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Flare Signal

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Flare Signal
achieving elysium


 

Villainry, as Izuku's father liked to say, ran in the blood. It liked to stalk in the shadows and hook its claws into you when you least expected it. It liked to remind Izuku specifically that he could never really be a hero the way he’d always dreamed of.

Instead Izuku found himself hunting a hero.

Izuku flicked his gaze towards a nearby store window, surreptitiously finding the reflection of the man in black. The hero paused on a corner and then disappeared into an alley. Izuku waited until the man had left his line of sight before he palmed his phone, opening his messages.

The most recent one had come from Hisashi, sent only half an hour ago. Izuku had missed it.

Come back by five. We have matters to discuss.

“Shit,” he muttered. He still had an hour, but he'd have to head back soon.

Izuku glanced toward the alleyway where the hero had disappeared into. He hesitated, not sure if he should follow.

It was too risky, Izuku decided. He hadn't been able to glean any information from following the underground hero all day, and he wasn't likely to get any more. Knowing his luck, he'd probably get caught.

Izuku sighed, turning on his heel and going in the opposite direction. He flipped through the pages of his notebook idly, scanning the faces of pro heroes. Endeavor. Weaknesses. Present Mic. Weaknesses. Red Wing. Makeshift. Thornhead.

He flipped to a new page and began to scribble in it as he walked.

Name: unknown

“Watch it!” someone snapped, and Izuku yelped, apologizing even as he continued writing.

Quirk: unknown - activated with the eyes? Lasers?

Appearance/costume: typical of an underground hero. Dresses in black. Inconspicuous-

Then Izuku was on the ground, staring at the sky. A dull pain sparked in his arms, and he pushed himself up.

He'd run into someone, it seemed. Izuku was up in an instant. He looked around, and his heart sunk. The sidewalk was a mess, covered in what looked like groceries. Its owner stood crookedly on the sidewalk, rubbing his chest and blinking like he, too, wasn't quite sure what had just happened.

“Sorry!” Izuku yelped, scrambling for the things on the ground. “Sorry, sorry, sir, I wasn't paying attention…”

The man laughed. It was a nice sound; it made the pulsing anxiety in Izuku's chest settle slightly.

“No, no, my boy,” the stranger said, “it's my fault.”

The man was tall and rather gaunt, with wild, blonde hair that reminded Izuku of a lion’s mane. He was smiling, though, and Izuku had the thought that this man was strangely familiar even though he was sure they'd never met.

“Let me help you,” Izuku said, grabbing a box off the ground. He scooped up a few more items despite the man's protest. One of the plastic bags had ripped, and Izuku frowned at the thought of carrying all of the groceries without one.

“Where are you headed?” Izuku asked before he could stop himself. “I can carry them for you.”

The man slung the untorn over his arm before bending over again.

“Is this your notebook?”

“Oh! Yes-”

“Here, we can switch.”

“Really,” Izuku protested. The man cocked his head at the notebook, suddenly curious.

“Aspiring hero?”

Izuku ducked his head, blushing. “A- ah, yeah! It’s, um, it’s my dream to help people.”

The man studied whichever page he’d landed on and then shut Izuku’s notebook, nodding.

“A good cause,” he murmured, more to himself than Izuku. Then he brightened. “Well in that case, carrying my groceries can be training, eh?”

Izuku grinned.

They made small talk on the trip. Yagi Toshinori was a secretary at a small hero agency, but he was training to be a teacher in the upcoming school year. He was enthusiastic and exuded a sort of light Izuku felt lucky to be in. Yagi regaled him with tales of heroes and villains alike, careful to leave out names but still managing to leave Izuku gasping in delight. He seemed interested in Izuku, too, glancing down at the notebook every now and then like what Izuku had written had caught his eye.

“Applying to U.A., young Akatani?”

The name sounded strange. Izuku didn’t have a chance to use it often, but it was a name he kept for situations like this, to keep from being recognized.

“Mm, I don’t know…”

Yagi gestured with an arm, and Izuku ducked underneath it, grateful for his instincts.

“You won’t apply to U.A.?”

Izuku shrugged, shifting his cargo in his arms. “My… my parents might not let me.”

Yagi frowned, looking off into the distance. The two of them slipped under a bridge and fell into shadow.

“They think it’s dangerous?”

Izuku couldn’t help but snort. Sending Izuku into U.A.—Izuku, who was tied to villains, who was (kind of) a villain, and who could be caught in a matter of minutes? Chimera would never entertain the thought.

“Something like that,” Izuku mumbled.

“What’s your Quirk, young Akatani?” Yagi asked.

Izuku had stopped paying attention. Something lurked on the edge of his senses, and Izuku stopped where he was.

“Uh,” Izuku said. He wanted to reach for the knife strapped at his side, but Izuku found his hands full.

Yagi seemed to sense that something was wrong, too. The two exchanged a look and stepped back towards the safe light of day when something moved in the corner of Izuku’s eye. A shadow detached itself from the sewer grate, then shifted along the wall. A pair of eyes blinked at them and narrowed.

Izuku recognized the look in the thing’s eyes; he’d seen it before. Hunger. The kind of crawling hunger that got under the skin, that seared in the belly.

“Oh,” a warbled voice said. “Hello.”

Izuku’s mind was already racing. Yagi was behind him, a strangled noise having torn through his teeth. Protect. The open air behind them. Exit. The danger looming above him, drawing closer and closer. Enemy.

“Yagi,” Izuku said in a low voice, dropping the groceries and holding a hand back towards the man. “Run.”

Before the man behind him could react, Izuku jerked his knife from its sheath and threw himself forward, aiming for the heart of the dark mass in front of him.

It was a mistake.

“— wait!

Yagi’s voice was muffled and distant. Something thick and viscous was wrapping around Izuku, and he was reminded of a time he’d fallen into a ditch, the bottom muddy and deeper than it’d seemed.

He kicked, clawing wildly with his hands to part the sludge that was suffocating him.

“Don’t fight,” a voice croaked in his ear. “You’ll make a great host… don’t worry, it’ll be over before you know it.”

The words only served to make Izuku struggle harder.

“Let go ,” Izuku gasped before the sludge surged around him. It pushed against his mouth, and Izuku pressed his lips together desperately even though his lungs were beginning to burn.

A feeling registered through the panic: a hilt clutched between his fingers. Izuku fought against the sludge and found himself pulling free, surfacing. He gasped for air, blinking sludge from his eyes; a moment later, his hand followed.

Izuku gritted his teeth and rammed backwards and up, aiming in the direction of the villain’s eyes—

“Clever,” the villain mused, catching his wrist. “Stop fighting, little one.”

“Let the boy go.”

Izuku jerked his head in the direction of the voice. Yagi hadn’t run like Izuku had thought he was going to. In the hazem Izuku had forgotten the man had even been there, and it seemed the sludge villain had, too.

“What are you going to do about it?”

Yagi’s hand curled into a fist by his side, and his eyes narrowed.

It occured to Izuku then that Yagi hardly looked like a secretary at all, nor the forgiving stranger Izuku had ran into on the street. He still carried that bright light in him, but instead of moonlight through the trees Izuku felt he was staring right into the sun.

Yagi smiled, and somewhere Izuku recognized it. He suddenly knew what was going to happen before it did.

“This,” he said, and then there he was, framed by the light behind him. Izuku’s childhood idol, his hero, the person Izuku had always dreamed would save him with a smile.

All Might.

“Oh,” the sludge villain said, “that wasn’t what I was expecting. That’s not—”

“Let the boy go,” All Might said. “I won’t ask again.”

The sludge villain faltered and then threw himself over Izuku.

He screamed. Something rushed into his mouth. Darkness pulled over his eyes, and Izuku fought with everything he had.

Maybe it would be too late. Maybe the villain would take his body or suffocate him to death.

All Might , he thought, and fought a little longer.

“It’s alright, young man,” All Might said. “ TEXAS SMASH!

Nothing.

“Hey.”

Izuku blinked.

“Hey, hey.”

There was a man standing over him, poking Izuku’s cheek cautiously.

Oh ,” Izuku cried, sitting up and wrapping his arms around himself. He stared at All Might with wide eyes, and All Might looked back in concern.

“Oh,” Izuku said again.

He’d been completely useless as it turned out. He’d meant to protect Yagi and then had ended up needing saving. By Yagi. Who was All Might.

“You’re?” Izuku managed to stammer out after a moment of trying to find words. He had held a conversation with All Might. He’d even carried All Might’s groceries . Even the number one hero needed groceries.

All Might nodded.

“I’m sorry I didn’t act sooner. I was afraid of hurting you.”

Izuku shook his head, wordless.

“I’ll have to turn this in.” All Might held up a soda bottle—filled, it seemed, with sludge. Izuku’s throat ached at the sight.

“Of course,” All Might continued, gesturing to himself, “this is a secret, do you understand.”

Izuku nodded frantically. He found his knife on the ground and slipped it back into its sheath on his waistband. Its presence—combined with All Might—made him feel safer than he had in a long time.

All Might suddenly sighed, like the bravado had drained out of him. With his free hand, he lifted his shirt up to expose a gaping wound, an angry red in the center that spiderwebbed outwards.

Izuku gasped at the sight, shooting to his feet, but All Might continued.

“An old injury, sustained from a fight from five years ago,” he said grimly. “Half my respiratory system and my stomach gone. This body… I’ve grown weak .”

“No,” Izuku whispered, meeting All Might’s eyes. “I don’t think you’re weak at all.”

All Might sighed again. “I can only do hero work for three hours a day, now. I can’t sustain my power for longer.”

“Three…?”

Weakness , something dark and poisonous whispered in Izuku’s mind. Weakness, weakness, weak.

Izuku wanted to forget. Wanted to walk away—not to turn his back on his hero, but to keep that precious knowledge free from the Izuku’s blood and bones. The secret would stay there, a strange pulsing thing like a heart, something that could not be exposed to darkness.

“What kind of villain was it?” Izuku dared. He was shaking. “To have done this …”

“One you will never meet.” All Might put the bottle in his pocket. “But I am still a hero. I am still the Symbol of Peace, and I will continue to save people with a smile. I cannot be daunted by evil.”

Izuku wasn’t sure when he’d started crying, only knew that there were tears pooling in the corner of his eye.

“Here,” All Might said, picking something up off the ground. It was Izuku’s notebook, opened to a blank page. All Might’s name was scrawled across it.

“A-All Might…”

He took the notebook numbly.

“Can I—can, can I ask you a question?” Izuku blurted. All Might inclined his head.

“Do you think I can be a hero?” Izuku asked. “Can I be a hero if I’ve done bad things?”

All Might laughed. “We all have, young man. We’re only human in the end, but it is a hero who chooses to continue beyond them, to strive to do good. Don’t let your mistakes define you or you will never win.”

He touched Izuku’s shoulder briefly, and Izuku thought then that he would remember All Might’s words for the rest of his life.

“And when someone needs help…,” All Might said, looking out towards the other side of the bridge, “...do not stand still.”

Izuku wiped at his eyes and nodded. “I won’t.”

Then he looked at the mess around him, a distant thought registering.

“Uh, All Might? Do you still need those groceries?”

Izuku and All Might— Yagi , he pressed, when Izuku had almost blurted out the wrong name—returned to the small convenience store to re-buy All Might’s groceries. The cashier gave them strange looks but said nothing else.

“This is where we part,” All Might said, two bags on his arm as he patted the pocket where the sludge villain was held. “Thank you for your help today.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Izuku mumbled.

All Might offered him a smile. “You did more than you think. Good luck, young man.”

Before Izuku could think to say another word, the man was gone, disappearing into the crowds of people. It wasn’t hard to find him, a tall, wild-haired figure in the chaos, so Izuku watched him until he was gone from sight.

That was the only time he’d probably ever meet All Might: in an encounter with a villain, and he’d been useless.

Had All Might been right, though? Izuku turned the thought over in his mind as he trudged back. Could Izuku still be a hero, when villainry clotted his veins?

It didn’t matter, Izuku decided, because he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to escape his father’s clutches anyway.

Izuku kicked a rock and watched it skid across the sidewalk. He hated the bubbling warmth in his chest: hope, that one day what All Might had said could be true.

He’d keep that hope. Maybe he’d be able to do something with it.

If Kacchan had heard his thoughts, he would’ve exploded. I’m going to be Number One , he’d say, right in Izuku’s face. The hell are you going to be, shitty Deku? Useless?

It was his own way of pushing Izuku. It sounded harsh, and the words hurt. But he would’ve been right—Izuku couldn’t quite give up. Not yet, not when All Might had told him he couldn’t.

“Huh,” Izuku muttered to himself. He checked the time and yelped. Walking with All Might and the encounter with that sludge villain had cut his time in half. Izuku sped up to a light jog.

Then in the distance, he heard a commotion. Screams.

Izuku put his head down and forced himself to keep walking in a different direction, despite the guilt that swamped him.

Don’t get involved. You’ll only cause more trouble for everyone. Don’t get involved.

In between the human panic, Izuku heard a strange popping noise. Not quite like gunshots, Izuku thought, slowing down to listen, but the crackle and distant boom like—

“Explosions,” Izuku whispered. He knew that sound by heart.

Don’t get involved , Izuku thought desperately. It was too late. His feet were moving: first a slow step, then a jog, and then a flat-out run. He ducked and weaved through the streets, following the clamor of sirens and the thick smoke that had begun to pour out from between two buildings.

What trouble had Kacchan gotten into? What fight had he picked, what person had he upset?

Dammit ,” Izuku snarled. For all that he’d tried to protect Kacchan…

What if it was Chimera? What if that was Hisashi meant by matters to discuss ?

“No,” Izuku gasped, ducking under someone’s arm. His throat closed, like someone was wrapping a hand around it to choke him. “No, no, no…”

“Everyone stay back!”

“The fire…”

“That kid! Why aren’t the heroes helping?”

Fire surged around the square, no doubt a result of Kacchan’s Quirk. At first the scene was so chaotic Izuku couldn’t make out what was going on. Smoke made his nose burn and eyes sting. The panic was deafening. At different sides, heroes were working to keep back the fire.

There was Kamui Woods. Weakness: fire. There was Mt. Lady, whose debut Chimera had noted just this morning. Weakness: tight spaces. Backdraft and Death Arms worked helplessly to keep the danger from spreading.

In the center of it all was Kacchan. Izuku’s eyes jerked from the sparks flying from his hands to the dark pitch surrounding him.

“The sludge villain… how…”

He’d escaped somehow. During the trip to the grocery store, maybe, or sometime after. Izuku hadn’t even known.

Izuku stretched out a hand and then lowered it—his Quirk was useless against the villain.

When someone needs help… do not stand still.

All Might wasn’t here, whether he’d missed the action or whether he was out of time. He’d spent the last of his limit saving Izuku, hadn’t he?

No one was moving. No one was helping.

Useless, Izuku thought, trembling. What the hell are you going to be, Deku?

“No,” Izuku said, and then his body broke free of whatever had frozen him there. He stopped thinking.

No, ” he said again, tearing out of the crowd. Someone screamed.

Kacchan jerked at the sight of movement, and across the din, their eyes met. Kacchan’s eyes were wide and blown with— fear . He was scared .

Izuku’s feet pounded against pavement. His hand was moving, drawing his knife before he even realized what he was doing, and then he ran into the flames.

“What are you doing!”

“Get back to safety!”

Kid !”

Kacchan , Izuku mouthed.

“You again?” the sludge villain laughed.

This time, Izuku didn’t aim for his heart. He didn’t aim for any part of the black sludge that was clinging to Kacchan, surrounding him and pulling him under. Izuku reached them just as Kacchan disappeared under the sludge, reaching a hand out for help.

This time, Izuku leapt and drove his knife in a sharp arc towards the villain’s face. He felt something give under the sharp point, felt a moment of resistance before it slipped easily in, and Izuku let go.

The sludge villain screamed, jerking backwards in pain.

Izuku took the moment and grabbed Kacchan’s hand. Fire exploded in his palm, the pressure painful, but Izuku ignored it and pulled . Then he was clawing at the sludge though he knew it wouldn’t help.

Kacchan gasped for air— ”What the hell” —Izuku gritted his teeth, tears pooling his eyes, and refused to let go.

A shadow fell over them.

“It’s all right,” a heavy voice said, and Izuku and Kacchan both stared up towards All Might’s face.

“All Might,” Izuku cried.

All Might was smiling. Blood dribbled through his teeth, but he looked at Izuku grimly.

“And to think,” he said, blood staining his mouth, “I stood still, and you were the one to move. You ran in with almost nothing, risking your life like any pro hero, while I watched.”

All Might drew his arm back, fire reflected in his eyes.

DETROIT—

Izuku held on tighter and screwed his eyes shut, covering his face with his free arm. Something warm and wet spattered across his cheek.

“— SMASH!

A tornado of wind buffeted them, but Izuku found himself held still. All Might lifted Izuku and Kacchan both, curling protectively around them.

Then it was over.

There was a quiet, stunned calm. Izuku let go of Kacchan’s arm, and Kacchan stared at him.

Do you recognize me? Izuku thought dazedly as they were set down. The other pro heroes rushed over. Do you still recognize your childhood friend?

“Brave, incredibly brave,” a hero told Kacchan, “and such a powerful Quirk. Will you train to be a hero—”

“What were you thinking?” someone asked Izuku. “Running into danger like that!”

“I’m sorry,” Izuku said automatically.

Izuku stood up woodenly. He had to leave. He had to leave before the press overwhelmed, or else his pictures would end up in the news. Someone would take notice. Someone could recognize him, even if Izuku had dyed his hair and changed his look. He had to leave.

“Hey!” Kacchan yelled after him.

Izuku walked away feeling numb. He pushed through until he was pressed close to a building, and then waved a hand, activating his Quirk.

He put his head down and slipped away from the scene unseen.

Izuku made it two blocks before he de-activated his Quirk and started crying.

It’d come too close today. Too many almost s and not enough okay s. He wanted someone to hold him, someone who could tell him everything was alright and that he’d done well. The only person who would have probably had no idea what had happened to him.

“Young Akatani! I am here!”

Izuku spun and found All Might bent over, breathing hard.

“Had to outrun the press,” he said, straightening. “I wanted to speak to you, but I couldn’t find you.”

“Yeah, I… left.”

“What you did today marked the heart of a true hero!”

Izuku stared. Blinked once. Twice.

“Wh… what?

All Might waved a hand. “Tell me something. When you saw that young man in danger, what were you thinking?”

“Uh,” Izuku said, “I was thinking of doing something really stupid…?”

“No, no,” All Might boomed. “What were you truly thinking?”

He thought back to it. He’d thought himself useless, had tried to stay out of it. And then after that, he’d simply stopped thinking and started moving.

“I… didn’t,” Izuku said finally. “My body just moved.”

All Might broke into a smile.

“That is what all heroes say in the beginning. At some point, they stop thinking and simply act . In a group of heroes, you were the one to take the first step.”

Izuku bowed shakily. “That means… that means so much to me.”

All Might wasn’t done.

“And for that reason,” he announced, “I’d like to give you my Quirk.”

Give… give Izuku…

“You… what?”

…All Might’s Quirk.

“Give—give me … that’s not even possible! I mean, your Quirk has always been speculated about, but… give away… how, what? Well, I guess if anyone could break the rules of science it would be All Might, I mean, who else can pass on a Quirk—”

“Er, young man,” All Might interrupted.

“Right!”

“Will you accept my offer?”

He was clearly expecting Izuku to say yes. And Izuku wanted to. His Quirk was ill-suited to being a hero—maybe underground, but he couldn’t fight with it. It wouldn’t make enough of a difference.

With All Might’s Quirk… Izuku could change the world. He could become the hero he’d always dreamed of.

But , that voice whispered suddenly, you? A hero?

Izuku’s fantasizing stopped short. He couldn’t accept it. He worked for villains ; he couldn’t simply train or do things other aspiring heroes could.

“Young Akatani, I see you hesitate. I won’t pressure you. But think… the world could use a hero like you.”

A hero like you.

Izuku’s eyes welled up with tears. How could he refuse?

“Can I… can I think about it?”

All Might’s face clouded with slight disappointment, but he seemed to understand.

“Of course,” he said, “but not for too long. I need to find a successor soon.”

He asked for Izuku’s phone and then put his number in under Yagi Toshinori.

“You can contact me with that number,” he explained. “Please do not hesitate.”

“Y-yeah.”

All Might smiled again. “Regardless of whether you accept my offer or not… I think you will make a great hero.”

Izuku began to cry freely again. He hadn’t said that Izuku could be a hero this time; he’d said Izuku would make a great one with such confidence Izuku would do it.

“Thank you, All Might. Th- thank you…”

He looked at the number in his phone, and his heart pulsed warmly in his chest. Then he saw the time and almost dropped his phone, scrambling to catch it.

“I-I- I have to go! Thank you… thank you, I- ah, I’m going to be late!

Izuku left All Might in the street and began to run.

The room was quiet when Izuku stumbled in, the only sound the occasional crackling of fire and his heart pounding in his ears. Then he saw the light dancing across the far wall, the ruby tongues of flames in little bursts at the edge of his vision, and finally the man in the chair, nothing more than a dark smudge of ash in the dim light.

Hisashi didn’t turn to look at him.

“You’re late, Izuku.”

Izuku was too busy catching his breath. He bowed hastily.

“S-sorry,” Izuku mumbled when he felt like he had enough air in his lungs. “I, um, I got caught up on the way back.”

Izuku had met All Might, run into a villain, helped save his childhood friend, and then had been offered All Might’s power. Caught up was too simple an explanation.

Hisashi hummed and waved a hand. “How was your hunt?”

Izuku swallowed. “Couldn’t follow him. He— I tried every trick I had, but… it was strange. I felt like, well, anyway. I couldn’t get close enough to figure out any information or what his Quirk is.”

“Hmph,” Hisashi grumbled. A pale hand slipped into his pocket to retrieve a knife. “Damn underground heroes. I want you to find his hero name and any information about his Quirk you can get by the end of the week.”

“Understood.”

“Good. I’ve got a new mission for you.”

Izuku hissed out a breath of air through his teeth. Pro heroes had seen Chimera stir up more and more trouble in the past few years, and Izuku hated thinking about how that was in part his fault.

He did what he could, toeing the line between treason and treachery, but it never felt like enough.

“Well?” Izuku prompted.

The faster he got his next target, the faster he could start planning. How long Izuku could put off giving information, how much of his analysis could stay in his head or come out his mouth, how risky it would be to tip off the police or one of the hero agencies for the third time in two months.

Dangerous —the last time Izuku had slipped up, Bonestealer had beaten him badly enough he hadn’t been able to walk right for a week. He winced at the thought, feeling phantom pain ghost across his body. Izuku had laid low for a while, being more careful than he’d ever been.

“An ongoing mission,” Hisashi said coolly, “though we’re not sure how long it will take to get the intel we need. A year, maybe less, maybe more.”

Izuku swallowed hard and then cleared his throat a few times, wondering if he’d heard right.

“A year ? Who—”

Who could be so difficult to follow that it would take Izuku a year of research and analysis? The longest Izuku had taken on someone was a month, and that was because his target had had a particularly pesky Quirk that let him slip through darkness unseen. It was hard, after all, to shadow a shadow.

Hisashi laughed to himself. “I think you’ll like this one, Izuku,” he said. “You’re going to be following All Might to look for any weaknesses he has.”

Izuku choked.

“All… All Might ?”

“...Yes,” Hisashi said slowly, like he was talking to a child. He spun the thin blade between his fingers idly as he glanced at Izuku. “All Might.”

“But-” Izuku started.

The knife stopped spinning. The blade caught scattered orange light, gleaming as Hisashi sighed and sent flames flickering in the air as a warning.

“But what?”

But what? But what?

All Might wasn't just a hero. He was… he was everything Izuku wanted to be. He saved people, shining so brightly every time Izuku looked at him he had to avert his eyes, and he saved people with a smile .

That was what had stuck with him. Even after all these years, even when Izuku had wanted to give up… he couldn't. Because of All Might.

Who Izuku had met today as Yagi Toshinori. Who Izuku realized, suddenly and painfully, he already knew the weaknesses of.

“He's,” Izuku said, realizing he'd been quiet for too long. “He's the Symbol of Peace. Number one pro hero. I- I… he doesn’t have any weaknesses for me to find!”

“That's exactly why,” a voice drawled from the doorway.

Izuku went still.

“Our… friends heard about your skills, Izuku,” Miss Guidance said. She nodded at Hisashi, crossing the room so she could stand between them.

“Friends,” Izuku repeated dryly. He had to get out of here - go somewhere he could think, could plan. “We have friends .”

“Izuku,” Hizashi said, voice sharp.

He backed down. Miss Guidance smiled.

It wasn’t often that Izuku saw Miss Guidance, but today she looked the same as she always had. Dark hair pinned up and held with gold pieces; an angular, sharp face; grayish, cold eyes that Izuku always felt were looking through him and into him.

“Oh, you know how it is,” Miss Guidance said. “We’ve each got something the other wants. We help them pinpoint All Might’s weaknesses, and they help us— well, that would be saying too much.”

Izuku whimpered. He couldn’t help it.

It was bad enough knowing he had to “find” All Might ’s weaknesses. Now, he knew, the stakes would be even higher. It would be hard to withhold information, but it was going to be just as difficult warning everyone.

“Who are our new friends?” Izuku asked, a little breathless. “Do I get to know?”

Hisashi exchanged a look with Miss Guidance.

“In time,” Hisashi promised.

Miss Guidance reached into the folds of her coat and handed over a thin manila folder. Izuku flipped it open, his heart constricting painfully when he saw All Might’s face. There was a small, square photo of All Might clipped to a few briefs about what information Izuku was expected to find. Behind it was a thin, blank notebook with a pen stuck on the cover. It was clear what they wanted him to use it for.

Izuku’s hands were shaking as he shut the folder, holding it close to his chest.

He didn’t dare leave the room yet, not without permission, but he wanted to bolt. Izuku wanted to run far, far away, wanted to leave this sorry life behind.

Miss Guidance flicked a hand, and a golden coin appeared in her hand. She began to flip it idly, tossing it in the air and catching it every few seconds. Izuku hated when she did that, but he always found himself watching. It was the only tick Izuku knew she had, a tell from an otherwise well-crafted and unreadable demeanor.

“Do be careful,” she told him. “I would hate to see you caught by your favorite hero.”

“Understood,” Izuku whispered. His eyes burned.

Hisashi nodded. “You’re dismissed.”

Izuku fled the moment the words left Hisashi’s mouth.

He bolted to his room, shutting the door and letting his legs collapse under him.

“Breathe,” Izuku whispered, trying frantically to calm his racing heart. He squeezed the folder tightly. “It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay, it’s just— it’s okay.”

The mantra didn’t help him much. He’d already started crying. Izuku gripped the folder tighter and then threw it to the ground when he realized it wasn’t helping, either.

The folder slid across the room, papers and notebook scattering in the small space and skidding to a stop at the foot of his bed. Izuku sniffled, wiping at his eyes and crawled the short distance to his bed, careful not to crumple any papers.

He pushed aside his covers and reached under his bed, moving aside a few boxes to find the floorboard he’d loosened himself. Izuku lifted it by feel, pressing a wet cheek to the ground as his fingers searched for the small plastic box he’d hidden.

Izuku fished it out and sat up, still crying. He glanced at the door, putting a hand over his mouth to muffle his own noise so he could listen to his surroundings. There didn’t seem to be anyone outside his door, so Izuku opened the box.

