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in death, at the end of the world

Chapter Text

The job is supposed to be routine.

They pull up to the mansion around four in the afternoon. The sky’s the color of steel, bruise-colored stormclouds creeping in over the horizon, and Izuku shivers as he steps out of the van, shoving his hands into the pocket of his too-large hoodie. The enormous, sloping lawns around them are barren and empty, the cobbled, gated driveway abandoned except for their two crimson Yuuei Paranormal Agency vans and a sedan Izuku assumes belongs to the mansion’s owner.

Kirishima scrambles out next to him and immediately whips around to take a selfie with the mansion, making sure to include the gnarled, blackened trees ringing around it, skeletal against the reddish brick of the building and the matte, charcoal-smudged sky.

“Fuckin’ stop that,” Bakugou says, landing hard on his feet next to Kirishima and beating dust off his pants like they’d wronged him personally. “Are you Snapchatting this?”

“Somebody’s got to,” Kirishima says sagely.

“He’s right,” Jirou tells Bakugou as she passes, arms loaded up with monitoring equipment. “Somebody’s got to.”

“No the fuck they don’t,” Bakugou snaps, but Jirou is already walking away, handing her armful of tech to Iida and returning to the trunk of the van to grab more.

Kirishima jogs over to help her unload, and Bakugou only hesitates half a second before following. Most of YPA’s tech fits in one van, but the overflow includes a few extra-long extension cords, one black crate of thermal imaging cameras, and a couple carefully-stored sets of night-vision goggles. Kirishima and Bakugou get it organized while Jirou hops into the tech van to make sure all the monitors are working after the drive.

“Iida, could you come take a look at the wiring over here? I want to make sure it’s perfect.”

While they work, Izuku gives the mansion another long look. It’s really enormous, five stories tall and turreted, the red brick crawling with vines. The windows are gray and flat, opaque with age and lack of care.

There’s a chill in the air, clinging to Izuku’s skin, that he doesn’t think has anything to do with the storm that’s coming.

“Something’s here,” Uraraka announces, and the rest of them pause in their work.

“Ah, are you positive?” Iida asks, looking up from where he’d been pouring over the layout of the building with Jirou. “I was worried this would be another dead end.”

“It’s not,” Uraraka says, and she follows Izuku’s gaze to the building’s front. “You feel it too, Deku?”

“Yeah,” Izuku mutters. “I do.”

Momo and Jirou exchange glances. Bakugou’s eyes rake over the mansion, and Izuku watches him crack his knuckles, sees the hunger in his face.

Izuku shivers again and looks away.

“What are you guys feeling?” Kirishima asks Uraraka, curiously. “Is it something angry?”

“No,” Uraraka says, and Izuku finishes for her.

“No,” he mumbles, looking up at the house. “It’s something sad.”

 

They finish unloading and then head inside to meet the owner of the mansion. The owner is a quiet, dark-haired, shabby-looking man with bags under his eyes like he hasn’t slept in weeks. When he gives them the tour, he speaks slowly and monotone, and looks only mildly annoyed when Iida interrupts him repeatedly to correct him on the history of the place. Izuku trails the group in silence, looking at the opulently decorated rooms and the richly decadent hallways, all of them slowly crumbling, in a subtle kind of disrepair.

They enter the living room. At the front of the group, Momo cuts Iida off before he can launch into another lecture involving facts that date back to the 1700s. “You don’t live here, then, Mr.-?”

“Aizawa,” the owner says, dry. “No, I don’t live here. I bought the property at a charity auction years ago. I’ve tried to keep it preserved, to the best of my ability, but things keep breaking and catching fire when I’m not around. One winter, the furniture iced over completely.”

“So whatever’s here is a destructive force, then?” Momo asks, and Aizawa shrugs with one shoulder.

“I’m not sure about all that, but I get the feeling that whatever’s here hates this place even more than I do.”

Izuku looks around the room, at the towering ceilings, at the furniture draped in moth-eaten maroon velvet, at the crystal chandelier dripping with spiderwebs. At the dusty portrait, hanging above the immaculate stone fireplace.

The portrait is faded and probably about as tall as Izuku is. The image is of a family, a large one, with an enormous, red-haired man standing at the center of a cluster of children. They’re all stony-faced, unsmiling, and Izuku is about to look away when his gaze snags on the boy all the way to the left in the portrait. He’s young, about Izuku’s age, and handsome enough to quiet a room. There’s something very icy on his face, though, sadness contained in the set of his jaw, in the look in his eyes.

Izuku looks at him, and it feels like the boy looks back.

“Excuse me,” Izuku hears himself say, “but are those the original owners?”

Aizawa looks away from Iida and Momo and at Izuku. Izuku forces himself to turn away from the boy in the portrait, from the way every line in his face reads like a tragedy. The way Aizawa looks at Izuku seems to snag under his skin, like he’s staring right through him.

“Yes,” Aizawa says. “They are why you’re here.”

Once they’ve explored the whole first floor, Aizawa shakes their hands, gives them run of the place for the night, and then pulls off in his car with a mumbled, “Thanks for your help.” He gives Izuku a second glance before leaving, something thoughtful that makes Izuku want to fidget, look away.

By the time Aizawa is gone and they’ve set up their cameras all over the mansion, dusk has fallen. The property seems even lonelier and more desolate without the sun, in the yellow-gold cast of the lamplight. Izuku is helping Uraraka and Tsuyu set up the last of the gadgets Jirou brought, along the yard’s outer perimeter, when he feels the rain start, soft and slow.

“Let’s make a run for it,” Uraraka suggests, and she grabs Tsuyu gently by the hand and takes off towards the tech van. Izuku follows, and he hauls himself up and into the van just before the sky opens and the rains begin in earnest.

In the van, illuminated greenish by the light of the monitors, Jirou adjusts camera angles and sound levels. Iida is sitting at a chair by her side, Momo leaning up against the wall with her arms crosses over her chest.

“We’re in for a long night,” Iida says with a thoughtful look out at the rain, uncharacteristically subdued.

Momo frowns up at the roof of the van, where the rain’s tapping gently, like fingers drumming out a rhythm. “I think Uraraka and Midoriya were right,” she says. “There’s definitely something here.”

Jirou checks one of the devices in front of her and says, “At the very least, EMF levels are way off the charts for a place mostly off the electrical grid. The mics aren’t picking up anything yet, but we’ve already caught some weird movements on the cameras, and we haven’t even gone in there yet.”

Izuku fiddles with the sleeves of his sweatshirt. One of the monitors is displaying visual of the living room they’d walked through earlier. The portrait of the family looks different, in the low light. Not sad.

Darker.

Ghoulish.

There’s a thumping sound towards the back of the van, and they all flinch before realizing it’s just Kirishima and Bakugou, Kirishima beaming, Bakugou shaking rainwater out of his hair.

“Are we doing this or not?” Bakugou growls, and he’s trying to sound disinterested, but Izuku recognizes the eagerness in his voice. “We’re not getting any younger, here.”

“Right,” Iida says, getting to his feet and gesturing grandly towards the mansion. “The area we’re investigating tonight is extremely large, so we ought to split into teams and try to cover the most ground we can. Bakugou and Uraraka, take the first floor. Focus on the parlor and the dining room. Midoriya, Yaoyorozu, the second floor bedrooms are apparently where people are most likely to see shadow-figures, so maybe try an EVP up there and see if you can catch anything. Kirishima, Asui, you guys take the basement.”

“Iida and I will be monitoring everything from here,” Jirou says, slinging an arm over the back of her chair and swiveling to look at them all. “If you’ve got a tech problem, radio me and I’ll come take care of it. If you’re being chased by a demon or some shit, you’re on your own. Good fuckin’ luck.”

They get ready quickly, all of them clipping on radios, equipping mics, loading up on tech. When they’re ready, Jirou hits the main switch and the mansion plunges into darkness, leaving the only illumination the lights of the van.

“Remember to be cautious and respectful!” Iida calls after them, as they head inside. The front doors creak slightly when Kirishima pushes them open, and then they’re in, and Kirishima lets the door slam shut behind them.

Inside, quiet hangs palpably over the air. It feels like pressure on Izuku’s shoulders, on his lungs. When they step, the groaning of the floorboards is loud enough to echo.

“Creepy,” Tsuyu says, cheerfully.

“Let’s fuckin’ do this,” Bakugou says, and he bumps fists briefly with Kirishima before heading off in the direction of the dining room. Uraraka turns to shoot Izuku a quick thumbs-up before hurrying after him, and Tsuyu and Kirishima both wave before heading down the narrow staircase to the basement.

“All set?” Momo asks Izuku, and he nods and turns his flashlight on.

The upstairs is just as opulent and gaudy as the first floor had been. The bedrooms are all disconcertingly similar to one another, like the personalities of their inhabitants have been gradually drained away by time and by loss. Izuku’s flashlight casts odd shadows on the walls, make him feel like he’s seeing movement out of the corners of his eyes. It’s an optical illusion, though, Izuku knows.

That is not what Death looks like.

“What do you think?” Momo asks in a hushed voice, stopping in the middle of the hallway to squint at a painting of a candle, lit, dripping wax. “Split up?”

“Split up,” Izuku confirms. “I’ll take this bedroom and you take the one across the hall?”

“Good idea.” Momo nods, props a hand on her hip and tilts her head as she looks at the painting. “You want to take a couple talismans with you? Or I could put wards on the room, if you’d like?”

“No, I think I’ll be okay.”

“Okay.” She pauses, then looks away from the picture and back towards Izuku. “Shout if you need anything.”

“Back at you,” Izuku says, and then she’s gone, closing the bedroom door behind her. Izuku hesitates for only another second before picking a room and slipping into it. The inside is just as generic as the others, just as richly-draped and beautifully-furnished and cold. Emotionless.

Izuku calls out, carefully, “Hello.”

There is no answer - the room is still and silent, and feels like no one ever lived there at all.

He sets up quickly, arranging an EMF detector, an infrared camera, and the EVP recorder on the bedroom’s desk and switching them all on. The desk is fancy and enormous, shining mahogany even below the layer of dust that’s coating it. There are a couple old books piled at random and pushed to one side, a single framed photograph of a pretty woman with silvery hair, and a wooden jewelry box. It’s carved with strange, jagged symbols - a language, maybe, that Izuku doesn’t recognize - except for one word written at the center in clear Japanese: Shouto.

There’s no key in the lock, and when Izuku tries to open it, it remains firmly shut.

Izuku touches the word Shouto with his thumb. It’s probably the name of the person who lived in this room.

(It’s sad, Izuku thinks. To live, and die, and leave behind only this as an imprint.)

“Hello,” he tries again. “My name is Midoriya. I’m just here to talk to you, if that’s okay.”

He reverts to autopilot as he continues to explore the room, asking questions automatically; what’s your name, why are you here, how can I help ? Whatever the EVP recorder picks up on, if it does pick up on anything, it’ll only come up once Jirou and Iida are reviewing the footage as evidence. So instead of straining for answers he knows he won’t get, he just goes through the usual motions.

And then.

“I’d like to get to know you,” Izuku says, checking out the bed, the high and arching windows, the dresser. He touches a pillow, and the silk feels crushed and warm, like a flower petal.

Huh.

Interesting.

“Can you come out?” Izuku asks, more confidently this time. “You can trust me.”

There is a soft, whispering sound behind him - the wind between trees, the rustle of leaves. Izuku takes a breath, and the room suddenly smells… warm. Burnt. Like a campfire, a woodstove. A candle.

“I want to help you,” Izuku says. There is a coldness inside of him, a heaviness in his limbs, and Izuku knows what’s happening. He knows, he knows.

Don’t panic, he tells himself. Stay calm. This is what you’re here for.

And then he turns.

There’s an outline in front of him, a shade in the shape of a person. There’s a pause, a beat of silence, and then the shade blinks open a pair of two-toned, violently glowing eyes.

“Oh,” Izuku says, and his voice crumbles a little in his mouth. “Oh.”

The shadow sighs, long and low. The EMF reader he’d set down is flashing red, the number displayed on its screen ticking up steadily as the temperature in the room slowly ticks down.

“You’re drawing on my energy,” Izuku says, pointing his flashlight down and holding his free hand out, like he’s trying to approach a wild animal. “That’s okay. I want you to, if it means you can talk to me. Can you talk to me?”

“That depends. Can you hear me?” the shadow asks, and Izuku’s heart stutters. Stops.

It’s the voice of a boy, probably about his age, deep and velvet, cracking a little with disuse. The voice is remarkably human, startlingly so, more than any other spirit Izuku has ever spoken to. It’s like he’s speaking to someone on the phone.

Izuku’s heart is thrumming in his throat. He’d be surprised if the spirit couldn’t feel it.

“I can hear you,” Izuku confirms, trying not to sound alarmed. “Can you tell me your name?”

The shadow ripples a little, wavering at the edges. “You asked me to trust you,” it says, instead of answering. “Odd.”

“Odd?” Izuku echoes.

“Odd,” the shadow repeats. “Odd, to be asked for my trust from a person who has invaded my home.”

Izuku winces and reaches up to cup the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’m very sorry for the intrusion,” he says. “We were asked to come here by the owner.”

“Oh?” the shadow says, and there’s something like anger in its - in his - voice. “And what might the owner want from me?”

“I - I don’t know,” Izuku says, startled. “Aizawa-san just-”

“Hang on,” the shadow interrupts. “Aizawa?”

“Um. Y-yes. The… the owner. Aizawa.”

There is a silence, during which Izuku holds himself completely still and the figure in front of him flickers and seems to fade, curling in and out of existence.

“They left,” he whispers. “They sold it. Of course.” The air is getting colder and colder, and Izuku feels something like grief settle in his stomach. Something like loss.

(It is not his grief.)

The shadow rasps, barely audibly, “I suppose staying was too much to ask for.”

“Are you all right?” Izuku asks him, softly. He takes a single, slow step forward and focuses on his energy, pushes it outwards. He feels it catch with the energy of the entity in front of him, feels it when the shadow lets it wash over him. The shade’s outline settles; the wavering stops. Two-toned eyes come back into focus, landing on Izuku’s face.

“Trust you,” he whispers. “You asked me to. Can I?”

“You can,” Izuku promises, and he knows the shadow sees the truth of it in his face, feels the truth of it in the energy they now share.

The shadow inclines his head in something like a nod. “You said you wanted to help me,” he says. “What would you be willing to do?”

“Anything I can,” Izuku says, firmly.

The shadow says, “Hm.” And then, like he’s never spoken the words before: “I suppose I’ve got to trust you, then.”

Izuku takes another careful step, forward, but he’s not fast enough.

“Open it,” the shadow says, and then he blinks, just once, and is gone.

