call it Realm, though. I can make an area into my, hm… ‘playing field’ of sorts, and then I can shuffle things around.”

 

Izuku blinks. “Like making the watering cans move by themselves?”

 

“Yeah, but that’s more finicky work. It’s easier to just exchange the locations of two objects. Like… actually, it might be easier just to demonstrate.” She tilts her head at Izuku in an unspoken question, and he nods.

 

Tanaka turns her gaze to the garden, then. She sits up; her spine straightens; her eye suddenly burns with some sort of fire or molten steel. Izuku finds himself instinctively straightening up. Tanaka raises her hands and, with such powerful and utter certainty that Izuku is half convinced a mountain would jump if she told it to, commands, “Shuffle.”

 

And as she gestures with her hands, the potted plants and garden scenery all lift themselves up into the air. Izuku gapes as they swirl around, circling about chaotically before landing on the rooftop again, completely rearranged -- flower beds where the vegetable garden used to be, trees in the center where the watering cans once stood, bricks and gardening tools exchanged for flower pots. Tanaka directs a wind wheel spinner to stick itself in the middle of the garden bed directly in front of them.

 

“There,” she says. “I’m not the best at fine details yet, but that’s what all this practice is for.”

 

“What was that?” Izuku breathes.

 

Tanaka tilts her head back and hums as she considers. “I’m kind of -- forcing my will onto the objects around me, in a ‘realm.’ Depending on my force of will, I can make them do things… sometimes.” She yawns. “I can't subject people to my will, unless they have a stupidly weak will… I can force it on animals sometimes… but objects are so finicky about what they will and won’t do… It’s sort of like playing cards, except the cards are also sentient pieces on a three dimensional chessboard that's also trying to kill you.”

 

That’s an, uh, oddly specific description. “It sounds a bit like limited telekinesis.”

 

“I guess. But only in a limited area. And some things have a few other conditions. I guess I get some other cool perks, though, like being able to fix stuff.”

 

Izuku looks up sharply. “Fix stuff?”

 

Tanaka blinks at him. “...Yeah. I’m guessing you want to see?”

 

“Er, you don’t have to.”

 

She shrugs. “As long as you’re here, I might as well. Mind breaking a pot for me or something?”

 

“Are you -- are you sure?

 

“Just pick a flower pot and chuck it on the ground.”

 

Izuku hesitantly picks up the nearest one -- a decent sized clay pot filled with small violet flowers -- and drops it. It shatters on the rooftop, rich black dirt spilling out among the shards. He feels incredibly bad.

 

Tanaka leans forward, staring at the mess intently. And even as Izuku watches, the shards of clay shiver, and then they fly back together into the shape of a pot. Before his eyes, the cracks smooth away until all that’s left is a single, unblemished whole.

 

Moments later, a small pinch of dirt levitates itself back into the pot. Izuku glances at Tanaka. Her eye is narrowed, her lips pressed together in concentration. She can fix pots, but not move around dirt? Izuku turns a critical eye back to the pot and mentally reviews the information he’s been given so far.

 

“You can repair things as long as you consider them a whole object, can’t you?” he guesses. “There’s a limit to how many objects you can exert your will over, too, which depends on the nature of the objects as well. But in the case of dirt, since it’s a collection of incredibly small things, you don’t consider it to be a whole ‘object,’ and every speck of dirt is classified as another object you have to force your will on. That’s why you can only move a little bit at a time. Right?”

 

Tanaka glances back at him, eyebrow raising. “Right on the money. You deduced that fast.” Her gaze moves back to the dirt still spilled on the rooftop. “Fixing things is my most useful skill at the moment, really, but I’m not sure how to put it to good use doing anything. I can’t use this to fix computers or technology, since they’re made of so many component parts.”

 

That is a good point. And by that same logic, she wouldn’t be good at most handyman repair. There are businesses that restore vases, though; she could do something like that. But she probably wants to do something more tangibly impactful; she did consider becoming a vigilante, after all. What kinds of needs does being a vigilante address? Fighting crime, mitigating property damage…

 

Wait a minute. That could work. Izuku recalls the copious amounts of destruction left behind at any hero-villain fight -- the property damage that he himself has dealt before -- and the places on his patrols where the city still has not assigned any workers to clean up the streets and repair the infrastructure. And -- Imaeda Sumio’s home was caved in during an altercation last week, Izuku remembers; he remembers taking Imaeda and his children to a nearby hotel, and giving them the addresses of local homeless shelters while they looked for a new place to live. His home still hasn’t been cleared by the city. The rubble is still all there. Izuku was angry about it at the time, but…

 

“Tanaka-san,” Izuku says, steepling his fingers together. “How large of a scale can you do this on?”

 

--

 

As it turns out, so long as it’s only one “object,” the answer is: very large.

 

The first house Tanaka puts back together is shocking; the second, exciting; the third onward, exhilarating. By the time it’s time for Izuku’s curfew, they’ve put a neighborhood back together, run halfway across the city, and told everyone whose homes were affected. As he watches everyone hugging each other and excitedly exploring their newly-restored homes, he can’t help but share a wide, happy grin with Tanaka. She grins right back, cheeks dimpling, hair outlined gold under the setting sun.

 

“Today was fun,” Tanaka tells him before he leaves. “I don’t know my way around the city, but if you ever find somewhere in need of repair, just drop by, and we can head out again.” She smiles, genuine and warm.

 

“It’s a deal,” Izuku says. They fistbump over it, and then Izuku heads to take the train home, feeling the warmth of a shared secret settling next to his heart.

 

--

 

[7:12 AM] Sancha: Deku.

 

[8:02 AM] To Sancha: Good morning, Sancha-san.

[8:04 AM] Sancha: Don’t “good morning” me. Why am I getting reports that you’ve teamed up with a new vigilante?

[8:04 AM] To Sancha: Vigilante?

[8:05 AM]  Sancha: Your attempts to play innocent are not cute.

[8:06 AM] To Sancha: I’m not playing innocent! I mean, vigilante on what grounds?

 

[8:09 AM] Sancha: On the grounds that you just spent an entire evening illegally repairing people’s homes

[8:10 AM] Sancha: I can’t believe I just typed out that sentence. This is ridiculous.

 

[8:13 AM] To Sancha: I didn’t repair anything, Sancha-san. I don’t have a Quirk and my handyman skills are atrocious.

 

[8:17 AM] Sancha: Tsukauchi says you are giving him a headache.

[8:17 AM] Sancha: [link attached: The Musutafu Shimbun -- Deku goes on serial spree of building reconstructions with new… ]

 

[9:50 AM] To Sancha: It’s not a bad article, but they forgot to talk about Japan’s infrastructure problems and lack of organized response to villainy-induced property damage.

[9:52 AM] Sancha: I pity anyone who thinks you are quiet, meek, and easy to deal with.

 

Izuku can’t help but laugh when he reads Sancha’s text.

 

--

 

A few days later, he gets a message from Iida -- the first one since he asked Iida to mediate his apology to Todoroki. It’s been a long time; he should check in on them and see how they are. Izuku swipes the notification to read the full message.

 

[3:37 PM] Iida: Hello, Midoriya-kun! I hope this message finds you in good health today. I would like to pass on a message from Uraraka-chan-kun if you are amenable to hearing it!

 

Iida’s uniquely intense, enthusiastic tone is carried so well by the text, he can practically hear it out loud.  Izuku can’t help but smile as he taps out a reply.

 

[3:44 PM] To Iida: Hi, Iida-kun! I’m doing well, and I hope you’re having a good day as well. What can I do for Uraraka-san?

 

What does Uraraka want? She has only interacted with him once before -- an unforgettable experience; the abject terror he experienced when she ate that popsicle was indescribable -- and by all accounts, she shouldn’t need anything from him. He bites the inside of his cheek. Calm down. It’s probably nothing bad, maybe just a question or two about his definately not vigilante extracurricular activities. Even having a hero-in-training question him about it is nerve-wracking, though. He hopes this will be quick.

 

The phone buzzes.

 

[3:45 PM] Iida: Uraraka-chan-kun would like to speak with you regarding the recent troubles of our classmate, Bakugou-kun.

 

Izuku’s heart jumps. He types his next message so quickly he nearly drops his phone.

 

[3:45 PM] To Iida: Is he okay? Is something wrong?

 

[3:46 PM] Iida: Physically, he is quite well! However, his temperament has been suffering in class lately, and it appears something has upset him greatly. Uraraka-chan-kun was unable to glean the source of his troubles, but believes that it has something to do with you.

[3:47 PM] Iida: We are all extremely worried about Bakugou-kun and anything you can tell us is greatly appreciated!

 

Izuku’s heart pounds. His stomach drops. Distantly, he’s aware of pedestrians giving him strange looks as he freezes on the sidewalk, but the outside world is swept away under the roar of emotion that crashes over him.

 

Uraraka knows that he knows Kacchan. She knows he is Deku. A single misplaced word from Uraraka, and Izuku’s fragile construction of a false identity will come tumbling down.

 

Kacchan is -- he’s going to be so mad the next time he sees Izuku, isn’t he, Izuku never should have said anything in the first place, and -- and he can’t handle this, not on top of everything else. Izuku’s breaths come painful and gasping, knifing through his sternum; his heart beats jackrabbit fast against his ribcage, it’s going so fast it’s going to burst -- Izuku needs to get out of the street right now but he can barely even, barely even make himself move--

 

He staggers to a bench and curls up on himself, shaking his way through one of the worst panic attack he’s had in years. He tries distracting himself with a recitation of the latest political theory essay he’s committed to memory, but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t help. The panic crowds out all his thoughts until he’s consumed entirely by fear -- fear of Uraraka asking, fear of Kacchan knowing, fear that if his heart doesn’t slow down right now it will burst and he’ll die.

 

When he finally collects himself enough to look at the phone again, he types a message and hits send before he can talk himself out of it.

 

[4:15 PM] To Iida: I’m sorry. I don't think I can help you.

 

[4:18 PM] Iida: hi deku-kun, this is uraraka. bakugou-kun definitely was upset by something involving you. please don't deny it and just tell us what happened. we are all worried.

 

Izuku silences notifications from Iida’s number, shoves his phone in his pocket, and holds his head in his hands. He can't do this. He absolutely cannot do this. His skin is crawling with anxious energy, and he jumps up and begins to pace in front of the bench. What should he do? Uraraka seems intent on answers, and he can't blame her, especially if she's as close friends with Kacchan as he thinks she is. But the events of the Tamanaha Conversation are something he can barely even say to himself at night, and he still can't name what Kacchan did to him for what it is. It's just too much, and if Izuku says it out loud he's scared he's gonna break.

 

And even if he did tell her, why should she believe him? It's a horrible thing to find out about a close friend, and. And actually for that matter, if Kacchan doesn't want to tell her, why should he? It's a private matter, and it doesn't have anything to do with her, and she doesn't have any right to his story when he can't even get through it himself.

 

With his mind made, Izuku sends back a message.

 

[5:07 PM] To Iida: If Kacchan doesn't want to tell you about it, I don't think I should either.

[5:08 PM] Iida: bakugou-kun never wants to tell anyone about anything. -- uraraka

[5:09 PM] To Iida: I don't want to tell you about it either, Uraraka-san. I'm sorry if this causes difficulty for you but this is a very personal thing.

[5:09 PM] To Iida: Please don't ask me again.

 

He locks his phone and shoves it in his pocket, presses his face into the palms of his hands as though the pressure could ground him in the present. He feels like a rope stretched thin, creaking and fraying with all the tension coiled up and trapped within him. There’s a nameless mess of emotion crouching in the pit of his stomach about to claw its way out, black and dripping the hate he never wanted to have. His skin crawls with a thousand red-hot needles, and everything ugly in him is about to burst. God, he wasn’t made for this. He can’t fucking take this. Izuku drops down to the ground in a crouch, arms wrapped around his head, and his throat strains with every single angry shout and awful invective that he wants to release but can’t.