Inside was a set of five All Might figurines. The sight made a strange warmth fill his chest, but it hurt, too.

When his father had first come to take Izuku away, Mom had stopped him from leaving.

Just a moment , she’d said, and Izuku had dawdled by the door, scuffing his shoes on the floor though he knew he’d be scolded for it. She’d disappeared into his room. Izuku spent the time staring at the apartment trying to memorize it, thinking about how strange it was to have packed clothes and books and belongings all neatly into a suitcase.

At the time, Izuku hadn’t known that was the last time he’d see his home as he knew it.

Mom reappeared with a box in her hands. She was a little flushed, but she’d smiled as she passed it over.

Mom, he’d complained when he’d opened it. It’s only a week.

Take him with you, she’d told him, putting her arms around him. Izuku wished he’d cherished the moment a little longer instead of itching to get out the door and down to the car where his father was waiting for him.

He’d protested that it was too embarrassing, but Izuku had relented in the end.

All Might will watch over you for me, she’d said. Mom had been smiling, he remembered. She took one of the figurines for herself, then. And when you come home, we'll put them all back together.

Back then, Izuku had rolled his eyes. He loved his mom, of course, and All Might, but he'd felt a little childish clutching that box of figurines.

Izuku would give anything to go back to that moment. To stay home, or to feel Mom's arms around him, or to stand on the threshold again, afternoon light coloring his suitcase and unaware of the days ahead.

“You'll watch over me, won't you?”

The little All Mights were all smiling brilliantly. Izuku rubbed at his eyes and tried to match them.

It was hard, but Izuku stretched his mouth into a semblance of a smile. He took one of the figurines and closed the box again, putting it back in its hiding spot with his Quirk analysis notebooks. It was a small store of the things Izuku would never let Chimera get its hands on.

Izuku glanced out the window. It was early evening, with the sun beginning to dip and the sky becoming soft and hazy. Somewhere, maybe in this city, All Might was shuffling home after a long day. Somewhere Mom was putting on an apron to cook dinner for one, and somewhere Kacchan was going to pick a fight, angry for all that had happened.

Everyone was somewhere. Going places. Seeing things. And life continued to pass Izuku by.

He shook his head, grabbing a t-shirt from the floor and swapping it for the one he was wearing. Then he tucked the All Might figurine into his pocket before slinging a dark jacket over his shoulders.

Izuku needed to get out to clear his head and think. All Might’s offer brewed in the back of his head. Kacchan’s terrified face. Hisashi, and Izuku’s newest mission.

It was a mess.

Izuku wouldn’t be needed for the rest of the day, so he grabbed his earbuds and slipped out into the hall. He shut the small bedroom door behind him and left, careful to avoid crossing paths with anyone.

Outside, Izuku released a breath. He looked back at the small, worn-down compound—an old, run-down factory that was only one of Chimera’s many quarters. The first floor had been left as it was, but the second floor had been converted into a crude living area. It was the hidden underground levels where the real business happened, a place Izuku tried to avoid when he could.

He strode down the street, heading to a more upbeat side of town. Izuku put in his earbuds, opening the right app on his phone, and began to listen to Present Mic’s voice as he chatted to his listeners. He sighed happily—Izuku hadn’t listened to the show in a month, too busy and tired to keep up in the in-between. And after running into Present Mic, he’d been too scared to turn the radio on. He wasn’t sure what Present Mic would do, having seen Izuku’s face.

He was meant to follow Present Mic, to tail him and report any signs of his friend—the underground hero Izuku had been chasing. Izuku still hadn’t found his name after digging, so he’d resorted to hoping the two would meet.

Instead, Izuku had walked straight into a villain fight Present Mic was losing.

Soft music began to play as Izuku reached his destination, and Izuku switched the radio show off. Izuku stuck everything back in his pockets and began to the scale the building wall. He’d found FM Tokai Studios by chance, after learning that Present Mic ran his show from there. He’d even slipped into a few live shows before, and he found the atmosphere relaxing and a small comfort.

For a big show, it was a small building made with brown brick and a standing neon sign on the roof with the studio’s name. It was to the roof Izuku headed.

He carefully pulled himself over the edge and settled himself next to the neon sign and away from satellites. There was a series of open vents and a skylight right where Izuku sat, and Present Mic’s voice drifted up here.

Izuku stretched out and stared up at the changing sky, appreciating the colors that made themself known. Orange and pink and the deep blue of night, creeping at the edges.

“—and isn’t it a great song? In the next hour, I’ve got a fantastic line-up for my little listeners!”

Izuku smiled to himself, closing his eyes and letting Present Mic’s voice wash over him.

“Before we move onto our next segment, I’d like to put out a notice again… a thank you to whoever saved my life two weeks ago—”

Izuku sat up, hands scraping painfully against the surface of the roof. Two weeks ago.

“He’s thanking me…” Izuku whispered, and he thought he might have begun to glow. Something molten cracked in his chest.

“—hero. Next up, we’ll be playing Peace Sign —”

Izuku took his phone out. He pressed the newest number in his phone, and began a text. All Might believed in him. So did Present Mic. And finally, finally Izuku had done something, had made choices that went against everything Hisashi had taught him. If there were people who believed in him, and an opportunity, golden and shining, Izuku would be a fool not to take it.

And there, under the stars, Izuku decided he was going to be a hero, one way or another.  

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
achieving elysium


"Going out?" Izuku said flatly, stabbing his breakfast with more force than he needed.

Hisashi nodded. There was a light in his eyes: a gleam that meant he was confident. He reveled in the quiet destruction his fire brought, and it made the egg Izuku had just put in his mouth taste like ash.

"Thank you for the information," Bonestealer said, drifting by. They waved a hand. "You're as helpful as ever, darling."

The other villains left as quickly as they had come, but Hisashi stopped.

"Keep doing your job," he ordered, "and an eye out for any trouble. I don't have to remind you…?"

Izuku mimed zipping his mouth shut. "Don't say a word."

Something almost like approval flitted across Hisashi's face. He nodded.

"I'll see you tonight," he said, his voice curt, and then he disappeared into the smoky light of early morning.

Izuku finished his egg and scraped his fork against the plate, letting the awful sound fill his head. Then he got up, dumping his plate in his sink and grabbing his phone from the counter. He had places to be, too.

His first stop was the convenience store. He ambled through the aisles, getting a new notebook and perusing a few magazines.

They were always filled with silly stories and attention-hungry rumors, but Izuku knew even the thinnest lies had truth to them. Present Mic was starting a new segment on his show, though no one knew what it was. Probably not dating advice as the writer suggested, but then again, Present Mic could be refreshingly (or frustratingly) unpredictable at times.

Izuku took careful note of new heroes on the scene; Chimera loved those, always hungry for new targets. He skipped over a couple pages on the latest hero fashion, instead looking for anything else that could be useful. A fleeting line about some underground hero—name, of course, redacted. A snippet about All Might Izuku read hungrily, though it gave him nothing.

As Izuku put the magazine back, he caught sight of the small stack of newspapers nearby.

There, at the bottom of the front page: CRIME ORGANIZATION ON THE RISE.

Izuku swallowed back bile and picked it up after checking to make sure no one was around to see him self-destruct. It was Chimera, just like he'd thought. Then he scanned through it quickly. The article didn't seem to have much, but Izuku bought the newspaper anyway.

Chimera wasn't inactive by any means, but they'd been careful with their exploits. They spent their days biding their time, lying low, waiting for some signal before unleashing their plans. Those Izuku wasn't privy to, and he didn't know if he wanted to be or not.

Izuku's last purchase was box dye. The color was fading again—not terribly noticeable yet, but it was about time to redye it. Maybe he'd cut his hair. He hadn't in a while.

He paid for his items and then stepped out.

Izuku hummed to himself as he swung the bag on his arm. He dawdled as he strode down the street, not in any hurry to return with nothing to return to.

The phone in his pocket buzzed, and Izuku's mood dampened immediately. He paused, leaning against a nearby wall and sliding his phone from his pocket.

Silver 10:23 AM

guess who's back, bitch

Izuku almost dropped his phone.

You 10:24 AM

whwh when did you ghet bacjkk

He frowned when Silver didn't reply for a minute, then another. Of course she'd leave him hanging like that.

His phone buzzed again.

Silver 10:28 AM

ground zero?

You 10:28 AM

see you soon.

As promised, Silver was waiting for Izuku when he jogged the rest of the way to their usual meeting place. She nodded when she saw him, waving a hand casually as he reached her.

"Hey, kid."

Izuku couldn't help the smile that burst across his face.

"Silver!"

Silver passed a can in his face, and Izuku took the soda gratefully. She'd gotten herself plum juice, the kind she'd always liked but Izuku hated.

"Haven't seen you in a while," she commented as the two clambered up the crumbling stone wall and then sat, swinging their legs over the side. Izuku kicked his feet against the wall, feeling years younger than he was.

"A while?" Izuku elbowed her sharply. "I haven't seen you in a week, Silver."

Silver sighed, stabbing her plastic straw into the juice box with a force that made it seem like she was stabbing a victim instead. She scowled when the opening didn't break and tried again.

"I know."

The words were so low Izuku almost didn't hear them. She finally stuck her straw through and sucked at her juice box petulantly.

"I still don't get why they keep us apart like this," Izuku complained when it didn't look like Silver was going to say anything. "I mean, I get the whole thing with keeping us in the dark so we have nothing to share if we're compromised, and that's why I only work with Hisashi, and you only work with, well, I don't know why I'm saying any of this, you already know—"

Silver's eyes gleamed as she glanced at him.

"I missed your dumb voice."

Izuku, who'd been taking a sip of his soda, spat it all back out.

He sputtered, trying to come up with a response. "You can't just say that out of nowhere."

Silver knocked their shoulders together.

"You didn't miss me back?" she teased.

Izuku flapped his arms wildly. "Of- of course I did!"

Silver made a sound of approval. When she smiled, it was soft, the kind of smile Izuku liked to save because it wasn't one that appeared often. Usually Silver's smiles were sharper, predatory. A fanged creature waiting to strike.

"What have you been up to this past week?" she asked finally.

Izuku frowned at her, catching the transition.

"You didn't tell me where you were."

Silver cocked her head, thin charcoal hair falling like a curtain to the side. There it was—that sharp edge to her face, her eyes dark like glinting obsidian. It made a chill shoot down Izuku's spine. She jerked her chin at him.

"Come on, kid," she said, "we both know your heart is gold enough for both of us. You don't want to know what I've been up to."

Izuku swallowed and accepted it.

"Okay," he said quietly.

"I heard from- Miss Guidance that you've got a new assignment?"

The sweet soda bubbled as Izuku swallowed. He wiped at his mouth, finding the taste suddenly sour.

"I don't want to talk about it."

Silver caught her lip between her teeth and leaned back on her hands to study him.

"That bad, huh?"

"I can't do it," Izuku spilled, wringing his hands together nervously. "I have to, I know I have to, and there's so much at stake, and it's… it's more than just Chimera now, I know that, it's bigger than just us. I can't not do it, but I can't do it—"

A sharp, brief pulse of pain. A second later, Silver's tail drew back—she'd whacked him with the side of it.

"Ow," Izuku mumbled, but she'd gotten him out of his head for the moment. "You could've been gentler."

Silver snorted. "Me, gentle?"

He sighed.

"You must really admire the hero if you're so worked up about it?"

Izuku let out a dry laugh. "Admire isn't a strong enough word, Silver."

"Relax, kid. You've been tense since I saw you. You're letting your thoughts go all crazy again."

"I can't help it," he whined.

"Who is it?"

Izuku's stomach twisted when he thought of the conversation he'd had only last night, on the roof.

I accept your offer, he'd sent plainly. There hadn't been a reply for a long time, though Izuku had seen All Might typing.

In the end, All Might hadn't said much, though Izuku thought he must've wanted to.

Thank youI'm glad, young Akatani.

Izuku shook his head. "Can't say."

"I'll find out eventually."

"Eventually," Izuku repeated, "not now."

Silver looked like she wanted to push him further, but she caught the look on Izuku's face and nodded, dropping the subject. Izuku sighed, relieved.

"You were never meant to be one of us," she said finally.

Silver crumpled up her empty juice box and tossed it down to the far ground below, where it stopped to rest in a patch of green grass. Izuku didn't have the energy to reprimand her for littering, only frowning and then squeaking in surprise when she stole his soda.

"Neither were you," Izuku pointed out. "If Chimera didn't have its claws in us, I don't think either of us would've been villains."

"Don't know about that," Silver said, flicking the tab of the soda can idly, "but you'd be a hero, wouldn't you? Maybe I would've been a teacher like Mom."

Izuku perked up. It was rare Silver talked about her family from before Chimera. Miss Guidance had recruited Silver a number of years before Izuku had ever laid eyes on his father, taking Silver under her wing though Izuku had no idea how she'd done it or why she'd chosen Silver.

"Your mom was a teacher?"

Silver hummed. "Yeah. Taught little kids. I used to help her around the classroom."

"I think you would've made a great teacher," Izuku ventured.

He could picture it. Silver had a soft spot for children, and though she could be a bit snappy and rakish at times, Izuku thought she'd be patient with them.

"Thanks, kid."

Silver dropped from the wall to the ground, dusting off her black jeans with her hands. Her tail swung back and forth, keeping her balanced.

"C'mon. Nice to think about, but I think we've got a job to return to."

Izuku grumbled as he followed, drinking the last of his soda.

"Don't remind me."

He spotted a trash can not too far away and aimed. At the last second, Silver tackled him, and the soda can flew wide.

Izuku shrieked, instincts kicking in when he saw a flash of silver to the side. He rolled as Silver's tail whipped down in the space where his shoulder had been, but there wasn't any time to clamp his teeth around victory because Silver was there again. Izuku kept up defense for a minute before she had him pinned, the point of her tail pressed to his throat.

"You're getting sloppy." The tail lifted and then gently tapped against the soft hollow of his throat. "Dead."

Still, Silver's hair had gotten messed up and she was panting slightly. He'd put up a somewhat decent fight.

"You haven't been around to spar with me," Izuku countered, though it was hard to speak. "Bonestealer just beats me up."

Silver's mouth twisted with half-amusement, half-pity. She eased off of him and offered Izuku a hand.

Izuku didn't take it, pushing himself up. He knew she would've flipped him over her shoulder the moment he took it.

"Want to go to an arcade?"

"An arcade?"

Silver shrugged. She slid her black jacket off and tied it at her waist, revealing a tank top and pale shoulders.

"Nothing better to do, and I want to kick your butt."

He rolled his eyes at her but conceded. Before they could get very far, Izuku's phone buzzed. He pulled it out, wondering what Hisashi wanted. He was still out, though—Izuku frowned, puzzled at why he'd be texting if he was probably burning a building down.

"Boss text you?"

Izuku grunted. The phone buzzed again, and the notification wasn't from the person he expected. He yelped and accidentally flung the phone away from him, then scrambled to catch it before it hit the ground.

He missed, of course, and Izuku watched miserably as it bounced.

"Don't be cracked, don't be cracked, please don't die—"

Silver cackled as he fetched it.

"What did he say to make you do that?"

"It's not Hisashi," Izuku responded, examining his phone and making sure it was fine before he opened it.

"It's, what?"

"Not Hisashi," Izuku said, reading All Might's two texts.

Yagi Toshinori 11:02 AM

Would you like to go to lunch with me?

Yagi Toshinori 11:02 AM

We need to discuss training.

It was short and to-the-point. Casual enough not to be suspicious to most people, and, of course, with no mention of All Might, Quirks, or everything in between.

Yagi Toshinori 11:04 AM

It's ok if you're not free, I know this is sudden! Let me know.

Then All Might sent a smiley face, and Izuku just about keeled over. Silver shoved him.

"One sec," he mumbled, fingers flying across the keyboard.

You 11:04 AM

LJKDsyeha

Yagi Toshinori 11:05 AM

Is that a yes?

You 11:05 AM

hy

You 11:05 AM

gbh

You 11:05 AM

YEAH

Yagi Toshinori 11:06 AM

Great. Are you alright

You 11:06 AM

NO IM REALLY GOOD yeah where do you wanna go

All Might sent him an address, but Silver snatched his phone from him before Izuku could reply or search it up. She didn't read his messages but did glance at them, lowering the phone to raise her eyebrows at him.

"Making friends, I see?"

Izuku tried to get his phone, but Silver held it out of reach.

"Give it back."

"Try to reach it, short stack."

Izuku swiped at her ankles, and Silver retaliated by kicking him in the stomach and knocking the air out of him. He doubled over, wheezing.

"Tell me who texted you, and I'll give it back."

Izuku straightened up, frowning. "I… can't."

"Won't, or can't?"

Izuku winced. As supportive as Silver was, he wasn't sure telling her he was meeting All Might was a good idea. Or anything remotely related to the situation, either. She probably wouldn't rat him out, but she would kill him, so it didn't really matter.

Izuku wasn't telling her. No. Way.

"He's—an informant."

Silver's expression turned thoughtful. "An… informant? Can you trust him?"

Izuku shrugged. "He can get places I can't."

Whether Izuku liked it or not, it was true. All Might was an informant, in a way. He just didn't know it.

"You're playing with fire," Silver cautioned, handing his phone back. "They're not going to like this."

"They don't have to know." Izuku peeked up at her. "...Right?"

Silver folded her arms over her chest.

"Izuku, this is dangerous."

"So is living with villains."

"Yeah, and going behind your father's back? Exchanging information with someone who could compromise you? How can you trust your guy?"

"He doesn't know he's helping me."

Suddenly Izuku wasn't lying anymore. To be a hero, he'd have to cross All Might. To protect everyone, he'd have to hand over All Might's weaknesses and take on his power. All Might had no idea there was someone plotting against him—Izuku had to both keep him safe and put him in danger at the same time.

"You—"

"I need his help. He- Silver, please, you have to understand-"

"Izuku, you're going to get yourself hurt."

"Please don't tell any of them," Izuku pleaded. "Silver, please, if I, he could—he could get me out."

"Don't say that, Izuku." Silver grabbed his shoulders and shook him. "Are you listening to yourself?"

"You promised me," Izuku said lowly, staring her in the eye. "I need the information, and if I'm careful, he could help me get out. You promised me."

"Not like this," Silver said softly, but she let go of him and stepped back.

"I'm sorry," Izuku said, "but if there's any chance—"

"I know. I know." Silver dragged a hand across her face. She was only a few years older than him, but she looked like she had aged over the last minute. "Dammit, Izuku, why do I— argh, just fucking go."

Izuku dared to wrap his arms around her in a light hug, dashing away before she could do anything. He left her on the street corner watching.

All Might was waiting at a small table outside when Izuku arrived. He was still stewing over the conversation he'd had with Silver—if it could be called a conversation, anyway.

"Ah, young Akatani."

Izuku tried for a smile. "Um, hi. Yagi."

He browsed through the menu and settled on a dish, the two of them placing their orders quickly, though All Might's was very specific.

Restricted diet, Izuku thought, as result of his

He stopped himself, mind going back to what he'd told Silver.

"So," All Might boomed. Another patron glanced over, and All Might coughed and lowered his volume. "Thank you for accepting my offer, my boy. The search for a successor has been… difficult."

"Oh, uh, well…"

"I'm sure we've both made the right choice!"

Izuku smiled thinly.

They chatted lightly for a while, but Izuku found the conversation running out after a while.

"You said you wanted to talk about training."

"Yes—ah, thank you for the food—I did." All Might reached into a pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, sliding it across the table to Izuku.

"A training regime," Izuku said, scanning it. "You want me to follow this?"

"That's right," All Might said. He glanced around, but there was no one close enough to eavesdrop. "The Quirk's powerful, you see…"

"Uh, you literally changed the weather."

"...yes, yes, exactly, so if you," All Might looked around again and cleared his throat, "hypothetically had the same Quirk with your current body, you might, well, explode."

Izuku choked.

"Explode?"

"Oh, yes," he said, sipping water like he hadn't just told Izuku he could explode. "Think of, ah… this glass of water. You see? Now imagine trying to fit the entire ocean in it."

Izuku wheezed. "It'd shatter."

All Might snapped his fingers together. "Exactly! You'd be blown to pieces. Maybe lose an arm or two."

Izuku thought his eyes were going to fall out of his head.

"An arm or two?" he squeaked, voice rising with each word.

All Might frowned. "You're right, you're right, I guess it wouldn't just be your arms," he said, "probably your legs as well."

Izuku took a deep breath.

"Great."

"Fantastic, isn't it?"

"Oh, yeah. Yes. Just… yeah. I am very excited."

"You should be!" All Might continued, oblivious to the fact that Izuku was about to explode right then and there without the help of any Quirks at all. "Anyway, so we need to train you so your body will be an able vessel to the power."

Izuku scarfed down his food. "So I… don't explode."

"So you don't explode." All Might set down his chopsticks and looked across the table at Izuku. "You obviously already know some basics of fighting, and you're fast. But this will be very intense—more than you realize. Do you think you can handle it?"

Izuku set his jaw, a fire beginning to spark inside of him. "Yeah!"

All Might smiled. "We don't have a lot of time, unfortunately. The U.A. entrance exams are very close. But have no worries! The training regime should have you ready by that time."

Izuku's brain screeched to a halt. The fire that had been steadily growing in him sputtered.

"U.A…."

He could practically hear Silver's laugh. Good luck getting Hisashi to agree to that.

Good luck, indeed. Hisashi would never in a million years let Izuku even step foot in U.A., much less attend the hero course.

"But of course," All Might said, "if you intend to be a hero, young man, you must go to U.A. The hero course is unparalleled."

"Yeah," Izuku said. "Oh, I know."

Going to U.A. was like a fever dream. He and Kacchan had planned to go together, once upon a time. Kacchan, of course, was going to place first in the entrance exams, but he'd grudgingly said Izuku had a shot. It was the only outspoken compliment Izuku had ever gotten, especially considering Izuku's Quirk was a little less suited to combat than Kacchan's.

All Might mistook Izuku's silence. How, Izuku really wasn't sure.

"Don't tell anyone, but…" He winked. "I'll be there as a teacher in the upcoming semester. It's not public information yet, but I'll be there to guide you."

Izuku took the training instructions and stuffed it in his pocket.

"Okay," he said. "Okay."

Izuku ran over going to U.A. in his head again and again after he'd returned from lunch. He taped the paper to his wall then decided it wasn't a good idea, hiding it instead in one of his notebooks.

In his new notebook, he wrote:

All Might

Weaknesses:  Injury and surgery that leads to problems with his body, including time limit and restricted diet. Really loud.

There was a plethora of information Izuku now held that he could analyze, but he found himself doodling mindlessly for the rest of the day. He sketched out a hero costume then found himself stopping to put real effort in it. A mouth guard. Someplace to strap a knife. Gauntlets, maybe, though Izuku wondered if they would really do any good.

It led to Izuku making his own page, filling up every part of it with notes and ideas he hadn't dared to dream of in years.

By the time Izuku had dumped his brain onto paper, it was late. Izuku shut off his light, briefly considering going to the kitchen to get something to eat and then deciding against it. He didn't know if the rest of Chimera was back yet, and he wasn't particularly eager to find out.

Instead Izuku clambered into bed, drifting off with thoughts of costume design swirling in his head.

It wasn't long before someone was pounding on Izuku's door.

He sat up, tossing a thin blanket to the side. Izuku threw himself out of bed as the door slammed open, Silver in the doorway.

"Get up," she snapped. "Boss said to pack your things and be out in three minutes, got it?"

Izuku's mind was still hazy from sleep—it was only four in the morning, it seemed, but the urgency in Silver's voice jolted him wide-awake.

"What's going on?" Izuku asked, crossing to the small desk and grabbing the scattered papers and notebooks there. Moonlight spilled through the window, but Izuku knew it'd be interrupted soon.

He didn't need Silver to tell him what was happening, but he wanted her to say it anyway.

"That fucking underground hero you've been tracking," Silver said. "Don't know where he came from or how he found out, but he's here. Got a few pros with him."

Izuku swore.

"I know," Silver growled, "but we've gotta move. Make sure you get everything important. Lights out in five."

Then she was gone.

Izuku swore again to himself as he moved with practiced ease to pack everything he needed. The data and information he'd collected for Chimera was safely tucked away into the false bottom of a suitcase, sandwiched between his personal things. He slid a hand under his mattress and pulled out the knife hidden there, putting it into the holster he always wore.

It wasn't often they had to move locations, but Chimera was always prepared just in case. No matter how many hours Izuku and Silver sat with their heads together, analyzing and tracking police calls and tip-offs, there were still things that slipped under the radar. Human minds were brilliant when pitted against each other.

Hisashi had run drill after drill of emergency situations. This had been one of them; as Izuku snapped the suitcase shut and prepared to leave, he remembered the first time they'd run the drill. It'd taken him twenty minutes, spent dawdling over what was important and what wasn't, how to pack things, where to go and what to do. Now, it took him three.

As a final action, Izuku crossed to the closet and pulled out the heavy canister of kerosene. He started pouring, dousing the floor and bed, and then let the canister drip as he headed down the hall.

Hisashi passed by, three bags on him. He touched Izuku's shoulder briefly and then disappeared.

"Izuku, catch!"

His arms moved before his mind could catch up, and then there a sudden, heavy weight in his arms. Tech, he registered, crammed into a briefcase. Silver came barreling down the hall, and she grabbed his arm as she passed, the two of them running together.

The temperature was already rising as the two raced downstairs. Phase one of evacuation was done—grab everything important. Hisashi had already begun phase two: lights out.

Suddenly Silver stopped. She turned to stare at him with wide eyes.

"The compounds," she hissed.

Izuku's mind spun with panic. They didn't have time; the longer they stayed, the more likely they were going to be caught—or, even before the pros got here, they'd be dead.

Izuku tugged at her hand. "It doesn't matter. We still have some in store, and Hisashi has the formulas. We've got to go."

But Silver wouldn't move. Her tail whipped back and forth frantically.

"We'll be blown to pieces!"

Izuku forced the panic down and thought back. They'd tested several compounds for compatibility with—

Oh.

"I'll go," Izuku said, shoving his things into Silver's arms. "Find Hisashi and see if you can delay him for another minute. The others will have to run interference if they have to."

Silver hesitated, but Izuku pushed her forwards.

"I won't be caught," he promised, waving a hand. "They won't even see me."

"Winds carry us," Silver murmured, and then shouldered everything, heading towards the door.

With that, Izuku went for the back of the factory, slipping between old machinery. In the back was a storage unit that Izuku tore open, cold air hissing as the door opened. Inside were rows of vials, filled with pale liquids. Izuku grabbed them and the case nearby and began to shove them all inside.

Silver was right. The compound was too dangerous to be left. Once Hisashi started phase two, they wouldn't be able to get far enough before they were caught in the aftermath.

Izuku hissed when the case was too full and began to shove the remaining vials in his pockets.

"Izuku!"

Silver was at the far door, waving. When she caught his attention, she raised her hand and held a finger in the air. Then she was gone again.

One minute left. One minute to regroup and leave the facility behind in flames.

Outside, he heard the footsteps: the others, probably, preparing to leave. Then, closer, the sound of glass shattering.

Izuku didn't stop to question it. He ran.

"Villains!" someone boomed.

There was Present Mic, hands on his hips as he surveyed the factory. The back doors opened, and two more heroes slipped in. He recognized them. Midnight, and the underground hero Izuku had been tracking, the one who'd been stirring up trouble for a month.

Izuku slid under a piece of machinery, counting down mentally. He had to get out of there without being seen.

Slowly, Izuku activated his Quirk, shaping the dim light around him into an image of darkness.