“Open it?” Izuku echoes. “Open what?” His limbs still feel fuzzy and cold, too heavy, so the ghost is still here, still drawing on his energy. No one answers his question, though, so he turns to check on the equipment.

He’s double-checking the EMF readings (which are much higher now than they had been when he entered the room) when he notices something new on the desk. A single key, burnished silver, just the right size to fit into the jewelry box’s lock.

“Oh,” Izuku says. “Open this?” There’s no answer, but he feels a hum run through the air that feels like affirmation.

“Okay,” he mumbles, and he reaches out and takes the box into his hands. He inserts the key into the lock carefully, and there is an odd, pulsing rumble the second he does. A tremor, a release. Like whatever is inside there is beginning to wake up.

“Are we sure about this?” Izuku squeaks, and there’s a quiet huff that sounds like impatience next to his ear. “Okay, okay,” he says, and he turns the key in the lock and opens it.

It’s a necklace, the chain delicate silver, with two tiny stones hanging off the end - one crystalline and carved into a crescent moon, the other bloody crimson and carved into a sun. Izuku reaches out slowly, carefully. “Is this what you wanted me to find?” he asks, tentative.

No response.

“Okay, yeah, that was probably a stupid question,” he acknowledges. “So, what should I do? Return it to its rightful owner? Destroy it? Bury it? I can go and get Momo-”

His finger bumps against the necklace and he gets a sudden and violent vision of himself, reaching up and clasping the necklace around his own throat.

“You’re kidding,” he says, flat, and there’s a quiet breath of laughter in front of him, cool against his face.

Izuku lifts the necklace into his hands and tilts it into the beam of his flashlight. The stones scatter colors along the walls, a kaleidoscope of reds and yellows, of whites and blues. The chain looks almost silly against the purple-dark scars and bruises on Izuku’s palms, his zigzagging latticework of imperfections horribly apparent against the unmistakable perfection of the silver.

Hesitantly, Izuku unclasps it. He reaches up, slow, and loops it carefully around his neck. And then, his fingers feeling clumsy, ungainly, too-big, he clasps it.

There is a pulse. A shudder.

And then the world bursts into flames.

Izuku screams and launches himself backwards, away from the desk. He is surrounded by fire, licking at the ceiling, clawing at the walls, chewing its way up and over the furniture. Izuku gapes in a silent scream as the flames consume him whole, but Izuku is not burning, and neither is anything else in the room - the fire rages, and rages, and the room stays untinged, uncharred.

The shadow reappears, closer this time, his blue-gray eyes burning on Izuku’s face. The necklace is glowing against his collarbone, pulsing like a beating heart, and the shadow says, quiet and serious, “We have a pact, then. You help me, and I’ll help you.”

He pauses, and then says, “I am yours now, Midoriya Izuku.”

“You’re not dead,” Izuku realizes, slowly, stupidly, his hand coming up to grab at the necklace where it disappears below the collar of his sweatshirt. “What are you?”

“Cursed,” the shadow says. “And I need you to help me break it.”

Izuku stands there, the shadow’s pulse beating below his hand where he holds the necklace, for too long. They’re just looking at each other, the shadow holding his gaze serious and steady, Izuku trying not to panic, and it’s beginning to feel like a challenge, like a test. And then Izuku’s radio crackles with static and he practically leaps out of his skin.

Over the radio, Uraraka says, “Guys, I think we might need to get out of here. I just felt… God. I don’t know. Something. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was-”

“Evil?” Kirishima’s voice prompts, and Uraraka lets out a long breath that shatters over the line.

“Yes,” she says, and Izuku shoots the shadow a surprised look. The shadow’s eyes narrow, the fluid features on its face arranging into something like bafflement.

“No, no,” he begins, “I already met the ghost, he’s all right-”

“It’s not that, Deku,” Kirishima says, and oh, he does sound kind of strange - strained, like he’s forcing every word out between his teeth. “We just fucking - fuck. We just found…”

“There’s a room covered in blood down in the basement,” Tsuyu finishes for him. “And we think… we think there’s a circle of human bones.”

What?” Izuku gasps, whipping around to look at the shadow.

The shadow’s eyes are blown wide. “What the hell?” he says, in a very small voice.

“Get the hell out of there,” Iida commands.

Izuku’s got his equipment packed away and is sprinting into the hallway before Iida can finish his sentence. Momo’s already waiting for him in the hall, and she visibly releases a breath when she sees him, reaching out to grab his shoulder and squeeze briefly before taking off down the stairs. They meet the others in the center hallway, double-check that everyone’s accounted for, and then move out, running into the rain, piling their equipment into the vans as quickly as they can.

“Get in here,” Iida shouts from the tech van, and they all file in, Iida slamming the doors shut behind them and turning the van’s overhead lights on.

In the light of the van, some of the panic slamming through Izuku’s veins starts to fade. Kirishima is hunched over, looking extremely pale, Tsuyu clutching onto Uraraka’s hand like it’s a lifeline. Momo squeezes Jirou into a one-armed hug. Bakugou hovers, torn between heading back in to bust heads and making sure Kirishima’s okay; Izuku’s grown used to that expression - it’s familiar now in a way it had never been when they were growing up.

“What the fuck is going on in that fucking house?” Kirishima whispers.

Uraraka leans into Tsuyu’s side and presses her eyes shut tight. “I think that pulse I felt was set off when you guys entered the room. I don’t know how to describe it, but it felt like… I don’t know. It felt like you’d opened hell itself. My stomach is still doing flips.”

Iida claps a hand briefly on Izuku’s shoulder and says, “Everybody breathe. Let’s start by pausing the investigation and heading out of here for the night.”

“I need to get down there,” Momo says, sharply. “If anyone can tell what that room was used for, it would be me.”

“You didn’t see that shit,” Kirishima says, and he looks a little green. “Shit, guys, the smell-”

“Rushing in headlong won’t do us any good,” Iida says, measuredly. “And neither will fleeing the scene and never coming back. We’ll put some distance between us and the mansion, and then talk tomorrow at the motel, get our bearings.”

There’s a general nod of assent at that, and Izuku reaches up, automatically, to touch the necklace hanging at his throat.

“Now that that’s over with,” Tsuyu says, “is no one going to talk about the fact that there’s a ghost in the car with us?”

Izuku freezes. Eight pairs of eyes swivel in his direction, slowly, and he turns too to see the shadow standing behind him, eyes wide, leaning almost casually against the wall.

“Oh,” he says, alarmed. “They can see me, too?”

“Oh, no, not everybody,” Izuku answers, automatically.

The van explodes in noise. Bakugou’s on his feet immediately, Kirishima leaping forward and wrestling him down as he tries to surge towards the shadow. Jirou screams, “What the fuck?” and shoots backwards, almost toppling off her chair. Momo’s hands fly to her belt, ripping away a talisman and holding it out in front of her like a shield. Iida’s dropped into an ungainly fighting stance, eyes darting all over the van.

“I, ah… had some weird stuff happen to me tonight, too?” Izuku offers.

Bakugou snarls, “Yeah, no fucking shit, Deku!”

Momo gives a strangled squeak.

“They don’t want me here,” the shadow says, sounding a little put out. “I don’t have to manifest, I can just-”

“Don’t,” Izuku says, immediately. “Hang on, don’t go.”

“Yes the fuck it should go!” Bakugou growls. “Want me to help send it on its way?”

“You’re the boy from the portrait,” Tsuyu says in the shadow’s direction. “The one hanging over the fireplace. Right?”

Izuku goes still. He blinks at the shadow and tries to let his brain fill in the gaps - tries to picture two-toned hair, a handsome face, a mournful set to pretty lips. It’s difficult, but Tsuyu’s Sight is way clearer than his; if she sees a boy instead of a shadow, then she’s right.

“I am,” the shadow answers, and when Tsuyu doesn’t respond, he asks Izuku, “Can she hear me?”

“Ah, no,” Izuku says. “Um. I can hear you. I can’t really see you, though, except for your eyes and a little bit of your outline. Tsuyu can see you clearly, but she can’t really hear much. Some white noise at most.” Tsuyu nods in confirmation. “Um. Kacchan and Kirishima can feel your energy, but they can’t see or hear you. So… I guess I need to translate, if you want to say anything to them.”

The shadow gives a wavering motion, like a nod.

“Whatever’s going on in the basement,” he says, “it wasn’t my family that did it. It’s something recent, something that’s happened in time since I was alive. Tell them that.”

Izuku passes the message along. Bakugou stops fighting Kirishima to snap, “Who the fuck did it, then? Aizawa?”

“No way,” Uraraka said. “I would’ve noticed that kind of darkness hanging around him when we met. It must be someone else.”

“Has anyone else been inside your house?” Izuku asks.

The shadow gives a wobbly motion that might be a shrug. “I don’t know. I didn’t even realize my family wasn’t living there anymore. Before you lent me your energy, I wasn’t even strong enough to think, really.”

Izuku announces, “He’s not sure.”

“Let’s talk to Aizawa tomorrow about who might have visited the house,” Iida decides. “Until then, we’ll go get some rest. Um. Midoriya. Will the ghost be accompanying us?”

Izuku turns to look at the shadow. The shadow looks back at him, eyes burning, and says, “I told you. I am yours, until we break my curse. Take me with you. Let me help.”

“Ask him his name!” Uraraka urges, eyes searching in the direction Izuku is looking and landing somewhere about a foot to the shadow’s left.

The shadow shudders. Looks first in Uraraka’s direction, and then, slowly, hesitantly, back at Izuku.

“My name,” he mumbles. “I… I don’t-”

“I don’t think he can remember,” Izuku says.

Iida grabs his bag and digs through for his notes, flipping them open until he finds the page he was looking for.

“I don’t know if this will help, but I’ve got the name of the family that used to live here,” he says.

Uraraka nods enthusiastically. “What is it?”

Iida looks up. The shadow, next to Izuku, draws half an inch closer to his side.

 

 

 

Iida says, “Todoroki.”

Chapter Text

Mist hangs low over the moors, like smoke rising from a fire.

Izuku is walking. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but his feet are moving, moving, moving forward. In the distance, he can just barely make out the silhouette of hills, shadow-dark behind the layers of fog. The world around him has been blurred out, smudged beyond recognition, and the mist seems to cling to his skin, weigh down his clothes.

He walks.

Around him, the silence becomes dynamic, somehow, shifting and changing. If he strains, he can almost-not-quite make out the shape of a voice, the breath of a laugh, a sigh of the wind.

Quiet.

Slowly, the mist starts to fade around him. Like a camera coming into focus, Izuku steps out onto a familiar driveway, leading up to a familiar red-brick manor. The house crouches in the fog like some kind of enormous creature. Lights flicker in the windows like eyes.

Izuku follows his feet inside, and he pushes open the door in a way that feels rehearsed, as if he’s done it a thousand times. Inside, the hallway is sparklingly clean and living, shoes in different sizes lined up neatly by the entrance, candles lit at intervals along the length of the hall.

There are voices on the floor above him, on the floor below.

Izuku’s feet lead him into the living room, where a portrait hangs over the fireplace. There is a fire blazing inside of the hearth this time, and a boy with two-toned hair kneels in front of it, his head bowed, one hand covering his face.

Not his face, actually.

His eye.

Izuku takes a step forward and the boy turns as if he can hear the movement, his head lifting. But before Izuku can see his face, before their eyes can meet, the house around him fades, the colors seeping out of it like water from a sponge, until it is left dead and decaying and empty, empty.

The boy is gone.

The fireplace is cold.

Izuku calls, softly, “Hello?”

There is a groan, horrible and pitched high, like the house is trying to rip itself up by the foundations. The room around him seems to shudder and seethe, and Izuku stumbles, catches himself on a piece of furniture. His stomach turns, goosebumps crawling on his skin, a rush of something like rage pulsing through him, only the rage does not belong to him, does not fit inside his skin. And then the floor opens up from under him and he falls, crashes down into the basement and slams into the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him.

Izuku hacks out a cough. His mouth tastes coppery-sweet.

Above him, a quiet voice says, “Oh?”

Izuku looks up, slowly. The walls and ceiling are drenched with blood, dripping with it, and when Izuku tries to move, his body won’t respond - he is pinned, trapped, and a figure looms over him where he lays.

From behind a crooked, white-knuckled hand, a red eye stares at him.

“This is your last warning,” the voice rasps, “to stay out of my way.”

 

Izuku jerks awake, wheezing, one hand flying up to cover his mouth. His breath catches painfully inside his chest, like shrapnel. It’s a long moment before he can regain his bearings and figure out that he’s safe, in bed, in the motel room he’s sharing with Iida.

Staring up at a pair of eyes about two inches away from his own.

Izuku screams and slams back against the bed frame, and Todoroki flies backwards immediately, his eyes wide and startled. His outline wavers for a moment, like he’s thinking of disappearing, and Izuku regains his breath in time to gasp out, “No, hang on, don’t go.”

There’s a knock at the door, and Uraraka’s voice calls, “Deku, are you okay? I thought I heard a scream.”

“I’m okay!” he yells back, and when he hears Uraraka’s footsteps move away, he turns back to Todoroki. “Seriously, I’m okay. I’m sorry, I was just surprised.”

Todoroki’s outline resolves itself, and he shifts a little bit closer. “I didn’t mean to startle you,” he says. “You were mumbling in your sleep. I thought you might want to wake up.”

“I did,” Izuku says. “Thanks, Todoroki-kun.”

“A nightmare?” Todoroki asks.

Izuku squeezes his eyes shut, pictures the blood-stained room and the man with the concealed face. Remembers the words, Stay out of my way.

“Sort of,” he answers, eyebrows furrowed. “But I’ve never had a nightmare like this before.”

Todoroki hovers near him while he scrubs at his eyes and tries to get himself together. Now that he’s calmer, he can see that the darkness outside has faded, pale, early morning light trickling in through the window. Iida’s bed is empty, the pillows stacked neatly and the comforter folded up. He’s probably been pouring through footage from last night for hours by now.

Izuku sighs and rubs his face furiously with his hands.

“Do you… want to talk about it?” Todoroki asks, a little awkwardly, as Izuku pushes his own blankets off and gets unsteadily to his feet.

Izuku makes himself smile. It feels a little wobbly around the edges.

“I’m fine,” he promises. “I just don’t usually have nightmares about our cases, that’s all. It took me by surprise. I’ll check with Kirishima about it later.”

“Kirishima?”

“Oh, right. Um. The red-haired one? With the kind of sharpish teeth? He’s got lots of experience with dreams like this.”

Todoroki hums under his breath and leans back until he’s floating, reclined like he’s sitting in an invisible armchair.