 

Fuck. Shit. Fucking hell. Fucking Uraraka, who does she think she is, asking for answers he can’t give? What gave her the right to force open the door and rip off every fragile bandage Izuku finally found? Who told her she could -- ask him about Kacchan -- ask if Kacchan was okay -- who told her to be friends with Kacchan, who fucking told her to care, and for that matter who the fuck told Iida and Kirishima and Mina and every single other person in Kacchan’s life to ever give a fuck about him? Who told them to -- to give all this extra mile like he’s worth something when he’s hurt Izuku so bad -- why do they care -- why--

 

Why does Kacchan get so many people to care for him when Izuku is all alone?

 

He doesn’t realize he’s started crying until the first hot tears drop onto his arms. They burn as they well up in his eyes and roll down his cheeks, dripping to the pavement underneath him with a faint plop-plop almost lost under the sound of traffic and conversations in the street. They don’t come like a floodgate has opened; they don’t come easily at all. Instead, they squeeze out like the pressure inside him is boiling over and forcing them out, hot and angry and hurt, and far from a catharsis, every drop only seems to magnify the hurt more.

 

It’s the most useless cry he’s ever had in his life, and he’s had a fucking lot of them. Every moment only makes him more livid about how stupid this is, how stupid he is, how stupid his entire life has been up until this point and how much more useless can he fucking be? He wants to scream, and punch something, and maybe he wants to destroy something and not feel a single ounce of guilt for the consequences. Maybe -- maybe he even wants a fight with Kacchan right now, that old familiarity, that old fury, when he knew exactly what he was supposed to do and how much he could let himself go and who he was allowed to be. But he doesn’t have that, anymore. Maybe he never did.

 

So what is he supposed to fucking do?

 

--

 

He swallows his rage down and goes home, holding the burning anger beneath his tongue. He doesn’t say anything; he can’t. He’s too afraid of what he’ll say. His mom and Yagi both accept his silence, and when their conversation at the dinner table starts grating at him until he has to cover his ears and squeeze his eyes shut, they move into Yagi’s study and turn off the lights where he’s sitting. Izuku is grateful, but the guilt seeps in right after, curdling his anger into shame. He’s such an inconvenience to everyone around him. He’s worthless. He wants to fucking die. Izuku curls in on himself for who knows how long, and then he cleans the table and puts his food away without touching it and goes to his room to sleep.

 

It takes hours of lying on his bed, staring blankly at the outline of light cast by the streetlamp outside his window, before sleep finally comes.

 

Somehow, overnight, his anger morphs into grief -- depression -- a miserable emptiness that takes up so much space in his body, he barely feels alive. The cloud descends on him as soon as he wakes up the next day, wraps itself around his shoulders and trails his misery after him like a fog. Izuku seems to be hurting everyone around him, lately -- first the kidnapping, second the… the fallout of the Tamanaha Conversation, and now, his recent inability to hide his emotions away on the shelves is making everyone worry, drawing down their spirits like gravity. He’s just weighing them down. Izuku wishes he could just make himself deal with everything, wishes he just had a strong enough will to subjugate his wild and uncontrolled emotions, but he’s so tired. He is so tired, and still he goes on being alive. How long will he be like this, how long before he starts moving out of the dark forest and back into the sun?

 

Doing something is always better than doing nothing, Yagi’s voice whispers, and Izuku closes his eyes and breathes. This is all he can do. This is all he needs to do. When he opens them again, he pulls on a jacket and leaves the house, shuffling slowly to the train station and taking the route to Shinsou’s cat cafe.

 

He pays for two hours there and steps into the cat room before faltering. There are more people here than he was hoping; a man in a business suit, two women chatting and playing with the cats, three friends gathered together whose voices and laughter rise into the air. He casts around for a quieter space away from them, somewhere relatively alone. His eyes fall on a familiar bush of styled blue-purple hair. Shinsou himself is here, sitting on one of the window seats and  idly stroking a purring cat in his lap. Should Izuku go greet him? But it seems today is a day for impulses, for even as the question crosses his mind, his feet are already carrying him across the room.

 

“Hi, Shinsou-kun,” he says, waving when Shinsou turns his head slightly to the side and slides his golden gaze to meet his. “Are you -- um, I didn’t know you’d be here today! How are you?” He can feel his already stiff smile get more strained as soon as the words leave his mouth. That was so awkward. Talking was a mistake.

 

Shinsou studies him silently, his eyes half caught in shadow. The pale glint of his iris where the sunlight cuts across it almost seems violent in its glow.

 

“Fine,” Shinsou says curtly, when Izuku says nothing else. “What do you want?”

 

Izuku can feel his metaphorical HP bar instantly fall to zero. “J-just wanted to say hi, I guess?” he forces out. “I-I mean, um… sorry for bothering you, I’ll leave you alone.” He turns to go, face burning and his spirit falling even lower.

 

“Wait,” says Shinsou. “I didn’t mean…”

 

He sighs. Izuku hesitantly comes to a halt and chances a look back at him. He’s rubbing at his face, as if he could smear away the shadows of sleepless nights from under his eyes; the hostility that was wrapped around him like a shield has dissipated, leaving only a heavy weariness behind that weighs his shoulders down into a crooked and oddly thin shade of himself.

 

“Are you okay?” Izuku blurts out.

 

Shinsou blinks, then cracks a startled-looking smile. “What?”

 

“S-sorry, I didn’t mean to say that, um. It just. Slipped out. It’s just that, um, you really look…”

 

“Bad?” Shinsou offers, tilting his head to the side with a sardonic smile.

 

“Like you haven’t slept in four days,” Izuku says, but the words he really wants to say are you look like how I feel right now and I wish things weren’t that way for you.

 

Shinsou’s smile falls away and leaves a horribly blank mask behind. “Only three, so far,” Shinsou says, looking away. His hand curls in the cat’s fur, and it lets out a little mrr sound that feels disjointed and out of place.

 

“You haven’t gotten any rest at all?” Izuku asks, frowning.

 

Shinsou lifts up one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug, but keeps his gaze trained away. “I got a couple hours yesterday afternoon.”

 

Izuku twists his lips in sympathy. He knows all too well what those nights can be like, hours upon hours staring up at the ceiling and feeling impossibly empty for the lack of dreams, how it follows you into the daylight and drags at your heels. “Do you want be alone right now?”

 

“It’s fine,” Shinsou says, shaking his head. “I’m sorry for taking that out on you. I’ve just -- been having an off week. I don’t mind if you stay.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

Shinsou shakes his head again, so Izuku just crouches next to the window seat and starts petting the tabby in his lap and asks him to introduce the cat.

 

For a while, that’s all they do: Izuku interacts with the cats in the nearby vicinity and feels the tightness in him slowly, ever slowly, start to unwind, and Shinsou offers a few comments here and there about the cat he’s spending time with. Izuku eventually just sits down on the seat with Shinsou and asks him if he’s seen the video of the latest villain attack downtown that the heroes stopped, wasn’t it incredible, the new ability that Kamui Woods used was so clever -- and they chat, and it’s easy, and that’s all.

 

Shinsou’s time in the cafe runs out before Izuku’s. He reluctantly picks Isao up off his lap and sets him down on the floor, and when he stands up, Isao jumps onto the window seat and claims Shinsou’s spot for his own. Shinsou smiles a bit, but he still looks -- too tired, too lonely, as if a great yawning emptiness has opened up around him and left him small and terribly alone in the center. Before he can even process the idea, Izuku has invited Shinsou to get coffee at Uemura’s cafe. Shinsou looks taken aback, asking don’t you have half an hour left? You should enjoy your time here, but Izuku insists that it’s no problem and if Shinsou’s feeling up for it he’d like to spend some more time with him.

 

The okay that slips from Shinsou’s lips feels oddly vulnerable, as though Izuku has done something important and deeply profound. Izuku bites his lips, then gathers himself and leaves with Shinsou out the door.

 

Shinsou is quiet as they walk down to the station and catch a train to the district Uemura’s in, so Izuku fills in the space between them with his observations about the most recent heroes he’s taken an interest in. And then, inevitably, his thoughts on public policy regarding hero activity trickles in, and then along come his thoughts on one of the books Eraserhead recommended to him, and Shinsou listens with increasing interest as Izuku outlines exactly how he thinks the hero industry ties into the massive socioeconomic inequality growing in Japan.

 

By the time they’ve reached Uemura’s cafe, Shinsou is actively asking questions and making comments that only fuel his impassioned diatribe on the economic disparity already present in Musutafu itself.

 

“--I mean, just look at the schools,” Izuku says emphatically, jabbing at the air. “In Orudera Junior High, we had underpaid, overworked, and apathetic teachers who didn’t have the energy to teach us well. Half our textbooks were a decade out of date, our equipment was old, the pavement was cracked -- the walls got water damage in the rainy season last year but we didn’t have the money to actually replace the walls so they just made us repaint during school clean-up time. And then, only three miles away is Soumei Private Academy, which had enough money to spend one million yen on renovating the school sports shed . It’s a world of difference, and people notice.

 

Shinsou raises an eyebrow. “Orudera is public, and Soumei is private. Isn’t the difference in quality to be expected?”

 

That stumps Izuku for a moment as he tries to articulate why he doesn’t care. “That’s not the problem,” he settles on finally. “The problem is that -- that poor people can’t afford to go to Soumei, or if they do send a family member, they’re often in debt or working an exorbitant amount just to pay that off. Meanwhile, mid- to upper-class families can send their students there, no problem. And because Soumei has funding and donations it can provide a better education, and its students can place into better high schools. But students go to Orudera because they can’t afford Soumei; and a poorer education there leads to placing in poorer high schools. The problem isn’t that Soumei is better quality than Orudera; the problem is that there’s almost no upward mobility for low-income families. They have fewer opportunities just because of the circumstances they were born into. How is that fair?”

 

“And that only perpetuates the… what was the phrase you used… ‘paralysis of economic classes’?” Shinsou asks.

 

Izuku nods. “Essentially, you have two groups: those with decent economic security, and those who don’t. If you’re economically secure, you get good schooling, and usually, good jobs. If you’re not, you aren’t allowed to access any resources that might get you economic security, because you can’t pay. You can’t pay, so you’re looking for means to pay; but you can’t find means to pay because you can’t pay in the first place. It’s a double bind. But of course, it’s always the lucky few who make it out that everyone focuses on -- as if just anyone can magically pull themselves out of the red zone. That mentality says, ‘it’s your fault you’re poor; if you worked hard enough, you’d get a better job.’ But it’s just not true, most of the time.”

 

“So people flock to the hero industry, because that’s one way you can climb out of poverty. That’s your theory, right?”

 

“Kind of! But not exactly. Actually, I think it’s economic inequality that provides most of a hero’s livelihood. Not like the heroes are purposefully preying on the poor! But it’s like this -- let’s assume that the proportion of people with powerful Quirks is independent of economic class. Why is it then that some 85 percent of heroes come from middle or upper class families? I mean -- Shinsou-kun, you go to Yuuei, how many students do you know who are poor?”

 

Shinsou blinks. “...One.”

 

“Isn’t that weird? I mean, you can’t just say that people of lower economic status just have less powerful Quirks, not when the majority of villains come from low-income families and demonstrate undeniably powerful Quirks. Like, last year there was a villain with a gigantification Quirk that let him stop trains and decimate roadways. Sounds a lot like Mount Lady, right? If he’d just had the right training or resources, he could easily have been a hero associate on the scene. The fact that Yuuei doesn’t have more students from low-income families really makes it seem like economic status has something to do with your access to the hero industry. Don’t you think?”