"Split up."

"I'll check the second floor," Present Mic said.

As the heroes spoke, Izuku shifted slowly towards the door. He crept past, keeping low and making sure nothing was dragging against the ground. The underground hero was stealthy and methodical as he swept the space. The scarf around his neck loosened; he gripped one end in his hand.

It wasn't a scarf, Izuku realized. It was a weapon.

He was closer than Izuku had ever seen him. Now Izuku could see the lines in his unkempt face, the bags under his half-lidded eyes. The hero lowered his goggles over his face.

Izuku shouldn't have hesitated, but this was a chance to find out who the hero was.

The thought was distracting enough that Izuku tripped over a low pipe and crashed to the ground. The hero was on him in an instant as Izuku's illusion disappeared, his concentration lost.

The hero glared at him. Izuku reached for his Quirk again and found himself slamming into a mental wall. A block. There was nothing there.

"Erasure," Izuku whispered, half-fascinated and half-terrified. An incredible Quirk.

Activated by the eyes, just like Izuku had thought, but definitely way cooler than his theory of eye lasers. He had to be in sight of his target, then; the goggles were some sort of protective measure, maybe?

Izuku didn't have time to think, because there was a scarf hurtling towards him. Izuku hit the ground again, slipping under it and running for the exit.

On the other side of the building, he saw flames pour in.

"Lights out," Izuku whispered. Fire raced towards the two of them, eating at the ground and lighting the building in orange and yellow light.

"Who-"

Minutes before the factory would catch on fire.

Izuku reached into his pocket, closing his fingers around a small vial, and smashed it on the ground. The compound did as it was made for—combusting as the flames reached it, heightening the danger of the fire. It'd been built to complement Hisashi's Quirk, after all, and now it was.

The Erasure hero drew back as a wall of flame rippled between them.

"For what it's worth," Izuku said, "I'm sorry."

The hero lowered his arm from where it had been shielding his face. He stared at Izuku, frowning as something occurred to him.

"You're a kid—"

"Eraserhead!" came a distant voice.

Izuku latched onto it.

"Eraserhead, huh," he said, "you're—good, you know that?"

"What are you doing with a group of villains?"

Izuku answered before he could stop himself. "You think I have a choice? I'd be on your side if I could, hero."

Eraserhead moved forward, but Izuku threw himself backward and smashed another vial on the ground, separating them.

"Wait!"

Izuku turned tail and fled.

He didn't bother activating his Quirk. With Eraserhead in sight, it didn't make sense anyway. Instead he focused on running out the door, where he saw three figures waiting in a nondescript white van. Silver, perched in the back, waved frantically as the van started.

"Come on!"

He crossed the remaining distance between them and leapt up next to Silver.

"Got it?" she asked, gripping his arm.

"Yeah," Izuku panted, still shaken by his conversation. He set the case of vials down. "Yeah, I got it."

The two of them shut the van doors as Hisashi appeared in a blaze of smoke. Orange flames licked at the sky behind him as he climbed in, and then they were off.

"You think they made it out?" Izuku murmured.

Silver shrugged. "I don't care like you do. Either they did or they didn't. At the very least there won't be any trouble for a while."

"Yeah," Izuku croaked as they pulled away to the sound of police sirens. Behind them, fire raged against the dawn, and Izuku watched it become further and further until it looked nothing more than a dying ember.

Chapter Text

Flare SIgnal
chapter three


 

Izuku drummed his fingers nervously on the side of the chair as the door to the little conference room opened. A set of heavy footsteps was followed by a dark shadow dropping into the only empty chair left at the long wooden table.

“Sorry I’m late,” Bonestealer said, taking off their hat and slipping a gloved hand through their short hair. They grinned. “Had to take care of some business.”

“Of course,” Miss Guidance responded. She folded her hands on the table in front of her, fiddling with a gold ring around her finger before her hands settled.

Hisashi didn’t say anything, only opening the tablet he’d brought and then projecting the image on it in the air in front of them. The frozen image was of a pro hero Izuku didn’t recognize. To be honest, the pro didn’t seem particularly attention-grabbing, dressed in a simple blue outfit that leaned on the more practical than flashy side, which Izuku could appreciate. Padded, with armor-like pieces for protection. The only noteworthy part was the simple white-and-black eye emblazoned on the chest, half-open and staring at Izuku.

“Who’s this? New hero?”

Silver took her feet off the table and dragged her chair closer, purposefully letting the chair legs scrape against the floor to annoy the others. Izuku hid a smile when Miss Guidance sent Silver a sidelong look of disapproval.

“Sidekick,” Hisashi said, switching to a video and then clicking play.

Izuku watched in silence, fingers still tapping by his side. The video was grainy at best, obviously shot from a distance. The focus wasn’t on the sidekick, either, but instead the pro hero he was sidekicking for.

Smoke poured around the heroes. The camera shook; someone screamed.

The hero they were watching activated their Quirk, and Izuku saw three mirror images appear suddenly in front of him. Hisashi paused the video.

“An illusion Quirk,” Izuku murmured, fascinated despite his misgivings. He found himself leaning forward.

It wasn’t often Izuku found Quirks that were similar to his. With such a wide range of Quirks and possible combinations, and the subtlety of illusions in everyday life, Izuku didn't get a chance to look at other illusionary or light manipulating Quirks.

“Maybe,” Silver started in a tone of voice that suggested she wanted to make a joke. She flicked her eyes up at Hisashi and seemed to rescind her decision. “Well.”

“Can you zoom in any closer?”

Hisashi obliged, though it didn't help. Everything was pretty fuzzy around the edges.

Izuku sighed, bouncing his leg a couple times in thought.

“Looks like his illusions are copies of him… a mirror image.”

Hisashi hummed in confirmation. “From what we know, Reflekta can only create illusions of himself, reported up to five, but we have no information of his limits.”

“He's got to have one,” Silver murmured. Her tail curled up behind her. “Everyone does.”

“Practical in fights,” Izuku noted, “as a good distraction or feints, and he could corner someone by surrounding them with himself. Um. They look really realistic, too?”

“You have trouble creating human illusions, don't you?”

Bonestealer inclined their head, eyeing him from across the table.

“W- well, uh, well,” Izuku stammered, swallowing, “uh, our Quirks have… have different scopes. I, I mean, my best guess is, like, he's really good at copying himself because that's what his Quirk allows him and limits him to. Um, I, uh, I've got a broader range, right, I can create the illusion of a lot more things, so it's harder for me? An- and people are a lot more complex for me, but he must have been training his entire life.”

“How do we tell the difference between his copies and him?”

Izuku wet his lips nervously.

This was what he was dreading. Telling them Refleckta's weaknesses meant he wasn't only dooming a hero to some awful fate, but Izuku was also putting himself in a bad position. Even with a slight difference, he'd practically be handing Chimera his own weaknesses, too.

Silver must've read some of it on his face.

“What if we can't?”

Izuku caught her eye and tapped his foot gently against the floor in a pattern. I-t-s o-k.

She shot him a look of warning, and he shrugged slightly back. There was nothing to be done. Izuku would just have to be more careful.

He waved a hand at Hisashi, cueing him to continue the video to see if there was anything to pick out.

The heroes faded to outlines as they pushed forward into the smoke. Reflekta and his copies spread out and then continued on, one by one. Izuku focused on the ones he thought were illusions and then back on the real one, trying to tell the difference.

The video ended as the cameraperson lost sight of the group of heroes, but before it did, Izuku caught a brief, distant flash of light.

“Back up a few seconds,” Izuku ordered, standing up to get a better look. “That light. What is that?”

“Where?”

Izuku moved to Silver's shoulder and pointed at the bright light that appeared through the smoke for a brief moment, a few seconds at best.

“That.” He turned his gaze to Hisashi. “Another Quirk? Can we tell who it's coming from?”

Because from Izuku's view, the flash of light had come from where one of Reflekta's illusions had gone. He couldn’t be completely sure without seeing the hero in action, but maybe Reflekta’s Quirk worked differently.

“Is it important?”

Izuku frowned. “Maybe. It’s—too hard to tell.”

Hisashi crossed his arms, looking displeased. It wasn’t like it was Izuku ’s fault there wasn’t enough information to go off of.

“Tell us what you can, then.”

Izuku ran his tongue over his teeth, exchanging a look with Silver. “Is that all you have?”

“For now.”

“I can’t just…” Izuku sighed, then set his shoulders. “Okay. Okay.”

Izuku waved a hand and focused. The light shivered in front of him, and the illusion took shape as a sunflower. Yellow petals bloomed outwards from a dark, speckled center, until Izuku held out a hand to wrap around the empty air where a thick, green stem hovered.

“Illusions are difficult,” Izuku said. “But the more you practice, the better you are, and the less concentration you need.”

He closed his hand around the illusion, and it vanished.

“His weakness,” Bonestealer prompted from down the table.

“My guess is… Reflekta probably doesn’t have a problem creating illusions of himself,” he began slowly, thinking it through, “but it’s not sustainable. He may be able to create three independent illusions in his own likeness. He’s good, he’s had years of practice, probably. But the effort to maintain them as well as focus on himself in a fight is too much.”

“He has to be a good fighter, though,” Silver added. “You can’t underestimate him. The illusions are probably just…”

“A distraction,” Izuku finished, nodding. “Probably relies on a tactic of misdirection—he’ll lure you astray and then trap you when you’re distracted.”

Izuku glanced at Hisashi, who only made a low noise of acknowledgement to show that he’d understood.

“As far as telling the difference…” Izuku hummed in thought. “Well, that’s a little harder. You might be able to if you look carefully. Illusions aren’t really affected by the environment—I think the easiest way if we’re talking about human illusions is to look at something obvious, like hair or clothes.”

He paused. “Can you replay the video?”

Hisashi did, and Izuku closed his eyes, trying to focus his other senses. Shouting. Footsteps. The crackle of audio. Still, it was too difficult to discern without being present.

“I mean, I don’t know the extent his Quirk goes to…” Izuku opened his eyes, glancing at Hisashi to find an expectant look leveled back at him. “Uh… right. Sorry. Anyway, I don’t know if his illusions fully affect the senses. They could just be visual manipulations—”

He stopped himself. “Yeah.”

“So we may not be able to hear them?”

Izuku nodded. “The best illusions are the ones that can fool all your senses, but I’ve never heard of anyone who could. The important thing to remember if you get drawn into a fight with Reflekta is that illusions rely on the rush. When you face a set of illusions, the average person won't really think about if it's real or not. No one pays attention to whether there's sound or the particulars of what the illusions look like, and that gives Reflekta an advantage. He trusts he can lead you astray."

Izuku cleared his throat. "Um, yeah."

Bonestealer was nodding. Neither Hisashi nor Miss Guidance looked like they were particularly impressed, but he'd learned to read them—well, he'd learned to read Hisashi, more like. His father had a slight lift to his lips and a line along his jaw where there hadn't been: he was pleased.

“Silver,” Miss Guidance said. She exchanged a look with Hisashi, then Bonestealer, something passing between them. Then she stood and beckoned to Silver.

Silver got up without complaint and followed Miss Guidance out the door. Izuku frowned briefly as they left, then quickly settled his face back into something more neutral. Even after three years, information was divided between Izuku and Silver. Preventative measures, it was called.

Izuku knew it made sense, understood why it was done. He still privately called it bullshit.

“Is that all?”

Izuku winced as the words came from his mouth. He hadn’t meant to say it so bluntly. It felt almost rude.

“How’s progress with All Might?”

Izuku shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable. He wanted to melt into the ground or turn invisible. The second option was slightly more viable than the first, but it was a bit too late for that.

He’d never been particularly good at hiding things, which was why the whole situation with All Might was a big problem. Izuku was the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. Mom had always loved him for it, had told him he was kind and compassionate. She’d told him it was good he was so sincere, even if people made fun of him for crying.

Here, though, it was going to get Izuku killed.

“Uh,” Izuku said, floundering, “I haven’t made any progress?”

“Kid.” Bonestealer laughed, leaning back. “You don’t sound so sure of that, buddy.”

Izuku caught his tongue between his teeth and held it there for a moment, willing himself not to make a sound. He just needed a second to scrape something together.

"Well, I just, um."

Think. Think, think, think. Don't panic, think.

Bonestealer usually only called Izuku buddy when they were threatening him, and the thought didn't help. The room felt hot and heavy, pressing down on him.

"I don't have anything," Izuku said, stumbling through his words. "I really don't. I just, I mean, um, I think I've found someone who might know something? I'm just not sure, see."

"Hmm," Hisashi said. He didn't say anything else, which made Izuku nervous.

"Yeah, so like, I don't know."

Bonestealer chuckled. They reached for their mask and the cane propped by their chair.

"Alright, kid," they said, and Izuku breathed a little easier when Bonestealer nodded. "You look like you're telling the truth. Just—don't forget what happens if we catch you lying to us."

Izuku laughed nervously. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I really can’t.”

Hisashi nodded, dismissing him. “Let us know of any updates.”

Izuku backed out the door, bunching his hands in the fabric of his shirt. Out in the hall, he saw Miss Guidance and Silver standing with their heads together, speaking in low voices. Miss Guidance had her back turned to Izuku, so he couldn’t see her face.

Silver lifted her eyes toward him when he left the room. Her face was blank, but Izuku could tell she wasn’t particularly happy. Izuku nodded once at her as he headed in their direction.

“Excuse me,” Izuku said blandly, stepping between the two of them. Silver’s tail tapped his ankle once as he continued walking. The conversation stopped, then continued when Izuku was out of range. He didn’t dare look back.

Izuku kicked the door to his new room open and let out a long breath. He scrubbed at his face and then went to sit on his bed, thinking.

It was always hard. Izuku hated those meetings.

In a sudden rush of anger, Izuku tore his pillow off his bed and threw it at the wall. It hit with a muffled thump and fell to the ground.

Izuku gritted his teeth. It wasn’t enough. He pulled his blanket off the bed, kicking it and only growing more frustrated as it tangled with his feet. He crossed to the desk in his room and swept the papers onto the ground. Snatched the notebook there and threw that, too.

He trashed the room in a matter of minutes. There wasn’t much he could throw, anyway.

Izuku stood in the mess, chest heaving. White hot anger bubbled under his skin. He wasn’t the kind of person to get angry, but it happened every now and then. He’d gotten worse since joining Chimera.

He retrieved his pillow from the floor and then pressed his face into it, screaming as loudly as he dared. Then Izuku let it fall.

“I hate you,” he snarled into the cold silence, unsure of who he was speaking to.

The anger left him all in an instant. The fire dissipated, leaving only a mix of frustrating hopelessness and sadness. Reflekta would be incapacitated within the week, once Chimera had watched him for a little longer to see if Izuku’s analysis held up.

There was nothing Izuku could do about it. Bonestealer was definitely keeping an eye on him, and Izuku had no doubt Hisashi was, too. Acting was too risky.

It made Izuku feel selfish and awful every time.

He started to pick up his things, gathering up the papers and smoothing out the crumpled ones. Izuku collected his notebook, swept his blanket off the floor, and put everything back where it belonged.

One day he was going to have to do the same thing to All Might that he had done to Reflekta. That he’d done to Makeshift, or all of the heroes he’d analyzed.

But… maybe not.

Maybe with All Might’s power and with All Might’s help, Izuku would be able to— leave.

Izuku found his phone and clicked it open. All Might hadn’t sent anything since their last conversation, when they’d set up a time to meet for Izuku’s first training session.

Izuku hovered over the chat. He typed something and then erased it. He didn’t want to bother All Might, who was probably busy doing… well, whatever heroes did. If he wasn’t saving people, maybe he was making public appearances or getting cats out of trees or something.

No, Izuku decided, closing his messages. He wouldn’t text All Might unless he was texted first. It’d be too weird.

After a minute of staring, Izuku reopened his messages.

You 1:30 PM

Hey

Izuku closed his texts again after that, tossing his phone to the side and plopping back on his bed. All Might probably wouldn’t reply.

It was then, staring at the ceiling, that Izuku realized how terribly lonely he felt. All Might had been the first person Izuku had really talked to outside of his little circle in Chimera.

Really, really talked to, not like the mindless exchange when Izuku was buying something, or an apology when Izuku passed someone. All Might could’ve been another one of those faceless people, if they hadn’t run into that sludge villain.

“Huh,” Izuku murmured.

He wanted his mom. He wanted to hear her voice again. Or Kacchan, or all the other kids he’d grown up with.

Before Izuku could spiral down a trail of what ifs, his phone buzzed. Izuku sat up.

Yagi Toshinori 1:34 PM

Hello, young Akatani

You 1:35 PM

You actually replied

Yagi Toshinori 1:35 PM

Yes?

Yagi Toshinori 1:36 PM

Did you need something?

“Uh…”

Izuku tried to think of something to say. He really hadn’t expected All Might to reply, much less what he wanted.

You 1:40 PM

Nothing, sorry to bother.

You 1:41 PM

Never mind. Sorry

Yagi Toshinori 1:43 PM

I’m not busy or bothered at all. Not doing much at the moment. No need to apologize.  

Yagi Toshinori 1:50 PM

Are you busy?

You 1:51 PM

No?

Yagi Toshinori 1:52 PM

Why don’t we meet at Dagobah Beach? Since we’re both available, we may as well start training today.

You 1:53 PM

Right now

You 1:53 PM

Like, right now, right now? Right now

You 1:53 PM

Are you sure???

Yagi Toshinori 1:54 PM

I don’t see why not.

You 1:55 PM

Okay! I’ll meet you there!

“Dagobah Beach,” Izuku mused. “Dagobah Beach… why Dagobah…?”

Izuku changed into a set of light workout clothes and packed a light bag.

He slid the window open and poked his head out to survey the building. He was on the second floor, so it wasn’t too far to the ground. There was a pipe railing that ran down nearby.

Izuku tracked his path to the ground and then carefully climbed out. He balanced easily on the windowsill as he shut the window behind him. Then Izuku leapt the short distance to the pipe, heart in his throat, and slid choppily to the ground.

He waited a few seconds just to make sure no one had followed him. Chimera didn’t care much what Izuku did in his free time, as long as it wasn’t ratting everyone out. Izuku still liked to be careful.

Izuku put on music as he jogged to the beach. He wasn’t sure why All Might had chosen Dagobah, of all places.

Mom had said it’d once been a beautiful beach. She’d gone there as a kid every now and then to play in the water. But over time trash had collected, a mix of the tug of the ocean and the accumulation of litter.

Izuku had never been. It wasn’t particularly attractive.

All Might was waiting for him when Izuku jogged up. He hadn’t sweat too much, thankfully, nor had the jog been hard.

“Afternoon, young Akatani.”

Izuku came to a stop, getting his water.

“Good afternoon, All Might.”

All Might smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners.

“Good,” he said, appraising Izuku. “You came prepared.”

“Uh, yeah.”

Izuku stopped to take a look around. He found his jaw dropping when he finally caught his first good look at Dagobah Beach.

It was worse than he’d imagined. Wherever Izuku looked, he could only see mounds and mounds of trash. There was no sand—if he squinted, he could make out pockets of golden white. The beach was covered in all sorts of junk. Izuku spotted the shell of an old car, cans and bottles, a tattered schoolbook. Anything and everything nobody wanted.

"Sad, isn't it," All Might remarked. He crossed his thin arms over his chest. "All of this trash has collected here over the years."

"Yeah..." Izuku couldn't muster up any words in response to the sight. It only made him feel sad, that people had let a beach come to this.

He turned the thought over in his head a couple of times.

"So, why come here to train?"

All Might grinned, light shining in his eyes.

"Remember, we don't want your limbs to blow off."

"How could I forget," Izuku said plainly. He hadn't really wanted a reminder.

"Right. So you're going to clean this beach."

Izuku whipped around to stare at All Might so quickly he thought he'd almost fall over.

"Clean the beach?"

The beach stretched on and on, a line of darkness against the distant ocean. Izuku could hardly imagine making a dent in one pile of trash, much less the entire beach.

All Might nodded.

Izuku gestured at the beach. “Do you see this?”

All Might nodded.

“Do you see how small I am?”

All Might nodded.

“The whole beach?”

All Might nodded.

Izuku must have made a face, because All Might laughed.

“You’re fast,” he said, “and I can tell you know at least the basics of fighting, which is good. But to take on One for All, you must be strong !”

“Uh-huh.”

“That’s why I brought you here,” All Might explained, “since you need to build muscle. Cleaning the beach will engage your entire body and turn you from a string bean to, well, something much better!”

Izuku made an indignant noise. “I’m not a string bean!”

All Might clapped him on the shoulder so hard Izuku stumbled forward a few steps. “You are.”

“Am not,” Izuku said, stomping his foot a little childishly.

“You are,” All Might said, then continued jovially. “Not only will cleaning the beach give you strength, but this is the foundation of heroics. Heroes didn’t always engage in flashy fights with villains or stop criminals. That isn’t our true purpose, do you see?”

“True purpose…?”

All Might smiled brilliantly, but he looked almost sad. “My predecessor taught me that a true hero’s purpose is to serve the people, to help people in their times of need.”

“So it wasn’t always fighting,” Izuku pondered slowly. “But, like… community service?”

All Might snapped his fingers. “Exactly.”

“Huh…”

Izuku had never really considered how heroes helped people outside of saving them. News reporters didn’t care for these things. He supposed they weren’t quite exciting enough.

It was exciting in a different way, Izuku decided. Cleaning the beach wasn’t going to make him jump for joy, but instead it would force him to think about why he wanted to be a hero in the first place.

“You’re getting it,” All Might said kindly. Then he raised a brow. “But this beach won’t clean itself. We’d better get to work.”

They started out small. Izuku wasn’t sure what he could and couldn’t move or carry, so the two of them spent the entire afternoon testing his limits.

We , as Izuku realized, was not so much plural as it was singular. We really only referred to Izuku. All Might found a dry and relatively safe place to sit after a while and called encouragements from his perch. Izuku, on the other hand, lugged trash back and forth.

Izuku had to keep reminding himself why he was doing all of it. He wanted to be a hero. He wanted to help people, like All Might.

But the truth was that hauling trash got boring. Izuku started making mental lists: how many coffee cups he saw (thirteen), things that Silver would like (a set of marbles, a book about bugs, a looking glass), what the grossest thing Izuku had touched was (currently, a homework booklet). Even that got old after a while.

“So,” Izuku called as he dragged a table through the sand. He paused, panting. “So, uh, what’s your favorite drink?”

All Might, who had been seeing how many different things he could crush in one hand, glanced over.

“My favorite… drink?”

Izuku dragged the table a little further. “Yeah!”

All Might seemed to think about it for a moment. “I don’t drink anything besides water these days…” He tilted his head, considering the question, “but back when I did, I liked barley tea.”

He followed Izuku. “What about you?”

“Hmm? Oh, my favorite drink? I like cherry soda.”

All Might nodded slowly. “I can’t say I’ve ever had it.”

“Don’t know why I like it so much,” Izuku said, heaving the table up into the back of the waiting truck. “But I get it with Silver all the time.”

“Silver?”

Izuku cursed himself silently. He’d let her name slip without even thinking. At the very least, though, All Might wouldn’t recognize it for what it was, even if he’d found it a little strange.

Silver, of course, was a shortened version of the Silver Scorpion. She’d never shared her real name with him, but Izuku figured whatever her life had been like before wasn’t something she particularly liked talking about.

“That’s just what I call her,” Izuku explained, still furious. “Um, it’s because that’s her favorite color.”

That was a total lie. Silver’s favorite color was green, followed by purple.

Her name came from her silver-tipped tail, deadly if she got it in you. A venom that worked its way through the system in a matter of minutes, depending on how much was injected into the blood.

“I see,” All Might said slowly. “You said cherry soda?”

“Yeah,” Izuku said.

He looked back at where he’d been working the entire day and found himself tired. It didn’t even look like Izuku had made a dent. He couldn’t tell where he’d chipped away at.

Above the piles of trash, the sun was beginning to set. Izuku could just barely make out the ocean, reflecting dazzling colors.

“Don’t be discouraged,” All Might said. He took a seat in the back of the truck next to Izuku. “It’s only the first day. Think… next year, all of this will be gone.”

“Yeah,” Izuku said quietly. “Things are changing.”

“That they are,” All Might agreed.

For the better or for the worse, Izuku didn’t know, but he hoped it was for the better. He desperately wanted it to be.

“I think we’re done for the day,” All Might said finally after a stretch of silence.

Izuku sighed in relief, lying down on the road. He wasn’t planning on moving for a while.

“Hey, get up.”

“No,” Izuku groaned. His body ached. He was tired, sweaty, and hungry. There was no way Izuku was moving.

“Young Akatani,” All Might said. Izuku rolled over. He got up slowly, sighing.

Izuku stuck his hands in his pockets, kicking at the gravel.

“I… guess I’ll see you?”

“Until next time, young Akatani.”

Izuku bowed. “Thank you, All Might.”

Silver texted him on the road back, offering to meet for an early dinner.

They met in a corner of a busy fast food restaurant. Izuku picked at his fries as Silver went through her burger. He couldn’t believe he’d spent the entire afternoon training with All Might.

“What were you up to?”

“Ugh,” Izuku groaned. He shoveled a few fries in his mouth at once, and Silver made a face.

“You look… how do I say this? Like Bonestealer just kicked your butt.”

Izuku tried to speak through chewing, but it didn’t quite work. He swallowed and tried again.

“Trying some new training.”

“Yeah?”

“It sucks,” Izuku muttered. “Well, it’s going to be great. It just sucks.”

Silver raised her soda. “Cheers to that.”

They knocked their cups together and drank.

“What did…” Izuku tilted his head, “...you know, want?”

Silver hummed. She stirred her straw around absentmindedly.

“That sidekick, Reflekta. They want me to take him out.”

Izuku’s blood ran cold. “Kill him?”

She shook her head. “Just knock him out of commission for a while,” she confided, “but I don’t think he’s the real target.”

Izuku leaned forward, suddenly interested.

“Really?”

“I haven’t gotten much of a chance to look into it. But get this. The agency Reflekta works at is connected to U.A.”

Izuku paled. “U.A.? But what…?”

“I don’t know what Chimera wants with U.A. Well, outside of the usual, anyway, but they’ve taken an interest lately. It’s connected to whatever new group we’re working with.”

Izuku racked his mind, thinking. “Do you know who?”

Silver shook her head. “I’m not even really supposed to know about it.”

“I think Miss Guidance mentioned something,” Izuku said slowly. New friends , she’d called them. “But I don’t know anything, either.”

Silver shrugged. “Well, you know how it is.”

Izuku had another fry and chewed thoughtfully. So it was all connected somehow?

But nobody knew All Might was going to be a teacher at U.A. At least, not yet—Izuku planned on waiting another month before he revealed that particular bit of information.

“Weird,” Izuku said.

“Yeah,” Silver replied, stealing a fry from him, “but we just gotta do what we’re told, I guess.”

The conversation turned. Silver and Izuku discussed the hero raid on the factory from the other night, speculating what had tipped them off.

“It wasn’t me, I swear,” Izuku said, “and I don’t know how he found us, either.”

“I mean, he could’ve followed you back. You’ve been tracking him, haven’t you?”

“I guess,” Izuku conceded, but the thought made him shift uncomfortably. He didn’t like the idea that he’d been caught. He’d worked hard to be able to slide under the radar, so the idea that he’d been compromised was a hard pill to swallow.

“What’d you say his name was again, Eraserhead?”

“Yeah. His Quirk, though…”

“I know,” Silver said, her eyes lighting up, “I’d love to see it in action. I wonder how it works?”