“Are you showing off, now?” Izuku asks, his smile coming a little more natural this time, and Todoroki huffs grumpily.

“I’m thinking,” he says. “If the nightmare was about your case, does that mean it was about my curse? Or about the room your friends found last night?”

For no real reason, Izuku’s mind flashes to the boy kneeling in front of the fireplace, to the slope of his shoulders, to the graceful way he got to his feet. To the way Izuku’s heart seemed to stutter and stop when he turned to face Izuku’s direction, like his whole body was bracing to meet the boy’s eyes.

“Both, I think,” Izuku says.

They look at each other for a moment, Todoroki’s eyes narrow and thoughtful, until Izuku says, with an awkward sort of gesture towards his suitcase in the corner, “Um, Todoroki-kun, I have to get dressed now.”

Todoroki blinks. “Okay.”

Izuku laughs quietly. “Are you planning on watching?”

Todoroki’s eyes blow wide and then he winks out of existence, one moment there, gone the next.

“I’ll be ready in a minute!” Izuku calls, still giggling, and there’s a distant, muffled voice that says, “Okay.”

Izuku dresses quickly, in a thick cabled sweater and the same pair of worn jeans as yesterday. When he pulls the sweater on, he feels something tug around his neck, and reaches up in surprise to close his fingers around Todoroki’s necklace. It feels warmer than his skin, somehow, and when he bumps his fingers against it, his body immediately floods with warmth, with energy. He closes his eyes, and feels the ice in his veins left by the dream retreat.

Izuku’s been in this business a long time. He’s seen everything under the sun and then some - goblins and spirits and demons. He’s never seen a curse like the one on Todoroki, though; he’s never seen magic that can take something living and make it undead.

The necklace is hot beneath his fingers. It burns with life, like a heartbeat.

Figuring this out is not going to be easy.

Izuku jams a beanie over his bedhead and then calls Todoroki’s name. There’s a moment before his shadow appears in the corner, slightly more translucent than he used to be, his eyes a little less bright and a little more sleepy.

Izuku frowns at him and holds up the necklace in accusation. “Did you just give me some of your energy, Todoroki-kun?”

Todoroki says, a little sheepishly, “It seemed like you needed it more than me.”

I’m supposed to be helping you, you know,” Izuku points out.

Todoroki’s form shifts, and it takes a second for Izuku to realize that he’s shrugging. “We made a pact,” he says. “So we’re supposed to help each other.”

There’s another soft pulse of warmth in his fingers, and then the necklace cools down, until there’s just the echo of heat left behind.

Todoroki says, “Midoriya.”

Izuku blinks. “Yes.”

“You said you don’t usually have nightmares about your cases.” When Izuku nods in confirmation, Todoroki asks, “What do you have nightmares about?”

(Screams, voices, ice in his veins, ice in his lungs. Blood dripping down ruined fingers, scar tissue rather than skin. A void where sky should be, leaking darkness, oozing shadow. Kacchan’s voice screaming, Deku.

Quiet.)

Izuku hesitates, and then says, “Losing.”

 

They find the others already awake and piled into Momo and Jirou’s room, where YPA’s monitors have been set up along the far wall. Iida and Jirou are wearing headphones, the rest of them leaning over their shoulders to watch.

When Izuku walks in, there’s a chorus of hellos and good mornings. Uraraka scoots over in her chair to make room for him to sit down, and Kirishima passes him a cup of coffee and whispers, “Milk and two sugars,” as Izuku accepts it gratefully.

“We’re reviewing the footage from last night,” Momo tells him from her place on the arm of Jirou’s chair. “It’s not doing us much good, though.”

“Bakugou and Uraraka got some good readings on the Ovulus down on the first floor,” Jirou offers, sliding a pad of shorthand notes in Izuku’s direction. “And we caught some really interesting footage from your conversation with Todoroki.”

“And that tells us fucking nothing,” Bakugou points out mildly, “since Deku bought a fuckin’ pet ghost home with him so we already know the place is haunted. It doesn’t explain why there’s a goddamn horror movie set down in the basement.”

“True,” Momo says. “Jirou, have we gotten to Kirishima-kun and Tsuyu-chan’s footage from the basement?”

“I can speed it up a little if you want,” Jirou says, and when Momo nods her approval, she presses a couple buttons and the footage begins to fast-forward.

“There,” Kirishima says after a few seconds, pointing, and Jirou slams the pause button. The rightmost screen is frozen on a picture of Tsuyu standing in the doorway of a windowless room. It’s empty aside from the blood soaking the floor and the walls, and a pile of what definitely looks like bones in the center of a painted circle.

“That used to be a wine cellar,” Todoroki says, weakly, from behind Izuku.

“Holy shit,” Jirou whispers.

“Can we zoom in?” Tsuyu asks, and, with a click or two, Iida enlarges the picture so that the carnage is taking up the whole of the screen.

“God,” Uraraka murmurs.

Iida takes his headphones off and sets them aside.

“Yaoyorozu-san, what do you think?” he asks.

Momo shakes her head. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she confesses. “It’s something ritualistic, obviously, but I don’t see any runes or incense left behind. My closest guess is that it’s meant to be a way to summon spirits from the other side, but I don’t know-”

“It’s a portal,” Izuku says.

The whole group turns to look at him.

“Kacchan,” he says. “I’m right. You know I am.”

Bakugou does not look at him when he says, “He’s right. It’s a portal.”

“A portal? To what?” Kirishima asks. “Like, necromancy? Teleportation?”

“Not necromancy,” Izuku says. “It’s something bigger. Something worse.”

“We’ve seen this before,” Bakugou mutters. “Not exactly, but close. Someone’s trying to rip open a hole between this world and the next.”

“Are you serious?” Jirou looks horrified. “What would something like that accomplish, though? What’s the point?”

Izuku’s thoughts are scattered, disorganized, too quick for him to keep up with. His fingers are itching, restless and tangled, and when Uraraka passes him a pen and pad, he takes it gratefully and starts to scribble down half-formed phrases, ideas, memories.

“If a portal is opened,” Izuku mumbles, his attention on the pad in his hands, “it would rip this world apart. There would be no line between life and death.”

“And what does that mean?” Jirou asks.

“Death would stop,” Bakugou says, flatly. “And so would life. There wouldn’t be anything left.”

Momo says, “We’ve got to stop this.”

“Perhaps whoever it was that left that room behind gave up on the idea of a portal,” Iida suggests. “Since it was simply left like that.”

“I don’t think so,” Tsuyu says.

“I agree,” Uraraka says. “When Kirishima-kun and Tsuyu-chan went in there last night, I felt the malice they unlocked. It didn’t feel dormant.”

Todoroki announces, softly, very close to Izuku’s ear, “I have a theory.”

Izuku squeaks and jumps about half a foot into the air. The rest of them turn to stare at him.

“Sorry!” he says. “Sorry, you surprised me. Um. Go ahead, Todoroki-kun.”

“If you’re right, and whoever left behind that room is trying to open a portal, it’s almost certainly going to take more than one sacrifice,” Todoroki says, thoughtfully. “Tearing a hole in the fabric of reality will take an enormous amount of power, and even though there’s a lot of residual magic left in my house, I don’t think it will be enough. My guess is that these people will need to make other sacrifices in other places, most likely other places with a lot of spiritual energy, and then connect them.”

“So… you think we should check other haunted locations in the area?” Izuku says.

“Right,” Todoroki says, and then his shadow shudders, and he mutters, “I feel like… I know a lot about this stuff. I just don’t know why.”

“Midoriya-chan, could you translate that for us?” Tsuyu asks, and when Izuku is finished relaying the message, Iida nods thoughtfully.

“That makes sense,” he says. “And it’s probably the wisest course of action for us, anyway, if we want to figure out what’s going on here. Bakugou-kun, Yaoyorozu-san, Kirishima-kun, I need the three of you to go back to the Todoroki manor to clean up that room. Yaoyorozu-san, please make absolutely certain that there’s no trace of energy left down there. The rest of us will do some research and scope out the region for other places like it. Does that work for everyone?”

Kirishima wrinkles his nose but nods. “We’ll take care of it, boss.”

They scatter, Uraraka and Tsuyu offering to help Iida start on research, and Jirou going back to reviewing the footage from last night. Izuku helps Bakugou, Momo, and Kirishima load up the van with charms and cleansing items, as well as standard-issue bleach and other cleaning supplies. Todoroki floats near Izuku’s shoulder and sometimes asks questions about certain pieces of tech - he especially likes the shadow detector, which lights up colorful when he passes close to it.

“If you’re done dicking around, we’ll head out,” Bakugou says, grabbing the detector out of Izuku’s hands.

Izuku nods in confirmation, and then adds, very quickly, “Kacchan, if this is anything like last time-”

“I’m not going to do anything stupid, and you’re not my fucking mom,” Bakugou snaps, and Izuku knows he means, I’ll be careful.

While Kirishima and Bakugou double-check to make sure everything’s secure, Izuku takes Momo’s arm and gently pulls her aside.

“Before you leave, will you take a look at something for me?” he asks.

Momo nods, so Izuku reaches under the collar of his sweater and pulls out Todoroki’s necklace.

“Is this a good idea?” Todoroki asks, more curious than challenging, behind him.

Momo’s mouth makes a small o and she leans in to peer at it, taking the crystalline charms in her hand carefully and holding them up to the light. “What is this?” she gasps. “It’s got a really powerful spell on it, Midoriya-kun. Where did you find it?”

“It belongs to Todoroki-kun,” Izuku explains. “Yaoyorozu-san, he’s not dead.”

Momo’s eyebrows fly up. “Not dead,” she echoes, and Izuku nods.

“I wasn’t able to explain last night, because of everything that happened, but he’s not a proper ghost. It feels more like he’s trapped in this form when he’s supposed to be something else. He says he’s cursed, and when I agreed to help him figure out how to break it, he gave me this necklace.”

“It could just be a symbol of your pact, then?” Momo suggests. “That kind of promise has really powerful implications.”

“It felt powerful before we made the pact, though,” Izuku says. “And it feels… I don’t know. Alive, sometimes.”

Momo peers at the necklace for another long moment before releasing it. Izuku slips it back under his collar.

“If Todoroki-kun is cursed,” Momo begins, and then she pauses. Izuku nods encouragingly for her to go on. Behind him, Todoroki nods fervently, too, and Izuku smiles a little despite himself.

“Well. If he is cursed, it’s an incredibly strong one,” she finishes. “I think you’re right; that necklace basically radiates energy. I think we might be dealing with a binding spell, and a really well-done one at that.”

“So he’s bound to the necklace?” Izuku asks, surprised, and Momo nods.

“I believe so. And, judging by the strength of the magic, something else is, too.”

“Do you think you could break it?”

“Maybe.” Momo frowns. “I can definitely try. I’ll take a look at my books, too, and see if there’s anything like this anywhere in there.”

“Thank you,” Izuku says, just as Todoroki says the same thing, quiet and serious. “Todoroki-kun says thank you, too,” Izuku adds, and the way Todoroki looks at him is startling. Warm and melting.

He’s got really pretty eyes, Izuku thinks. Colored gemstones, stained glass.

“I’ll do my best,” Momo says, and she looks at Izuku and then very approximately at where she imagines Todoroki to be. She’s off by about half a foot. “For now, just try not to break that necklace. It’ll probably release Todoroki-kun, but we don’t know what else it’ll release along with him. Let me try to figure out a way to do it safely.”

“Thank you, Yaoyorozu-san!” Izuku calls after her, and he watches as she gets in the driver’s seat of the van. The three of them away from the curb, Bakugou flipping Izuku off as they pull out and Kirishima smacking him gently on the back of the head.

“If anyone can figure out your curse, it’s Yaoyorozu-san,” Izuku tells Todoroki. “You’re in good hands.”

Todoroki’s form shudders, then settles. He looks a little more opaque, now. Solid, like if Izuku reached out to touch him, he would feel warm.

“I know,” Todoroki says, and he looks at Izuku.

 

Izuku sleeps poorly, after that. It’s his dreams, for the most part, which have become viscous, icy-cold things, slipping out from between his fingers when morning comes.

In the next week or so, the YPA is in and out of motels pretty much constantly. They divide into groups to try and work their way to every single haunted location in a twenty mile radius, which turns out to be incredibly exhausting work. There's only so much research can do for them, while they're up against an enemy no one fully understands. Todoroki tries his best to help, but the gaps in his memory make it difficult for him to offer much more than hunches.

The first few locations they visit are a bust. Izuku’s pretty sure most of these places don’t even see any actual paranormal activity, much less have strong enough spiritual energy to attract someone trying to rip into the fabric of reality. He’s beginning to think that maybe they’d overreacted, that the first room was nothing but a sick prank or a botched, amateurish attempt at necromancy.

And then they pull up outside the Tokoyami estate, and Izuku knows immediately. He was wrong.

There’s something wrong here.

Next to him, Todoroki’s outline wavers, flickers. “There’s a really nasty energy here,” he tells Izuku, and then their eyes meet and he says, “Ah. You feel it, too.”

“Todoroki-kun and I both feel a weird presence,” Izuku tells the others.

“Same here. And I… have a bad feeling,” Uraraka whispers, as they climb out of the van. “In my stomach.”

“Is it like the one you got last time, when Kirishima-chan and I opened the room?” Tsuyu asks and Uraraka nods.

“Worse, though,” she mumbles, and then shudders. “It’s fresh.”

They’re greeted by the owner of the estate, a young man with a powerful magical presence and a bird familiar, who perches on his shoulder and glares down at them with one eye open and one eye closed.

“Iida-san told me on the phone what you were looking for, so I looked everywhere and couldn’t find anything like that inside the house,” Tokoyami Fumikage tells them, after they’ve introduced themselves.

And then he adds, with profound disgust, “And then I checked the guest house out back.”

Izuku shivers.

Tokoyami leads them to the guest house, which he says isn’t used unless the family is entertaining visitors. He unlocks the door and opens it, and Izuku reels back immediately, slapping a hand over his mouth and nose and doubling over to keep from being sick.

“It’s horrible,” Tokoyami says, quietly. “I can’t imagine who would’ve done this.”

“We’re going to try and fix this,” Uraraka tells him. “Give us half an hour and we’ll get it cleaned up.”

They call the others and YPA’s second van pulls up within ten minutes. Momo lights incense and begins a cleansing ritual, and Izuku helps the others break the circle around the bones and scrub the blood off the walls.

When they’re finished, the air beside Izuku ripples and Todoroki reappears.

“I checked out the rest of the property,” he says. “I didn’t find much, except for this.”

He holds out a ribbon of bloody fabric, jagged at the edges, like it had been torn away from an article of clothing.