 

“The entry tests at Yuuei were designed to be impartial and judge students based on their ability, not their background.”

 

“Wouldn’t you have better ability if you could afford a private instructor? Fighting lessons? Healthy food? What about the fact that you don’t have to worry about making ends meet? It’s not just ability -- it’s also the training and resources that build up that ability.” Izuku pauses. “I got away from my original point. A lot of villains come from poor families or neighborhoods. A lot of them turn to villainy to get themselves stuff they wouldn’t have on their own. This isn’t an absolute, it’s just a general guideline, but so many villains are villains simply because they need stuff they can’t get, and villain activity is what drives the need for heroes in the first place. I think if we had more equity in the country, villain activity would fall, because people who might’ve been villains now have a way to live a secure life. You know?”

 

Shinsou nods slowly. “That makes sense.” Then, “I think we’re holding up the line. Shall we order?”

 

Izuku looks up and realizes that they are, indeed, holding up the line. He got carried away again, didn’t he? Feeling a bit embarrassed, Izuku gives his order to the girl behind the counter as quickly and clearly as possible. And then because Shinsou is here on his invitation, he pays for Shinsou’s order too. Shinsou protests, but Izuku takes a page from Hatsume’s book and deftly runs his protests into the ground. He steers Shinsou to a two-person table near the window, takes the seat with the back to the wall, and launches right back into his thoughts on political theory before Shinsou can try and pay him back.

 

The discussion comes to a pause when one of the servers brings them their orders. Izuku gratefully drinks some coffee, and he raises an eyebrow at Shinsou. “Should you really be drinking coffee when you’re already having trouble sleeping?”

 

“Should you really be inviting me out for coffee when I’m already having trouble sleeping?” Shinsou shoots right back at him, idly stirring his cup with a straw. “It’s fine. At this point, it won’t make much of a difference, and coffee never helps me the way I need it to, anyways.”

 

“Okay, as long as you’re sure!”

 

“Mmhmm. Oh, there was something I forgot to say to you, Midoriya. I understand what you’re saying, but using my knowledge of people in Yuuei as anecdotal evidence isn’t that strong. I’m not very close with my classmates, and I don’t have many friends.”

 

The way his lips twist into something sardonic, a knife-sharp smile with a bitter edge, suggests that what Shinsou means is that he doesn’t have any friends there. And that’s…

 

 

“Shinsou-kun, are you -- um, are you sure you’re alright?” Izuku asks, putting down his cup.

 

“Just peachy,” Shinsou says. “I’m sure you could tell. Why do you ask?”

 

“You just seem kind of… lonely. And sad. I know earlier you said you didn’t want to talk about your off week, but -- maybe it’ll help? I’m basically a stranger, but I’d be happy to listen, and sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know than someone you do.”

 

Shinsou’s eyes drop down to the tabletop. He says nothing for long moments, so silent and still that Izuku’s afraid he’s made him withdraw back into himself.

 

“Why?” Shinsou says finally.

 

Izuku blinks. “Why what?”

 

Shinsou draws the corner of his mouth up into what might be the beginnings of a snarl or a self-deprecating smile. “You said it yourself. We’re strangers. Why do you care?” A beat passes, and then, “Why are you so willing to talk to me?”

 

It isn’t said the same way as everything else; not harsh defensive steel, but something far more brittle and raw underneath. “Why wouldn’t I be willing to talk to you?” Izuku says, brows furrowing, and what’s with the strange emphasis on ‘talk’ -- and then, even as he says it, something clicks halfway into place. “Oh, is this about your Quirk?”

 

“‘Oh, is this about my’--” Shinsou stares at him, and then he lets out a little disbelieving heh, and then he just starts laughing, bent over the table with a hand clasped over his mouth and laughing so hard it looks like it hurts.

 

“No, no, I mean--” Izuku scrambles for the right thing to say, what does he say, what did he do. “I mean, I guess your Quirk is pretty scary and intimidating --  but a lot of people’s are! And, I mean -- I don’t think you’d use your Quirk without reason. I’m not worried about you using it! I trust you.”

 

“Trust, ” says Shinsou wildly, hunching over the table with a hand holding his head. “You don’t even know me.”

 

“What does that have to do with anything?” Izuku asks, feeling as if he’s lost his footing somewhere along this conversation and now he’s scrambling not to be left behind.

 

Shinsou shakes his head with another laugh, but he doesn’t seem to be directing it at anything. “You’re impossible. How can you just -- just say that? How can you…” His voice, already wavering, breaks. Izuku’s stomach sinks. “How can you trust me, just like that?”

 

“Shinsou-kun…”

 

“Out of all the people in my life,” Shinsou says, wiping at his eyes, “why is it you’re the only one who’ll just talk to me?”

 

He’s crying, just a little bit, in the horrible hiccup-y way when someone is trying to stop themselves from crying but can’t keep their emotions locked down anymore. It’s horrible to see from the outside. Izuku wants to tell Shinsou to just let himself cry and let his feelings out, but they’re in public and Izuku knows the shame and mortification that can come sweeping in after a good cry. He bites his lip. What should he do?

 

“It’s nothing special, is it?” he asks nervously, trying not to look too closely at Shinsou. “I’m just -- treating you like any other person.”

 

“You say that like it’s such a small thing,” Shinsou says, and it almost sounds accusing, the way he shapes the words in his mouth -- something hot as embers. He wipes at his eyes again, but his eyes are welling up again, and -- “Fuck, ” Shinsou snarls, furious and upset, as if it’s his fault he’s crying.

 

Izuku feels lost. Something has happened far behind the scenes, and all he’s seeing is the fallout, an echo of a shape he can’t quite make out. “Shinsou-kun,” he starts, and then he stops, because he doesn’t know what there is to say.

 

Shinsou doesn’t respond, doesn’t look up, just continues to struggle against his own overwhelming emotion. His shoulders shake. He hides his eyes with his hands. A minute later, he finally says, “Sorry, Midoriya. I… My problems have nothing to with you, and here I am, just…”

 

“It’s fine,” Izuku says, when Shinsou doesn’t continue his sentence. “I don’t… really understand what’s going on, but I mean. From what I can tell, um. I’d be upset too, if I was in your position. You’re dealing with a lot.”

 

He remembers the murmurs that spread through the audience at the Sports Festival when everyone finally figured out what Shinsou’s Quirk was, how Present Mic had sensationalized it in his commentary. Oh, the Gen Ed section had cheered for Shinsou in the end, but -- is that really enough to make up for that, Izuku wonders, can that really erase what must be years of people shying away simply because of Shinsou’s Quirk?

 

Izuku thinks back to the lonely years of elementary school, when he had no friends and his only solace was hiding in the library, and it aches terribly. The resonance of memory suddenly seems too much and Izuku can’t stand it, can’t let this go on for a single moment longer, and he is going to make this better if it’s the last thing he does.

 

“Look, Shinsou-kun.” Shinsou glances up, but something he sees seems to catch his attention, because his gaze sharpens and he straightens up slightly in his seat. “Right now, if I wanted, I could attack you -- or anyone here -- with lethal force, and I’d do a lot of damage before anyone arrived to stop me. I have the training and the ability. In fact, anyone here could hurt their neighbor right now if they chose to, especially if they had a powerful Quirk. But no one’s worried about that. They’re putting their faith in each other’s decency as human beings. All I’m doing is extending that same basic courtesy to you.” He pauses. “If that’s unusual, it’s everyone else who’s at fault. You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

 

A flash of inspiration strikes him with all the power of a lightning bolt, the memory of Kacchan at the park flashing through his mind. “You should fight them,” Izuku declares brazenly, crossing his arms and nodding as wisely as he can.

 

Shinsou lets out a startled burst of laughter. “Wh -- fight them?”

 

“Yeah! Give ‘em the ol’ one-two,” Izuku says, demonstrating with little jabs of his fists in the air. “Give ‘em something to really talk about. Then they’ll actually have a reason to be scared of you.”

 

“I can’t just start a fight, ” Shinsou says disbelievingly, but -- aha, yes, that’s definitely an incredulous little smile curling at the edge of his lips.

 

“Sure you can! Just walk up and start swinging, like so!” Izuku models a punch through the air. “Next time someone says something, just tell them that you don’t need your Quirk to defeat them and throw a punch. It’s very easy to start fights, Shinsou-kun, and sometimes they don’t even take you up on the offer. I know someone who finds fights very therapeutic, you should try it out sometime.”

 

Shinsou lets out a surprised burst of laughter again, but this time it’s light -- genuine -- bright. Izuku’s train of thought completely derails. Shinsou looks -- almost radiant like this, something softer and gentler like winter to fall. “Haha, okay,” Shinsou is saying, “I’ll have to keep that in mind!” -- but Izuku is barely listening, the world drowned out by the rush of his own thoughts and his heart thumping against his ribcage , and Shinsou looks really cute.

 

Wait, what? Wait, what? Izuku feels his cheeks heat up and makes an uncoordinated grab for his cup of coffee, rapidly raising it to his mouth so he can occupy himself by taking a sip. What was that? What?

 

Shinsou smiles at him from across the table, taking a sip of his own cup of coffee. “You’re really something, Midoriya,” he says, and what does that even mean, Izuku is going to combust in his seat and all that will be left is a little steaming pile of ash. “Thanks for all that. I guess -- heh, I guess I really needed to hear something like that right now.” He pauses. “What about you, then?”

 

“Huh?”

 

Shinsou shrugs. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I had the impression that your time in the cat cafe was as much of a distraction for you as it was for me. And… well, I’d listen to you if you wanted to talk. If you wanted.”

 

For a moment, all Izuku can really do is stare. Then he cracks a lopsided smile. “Haha, was I that obvious…?” How much has this whole… thing with Kacchan gotten to him, that it can be read so easily from him?

 

Maybe he should try and talk about it. He still hasn’t told anyone; not his mom or Yagi, because they both know, and none of his acquaintances or friends, either. He hasn’t wanted to burden them with his own troubles. But god, if yesterday hasn’t shown him that all his feelings are building up with nowhere to go. Shinsou is a relative stranger, distant enough that telling him shouldn’t have much consequence, but acquaintance enough that he cares. He should give this a try.

 

Izuku licks his lips as he tries to think of what to say, but… “I don’t know if I can,” he says, looking down at the table. It weighs heavy on him. Here Shinsou’s offering to listen and Izuku can’t even take him up on it.

 

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Shinsou says. “But you listened to my troubles, so. I’d like to extend the same basic courtesy to you. Right?” He offers a small, wry smile.

 

Izuku laughs a bit at the echo back to their earlier conversation. “Thanks,” he says, smiling a bit, but he finds he can’t look at Shinsou in the eye anymore. “Yeah. I should talk to someone. It’s just…”

 

Just that if he says it out loud, he’s acknowledging that it’s real. He has skirted around the issue in his own mind, defined it so clearly by the things he doesn’t say that it doesn’t even need a name anymore. But telling it to Shinsou, he would have to call it what it is.

 

But he has to face it sometime. He has to move forward.

 

“My best friend,” Izuku starts, and stops, and starts again. “He… he used to bully me. A lot.” He brings his hands together in front of him on the table, twisting the fingers together and squeezing them as if the pressure there could relieve the pressure building behind his eyes. “We still fight, actually. I can’t… We can hardly ever be in the same space without something happening. And he…”

 

He takes a deep breath to say it, but ends up letting it out instead, his momentum failing him at the last minute. He tries again, to no avail; the words refuse to come out. Izuku grits his teeth and forces out another truth instead. “He hurt me,” he says, and the words scrape as they’re dragged out of his chest. “He hurt me. A lot. And I recently realized that…” Izuku can name this. “He…”

 

He can’t.