“Well, I think he has to be able to see you.”

“Line of sight, huh? Do you think he can erase multiple Quirks at once?”

“He’d be incredibly powerful to do that. And maybe more well known.”

Silver raised a finger. “I don’t think so. He’s an underground. His job is to clean up after all the other pro heroes, do the dirty work. It’s better if no one knew a thing.”

Izuku rubbed at his face. She was right.

He turned his memory back to his encounter with Eraserhead. The hero had been shocked to see Izuku. He hoped the fight and the fire had obscured his face—he hadn’t been able to use his Quirk, so it was possible Izuku could be recognized. He’d have to be more careful.

“Think he’ll come back?”

“Huh?”

“Eraserhead.” Silver looked strangely solemn. “Do you think he’ll come back after us?”

“Why? You don’t care that much.”

“Oh, he’s the most mildly interesting opposition we’ve had in a long time, don’t you think? I’d love to take him in a fight.”

“Be my guest.”

Silver flicked him with her tail. “Hey, we can’t all be heroes.”

Izuku shook his head, leaning back and looking out the window. “We can certainly try.”

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter four


 

Izuku felt like days were passing by quicker than he could keep up with. He’d blink, and a week was gone, then a month, then another.

Chimera seemed like it was growing more restless, a roaring beast chained but straining to break free. Izuku took to avoiding Hisashi when he could, unable to sit still whenever they were in the same room.

It didn’t help that Izuku found himself spending more and more time with All Might. With each day that passed, Izuku found himself growing stronger, clearing more and more of the beach.

He also found himself with a bit of a problem.

Somewhere along the way All Might had stopped being, well, All Might, and started just being Toshinori.

“You don’t have to keep calling me All Might, you know.”

Izuku tripped over a pair of old shoes. “What?”

“You don’t have to keep calling me All Might. Just… call me Toshinori.”

Izuku slowly turned so he could look at his mentor. He was sitting in a small, shaded area, and he smiled when he saw Izuku look over.

“Toshinori,” Izuku tried. It was— nice, he thought. He couldn’t tell.

“Um,” Izuku said, “I guess you can call me Mikumi? To make it even.”

All Might—Toshinori, his mind supplied—waved a hand dismissively. Izuku felt bad for lying when he’d just been asked to use All Might’s real name, like they were close on some level.

But they were.

Looking back, things had changed since the beginning. Their conversations had evolved from training and heroics to all sorts of things. They shared a love for cats. Toshinori liked to read, though he didn’t do it often due to his work. He liked people a lot, which came as no surprise.

Izuku himself wasn’t a fan of attention. Attention felt dangerous. He liked the anonymity of being nameless in a large crowd. Toshinori, on the other hand, thrived. He wasn’t the most eloquent person Izuku had ever met, nor the brightest, but he had a way with people Izuku was envious of.

They spent time together outside of training, too.

It wasn’t often. They were both busy people (for ironically opposite reasons), but every now and then, they had lunch together.

Silver noticed. He’d never really been able to hide anything from her.

“I’m not going to ask,” she told him bluntly from her perch on Izuku’s bed. “That’d probably hurt us both. It’s better if I don’t know.”

“So don’t,” Izuku replied, hoping that would be the end of it.

Silver propped her chin on her hands, watching him as he practiced.

“Make me again.”

Izuku obeyed, trying to craft his new illusion into Silver’s shape. It started like a mass of grey smoke, but slowly the details began to emerge. Silver’s boots, battered and scribbled over with permanent marker. The hard lines of her body. The plain, dark clothes. Her face, her hands, her barbed tail, the slight slump of her shoulders.

“Wow,” Silver said softly. She pushed off the bed and circled the illusion. “Pretty good.”

She stood next to it. “Can you tell the difference?”

Izuku rolled his eyes. “I know which is which, Silver. I think I’m getting better at making living forms, but you can still see— do you see, like, it looks flat.”

“Yeah, like it’s not quite…”

“Real?”

Silver snorted. She passed a hand through the illusion, and it dissolved.

“You’re making progress, at least. Anyway, whatever you’re doing, it’s noticeable.”

“Making illusions?”

“Dumbass. No, your whole training thing, or whatever. And you’ve changed.”

Izuku looked at himself. Things had changed so quickly, but he wasn’t sure it was noticeable.

“Have—”

“No, they’ve been too busy. And I’m not talking about your whole body transformation thing, by the way, though it’s nice you’re putting something onto your twig body.”

Izuku threw up his hands. “I’m not a twig!”

“Not anymore.”

Silver .”

“You seem happier.”

“I… what?”

Silver plopped down on the ground next to him, crossing her legs. “You seem happier,” she repeated. “A lot more than before, don’t you think?”

“I…” Izuku faltered. “I guess I am?”

Silver smiled.

“I’m glad you are,” she said, “but you need to be more careful. Hisashi’s going to notice one of these days, and he’s going to start asking questions. Whatever you’re up to, you need to, like… tone it down, I guess.”

“I don’t really know how to,” Izuku paused, “tone it down.”

“Well, you could maybe start by changing your schedule.”

They chatted and teased each other for a few minutes before they were interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Hisashi,” Izuku said. “You’ve got to go.”

Silver was already halfway out the window. She dropped out of sight as the door pushed inward.

“Izuku,” Hisashi said, “come with me.”

“Uh,” Izuku started. He didn’t really have a choice, though, so with one last glance at the still-open window, Izuku left. He made sure to shut the door firmly behind him.

Hisashi strode down the hall to the conference room. The other heads of Chimera weren’t there, which was great. Izuku loved father-son talks.

“So, uh, um,” Izuku said, but the words died in his throat.

Hisashi sat down. Izuku stayed as close to the door as he could, choosing to stand instead. For a while Hisashi didn’t speak.

“You will be the head of Chimera someday.”

A gaping pit opened in Izuku’s stomach. He didn’t want to be here, anywhere but. He wanted to be hanging out with Silver, or training with Toshinori. Not here.

“B-but not, um, not today, right?” Izuku blurted. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea. You know.”

Hisashi huffed, smoke curling in the air in front of him.

“Not today,” he agreed, “but we’ve been discussing a new course of action for you, Izuku.”

Izuku didn’t particularly like the sound of that.

“You… you have?”

“Is the information you’ve given us on All Might still correct? He will be a teacher at U.A. in the upcoming year?”

Izuku nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The information had gone public not too long ago, and Izuku had double-checked with Toshinori and U.A. interviews both to be sure before he’d told Chimera.

Hisashi procured a set of papers and held them out. Izuku stepped forward to take them hesitantly, unsure of what he would find.

When he scanned the first few lines, he almost dropped the papers.

“I… you?”

Hisashi tipped his head back and released a slow, steady stream of fire with an exhale of his lungs. He considered Izuku through half-lidded eyes.

“Enrolling you in U.A. will put you in a position to watch All Might daily if he’s teaching the hero course, as well as open connections with other pro heroes we’ve taken interest in. Silver is too old and more easily recognizable, but you will fit in easily.”

Izuku rubbed at his eyes and blinked several times.

“You’re… serious.”

Hisashi nodded once. The corner of his lip quirked up.

“You’ll get to play hero, Izuku.” The look in his eye turned almost distant and soft. He chuckled. “You used to when you were younger. You always made me play villain.”

Izuku trembled. “Don’t pretend you— care, Hisashi.”

Hisashi blinked curiously at him, long and slow like a cat.

“...Alright,” he said finally. “You’ll attempt for the hero course in the upcoming entrance exams. Your Quirk may not be combat-suited—or fit for the entrance exams, for that matter—but your skill is far better than your peers. I doubt you’ll have any issues.”

Izuku swallowed. “I’m going up against people with incredibly powerful Quirks, and I’ll be essentially Quirkless.”

Izuku suddenly remembered that he wouldn't be. Stepping into the entrance exams, he’d have two Quirks, though how useful they would be at that point remained to be seen.

“You’re smart and adaptable. You’ll find a way, I’m sure.”

Izuku swallowed again, his voice weak when he spoke. “Okay. Sure. Yeah.”

“You’ll be continuing your training, of course,” Hisashi said, “and Bonestealer will be overseeing your progress.”

Izuku tried not to sigh.

There was a tapping sound from the doorway. Bonestealer, tapping their cane against the frame.

“You called?”

“Funny,” Hisashi said lightly.

“Come with me, Izuku,” Bonestealer said, beckoning. “We have plans and not nearly enough time to go through with all of them.”

Izuku frowned at Bonstealer’s retreating back but followed nonetheless. He was in for a rough few days, then. Bonestealer was ruthless and unrelenting, and suddenly Izuku remembered he was due to train with Toshinori the following day. He’d run himself into the ground by the end of the week, but it wasn’t like Izuku had any choice.

Not if he wanted to get better. Not if he had to make it into U.A.: for Toshinori, for Chimera, for himself.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it,” Bonestealer commented. The two began their descent down a set of stairs, then another, to the basement. There was an entire floor hidden underneath, connected to the sewers. This was where Chimera conducted business, and where Bonestealer trained Izuku.

With the activity that had cropped up over the past few months, Izuku’s training—with Bonestealer, at least—had been less and less often.

He’d be out of practice for the first few rounds at the very least.

They entered into a musty practice room. Simple and bare, the room had a padded floor with plain walls, lit brightly by a set of lights overhead. One wall held equipment, but it was otherwise empty. Spotless.

Bonestealer took off the tailored purple jacket they’d been wearing, tossing it to the side to reveal a light shirt and dark, scarred arms. They ran a hand through their cropped hair and smiled.

“Let’s see where you’re at, kid.”

They beckoned with their hands, the universal gesture of Come at me.

Izuku took a second, circling as ideas flitted through his head. Bonestealer wouldn’t attack first, so it gave him a moment.

Bonestealer tracked him as he moved. Izuku tried to fall into a guarded but casual pattern, holding on his attacks in the hopes that Bonestealer would be lulled into the anticipation.

Then he struck out with a foot, trying to sweep Bonestealer to the ground. Bonestealer danced out of the way, and the fight began.

After that, there was no time to think.

Izuku tasted rust when Bonestealer clipped him across the face. He lost his sight and stumbled.

A hand shot out, and bony fingers wrapped around Izuku's wrists. A numbness began at the touch, crawling up his arm.

Izuku wrenched himself free. He kicked out. Bonestealer dodged.

His arm prickled with pain as it regained feeling. Izuku felt the impact when he hit the ground, rolling as a boot snapped down where his ribs would've been.

Izuku panted, scrabbling at Bonstealer's ankles. He caught them and twisted, sending his opponent to the ground.

Sweat stuck to Izuku's shirt, pressing it tight to his skin. He could feel his lungs grating as he sucked in a breath of air.

Bonestealer was up in seconds, not even granting Izuku a moment of reprieve. He dodged the first hit aimed at him but not the second and found himself sprawled on the ground.

"Out of practice, boy," Bonestealer chuckled. Izuku gasped in pain when he was kicked, once, then again, leaving him breathless.

A hand pressed against his arm, and that terrible and familiar feeling began to make itself known again. Izuku struggled, pushing upwards, but Bonstealer was strong. Even with the new muscle Izuku had packed on in the last few months, he was no match for Bonestealer.

The numbness spread. Izuku lost feeling in his right arm. His hand, gone. Fingers, wrist, forearm, shoulder. All of the feeling gone as Bonestealer's Quirk crept through his body.

Izuku kicked out blindly but connected. There was a loud crack as he hit, and Bonestealer snarled as they were sent back.

He clambered to his feet, arm limp as his side. Survive. That was what Izuku need to do: survive.

Pain pulsed at Izuku's side where he'd been hit. He pressed his free hand to it and limped slowly in a circle, trying to keep up the defense. Bonestealer came at him again, hunger in their dark eyes.

Sweat dripped from the hair at the nape of his neck. Bonestealer lunged, hands like outstretched claws. Izuku threw himself back desperately. Bonestealer only continued to advance.

The floor shifted, soft under his feet; Izuku kept backing away until his shoulders collided when something hard.

The wall. He'd hit the wall.

Bonestealer lunged again. Izuku flung himself to the side. There was a tearing sound and a fluttering strip of white as fingers grazed his skin. Undeterred, Bonestealer slammed the heel of their hand into Izuku’s stomach—he heaved, breathless—

A sharp, stabbing pain in his leg, then numbness—

Izuku’s knees gave out, and he dropped. Bonestealer was there, a cold hand pressed to Izuku’s throat but Quirk inactivated.

Izuku wheezed.

“You win,” he coughed out.

The pressure on his throat disappeared, but Izuku laid there for a moment, breathing. He regained the feeling in his body slowly: the lax muscles, the aching in his ribs, the pinpricks at the ends of his fingers.

“That was terrible, kid,” Bonestealer commented. Izuku sat up slowly, pressing a hand to his side and hissing with pain.

“Yeah,” Izuku coughed. “I noticed.”

Bonestealer waited until Izuku climbed slowly to his feet. He took off his torn, ruined shirt and tossed it to the side.

“Again,” Bonestealer snapped.

Izuku hit the ground, breathless.

“Again.”

His eyes watered as pain burst across his shoulder.

“Again.”

Sweat, down his back.

“Again.”

Blood warm in his mouth.

Again, again, until Izuku was worn to the bone and aching.

Bonestealer left him on the floor counting his breaths. Izuku waited until Bonestealer’s footsteps had disappeared before he pushed himself upright, tottering for a moment unsteadily. Then he wiped a hand over his face and began the slow trudge back to his room.

It was late afternoon already, Izuku figured. He shut his door shut behind him and stripped out of his clothes, tossing them to the side.

Taking a quick shower helped, easing his sore muscles and erasing the dirt and hint of blood. It’d be worse in the morning, Izuku thought, examining himself in the mirror. It was always worse in the morning.

He pressed gently against the places that hurt. Nothing broken, of course. The pain would last, but Bonestealer knew how to hurt him while keeping Izuku functional.

Izuku felt a million times better after he'd changed into a set of fresh clothes and was off on a hunt for an afternoon snack. Bonestealer had sapped all the energy right out of him, and he wanted it back.

Food, then a nap. That sounded nice.

Izuku left the building, deciding to take a walk down the street to a nearby gas station. The bell jangled as he walked in, getting a bag of chips and then mournfully putting them back. Instead Izuku took something that was only marginally healthier and a soda.

Izuku had his snack sitting on the curb, watching as the world passed him by. It was nice, moments like these. Izuku liked being a nobody, just existing as a part of a whole. He liked looking at people and imagining what their lives were like, or what their dreams were.

Toshinori texted him as he was enjoying his break.

Toshinori 5:12 PM

:) Down for some training?

Izuku groaned. He wasn't sure he'd be able to, but the offer sounded really, really nice.

You 5:15 PM

Yeah...

Toshinori 5:17 PM

Great!

Izuku decided he was going to regret it, but he got up, dusting the crumbs of his snack off of his jeans anyway. There was no use in just sitting around, even if it was nice. And Izuku always liked spending time with Toshinori.

Izuku took his time going to Dagobah Beach. Not really because he wanted to, but because the aftermath of Bonestealer’s training had Izuku limping the entire way.

“You look rough,” Toshinori commented when he set eyes on Izuku. “You alright?”

Izuku shrugged. He tugged at his collar, adjusting the shirt so it covered the angry red marks on his skin. They wouldn’t be noticable bruises for a while yet, but it was still there.

“Fine,” he said.

Toshinori looked unimpressed.

“R- really ,” Izuku tried. To be honest with himself, it was kind of difficult to argue. Izuku just felt—tired, mostly, and drained.

“Maybe we should pass on the training today.”

Izuku squinted. “We never… what, why?”

Toshinori found a clear patch of sand and sat down cross-legged. He patted the areas next to him.

“I learned something, you know,” he said conversationally, “no one can go on forever, as much as we’d like to.”

Izuku let out a heavy sigh and plopped down on the sand next to Toshinori.

“If you’re doing extra training, just… let me know, my boy. Don’t push yourself so much.”

Izuku watched a bug scuttle across the sand. “I need to be better.”

Toshinori shook his head, brow furrowed. He picked up a twig and twirled it between his fingers for a moment. Then he used the stick to point at the area around them.

“Do you see?”

Izuku looked. There was the section of the beach Izuku had cleaned… but beyond that Izuku saw more work to do. He was suddenly struck with the thought that he was running out of time to prepare for U.A.

“See what?”

Toshinori tilted his head. “Progress.”

Izuku dropped his gaze and fiddled with his shoelaces. “But—”

“You’ve improved immensely over the past few months,” Toshinori said, and there was a bright note in his voice, “and I have no doubt you will continue to grow, my boy. Look at what you have achieved already. Do you see?”

“I guess…”

Toshinori gestured widely. “Part of progress is taking care of yourself—hrk!”

He broke into a coughing fit, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth. Izuku flitted around anxiously without a handkerchief or napkin to offer. Toshinori wiped at his mouth and waved Izuku off.

“You, too,” Izuku said quietly. He lifted his eyes to meet Toshinori’s. “Should take care of yourself, I mean.”

Toshinori patted his shoulder. “Thank you, young Akatani.”

Izuku leaned back on his hands, digging his fingers into the warm sand. He considered Toshinori’s words—Izuku wasn’t sure he’d be able to apply them, but he’d try.

“—of each other, then.”

“Huh?”

Toshinori chuckled. He reached out to ruffle Izuku’s hair. “I said, we’ll have to take care of each other, then.”

“Oh,” Izuku whispered. He ducked his head, feeling heat creep up his neck and across his face. “...Yeah.”

Izuku closed his eyes, enjoying the last rays of warm sun and the gentle breeze that ran its fingers through his hair. He couldn’t remember when he’d last felt so… safe, maybe?

“Can I ask you a question?”

“That wasn’t one?” Toshinori countered.

Izuku opened his eyes and sat up, pouting. “You know what I mean. But you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“Ask away.”

“What…” Izuku licked his lips, knowing he was about to broach a sensitive topic. “What was your predecessor like? The seventh wielder?”

Toshinori tensed. In a moment the light seemed to have left him.

It was something Izuku had tried to ask about a few times. Toshinori was a frustratingly private person—which Izuku himself found no problem with. It would’ve been hypocritical, to expect something Izuku couldn’t reciprocate.

Still, One for All was a topic Toshinori was reluctant to talk about. Considering One for All was the Quirk Izuku was going to inherit, he wasn’t sure he liked how little information he had about it. As the Quirk Izuku was supposed to be analyzing, he was more than fine knowing next to nothing except that it was “extremely powerful” and looked like some form of “strength augmentation.”

“Better than I could be,” Toshinori said, “but I strive to be more like her.”

There was a note of finality in his voice, so Izuku didn't press further. He wondered what she was like, if she would’ve liked him. How many times they had passed each other by.

The tables turned when Toshinori asked about Izuku’s father. He kept his answers short and vague, but hopefully not terrible. He had to make sure no one suspected anything.

Eventually they steered the conversation into gentler waters. They talked about Toshinori’s new occupation.

“Interesting,” Toshinori said, when Izuku asked. He made a face. “Aizawa doesn’t like me much, though.”

Izuku’s interest piqued. “Aizawa?”

Toshinori sighed. He muttered something about sleeping under his breath and then said, “Yeah. He’ll be your homeroom teacher… certainly quite a character.”

“Is he a pro hero?”

Toshinori nodded. “You wouldn’t recognize him. He’s an underground hero.”

“Try me,” Izuku said.

The name wasn’t ringing any bells, but different pro heroes had different approaches to how much of their private lives were public. Some heroes were very open about their families and lives outside of hero work. Some heroes, like Toshinori, were completely closed off to the public. Most heroes, though, were somewhere in-between.

“Eraserhead,” Toshinori said. “His Quirk is… good for underground work, I guess, not really my style, but uh, yes.”

Izuku suppressed the flicker of panic that sparked inside of him. He shoved it down, taking in a breath.

“Huh,” Izuku said, surprised at how steadily his voice came out. “Don’t recognize him.”

Izuku made a mental note to look into the staff of U.A. before going in for the exam. He’d need to figure out who had connections to Chimera, if any, and a list of people he could hopefully avoid.

“Didn’t think so. Hopefully he’ll like you,” Toshinori said. He coughed. “Hopefully you’ll like him.”

“Hmm,” Izuku hummed. He looked at the distant sky. “Sun’s going down.”

“Ah… it's getting late,” Toshinori said. “You don't take the train, do you?”

Izuku shook his head. He found his hoodie and slipped it over his head, then slung his bag over his shoulders.

“I'll walk home,” Izuku said. He checked his phone - it was getting late, but so long as Izuku was back before anyone else noticed, he'd be fine. And the page of information he'd memorized would be enough to tide him over if he did get in trouble.

Toshinori's brows knit together. “Do you want me to accompany you home?” His mouth tugged up in a half smile the way it did when he was teasing. “Maybe meet your mysterious father?”

Izuku flinched. All Might and the Dragon meeting ? Or, better yet, Yagi Toshinori and Midoriya Hisashi, bitter enemies blissfully unaware of the other's identity and humoring Izuku. Izuku didn't know if he wanted to laugh or puke at the thought of the three of them having tea, much less existing in the same room.

“My boy?” Toshinori had gone back to being concerned. “I apologize, I shouldn't have-”

“No, no, I mean, it's, it's okay,” Izuku said in a rush, holding his hands out. “It's just not, it's not, he, ah.”

Shut up. Shut up, stop talking, don't say another word. You've said too much, you've implied too much.

Toshinori smiled encouragingly, and Izuku felt sick. He had to think , or else Toshinori would suspect . All Might or not...

“He doesn't know about, um,” Izuku said, fumbling with a response. Deep breath. “My father doesn't approve of me being a hero. I mean I think I told you that. He, uh, he's a, he's a businessman. Um. Yeah, a businessman.”

That was the worst lie Izuku had spit out in a while. A businessman? What did Hisashi sell—barbecue?

“Oh,” Toshinori said finally. “I didn't know. I'm not sure I've heard the name before.”

“You wouldn't have,” Izuku said, heart hammering in his chest. “It's a little bit, um, quieter, you know, haha, one of those ones.”

Oops.

Toshinori's eyes lit with understanding.

“I see,” he boomed, and Izuku glanced around out of habit and found no one around.

Izuku tried for a reassuring smile. It felt more like he was stretching his face thin, but it seemed to help.

“Well, it's about time to part ways, my boy.”

Izuku's heart sunk in his chest. Now that he wasn't spitting lies, he could spot fondness in Toshinori's tone. Could look at his face and see someone who cared: there in his drawn eyebrows, in the crinkle by his eyes, in a soft smile Izuku was sure Hisashi had never given him. He didn't want to leave.

Toshinori mistook his hesitation.

“Young Akatani…” he started, but Izuku couldn't look at him without bursting into tears. A hand settled on his shoulder. “Mikumi.”

Izuku flicked his gaze up.

“Regardless of what your father thinks,” Toshinori said gently, “ I think you will be a great hero. Have hope. One day, he'll see what I see in you.”

“Thank you,” Izuku whispered. His eyes burned as Toshinori squeezed his shoulder and then drew him into a loose hug.

He couldn't find the courage to say that was exactly what he was afraid of.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter five


 

“Is this really the only way to do this? Can't I… drink your blood or something?”

Izuku was staring cross-eyed at the piece of hair being offered to him. It was nice, he supposed, if one excluded the fact that Toshinori actually expected him to put it in his mouth. And eat it.

Toshinori looked vaguely uncomfortable with that thought.

“Don’t make this weird.”

Izuku squawked. “Don’t make this weird? This is already weird!”

Toshinori sighed. “Don’t make this weirder than it has to be, then.”

“I’m eating your hair .”

“It’s the fastest way for you to ingest my DNA. One for All will take a while to appear in your system, which is why it’s so early. Just… do it.”

“Just eat it,” Izuku mimicked half-heartedly. Begrudgingly, he plucked the strand of hair from Toshinori’s fingers. Before he could regret it, he stuck it in his mouth and swallowed hard.

“That was awful,” he gagged after it’d gone down. “I still think blood would’ve been better.”

“No matter!” Toshinori said, suddenly cheerful. “It’s done—you carry within you now One for All, passed down from hero to hero. Its ninth wielder.”

He was smiling widely. Izuku still felt like there was hair between his teeth even though there wasn’t, but he tried to match Toshinori’s smile.

“So… see you later?”

Toshinori had told him One for All would take at least an hour before Izuku would be able to use it, if not longer. They’d scheduled to meet again in a while so Izuku could test it out, which made him incredibly nervous.

He suddenly realized he was carrying within him a power that was both vast and ancient. A power that had started before him and would last long after him. Izuku shivered.

Toshinori coughed into his hand. “Yes. Do be careful… don’t try to smash anything without me.”

“Uh,” Izuku said, “Okay.”

With an hour to kill, Izuku went on his next mission: shopping.

They were still two months out from the U.A. entrance exams, and Izuku found his life in a constant flurry of activity.

He’d finally finished cleaning up Dagobah Beach the week before. It’d been an emotional moment, staring across the expanse of sand and realizing he’d finally done it. To know that ten months ago, he hadn’t even known where to start. Now, Izuku could lift and carry things with ease.

The two had strolled along a short length of the beach and marvelled at the feeling of soft sand under their feet. The thought made him smile still.

Bonestealer had increased their own training. It wasn’t over yet, but Izuku was proud of himself. He’d gotten faster and stronger. Though Bonestealer’s experience and Quirk made them a tough opponent to face, Izuku had learned to hold his own. Compared to the average heroes studies student or civilian, Izuku figured his fighting was leagues ahead, even if his Quirk wasn’t.

Izuku walked to the nearest set of stores and began his journey. He really needed new clothes; he’d grown out of his old ones.

It was easy to pick out plain, unassuming clothes. Plain colored shirts and pants, mostly black and grey. Then Izuku plucked off a few graphic shirts, admiring the design of them and the bright colors. He wouldn’t have normally worn red or blue or yellow, as much as he liked them, but preparing to re-enter the world meant he needed them.

Then Izuku looked for a few other pieces.

You 8:23 AM

Should I get a suit

Silver 8:25 AM

You woke me up to ask me if you should get a suit

Silver 8:26 AM

Why do you need a suit

You 8:30 AM

Look I don’t know

Silver 8:31 AM

So don’t get one

Silver 8:31 AM

I’m going back to sleep.

She didn’t respond to any of his texts after that, so Izuku thought she really was ignoring him and had crawled back under the covers. Typical.

Izuku didn’t end up getting a suit—he wasn’t sure when he’d wear it, after all—but he did pick up a dark, thin blazer.

A few other, various articles of clothing Izuku thought he might need. Then he lugged all the bags back to the base, dumping clothing item after clothing item on his bed. Then he took out the set of supplies he’d pilfered from Silver and got to work.

After an hour, Izuku wasn’t sure he felt any different. He decided to try activating his own Quirk and found it heeded his call easily and without issue. He stood in the cramped bathroom and practiced changing his appearance. It was something Silver had suggested after he’d almost been caught a while ago trying to break into a hero agency.

Izuku had the same idea in the past, but he’d never tried it. Now, with a bit of practice, Izuku was getting better at it.

He tugged on a thread of power running warm through him. In a moment, Izuku’s appearance began to shift slightly. His hair grew slightly longer and began to turn lighter, more of a brown color than black. Izuku blinked, and then when he peered closer, he saw blue eyes looking back at him.

Changing his appearance had a few limitations. Small things like hair and eye color were easy to cover. Changing his face shape took a little more concentration, which meant it wasn’t sustainable for very long. Making himself shorter or taller wasn’t an option at all. He’d have to recreate his entire face and body, way too difficult for him.