“Ew,” Kirishima says, wrinkling his nose.

“Yaoyorozu-san,” Izuku calls, “can you come take a look at this?”

Momo jogs over and reaches out to take the strip of fabric from Todoroki. The second she takes it into her hands, she goes still.

“Momo?” Jirou asks.

Momo shudders violently and contorts, her eyes rolling back in her head. Izuku dives forward as she sways, and he and Jirou are there to catch her before she can hit the ground.

“Momo,” Jirou says, urgently, gently tapping Momo’s face, “Momo, are you okay?”

“The fabric,” Todoroki says. “Take it from her.”

Izuku wrestles the fabric out of her grip and tosses it aside. Once it’s removed, her shaking subsides. It takes a second, but soon color is returning to her face, her chest rising and falling more evenly.

“Sorry,” she pants. “I’m good, I’m okay.”

“What happened?” Jirou asks, helping her sit up.

“I saw something,” Momo says. “Uraraka, come hold this for me.”

Uraraka takes the cloth from Jirou and immediately goes pale. “This belonged to the person we’re looking for,” she announces. “I can feel… bad intent. Malevolence.”

“If that’s true, then I think I may have caught a glimpse of the person who did this,” Momo says. “Or people. The vision was blurry, but I saw road signs and headlights. I think they’re in a car, headed north.”

“Well, let’s fucking chase them down, then,” Bakugou growls. “I’m getting fucking sick of scrubbing fucking blood out of shit.”

“I think we need to exercise caution,” Iida says. “We don’t know what we’re up against, and rushing in blind is the opposite of a good idea.”

“I don’t understand the pattern, though,” Kirishima says, sounding frustrated. “The Todoroki mansion, this place, and now they’re going north? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Can we bring up a map?” Iida asks, and Jirou nods and sits down on the ground cross-legged. She pulls her laptop out of her bag, opening up a map of the area.

Iida rattles off the addresses of the Todoroki mansion and the Tokoyami estate, and then Momo tries to give an estimate of where the car was headed. Jirou marks off the locations on the map.

“It’s not completely random,” Bakugou says, crouching down next to Jirou and tracing a line between the locations on the screen. “Look. It’s curved, but it’s some kind of plane.”

“Weird,” Kirishima says. “It almost looks like it’s following the path of a river or something. Or maybe-”

“Ley lines,” Todoroki says.

Izuku drops the cleaning supplies in his hands.

“Ley lines,” he repeats, spinning to face Jirou. “Jirou-san, can you pull up a map of the ley lines in the area?”

Jirou looks surprised, but says, “Give me a sec.” Once she’s found one, she shrinks the browser and positions it next to the marked map they’d been using earlier.

Both the Todoroki mansion and the Tokoyami residence fall directly, precisely on a ley line.

“Any chance this is a coincidence?” Kirishima asks weakly.

Todoroki tells Izuku, “Ley lines are places of power. If they can find locations with extreme amounts of spiritual energy and then connect them via ley line…”

“Oh, my God,” Izuku whispers. “Oh, my God, this is really bad.”

“Whoever is doing this wants to use the ley line like a battery,” Momo realizes.

“An amplifier,” Uraraka murmurs.

Shit,” Kirishima says.

“Jirou, can you pull up a map of the haunted locations we were planning on visiting?” Iida asks, and Jirou nods.

“Three of our predetermined locations are lying directly in the path of the ley line. Only one of them is up north.” Jirou jabs at the spot with her finger. “That’s their next target, then.”

Izuku turns to look at Todoroki. “Todoroki-kun, how many of these rooms do you think they’ll need before…?”

“It’s hard to say,” Todoroki says, thoughtfully. “And we don’t know how many they’ve already set up. For all we know, this next one could be their last.”

Izuku repeats what he’d said, and by the time he’s finished, the rest of the group’s faces have all gone gaunt.

“What do we do?” Uraraka asks, quietly.

“The only thing we can do,” Iida answers.

Momo nods. “We stop them.”

 

They drive for what feels like an eternity, long enough for the sun to stain the sky gold and orange and pink and then fade to purple-blue. Todoroki isn’t manifesting physically, but Izuku can feel his presence in the air, in the space around him.

They pull over at a gas station to refuel and buy snacks. Izuku wanders away from the others and settles down at a picnic table nearby, burying his face in his arms.

“Are you alright?” Todoroki’s voice asks, above him.

“Tolerably alright,” Izuku confirms. He turns his head and cracks one eye open. Todoroki is drifting near him, his outline barely visible against the nighttime sky.

“Can I ask you something personal?” Todoroki asks him.

Izuku hums. “That depends. Can I ask you something personal back?”

“I suppose that’s only fair,” Todoroki says solemnly, and Izuku smiles a little.

“Ask away, then.”

“What happened between you and the blond one?”

Izuku wrinkles his eyebrows for a moment, and then says, “Oh. You mean Kacchan.”

Todoroki says, “Yes. Kacchan,” and the name sounds so ridiculous coming from him that Izuku bursts out laughing.

“Bakugou Katsuki,” Izuku manages, between giggles. “We grew up together. You should definitely keep calling him Kacchan, though.”

“You don’t seem like you get along,” Todoroki says.

Izuku shrugs. “We don’t, really. We never have, to be honest. Kacchan grew up being told he was destined to be exceptional, and I grew up being told I wasn’t destined to be much of anything. So all of his failures end up magnified, in his mind, and he takes my successes like insults.”

“But you’re working together now.”

“We make a good team,” Izuku admits. “When he’s not actively trying to punch me in the face.”

Todoroki nods, almost satisfied, like that’s what he expected to hear. “What did you want to ask me, then?”

Izuku takes a breath and then says, all in a rush, “Are you really the boy from the portrait?”

Todoroki’s eyes widen in surprise. “That’s what you wanted to know?”

It is, but it isn’t. Izuku doesn’t really have a name for the question he has, can’t assemble his thoughts enough to put it into words. He wants to know Todoroki’s first name, his likes and his dislikes, what it looks like when he smiles. He wants to know what it sounds like to hear him breathe, what it feels like to watch him move. He wants to know Todoroki alive and wholly himself.

Izuku shakes his head and reaches out, slowly. His fingers hover half an inch away from Todoroki, from the shadow of him, formless and shapeless and strange.

Todoroki says, “Ah.”

He shifts forward, leans closer.

Into Izuku’s touch.

Izuku’s fingers meet warmth. Todoroki does not feel like shadow. He is not insubstantial and fluid; he is solid, and sturdy, and when Izuku presses his palm flat, he feels a heartbeat under his skin, steady as a drumbeat.

Izuku looks up, slowly, and meets Todoroki’s eyes. They are very close to his own, close enough for Izuku to pick out the flaws in them, the slivers of color like fractured glass.

“What happened to you?” Izuku whispers.

“I can’t remember,” Todoroki says. “I remember what my father looked like, and my face, and the sound of my sister’s voice, but I can’t remember what happened to me. I can’t even remember my own name.”

The shadow ripples, moves towards him, and then Izuku feels fingers at his own throat, bumping against the pendant of his necklace. They rest there for a second before finding Izuku’s pulse point and pressing gently.

“I sometimes forget,” Todoroki says, low and steady, “what the difference is between life and death.”

“Deku, we’re ready to go!” Uraraka calls, from somewhere behind them, and both Izuku and Todoroki leap backwards, Izuku’s blood rushing in his ears, his heart slamming in his throat. Todoroki seems to curl inwards on himself, awkward and endearing, and Izuku is beginning to realize that he is perhaps in a good deal of trouble.

 

They arrive at their destination a little past midnight, an enormous, old electrical plant on the outskirts of a city. There’s one other car in the parking lot when they pull up, and Izuku panics for a second before he realizes it must belong to the employee who’d agreed to meet with them, not to the culprits.

They’re greeted at the door by a boy with a shock of yellow hair and a lightning-fast smile. He introduces himself as Kaminari Denki, and seems to take to Kirishima and Jirou immediately, shaking Kirishima’s hand and complimenting his hair enthusiastically, pointing to Jirou’s shirt and announcing that he likes the same band.

“Have you noticed anything odd in the last few hours?” Iida asks Kaminari, when the introductions are finished.

Kaminari tilts his head. “Other than the usual stuff? Nope. It always gets pretty active in here at night, though, so it’s a bit difficult for me to keep up with everything that goes on.”

“What kind of activity do you usually see here?” Momo asks, and Iida interrupts and answers for him, ticking the list off on his fingers.

“Shadow figures, disembodied voices, unexplained footsteps, the occasional full-body apparition.”

Kaminari nods in confirmation. “Back when this place was used as a full-time electric plant, we had about fifteen workers die on the premises over the course of a decade or so. It’s mostly used as a museum now, but people say they feel like they’re walking into a wall of static when they come in.”

“There is a lot of energy here,” Uraraka says. “I don’t feel the darkness I did at Tokoyami’s home, though.”

“Not yet, at least,” Jirou mutters darkly, and the rest of them wince.

“Kaminari-san, would you be okay with us taking a look around?” Iida asks.

“Of course,” Kaminari says, shooting them a double thumbs-up. “Like I said on the phone, I’m happy to give you guys run of the place for the night.”

“Thanks, dude,” Kirishima says, and Kaminari gives them all a big, cheerful wave before heading out to his car and driving off.

“Let’s get started, then?” Momo says, and the rest of them nod.

“All we need to do is head these people off,” Iida says. “In all likelihood, once they see there are others in the building, they’ll scatter. If we split up, cover the whole building, show them we haven’t left any holes, then they’ll give up for tonight at least.”

Bakugou cracks his knuckles.

Iida points at him. “Do not engage them. We don’t know what kind of abilities these people might have. Just show them that we’re here and that we mean business. Worst comes to worst, radio for backup. Don’t go in alone. Got it, Bakugou-kun?”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou mutters, but he looks reasonably compliant, so Iida lets it go.

They head their separate ways from there, Jirou to the security room with the CCTV cameras to keep an eye on things, and the rest of them deeper into the building. The hallways are metallic and narrow, the ceilings criss-crossed with vaulted beams, and Izuku feels small and helpless, like he’s been swallowed by a monster made of iron and steel.

“Be careful,” Uraraka says, squeezing his shoulder, and then one by one they scatter, and then Izuku and Todoroki are alone.

The building creaks around him, and when Izuku inhales, the air tastes like ozone and rust.

“Okay,” Izuku whispers. “Let’s go, then.”

Izuku winds his slow way deeper into the building. The hallways interlace like a grid, according to the blueprints they poured over in the van on the way here, but it doesn’t stop Izuku from feeling mixed-up and lost. He hears whispers in the distance, catches shadows on the wall that don’t belong to him.

“I’m not here to hurt you guys,” Izuku tells them, quietly. “I’m here to try to protect us all.”

Hours seem to pass as Izuku moves forward, Todoroki a silent, steady presence at his side. Todoroki makes observations every once in awhile, and Izuku listens thankfully and nods. And then they turn a corner and begin to head down a new hallway.

“Midoriya, I feel something weird,” Todoroki says.

One by one, the lights flicker out.

Izuku pulls his flashlight out of his bag and flicks it on. The floorboard screech in protest as Izuku shuffles forward. He aims his flashlight around himself, and the narrow beam of light casts ugly, misshapen shadows on the walls.

“I feel like someone’s watching us,” he breathes, and Todoroki hums.

“There’s something here,” Todoroki says. And then, more urgently, “Midoriya.”

Izuku whips around.

A man is standing at the end of the hallway.

Izuku takes a sharp step back and aims his flashlight directly at the man. His shape is gaunt, ghoulish, all crooked angles. When the light hits him, he raises a hand, slowly, to cover his face.

When he looks up, meets Izuku’s eyes, Izuku can see one single eye, unobscured by his hand.

It burns a feverish, molten red.

“I warned you,” the man says, and his voice is familiar, light and lilting. “You should have stayed out of my way.”

“What the hell are you trying to do here?” Izuku demands, but before he can finish the sentence, the man at the end of the hallway reaches into his pocket, pulls out a vial, and smashes it.

“Oh, no,” Izuku says.

The man disappears.

The hallway explodes.

Out of the walls burst enormous, bulbous monsters, ungainly and many-limbed and inky, perfectly black. They whip their heads towards Izuku, and Izuku screams and staggers back when he realizes that their skulls are gaping open, their brains exposed to the air. They open their mouths, full of enormous, jagged teeth, and screech. The sound rips under Izuku’s skin, rakes across his bones.

Demons.

Izuku is going to die.

A hand closes around Izuku’s arm.

“Midoriya,” Todoroki says, urgent. “Midoriya, we have to run.”

He does.

The monsters behind him are hindered by the size of the hallway and their own enormous bulk, but Izuku can hear them tearing through the walls, slamming each other out of the way. The building seems to shake and roil around him, an earthquake beneath his feet, and he speeds up as best he can, pushes until his legs are moving on auto-pilot, as fast as his body can possibly go.

He’s losing them, he thinks. Their screeches are distant and garbled, warped by the metal walls.

And then he rounds the corner, and finds himself facing an elevator with a grated door and a sign that says ‘out of order.’

There is no other exit.

“God,” Izuku whispers, and he hears the demons closing in, so he sprints forward and wrestles the elevator’s grate aside and climbs in. He slams the door shut behind him, just as the demons round the corner and lunge.

Izuku backs up until he’s pressed against the wall, the demons screaming and clawing at him through the grating. He can feel their heat, feel their breath on his face. He presses his eyes shut, curls himself small, and then Todoroki’s voice says, very close to his ear, “Midoriya.”

Izuku’s head shoots up. Todoroki is crouched in front of him, his eyes close to Izuku’s, serious and burning.

“Yaoyorozu-san said that if you broke that necklace, it would release me, right?”

Izuku reaches up to touch the necklace, folds his hand around it like a lifeline.

“She did,” he says. There’s a slamming sound, a particularly loud growl, and Izuku flinches and doubles over. “She did,” he starts again, his voice higher and more frantic, “but she said there might be something in there with you - something powerful, Todoroki-kun, and we don’t know what-”

“I know what,” Todoroki says, his eyes and voice flat. “Midoriya. Trust me.”

Izuku stares. “Todoroki-”

“There’s no time, Midoriya, you need to release me.”

“But-”

Todoroki’s hand closes around Izuku’s.

“Midoriya,” he says, low and fierce, “let me go.”

Izuku looks in his eyes one more time, and then yanks the necklace off of his neck, throws it onto the ground, and steps on it.

Izuku watches, ice in his veins, in his lungs, on his skin, as the shadow of a shadow in front of him shudders and begins to resolve itself into something that looks very much like a boy.