 

“Fuck! ” Izuku half-shouts, grabbing at his head. “I can’t even say it! He’s an asshole! He’s been the fucking worst! And I -- I think I might even hate him for that! But I can’t even -- fucking--”

 

“Midoriya,” Shinsou says, half startled, half standing, and half reaching for him across the table, but the words bubble red and hot and furious and force themselves out in a vitriolic burst of language that leaves an acrid taste on Izuku’s tongue. They will be heard, even if Izuku doesn’t want them to be.

 

“I know what it is,” Izuku says, and he can feel the first tears spilling out of his eyes. “I know exactly what he did to me. But I can’t even say it out loud. What’s the fucking point? I can't do anything about it! I can’t talk about it! I just fucking know now, and it’s ruining my life!”

 

He bangs his hand too hard on the table, on accident. Shinsou glances nervously to the side. The other customers must be looking over, wondering what this is all about -- but fuck it, Izuku can’t bring himself to care. Let them look. Let them see how much of a ruin Izuku has come to be.

 

“I wish I didn’t know,” he says, half-rising out of his seat, shoulders hunched and fists clenched. “I wish Tamanaha-sensei never said anything. I wish I could take it all back. But I can’t. She said it, and now I know, and I’ll always have to live with it now.”

 

“...Midoriya, are you saying…”

 

“I’m saying, ” Izuku says, and it stops right there because he still can’t say it and he doesn’t think he ever wants to. “Give me a pen,” he says instead, dropping back into his seat and digging his fingers into his knees. Shinsou reaches into his bag and shuffles around and hands Izuku the requested pen. Izuku takes it and grabs a napkin, and scrawls the word he can’t say.

 

“I’m saying that this is what he did,” Izuku says bitterly, pushing the napkin across the table. He looks away so he doesn’t have to see the moment that Shinsou processes the giant, bold ABUSE scrawled out on the napkin and staring, unflinching and remorseless, back at him.

 

There's a small pause. Just as Izuku starts thinking that he shouldn't have said it, that Shinsou doesn't believe him -- “It was your best friend?” Shinsou says softly, setting the napkin back down like a feather made of lead.

 

“He was ,” Izuku says. “He is,” he says again. Because it’s true, because he’d follow Kacchan to the end of the earths if he ever asked, but he never did ask and this ugly truth is all Izuku has.

 

“I’m sorry,” says Shinsou. “You didn’t deserve that.”

 

And just like when Tamanaha-sensei said I’m sorry, I should have known you weren’t ready, it hits him hard -- a kindness he didn't expect, a cruelty he didn't want, and a truth that he never asked to hear. “I didn’t deserve that,” Izuku echoes. His voice breaks. And if he didn't deserve it, then the blame lies at Kacchan’s feet, and nothing Izuku says or does will ever make that better.

 

Shinsou doesn’t push him to talk. He only sips his coffee and looks out the window and waits for Izuku to speak, and Izuku feels infinitely grateful for that. Somehow, this -- just the fact of someone giving him room, and space, and choice -- feels bigger than almost any other gesture anyone has made to him in the past few weeks. Izuku presses his hands to his eyes to try and stem the flow of tears; he breathes; he counts. When he thinks his voice is stable, he speaks again.

 

“Yesterday, Kacchan’s friends texted me and asked me what was going on. They said that… that Kacchan wasn’t doing too well, either, and. And they wanted me to explain why.” Izuku tugs at his hair, looking down at the table. “I just… I can’t… How am I supposed to explain it to them, when I can’t even say it to myself? To you? And they’re Kacchan’s friends. They’re not going to believe something like this; they won’t want to, and I’m just a stranger, it’d be easy for them to blame me for it and maybe I’d deserve it, because if I hadn’t realized what was happening and let that change things then Kacchan would still be happy and everything would be fine.”

 

“It wouldn’t be fine,” Shinsou says. “You would still be suffering, and trying not to let it show. It’s not your fault your friend decided to do any of that.” He twists his lips wryly. “I know this is difficult for you, Midoriya, but I’m glad you realized. You’re getting away from that kind of hostile and damaging relationship. Recovery is always hard, but… it’s a good thing you’re on your way.”

 

Izuku lets out an incredulous laugh. A good thing -- as if anything about yesterday could be called good, as if anything that has happened since the Tamanaha Conversation was anything other than a complete disaster.

 

But. It’s true, that if he hadn’t realized, he… would still be going about, bottling up his hurts and acting like everything was okay.

 

“This is some kind of bullshit,” Izuku says with feeling, scrubbing at his face with his napkin.

 

Shinsou laughs. “Yeah. Life’s always like that, I think. But at least we have this lovely coffee to enjoy.”

 

And somehow, things are a little better after that.

 

Izuku goes home feeling sad and quiet -- but a little bit cleaner, a little lighter, like he’s finally let out a ghost that’s been haunting him all these years.

 

--

 

A couple days later, he receives a couple new texts from Shinsou.

 

[9:51 AM] Shinsou: Hey, Midoriya. If you have any spare time, do you mind helping me out with a project of mine?

[9:53 AM] Shinsou: I have some inspiration for an art piece, but I need someone to help model.

[9:54 AM] Shinsou: You can say no. It’s not a big deal.

 

Izuku frowns. He almost says no, due to his allergy to anything that involves him being in photographs, but modeling for an art piece is way different than someone trying to snap a picture of him to put on their social media account. Plus, Izuku actually knows Shinsou, and Shinsou asked him permission.

 

If nothing else, Izuku likes Shinsou, and, well, he wants to see him again.

 

[10:01 AM] To Shinsou: Sure, I’d be happy to! Do you want to meet at the Here & There Cafe at 3 today?

[10:02 AM] To Shinsou: I didn’t know you made art, Shinsou-kun. That’s pretty cool!

 

[12:05 PM] Shinsou: It’s not very interesting, mostly just photography and photo illustrations. I haven’t made anything in a while, actually.

[12:06 PM] Shinsou: That works. See you at 3.

[12:06 PM] Shinsou: Thanks.

 

When Izuku arrives at Uemura’s cafe, Shinsou is already there, still wearing his school uniform. He’s got a black camera out, though, intently checking its contents. “Hey, Shinsou-kun,” Izuku calls, waving. “Sorry, am I late?”

 

“Not at all,” Shinsou says, and then he very smugly presents Izuku with a coffee cup.

 

“What?” Izuku says.

 

“It’s payback for the last time we met.”

 

“Are you,” Izuku says in disbelief, “are you taking petty revenge on me for buying both our coffees last time?”

 

“Yes,” Shinsou tells him. “Shut up and take the coffee.”

 

Izuku can’t help but laugh as he accepts Shinsou’s gift.

 

As he drinks his coffee, Shinsou explains what his plan is for the day. He makes photomanipulations, he tells Izuku, but he doesn’t like to use stock photos provided by other people, and tries to take his own photos where he can. Once he has all the stock pictures he wants, he’ll use them to create an art piece -- and for this piece in particular, he needs someone to model for the poses he has in mind. If Izuku doesn’t want his face in the final picture, Shinsou says, it’ll be easy to obscure his facial features. It’s up to Izuku.

 

It feels kind of strange and uncomfortable to be presented with a list of choices. Izuku says he’s fine with having his face in the picture just because he’s so uncomfortable trying to say no.

 

Shinsou accepts him at face value though, nods seriously, and then invites Izuku to take the train with him to the former manufacturing district at the edge of the city, where the old factories are.

 

Izuku doesn’t come here often -- it’s not a residential area, and mostly, it’s left alone. The streets are quiet, and the vast properties on either side of them are bound by rusting metal fences and dotted with large, box-like buildings and the slumbering silhouettes of abandoned machinery. Izuku feels like a trespasser, here, but Shinsou navigates the place with ease; he points to different buildings and offers easy bits of history and trivia for each. Here was once a car factory. Here was the building where they inspected products for quality. Here is a good, quiet place to sleep for a while or look at the stars.

 

Izuku suspects that this place, for Shinsou, is an escape from the daily realities of his life. Looking at the desolate metal cityscape, he can’t help but think -- that Shinsou’s life must be very lonely, or very sad, if he feels more at peace here among the abandoned factories than at his own home.

 

And then they reach the railroads, and Izuku is too busy climbing around and holding poses to think too much more on it.

 

It quickly becomes apparent to Izuku that Shinsou either is blithely ignorant or has no fear of God or death, because he walks among all the ominous and derelict machinery easy as anything and will evidently do anything to get a good shot. Izuku watched nervously as Shinsou climbs on top of an abandoned train and hooks his leg around a strut on the top, leaning out and away until he's swinging precariously in the air, camera held diligently before his eyes. No hint of fear or uncertainty presents itself on Shinsou’s face. When he's done with the photo, he can't get himself back on top of the train car, so he kicks off from the train and lands roughly on the ground. He gets scuffed in the process but proudly proclaims that his camera has not suffered a single scratch.

 

Izuku has the faint, growing suspicion that Shinsou is a little bit detached from reality.

 

He learns a few more things about Shinsou while they're taking photos:

 

  1. Shinsou is a perfectionist. He fusses over tiny details, adjusting Izuku’s arms and feet and pose over and over again until he's finally satisfied with his pictures.
  2. Shinsou talks to himself. Kind of. It's sort of a white noise thing, a “let me change the mode real quick… hm… not there, not there either….” or a “come on, camera, you were working just fine yesterday. Oh wait, there we go.” It’s an extremely vague commentary, broken up by fragments of Shinsou’s thoughts, but it's rather cute to watch Shinsou intently clicking away at his camera while mumbling all the while to himself.
  3. Shinsou is much more social when he has something to do.

 

He's more absent, with his attention split between talking and taking photographs, but he talks more all the same. He and Izuku have a meandering conversation about various books they've read, Shinsou lets slip that he has a photography blog, and he asks about Izuku’s hobbies. It's nice, and easy, and somehow -- despite the photos, despite Shinsou’s finicky directions and neverending adjustments to his pose -- Izuku manages to relax.

 

And then Shinsou asks what Izuku’s Quirk is, and all of Izuku’s responses wither up and die on his tongue.

 

“--just wondering, since you never mentioned it, and you know mine already,” Shinsou is saying, frowning down at the display on his camera. When Izuku’s silence drags out, he looks up, a crease appearing between his brows.

 

This is it, the moment Izuku has to choose. Does he want Shinsou to know him as Deku, does he want to keep spinning that lie until Shinsou only knows some fabrication of himself -- or does he want Shinsou to meet Midoriya Izuku, the Quirkless wreck whose life is in tatters, who was bullied and alone for so long because of what he didn’t have?

 

The safe thing to do would be to say yes, I have a Quirk, to name it as strength enhancement and move on. But that’s not -- that’s not who Izuku is, really, and -- after Shinsou has already seen so much of everything he tries to hide… he doesn’t want to lie. He wants Shinsou to know him, not a false identity he’s been hiding behind all along.

 

But he’s terrified of baring himself to someone like that, too. He’s never…

 

“Sorry, was that an insensitive question?” Shinsou asks, looking back down and busying himself very deliberately with the contents of his camera. “I didn’t even think if you might be Quirkless, or if you’d prefer not to say. Sorry.”

 

“It’s -- it’s fine,” Izuku says. “I just… wasn’t ready for the question.” And then he falls silent because he’s not ready to answer it, either, because either way, he is going to have to make a sacrifice: his secret and safety, or his chance to form a friendship as just himself and nothing else.