Still, the trick was useful. It wouldn’t last long, even though the illusion was mostly low-effort. But it was good for getting lost in a crowd, or subtly becoming a different person when he needed.

Izuku let the illusion disappear after admiring himself for a moment. He’d gotten better at the finer points of his control, though there was a ways to go.

He shut his eyes and tried again, reaching for that place deep inside of him where his Quirk seemed to rest. But Izuku reached past it, going deeper, and then found something only describable as bright. The power ripped as Izuku touched it, then enveloped him.

Izuku panicked and pulled back. His eyes flew open as he gasped. He’d felt it—he really had One for All, then. No going back.

It’d felt… endless. Izuku thought it was a little like being on a raft in the middle of the ocean, water on all sides and no land in sight. Caught in between sea and sky, the edges of the two blurring together.

He texted Toshinori with shaking hands—

You 10:13 AM

14-A. Want to meet? 14-A.

Toshinori 10:14 AM

Absolutely.

Izuku headed back to the beach, heart thrumming in his chest. He had One for All. He had One for All.

“I want you to try using One for All,” Toshinori said. “Call it to you. Clench your buttcheeks, and from inside your heart, yell smash !”

Toshinori looked so serious that Izuku believed him, though he wasn’t sure about feeling it in his heart, clenching his buttcheeks, or shouting smash. Or just using One for All in general. What if something went wrong?

Izuku knew it was going to go wrong, with his luck. He was going to try using it and then not have a grasp on it at all, and then Izuku was just going to look pathetic. Maybe he wasn’t ready like Toshinori thought, and he’d call up One for All and explode into a billion pieces.

“Ah, one more thing,” Toshinori said. He looked sheepish, scratching his neck. “It may have some… side effects on your body.”

His anxiety jumped. “Side… effects…?”

“I can’t be sure,” Toshinori explained, “but it’s possible. I think you’re ready, but the power may be a bit… much.”

“Okay,” Izuku replied, voice one octave higher. “I won’t explode, though, right?”

A beat.

“Right?”

“Well—you shouldn’t.”

Izuku swallowed, balling his hand into a fist and holding it out in front of him. “That’s really reassuring.”

Toshinori smiled encouragingly. “Go on.”

Izuku took a deep breath and found One for All waiting for him. Warmth curled around the pit of his stomach and then spread outwards. He leapt, feeling the full force of his Quirk run through him, and brought his fist down, yelling.

Light.

Pure light.

It wasn’t just like an ocean, like the first time. It was a massive tidal wave of pure power, a terrible pulsing storm that swallowed Izuku whole. It was like nothing Izuku had felt before, like nothing he could describe—it was whole, surrounding; it was in every inch of him; it sparked, like lightning, like electricity, like a raging fire.

Izuku felt like he’d gone blind as One for All consumed him.

Then pain splintered up his arm. It started, lancing through his fingers, then shot up the bone, white hot.

“Mikumi!”

Izuku came back to himself. He’d landed instinctively and was crouched in the sand, curling around his arm. Toshinori materialized next to him, kneeling and looking concerned.

Izuku lifted his head slowly. “Um. Ow.”

Toshinori’s face looked pale. “I was afraid… can you walk?”

He took a moment to center himself. It was a broken arm. A really badly broken arm, but it was a broken arm. Izuku had had worse.

Izuku stood up slowly.

“Yeah,” he said, and let his arm flop uselessly to the side. “I’m good. But maybe I could use some first aid.”

He didn’t dare look too closely at it. He could see a terrible discoloration out of the corner of his eye, and the little moment he’d had cradling his arm was more than enough.

“Right, right,” Toshinori said. He looked at the car he had parked and then seemed to reconsider. “Hold on.”

Izuku blinked, and All Might was there. He scooped Izuku in his arms and then the two were off, bounding from building to building until they arrived at their destination.

“Woah,” Izuku whispered, forgetting his pain for a moment. U.A. was beautiful: tall, glistening buildings that were carefully constructed. The best hero academy Japan had to offer.

Despite his protests, All Might carried him through the building. Izuku craned his neck, trying to get a better glimpse of his surroundings as they passed classroom after classroom.

Izuku was set down after they reached a section labelled ‘ Infirmary.’

All Might disappeared, smoke coming off his body as he shed his hero form. He put a hand on Izuku’s shoulder and steered him forward, looking cautious as he peered into the room.

“Chiyo?”

“Toshinori, is that you? If you’ve done something stupid—”

An older woman appeared, dressed in a nurse’s uniform. But Izuku recognized her immediately.

“Recovery Girl?”

Recovery Girl squinted at him for a moment, then turned to look at Toshinori.

“That’s me. And I was right, you really did do something stupid.”

Toshinori was cringing. He looked like he wanted to slip out the door, but he remained where he was.

“This is my successor,” he said, and Izuku felt warmth pool in his stomach when he heard the pride in Toshinori’s voice. “But, ah—we have a problem.”

Recovery Girl crossed her arms over her chest.

“Yes, we do.” She clucked her tongue, looking over Izuku once and pointing at one of the beds. “Go, sit.”

“Ah, Chiyo…”

“Yes, yes,” Recovery Girl grumbled. She fixed an exasperated eye on Izuku. “Don’t worry, this’ll only take a moment, and you’ll be good as new. My Quirk will heal your arm, but it’ll use your stamina, so don’t be too concerned if you start feeling tired afterwards.”

“Okay.” He didn’t have much of an idea what to say.

Recovery Girl seemed satisfied and took his arm gently, lifting it. Then she pressed a kiss to his knuckles.

Izuku was drained immediately. Recovery Girl caught him and made him lie down, telling him to rest quietly for a moment. He hummed in acknowledgement, the pain in his arm gone and an exhaustion settling over him.

Recovery Girl drew the curtain partially around his bed and reached for her cane. She stalked to a nervously-waiting Toshinori.

“Don’t look at me like that. He’ll be fine.”

Toshinori glanced over at Izuku, and his face softened slightly. “Good, good.”

“I’m not through with you.”

Izuku lost sight of the two as they shuffled somewhere deeper in the infirmary, but he could hear them. There was an impact sound, and Izuku, through his haze, winced. She’d hit him, it seemed, and none-too-gently, either. He winced in sympathy.

There were some quiet words Izuku missed as he zoned out.

“—a fool? Trying to get that boy hurt?”

“No, of course not…”

“That Quirk is too powerful.”

“I thought, perhaps…”

“That he could handle it? You may very well have taken easily to it, but you are not the same person as him. You better not…”

The voices drifted out of focus again, becoming too quiet and unintelligible. Izuku stared at the strip of sunlight over the curtain, blinking at it slowly. The soft hum of machinery and rhythm of the distant conversation was soothing.

He’d close his eyes for a minute… just a minute…

The next time Izuku woke, the sunlight from the window had turned brighter and lit the entire room with brightness. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was and to relax back into the bed. Then, when Izuku felt ready, he pushed himself up into a sitting position.

There was no one in his immediate vicinity. Izuku frowned, looking around. His phone was on the table beside him, so he grabbed it, checking for updates. No messages, but he’d gotten a news bite about an interview with Endeavor. Izuku clicked lazily through it and then sat for a moment.

He was just swinging his legs over the side of the bed when the infirmary door swung open.

“Good, you’re awake. Rest well?”

Izuku stared at Recovery Girl’s uniform, not daring to look at her face, and nodded.

“Toshinori’s eating, if you’re wondering. I kicked him out. He worries too much.”

“At least he does,” Izuku mumbled.

Recovery Girl didn’t seem to have heard him, which was good. She set down a tray of food Izuku had just noticed and then crossed the room to stand in front of him.

Izuku was checked over for any issues and then given the all-clear.

Recovery Girl did scold him, though. “Do you sleep?”

“Uh… yes…?”

She crossed her arms. “Hmph. Obviously not enough. You slept for longer than I expected.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, oh. Get some rest when you return home, understand?”

“Yes, Recovery Girl.”

She shoved a tray at him—a simple bowl of porridge—and watched him with a close eye until it was all gone. Then she took it away and steered him out of the infirmary with strict instructions that she wasn’t going to see him for at least another week.

“I don’t expect it to be longer,” Recovery Girl told him. “I don’t have that much hope for him. We’ll see about you.”

“Uh?”

“Off you get, go on.”

Izuku was dumped into what looked like the U.A. teacher’s lounge, blinking confusedly before Toshinori appeared, looking relieved.

“You’re alright?”

Izuku stretched his arm out in front of him. It felt fine, like he hadn’t even broken it, and it looked okay, too.

“Good as new,” Izuku said, peeking up at Toshinori.

“Well, good,” Toshinori said. He looked a bit awkward, or maybe ashamed. Izuku wasn’t sure which. “Ah… my boy…”

Toshinori seemed to be stumbling over his words, which was rare and usually more Izuku’s job than anything.

“I wanted to, uh, apologize,” he said finally, “for not better preparing you…”

“Well, well,” Izuku interrupted, holding out his hands, “I mean, it’s not like we really could know, uh, what would, you know—”

“I thought it would be a possibility…”

“No, no—”

They were interrupted by a less-than happy voice.

“Will you be quiet?”

Izuku stopped mid-sentence, looking around for the source of the voice. Toshinori cringed, but gestured towards the ground.

Izuku looked down, confused, and saw— he wasn’t quite sure what he was looking at, if he was being honest. It looked like a giant, yellow caterpillar of some kind. It was a lot less cute magnified by a thousand times, Izuku decided.

Then the caterpillar rolled over, and there was a zipping sound. A face appeared from what Izuku realized was not a caterpillar and was, in fact, a sleeping bag. He leapt back, shocked.

“If you’re going to argue,” the man said, voice monotone, “or whatever you were doing, go do it somewhere else.”

“Ah—apologies, Aizawa.”

Aizawa? Izuku knew that name… oh. Aizawa.

He hadn’t recognized the pro hero (he was hard pressed to think he could recognize anyone if they were wrapped up like that), but now that Toshinori had put a name to the face, it clicked.

Izuku backpedaled immediately, looking for the nearest exit. He didn’t need to be here. The risk that Eraserhead would recognize him was fairly low, but Izuku didn’t want to take any chances.

“Hmph.” Eraserhead’s gaze shifted past Toshinori and landed on Izuku. He froze. “And who are you? You’re not one of my students.”

“He will be!”

Izuku bared his teeth in what he hoped was a smile. Then Toshinori stopped Izuku from bolting out the door and pushed him forward a little.

“This is Akatani, my protege. Young Akatani, this is Aizawa, class 1-A homeroom teacher.”

Izuku nodded silently. He didn’t want to be here. Eraserhead, for his part, looked like he didn’t want to be here, either. The best thing to do would be to leave, and everyone would be happy.

“Your protege?” A hand emerged from the sleeping bag to wrap around a silver zipper. Eraserhead began to pull it back upwards. “Hm. Doesn't look very impressive.”

Toshinori sighed. “Aizawa-”

“Goodnight,” Eraserhead said, and disappeared into the bright yellow sleeping bag.

Toshinori closed his mouth, turning to Izuku with an apologetic look. Without speaking, the two turned and left quietly. It was only until the door had shut behind them that Toshinori spoke.

“Er, sorry about that. He can be… tough, but he has a good heart.”

Tough, huh?

It was almost comical to Izuku, comparing the Eraserhead he remembered to the one he'd just seen. The pro hero was much different on and off duty, he supposed.

Eraserhead had looked at him with such a sense of disinterest that it was strange to see. Izuku hadn't been recognized at all, a realization that made him nearly giddy with relief.

A kid? Wait-

“Right,” Izuku said. He blew out a breath and nodded. “Hey, um, where's the bathroom?”

Toshinori pointed out the nearest one, and Izuku nodded his thanks, darting around a corner and then slowing. He checked his phone for the time and then passed the bathroom completely, heart beginning to pound.

He'd have three minutes. Maybe four.

Eraserhead was here, though asleep, and so was Recovery Girl. That meant there had to be others: staff, teachers, maybe the principal. He had to be careful, then; a wandering, lone teen could be labelled a threat at worst and a trespasser at best, now that he'd left Toshinori.

His stomach twisted with guilt, but Izuku clamped his teeth down. There was no time for that. He wove through the nearest halls, exploring where the exit points were and the subtle presence of security within the school. Izuku held his phone loosely under his shirt, angling so it was mostly hidden, but made sure it was free to record as he roved about.

There was a map pasted on one of the walls Izuku made sure to take a picture of. A fire evacuation map, standard for schools and perfect for—well, spies.

When time was up, Izuku glanced around the silent school and slipped back in the direction of the bathroom. He kept close to the wall, ready to activate his Quirk if necessary, but no one seemed to be around.

Finally Izuku was back where he started. He strolled back casually to where Toshinori was waiting, phone in hand as he typed.

“Ah, there you are,” Toshinori said. His face flashed from concerned to something more pleasant. “I was beginning to think you’d gotten lost.”

“Maybe a little,” Izuku said lightly. He nodded at Toshinori’s phone. “Something come up?”

Toshinori’s face pinched, though he was trying not to show it.

“Ah, just an update on an issue with a friend,” he said, “I’ve been helping him with a case, that’s all.”

Izuku knew Toshinori wouldn’t budge even if he pushed, so he let the subject drop.

“A case? Your friend’s a policeman, then?”

“Detective,” Toshinori said, then hummed thoughtfully. “Good friend. Maybe I’ll introduce you sometime. I think you’d find his Quirk interesting.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Izuku said.

“I’ll escort you out,” Toshinori continued, looking put out. “I’m sorry we couldn’t spend a little more time together today—I’ll have to go, of course—and for what happened…”

“No, no,” Izuku said, forcing a smile on his face. “You should go. You’ve got other responsibilities outside of me. I’ll be fine.”

“Still,” Toshinori protested, but he was looking more and more distracted by the second. His phone pinged. He glanced at it, a muscle jumping in his jaw when he read the message.

“Let’s go,” Izuku said, heading in the direction where he thought the exit was. They walked together in silence and stopped outside by the gates of U.A.

“This is where I have to leave you,” Toshinori said apologetically. He glanced around, making sure the coast was clear, and transformed. “I’ll be seeing you, then.”

“Right.”

All Might turned his gaze to the sky for a moment, no doubt planning his future route. Then he looked back at Izuku.

“Maybe I should—”

“Go,” Izuku said, waving a hand. “You’ve got more important things to do. Don’t worry so much. I’ll just head home.”

“Do you—”

Go ,” Izuku insisted, “I can get home from here. I’ll see you tomorrow or something.”

“Alright,” All Might said finally, “I’m sorry. Ah, don’t use your Quirk without me. Be careful, alright? I’m not sure—”

Izuku rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. No plans on doing that. I promise I’m fine. Just go already.”

All Might dipped his head, and Izuku bowed back.

“Well… goodbye, then.”

“Hey, All Might,” Izuku said before he could stop himself. All Might paused on the sidewalk. “You be careful too.”

All Might smiled. “There’s no need to fear for me.”

The hero was still smiling as he bounded away, leaping into the sky and becoming nothing more than a passing blur. Izuku watched him go, then turned to look at U.A., glittering in the sun.

“Soon,” he whispered to himself, fist clenching in his pocket. Then he turned on his heel and walked away.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter six


Izuku didn't see Toshinori the day after he'd been contacted by his detective friend. Izuku figured he was probably off doing important hero work, a mission of sorts. He was saving people or busting some villains, fighting crime. All the things Izuku admired.

Still, it made Izuku feel incredibly lonely. It wasn't like Toshinori hadn't done this sort of thing before, or that Izuku wasn't used to the quiet. But it made him feel restless, like there was an itch he couldn't scratch.

It didn't help that Chimera had made themselves scarce. Hisashi gave him a set of short, vague instructions before he seemed to disappear off again.

"Keep looking into U.A. and All Might, if you can. Maybe scout out some potential applicants." Hisashi clapped a hand on Izuku's shoulder. "Don't do anything rash, and don't assume we aren't watching if we're not present. Silver will be with us, if you're wondering. I'll see you soon."

Hisashi huffed, smoke curling between a set of sharp teeth.

"Okay," Izuku said.

"Good. I left you some money. Take care of yourself."

"Okay," Izuku muttered, "not like you do a very good job yourself."

Hisashi didn't react. "Just— hm." He tipped his head. "Izuku."

"Dragon," Izuku returned.

Izuku was always stuck watching people leave these days, it seemed. Toshinori had been scant. Hisashi and the rest of Chimera were leaving for a few days.

Izuku thought he'd enjoy the freedom. There was no training, no one pestering him about getting into U.A. (besides himself, of course), and no hero-villain mess.

It ended up being worse than he thought. With nothing to distract him, Izuku found his own thoughts driving him insane. He constantly worried, and he found himself floundering with nothing to fill his time.

He wasn't used to this. He didn't like it.

When three days had passed since he'd last seen Toshinori and two since Chimera, Izuku was ready to break something in frustration. He stopped himself from doing too much destruction, though, afraid he'd lose control of One for All and break his arm again.

…And maybe a wall.

You, Yesterday 3:14 PM 
Don't respond if you're busy. Things OK?

There'd been no response to his text, and it hadn't even been read. Izuku hovered over the chat with Toshinori for a moment.

You, 8:01 AM  [Draft]
Haven't heard from you in a while. I'm worri

He erased it, thinking he'd crossed a line, and tried again.

You, 8:03 AM  [Draft] 
Wanted to check

Izuku made a frustrated noise and gave up. He shoved his phone in his pocket and resolved to get some fresh air. Maybe it'd take his mind off of everything.

A jog was nice. Usually, Izuku would jog to meet Toshinori at Dagobah, but today, he let his feet carry him unconsciously. Music pulsed in his ears courtesy of the local radio station.

Izuku lost himself to the rhythm of his footsteps and the rise and fall of his chest. He focused on breathing and flew past people on the street, ducking and weaving. Jogged from block to block and street to street until his legs were aching and his shirt was sticky from sweat.

He slowed to a walk, feeling his heart thunder in his chest. Izuku let his body cool down, stretching his arms over his head. The knot of worry that he'd been carrying around had loosened—not completely gone, but he felt a lot less stressed than before.

When Izuku thought he could, he stepped out of the way of pedestrians to take a deep breath.

"I should do this more often," he told himself. The burn of exercise was nice, and there was something awfully comforting about going on a run.

Izuku took a look around, not sure where he'd lead himself to.

He walked around, trying to pick out landmarks. Izuku had jogged to a residential neighborhood. There was a park nearby where kids were running and playing, shrieks of laughter in the air. It all looked strangely familiar, like Izuku had seen it before. A dream he couldn't quite remember.

Izuku headed towards the activity. He got closer and found kids chasing each other around a playground. Beyond that was a small park filled with trees that looked pleasant, but nothing particularly special to note.

Some older teens, about Izuku's age and older, were playing a hard game of basketball. They flew back and forth across the court, exploding with noise. As Izuku drew closer, he saw the game stop as the two teams blew into a heated argument.

The root of it looked to be someone about Izuku's age. From a distance, Izuku couldn't tell who it was, but he seemed to be upset. He grabbed his opponent's shirt before he was pulled off by his friends.

The teen shouted something in the direction of the other team and then stormed off—in Izuku's direction. He caught sight of Izuku standing there, dumbfounded and not quite sure where to go, and seemed to get angry.

Then he was close enough for Izuku to catch sight of his face, and— well, shit.

It was Kacchan. Of course it was Kacchan.

Izuku started backpedaling immediately and almost faceplanted into the grass. Kacchan narrowed his eyes.

"YOU! WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, HUH?" he yelled across the park.

"Uh, gotta go!" Izuku yelled back. It was so nervous it was nothing more than a mess of words as Izuku stumbled back.

Then Kacchan seemed to have put something together. He advanced, hands crackling.

"HEY, AREN'T YOU THAT FU—"

Izuku screeched in response, turned tail, and ran as fast as he could in the other direction. He ran until he'd left Kacchan's sight and knew Kacchan wouldn't bother pursuing him; he'd probably turn around and go yell at his basketball friends. Izuku felt almost bad.

"That was close," Izuku murmured, leaning against a tree. "I'm never doing that again."

It was inevitable that he'd run into Kacchan. Of course, this had just been plain bad luck, but Kacchan was definitely applying to U.A. He was going to force his way in with sheer willpower and spite, with a powerful Quirk to boot.

Izuku personally didn't really have a choice; he had to go to U.A. That meant they'd probably run into each other.

The thought occurred suddenly to Izuku that they'd probably be in the same hero class.

Careful, careful—

Izuku hissed out a breath between his teeth. He'd been so careful. Toshinori expected nothing, and to be honest, Izuku knew he wasn't always the most perceptive of people. He made up for it in enthusiasm and heart, though, which Izuku appreciated.

Kacchan was a different story. He was attentive. If you caught his attention, he'd watch you like a hawk—friend or foe. He was a sheer force, unrelenting and unyielding.

Careful, careful, now.

And, from the look on his face as he'd stormed towards Izuku and recognized him, he'd already marked Izuku as competition. For saving him that day with the sludge villain.

It was better, Izuku decided, than being recognized as… well, himself. Far better.

He sat down by the tree and dug his fingers into the soft grass. Then Izuku began to pick up strands of grass, peeling them apart methodically as he thought.

The only thing for Izuku to do was stay alert. Stay wary, and not get too close—easier said than done. He and Kacchan were childhood friends. They'd grown up together, played together, shared—albeit through some thinly-veiled insults here and there—the same hopes and dreams. One wrong move, and Izuku would be through. Everything he'd built, gone.

"Nope," Izuku said, shoving his thoughts down before they went too far. "Not thinking about it. That's a problem for later. Nope. No."

Izuku worried at his lip and then forced himself to let it go. It would be fine. He'd figure something out, he reassured himself, and he would be careful.

He hadn't seen Kacchan since the day with the sludge villain, close to a year ago now.

Before that… before that…

Izuku's brows drew together as he tried to remember. He sifted through his memories, trying to think, but he couldn't seem to find what he was looking for.

Before that, he hadn't seen Kacchan since, since…

Izuku took a deep breath, trying to settle his racing heart. He closed his eyes. There was the last day with Mom, standing in the doorway as she'd given him the box of All Might figures. And before that— yes, Izuku remembered, it'd been the day before.

He'd gone over to Kacchan's house after school to tell Kacchan that they wouldn't see each other for a week.

"You can still text me, though," Izuku said, scuffing at the floor in a nervous habit even though he knew Auntie Mitsuki wouldn't like it. "And it's only a week, anyway, Kacchan."

Kacchan had thrown himself onto his bed, looking upset. "I don't get why you're fucking going with him, Deku. He's—"

"Ka- Kacchan, I have to give him a chance. Maybe he'll—"

Kacchan snarled at the ceiling. "Your deadbeat dad? Showing up begging to play family after he ditched you and Auntie what, eight years ago? I forgot how stupid you are."

"Kacchan."

"You better not fucking text me, idiot."

Izuku smiled, bouncing on his feet a little. "Okay, I'll call."

"Urghh, that's not what I m—"

"It'll be good, I think. It's, he's trying?" Izuku quieted. "But he's been… weird about the hero stuff."

"Hero stuff? You better not be considering giving that up."

"Well, no, I just… I don't know. He said he wanted to introduce me to the family business."

"Lame," Kacchan scoffed, "Don't you fucking dare give up, Deku. I can't beat you that way."

"Okay," Izuku said, just to placate him.

Kacchan huffed. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the ceiling like it was a face he wanted to punch in. Then he sat up to pin Izuku with a look.

"Your heart's too soft, dumbass. Don't let him get away with shit, got it?"

"Okay, Kacchan."

"Only I get to mess with you."

"Okay, Kacchan," Izuku said, biting back a smile.

"If anything happens, I'm going to beat you up first. Then him."

"Okay, Kacchan." This time, he couldn't stop from smiling, and Kacchan glowered at him.

"The hell are you smiling for?"

"You're a good friend, that's all."

"Tch," Kacchan scoffed, but there was a glint in his eye as he looked sideways at Izuku. Then he turned solemn. "I meant what I said, Deku."

"...okay, Kacchan. I know."

Kacchan reached over to throw a pillow at him. Izuku dodged easily, laughing.

"I don't get to see your stupid face for a week. Finally," Kacchan declared, throwing another pillow at him. Izuku yelled and charged back with the one he'd scooped up off the floor, aiming downwards.

"I- I don't get to see yo-your face for a week," Izuku countered, and Kacchan hit him in the face with his pillow.

"Shut up, Deku."

Izuku went home that day with a bright smile on his face, thinking that he'd miss Kacchan but that it wouldn't be so bad. It was only a week like he'd said, they'd call each other, and Izuku knew if anything went wrong he could call Kacchan for backup to diffuse the situation.

Well, Izuku thought. He laughed out loud. Maybe diffuse was the wrong word for Kacchan. He wasn't the type to diffuse anything.

He briefly thought about going back to see Kacchan again. A brief second where Izuku imagined telling him everything, maybe using his Quirk to change his appearance back to what he really looked like, maybe telling Kacchan something only the two of them knew.

Like the time Kacchan had accidentally exploded the leg off of one of the classroom desks, and he and their group of friends had frantically re-taped it back as well as they could. Twenty minutes later, when class had restarted, the table had gone down in a crash.

Kacchan, of course, hadn't been punished, since there wasn't really any evidence. Everyone had immediately turned to stare at him expectantly, though.

Maybe that would be the wrong thing to tell Kacchan after close to three years of not seeing him. Izuku would get his face blown up, or something.

Izuku went back to daydreaming, but he was interrupted by the buzz and chime of his phone. He wasted no time checking it, eager for an update from anyone.

Silver 9:48 AM 
Business finished.

Silver 9:50 AM 
Wasn't sure if I should tell you this, but

Silver 9:50 AM 
Never mind.

You 9:51 AM
What happened?

Silver 9:52 AM 
Don't freak. Got myself a little scratched up.

You 9:52 AM 
SILVER

Silver 9:53 AM 
Yeah.

The text had barely come through from Silver before Izuku was calling her.

"Hey, 'zuku—"

"What the hell?" Izuku bit out, his voice a fraction too loud.

"It was a lucky shot. We weren't as prepared as we would've liked. Hisashi got mixed up in it, too."

Izuku held no particular love for Hisashi, that was true. He'd much rather the two of them go back to the way things were: Hisashi out of the picture and Izuku happy without him in it.

So Izuku didn't like the way his panic spiked or that he was panicking at all.

"Are you okay?"

Silver made a noncommittal noise, then laughed. "I'm fine, don't worry. The other guys came out worse. Ow, no laughing."

"Uh," Izuku said, "I don't think I really believe you."

"Hisashi's going to be fine, by the way. If you were wondering. Too bad, I guess, you would've liked the chance, huh?"

Izuku looked around him for people. He felt sick.

"I- I don't… I mean, I don't think I want him… dead…"

"If I were you, I probably would. You with your bleeding heart. Well, maybe next time—you want to come say hello?"

Izuku hadn't seen Silver in days. He'd missed her, and she'd come back hurt.

"Yeah, I'm, um, I'm on my way. Do you need anything?"

"A drink? Anyway, I know we haven't been around—ah, Miss Guidance is calling. Oh, Hisashi wants to talk to you later, forgot to tell you. Gotta go."

"Bye."

The phone cut off, signalling the end of the call. Izuku sighed, slumping. He massaged his temples.

Izuku resolved to stay out as long as possible, avoiding all human contact. It didn't seem to be working out for him today, though that was all Izuku had wanted.