Todoroki Shouto does not look like how he sounds. His voice is quiet, low, crushed velvet. It is a voice befitting of a boy built from shadows. It is not a voice befitting of the person who unfolds himself now, the darkness surrounding him shaking away to reveal a riot of color, a boy painted with the shades of a sunset.

He is beautiful.

He is terrifying.

He is alive.

“Stand back,” Todoroki tells him, and Izuku shoves himself back into the corner and watches the night go up in flames.

Todoroki does not move as he burns the hallway - and the demons with it - to the ground. He stands there, hand outstretched, face impassive and beautiful as the force of his power causes his hair - two-toned, jewel-toned, the strangest and more beautiful thing Izuku has ever seen - to flutter around his face. The violence is fierce and consuming and horrifying but then it is over, and the night is quiet, and Todoroki is turning to face him.

Their eyes catch. Todoroki reaches up to cover the left side of his face with his hand, but not before Izuku sees the scar on his cheek, a raw flame of burnt tissue surrounding his eye.

“Are you okay?” he asks Izuku, his voice the same as it has always been.

Quiet. Low. Crushed velvet.

“Midoriya?” Todoroki offers, gently.

Izuku’s vision blurs, and then goes dark.

Chapter Text

Izuku wakes up slow, like a cloud passing away from the moon.

There is fog in his eyes, in his head; he blinks, sleepily, to clear it. The room around him comes into view gradually - it is too bright and the walls are too white, and the taste of antiseptic is heavy on Izuku’s tongue. There’s an odd sort of weight on his hands, and it takes him a moment to realize that they’re covered in bandages, just as white and sterile as the walls. He opens his fingers and closes them experimentally, and they ache with a sharp sort of pain.

Taking a breath, Izuku turns his head, just a little, towards the room’s only window. Beside it, a boy is curled up in a floral-printed, plasticky armchair. His blond hair is sleep-mused and flatter than normal. There is a bruise smudged like ink on his eye and a bandage across his throat, and Izuku is struck by an odd, insistent sense that he is…. Different than he should be, somehow. Rounder, smaller, slighter-shouldered and softer-featured.

Kacchan, Izuku thinks. Or, a version of Kacchan from a long time ago, when they were both kids.

And then he realizes, Oh. This is a dream.

Or, no. Not quite a dream.

A memory.

Izuku presses his eyes shut, and remembers. It comes in violent waves like nausea, both the present and the past crashing in on him at once. He is somehow simultaneously himself now and himself years in the past.

He remembers

  1. an electrical plant
  2. a circle of blood, of bones - or two, or three, or four
  3. a portal, opened (and another portal, not quite opened yet)
  4. Bakugou, screaming, and Izuku reaching out for him, not quite close enough to touch
  5. pain, in Izuku’s hands and his chest and in his mind.

Todoroki’s voice, soft.

 

Midoriya?

 

In the dream - the memory - the door of Izuku’s hospital room swings open, and Izuku watches with half-lidded eyes as Kirishima Eijirou steps into his life for the first time.

Like Bakugou, Kirishima looks much younger. He’s wearing a horrible, electric yellow Hawaiian shirt and his hair is pin-straight and tied into a long ponytail, black instead of the violent red it is now. He’s carrying a cardboard tray with two cups of coffee, and he crosses the room on tiptoe to stop in front of Bakugou and gently touch his shoulder.

Bakugou wakes up angry, the way he always does. And then he takes one look at Kirishima and the fight goes out of him. He slumps back into the chair and closes his eyes.

Kirishima holds the tray of coffee under Bakugou’s nose and lilts, “Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty.”

Bakugou opens one eye and says, “I thought I told you last night to fuck off.”

Kirishima shrugs with one shoulder. “And I thought I told you last night that I wouldn’t.”

They look at each other for a long moment, Kirishima beaming, Bakugou not quite frowning. The expression on Bakugou’s face is uncharacteristically unguarded, a little confused. With the benefit of hindsight, watching this exchange feels voyeuristic, almost. Like Izuku is witnessing the beginnings of Something-with-a-capital-S pass between them.

Past-Izuku begins to push himself into a seated position. Kirishima turns slightly away from Bakugou, tips his head towards Izuku and says, cheerfully, “Hey! Welcome back to the world of the living, Freckles.”

Bakugou’s head snaps towards Izuku immediately. His eyes are burning, too intent to be anger, too venomous to be anything but. Izuku can’t make himself look at him, even now, with all these years between them.

(In his mind, he is living it again - the moment Bakugou began to disappear, the blank terror pulsing like venom in his veins, his body launching itself forward of its own accord, hand outstretched despite the shrapnel in the air and in his lungs and in his mind.)

Izuku knows what comes next. His own voice asks, distantly, what had happened to them. Where he is. If Kacchan is okay.

“Well, it’s tough to say exactly what happened. From what I could see, you saved this guy here-” Kirishima jabs a thumb in Bakugou’s direction, looking thoroughly unimpressed by the murderous expression on Bakugou’s face, “-from becoming a sacrifice in some dumbass poser’s failure of a magical ritual.”

“A sacrifice?” past-Izuku repeats, horrified. “Magic?”

Kirishima flashes him a thumbs-up. “Yes to both. Bakugou tells me that the guy who kidnapped him was trying to use his blood to complete a ritual. So, yeah, that would make him a sacrifice. Pretty nasty stuff.”

Past-Izuku blanches. “Who are you?”

“Ah, I’m sorry!” Kirishima says, and he ducks into an enthusiastic half-bow. “My name is Kirishima Eijirou, and I’m a ghost hunter.”

Izuku stares.

“I know that sounds crazy.” Kirishima rubs a hand on the back of his head ruefully. “Our proper job title is paranormal investigators, if that makes you feel any better.” (“It doesn’t,” Bakugou interrupts, mulishly.) “But we also dabble in stopping idiots from trying to do magic that’ll get us all killed, which is why…” He waves his hand limply between himself and Izuku. “You know. I’m here.”

“We didn’t try to do magic, though,” Izuku says, probably a little stupidly. “We were just… we were just walking, weren’t we? And then… there was a weird feeling in the air, I felt it… and someone grabbed Kacchan-”

“And you came after me like a fucking dumbass,” Bakugou snarls. “Instead of letting me handle it.”

“You would’ve died if Midoriya hadn’t pulled you out of the range of the spell, Kacchan,” Kirishima says, dryly.

Bakugou looks furious.

“What was that guy trying to do, though?” Izuku asks Kirishima. He can only reconstruct part of what had happened in the seconds before he grabbed Bakugou and the spell exploded in his face - he remembers violent eyes, and a screaming voice, and maybe the word portal.

Kirishima lifts an eyebrow. “You’d know better than me, I think,” he says.

“We don’t know anything,” Izuku informs him, maybe a little frantically.

Kirishima nods reassuringly. “Right-o,” he says. “I know. That’s why I’m here. I want to help you guys. You’re both strong latent talents, if your senses are good enough to pick up on a spell like that and break it. And, from what I’ve seen, you’re both genuinely good people.”

Bakugou makes a noise of disbelief. Kirishima pats his shoulder and doesn’t look even mildly terrified for his life. Izuku is amazed.

“Let me introduce you to my group,” Kirishima goes on, earnestly. “Between all of us, we can definitely teach you both how to use your abilities properly. And how to prevent anything like this from happening again.”

“And how the fuck did you know to look for us in the first place?” Bakugou demands.

Kirishima looks at him, steady, in a way that makes past-Izuku antsy and present-Izuku calm.

“I dreamed you,” he says.

 

Izuku opens his eyes to a collapsing roof and a pitch-black sky. There is warmth at his side, ice in his veins. A hand touches his cheek, very gently.

“Midoriya, are you okay?” a voice asks, above him.

“Todoroki?” Izuku tries. But he doesn’t know if the words come out of his mouth or are just engraved into his skin, and before he can try again, the world goes dark.

 

After Kirishima leaves the hospital room, shoving a napkin with his phone number into Bakugou’s hand, Bakugou scrunches down in the chair by the window. The more Izuku looks at him, the worse he appears; the darker the bags under his eyes seem, the starker the red lines of his wounds appear before they disappear beneath bandages.

“Are you okay?” Izuku asks.

Bakugou’s hands ball into fists in his lap.

“I was almost murdered,” he says, between gritted teeth, “by some dumb fuck trying to rip a hole in the universe or some dumb shit. Of course the fuck I’m not.”

Izuku breathes.

(Memory blooms like wildflowers - a hole the size of the sky looming in front of him, and Bakugou disappearing into the black nothingness on the other side - the panic in his veins and his throat and his lungs - lunging forward, reaching out, his hands alight with pain as he grabbed desperately for anything he could touch.)

“A portal,” Izuku remembers. “He was trying to open a portal. Right?”

Bakugou looks at Izuku, war in his eyes, fire in his veins.

“What are you going to do?” he asks.

“About Kirishima-kun?” Izuku asks, and Bakugou gives a single, jerking nod.

“What did you say you’d do?” Izuku says, in place of an answer, and Bakugou rolls his eyes.

“I told him no fucking way am I joining his freaky club,” he says, but there is something halting in his voice that Izuku is unaccustomed to. Something like hesitation.

Izuku pauses, for a moment. He thinks about the pain in his hands, about how helpless and fragile he felt, watching Bakugou slip away from him while the wind whipped the world to pieces.

Like drowning.

“I’m going to join them,” he tells Bakugou.

“Good fucking riddance,” Bakugou tells him, but his voice snaps in the middle of his sentence, and Izuku knows he means, Okay.

 

There are hands on Izuku’s shoulders. His throat, the place where his pulse meets his skin. Soft words, repeated over and over again: stay with me, it’s going to be okay, I’ve got you. Midoriya, Midoriya, Midoriya.

Izuku.

Izuku feels the ground retreat from under him, feels warmth replace ice. There’s a heartbeat very close to his ear, keeping time with the drum of his own pulse.

He thinks of fire, and of ice.

There is a press of something soft and gentle against his forehead before he slips back into darkness.

 

The dream shifts after that. Changes. Instead of lying in a hospital bed, Izuku is standing, leaning heavily on a crutch and ducking his head respectfully as Kirishima Eijirou introduces him to the rest of Yuuei Paranormal Agency, Bakugou snarling at the ground by his side.

Izuku remembers this: how anxious he had been, standing in front of this array of people with knowledge and experience and everything Izuku lacked. He remembers the nerves twisted into knots inside his chest. He remembers the way he held himself, as still as possible, careful not to put any weight on his hands.

A girl with a cascade of thick, dark hair and clever eyes steps forward, her expression a little bit mournful and a little bit kind.

“Will you let me take a look at your hands?” Momo asks him. “I’m pretty good with healing charms.”

Izuku nods haltingly and lets her unwrap the bandages from his fingers. His hands are a mess of purple-crimson scar tissue, his fingers knobby and bent like broken branches. Momo doesn’t flinch though, even as the rest of the YPA members recoil; she works quick and deft, and by the time she’s done, the pain in his palms has ebbed like a tide.

“You’re brave,” another girl, black-haired and wide-eyed, informs him, in a voice that’s more croak than anything else. Asui Tsuyu gives him the shadow of a smile and continues, in her no-nonsense way, “Kirishima-chan tells us you’re lucky to be alive.”

Izuku doesn’t know if he feels lucky.

He’s not even sure if he feels alive.

He shakes the feeling off, takes Tenya Iida’s outstretched hand, and becomes a ghost hunter.

 

“Is that Midoriya?”

“Who' s that carrying him?”

“Is he - guys, what’s wrong with him-?”

“Who the fuck are you and what the fuck did you do to Deku-”

“Midoriya-chan, can you hear us?”

 

“Izuku.”

 

Izuku wakes, properly this time, to an overwhelming smell of burning rubber and a two-toned pair of eyes, inches away from his own.

The world feels unsteady, and for a long moment Izuku is sure that the ground is crumbling away from beneath his feet. And then he realizes that he’s not on the ground at all - instead, he is pressed tight against a chest, arms wrapped around him. Todoroki is holding him carefully, like he’s afraid Izuku will shatter in his arms. He is achingly, dizzying real, his face elegant and fine, hair mussed and tumbling across his eyes, soot smudged across one cheek.

“You’re awake,” Todoroki says, releasing the words like a breath he’d been holding.

Izuku manages, just barely, to breathe, “Hi.”

There is a clamor around him, and then the sound of several voices overlapping. Iida’s voice comes out stronger, telling everyone sharply to, “Step away from them, stay calm.” Todoroki’s hold on Izuku tightens almost imperceptibly.

“Hey, shitlips, I asked who the fuck you are,” Bakugou’s voice snarls, a little closer than the others.

“If you hurt him-” Uraraka’s voice begins, furious, but cuts off abruptly when Tsuyu clears her throat.

“It’s okay, Occhan,” Tsuyu tells her. And then she says, “Do you want to tell us what happened, Todoroki-kun?”

Todoroki?” Kirishima echoes, incredulous. “Like, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Todoroki? Midoriya’s Todoroki?”

Todoroki inclines his head in an awkward bow. “Nice to meet you,” he mumbles.

Uraraka makes a tiny, soft strangled sound.

“Oh, no wonder,” she whispers.

“No wonder what?” Todoroki asks. His hands are very warm on Izuku’s skin. Izuku sort of wishes he could touch him back but he isn’t sure he remembers how to move his limbs.

“Don’t worry about it-” Uraraka begins.

“No wonder Deku wants to suck your dick, is what she’s trying to say,” Bakugou says, flatly.

There is a sound of collective disgust. Jirou boos loudly. Bakugou shrugs in a whatever, fuck all of you guys gesture. Kirishima throws a wadded up piece of paper at him.

“Guys,” Izuku rasps, and the others quiet down immediately. He is beginning to realize, as the fog clears from his head, that they are all looking rather worse for wear. Most of them are smudged with dust and debris; Iida is nursing a blooming black eye, Bakugou a split lip, and Jirou has a pretty nasty gash on one cheek. “What happened?”

“When we split up, we were all attacked,” Uraraka explains gently. “Then the building caught fire and started to collapse, and all of them disappeared. Like someone had sent out a signal or something.”

“When you didn’t meet us out here, we thought you might be dead,” Tsuyu tells him, no-nonsense as ever, though her tone is a little softer than usual.

“They didn’t…” Izuku begins, his tone thick with dread. “They couldn’t…”

“They were not able to make a sacrifice,” Iida assures him. “We stopped them.”

“Oh,” Izuku breathes. “Good.”

“What happened to him?” Kirishima asks Todoroki. “What did they do to him? The rest of them just came at us with knives and shit, but he looks like he’s been through the goddamn wringer.”

“They released demons on us,” Izuku remembers. “Todoroki fought them off.”