 

He can’t make the choice. He struggles with himself, wavers between fear and want, and Shinsou has to save him from the dilemma, in the end. “You don’t have to answer,” Shinsou says. He adds with a sardonic smile, “If there’s anyone who understands not wanting to disclose your Quirk, it’s me.”

 

Izuku closes his eyes, guilty and relieved. “Thank you,” he says. And, “I’m sorry. Maybe -- maybe later. But…”

 

Shinsou nods. He doesn’t look upset. But his smile takes on a bitter twist as he says, “It’s unfair, isn’t it? People with blessed Quirks… they have no idea how lucky they are.”

 

Izuku thinks of Kacchan, how everyone around him always praised him for his talent and how kind the teachers were to him for it. Todoroki and his powerful Quirk, which drew admiration but not fear, which he would have discarded once upon a time like so much dirt and mud. “Yeah,” he agrees quietly. “They really don’t.”

 

And then he looks at Shinsou and thinks of the fight he had with Todoroki at the Sports Festival, how he’d taunted Todoroki with sharp barbs about his looks, his worth, his father -- Shinsou’s only weapon against Todoroki’s ice had been his cutting words, but it wasn’t enough. Todoroki had blown him out of the ring with such fury, for a moment Izuku had been worried that he would break a bone. But no, Todoroki had only frozen him up to his neck in a wall of ice and walked away without bothering to free Shinsou after the match was over.

 

The bad blood between them is very justified, Izuku thinks, but knowing both sides of their story, he can’t help but feel a little sad.

 

Half an hour later, when Shinsou is finally satisfied with the pictures they took, they walk back to the station and catch a train downtown. It’s a fairly empty train, and they grab some window seats in the back.

 

Shinsou slides his gaze sideways over at Izuku and says, “There is one other thing I’d like to speak to you about.”

 

That sounds… bad. “What is it?” Izuku says nervously.

 

Shinsou makes a face as he gathers his thoughts, and he sighs. “It’s a message from Uraraka, at Yuuei. She said you’d know who she was.”

 

Izuku’s stomach drops.

 

“You don’t have to listen to it,” Shinsou says. “I didn’t make any promises.” He lets out a little huff of laughter. “I didn’t even promise to pass on the message. So. There are zero consequences, whatever you want to do.”

 

Izuku takes a deep breath and deliberately relaxes his shoulders, lacing his fingers together on his lap so he doesn’t start picking at the hem of his hoodie. His heart is thumping.

 

“What did she want?” he says, with a serenity he does not feel.

 

Shinsou studies him carefully. “She wants to meet you in person to discuss her classmate. Bakugou.”

 

Izuku exhales slowly and fixes his gaze on a faded poster stuck to the train wall. On the Premise of Peace, he mouths to himself. It is a fact well-taken that we, Japan, have entered a golden age of heroism and peace. This is, however, not as true as one might hope… It’s not working. It’s not calming him down. Izuku squeezes his eyes shut and presses his hands against the side of his head, as if that might force all the bad thoughts out, but it’s a futile practice, he knows. Panic attacks, what a familiar old friend. Izuku draws his knees up to his chest and takes another deep, measured breath that doesn’t match the jackrabbit pace pounding against his ribs.

 

“Midoriya,” Shinsou says from the side. Izuku glances over, sees Shinsou’s hand hovering uncertainly over his shoulder. “What do you need?”

 

“Just a bit -- a bit of time,” Izuku manages to say, and then he goes through the entire cycle of a too-fast heartbeat, chest pains, a sudden overwhelming fear of dying, the usual obligatory tearing up, and a numbness that pushes the entire world just a little bit far away.

 

“Okay, I’m good now,” Izuku tells Shinsou, once the panic attack has mostly passed.

 

“...Right,” says Shinsou, not sounding like he believes Izuku at all. But he doesn’t fight Izuku about it, just accepts what he says and moves on. “What do you want to do?”

 

Izuku licks his dry lips. He doesn’t want to talk to Uraraka about any of it, but at the same time, he wants someone to know. There is a spiteful, bitter part of him that wants Kacchan to feel the consequences. And there is a softer, harder part of him that wants to move forward, and it says here is your chance, and it says you may not move on if you try, but maybe you can move past.

 

“What do you think I should do, Shinsou-kun?” he says, head bowed, looking at his hands.

 

There’s a beat of silence. “If you chose not to talk to her, I think you would be justified,” Shinsou says finally, in a tone of voice that suggests that he’s connected all the dots.

 

“What…” Izuku bites his lip. “What did she say, exactly?”

 

“...She made it very clear that she would go to any lengths to try and help her friend. I would guess that she’s channeled all her worry into anger, and that into determination.”

 

Uraraka is just trying to do her friend right.

 

Izuku counts -- one two three four five, one two three four five -- and then he says, “Do you mind passing along my message to her?”

 

Shinsou inclines his head.

 

“Tell her,” says Izuku, “that she can find me at Seijitsu on Wednesday at four. I’ll wait for her for half an hour, but no longer.”

 

Shinsou studies him for a moment, golden eyes reflecting light strangely in the dimness of the train. “You don’t have to do this, Midoriya,” he says, and then he is quiet, waiting.  

 

Izuku closes his eyes. “I’m tired of being afraid.”

 

And Shinsou doesn’t question him any further. He just nods, settles back into his seat and closes his eyes to nap, and the easy acceptance of what Izuku wants is so -- so foreign, for a moment he doesn’t know what to do.

 

Izuku gets off the train before Shinsou does. He says goodbye, and Shinsou raises his hand in a lazy wave. Before he steps off the train, he hears Shinsou say, “Thanks for helping out,” but when he turns around to respond, the train doors are already closing.

 

So he texts Shinsou instead. I had fun today. Thanks!

 

Shinsou responds a moment later with a selfie. It’s a blurry picture, and he’s only halfway in the frame, backlit by the train window behind him so the shadows fall over his face. He is absolutely expressionless, but he’s holding up an enthusiastic peace sign tilted at the exact same angle as his head, and the juxtaposition is so weird that it makes Izuku laugh.

 

That’s the fourth thing Izuku learns about Shinsou, that day. It’s been hidden behind his smirks and his blank mask and his unusual talent for finding ominous and dramatic lighting to stand in, but it turns out Shinsou has just been a huge dork all along.

 

--

 

Wednesday afternoon finds Izuku sitting in downtown Musutafu, in the ambiguous few blocks between the business district and the red-light district. His palms are sweating, and there’s a weird sort of numbness threatening to break into pins and needles in his arms and legs. Izuku distracts himself by reading through the news articles he saved to his phone the other day, for reading at a later date.

 

It distracts him very well. He doesn’t notice Uraraka has arrived until she calls, “Deku-kun!” and startles him to his feet, knees bent and ready for a fight-or-flight.

 

Uraraka is standing there with her arms stiff by her side and her mouth set in a thin line. But what really catches Izuku’s attention is the entire entourage of students crowded behind her -- Kirishima, Mina, Asui, even Todoroki and Iida, and a boy with electric-bright blond hair and another with black hair.

 

Izuku almost takes off right then and there, rocking back on his heels, but -- he said he would be here if she came. He takes a deep breath and settles firmly back on the ground. “Good afternoon, Uraraka-san,” he says, as calmly as he can manage.

 

She nods at him firmly. “Sorry I’m late. All these people decided to tag along. You don’t mind speaking to them, do you? We’re all Bakugou-kun’s friends, here.”

 

Actually, Izuku does mind, but he doesn’t know how to say no. His eyes dart to the street. Before he can make any ill-advised decisions, though, someone cuts in. “That’s up to him,” says a familiar voice coolly, and Izuku turns to see Shinsou standing a little ways to the side.

 

His shoulders relax an infinitesimal bit. When he gives a small smile, Shinsou nods a greeting to him in return.  

 

Uraraka narrows her eyes at Shinsou. “We all deserve to know,” she says. “This has gone on long enough.”

 

“Then tell everyone afterwards.” Shinsou’s mouth curls up into something derisive. “This isn’t a freak show for you to gawk at.”

 

Uraraka straightens up, fire burning in her gaze, and she takes a step forward, and Shinsou lifts his chin defiantly -- and oh god, they’re going to fight if Izuku doesn’t say something, aren’t they. “It’s okay, Shinsou-kun,” he says. “Thank you, though. I appreciate it.” Shinsou gives him a level look, but he crosses his arms and dips his head in acknowledgment. Izuku glances back at Uraraka’s entourage, looks away before he can meet any of their eyes. “Let’s go inside.”

 

Seijitsu is full of traditional-style walls and windows, beautifully decorated with calligraphy. It’s full of the usual business people and groups dressed in traditional wear. Izuku tells the waiter at the front that he’s here for his reservation. The waiter leads them down the hall and slides open the door for them; the tatami-mat floor is largely empty, save for the small table and a few cushions.

 

Izuku accepts the two menus offered to him and takes a seat at the table, which prompts everyone to crowd into the room. Shinsou takes a seat by him; the other Yuuei students cluster around Uraraka, who takes a seat direct opposite from him with a challenging look in her eyes.

 

Kirishima breaks the silence first. “Dude,” he says, leaning forward, “where the hell did you bring us? I feel like someone’s gonna come in and start pouring a tea ceremony at any moment.

 

Izuku cracks a smile and shakes his head. “Seijitsu is just a place to go out with your friends and enjoy private conversation at the same time,” he says. “People meet here for business, or to have discreet meetings. Stuff like that.” And due to its location, he's sure it has been the clandestine meeting place of many a businessperson and criminal element. He pushes the menus to the middle of the table. “I thought this would be a good place to talk. Their tea is very good.”

 

“Aw, man,” whines the black-haired boy. His teeth are very straight. “I didn’t bring my money today.”

 

“Don’t worry about the cost,” Izuku says. “I’ll take care of it. Please, everyone pick out something you’d like.”

 

They spend the next few minutes looking over the menu. The Yuuei kids are friendly with each other, passing the menu back and forth and arguing over which flavors are the best. Uraraka, however, remains mostly silent, speaking in short, clipped sentences.

 

When they place their orders and the waiter leaves, Izuku places his hands on his lap, takes a deep breath, and squares his shoulder. “Uraraka-san.”

 

She sits up straighter, meeting his eyes unflinchingly. “Are we finally getting started?”

 

“I’m still deciding whether or not to tell you what happened,” Izuku says.

 

Her eyes narrow. Out of the corner of his eye, Izuku can see the Yuuei students directing their gazes towards her like a magnet. “And why is that?”

 

In the end, it boils down to this. “Why do you need to know?”

 

Uraraka draws herself up sharply. Asui grabs her hand, and she visibly takes a deep breath to calm herself down. Then, “Bakugou-kun’s been upset for weeks. His grades and performance are getting worse. He keeps making careless mistakes and getting himself unnecessarily cornered in hero training, and he barely even cares. And he won’t talk to any of us about it. He’s shutting us all out and he’s not getting any better. And you want to know why I want to know--”

 

“Ochako-chan,” says Asui.

 

Uraraka cuts herself off, clenching her jaw.

 

“It’s true, though,” Kirishima breaks in. “Bakugou’s been real out of it lately. It’s not good for him, man. We just want to know what happened so we can help out, y’know?”

 

Izuku leans back, and surveys the Yuuei kids. “Kacchan is that important to you?”

 

“Yes,” says Kirishima emphatically.

 

“He’s loud, and angry, and he swears a lot, but he’s fun to be around,” adds the yellow-haired boy.

 

“All of us really, really want to help him get better!” Ashido says, nodding firmly.

 

Iida pushes up his glasses. “Bakugou-kun is an important member of our class, and as such, we are all concerned for his well-being.”