If Silver was being truthful about Hisashi wanting to see Izuku, though, it was best to make sure he wasn't kept waiting. *Izuku hauled himself to his feet, readjusted his clothing, and then ambled out of the park. He avoided the basketball court, hoping he'd miss Kacchan by going the other way.

It took a while to find his way back from the park, but Izuku did eventually. He let the long walk ground him and thought about what he'd say when he saw Hisashi again.

Izuku visited Silver first. She was curled up in bed when Izuku arrived, knocking and then pushing the door in.

"Izuku!"

Silver raised her arms toward him, making grabbing motions at him when she saw him carrying a juice box.

"Hey," Izuku said, crossing to her bedside and handing her the drink. "Are you… are you okay?"

Getting closer, Izuku found that Silver looked rough. There were old bruises peppered along her cheek. She looked tired, like she hadn't slept. The injury she'd mentioned, though, was what Izuku assumed was a deep cut on her left leg, hidden by rounds of bandages.

Silver sucked at her juice box loudly. "Better now." She reached over and shoved his shoulder. "Lighten up, you. I'm fine."

Izuku remained unconvinced, but he sighed.

"I'll come back later," he promised. "I have to go see Hisashi."

Silver nodded. "He might be a bit grumpy, by the way. He's not happy at how our latest plans turned out."

Izuku sighed, already halfway out the door. "Great."

He knocked on Hisashi's door and wasn't answered; the room was empty. Izuku tried the conference room next and found that empty, too. Eventually Izuku wound up in the little room by the stairwell, built to be a study with a small square window that looked out at the city.

"There you are," Hisashi said. He was seated in the chair by the window but turned to look when Izuku stepped in cautiously.

"You wanted to see me."

"I wanted to introduce you to someone," Hisashi said. Izuku jerked in surprise when a shadow along the wall detached itself and became human.

"Izuku, huh…" the stranger said. His voice was low and scratchy; Izuku disliked it immediately.

"Oh," Izuku said, before he could filter his thoughts, "that's a lot of hands, huh?"

"Izuku."

"Ha, ha, ha," the stranger mocked. Izuku shivered, taking an involuntary step back. "You think you're funny, do you."

"E- excu- excuse me," Izuku stammered, "I'm sorry."

He lowered his eyes, taking in the villain at the same time. A set of hands clasped at the head, woven into light hair that obscured the face with another hand. Izuku thought he could see an eye peering out at him and quickly dropped his gaze lower. More hands, clasped at his arms, his chest, his neck.

Izuku pressed his lips together. Still a lot of hands, he decided.

"Forgive him," Hisashi spoke up, and Izuku flushed. "My son sometimes speaks without thinking."

"Obviously."

"Do I get to know your name?" Izuku asked.

"Shigaraki," Hisashi answered before the stranger could. "We've been working with him and the… League of Villains for the past year."

A memory drifted to the forefront of Izuku's mind. "The friends."

Hisashi tilted his head. "If you'd prefer to call them that."

Izuku leveled his gaze at Shigaraki, lining up the villain with the new information. This was who Chimera had chosen to work with—the person, it seemed, who had single-handedly launched Izuku into the worst predicament of his life.

Or fourteen-handedly, if Izuku was counting right. Izuku bit down on his tongue and tried to keep his face neutral.

"You're the one interested in All Might, right?"

Shigaraki's hand—his real one—lifted from its place at his side to scratch his neck.

"All Might," he spat, and the disdain was clear in his voice.

The way he said All Might's name made Izuku want to run. He forced himself to stay still inside, not giving anything away.

"Not a fan, huh," Izuku said. His voice shook just slightly, but Shigaraki caught it and smiled.

"I'm going to kill him," Shigaraki snarled, "The number one hero. What an idiot."

"Okay," Izuku said, like everything was totally fine. "Cool."

"I'm going to kill him," Shigaraki repeated. "Then they'll see. Everyone will see."

"Okay, uh, you got a plan for that, or are you just winging it?"

Wrong thing to say. Shigaraki was in Izuku's face in an instant, grabbing the front of his shirt and hauling him just inches off the ground.

"Stop mocking me," he hissed. Red eyes shone from behind a grey hand.

"Now, Shigaraki," Hisashi said, voice smooth and calming.

Hisashi stood, hand braced on the back of his armchair, but he didn't move from his spot. A warning not to hurt Izuku, but a stance that he wouldn't particularly stop Shigaraki if he did.

Shigaraki ignored him.

"Brat."

Shigaraki curled his hand around the front of Izuku's shirt, and slowly and deliberately set his fingers down. Before Izuku could wonder why his fingers hadn't all been there in the first place, he found his answer clear as day.

From under Shigaraki's fingertips, color leaked away like the change of the seasons. Izuku's shirt splintered into pieces like fallen leaves and then disappeared like winter had come, leaving exposed skin where the fabric had once been.

Izuku hit the ground as Shigaraki let him go. Then, in a movement too fast for Izuku to follow, Shigaraki pressed two careful fingers under Izuku's collarbone, where the shirt had disintegrated and left his bare skin.

"Careful," Shigaraki murmured, withdrawing his hand after a moment of lingering terror.

Then he took a step back. Behind him, something flickered across Hisashi's face before it settled into a cold detachment; he sat down again.

Izuku stood with trembling legs as Shigaraki stepped back to where he'd been. Izuku thought his legs would give out from under him, but miraculously he managed to stay standing. The terror, though, Izuku figured was probably clear on his face.

Shigaraki's Quirk… it was clearly a threat, the way he'd pressed his fingers to Izuku's skin. He'd been waiting for fear to seep into Izuku's veins. Shigaraki had destroyed the shirt—just a shirt, nothing more than material and fabric. And yet Izuku knew the point had been made: it could've been him.

"Attending U.A., aren't you?"

Izuku nodded.

"Good," Shigaraki said, "and actually, I do have to thank you for your work these past few months. You've been very helpful these past few months…"

"I have?" Izuku croaked.

Shigaraki's eyes glinted.

"All Might won't be number one for long," Shigaraki told Izuku, delight evident in his voice. "A little longer, and you'll get to see him fall. You and I, at the heart of it."

"Are you done?" Hisashi drawled. Smoke curled around his face.

"Hm," Shigaraki hummed, nodding at Izuku, "I suppose. The League will need your assistance in the upcoming months… you're lucky. I think we have matters to discuss?"

He'd spoken the last question to Hisashi, turning his back on Izuku. A dismissal that Izuku was all too grateful for.

Izuku beat a hasty retreat, bolting out the door and in the direction of his room. Once he was back, he made straight for the bathroom.

His head spun wildly, but Izuku managed to take the few, stumbling steps to the toilet bowl. His throat burned as Izuku retched, forehead pressed to his arms.

Izuku's vision blurred with tears. Then he retched again, until his stomach was empty, and sat back, gasping.

His stomach lurched, and Izuku dove back to the toilet, but nothing came up. He reached blindly for a wad of tissues and wiped at his mouth, then flushed everything down.

He couldn't seem to put his thoughts together. It was all a jumbled, whirling mess, a howling wind that Izuku couldn't escape no matter how he put his arms up to shield himself from it.

Hisashi, the Dragon, father and villain. Miss Guidance and Bonestealer. Izuku could deal with them. He didn't know everything about them—in Miss Guidance and Bonestealer's cases, he knew very little—but he knew enough. Izuku could press his luck, knew which buttons to press and which to not, where he could get away with something. With Chimera, Izuku felt like he was looking at its members through a hazy smoke. He could make out their silhouettes, could see their edges, and now and then, he'd catch a glimpse of their faces.

Shigaraki, though? Seeing him now, tasting the dredges of his power, the way he'd spoken about All Might… it was terrifying. He was a completely unknown factor, an unpredictable variable. Izuku thought he'd seen his true face in the short conversation they'd had, and it scared him.

Izuku didn't know the extent Shigaraki would go to in order to achieve his goals. Izuku had no idea what Shigaraki could do, what power he commanded. Unpredictable things, Izuku had learned, were dangerous. Uncontrollable things were worse.

Izuku gagged again but kept it down, the taste of acid in his mouth. He sat there for what felt like hours, crying into the crook of his arm. When Izuku thought he had nothing left to give, he got slowly to his feet and wet a towel, wiping at his face.

The bathroom was dark but lit enough that Izuku could make out his reflection in the mirror. Izuku gripped the edge of the counter and stared at himself for a moment, wondering what Toshinori saw in him, what Eraserhead saw in him, what Kacchan would say if he looked at Izuku now.

The truth was that Izuku didn't know.

God, what had Kacchan said? That day, before Izuku had left?

Don't you fucking dare give up, Deku. I can't beat you that way.

Izuku thought of Dagobah Beach and the piled mountains of trash he'd cleared away by himself. Progress. Progress, and progress.

"Okay," Izuku whispered, filling his spine with steel. He lifted his chin and looked his reflection in the eye. "Okay. You can't control Shigaraki. He can't control you."

He clenched his fist, calling One for All to the surface for a brief moment. It washed over his skin like burning sunlight, then returned to its place deep inside of him. An ember hidden in the dark coal.

If there was a way out, Izuku would find it. Already he'd seen cracks where the light seemed to be peeking through. It was only a matter of time before Izuku could claw his way into the bright day.

"Don't give up yet," Izuku told himself. He'd do the best he could, as much as he could.

Resolve was already beginning to fill him. Shigaraki stood waiting in Izuku's shadows with his mocking laugh and his red eyes, but Izuku shoved away his terror.

"No time to be scared," he decided—but the fear pulsed under Izuku's skin when he imagined Shigaraki's bony fingers dropping one by one, hand around Toshinori's neck. No, no

"No," Izuku said, and saying it out loud made the word solid and real. Like it held some kind of power that silence could not, like it was tangible now, and Izuku could hold it and shape it and wield it.

The fear that had dragged him under before receded slightly. Just enough for Izuku to get his head above the surface and breathe.

And think.

Shigaraki had created something with power to kill All Might. A weapon, perhaps, some powerful force or creature to rival All Might's strength.

Izuku strode across his room to his bed and took his notebook from its hiding place under his mattress.

He'd known of plans, as vague as they were, to defeat All Might. Izuku had known that since the beginning. He hadn't known about Shigaraki or his League of Villains, and he certainly hadn't known that Shigaraki wanted to kill All Might.

Izuku ripped out the first few pages of his notebook, crumpling them up and tossing them in the direction of the trash can.

They had All Might's weaknesses. Or some of them, at least, the little Izuku had given them, bits and breadcrumbs.

They had power, they had connections, they had Izuku.

Izuku, who could take apart heroes' pieces and pinpoint what made them click. How they worked. Izuku, who could pick apart heroes.

Izuku, who could just as easily pick apart villains.

There was nothing Izuku could do to stop Shigaraki or Chimera. Their plans, whatever they were, had already been set into motion. Izuku was along for the ride.

On the fresh page of his notebook, Izuku wrote in large letters with a shaking hand:

SHIGARAKI

Izuku stared at the name for a second. Under it, taking a deep breath, Izuku wrote the next part.

Weaknesses.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter seven


Toshinori texted Izuku in the middle of the night.

It was normally a time Izuku would've been asleep, but he'd stayed up to do some research. Then Izuku had gone down the rabbit hole that was hero analysis forums, and he hadn't slept yet.

Buzz.

Toshinori 3:49 AM 
Back.

It was only a single word, but the fact that the text existed at all made Izuku leap up out of his chair in excitement. He read it again—though there was little to it—and ran a lap around his room, careful not to make noise lest he woke one of the others.

It'd been close to two weeks since Izuku had heard from Toshinori. After the first week, he'd kept tabs closely on the media for any sighting of All Might. The only articles that had come up were ones that, like Izuku, were speculating about All Might's absence.

No one had been extremely worried, of course. He was Japan's greatest hero, for one, and heroes were often hidden from the public eye when going on missions. The rumors started as they always did. Maybe All Might was tracking down a dangerous criminal or busting a yakuza. Maybe All Might was visiting a secret family, or taking care of an illegitimate son. Maybe All Might had decided to leave society to become a hermit, which Izuku had found screenshotted to show Toshinori later on.

That Toshinori was back and Izuku hadn't heard anything on the news meant that Toshinori had texted Izuku first. The thought, with his screen like a rectangle of light in the dark, made a soft warmth curl in Izuku's chest.

You 4:00 AM
Is everything okay?

Toshinori 4:00 AM 
Did I wake you? I'm sorry, I should've waited until morning.

You 4:01 AM
...No, it's okay.

You 4:02 AM 
Are you okay though?

Toshinori 4:03 AM 
I'm okay. The case didn't go like we wanted, but no bad injuries on our part. Everyone came out okay, which is what matters.

Izuku breathed a long sigh of relief he'd been holding for two weeks.

You 4:06 AM 
...I'm glad.

You 4:10 AM 
Thank you for telling me

Toshinori 4:12 AM
go to sleep, Akatani. We can talk in the morning. I'll be here.

Izuku clicked his desk lamp off and slipped into bed. He waited until he was under the covers, tucked away safely before he scrolled through the conversation again. Izuku reread it, short as it was, and found himself smiling when he drifted off to sleep.

It was late when he woke up again, the sunlight already harsh through the window. Izuku sat up, realizing he'd fallen asleep with his phone in his hand, though it'd fallen from his grip in the night.

He rubbed at his face and suddenly remembered Toshinori had contacted him in the hazy hours of the early morning. He clicked his phone on but found it out of power, then lunged for his charging cable.

"C'mon," Izuku said, staring as the phone lit up, charging symbol on screen. It'd be a few minutes before he could start it up, so Izuku took the time to wash up and get ready.

The phone booted up easily when he got back. Izuku went straight to his messages, noting that it was already close to noon. He hadn't been woken by anyone, which hopefully meant that it was going to be a quiet day. No one needed him yet, it seemed.

Toshinori had texted him, a simple good morning followed by a query if Izuku was free to meet.

You 11:45 AM
If you're not too tired or anything. We can meet another time.

Toshinori 11:50 AM 
I'm fine. I'll introduce you to Naomasa, maybe.

You 11:50 AM 
Naomasa?

Toshinori 11:51 AM 
My detective friend. He's a human lie detector, if you will.

You 11:53 AM 
HE's A WHAT

You 11:53 AM 
YOURE INTRODUCING ME

You 11:54 AM 
Omg how does it work

You 11:54 AM  [Draft]
Can he detect all lies. What if you're only half-lying

Toshinori 11:54 AM 
Ask him, not me.

You 11:55 AM
Sorry I got really excited. When do you want to meet

They set up a time for afternoon tea. Izuku started the day off feeling cheerful, humming as he went to the room next door and knocked.

"It's open!"

Izuku peered in. Silver was spread out on her bed, reading a book. She smiled when she saw him.

"Finally woke up, huh?"

Izuku stifled a yawn. "...Yeah. Are the others here?"

"Nah, they all left. Miss Guidance and Bonestealer went off together for something, and Hisashi went to meet, well—"

"Shigaraki?"

Silver raised an eyebrow. "They told you."

"You didn't," Izuku pointed out, "and Hisashi introduced me."

Silver didn't look very sorry. She shrugged. "I didn't think you needed to know. Or wanted to know."

"I guess," Izuku muttered. The mention of Shigaraki still made a chill run down his spine.

"Hey, what are you doing at night? I can hear you through the wall."

Izuku winced. "Sorry, am I being too loud?"

Silver shook her head. "I was up, too. New project or something."

"Or something," Izuku replied, "but… it's a secret."

Silver considered him for a moment. She and Miss Guidance had the same colored eyes, like dark pools Izuku found himself drowning in. He'd never noticed the similarity, but Miss Guidance had flecks of gold in her eyes. A side effect of her Quirk, Silver had told him.

"I won't ask," she decided. "How's prep for U.A.?"

Izuku groaned. "I've trained more in the past few months than I have in my entire life."

"Aw, Bonestealer treating you well?"

Izuku snorted. "That's one way of putting it."

They sat together for a little while before hunger called Izuku away. He drifted into the kitchen, going through the pantry for anything he could eat. Someone had brought bread; Izuku cooked an egg and folded two pieces of bread around it, eating it while sitting on the countertop.

It wasn't a particularly filling breakfast—or lunch—but it was enough to keep Izuku going. He suddenly found himself craving katsudon, just the way Mom made it. He'd tried a couple times to replicate it, but he'd never been able to get it right.

After eating, Izuku checked in with Silver a last time before heading to the train station. He usually liked walking or jogging, but the tea shop Toshinori had selected was a bit far out. Izuku didn't like being late.

Izuku stood close to the edge of the platform as the train rolled in. Smooth and quiet, it pulled to a stop and buffeted Izuku's hair back.

He waited for a few people to get off and then squeezed in. He found a place to stand and held onto the railing.

Someone bumped into him. Izuku managed to keep ahold of the railing, but he stumbled slightly.

"Oh!" a girl said, brown eyes wide. "I'm so sorry!"

Izuku shifted, uncomfortable. "No, uh… it's fine. No problem."

The girl had large brown eyes set in a soft face, framed with shoulder-length brown hair. She looked kind, maybe excitable, right about Izuku's age.

"Where are you headed to?" she asked.

"Afternoon tea," Izuku answered shortly. He swept his gaze away from her, trying to find another open space, but the train was packed with people. He didn't like this—talking to strangers, having attention on him. The last time it'd happened, Izuku had been made the successor of the number one hero.

With a friendly girl on the train? Izuku wasn't going to take any chances.

It looked like he was out of luck, though. He sighed, counted to three, looked at the girl's smile, and gave up.

"What… what about you?" Izuku tried cautiously.

The girl's face lit up. "Headed to the library," she told him. "I'm studying for the U.A. entrance exams?"

"You're, um, applying?"

"Yeah! I'm determined to get in."

"Uh, me, too."

The girl's eyes widened. "Really?"

Izuku was trying not to think about how close they were standing together or how invested she suddenly looked in the conversation. Izuku wasn't a conversationalist. The longer this lasted, the less Izuku would know what to say. Then he'd be reduced to stumbling over his words and a lot of nodding and yes-ing.

"Y-yeah."

"That's so cool! Are you applying to the hero course, too?"

He nodded.

"Hey—maybe we'll see each other in the entrance exams. It's less than two months away, huh?"

"Crazy, ri- right?"

"I'm super nervous, but I'm sure we'll both make it!"

The train slowed. Izuku shifted easily, catching his balance, but the girl was caught off guard. Before he knew what he was doing, Izuku grabbed her arm, keeping her from sliding too far or falling.

"Sorry," he said, letting go immediately.

"No need to apologize—thanks!" She smiled at him. Behind her, the doors hissed as they opened, and Izuku realized it was his stop.

"Oh, uh, gotta go, bye," he said hastily, stepping around her.

"Hey, wait!"

Izuku stepped onto the platform but looked back, catching the girl's eyes.

"I'll see you in the hero course."

The train doors shut. The girl reached up and grabbed a hanging strap, but she waved at him as the train pulled away from the stop. The last thing he caught of her was a smile, and feeling light, Izuku found himself smiling, too.

Toshinori and his detective friend were painfully easy to spot, standing outside on the curb waiting. Toshinori waved when he spotted Izuku, and Izuku waved back, crossing the road to reach them.

"This is Akatani," Toshinori introduced, "and young Akatani, this is my friend, Detective Tsukauchi."

Lie detector, Izuku's mind supplied him before he could open his mouth. Instead he nodded and smiled.

"Nice to meet you, detective," he said. Tsukauchi smiled, taking Izuku's hand.

"It's nice to meet you, too."

The three of them stepped inside, and in a blur, Izuku found himself seated with a cup of steaming tea in front of him.

"Applying to U.A., aren't you?"

"That's the plan," Izuku said. His mind drifted briefly back to the girl he'd met on the train.

Tsukauchi smiled. "A good goal. Hero work wasn't quite for me, but you should've seen Toshinori—"

Toshinori, sitting to Izuku's right, choked. He flapped a hand in Tsukauchi's face.

"Naomasa, don't—"

"Go on," Izuku invited, "I'm interested."

"Naomasa."

"Lighten up, old man," Tsukauchi said, and Izuku muffled a shriek of laughter. Toshinori coughed, recovering to glare at his friend.

"Old man? I'm not old."

"Alright," Tsukauchi said placatingly, but Izuku thought he caught a wink directed at him.

Toshinori frowned. "Hey. You're not old until you've reached Gran Torino's age. That's old."

"And look at how well he's doing."

"Gran Torino?"

The reactions of the two men were vastly different. Tsukauchi looked faintly bemused. Toshinori looked like he wanted to melt through the ground.

"He's a retired pro hero," Tsukauchi said after a moment. "But you wouldn't know that being with him. Very energetic, that one."

"Energetic, ha," Toshinori gasped. "He's worse than Chiyo."

Izuku filed the information away for later. Gran Torino, at the moment, looked like he'd be fun to hold a conversation with.

Tsukauchi patted Toshinori on the shoulder and nodded at Izuku.

"You'll meet him one day," he said, glancing at Toshinori, "actually, I bet you'll meet him relatively soon. With that Quirk of yours, you know—"

Toshinori buried his head in his arms. "No…"

Izuku raised his eyebrows. "You know?"

"I know."

"He knows," Toshinori said, voice muffled.

"Toshinori here is actually quite bad at keeping secrets, if you didn't know. I'm surprised the whole world doesn't know everything about him."

Izuku sipped at his tea and then cocked his head.

"So, your Quirk…" he started.

"Off he goes," Toshinori muttered. Izuku ignored him.

"How does it work?" Izuku blurted. "Sorry, I'm really into Quirk theory, see, and I've heard of lie-detecting Quirks, but they all work kind of differently? What counts as a lie? Is it, how accurate is it?"

Tsukauchi chuckled. He didn't seem thrown by Izuku's flurry of words, which was a nice change. Instead he only seemed pleasantly surprised.

"I can tell when people lie," he started, resting his chin on his hand. "It's fairly accurate. My sister has a similar Quirk, but hers is contact-based and more guesswork, since it's based on physical and sometimes visual cues. But my Quirk categorizes what people say as truth or lies."

"But isn't there a grey area? What if they're not outright lying? Or what if they're telling the truth, but it's not the whole truth? How does your Quirk work then?"

Tsukauchi's eyes shone with the challenge. He was a detective. Like Izuku, he had to like thinking, had to like exploring and pushing at the boundaries constantly. Already Izuku felt like they were beginning to understand each other in a different way than him and Toshinori—neither, of course, were bad things, but it was refreshing to find someone who asked and answered as many questions as Izuku did.

"Half-truths are harder to discern. Technicalities get muddy, but usually my Quirk will mark them as truth if the lie is small, insignificant, or closer to the truth."

Izuku was brimming with energy. "It's based on what people say, right? That's so useful! Is it hard to process?"

"Sometimes."

A waiter passed, offering a bowl of fortune cookies. Izuku took one, cracking it open as he thought.

"What about if someone believes something is true?" He waved a hand, trying to explain himself. "Like, um, I don't know, if someone dies, but the person you're talking to doesn't know that, and so they say that the other person is alive? Does that count as a lie?"

"It's situational, but for the most part, no. My Quirk marks it as true."

Izuku mulled the thought over.

"Wow," he said finally, "pretty cool."

Tsukauchi smiled gently. Izuku liked his smile; it was soft and kind, and from the hint of wrinkles around his eyes Izuku thought he smiled often.

"Thank you," he said, "though I think we might've confused Toshinori over there."

Izuku ducked his head, blushing. He'd almost forgotten about his mentor in his train of thought.

"So—sorry it was just so cool," he started. Toshinori snapped back into focus and laughed.

"You're excited," he said, "so it's fine. Not personally something I find riveting, but I'm glad the two of you can find conversation in each other."

"I could go on forever," Izuku warned Tsukauchi. He stuck half of the fortune cookie in his mouth. "Just a heads up. You might regret it."

"I'd be glad for it," Tsukauchi replied. "Get a good fortune?"

Izuku plucked out the strip of paper, reading over the front before flipping it over.

"The man on the top of the mountain did not fall there," he read. "Huh."

Izuku stuck it in his pocket, saving it for later. He ate the other half of his fortune cookie.

"Interesting," Toshinori said. He cracked his own fortune cookie open. "Enjoy the good luck a companion brings you. Mm, think I will."

Izuku's phone buzzed in his pocket. As Toshinori and Tsukauchi slipped into an easy conversation, Izuku checked his phone.

BS 2:31 PM 
Silver said you were out. Come back for a training session.

BS 2:32 PM 
I've got a surprise.

"Uh oh," Izuku murmured to himself. He didn't like surprises. Bonestealer, on the other hand, loved surprises.

"Everything alright?"

Izuku hummed distractedly. He stood, chair scraping back.

"Sorry, I think I have to go." He bowed to his companions. "Thank you for the tea… it was nice to meet you, Detective Tsukauchi."

Tsukauchi stood and shook Izuku's hand. "Likewise."

Izuku dipped his head in Toshinori's direction. "I'll see you, I guess. I'm glad you're alright."

Then Izuku hurried away.

A surprise training session. Izuku felt his body pulse in memory. He wasn't really looking forward to another training session with Bonestealer. It'd be another brutal afternoon, he supposed.

Despite his trepidation, Izuku wasted no time. He returned to the base and took the stairs down into the basement where Bonestealer was waiting.

At first, Izuku didn't see Bonestealer at all. Instead he found himself staring at a large hunk of twisted metal, light glinting off a dirty surface. He took a step back and tried to make sense of it.

There was a panel, and there, joints… a robot.

"Like it?" Bonestealer called.

Izuku looked up, craning his neck. Bonestealer was perched on the robot's head, kicking their legs back and forth in the air. They moved gracefully, leaping from part to part until they landed in front of Izuku.

"Uh… sure?"

"I did some research, see," Bonestealer said. "For their entrance exams, U.A. uses robots for the best simulation in the hero course. I don't know what kind specifically or how they work, but I figured they're all robots, right? In the end, they're all the same."

Izuku wasn't sure that was completely true, but he thought he understood where Bonestealer was going with it.

The robot Bonestealer had brought (found? Salvaged? Built? Izuku didn't know) was a little over two meters, twice Izuku's height. It stood close to the ceiling. It didn't look like anything Izuku imagined from U.A. This one was slightly rusted, and though Izuku didn't know much about robotics, he thought it looked outdated. Vaguely humanoid, it was missing a hand, but otherwise it seemed operational.

"You're going to need to be able to take down one of these," Bonestealer said. "And you're going to need to be able to do it as fast as possible. For the next few weeks, we're going to work in maneuvering with and around it, what things to break, what parts you can use, and how to win."

Izuku nodded slowly.

He didn't always appreciate Bonestealer's methods of training. But Izuku knew the next two weeks would be valuable in landing him a spot in the hero course.

"With a Quirk like yours, at least for the exam, it's going to be useless, kid."

"Yeah." Izuku blew out a breath. "I know."

"Illusions won't do shit against robots," Bonestealer continued.

Izuku nodded. He'd known that. Even if the robots could be tricked, Izuku wasn't sure he could concentrate on a full illusion while fighting at the same time. It wasn't practical.

"So… you're going to have to think fast."

While they'd been talking, Bonestealer had retreated to the corner of the room.

It was the only warning Izuku got before the robot whirred. Pale yellow eyes lit up as the head turned and locked on its target.

"Holy," Izuku shouted, diving to the side. The robot slammed a massive fist down where Izuku had been, but quickly recovered.

Izuku dodged, dancing around the robot. It was bigger than him. Fast.