“Why does Deku look like he’s fuckin’ got one foot on death’s doorstep, then?” Bakugou demands.

Todoroki winces. “I had to draw on his energy a bit to break the bonds that were holding me so I could save us,” he says, miserably. “I tried to use my own power, for the most part, so I’m quite a bit weaker than normal. But Midoriya’s energy is really-” He pauses, breaks off. Blushes a little, high on the back of his neck. “Magnetic, I guess. For lack of a better word. And I couldn’t help tapping into it. It must’ve drained him a lot.” He looks down at Izuku. “I’m so sorry, Midoriya.”

Izuku’s mouth is half open to assure Todoroki that he’s fine, it’s no harm done, when he realizes what was just said.

“Wait, hang on,” he says, incredulously. “Did you just say weaker than normal?”

Todoroki tilts his head. “Yes, why?”

“Todoroki-kun, your hands caught fire,” Izuku says, faintly.

“Oh, right,” Todoroki says. “Yeah. Usually it’s my whole body.”

The others look stunned.

“His what did what,” Jirou says, flatly.

“It’s usually your what?” Iida wheezes.

Momo blinks twice and says, “Well, at least that explains why you had such a strong bonding spell on you. Did your memories come back as well, or just your physical form?”

“I still don’t remember much,” Todoroki admits. “It’s coming back slowly, though. I remember my mom’s face, I think. And my name.”

“Wait, Todoroki, does that mean you’re actually really badass?” Kirishima asks, thrilled.

Bakugou looks like he’s considering homicide.

It doesn’t take them long to pile back into the vans, after that. It takes some coaxing before Todoroki agrees to let Izuku down - his hands linger on Izuku’s arms longer than necessary after he sets him on his feet, something mournful passing over his face that Izuku chalks up to guilt. The hum of the van and the soft sound of voices feel familiar and distant at once, and Izuku slips in and out of sleep. When he wakes, he realizes he’s slid down, his head resting on Todoroki’s shoulder. He’s too sleepy to move, though, and Todoroki doesn’t seem to mind, so he lets himself shut his eyes again.

When he sleeps this time, he does not dream.

By the time they arrive at a roadside motel, dawn is breaking eggshell-pale over the horizon. While the others unload the vans, Todoroki helps Izuku up and out of the car. Warmth is returning to Izuku’s limbs, and his vision feels sharper and more focused, but he still lets Todoroki guide Izuku’s arm around his shoulders so that they can hobble together to the room.

As soon as the door is open and the lights are on, Izuku flops face-first on one of the twin beds, stacked into the room like puzzle pieces fitting together.

“Don’t go to sleep yet,” Todoroki tells him, nudging at his foot. “You’ve got some wounds I want to take a look at.”

Izuku lets out a half-hearted whine and rolls over, pushing himself into a seated position. He blinks sleepily, rubbing at his eye with the heel of his hand. And then Todoroki announces, “I’m going to take your shirt off now,” and he is suddenly very much awake.

“Okay?” Todoroki asks him, eyes on Izuku’s as he waits for confirmation, and Izuku nods, breathless.

He holds himself perfectly still as Todoroki helps guide his shirt off and gets to work cleaning up the few cuts left behind by the collapsing building. He is very, very close - Izuku can see the fragments of scattered colors inside his eyes, the elegance of his eyelashes, the precise shade and taper of his lips. His hair falls gracefully over his eyes, silken and fine, the color of starlight and firelight at once. He chews on the inside of his cheek as he bandages the cuts on Izuku’s arms and chest, and Izuku watches the rise and fall of his chest, the humanity of him, how profoundly alive he is.

His fingertips leave sparks in their wake. Izuku is made of fire.

When he is finished, he sits back, and Izuku feels the loss of his touch like a physical weight.

“Todoroki-kun,” Izuku begins.

Todoroki lifts his eyebrows. It takes a second before Izuku can figure out how he wants to proceed, how he wants to give voice to the thoughts echoing around inside his head. And then, instead of saying anything, he reaches out.

Todoroki whispers, his voice cracking a little, “Ah.”

And he shifts closer, lets Izuku touch him, lets Izuku press his palm against the beat of his heart like he had before, when Todoroki was more shadow than boy. This time, Todoroki reaches up, silently, to press his hand over Izuku’s. He is looking at Izuku like he cannot imagine looking away, close enough for Izuku to feel his breath against his lips.

“Thanks,” Izuku mumbles. “For saving me. Even if it was just part of our bargain-”

“It wasn’t.”

Izuku is tethered to this moment. He is afloat at sea, anchored here.

Todoroki looks at him and repeats, more firmly, “It wasn’t, Midoriya.”

“Thank you,” Izuku whispers, a small honesty he affords himself, a piece of himself that he gives away more easily than he believed he could.

Todoroki’s lips part, and Izuku’s world spins around him, the universe going still, breathless, around them.

And then the door to the motel room slams open and they spring apart, Izuku tumbling off the bed as Bakugou and Kirishima walk inside, followed by Iida a moment later.

Kirishima giggles at the sight of Izuku, in a heap on the floor.

“Oh-ho. Did we interrupt something?” he asks, his voice syrupy.

Bakugou makes a disgusted sound. “Nasty.”

Kirishima lifts his chin airily. “You were the one who mentioned dick-sucking earlier, Blasty.”

Bakugou wrinkles his nose and stands there, annoyed, before seeming to acknowledge the truth of that statement and slamming himself down on one of the unoccupied beds.

“Everyone shut the fuck up and go to sleep,” he commands. “Dicks are banned.”

“Banned?” Kirishima asks. “How can you ban a dick? Also, are all dicks banned, or just Midoriya’s and Todoroki’s?”

Iida heaves the aggrieved sigh of the long-suffering. Bakugou throws a pillow at Kirishima.

While the two of them scuffle and Iida dresses for bed, Izuku picks himself up off the floor and clambers back into bed. Todoroki gets to his feet and looks studiously at his shoes, the back of his neck and tips of his ears flushed scarlet.

“Goodnight,” Todoroki mumbles. “Sleep well.”

And Midoriya allows himself to flop backwards and curl himself into a ball. He does not have the words to say that he cannot feel anything except for Todoroki’s touch against his chest. To explain that his heart is beating so hard that he can’t imagine ever being able to sleep again.

 

Iida shakes Izuku awake around four o’clock that afternoon. The sun is low in the sky and the room is otherwise empty, all the beds made except for Bakugou’s, which is still a mess. Izuku extracts himself from the tangle of his blankets and follows Iida outside and into the van, where the rest are waiting.

Inside, the others are clustered around what looks to Izuku to be a single, white glove. Todoroki is sitting on the far end of the van, talking about something in a low voice with Momo. He looks up when Izuku enters and his face softens to the approximation of a smile.

“Good to see you back on your feet, dude,” Jirou tells Izuku, slapping him on the shoulder.

“Thanks, Jirou-san,” Izuku says, wincing a little and rubbing at the spot she’d hit. “It’s good to be back.”

“We were really worried about you,” Uraraka tells him, from her place at Tsuyu’s side, her ankle hooked around Tsuyu’s. “You were super pale last night.”

“Looked like death warmed up,” Kirishima confirms, jovially. Then he winces and shoots a look at Todoroki. “Ah. Sorry, dude. Bad choice of words.”

Bakugou huffs out a laugh through his nose.

“So, what do we do now?” Momo asks, leaning forward, her elbows on her knees. “We’re clearly dealing with more enemies than we initially expected.”

“I don’t think they’re unfamiliar with magic, either,” Iida adds thoughtfully. “This isn’t like Midoriya and Bakugou’s experience. The culprit isn’t stumbling around without any knowledge of what they’re doing. This is ritualistic.”

“Plus, the guy Midoriya faced knew how to summon demons,” Kirishima adds. “That’s no joke. Right, Asui?”

Tsuyu tilts her head to the side. “Summoning spells are pretty advanced,” she acknowledges. “And controlling the creatures you summon is even more advanced. Whoever that guy was, he’s good.”

“Can someone pull up the map of the ley lines?” Iida asks.

Jirou nods and swings around to the monitors, hitting a couple buttons before the screens light up with the side-by-side comparison they’d made before, of haunted locations compared to the layout of the lines.

“So,” Jirou says, ticking the list off on her fingers. “These guys beat us to the Todoroki manor and the Tokoyami estate. We kept them from making a sacrifice at the electrical plant, but we don’t know how many more sacrifices need to be made before their plans are in place and they’re able to open the portal. We don’t know where they’ll go next, whether they’ll come after us, or who they are. Did I miss anything?”

“We also don’t know what their powers are,” Tsuyu adds.

Jirou points at her. “True.”

“We’ve got this,” Momo says, nudging at the glove on the ground with her foot. “One of the guys that attacked me dropped it while we were fighting. If I touch it, it might tell us something.”

“And we might be led right into a trap,” Iida suggests. “They know we have the ability to scry using objects, now.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “All of this is just noise,” he growls. “I don’t need to know fuck-all about these people, and I don’t care if it’s a goddamn trap. Just put someone in front of me for me to punch and let’s get this shit-show the fuck over with.”

“I agree with Bakugou,” Kirishima says, mildly. “Well, not with the phrasing, but the sentiment. It doesn’t particularly matter to me who these people are or what they’re after. They’re clearly scum and they need to be taken down by someone. And since no one else knows what’s going on and we can’t exactly call up local law enforcement about this, that someone’s gonna have to be us.”

“Last time you touched something of theirs, you reacted really badly to it,” Izuku points out to Momo. “Will you be okay?”

Momo shrugs. “You can take the glove away from me if I start showing signs of rejecting the vision,” she says. “And, like Kirishima-kun says, it has to be done.”

Uraraka presses the glove into her hands. Momo’s eyes flutter shut immediately, her posture going stiff. They wait about a minute, the air in the van stifling and silent, before Momo’s eyes open again and she drops her grip on the glove.

“This doesn’t belong to the same person the other piece of cloth did,” she says, decisively. “Their energy feels way different than the other person’s did. Still powerful and dark, but not… twisted. I was able to stay in the vision longer this time.”

“Are they on their way to the next location?” Iida asks.

Momo presses her eyes shut, like she’s trying to picture what she’d seen. “Whoever the owner is, they’re sitting in a room with several other people. There are photos of locations and a bunch of ley line maps on the walls. There are pins on the maps on junctures between the ley lines, like intersections of roads. That’s where the sacrifices have to be made.”

Jirou springs into action immediately, marking the points of intersection on their own map, displayed on the monitor.

“There’s a guy sitting at the head of the table,” Momo continues. “Messy hair. His mouth and nose are covered by a mask. He throws something at the wall, and it shatters. The owner of the glove is annoyed, but not angry. All of this is a minor setback to him.

“‘Two more,’” she says. “‘Two more and we’re done.’”

She opens her eyes, looks around at all of them.

“That’s all I see.”

They sit in silence for a long moment. Izuku’s hands are pressed into fists, tight enough that it aches. His knuckles are pale against the mess of scar tissue.

“Two more,” Uraraka finally says.

“We don’t have much time, then,” Kirishima says. “We have to act fast.”

“We still don’t know where they are, though,” Jirou points out.

“Or where they’re going next,” Izuku adds.

“I think,” Todoroki says, from the corner, “I might know.”

They stare. He ducks his head a little uncomfortably under the scrutiny and then shifts over to stand next to Jirou, inspecting the maps on the monitor, tracing the path of the lines with his finger, eyes flicking quickly from map to map.

“Yeah,” he says, after a moment, standing back. “I know. There’s a forest to the east that covers two junctions of the ley lines. Here, and here.” He points the places out. “If they’re looking for efficiency, and to go unnoticed, this would be the place to do it.”

 

“That’s a big gamble to make,” Iida points out, squinting at the screen. “If we go all the way there without knowing for sure…”

“I think he’s right,” Uraraka says, decisively. “It makes sense.”

“I think so, too,” Izuku puts in.

“You would,” Bakugou mutters, and Kirishima digs an elbow into his side.

“If we’re all in agreement, then… we’ll head out tonight,” Iida decides, getting to his feet and brushing dust off his pants. “Everyone, make sure to rest up and take care of yourselves. We’ll need to be cautious and prepared.”

“Let’s go bust some heads,” Bakugou says, a wicked grin spreading across his face. He and Kirishima knock knuckles.

“Let’s also try not to die,” Uraraka adds.

Bakugou looks uninterested. “Yeah, that, too.”

 

They sit together that night, all of them, and watch the sun go down.

It’s a warm evening, so they sit on the grass out in front of the motel and watch the sky take on the colors of a painting. Izuku sits with his knees drawn up to his chin, arms wrapped around his legs, and tries not to let his brain run into overdrive - about the past, about the portal, about how close Todoroki is at his side, lying down and staring up at the sky, twilight turning his hair and face to candlelight.

“Todoroki-kun,” Izuku mumbles, and Todoroki tips his head towards Izuku, his hair falling around him like stars. “You said earlier that you remembered your name. What is it?”

“Oh.” Todoroki looks a little surprised. “It’s Shouto.”

“Shouto,” Izuku echoes, and he doesn’t miss the way Todoroki’s ears turn scarlet in response.

The world turns.

This time tomorrow, they may all be dead.

 

(A dozen miles away, Shigaraki Tomura stares up at the same sky. He closes his eyes, and pictures armageddon.)

Chapter Text

Depending on how you tell it, this particular story belongs to Shigaraki Tomura.

He is by no means the first to come up with the idea of a portal. The draw of something like that - something immeasurable, the ability to completely erase the divide between life and death - is not novel. It is not new. Shigaraki is not the first person to dream of a portal, and he’s not the first to truly believe he can do it.

The difference, though, is that Shigaraki is right.

With every sacrifice they make, with every slash of Toga’s knife against skin, the portal becomes a little truer. A little more inevitable. Shigaraki’s always resented working with others, a little, but he knows he needs them - Kurogiri, Toga, and Dabi. All powerful empaths, all latent talents, all with a desire to watch the world burn.

This story belongs to Shigaraki, but it is not his alone.

The voice that whispers in his ear tells him that the end of the world will be beautiful. Shigaraki can almost picture it, nothing like anything anyone has ever seen before. The sky will become void, the earth will become emptiness. Life and death will cease to exist.

Endings will disappear from this world forever. Que sera sera; whatever will be, will be.

The prospect is horrible, and it is lovely. It is the only thing Shigaraki has ever really wanted.

And he is close.

He is so, so close.

So, when the first ritual is disrupted, at the Todoroki manor, Shigaraki doesn’t think much of it. The room had been ruined by a team of paranormal investigators, all of them no more than his age and blinded by their need to play by the book. They are not a threat; they are barely a team.