 

The others are all nodding or murmuring their agreements. The only exception to this is Todoroki, who is leaning stoically against the wall and looks rather like he’s tasted something slightly unpleasant. Still, overall, the care they have for Kacchan is clear. They’re good friends, Izuku thinks enviously. Kacchan is lucky to have them.

 

How can he say anything to ruin that?

 

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” he says.

 

He ignores the “What?” and the various cries of outrage issuing from the group and doggedly continues on. “I’m… happy that you’re all there for Kacchan. If he’s smart, and he is, then he’ll start responding to you all soon. I hope you all continue to look after him.” He bows low, forehead almost touching the ground.

 

“Hey, wait a minute,” says the black-haired one with a frown. “You know what happened, yeah? Just tell us and we’ll be outta your hair. It won’t take a minute.”

 

Izuku has a brief, dizzying vision of him trying to spill his guts out and baring his insides to an entire group of strangers who are still too close to home to be safe. His mind slams shut so loud he’s still reeling with the echo when his mouth says, “No.”

 

“What? Why not?” demands Kirishima.

 

“It won’t help,” Izuku says, running his hand through his hair. “It doesn’t matter at this point. It already happened, and we’re all just -- just dealing with the fallout of it, and it sucks, but -- telling you would just make you upset -- and me upset -- and then Kacchan would be upset--”

 

“He’s already upset,” Uraraka says. “We’ve tried to help, but we can’t help him if we don’t know what the problem is.” She crosses her arms on the table and leans forward. “Stop avoiding the question and just tell us what you did.”

 

Laughter bursts from Izuku’s lips. “What I did? You think I started this?”

 

Uraraka frowns. “What does that mean?”

 

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Izuku says, well aware of how transparently false that statement is -- but he doesn’t care. He just doesn’t care. “If you want to know so badly, why don’t you go ask Kacchan? Don’t drag me into this.”

 

“We did ask,” Uraraka snaps. “He wouldn’t tell us anything. He only mentioned your name and took off, and we had to put all the pieces together. You’re friends with him, aren’t you? We want to help him. You should, too.”

 

Kirishima and Mina both shift uneasily and glance at each other. For a moment, the fire of anger roars to life right next to Izuku’s heart, burning black and resentful through his veins -- but Uraraka is just trying to look out for her friends. She doesn’t know what she’s saying. Izuku takes a deep breath and carefully crushes the flame to mere embers, but the smoke still clogs his lungs.

 

“Has it occurred to you,” he says calmly, “that there is a reason Kacchan doesn’t want to tell you?”

 

“Of course it has,” Uraraka says. “But I’m not willing to wait for him to fall apart before taking action. Why are you so determined to hide what happened?”

 

Izuku wants to laugh, all this helpless frustration bubbling in him. What is there to say? How can he explain to her why she wouldn’t want to know without telling her what happened in the first place? He just looks at her, and looks at the rest of the Yuuei kids, all of them tense and intent, barring Shinsou, who is sitting quiet and watchful by his side. They really have no idea, he thinks, and something disdainful yet despairingly envious shifts under his skin. They really don’t know, and yet here they are, demanding answers they’ll regret. “This isn’t something you want to hear about your friend,” Izuku says, and something in his voice goes terribly dead and flat.

 

The atmosphere shifts. It hangs over them. For a moment, Izuku thinks none of them are going to say anything, but then -- “Who are you to decide that for us?” the yellow-haired one says, a little too loudly, almost accusingly. “Maybe we’re better at dealing with things than you are. And anyways, if you’re Bakugou’s friend, then you should want people to help him out!”

 

The tenuous thing inside him, already stretched taut, snaps.

 

“Of course I want someone to help,” Izuku snarls. “But telling you isn’t gonna! It’s not gonna solve a single thing! I don’t even know who you are, you’re just -- a stranger -- and here you are barging into my life, asking me to -- to tell you something I’m barely coming to terms with myself! How fucking rude can you be? Why are you so selfish about this?! Why can’t you just -- just be happy you don’t know! ‘Cause you don’t want to know! Even I didn't want to know, and I'm the one he fucking--”

 

He cuts himself off. The boy stares at him, eyes round with surprise.

 

“Just go home,” Izuku says finally. He’s tired. “Just go home. You all are probably more important to Kacchan than I ever was, anyways. If he’ll tell anyone, he’ll tell you.”

 

The room is quiet. And then, softly, from Uraraka, “And if he doesn’t?”

 

Then why do I have to take responsibility? Izuku thinks, but at that moment, the waiter comes back with all their drinks, and they all have to awkwardly pretend that everything is fine while the waiter hands everything out. When the waiter leaves, they all fall into a terrible silence.

 

It’s Asui who breaks it.

 

“Sorry, Deku,” she says. “I think we stepped somewhere we shouldn’t have. We just… didn’t know what to do.”

 

Izuku shifts his gaze to her. She meets his gaze, patient, soft. “It’s selfish of us to ask,” she says, and her grip on Uraraka’s hand tightens, “but do you know anything we can do?”

 

… They’re just trying to look out for their friend.

 

Izuku puts his face in his hands. He counts to ten, forwards and backwards, and then he does it again. What should he do?

 

“Can everyone leave, please,” he says through his hands. “Except Asui-san. And Shinsou-kun. If you don’t mind.”

 

And then, after a moment of hesitation, he adds, “Uraraka-san, you can stay too if you want.”

 

There’s a minute of shuffling and hushed whispers as people file out of the room. Izuku only puts his hands down when he hears the door slide shut behind them, and when he looks up, it’s just Uraraka and Asui sitting across from him, and Shinsou idly sipping his juice.

 

Izuku lets out a deep breath.

 

“I don’t have any advice,” he says. “I haven’t seen Kacchan since…” He bites his lips, before continuing. “All I can do is. Tell you what happened. But it’s not…” He presses his fingernails into his palms, looks down, and counts in his head. He can do this. “Are you sure you want me to tell you? There’s nothing else you can do?”

 

“Tell us,” says Uraraka.

 

Izuku closes his eyes. “It’s your choice.”

 

So he tells them.

 

He tells them the early days -- how he and Kacchan knew each other almost all their lives, how his Quirk didn't manifest visibly when he was younger and they all thought he was Quirkless, how Kacchan started making fun of him for it. (The misdirection about his Quirk -- or rather, the lack thereof -- leaves a bad taste in his mouth.) How he would occasionally try and stop Kacchan and his gang from picking on other students and how it would leave him with bruises and burns he couldn’t explain. The daily insults, the social isolation, the fights -- the time Izuku left the classroom and came back to find Kacchan’s friends throwing his bag out the window into the pond below. It felt shitty, he tells them. He tried to ignore it, and for years he had been pretending that everything was okay. But it wasn’t, because in the end, even though Kacchan meant so much to him -- he was always afraid.

 

“Kacchan hasn’t really -- giving me a bad burn or injury in a couple years,” he says, looking down at his hands. “So really -- I guess I could’ve… I should’ve just ignored it, right? He wasn’t really hurting me anymore. I was just scared. That was just me. But -- when I talked to Tamanaha-sensei, she pointed out that Kacchan had been…”

 

It was easier to tell them about the events themselves. But naming them still feels too raw, too vulnerable, too weak , and Izuku -- he can’t say it outright.

 

And then, for the first time since they’ve entered the room, Shinsou speaks up. “Don’t push yourself, Midoriya,” he says. “If you can’t say anything more, I’ll take over from here.”

 

“Would you?” Izuku says, looking up.

 

Shinsou nods. Izuku exhales, and nods, and slumps defeated in his seat.

 

“The long and short of it,” Shinsou says, turning to Uraraka and Asui, “is that… Bakugou” -- he says it like it’s a dirty word -- “has physically and emotionally abused Midoriya for most of his life.” Izuku flinches. “Only recently was Midoriya able to escape. If your friend is upset, it is because Midoriya has left his control, or because he has realized something about himself he did not want to.” Shinsou’s lip curls up slightly, but he smooths it out. “I suppose we should all be so lucky if it was the latter.”

 

A long and heavy silence hangs over the room.

 

Uraraka is the one who breaks it. “I know Bakugou-kun is -- difficult,” she begins, and stops. “...You’re not lying, are you? Bakugou-kun may be rough, but he’s not a bad person.” Her voice, quiet at first, gains in strength and confidence. “He’s my friend. He wouldn’t do that.”

 

“Am I -- lying,” Izuku says, and he feels that visceral, angry animal rage rising in him again. He told her what happened, he showed her his hurts, he bared the deepest part of himself, and she asks this? He hates her, he thinks. In that moment, he hates her. “Why would I lie?

 

“I don’t know,” says Uraraka. “Bad blood, perhaps? Revenge? Bakugou-kun is crude to everyone , and everyone in our class has gotten a few injuries from sparring with him before. Aren’t you just making a big deal out of it?”

 

“Am I,” Izuku snaps acerbically, but -- maybe he is. Is he--?

 

“Bakugou-kun is going to be a hero,” Uraraka says. “He wouldn’t abuse anyone. I don’t know what you were expecting, saying something so obviously untrue to me, but--”

 

“You’re out of line,” Shinsou cuts in coldly. “You’re the one who asked for answers.” He tilts his head just so, until the light washing through the window can no longer cover the shadow on his face. His eyes glint, almost malevolent, in the dark. “If you don’t like what you heard, that’s your own fault,” he says lowly, halfway a warning, and Uraraka presses her lips together, eyes narrowing as though she’s getting ready for a fight.

 

But then Asui squeezes Uraraka’s hand and says, “That was mean, Ochako. You should apologize,” and Uraraka lets out a slow breath and nods.

 

“I’m sorry,” she says, and offers a formal bow from her sitting position. “Tsuyu-chan is right. -- As is Shinsou-kun. I’m allowing my personal attachment to cloud my judgment. I hope you understand.”

 

Izuku lets out a long breath and tries to tamp down his hurt. It takes a moment, but he’s had years of practice. “It’s…” Well, it’s not fine. “Um. Apology accepted…?”

 

Uraraka straightens up and nods firmly. Her mouth is tilted downward in heavy turmoil, and a great invisible weight has settled on her shoulders, but she still says, “I appreciate that you took the time to speak with me today. Thank you.”

 

He can’t stand it, the way she says it, as if what he just did was a -- a favor, or something. Nothing about this was good. “It’s your choice what to do with this information, now,” he says, looking away. “I’m… sorry. It would have been easier for everyone if I’d just… not said anything, and taken the blame. I think -- I think you would have been happier.”

 

“No,” says Shinsou, strongly. “No.”

 

Uraraka nods, though she doesn’t look very happy about agreeing with Shinsou. “It’s not easy. But I think it was necessary.” She stands up, offers a hand to Asui, and pulls her up. “We should be going, then. There’s a lot to think about.”

 

“Wait,” Izuku says. “Before you go.”

 

Uraraka and Asui both look at him. He bites his lip. “How much do your friends… I mean. Did you tell them? About me?”

 

Uraraka blinks, but then something about her features softens, and she shakes her head. “Don’t worry, Deku. Your secret is safe with us.”

 

His head bows and his shoulders slump with relief. “Thank you.”

 

“It’s no problem,” says Asui. She tilts her head. “We should be thanking you. I understand now why you didn’t want to tell us what happened between you and Bakugou-chan, and you had every right not to. But you decided to help us anyways.” And then she bows, dark green hair slipping to the side. “Thank you for being kind.”

 

Uraraka looks at her, and then she follows her lead and bows, deeper than Asui did. “Thank you,” she says. “I’m sorry as well.”

 

Too little, too late. But although Izuku is bitter, he doesn’t think he can hold a grudge. “I hope you find a way to help Kacchan soon,” he says, instead of anything else. “Good luck with everything.”