He wasn't strong enough to beat it through sheer strength alone, though Izuku figured he could if he used One for All.

The arm came down again. Izuku skidded as the force sent him back, then threw himself forward. He clambered up the robot's arm. It shifted, trying to throw him off.

Izuku screeched as he slid, scrabbling at smooth metal. He managed to catch his fingers in a groove and was left hanging.

The robot swung around again. Izuku hooked his feet into the ridge of a plate and crawled onto its shoulder.

A hand arced back. Izuku couldn't move in time, and giant metal fingers crushed his foot. A burning pain shot through him, but Izuku dragged himself out of reach, clinging to the robot's neck.

Izuku gritted his teeth against the pain, wrapping his legs around the robot's neck to keep balance as he pulled a knife from the sheath at his waist. He worked the back panel off.

Underneath the silvery metal was a mesh of colored wires and lights. He thought back, scraping together the little knowledge he had, and found himself going blank with how to disable it.

Didn't matter, Izuku thought, catching a glimpse of Bonestealer's face.

"Fuck it," he hissed. Then Izuku drove the knife into the wires. Something sparked, heat against his palm. Underneath him, the robot shuddered and slowed to a stop.

"Not bad, kid," Bonestealer called.

Izuku carefully let himself down. When he landed, pain shot through his foot; Izuku crumpled, yelping.

Bonestealer studied Izuku as he wiped his eyes.

"Take care of that," they said finally, nodding at his foot. "We'll be back tomorrow. Don't be late."

Bonestealer left him stunned. He'd expected them to demand for Izuku to get up and continue training. Instead Izuku got up and limped over to the wall, slumping against it. He tested his weight on his bad foot and found it didn't look good.

Still, after Izuku poked at it for a minute, he figured it wasn't broken. He limped his way back to his room and wrapped it in bandages, then found a bag of frozen waffles in the fridge to pop on top of it.

Izuku went to get his phone and found his fingers touching something papery to the touch. It was the fortune from the fortune cookie.

The man on top of the mountain did not fall there.

Izuku considered it for a moment and took out his secret notebook. Carefully, he taped it on the inside of the front cover. There was something about the quote Izuku liked, though he wasn't sure what.

Then he put his notebook away and turned to the various textbooks and papers scattered about his room. With nothing else to do, Izuku figured, it was time to get back to work. U.A. was waiting.


Khhz—khhhhrzz… … kr—

A sound like static. Garbled, unintelligible voices.

"—changing. Something's different."

"Different?"

"It takes longer, now. Far longer than it should and far longer than it used to."

"Should we do anything?"

Footsteps. "No… for now, we wait and see—"

Khhhz… kh- khhrr—

Chapter Text

chapter eight

By the month the U.A. entrance exams were to take place, Izuku had broken his arm three times.

It wasn’t like Izuku was trying . It hurt. It was inconvenient. It was totally not fun.

It was lucky enough that Recovery Girl could fix it, but Izuku himself was not a particular fan of seeing her pinched, unimpressed face or being on the receiving end of a scolding. If there was one thing Toshinori feared, it was the wrath of a fed up old woman.

“You’re not even a student yet,” Recovery Girl had ranted, smacking the top of Izuku’s head with a manilla folder containing his personal files. “And the school year hasn’t started! Why do you have to give me all this trouble?”

“I’m sorry,” Izuku mumbled, “I know it’s not ideal.”

“Not ideal,” Recovery Girl repeated, in that tone of voice that meant she was about ready to go off again.

Toshinori recognized it, too.

“Chiyo,” he interrupted.  

Evidently, it was the wrong thing to say.

Recovery Girl whirled on Toshinori, directing her anger at him this time.

“You! Don’t get me started. He’s just as reckless as you are! Where did you find this kid?”

“We ran into each other,” Izuku supplied, “and then fought a villain under a bridge.”

“Of course you did.” Recovery Girl threw up her hands. “When you said you were looking for a successor, I thought you might someone who was a bit more— gah, a bit less… you.

Neither Izuku nor Toshinori knew what to say to that, so instead they remained silent. Recovery Girl sighed, seeming to lose the fight.

“You’re a good kid,” she grumbled after a moment. She smacked Izuku again with the folder. “But I’m not going to see you again until after you start U.A., understood?”

Izuku blinked back at her with wide eyes, marvelling at how easily she’d talked about him being a U.A. student.

“Uh, yeah,” Izuku chirped.

“I mean it. I’ve gotten more grey hairs this month than I have the past five years. You’re both terrible.”

“Thanks, Chiyo.”

Recovery Girl hobbled back to her desk and waved the two of them off.

“I don’t want to see you. Get out.”

“See you later, Recovery Girl,” Izuku said, waving with the hand she’d healed to make sure it was working properly. “Thanks for the help!”

“Way later,” she called after them.

“That woman will be the death of me,” Toshinori groused as they walked away. “Actually, so will you.”

He stopped suddenly in the middle of the hall and put both hands on Izuku's shoulders.

“You cannot keep hurting yourself like this,” he said quietly, “and perhaps that speaks to my– incompetence as a teacher–”

“Don't say that,” Izuku cut in sharply. “That's not true.”

“–but we need to find a way for you to control One for All without hurting yourself. This can’t last.”

Izuku stretched his hand out in front of him. Already, pale scarring marred it—not particularly noticeable until he was looking closely, but it was there.

“No,” he agreed, “but I don’t know how .”

Toshinori shifted into his hero form. The shadows on his face made him look even more serious.

“Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out together.” All Might looked troubled. “Maybe I should call…”

“Are you two just going to stand in the hallway gossiping?”

Eraserhead shuffled down the hall. He wasn’t in his sleeping bag this time, but Izuku thought he looked perpetually tired. The pro hero swept a dull gaze over All Might and Izuku. His eyes lingered on Izuku for a moment.

“Do I know you,” he said.

Izuku’s heart trembled in his chest.

“I mean, y-you saw me last, last time?” He clasped his hands together so they wouldn’t shake. “In the teacher’s lounge. Uh.”

Eraserhead narrowed his eyes at Izuku.

“Hmph,” he said finally. He hadn’t made the connection, then. Izuku let out a quiet sigh of relief. “You look like someone I... but—it wasn’t clear.”

“Maybe we just look similar,” Izuku suggested, reaching up to tug at his black hair. He kept his appearance plain most of the time—just average, someone to pass on the street and not look twice at.

Eraserhead seemed to mull over it for a second. It was the longest Izuku had seen him take interest in Izuku, which was a strange feeling. Then he dropped it.

“Hmph,” he said again, taking Izuku in one more time before turning his gaze to All Might. “I have lessons to prepare. Move your talk somewhere else.”

“Ah— Aizawa,” All Might said. “I actually wanted to ask for your help.”

Eraserhead’s gaze flickered to Izuku. “ You … want to ask for my help.”

All Might tried for a smile. “Would it help if I say please?”

Eraserhead crossed his arms. “You’ve got thirty seconds to convince me.”

All Might tipped his head in Izuku’s direction. “He needs help controlling the effects of his Quirk. Your Quirk lets you do things I can’t. He’s got potential—he just needs help.”

Eraserhead didn’t look particularly convinced. In fact, he didn’t look very convinced at all.

“Potential,” he said. He frowned. “You can’t even control your own Quirk?”

“I’m a late bloomer,” Izuku blurted, before All Might could edge in a word. “Really, really late bloomer. Uh. So I don’t really, it’s not, yeah.”

Eraserhead narrowed his eyes. He pointed between the two of them.

“Why—”

“We ran into each other,” Izuku said, the same thing he’d told Recovery Girl. “And fought a villain under a bridge. So, yeah. Origin story.”

“It’s true,” Izuku added defensively when All Might looked like he was about to protest.  

Eraserhead grumbled something under his breath. Then, louder, “We’ll see.”

We’ll see wasn’t a hard no , which meant that Eraserhead was at least willing to give it a shot. Izuku bounced on his feet cheerily. All Might was right—it was hard for the two of them to figure out Izuku’s problems, but in the meantime, Eraserhead could take away One for All if it got too dangerous.

“Am I allowed to be here?” Izuku asked as they walked to a training area. “Since I'm not actually a U.A… woah .”

The training area was huge. Izuku should've expected it – U.A. was only the best hero school, but…

Izuku spun in a slow circle, taking it in. There wasn't much, probably because the room wasn't in constant use. Izuku tried to imagine what kind of setups they could fill this place with. City simulations, maybe? A fight ring? With a mix of Quirks and technology, Izuku knew, the possibilities were endless.

“You're fine,” Eraserhead said briskly. He was already laying down a set of padded mats. Izuku appreciated it; if he was sparring, he'd probably be tossed like a doll.

“You'll fight me,” All Might said, sending Izuku a shit-eating grin.

Izuku gulped. “Y-you sure?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Remember last time?”

They'd sparred together a few times. Izuku, with his experience and training, had been good enough to at least stay on defense and landed a few hits in. The last time, though, Toshinori had encouraged Izuku to try summoning his new power and strength to block, instead of attack, and the next thing Izuku knew he'd been punched straight into the ocean.

“Ah…” All Might scratched his head. “Sorry about that.”

There was a large thwump as Eraserhead dropped the last practice mat onto the floor. He glared across at them.

Izuku stripped off the light jacket he we wearing. All Might stalked across the mat and sent Izuku a predatory grin that would've made Izuku shiver if he hadn't known who the man was. He then flexed impressively. Eraserhead rolled his eyes.

“This was not a good idea,” Izuku whispered to himself. Usually it was just him and Toshinori, or him and Bonestealer. Now they had an audience , and not only that, but the audience was Eraserhead , who a) had been looking for Izuku for a while and b) was possibly his future teacher.

And, well, the fact that he didn't look like he wanted to be here.

Definitely not a good idea.

“Come on, young Akatani!” All Might shouted.

Izuku bounced on his feet and rolled his shoulders back. He had to be smart about it. With One for All destroying his arm every time he used it, Izuku only had one chance to fully push the extent of his abilities. Really, two times, if Izuku didn't pass out from pain, but he was used to pain.

One for All was easy to call to the surface now. Izuku twisted his fingers and felt the power pulsing there, running along the inside of his wrist and hot against his skin.

Eraserhead stood nearby, watching. When Izuku turned to look at him, their eyes met; Izuku broke the gaze quickly, not sure what Eraserhead would see.

With One for All at the ready and All Might waiting, Izuku charged.

He went straight for the chest and saw All Might move to block. Then Izuku twisted, snapping out a leg instead.

All Might was sent forward a few steps. He grinned. Izuku didn't let up, pulling back One for All and aiming for the face.

All Might caught Izuku's hand. A flash. Izuku hit the ground rolling, the air knocked out of him.

He was back on his feet in an instant. All Might was there to meet him, a blur of color in Izuku's face. All Might was holding back– Izuku knew this because he was flicked back onto the floor instead of flattened against a wall.

All Might advanced. Izuku went in close, gripping All Might's arm and striking out with a foot at the same time. Power surged under his skin. Izuku stopped thinking and breathed , and something inside of him snapped quietly.

All Might slammed into the ground. He blinked up at Izuku, surprised and with a trace of pride. Izuku didn’t stop to think about what had happened. He called on One for All, and the Quirk sang in his blood.

All Might got to his feet. There was blood on the corner of his mouth.

“Look at you,” he said lowly.

The air crackled with energy as Izuku ran forwards, bringing his arm back and then swinging with all his might. Electricity coursed through his forearm and culminated white hot in Izuku’s fingers.

He watched in slow motion as All Might prepared to connect, could almost see One for All mirrored in both of them. A strange, living power.

The blast of power sent them both back. Izuku dug his heels in, trying to gain friction as he skidded. All Might, arms crossed over his chest, slowed. His head was bowed.

At the edge of the practice mats, Eraserhead had taken a step forward. His eyes were narrowed—he was interested , Izuku thought.

But none of that mattered.

Izuku raised his hand from his side, still clenched tight in a fist. His knuckles were throbbing, but…

“It’s not broken,” Izuku said slowly. “It’s… it’s not? It’s not broken .”

All Might lifted his eyes up to look at Izuku. He took a few steps forward to see for himself, and Izuku held out his arm so All Might could see that it wasn’t, in fact, broken.

“You did it,” All Might said wondrously. He laughed.

Izuku took a step forwards. Eraserhead was still watching; just beyond All Might, he locked eyes with Izuku deliberately and then nodded slowly, just once.

Izuku slipped his other hand back, fingers grazing fabric.

In one fluid motion, Izuku drew his knife and took two careful, planned steps forward. He brought the knife up and pressed its tip to All Might’s chest under the throat, not close enough to pose any real threat or damage but close enough for it to be clear that Izuku could .

“Yeah,” Izuku said. In between breaths he managed a smile. “I did it.”

All Might looked floored, but his smile didn’t falter. Instead he only smiled wider.

Izuku lowered his knife and slipped it back in its sheath, clothing falling over it so it didn’t even appear to be there.

He glanced over at Eraserhead, vying silently for approval.

“I didn’t even have to use my Quirk,” Eraserhead said after a moment, which was probably as close to a compliment Izuku was going to get. He frowned lightly. “But I can tell your grasp on your Quirk is terrible. You’re barely controlling it if at all. It’s like watching a young child develop their Quirk.”

Considering Izuku hadn’t even received One for All but a month ago, the assessment was fair. He was like a toddler, bumbling around trying to figure out the world without breaking too many things.

Eraserhead crossed his arms, apparently not done. “If you want to make it into U.A.—if you want to succeed as a U.A. student, you’re going to need to work a lot harder. No one will care if you’re a… late bloomer, as you say. They’ll leave you behind in the dust if you can’t.”

Izuku nodded frantically. “I know.”

“Get to it, then.”

They decided to test Izuku’s limits. Since he’d been successful sparring with All Might—or, at least, he hadn’t broken an arm—they continued down that route. Izuku left that day with both arms intact.

And so the work continued.

Izuku spent the weeks being tossed between Bonestealer and his new training at U.A., working with robots and One for All alike. It left him exhausted, but Izuku was improving.

At some point in the chaos, Izuku asked Eraserhead if U.A. would allow him to bring a knife to the exam. Eraserhead considered him for a moment.

Eraserhead shrugged. “It’s not against the rules,” he said after thinking for a moment. Then he told Izuku to stay put, disappeared, and reappeared with a set of dull knives. On closer inspection, when Izuku tapped the blade, they seemed to be made of a hard plastic. U.A. Support Dept. was inscribed on the hilts.

“They can still do a bit of damage,” Eraserhead said. “The support department developed the material—they’re meant for training, but they’ll work in the exam.”

Izuku weighed the knives in his hand. They were lighter than his own, but durable. Considering he only needed them to cut at wires or weak spots, Eraserhead was right. They would work just fine in the exam.

Under Bonestealer’s watchful eye and armed with his new knives, Izuku learned to dismantle robots. Which places he could nick with knives, which points he could hit to incapacitate them. How simple, how easy they were to take down if Izuku only knew what to do.

“You’re improving,” Eraserhead told Izuku grudgingly after a training session.

All Might had bowed out, citing work to do with Detective Tsukauchi, but Izuku knew he was reaching his time limit, too. Izuku and Toshinori had decided not to tell Eraserhead how much Izuku knew, figuring it was better to keep the secrets between them.

Eraserhead knew about the time limit and the hero-civilian forms, but not about One for All. It was better to keep the circle closed and as in the dark as possible, Toshinori reasoned. Looking too closely, Eraserhead could probably make all the right connections.

And, he added privately, he didn’t want him to get the wrong impression before U.A. or before getting to know Izuku.

Izuku didn’t particularly have any issues with Toshinori’s thinking. He himself was more neutral; he thought Eraserhead could be trusted, but it wasn’t bad to keep him in the dark either.

“I… am?”

Eraserhead grunted. He’d wrapped himself in a blanket and was hunkered down on the couch in the teachers’ lounge. In front of him was a set of books—Izuku wasn’t envious.

“How does your Quirk work?”

Izuku paused, waiting for Eraserhead’s attention, and then launched into thought.

“Like, you have to be looking at someone, right? That’s what the goggles are for, better in a fight for keeping the enemy from knowing. And it’s like, one person at a time? No—no, that’s not right, that’s not right, I guess you’d affect the Quirk factor…”

Eraserhead looked over. “Those are your own thoughts? About my Quirk?”

Izuku flushed. “We-well, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. It’s really interesting. I mean, I think I’ve seen you target multiple people at once, so so I assume it’s, uh, based on concentration?

“And your fighting style is focused on close-combat. I mean, I haven’t seen you fight much, but that would make the most sense, to disable someone’s Quirk and then go in with your weapon and take your opponent out.

“So now I’m thinking, well, it would be easy to just obscure your vision, right? Or when you blink. Someone could take advantage of that, if they watched close enough in a fight, though I guess you’re probably fast enough to end it before anyone could figure it out. But then there’s your hair, well, there’s nothing wrong with your hair, but it’d get in the way of a fight.”

Izuku tapped his chin, already going down a few rabbit holes.

“And—”

“Stop,” Eraserhead said, and Izuku snapped his mouth shut with an audible sound.

“Sorry, did I—I get a little excited, uh.”

Eraserhead held up a hand. He touched his hair gently.

“You think this would hinder me in a fight?”

Izuku floundered for a moment, surprised at Eraserhead’s question.

“Well… yes?” He found his fingers twitching, wanting to write down his thoughts, but he forced them to lie flat on his knees.

“I mean, it’s really long, and it floats out of your face when you activate your Quirk. At least—well, see, I looked up a few videos after I met you since I was interested. By the way, those are really hard to find. Which is good, I guess, you’re an underground hero, so the less popular the— anyway, yeah. I noticed after you used your Quirk your hair falls back in front of your eyes. There’s a second of distraction that could be used against you.”

Izuku cleared his throat in embarrassment when Eraserhead remained silent for a moment.

“Hm,” Eraserhead said.

Izuku wasn’t sure what to make of that answer.

“You figured all that out yourself?”

Izuku flushed again. “Um, yeah.”

Eraserhead’s mouth twitched. “Not a bad assessment. What do you think of Present Mic?”

“Uh… what do I think of him? He’s really… loud? But he’s nice!”

Eraserhead snorted. “You’re not wrong, but I meant his Quirk. How do you think it works?”

“Oh! Oh, right. Um, well, he can just make his voice really loud, right? It’s good for inhibiting people, but he could be really distracting to allies if they’re not prepared or he could hurt them, too, if he’s not careful. It’s a little hard to tell, I guess he doesn’t really have a limit unless his throat gets dry? I don’t know.”

“Anything else?”

“The most practical application of his voice is against other people. But I guess theoretically he could break things with his voice, if he produced enough pressure? I’m no scientist, but it’d be easy to test.”

Eraserhead hummed. He reached across the table, shuffling around some things before fishing out a book and tossing it in Izuku’s direction. Izuku caught it.

“A book on Quirk theory, if you’re interested,” Eraserhead said. “Nedzu would love to get his paws on you, I bet.”

“Thanks?” Izuku said, flipping through the first few pages of the book. It did look interesting.

Eraserhead wasn’t one to talk, so the conversation stilted.

But after that, Eraserhead seemed a little more willing to talk when they found themselves together. He had Izuku talking strategy: what worked in fights and what didn’t, what limitations there were to this Quirk and that one.

Izuku had a pretty solid grasp on Eraserhead’s little pop quizzes, if they could be called that. Maybe they were more like discussions. Whatever they were, Eraserhead started them, and then usually sat back half-asleep to nod along as Izuku started prattling his thoughts. Occasionally he’d chip in, pointing something out that Izuku hadn’t thought of, or to ask another question.

It was kind of a bad thing; Izuku realized he quite liked Eraserhead.

“I just don’t get why my arm breaks every time,” Izuku grumbled one day, sprawling on the floor of the teachers’ lounge. Toshinori was gone again. “Except for when I’m fighting you or All Might.”

“I erase your Quirk.”

“Except for when I’m fighting All Might,” Izuku corrected, sighing. Eraserhead was right—every time the two of them sparred, he simply switched One for All off.

“Don’t you have any theories in that fluff-filled head of yours?”

Izuku frowned. “Fluff-filled?”

“You’re going to need to figure out something,” Eraserhead said shortly. “You can’t break your arm every time you use your Quirk. There’s no way you’ll be a hero if you do. The power you possess doesn’t matter if you’re going to put yourself and other people in danger.”

Izuku sucked in a harsh breath. He’d known that, of course. Eraserhead had made it clear he wasn’t going to help train Izuku if he had no potential, or if Izuku was going to act stupid in chasing his dreams.

Not to mention, Eraserhead tended to be particularly blunt.

It just— hurt, to hear. Izuku didn’t think he had another path outside of heroics.

“Yeah,” he said finally. Izuku picked at the floor mat. “I’ve been thinking about how my Quirk works, I just—can’t figure it out.”

It wasn’t like All Might went around breaking his arms all the time, or any of his predecessors. It was an Izuku-only problem, and there weren’t a lot of people he could ask.

“You’d better,” Eraserhead said. “You won’t last long in U.A. if you don’t.”

Izuku blew out air. “I know.”

“Why not focus on how to channel it, then?”

Izuku’s interest piqued. “My Quirk?”

Eraserhead gave a long-suffering sigh. He stared forlornly at his sleeping bag for a second and then got to his feet with another sigh.

“Come on, problem child.”

“Problem child?” Izuku said to Eraserhead’s back.

“Hm. You seem like the type to always be in trouble.”

Izuku tugged at his sleeve. “Maybe…”

They went back to the gym. Eraserhead, Izuku was pleased to see, clipped his hair back to clear his vision. The sight made Izuku feel warm. So Eraserhead had been listening—and he’d taken the advice, too.

“Come on,” Eraserhead said, beckoning to himself.

Izuku hesitated, balancing on the balls of his feet. He considered the distance between the two of them for a moment.

Eraserhead would activate his Quirk, and then he’d use his capture weapon to snare Izuku. He was quick and agile, relentless in his attack because his style gave him no room otherwise.

But Izuku didn’t really have a choice. He was supposed to use One for All, in their hopes that more practice would give him an idea of how to use it without hurting himself. But it hadn’t worked. It wasn’t working. Izuku was stuck in a cycle, not sure how to break out.

Now One for All came to him easily. Izuku breathed, and One for All rose. A tidal wave of power he’d quickly gotten used to, though every time the wave fell Izuku got swept away in its wake. That was the problem: that Izuku couldn’t find a way to keep afloat, or to slow the tide.

He felt the power thrum through his body. Izuku ran forward—

—and the fight paused before it had really begun.

Eraserhead’s eyes shone with power, and Izuku hissed out a breath as One for All slipped from his grasp. It felt like a candle had been put out, and now there was just cold.

Where Izuku’s fist was outstretched, about to impact, Eraserhead had caught it in his capture weapon. Izuku was held there as Eraserhead stepped closer.

“See,” Eraserhead said, “you’re not changing anything. You’re not doing anything different. The results won’t change, either.”

He released Izuku and stepped back. One for All returned to Izuku, gentle but deep in its power.

“What good are you doing?” Eraserhead asked. The words cut at Izuku’s heartstrings. “What good does it do you, to repeat your mistakes? You’re just going to hurt yourself, again.”

He was right. Izuku was just going to keep breaking his arm until he physically couldn’t, and then what good would that do? How was Izuku going to save people if he couldn’t even make through a year?

He needed a new solution, but that wasn’t quite so simple. It wasn’t realistic; it would take time and practice and careful thought, and Izuku probably wouldn’t figure it out before U.A., anyway.

“Not a solution,” Izuku murmured to himself. Eraserhead made no move to attack, instead settling back to watch as Izuku talked himself through his thoughts.

“Not a solution, not a solution. But maybe a resolution instead…”

Something else .

He didn’t have to fix the problem, Izuku realized. That wasn’t working. He had to change the problem and limit its damage until he could .

“I have an idea,” Izuku told Eraserhead.

Eraserhead scrutinized Izuku closely, then nodded.

“I won’t erase your Quirk this time,” Eraserhead said, readying himself.

Izuku chewed on his lip, but he took a deep breath, determined. He could do it.

When Eraserhead was ready, Izuku charged forward again. He curled his fingers at his side. One for All came to him to a rush, pulsing through his entire body.

Izuku raised his arm and felt One for All speed down it. His hand burned.

At the last possible second, Izuku flicked a finger out and released.

Heat pulsed through Izuku’s finger as his power was discharged. A blast of energy emanated from his hand, and Eraserhead was flung back—at least a few meters.

Izuku clutched at his wrist, not daring to think his plan had worked. His hand ached.

Slowly, Izuku lifted his arm and found he could still move it. Found the skin there unblemished, his arm as whole as it’d been before.

As Eraserhead landed on his feet and approached to see what had happened, Izuku looked up at grinned at him. He held up a hand, where only Izuku’s index finger had shattered under One for All’s power. Nothing else.

“Look,” Izuku said.

Eraserhead didn’t smile. He didn’t even look mildly encouraging. But the approval in his eyes—as hard to tell as it was—filled Izuku with joy.

“Still broken,” Eraserhead said.

“Yeah,” Izuku replied, but he was beaming. “Do you think All Might will be proud?”

Eraserhead rolled his eyes. “I think All Might is easily impressed by you. His expectations are too low.”

“Oof,” Izuku said, like that had been a physical blow.

“Go to the infirmary.”

Izuku pulled a face. Recovery Girl wouldn’t be happy to see him again—but maybe she’d be happy he’d only broken a finger.

It was better than an arm, and it meant that Izuku still had the mobility to finish a fight. On top of that, Izuku had enough training and experience that not using One for All wasn’t going to be a problem.

Now, Izuku thought, between breaking a couple fingers and his skill, he was probably on par with the average U.A. applicant in power.

Izuku found himself smiling again.

“Thanks, Eraserhead,” he hollered over his shoulder, scampering away.

He thought he heard Eraserhead sigh behind him.

Izuku was right about Recovery Girl. She frowned when she saw Izuku pop his head through the door.

“Not your arm again,” she groused.

Izuku bounced up and down.

“Look!” He held up his hand to show her. “Not my arm again.”

“Let me see.”

Recovery Girl hobbled over from her desk and took his hand so she could examine it.

“So you did it,” she mused. “Congratulations, boy.”

“It’s progress,” Izuku said, starting to babble as Recovery Girl had him sit down. She kissed his hand. “I mean, I’d like to eventually not break anything. But this is great, don’t you think?”

“Sure, sure,” Recovery Girl said. “Come back when you figure out how to use One for All without breaking a thing, and then I’ll celebrate.”

Izuku grinned. “But then I won’t have to come back at all!”

“Cheeky boy.” She pinched his arm, and Izuku yelped, leaping off the bed. “I don’t want to see you.”

“I thought you liked me,” Izuku said, putting on a smile.

“Get out of my sight,” Recovery Girl said.

Izuku saluted. He darted out into the hallway before she could chase him out, then found his phone and ran back in.

“What, boy.”

Izuku opened his camera and snapped a picture of himself with Recovery Girl in the background, beaming.

“Hey—”

“Thanks, Recovery Girl! You’re the best!”

Out in the hall, this time chased by Recovery Girl, Izuku sent the picture to Toshinori.

You 3:21 PM
[Attachment: Image]

You 3:22 PM
Guess who didn’t break his arm today?

Toshinori 3:24 PM
YOU WHAT

Toshinori 3:25 PM
I’ll be there as soon as I can. WELL DONE

Izuku couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

“You seem cheery,” Silver noted when Izuku snuck into her room later. “You honestly look like you’re about to explode.”