It is not until he is standing in the hallway of the electrical plant, face to face with a boy that radiates Something-with-a-capital-S, that he realizes this may actually be a situation worth worrying about.

Be cautious, the voice in his ear tells him, after his familiars have been efficiently turned to ashes by a boy released from a necklace. Be smart. Those two may become obstacles for you in the future.

Obstacles.

Shigaraki sort of wonders how he’d never considered that particular possibility, before.

 

Depending on how you tell it, this story belongs to Shigaraki Tomura.

But it begins and ends with Midoriya Izuku.

 

Yuuei Paranormal Agency is born from a dream. Specifically, it is born from a dream that belongs to Iida Tenya, who has seen his brother’s life destroyed by a magic-user, tried and failed to take revenge, and been forced to confront the inevitability of human suffering, in that order.

Iida builds Yuuei from the ground up, not so much because he believes in himself as a leader, but because he believes in what he could be. He knows what he’d needed, watching Tensei recover from wounds none of them could truly begin to understand. He knows what he wishes he’d had - guidance, balance, a place to call home - and he vows to become that. To build it.

His long-time friend and former classmate, Uraraka, joins first. The others come steadily after her: Asui, Kirishima, Jirou, Momo. They are an odd constellation, made up of different abilities and different beliefs and different hopes.

Iida sort of thinks they’re perfect.

So, when Kirishima comes to him one morning and tells him about Bakugou Katsuki and Midoriya Izuku, Iida hesitates.

The actual details of Kirishima’s dream are vague. He tells Iida that he sees a powerful, outward burst of unfamiliar magic, along with a hand, outstretched. The sharpest details, the scenes he can best recall, are of Bakugou’s face, and his name, and the sound of his voice. Jirou laughs at that, which Kirishima takes as good-naturedly as he always does, even though Iida can tell he’s confused about it, and maybe a little flustered.

“I think they need us,” he tells Iida, more seriously than he is accustomed to. “And I think we need them, too.”

When they finally meet Midoriya and Bakugou, though, it does not seem like they need the YPA. And it definitely doesn’t seem like the YPA needs them; they’re both untrained, Bakugou seething and prideful, Midoriya nervous and quiet and showing no signs of any sort of magical ability at all.

The first few days after the two of them join the YPA are tense. Bakugou seems to have a begrudging respect for Kirishima, but he snaps at everyone else and visibly bristles in Midoriya’s proximity. Iida watches, carefully, but he cannot figure them out, cannot figure out the current that runs between them.

He pulls Midoriya aside one afternoon. His injuries are partially healed now, strips of tape replacing the thick gauze on his fingers and palms, and he smiles at Iida when Iida approaches, his posture respectful.

“Can I ask about what happened to you?” Iida asks him. “What you remember?”

Midoriya turns his bandaged hands over in his lap and nods. He speaks openly and honestly about Bakugou’s kidnapping, about watching his horrible, hulking captor slash a knife across his neck. He talks about an opening, torn into the space where the earth meets the sky. He talks about the magic-user being sucked in, screaming, while earth and trees and jagged rocks were ripped inwards, as well. He talks about Bakugou disappearing, about reaching out - into the debris and the magic and the energy - and grabbing his hand.

“I don’t know what that man was trying to do,” Midoriya tells him. “But he called it a portal, I think.”

“Were there bones around? He could have been attempting necromancy.”

“There were no bones,” Midoriya says. “And, whatever that was, it wasn’t the afterlife.”

“What was it?”

Midoriya pauses. Presses his hands together.

“It was nothing,” he says. “Just… nothing.”

His face has gone very pale under his scattered freckles, so Iida lets it drop.

Instead, he says, “Bakugou told Kirishima that he feels spiritual energy. That he can sometimes reach out and touch spirits, if he knows where they’ll be. Can you-”

“I can’t do any of that,” Midoriya tells him, a little too quick, a little too offhand. “I can’t do anything.”

Iida blinks. “Are you sure? Not many people could reach into a tear in time and space and come out with only some scars.”

Midoriya’s hands open and close, once.

“More than scars, I think,” he mumbles. “And yes, I’m sure. I’m not like Kacchan, Iida-kun. I’m not like any of you.”

Iida frowns at him. “Would you like to be, though?”

Midoriya seems to curl in on himself, to collapse inwards, his gaze on his feet, his shoulders tucked up towards his ears.

“All I’ve ever wanted,” he says, quietly, “is to help people live.”

 

Todoroki Shouto is raised to be a weapon.

He is not volatile like Bakugou Katsuki. He is not the fuse burning down on a stick of dynamite, a finger on the trigger of a gun. Shouto is a sword, a scythe. He is a precision instrument, lovely and deadly.

By the time he is twelve, he knows. He is a weapon, and weapons do not feel.

This world has never seen anything like Todoroki Enji before. He is enormous, opinionated, burning with the kind of magical energy that most ordinary people could never even begin to fathom, much less embody. Enji dreams of an empire, of recognition, of disciples and appreciation and a world without crime. He molds his son into a tool, shapes him like clay until Shouto cannot look into the mirror without seeing his father’s eyes looking back.

“You’re destined for greatness,” Enji says, like it is obvious. “You will be my greatest achievement yet, Shouto. My finest success.”

Shouto is tempered steel. He learns elemental magic because that is what his father expects of him. He masters fire instead of ice, even though he shows promise for both, because that is what his father tells him to do. He keeps his hair neat, his shirts pressed, smiles politely when his father shows him off.

This is my son. He’s going to change the world.

Shouto doesn’t think he knows how to change the world. Shouto doesn’t think he even knows how to be a person anymore, really.

You look like your father, his mother tells him, her voice choked with tears, in the seconds before she douses the left side of his face with boiling water. So much like him, Shouto.

I’m so sorry. I failed you.

He is not a fuse. He is not a finger on the trigger of a gun. But when his father’s fist comes down on his mother’s face, he still detonates.

Afterwards, he watches as his mother is sent away. She presses shaking fingers to his cheek before she goes, and he will carry the touch with him until the day he dies. And his father looks him in the eyes and says, “If you would turn your magic on me, you will not have magic at all.”

Shouto is a weapon.

He is eighteen years old when he is sealed away. His father puts the spell on the necklace himself. “Only someone with whom you share a bond will be able to break this binding, Shouto. And you have no one except for me.”

He looks Shouto in the eyes before completing the seal.

“Let me know when you’re ready to come out,” he says.

And it is dark.

For so long, it is dark.

Until one day-

“Hello. My name is Midoriya. I’m just here to talk to you, if that’s okay.”

 

Midoriya Izuku is born for mediocrity.

He is kind, but not selfless. He is bright, but not brilliant. He is loving but stubborn; gentle but furiously, deeply ambitious. A boy of shades of gray, of in-betweens and neither-nors.

And Izuku knows it, now. The secret about in-betweens is that they are actually nothings, dressed up to look like hope.

Izuku is five years old, and he wants to be a hero. He is at the age where children are still allowed to be anything they want to be, but people still double-take when he tells them that. He is small, slender-shouldered, round-eyed. All he wants is to save people, to make them smile.

Izuku is seven years old, and Bakugou Katsuki is sensing spirits for the first time. He can’t see them, but he knows they’re there, and he can touch them. He is special, their teachers say. He is different, Izuku’s mom tells him. He is better, Bakugou informs him, with a cruelty in his grin that Izuku doesn’t recognize. Magic is running inside his veins.

Izuku is eleven years old, and makes the mistake of telling Bakugou about a dream he has, involving a magical spell and himself, saving Bakugou’s life. Izuku wears his black eyes and skinned knees like armor, balls his fists like that’ll help the punch hurt less, when it lands.

Izuku is twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and he is tired. He is no longer young enough to believe in the possibility that there is magic inside him. His teachers are not charmed when he tells them he still dreams of saving people. His mother looks sad, sometimes, when she thinks Izuku isn’t looking.

Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and Izuku sometimes thinks he is made of maybes.

Maybe if he’d had magic. Maybe if he worked a little harder. Maybe if he was taller, or smarter, or sharper. Maybe in another lifetime.

And then, Izuku is eighteen, and Bakugou storms out of class and into the woods, and Izuku follows him. And he sees a man with sickly-pallid skin and bulbous eyes grab Bakugou by his throat and lift, sees the glint of a knife and the curve of the magic circle at their feet. He sees, and sees, and sees.

And, most importantly, he moves.

He reaches into the hole torn into the sky and pulls Bakugou out, leaving his hands torn and bloodied and irreparably broken. And he sets off a chain of events that lead, irrevocably, into the future.

(Soon, he will tell Tenya Iida, with complete honesty, “All I’ve ever wanted is to help people live.” And Tenya Iida will look him in the eyes, and believe him.)



Before the YPA moves out for the forest at the end of the world, Izuku takes a nap.

The leftover fatigue from Todoroki drawing on his energy to manifest is still heavy in his limbs. His sleep isn’t restful, though. Instead, his dreams are fitful, frightening things. They have been, since the night after their stake-out at the Todoroki manor. His usual nightmares - of gaps in the sky, openings below his feet, Bakugou’s voice, pain in his hands - have been replaced.

Instead, he sees the broken bodies of his friends, lying scattered in precisely sketched circles of blood. He sees Todoroki, pressing his palm to Izuku’s cheek, before a red smile opens slowly across his throat and his eyes empty.

He sees the entirety of humanity, swallowed up by holes inside the sky.

He screams, but his voice does not make a sound.

And then, in his ear, a voice says, “Stupid.”

Izuku blinks, twice, and then he takes a huge step backwards, as his vision is filled with a man with ashen hair and snowy skin, inches away from his face.

“I warned you,” the man says, almost petulant. “I said I would destroy you! I keep telling you that I’ll take them apart one by one! So why are you still chasing me?”

Izuku’s mouth will not form words.

He looks at the man and the name Shigaraki raises to the front of his brain, unbidden.

No,” the man says. “That’s not how this works, Midoriya Izuku. You’re not in my head, I’m in yours. And this is your last warning to stay out of my way.”

Izuku manages to say, “I won’t.”

And then he wakes up.

Todoroki is a solid weight, sitting next to him on the motel room bed. His hand is warm against Izuku’s shoulder, shaking gently. “Midoriya,” he says. “Are you okay?”

Izuku reaches up and curls his fingers around Todoroki’s wrist before he can stop himself. Todoroki looks surprised but doesn’t pull away.

“Are you okay?” he asks, again.

“What are the odds,” Izuku says, looking Todoroki in the eyes, “that we all get out of this alive?”

Todoroki’s eyebrows lift.

“I don’t know,” he says, honestly, sliding his hand up, so that their fingers are curled together instead of Izuku holding his wrist. “I’d like to, though.”

Izuku huffs out a laugh. “Me too, Todoroki-kun.”

Todoroki hums and looks sideways at him, leaning back on his free hand. “What will you do next? If we do get out alive?”

Izuku laughs fully this time. “Probably go get myself into another mess exactly like this one,” he says, and Todoroki cracks a smile before sobering.

“Would you-” Todoroki begins, and then he closes his mouth and mumbles, “Sorry. It’s dumb. Never mind.”

Izuku nudges him with his knee. “Nope, nope. I’m minding. ‘Would I...’ what?”

“If I asked to stay,” Todoroki blurts. “With you. With YPA. Would you… have me?”

Izuku stills, his knee still pressed against Todoroki’s side, suddenly hyperaware of the way his hand fits with Todoroki’s.

“Would you… want that? To stay with us?”

“I would like to have a family again,” Todoroki says, looking down at his lap. “And I would like it to be you.” And then he flushes, and coughs, and says, “Um. All of you. If you’d… also want me.”

And Izuku’s heart aches, suddenly, with the weight of everything he is feeling. He cannot untangle himself, cannot begin to find the right words to express just how badly it would hurt to not have Todoroki at his side anymore, even though it had only been a few weeks since they’d been… partners. Friends?

Family?

“I’ll have you,” he finally says. “For as long as you’ll have me.”

Todoroki looks at him, startled.

“You have to know that you’re already our family, Todoroki-kun,” Izuku plows on, finding confidence as he continues. “So if you’d like to stay with us, that’s what I want, too.”

There’s a quiet knock on the open door, and they both jump a little, Izuku slipping his hand away from Todoroki’s automatically. Uraraka leans on the doorframe, a very fond, slightly amused smile on her face.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she says, “but Deku’s right, Todoroki-kun. We’ve loved having you here, even when we couldn’t see you. You can absolutely stay with us.”

“Plus, you’re strong as fuck,” Kirishima’s voice pipes up, behind her. He peeks over Uraraka’s shoulder and flashes Todoroki a thumbs-up. “I’m all about having a guy who can light his hands on fire in my corner.”

Izuku frowns at them and curls his arms around himself self-consciously. “Were you guys eavesdropping this whole time?”

“Mostly the whole time, yes,” Tsuyu’s voice says, her head popping up from around Uraraka, as well.

“Eavesdropping is such a harsh word,” Kirishima says, waving his hand.

Jirou swings around to lean on the other side of the doorframe and says, “Yeah, it was more like… we stumbled on the conversation and then decided to listen to the entire thing.”

“I told them not to,” Momo and Iida’s voices say, in unison.

Bakugou shoves his way between the rest of them to get into the room and sit down hard on one of the empty beds, grabbing the last of his stuff off the floor and beginning to stuff it into a bag. He’s wearing Kirishima’s jean jacket.

“You guys are fucking gross,” he tells Izuku, mostly without heat.

Iida steps into the room and stands in front of Todoroki, who gets to his feet immediately.

“Welcome to the YPA,” Iida says, and he sticks a hand out. Todoroki hesitates for less than a second before shaking it.

“Great,” Bakugou says. “Now let’s go save the motherfucking world.”

 

They pile into the YPA’s two vans, Uraraka, Bakugou, Krishima, Todoroki, and Izuku in one and Momo, Jirou, Tsuyu, and Iida in the other. “Stay close and follow my taillights,” Iida tells them, and Uraraka shoots him an ‘okay’ sign before getting into the driver’s seat. Kirishima snags the AUX cord, and they take turns passing it around, teaching Todoroki the words to their favorite songs, pretending they’re not driving straight to the end of the world.

“Oh! I’ve been meaning to ask, Todoroki-kun, but now that you have your body back, do you remember what happened to you, now?” Uraraka asks, meeting Todoroki’s eyes in the rearview mirror.

Todoroki winces. “Yes,” he says. “I don’t want to upset anyone, though. It’s not a very happy story.”

“Join the fucking club,” Bakugou says, but there isn’t quite as much malice in his voice as usual.

“We don’t mind some tragedy, man,” Kirishima tells Todoroki, kindly. “If you want to tell us, you can.”