 

They leave, and then it’s just Shinsou and Izuku, alone.

 

Izuku isn't sure what to say, but Shinsou breaks the silence first. “How are you feeling?” he says, sliding his gaze over at Izuku over the rim of his cup.

 

“Tired,” Izuku says after a moment of thought. “Bare. I wish...there was some other way to do this.” He looks halfway at Shinsou, then looks back away. “Thanks for coming today. You didn't have to.”

 

Shinsou shrugs. “It wasn't a problem. I was planning on coming anyways.”

 

“You were?”

 

Shinsou takes a long sip of his drink, as if to avoid answering. Then, “I'm sure you're aware, but there's little love lost between the heroics department and I.” He smiles, a bit self-deprecating. “They can be very... closed off to anyone who isn't in their circle, walking the same path. I suppose I wanted to make sure they wouldn't... push things too far. It's a bit presumptuous of me, isn't it?”

 

“Maybe... but you were just looking out for me, a bit. Right?” Izuku glances at Shinsou, but he's turned his head away, looking out the window. “You didn't have to. I really appreciate it.” He licks his lips nervously before pressing on with what he wants to say. “I was -- really nervous when everyone showed up, but seeing you were there made me feel a bit better. So. Thanks for coming, Shinsou-kun.”

 

Shinsou laughs softly, turning halfway back towards him. “You don't have to thank me. This is just my own selfishness, isn't it?”

 

“I don't know,” says Izuku. “But it helped me, so I'm thankful for it. That's really all I need to know.”

 

Shinsou really looks at him then, gold eyes almost as bright as the sunlight spilling in through the window.

 

“You're really something else, Midoriya,” he says finally. “You're not even going to ask what happened when I passed on the message?”

 

Izuku blinks. “Should I?”

 

“...Maybe not. It's nothing interesting. Just my own problems with Class 1-A.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“It's fine. I shouldn't unload all my problems on you.” He tilts his head at Izuku's coffee, which is still on the table, untouched. “Are you going to drink that?”

 

Izuku looks at the cup. He doesn't know if he can really stomach anything after that entire conversation, but. He should stock up on his energy, right? “Yeah.” He picks it up and takes a couple sips, but that's all he can convince himself to at the moment.

 

“Do you need any help paying for everyone's drinks?” Shinsou asks him after a moment. “There were a lot of last-minute additions.”

 

Izuku shakes his head. “I've got this.”

 

They go out to the front desk. Shinsou watches as Izuku pulls coupon after crumpled coupon out of his pockets, cutting down 50%, then 75%, and by the end, Izuku only owes the shop about 400 yen.

 

“That,” Shinsou says as they walk out of Seijitsu, “was the most impressive thing I've seen in weeks.”

 

Izuku shrugs. “I just have a lot of coupons lying around.” A lot of the people try and repay his help with them, for some reason, and Izuku has always had plenty of reason to scour the surrounding area for good deals.

 

Shinsou shakes his head. “You never fail to surprise me, Midoriya.”

 

Izuku doesn't really know what to say to that.

 

“Oh, Shinsou-kun, by the way,” he remembers, right before they part ways at the bus stop, “how's your art piece going along? The one you asked me to, um, model for?”

 

Shinsou blinks slowly at him. “...Not bad. It's the most inspiration I've had in months.”

 

Izuku smiles. “I'm really glad to hear that! If it's not a private thing, I'd really love to see it when it's done.”

 

Shinsou hesitates for a long moment before he says, “Okay,” looking rather surprised by his own answer. “If it doesn't turn out too badly.”

 

Izuku laughs. “I'll hold you to that,” he says, and then he waves goodbye as he leaves. He wishes he hadn't met Shinsou because of an occasion like this, but... it was nice to see him again, all the same.

 

He’s halfway through the commercial district when his phone buzzes. It’s a message from Mitoki. yo dude, i got your homework for today, are you gonna drop by?

 

He forgot. Izuku adjusts his course and veers towards Mitoki's apartment, breaking into a jog when he glances at the sky and realizes it's getting late. It's still light out, since summer has been pushing back the time of sunset, but best be home by dinner.

 

When he knocks on the door, one of Mitoki’s moms answers -- the one with the same red hair as him. She takes one look at him, raises an eyebrow, and asks if he wants to sit down.

 

“Um, no, I'm just here to pick up my homework,” he mumbles.

 

“Why don't you go to Toki-chan’s room,” she says, and ushers him in through the door.

 

Mitoki is in the middle of a video game match when he walks into the room, hands tapping furiously at the keyboard as he yells triumphantly into his headset, “Take that, you bastards!” Izuku watches as a burst of gunfire eliminates two players on the screen. Mitoki whoops. Izuku decides to wait for Mitoki to finish, leaning against the door jamb and crossing his arms. He can't help but smile foolishly as he watches Mitoki play the game in his distinctly Mitoki manner.

 

Mitoki finishes the game and throws his hands in the air, crowing, “Victory!” He spins around in his swivel chair, then does a double take when he sees Izuku grinning at him from the doorway. “Izuku? How long have you been there?” he says, pulling his headset off.

 

“Not long,” Izuku says. “I just came here to pick up my homework. Thank you for helping with… all this, by the way.”

 

“No problem, dude.” Mitoki stretches like a cat and hops out of the chair. “You alright? You look a little completely terrible.”

 

Uh. Wow, Izuku had no idea his emotional state was that easy to see. It feels bad. Feels uncomfortable. “I'm… alright,” he says, but it sounds incredibly false, so he sighs and admits, “I had a difficult conversation before I came here. I feel sort of… worn and faded.”

 

“Dissociation,” says Mitoki sagely, and Izuku blinks, filing the term away to look up later. If he can actually remember it. “Did something happen?”

 

Izuku looks down and twists his hands. “...Yeah.” He hits a wall there. He still hasn't told Mitoki what happened with Kacchan, so Mitoki pretty much has no idea what's going on with Izuku or why he's been staying home from school. In fact, he's been leaving it almost entirely alone, and hasn't asked any questions other than “What do you need right now?” Izuku has vastly appreciated the space Mitoki’s given him, but maybe it's about time to actually explain what's happening.

 

“...I don't know where to start,” Izuku admits after a moment more of thought. He can't quite look at Mitoki in the eye.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Mitoki asks.

 

Izuku blinks. “I…”

 

“I mean, you don’t have to,” his friend says, “‘cause whatever it was got you shook up real bad, but I’m burning up with curiosity over here, and ya know, I gotta know if there’s anybody I need to punch.”

 

The thought of Mitoki socking Kacchan in the face makes Izuku choke with laughter for a second, because Mitoki absolutely would if he could. But Mitoki has gotten into a fight with Kacchan for his sake already, actually, has already shown what lengths he’ll go to, and that’s the thought that makes Izuku sober and finally cement his decision.

 

“Okay,” he says. “Just… It’s going to take a while.”

 

“Take as much time as you need, dude.”

 

This time, when Izuku tells the story, he manages to get through it. His voice still shakes, his eyes still sting, but he does it. The pain has been scoured and examined so many times already, so thoroughly, that it has diminished from sharp grief into a dull ache. The accomplishment makes him feel proud, but at the same time, melancholy, and when he finishes, he subsides into silence.

 

Mitoki is silent for a moment longer too, frowning at Izuku. Then he says, “I’m going to go punch him.”

 

Izuku lets out a startled laugh. “Mitoki, no.

 

“Just a little bit!” Mitoki protests. “You didn’t even hear me out! At least let me brick his phone.”

 

Izuku can’t help but laugh again, but he bites his lip and tries to keep his face straight as he tells Mitoki, “Vigilante justice isn’t the way to go.”

 

“Oh, like you’re one to talk. Wait, was that a joke?”

 

“I just think that meting out extrajudicial punishment is bad and illegal, like any good citizen would,” Izuku says solemnly.

 

“It’s not extrajudicial punishment! It’s just me punching an asshole in the face,” Mitoki says indignantly. “I’m doing the whole world a favor, here!”

 

“Your punching him in the face is not sanctioned by the law,” Izuku tells him seriously.

 

“You have no right to say that after helping me break into Yuuei.”

 

“What? I'd never do that. That's illegal, you know.”

 

Mitoki cracks up then, and that pretty much marks the end of that conversation. They spend the next few hours playing some co-op video games, and by the time Izuku leaves that day, he feels a little bit lighter, like somehow a door has been unlocked.

 

--

 

His life continues on as normal, for the most part, until a few days later when he’s volunteering at the soup kitchen again.

 

It’s a fairly average afternoon by all accounts. Izuku has just finished a shift helping prepare food during the lunch rush, and the manager, Ito Harukichi, has forcefully kicked him out of the kitchen to take a ten-minute break. Izuku hangs up his apron and hair hat and disposes of his gloves before walking out the door, grabbing a broom to sweep the courtyard because he is going to be productive during his break and nothing Ito says can stop him. He belligerently sets to work at the far corner, moving along the wall, and then -- “Excuse me,” he says as he steps around someone sitting along the wall, looking up briefly, before doing a double take. The girl in front of him has frozen, too, her chopsticks halfway lifted to her lips. “Uraraka-san?”

 

Uraraka gathers herself quickly. She puts her bowl down on the tray in her lap and says with careful politeness, “Deku-kun. What are you doing here?”

 

They both look at the broom that Izuku is very obviously holding in his hands in an awkward, stilted sort of silence, because it’s pretty clear already what Izuku is doing here. It’s just that this is not the place either of them would have wanted or expected to see the other. Uraraka’s greeting is perfunctory, really, nothing more than a thinly veiled request for him to leave. And, well. Izuku understands.

 

“I volunteer here,” he says. “I’m technically on break right now, but I didn’t want to just stand around, so--” he gestures with the broom. “Mostly I work in the back, organizing the food or helping make the meals, so -- this is just a chance meeting, really. You don’t have to worry about seeing me here again as long as you avoid the back entrance or avoid going into the kitchens. I’ll stay out of your way.”

 

Uraraka blinks, and something close to guilt steals across her expression. “You don’t have to--”

 

“It’s fine,” Izuku says. “We try to make this place as comfortable for everyone as possible, you know? Avoiding the courtyard isn’t hard.” He pauses, and then says, not looking at her, “If you don’t want to come here anymore, there are other places to go to. I -- my family used to need to come to the soup kitchen, when I was younger, so. I know all the best places to go.”

 

There is an unbearably long pause where Izuku watches the people eating and talking in the courtyard and pretends he and Uraraka aren’t trapped in a horribly awkward and distressingly personal situation. But when it drags on even longer than that, Izuku looks back at Uraraka to gauge her mood. She’s looking at him with a troubled expression. Izuku opens his mouth to apologize and leave, but -- “Deku-kun,” Uraraka says suddenly and strongly, with such intensity to almost be vehement. “I’m sorry for what I said to you the other day.”

 

Izuku stares at her for a good three seconds. “You don’t have to say that just because we ran across each other here.”

 

“I mean it,” she says, and she pats the space on the wall next to her. “If you’re on break and not too busy, sit with me a while?”

 

Izuku, tentatively, sits.

 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what you told me,” she says. “It’s been difficult to come to terms with, but that made me realize how much more difficult it must have been for you. So -- in hindsight, I really stepped over a lot of boundaries. And then I even accused you of lying after you finally agreed to tell me what went on with you and Bakugou-kun.” She looks at him, earnest and forceful. “I’m sorry about that. I really am.”

 

Izuku can’t hold her gaze; he breaks it and looks down at his feet. “It’s not like I blame you,” he says. “I didn’t want to believe it either.”

 

“It was me unfairly doubting you,” says Uraraka. “You’re a good person too. I don’t know why I overlooked that, only that I knew Bakugou-kun longer.”