“Okay,” Todoroki says. “I can try.”

And he does. He talks about his father’s ambition, and his cruelty. He talks about his mother, about the scar on his cheek, about what it felt like to watch his father send her away. He talks about rebelling. Fighting.

Losing.

“My father sealed me and my magic in the necklace,” Todoroki tells them, voice muted, eyes trained on the ground. “It was a punishment and a preventative measure. He wanted me to be a weapon in his arsenal. He forgot swords have two edges.”

“So that… extra powerful thing that Momo thought was locked inside with you…?”

Todoroki holds up his hand in front of his face, and all of them stare in silent shock as it slowly ices over.

“He had to seal me twice,” Todoroki explains. “Once for myself. And once for my magic.”

The mood in the van grows somber, after that. Even Bakugou looks a little mollified.

They pull up to the forest at the end of the world in the pale-gray time just before dawn. The moon is high and bright still, the sky a foggy, muted periwinkle. YPA gathers, just for a moment, after the vans are parked, hugging their sweatshirts around themselves, breath rising in clouds in front of their faces.

“We’re gonna have to split up, aren’t we?” Jirou asks, her voice muffled.

Iida nods, reluctant. “We have to cover as much ground as possible.”

Tsuyu casts a long look at the treeline. “And if they’re already here?”

“We have to do the best that we can to stop them.”

Uraraka kisses Tsuyu’s cheek, and then her forehead, and then her lips. Kirishima and Bakugou knock knuckles, the shadow of an honest smile on Bakugou’s face. Momo hugs all of them, one by one.

“Good luck, guys,” Jirou says.

Iida nods. “Be safe. Come back home.”

“Ready?” Todoroki asks Izuku, low, and Izuku nods.

“I’m ready,” he says, and it feels like a truth.

The two of them set off into the forest at a walk. There is a path, but it’s narrow and winding, obscured by decades of fallen leaves and encroaching weeds. The trees are knobby and twisted, a blackish gray color, vines dripping from their branches. There is no sound except for their footsteps, and then, slowly, it becomes difficult to hear anything at all. Izuku feels odd, fuzzy. Like his energy has turned to static inside him.

The quiet is discomfiting. It’s like the forest has stilled to listen to their progress. Like the invisible eyes of the trees are following them as they walk.

“We must be getting close to the junction between the corpse roads,” Todoroki says. “The air feels…”

“Charged?” Izuku whispers. It feels disrespectful to raise his voice in a place like this. He thinks possibly the trees wouldn’t like it.

“Charged,” Todoroki confirms. “Midoriya, can you feel something from up ahead?”

“I don’t-” Izuku begins, but then he realizes that, yes, there is a tug of something in his gut. A chill, icy and insistent, forming slowing in his stomach. It’s a familiar feeling, though Izuku can’t put his finger on why.

“Oh,” he breathes. “Yeah. I feel it.”

Todoroki looks sideways at him. “Will you be okay? You look pale.”

“I’m okay,” Izuku says.

I’m okay, he repeats in his mind.

I’m okay. We’re okay. We’re going to be okay.

“Todoroki-kun.” Izuku turns abruptly to face him, hands curled into fists at his sides. “Be careful.”

Todoroki shoots another long look at him. “I’m always careful,” he says, serious. “Don’t worry, Midoriya.”

And then the forest sighs, a breath of wind passing between the trees, and Todoroki and Izuku step out into a clearing, stained grayish by the almost-morning. The forest is quiet, devoid of life, like it is holding its breath.

A single figure stands in the center of the clearing beside an empty circle of stones, a knife in his hand, matted mop of white-blond hair falling down to obscure his face.

“You are absolutely ridiculous,” he says, his voice a familiar, odd mixture of rasping and light. “Midoriya Izuku.”

Izuku stops walking. Todoroki stops, too, several feet away from him, a little closer to the man than Izuku is.

The man looks up, slowly, to stare at him from behind his curtain of hair. He reaches up, deliberate, and taps his temple, once. And Izuku’s mind cycles back - to dreams of destruction, of horror, of red eyes and pale hands and rasping voices saying his name.

“I warned you,” the man says. “To stay out of my way. So many times, I warned you. You should’ve just stayed out of my way.”

His voice becomes a snarl as he bites the words out, knuckles white against the handle of his knife.

“That was never going to happen,” Midoriya tells him. “You’re going to destroy the world, you’re going to kill everyone-”

“You’re right,” the man says, and then he smiles. “I am. I am.”

And he steps forward, directly into the center of the circle of stones.

Todoroki steps forward and opens his hand, palm facing out. Izuku ducks his head down. Braces, for a burst of power that never comes.

Instead, Shigaraki’s eyes roll back in his head.

Izuku gasps and Todoroki stares  as Shigaraki begins to shake, his whole body twisting and convulsing, his hands grasping at the air - reaching, clutching, at something that is not there. His outline begins to shudder, and shift, and Izuku stares in abject horror as something detaches itself from him. He is still there, underneath, but a shadow is overlaid around him, big and black and hulking, with broad shoulders and a misshapen head and burning red eyes.

It blinks, twice.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had enough energy to manifest,” Shigaraki says, but it is not his voice - it is deep and arcane, tone formal to the point that it’s almost an accent. “You’ve got quite the presence, young man. It’s a pity I won’t be able to let you live.”

“A ghost?” Izuku whispers. “He was possessed?”

“Not a ghost,” Todoroki corrects, grim. “A demon.”

“A demon,” not-Shigaraki echoes, sounding displeased. “How very pedestrian. Humans have many names for me, and that one is by far the most distasteful.”

“If you’re not a demon, then what are you?” Todoroki demands, and Izuku can’t help but feel impressed at the calm in his tone, the steel in his eyes. “Because this has all the marks of a demonic possession, from where I’m standing.”

“Oh?” the shadow purrs. “Well, then. Maybe you ought to change your perspective.”

The shadow smiles, a half-moon gash, and then the world is tipping out from under their feet. They are tossed into the nothing above them, tumbling up and up and up, and Izuku grabs for something - the trees, the earth, Todoroki’s hand - but there is nothing to keep him from spinning up until there are no directions left. He just keeps falling, his stomach twisted in knots, and it’s already getting harder to breathe, the air thinner and weaker, and Izuku is gasping-

Todoroki’s hands find his face, and he says, very firmly, “Midoriya, it’s an illusion.”

Izuku blinks. The forest comes back into focus around him, Todoroki’s palms against his jaw.

“What the hell,” Izuku whispers.

“You’re okay,” Todoroki tells him. “It’ll be okay. Brace yourself.” And then he drops his hands, turns back around to face the shadow in front of them.

“You’re clever, young man,” the shadow says. “Quick-witted.”

“That is not the first time I’ve had an illusion spell cast on me,” Todoroki says. “You’re going to have to do better than that.”

“Interesting,” the shadow lilts, and then tendrils of darkness are shooting out from around him, jagged-sharp and almost too fast to see. Todoroki opens his palm and his body catches flame, sending orange light spinning throughout the clearing. He lifts his chin, and a wall of ice blasts up from the ground, catching the darkness before it can hit them, and the tendrils bury themselves deep into the ice, pinned through the back like spears.

“Elemental magic, then. Quaint.”

Todoroki clenches his fist, and the wall of ice explodes into fragments, which scatter around the clearing like snowflakes.

“I know what you are,” he says. “I’ve read about you. My father wanted to destroy you.”

The shadow’s grin expands.

“Oh?”

Todoroki says, “All For One.”

The shadow makes a sound that might be approval. “Ah, yes. I much prefer that name. Demon sounds vulgar, don’t you think?”

“All For One?” Izuku repeats. “What does that mean?”

“It means what it sounds like,” Todoroki whispers. “He’s fallen. A corrupted soul. Like a demonic parasite. He feeds off the magical energy of others until they have nothing left to give.”

“Usually, that’s true,” All For One says, sounding disinterested. “However, Shigaraki Tomura and I have reached an accord. Our relationship is more… symbiotic, if you would. He goes through the steps necessary to take this world apart, piece by piece. And I get rid of anything that stands in his way.”

Izuku’s blood runs cold.

“You understand, I hope,” All For One says. “This has been illuminating, but I simply cannot let you live.”

And then the shadow is lifting a hand - and, beneath it, the action is mirrored by Shigaraki. The shadow’s eyes pulse, flaring enormously bright.

The next series of events happens too quickly for Izuku to understand.

A swath of energy bursts out of the shadow’s hand and speeds towards Izuku, tearing the earth apart as it goes. Izuku sees it, in an abstract sense. The way you see the wind, or a song, or the turn of time. And Todoroki sees it, too. His eyes go wide, wide, wide. Horrified. He says Izuku’s name, once. And Izuku only has half a second to process before Todoroki is flinging himself between Izuku and the shadow, and the wave of black energy sweeps him off his feet and slams him against a tree, hard enough that the trunk splinters like shattered glass.

He goes down.

He does not get back up.

No,” Izuku cries, and the shadow makes a dismissive sound.

“A pity,” he says. “And a pointless sacrifice. Goodbye, young man.”

What do I do?

The world seems to slow and then stop, in that moment. He sees his mom, he sees Bakugou, he sees the YPA. He sees Todoroki, touching his hand, and then hitting the tree, again and again and again.

What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?

In his mind, Todoroki’s voice tells him, let go.

Let go.

Let go.

And he does.

Izuku opens his eyes and his mouth and his hands. He lets All For One draw the energy out of him, lets that familiar, creeping cold spread over his body, lets his heart slow and his mind quiet and his pulse stop. The world is still around him, air rushing in his ears, and he is not breathing, but he is burning. Alive, alive, alive.

All For One drains, and keeps draining, but Izuku will not die.

He is nothing, and everything. He is movement outward, he is the push and pull of the stars, the turn of the world. All For One is glowing brightly, now - brighter, brighter, too bright - and his shape is bubbling like water boiling on a stovetop.

Izuku feels his own life essence like static in the air around him. He feels the exact moment when All For One reaches his capacity, when he cannot drain Izuku any longer.

“My turn,” Izuku says, but it is not his voice - it is the voice of the cosmos.

Of the stars.

All For One says, “Oh, dear.”

And Izuku shoves.

All For One explodes in a roar of unfathomable sound and a shower of scattering sparks. Power rushes around him, pulses through Izuku’s body, his veins. The forest bends around him, trees blown sideways by the wave of wind and power that bursts out from where All For One once stood. The air screams in Izuku’s ears, energy slamming back into his body with a rush of heat and life, hard enough to make him stagger.

There is a pulse of silence.

Izuku breathes.

The forest is still.

Izuku feels hyper-alert. More awake than he has ever been. The night is alive around him, Izuku can feel it, every heartbeat and every breath and every whisper. He is everywhere at once. He is the sky and the earth and the blood in his veins.

He is at the vans, where Jirou waits nervously on standby; by Bakugou and Kirishima’s side, as they punche a man with a mess of scar tissue and stitchwork on his face; passing over Momo, as she seals a blood-soaked blond woman inside a talisman and destroys it; with Tsuyu and Uraraka as that neatly dispatch a man wearing a familiar white glove.

He sees Shigaraki Tomura’s ruined body, at the center of a circle that will never be complete.

Todoroki, Izuku thinks.

And he turns and sprints to where Todoroki fell. He is collapsed, in a heap, at the foot of the tree All For One had tossed him against. He is bloody, face smudged with dirt and creased with pain, but when Izuku touches his face, careful, he jerks awake like he’d been shocked, wheezing for a breath that comes easy.

“Midoriya?” he gasps.

Izuku says, still in a voice that is not quite his own, “Shhh.” Todoroki holds completely still as Izuku takes his face between his hands, and they both watch as his wounds knit back together, slowly, deliberately. Color returns to his face, steady breath to his lungs.

“Live,” Izuku says.

And then, like a switch has been flipped, the moment passes. The strange, otherworldly energy seeps from Izuku’s bones, leaving him aching and fatigued but alive - alive.

Todoroki asks, hesitantly, “Izuku?”

Alive.

They are both alive.

“Thank God,” Izuku whispers, and he collapses into Todoroki’s arms, burying his face into the crook of Todoroki’s neck. Todoroki’s arms come up around him, one around his shoulders and the other around his waist, palms flat and warm against his back.

“How did I do that?” Izuku wheezes. “How did I do that?”

“You were amazing,” Todoroki tells him. And then he says it again, earnest and soft. “You were amazing, Izuku.”

“I was,” Izuku tells him, “so, so scared.”

“I think,” Todoroki says, face buried in Izuku’s hair, “that you were born to be a hero, Midoriya Izuku.”

You were born to be a hero.

Izuku sobs, maybe. Just once.

And then he surges forward and he kisses Todoroki Shouto square on the mouth.

He is kissing him.

Izuku is kissing Todoroki Shouto, and Todoroki Shouto is kissing him back.

Todoroki kisses precisely and feverishly and achingly. He presses Izuku to himself like he cannot possibly conceive of the idea of letting him go, one palm coming up to cup Izuku’s face, his lips parting against Izuku’s mouth. And Izuku loves him - he loves him, he loves his voice and his kindness and his eyes, and he’s laughing and crying at the same time, now. He pushes forward and they topple over, still kissing, Todoroki’s mouth curving into a breathless smile under Izuku’s.

“We lived,” Izuku says, and Todoroki kisses the tears off his cheeks.

“We did,” he says. “We did.”

Dawn breaks over the forest.

Izuku says, “Let’s go home.”

 

Yuuei Paranormal Agency is born from a dream.

Tenya Iida dreams of leaving behind a world where no one’s future is lost because of magic.

Uraraka Ochako dreams of a comfortable retirement for her parents, a big house with a yard, a place at Asui Tsuyu’s side.

Asui Tsuyu dreams of happiness, of sunrises over lakes with still waters.

Kirishima Eijirou dreams of heroes he’s seen rise and fall before him, and pictures himself among them, standing tall and with pride.

Jirou Kyouka dreams of a banging stereo system and her friends’ smiles and maybe, just maybe, a comfortable, demon-free vacation.

Yaoyorozu Momo dreams of creating a space where children can learn to use magic, a place where no one has to fear what they are or what they could be.

Bakugou Katsuki dreams of a legacy.

Midoriya Izuku no longer dreams of tragedy. Instead, he dreams of heat - candlelight, bonfires, sunshine. He dreams of fingers, slotted perfectly in the space between his own, the curve of a smile, the low-sweet sound of a laugh. He still dreams of helping people live. He will have that dream for the rest of his life, and he will see it realized a million times over.


Todoroki Shouto kisses Midoriya Izuku on the mouth, and, for the first time in a long time, he dreams.