 

She isn’t making an excuse or asking for forgiveness, just this, just offering an explanation and an apology. Izuku doesn’t really know what to do with them. Luckily for him, Uraraka keeps talking, which saves him from having to think of something to say. “What made you decide to start volunteering here?” Nevermind.

 

“I already used to come by and help out with… miscellaneous things,” Izuku says. Like getting them in touch with local restaurants who had extra food to give away, or connecting them to someone who could help them find a proper web designer for their online platform. Small things like that. “I guess -- I wanted to be able to help them in return for everything they’d done. I didn’t have time to volunteer before, but…” He shrugs. Now that he’s not exactly attending school in person, he has hours more to run around.

 

Uraraka nods. “It took me a while to find this place,” she says. “I only moved here at the start of the school year, to an apartment my parents rented for me -- I figured just cutting down on my expenses was fine, but then I wasn’t eating enough to keep up with the stress at Yuuei.” She smiles, a bit regretfully. “Everyone saw me pass out at the Sports Festival, fighting Bakugou-kun. After that, I decided I needed to take care of my needs better. But I didn’t want to worry my parents.”

 

Izuku knows that feeling very well. “The supermarket usually has bargain prices on Tuesdays, and if you ask, they usually give you a discount,” he says. “There are lots of coupons you can find if you go to the right magazine stands, too. I still pick them up for my mom while I’m around the city. If you time things right you can get like 80% off on your purchases at certain stores.” He pulls his wallet from his pocket and flips it open to show the collection of coupons bursting from the seams. “Want some to start off your collection?”

 

Uraraka laughs. “Thank you, but -- no, I can’t take advantage of you more than I already have. If you could point me to someplace nice that’s hiring, though, that would be nice.”

 

Izuku pauses. When he doesn’t respond, Uraraka looks at him, and then a sort of disbelief creeps into her gaze. “You actually know--?”

 

“I think I might know a few, actually. Do you have a pencil and paper on you?”

 

--

 

Before Izuku leaves that day, he manages to give her a list of student-friendly local businesses that are hiring, as well as the locations of a few more useful resources. When Izuku returns to his shift, things between him and Uraraka have lightened to something close to understanding, and almost a kinship of sorts.

 

Two days later, Izuku makes his rounds and is set upon by an enthusiastic Moriai as soon as he steps foot into the shop. She informs him that Uraraka has been hired on part time to help organize the books and the back room, and then she assails him with questions like where did Izuku meet her, when did Izuku get on such good terms with those Yuuei students, and has he given any more thought to taking on Tanaka as a partner-in-vigilantism? He only manages to extract himself from her thinly-veiled interrogation because Tanaka shows up and distracts her.

 

Izuku passes on a discreet congratulations to Uraraka through a text to Iida, and then Uraraka texts him directly from her phone, and that’s the beginning of their correspondence. This, in turn, prompts Todoroki and Iida to ask after Izuku’s well-being, both of them messaging him at once using Todoroki’s phone, which kicks up contact between the three of them again.

 

With how many people in Kacchan’s class that he knows now, Izuku is starting to feel like a cryptid, wayward student of Yuuei’s class 1-A. This feeling is only exacerbated when Todoroki and Iida start occasionally inviting him to train with them after school. Izuku accepts their invitations anyways, because it’s enjoyable hanging out with them and he’s sort of begun missing his occasional fights with Kacchan, but it doesn’t change the fact that an unexpected chunk of his life has started revolving around Yuuei. He’s even run into Eraserhead once or twice, when the hero stops in on their after-school training sessions, and gotten even more recommendations on books to read.

 

As for Shinshou, his messages to Izuku have come to a sudden and abrupt end. Izuku isn’t sure why, but after texting Shinshou a few times with no response, he’s stopped trying to make contact, feeling anxious and insecure but also strangely uneasy. He’s had no chance to talk to Shinsou at Yuuei yet.

 

Then it’s almost time for summer break. Izuku finally drops back into school, slotting himself back into place like his absence never happened in the first place. His classmates accept him back in easily after asking how he’s been, and teasing him a little bit on how much he’ll have to catch up with before the end-of-term finals. It’s fine, Izuku tells them, he’s been keeping up with the homework and there’s still a few days left.

 

His mom makes his favorite dish, katsudon, for dinner that night. When Izuku asks what for, she just beams at him and says she’s so happy that he’s finally feeling better again.

 

Izuku feels guilty for worrying her for so long, but then Yagi claps him on the back and says, “You’ve done well,” and Izuku can’t help but return the smile that Yagi gives him. It’s a good dinner, that night.

 

Things pick up from there. Izuku studies; he breezes through the end-of-term finals; and then he has a month ahead of him, an entire month to do whatever he wants. The first thing he does is visit Uemura’s neighborhood on Saturday to chat with everyone and ask how their art projects are going. They’re close to done -- and they’ve discussed with the art gallery owner already to see how to display their art. Izuku takes on the responsibility of promoting the auction on social media, once they’ve set it up, and he leaves the meeting feeling pleased and full of purpose.

 

He tells the good news to Kobayashi. She tells him that she’s been on standby and waiting for these funds for a while, so this better work out, you hear? It’s her way of telling him that she expects the best from him, so he smiles and promises that he’ll give it his all.

 

He invites Todoroki and Iida to keep training with him over break, but they apologetically decline, saying they have different plans for the summer and they’ll be away for the month. With that matter out of his hands, Izuku spends most of his time with Mitoki and Hatsume.

 

Mitoki, without school to hinder him, throws himself into the project. A mere two days later, when Izuku visits, Mitoki informs him that the server for the alarm system is finally done and the app is ready for use. “I’ve tested it quite a bit,” he says smugly. “That police officer you put in contact with me was great .”

 

Izuku hopes that Sancha escaped with his dignity and sanity intact. Just in case, he buys some sweets from Uemura’s cafe and stops by the station, waiting until Sancha’s back in. When Sancha arrives back from patrol looks stressed, and his fur is messy. Izuku asks if everything went alright with Mitoki.

 

“That kid,” Sancha says. “Hirata Mitoki. He is a menace.”

 

“I’m sorry,” says Izuku, trying not to laugh. Well, that answers that question. “He’s not the source of all your stress, is he?”

 

It’s a lighthearted joke, but Sancha just frowns at the papers in his hands and shakes his head. “Be careful, Izuku-kun,” he says, after a moment, and hurries away before Izuku can say anything else. Izuku can only watch his gray-suited form disappear into the recesses of the Police Force building and swallow down his unease.

 

The next day, Sanjuro texts him to let him know that he’s forwarded all the commissioned posters, along with a business card. Izuku prints off a bunch of stacks and applies his collection of coupons until it’s only half price, then runs around and distributes piles to Uemura (for her chain stores), Masaki (for his various offices and the homes he owns), and the police station. He also goes around with Sanjuro, hanging up posters and fliers in public areas and within any storefronts that allow them.

 

When he visits Mitoki later that day, Mitoki tells him, pleased, that they already have a few people who’ve downloaded the app.

 

“Me and Hatsume are makin’ a great website to showcase her inventions, get her some attention,” Mitoki adds. “I'm gonna promote the app on the front page and also on my blog.”

 

“I...didn't think Hatsume would let you do that.”

 

“Are you kidding me? She loves anything that gets her stuff more attention. She's eating it right up.” Then Mitoki perks up. “Hey, you brought your motorcycle today like I asked, right? You gotta take me on a spin on that thing.”

 

Izuku takes him for a spin on that thing. Mitoki loves it to death, and then tells Izuku that they need to give his motorcycle some upgrades (Izuku forcefully shoots down Mitoki’s suggestion for an attached flamethrower). He also persuades Izuku to stick a tracker on the motorcycle, “just in case you ever need it, y’know? Just press it to turn it on and I’ll be able to find it.”

 

Mitoki tries to play it down, but Izuku looks at him and remembers Mitoki’s urgent texts when Izuku was kidnapped, and accepts the tracker without another complaint.

 

As for the app, Izuku forgets to download it himself until his mother asks him if she's one of his emergency contacts. He admits that it hadn't occurred to him that he'd need it, since he's usually the one fighting villains off. His mother looks distraught.

 

Izuku downloads the app.

 

Mitoki has done a good job with it. It's a clean and simple interface, but still pleasing to the eye. Izuku goes to fill in some emergency contacts. He adds his mom, and then he adds Yagi-san, and then he adds Mitoki and Hatsume. He considers adding Todoroki and Iida for a moment, but he thinks they’re not quite to that level yet.

 

He continues scrolling through his contacts, spots a name, and hesitates. His thumb hovers over the name, and then he selects it.

 

It's alright, he reassures himself. It's not like he'll ever actually use this app, anyways. No one has to know.

 

All in all, he’s enjoying the summer. Things are going well. Progress with the app and the art auction are going smoothly. He and Mitoki have managed to persuade Hatsume to play video games with them, and she has become quite enamoured with one fantasy open-world video game (or more specifically, with downloading so many different mods that it becomes unrecognizable, and destroying it from the inside out), and it’s providing endless hours of entertainment for them all.

 

Izuku has plenty of time to go around the city during the day and visit all his friends and acquaintances, too. He and Tanaka have even gone and fixed a few more houses, and he’s even spent a few days just napping in her garden and talking about the latest T.V. shows. Moriai joins them sometimes with her knitting or sewing projects, and it’s… nice.

 

In the evenings, too, he spends time reading by the kotatsu as his mom and Yagi talk or do their own business. The T.V. plays white noise in the background, except when Izuku feels like watching a documentary or someone wants to watch the news. It’s… strangely domestic. Yagi’s house is starting to feel more like home -- warm, inviting, accepting.

 

His days are starting to feel less like a burden, and more like a promise: that there is something to look forward to today, that his friends are waiting for him, that he can be happy. And, he thinks, he is starting to be happy.

 

It’s an unsuspecting evening when it happens. It’s late; his mom went to bed an hour ago, and Yagi was just called away on urgent business, telling Izuku he didn’t know when he’d be back and also to go to sleep soon before disappearing out the door. That leaves Izuku alone at the kotatsu, poring over his notes on the latest essay he’s read as a news anchor drones on in the background.

 

The channel blares a ‘breaking news’ jingle. Izuku ignores it and adds a few sentences to his notebook, cross-referencing the tiny bit of macroeconomics he’s started teaching himself. But then the news anchor mentions Yuuei, and Izuku’s attention breaks. He looks up.

 

“--summer camp was just attacked by the so-called Villain Alliance, resulting in two people in critical condition and sixteen additional casualties. Although all the students have survived the attack, they have not gone without losses. Three students have been kidnapped: Tokoyami Fumikage, Monoma Neito, and Bakugou Katsuki.”

 

Izuku’s pencil snaps in his hand. His ears fill with white noise, and the world almost seems to tilt around him as he stares at the three pictures shown on screen: a bird-headed boy, a blond boy with an insincere smile, and last of all -- Kacchan’s unmistakeable self. No. No. Izuku has to -- he has to do something. There has to be something. But his body refuses to move, frozen, staring at the screen. His thoughts ricochet in his head with nowhere to go until it’s all white static, a loud ringing in his ears that almost overwhelms the world.

 

And in the midst of that, his heartbeat picks up, faster and faster -- and then it slows down, smooths into a strange calm that burns. He doesn’t know if it’s panic or anger. He doesn’t care. He needs to move.

 

Izuku finally pulls himself back to reality just in time to pin his attention back to the screen. “--lieve that the Villain Alliance had inside help," the anchor is saying. "In fact--

 

“--witness reports say that the Villain Alliance’s attack on the summer camp was led by a Yuuei student himself: first-year General Education student, Shinsou Hitoshi.”