“Just happy,” Izuku said, sprawling on her bed.

“I hate to burst your bubble,” Silver said, “but I think the heads are splitting us up.”

It did, in fact, burst Izuku’s bubble. “Splitting us up?”

Silver ground her teeth together. A muscle in her jaw worked up and down.

“Yeah. Miss Guidance, Bonestealer, and I are staying here. You and daddy dearest are moving to some apartment or something.”

The warmth left Izuku’s face.

“Why?”

Silver didn’t look happy. She gestured between them. “You know they keep us apart. I think they’ve caught on that we sneak around to meet each other.”

Izuku made a face at her. “You make it sound like we’re secret lovers.”

“Shut up.”

“But… we’ve been doing this for a long time now. How’d they find out?”

Silver shook her head. “You tell me. We’re careful, but I guess we haven’t been careful enough.”

Izuku’s heart sank.

“Some apartment…?”

“Don’t worry so much,” Silver said. Her tail swung to rap him twice on the head. “It’s not like we won’t see each other anyway. They can’t stop us.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”

Do you have a secret lover after all?” Silver teased. “With how happy you are these days.”

Izuku flushed in embarrassment. “I don’t!”

“Oh,” Silver said, scooting closer. “You don’t?”

He kicked her, his face burning. “No! I don’t even know how to talk to girls!”

“You’re talking to a girl.”

Other girls, then,” Izuku said, then thought for a moment. “I don’t know how to talk to anyone in general . Like, what do normal people even talk about?”

Silver shrugged. “Not killing people, I guess.”

“You’re awful,” Izuku said.

“Never said I wasn’t.”

“I think this is just my life now,” Izuku confessed. “Sneaking around behind everyone’s back.”

“Traitor, you’re leaving me?”

Silver climbed onto the bed and draped herself over him like a heavy blanket. She didn’t budge when Izuku tried to shove her off.

“Silver,” he groaned, face pressed into the blankets.

“You had this coming.”

“Get oooff .”

“Tell me all your secrets,” Silver said, elbow accidentally digging into a sore spot as she changed positions. Izuku groaned.

“Get off.”

“Sorry, kid,” Silver said, and Izuku could tell she was smiling. “You’re not going to get rid of me ever.”

“I’m glad,” Izuku told her, “except when you’re on me .”

Toshinori chose that moment to text.

“It’s your girlfriend,” Silver said, dangling Izuku’s phone in front of his face. She moved it out of reach.

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Izuku grumbled. Silver let him up. “Or a boyfriend. Or any friends.”

“You’ve got me.”

“I’ve got you,” Izuku agreed.

And he had Toshinori.

And, weirdly, as the days passed and the entrance exams loomed—Izuku realized he had Recovery Girl and Eraserhead, too.

Not quite friends, not quite like Silver, but something good. Something better than what he had.

“Entrance exams are in a week,” All Might said the next time they met at U.A.

Izuku didn’t even look up from the book Eraserhead had given him.

“I know.”

“I wanted to tell you…”

“I know, I’ve got to keep—”

“No, no,” All Might said. Izuku used his finger as a bookmark and looked up. “You’re working hard. I don’t need to tell you that.”

“Then… what?”

“You’ve come really far,” All Might told him, “so I’m proud of you. No matter how those exams turn out, I’m glad I chose you.”

Izuku’s lip wobbled.

“Don’t cry.” All Might waved his hands. It was almost comical, seeing him in his hero form looking quite frantic. “I didn’t tell you so you could cry … no…”

“Sorry,” Izuku sniffled. “Can’t help it.”

He wiped at his eyes. “Thanks, All Might.”

“Saps,” came Eraserhead’s voice from behind them. “Emotion-filled lot.”

All Might smiled. “You care, Aizawa.”

“I really don’t,” Eraserhead said. “Are you done?”

“Y-yeah,” Izuku replied. Now was no time for crying. He had to keep going, and he knew Eraserhead had no patience for anything else.

They ran through a few rounds of training again.

With Izuku facing off All Might, he came out unharmed save for a few bruises from landing wrong. One for All buzzed in his chest, a strange, comforting feeling—or maybe it was pride.

“Do you think I’m ready?” Izuku asked afterwards.

“For the exams?”

He nodded.

All Might pounded a fist into his palm. “I think you’ll smash them!”

His moment was ruined when he coughed, hacking into his hand. Izuku dutifully handed him a tissue.

“You won’t be terrible, I suppose,” Eraserhead said. Izuku beamed.

They retreated to the teachers’ lounge—though in Izuku’s mind, it’d devolved into a teachers-and-student lounge, considering how often they let Izuku in.

“Ah, off I go,” All Might said suddenly. “Would you look at the time. I’m not here!”

He vanished out the door. Izuku stifled a laugh, but sighed, realizing he was at his time limit. He’d been working this morning—All Might was pushing himself, but Izuku knew he’d do the same if he was in the same position.

“Study much?”

Izuku yawned. “Yeah, I’ve been cramming non-stop.”

“Good. Being a hero isn’t just about how well you can fight. Some don’t realize that.”

Izuku pulled out the books he’d brought and cracked them open. “I know.”

Eraserhead crawled into his sleeping bag, the sight familiar but no less jarring than the first time Izuku had seen him like that.

“Hey,” Izuku said, “There won’t be any issues with my exam, right? Like, will the other teachers call favoritism?”

“You think you’re my favorite?”

“I don’t think you favor me at all, Eraserhead.”

“Good. Because I don’t.”

Izuku snickered.

“If you are concerned, which has no reasonable basis, the teachers and staff are all there, and we give you a grade agreed by all of us that we deem fair for your performance. So there won’t be any favoritism, which there wouldn’t have been.”

“Oh,” Izuku said. He settled in and began to read. “Thanks.”

There was no reply.

After a few minutes, Izuku thought Eraserhead had fallen asleep. Not unusual, with how little sleep he got.

“Why do you call me Eraserhead?”

Izuku blinked, not expecting that.

He flipped to the next page in his book, circling the terms he didn’t understand and would have to look up. “Hmm?”

He glanced up. Eraserhead was watching him, eyes barely visible as they peered out from the shadow of the sleeping bag.

“Why do you call me Eraserhead,” Eraserhead repeated flatly.

Izuku’s brow crinkled. “That—that’s your n-name, isn’t it?”

“My hero name, yes,” Eraserhead said. He muttered something under his breath. “But most people only refer to me as that in the field, or in the media occasionally.”

Izuku dog-eared the page he was on and shut his book.

“I just… when I first, uh, heard about you, you were Eraserhead? So I ne- never called you anything else. But if it makes you, um, uncomfortable? I can stop.”

Eraserhead scoffed. “It’s my name. It won’t make me uncomfortable.”

Izuku flushed. “Right. Right.”

He played with the pages of his book for a while, not knowing what to say. Even if Eraserhead asked, Izuku wasn’t sure he’d ever get rid of the hero name completely. It was too ingrained in his mind—the smell of smoke, kid, the firelight on their faces, wait, that scratchy, low voice, Eraserhead .

“What,” Izuku cleared his throat, “um, what would you rather me call you instead? Of Eraserhead, I mean.”

The sleeping bag zipped up a little more.

His voice didn’t change one bit as he said, “Aizawa-sensei.”

Izuku coughed, not sure he’d heard right.

“Sen… sensei?”

“Not Aizawa. We’re not friends.”

“But… I’m not…? I’m not… your student.”

“Do you need your hearing checked?”

“N-no,” Izuku said, then hastily tacked on, “-sensei.”

Eraserhead grunted, but Izuku thought he seemed almost pleased, if he could ever be pleased. Then he really did fall asleep, leaving Izuku to his thoughts.

“Sensei,” Izuku tried when he was sure Eraserhead was asleep. “Aizawa-sensei.”

It was strange, but Izuku liked it. Liked what the name promised.

When Izuku slipped away from U.A. that day, he found someone waiting for him outside the gates. Dressed in a black hoodie and looking casual, Izuku almost didn’t recognize Shigaraki.

“Hello, Midoriya.”

Izuku’s blood ran cold.

“Shi- Shigaraki,” he said, stumbling over the name. Izuku hadn’t seen Shigaraki since the first time they’d met.

“U.A. exams are soon,” Shigaraki said. His voice was mocking.

“Ye-yeah, they are,” Izuku said. He twitched nervously. Izuku didn’t know what Shigaraki wanted, nor did he know why he was here and not meeting with Hisashi.

“It was my idea, you know,” Shigaraki said conversationally. “To have a spy at U.A. So you’d better get in.”

“I-I will.”

Shigaraki nodded. Izuku’s throat went dry when pale fingers emerged into the light, but Shigaraki made no move to hurt Izuku. He simply beckoned.

“Come with me.”

“Wh...where are we going?”

Izuku didn’t like this. Izuku didn’t like this one bit. He wanted to run back into U.A., where Eraserhead was. Where Izuku was safe .

“Kurogiri,” Shigaraki called.

Izuku didn’t recognize the name.

But a darkness swept over them. It wasn’t a shadow, Izuku realized, but instead it was instead a crackling, incorporeal mass. Silver glinted somewhere deep inside.

“Shigaraki.” The voice was smooth. “Ah, you have the boy.”

Izuku took a halting step back. “Wh- who, what…”

“Don’t worry,” Shigaraki said. He looked amused. “It will only take a moment.”

Then the ground disappeared from underneath Izuku’s feet. He was lost in darkness, nothing around him. Izuku flailed, searching for something, anything.

Izuku landed on his knees hard, panting. A scream was lodged in his throat.

Nearby, Shigaraki was standing. The mass of darkness shifted and clumped together into something that was vaguely human-shaped.

Shigaraki dipped his head in the man’s direction. Kurogiri, Izuku realized. This was his Quirk.

“Useful, isn’t it,” Shigaraki said, watching Izuku stare. “We can go anywhere we like.”

“Within reason,” Kurogiri said.

“And—and where have we gone?” Izuku asked carefully.

He scrambled to his feet and took in his surroundings.

Dark wood under his feet. Soft music playing in his ears. The taste of cigarette smoke. Sweat gathering in his palms. Around them were seated people, though not many— only a couple in the far corner, out of earshot. To Izuku’s right, where Shigaraki and Kurogiri were standing, there was a wooden bar and shelves of alcohol. To the left, there was a lone TV that looked old and from a decade Izuku was sure was far from his time. It was on, though nothing seemed to be playing.

“A bar?”

“Someone wanted to meet you,” Shigaraki said.

Izuku spun, terrified. He had no idea where he was. He knew nothing about this place. He reached for his knives then thought better, stopping himself.

“S-someone? Does Chimera know about this?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Izuku breathed in shallow breaths. “You- you can’t… it doesn’t matter who this someone is, you can’t just—”

In a flash, Shigaraki was in front of him. He wrapped a hand around Izuku’s throat, and Izuku stilled. His heart pulsed; he was sure Shigaraki could feel it, beating quickly like it was trying to escape. Maybe if Shigaraki used his Quirk, it would.

“Shigaraki,” Kurogiri said slowly.

“Don’t disrespect him like that,” Shigaraki growled, eyes flashing. “You don’t know who you’re talking to. You… you…”

“Now, now, Shigaraki,” a voice drawled. “That is no way to treat a guest.”

Shigaraki squeezed enough to hurt and then let Izuku go. Izuku wheezed, turning to see who had spoken.

There was no one there.

But—

But the TV screen wasn’t blank anymore. Static crackled across its surface, and the voice came from it again.

“So this is Midoriya Izuku.”

Izuku was shaking. That voice. It was low and calm. It wasn’t a voice Izuku recognized, but he felt like he’d heard it before. It was the kind of voice that echoed in nightmares and snared him in the throne of sleep.

“Yes,” Kurogiri answered when Izuku was too scared to respond.

“Who- who…”

A deep chuckle.

“You’ve been very helpful, Midoriya. I hope to continue our work together. I think the two of us are very similar.”

“A-are we?”

A hum. “Your Quirk analysis shows thought and potential. Your father knows to use it… but still, he understands not how to harness it. Very, very useful…”

Izuku shivered. He couldn’t quite breathe.

“What do you w-want?”

“I simply wanted to meet you, little dragon. No harm will come to you, unless dear Tomura loses his patience. After this, Kurogiri will return you to where you belong.”

Little dragon. Izuku wrung his hands together.

“And your Quirk…”

“Illusions,” Izuku whispered. He couldn’t speak any louder.

“Illusions,” the man pondered. “Yes… how useful… how wasted they would let you become. If only I could see them.”

There was a beat. Izuku clutched at himself, trying to hold onto any measure of warmth.

Please let me leave . Please let me leave .

“I will see you again, Midoriya,” the voice said finally. “Kurogiri?”

“Wa-wait,” Izuku said, “what… what do I call you?”

His heart thundered in his ears.

“Some call me All for One,” the voice said, but his tone had changed, had become something softer but no less false. “But you may call me Sensei.”

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter nine


 

Khhr— khhkrrrr…

Fire flickered, tongues of gold glistening in the air. Fingers pressed down on his shoulder. A voice in his ear.

"Don't fail us… that's an order."

Khh—


 

"Those U.A. exams are worthless, aren't they?"

Izuku twisted his fingers together, playing with them nervously.

"I'm not s-sure what you.. you mean," he replied.

"The U.A. examiners… imbeciles, don't you think? They believe pitting you against robots can prove your worth. What does that mean, do you think, that only those with Quirks suited to combat are heralded as heroes?"

"I…"

Izuku wasn't sure what to think. He hated that the voice—Sensei, he reminded himself, feeling a bit sick—was right. He didn't want Sensei to be right. He was a villain, he was some dark and twisted thing clinging to the underside of the city like a black mold. He couldn't be right.

"Look at you with your bright mind and Quirk. In such an exam, your potential is wasted."

Not knowing what to do, Izuku bowed shakily in the direction of the TV.

"Thank you," he murmured.

"Sensei."

"S-Sensei," Izuku repeated.

"Hm… perhaps…"

Izuku waited.

"No, no," Sensei said after a moment of thought, "no, not now. I was thinking… Perhaps in the future, if you prove yourself to me."

"I'll do my best, Sensei," Izuku said. He hated how steadily the words had come from his mouth.

Whatever the villain wanted, Izuku was grateful he'd decided against it. There was nothing good that could come out of it.

"Let us hope so, little dragon."

The TV settled. A quiet swept through the dingy bar, and then Kurogiri appeared at Izuku's side.

"Come, Midoriya."

Izuku held his breath as he was whisked away, vanishing into the warp gate.

Returned to Chimera's base, Izuku shivered as Kurogiri left him alone. He hated Sensei or whoever he was; hated that cramped, dark bar; hated that easy-going voice and the little box TV.

The day before the entrance exams, Izuku was left shaking, cold deep in his bones.

Izuku gave up on sleep partway through the early morning and snuck out.

Standing with his bare feet in the soft sand, Izuku allowed himself to finally breathe. Cool water washed over and then drew away gently.

Muted footsteps sounded from behind him. Izuku wrapped his arms around himself, not speaking and not turning around. A hand settled on his shoulder.

"How are you feeling?"

Izuku shrugged, turning to look at Toshinori. "...I don't know."

"Nervous?"

"Maybe." At the moment, Izuku wasn't sure he was feeling much at all. The entrance exam was in three hours, but Izuku felt strangely calm as he stared out at the sun rising above the soothing waters.

"I have faith in you," Toshinori said. He smiled. "And I know Aizawa does, too, even if he won't say it."

"Sure," Izuku said, tone far more sarcastic than he intended. Then added, "Sorry."

"No, it's alright. You've got a big day ahead of you."

"A lot's resting on today, huh," Izuku said, more to himself than Toshinori. He scrubbed a hand over his face.

Reality was slowly creeping back in around the edges. Izuku had been at the beach for the past hour after he'd woken from a fitful, uneasy sleep. He'd done a light jog, picking up a few pieces of trash he spotted, and then had spent the rest of the time trying to breathe in the crisp air.

It'd felt like he could hide here, pretend that it wasn't the day of the entrance exams. Pretend that literally everything rested on Izuku making it into U.A. Toshinori, Hisashi. Eraserhead. Shigaraki. Sensei.

"I believe in you," Toshinori said, "and don't worry too much. I know you'll do fine."

Izuku kicked at the wet sand. "Okay."

"Do you need anything?"

Izuku stared at the horizon line, deep blue meeting pale yellow.

"Just," he started, then sighed, "maybe some time alone? I'm sorry, I'm just—"

Toshinori was already nodding. "This is the last time you'll see me before the exams. And… probably for a while after." He cleared his throat, looking slightly embarrassed. "I just—ah, I mean to say… good luck."

A lump formed in Izuku's throat.

"Thank you," he said.

"I'll leave you, then," Toshinori said. He lifted his arms like he wanted to do something and then dropped them again, taking a step back. "Oh. One last thing. Aizawa wanted me to pass on a message."

"Eraserhead?"

"Yeah. He said, and I quote, you'd better not fail this exam, problem child. I want to see you be a hero."

Izuku felt his mouth quirk up. "He said that?"

Toshinori scratched his head. "Well, he didn't say the last part quite like that, but I think that's really what he meant."

Izuku laughed then, and it felt good, to be able to laugh.

"I know I've said this, but I am truly proud of how far you've come."

Izuku felt determination well up in him.

"Not now," he said, looking up to meet Toshinori's eyes. "Tell me that when I'm accepted into U.A."

Toshinori's face split into a grin.

"I will," he promised, and with one last look, he left Izuku on the beach alone.

Izuku wasn't sure how much longer he stood there, thinking. Around him the city would just be waking up. And hundreds of kids Izuku's age would be getting ready, preparing for the U.A. entrance exams.

Were they as nervous as him? Did they feel the same way: like the entire world was watching, waiting for them to prove their mettle, to scratch away at the surface and show insides that were glittering and full of potential?

It would be so easy to disappear, Izuku thought. Take One for All and his own Quirk and go somewhere no one would find him. Leave all of this behind.

The thought was gone as quickly as it had come. He couldn't leave, and the truth was that Izuku didn't want to, not one bit.

The sun began its ascent across the sky. Izuku tucked his hands into his pockets and made his way back to the base. Hisashi, he found, was waiting for him.

"Breakfast," Hisashi said as way of greeting, nodding at the smooth glass table. There was a plate of tomato-cooked eggs and a small bowl of rice. Hisashi served himself another bowl and sat to eat.

"I'm not hungry," Izuku mumbled, but he pulled out a chair anyway.

"I'll drive you to U.A.," Hisashi told him over breakfast. Izuku picked at his rice.

"I can take the train."

"No," Hisashi said, "I'll take you."

Izuku gripped his chopsticks tightly, but loosened his hold after a moment, afraid with his new strength he would snap them. He didn't want to see Hisashi's face any longer than he had to.

"Fine," Izuku said through gritted teeth. "Whatever."

Izuku was tired—and he didn't have any energy to spare on putting up a fight. He knew he hadn't slept well the night before, or gotten much sleep at all. If Izuku was being honest with himself, he hadn't slept very much in the past week.

Not after meeting Sensei. The meeting the day before had been their second.

The thought made his mouth taste sour. Izuku almost gagged and then forced the rest of his food down; he shoved his plate away and left the table without a word.

"Izuku," Hisashi called after him.

"I'll be back in time, don't worry."

He couldn't stay in their new apartment—it was too clean, and too big. And too empty, and too cold. Couldn't stand Hisashi as company. Couldn't sit at the table for a moment longer or else he was scared he'd scream.

Izuku didn't go far. He walked around the apartment a few times, circling the building before heading back up to the top floor.

The new place was— nice, Izuku had to admit. Situated on the top floor of the apartment complex and the only apartment on the top floor, it was spacious and well-equipped. It was modern and newly-built, much nicer than any of Chimera's other bases. Conveniently, Izuku thought privately, with no neighbors.

Even after moving in, Hisashi and Izuku didn't see each other much, which was just fine to Izuku. They occasionally ate meals together. Hisashi would meet with him to ask about training, or to give him some new information or orders. Sometimes Izuku would pass Hisashi in the living room. But that was really the extent of it.

Izuku missed Silver. He missed having her around, missed tapping messages through the walls when they couldn't speak. And she hadn't responded to his texts from three days ago, meaning she'd had her phone confiscated or she was somewhere far enough or dangerous enough they couldn't talk.

Either way, Izuku had stopped trying.

He missed a lot of things, thinking about it. As the days had drawn closer to the U.A. exam, Izuku found himself missing Mom more and more. It was a feeling he'd learned to suppress over the past few years—alongside a want to knock on Kacchan's window in that secret code of theirs, so they could talk like they used to.

Izuku figured it was probably because Mom would've been much more excited about U.A. than Hisashi was—or at least, excited in a vastly different way. Mom would've worried, too. He never thought he'd miss a little bit of last-minute nagging or her double-checking everything, but he did.

Izuku found himself tearing up for the second time that day and growled to himself, wiping them away with the back of his hand.

Maybe, Izuku thought, maybe if he was extra careful that nobody was watching—

He shoved the thought away as it formed in his mind. It was a bad idea. Someone was always watching, part of Chimera or not, and Izuku wouldn't dare to put Mom in danger again.

Izuku told himself to stop thinking about it, period. Not that that had ever worked.

He tried to distract himself instead. Izuku had taken to carrying around a hand mirror with him, a little circular thing that clicked open and shut that he could fit in his pocket. He took it out now and practiced changing his hair and eye color, something that had become increasingly easier. It didn't take much concentration at all these days, and he was able to hold it longer than before.

Longer than before meant ten minutes; Izuku checked the time with his phone. He really was getting better.

Izuku changed his hair back to green and stared at his palm-sized reflection. He hated that he almost didn't recognize himself. One, which meant he'd gotten so used to dying his hair and changing parts of his appearance seeing himself as he would have been was like looking at a stranger. Two, which meant lying and hiding and keeping secrets were as easy as blinking.

He dismissed the illusion a second later, not wanting to see it. It made him feel sick and guilty.

"Izuku."

Izuku looked up. Hisashi was standing in front of him, dressed in a crisp blue suit and holding a set of car keys.

"Time to go, then," Izuku said, resigned. Hisashi nodded.

They got into the car and started the drive without much fanfare. Hisashi turned on the radio as they went, switching between a few news channels.

"—All Might saves the day…"

Hisashi huffed.

"—an attack orchestrated by low-rank villains just last week was presumed to be—"

"—your host! Up next, reporting about the new testing being conducted by the university—"

"—traffic on—"

"...U.A. entrance exams are today! We are winding up to the next generation of heroes, and I am very excited. Of course, the U.A. hero course selection process is based on a variety of factors, some of which are more public than others. From our understanding, the entrance exam is split into two parts, a combat-based portion in which ambitious young applicants can show off their Quirks…"

The radio switched off.

"We have very high expectations for your performance today, Izuku."

Izuku glared out the window petulantly, refusing to look at his father.

"Don't you think I know that?"

"I think you'll pass with flying colors." Izuku snapped his mouth shut. It was rare to be complimented. "Your training with Bonestealer has been more than satisfactory, and your wits will put you far above the other applicants, I believe."

"Thanks, I guess."

"I know I haven't been the most encouraging figure—"

Izuku laughed.

"—but I want to wish you luck, Izuku. You are my son. You have not disappointed me, and I don't think you will, today."

"I thought I always disappoint you," Izuku muttered. He crossed his arms over his chest.

They pulled to a stop a little whiles away from the U.A. gates—to keep Hisashi discrete, probably, but also because there seemed to be a veritable crowd outside.

Hisashi looked at him.

"You have never," he said, and Izuku dropped his gaze, shifting uncomfortably. Hisashi never said things like that.

"Whatever," Izuku said finally, getting out of the car. "Don't bother picking me up."

He shut the door and walked the rest of the way to U.A. The sight was still no less stunning. Now, though, Izuku saw rows and rows of potential students lining up to go into different examinations. The air was lively but tinged with nervousness, and Izuku felt himself feed on the energy, getting jittery.

He headed towards the doors meant for the hero course. Then Izuku tripped over his own feet.

He had a split-second thought of oh no, I'm doomed, everything is over, goodbye world before Izuku realized he hadn't actually hit the ground.

Izuku gingerly opened his eyes.

"Sorry, I saw you trip and didn't want you to fall!"

He was floating a few inches off the ground. By his side, a girl was standing with her arm outstretched; she tapped his shoulder, and the weightlessness left him.

"Oh!" the girl continued before Izuku's brain could catch up. "I remember you! We met on the train!"

"...uh, wasn't that like… a really…"

"It's good to see you again. See, I told you we'd see each other here! Anyway, good luck on the exam!"

Izuku stared at her retreating back. She'd appeared and gone so fast he hadn't even known what to do or say, or had time to thank her for saving him from total embarrassment.

"Good luck to you, too…" Izuku muttered, then joined the rest of the crowd sweeping into the exams.

Izuku found himself in what looked like a large auditorium. Just like it had been outside, it was already packed with people. Izuku grunted as someone stepped on his foot and managed to keep himself from yelping too loudly when someone else stepped in front of him and blocked his entire view of the front.

"Short people problems," Izuku grumbled. He found a row with a couple of empty seats and sat gingerly down in the seat at the end, wondering why no one else was there. It didn't matter. Izuku liked his space.

A glance to his left revealed the reason. Sitting in the middle of the row, teeth bared and arms crossed was, of course, Kacchan.

Izuku wanted to get up, but there was nowhere else to go, not if he wanted to lose himself in the sea of people again. So instead he ducked his head down and hoped Kacchan wouldn't notice him.

Kacchan did.

He glared across the four-seat gap between them, and Izuku shrunk back instinctively.

"Do you have to be—"

Someone shuffled between them awkwardly.

"—get rid of your fucking face, why can't you just get out of my way—"

A microphone screeched with feedback. Izuku cringed, as did a few others, glancing towards the stage. Present Mic was on stage. Izuku perked up.

"—so—"

"Hey, you," the person sitting next to Izuku said. He wasn't speaking to Izuku, though, instead looking over at Kacchan.

"What do you want?"

"Shut up."

"I'm—rahhhh, I'm going to kill—"

"You shouldn't have done that," Izuku whispered.

Up on stage, Present Mic leaned into the microphone. He surveyed the milling crowd for a second, most of them seated but a few stragglers still wandering around.

"YEAHH! He-lloooooo, little listeners!"

The room quieted for a second, and then the chattering whispers began.

"Who is this guy?"

"He looks like a radio host…"

"Dumbasses! That's pro hero Present Mic, don't you know him?"

Present Mic clapped his hands together. "How are we feelin' today!"

Crickets. Izuku cringed a little. It was a hard audience, he figured, though probably because they were all nervous and wanted to get the exam over with.

"Terrible," someone in the front row yelled. Braver than the rest of them, Izuku thought.

"Good, good," Present Mic said.

The microphone screeched again, and Izuku covered his ears, hating the start to the exams. It was not shaping up to be a good day. Izuku rubbed at his temples, trying to stave off the onslaught of a headache.

After a moment of deliberation, Present Mic put away the microphone, instead just relying on his Quirk.

"Let's get into it!" The screen behind Present Mic lit up. "As you may or may not know, the exam is split into two portions. One is a written examination. Boring! The other part is the fun part. Can I get a drumroll?"

There was no drumroll. Present Mic continued as if there had been.

"Yeah!" An image appeared behind him, and Izuku leaned forwards. "This part of the exam, the practical exam, is when you show off your hero-worthy skills. You must defeat the villains we send out, each one worth a different set of points. You'll be split into groups for different battle centers, where the mock battles will take place. Ten minutes on the clock to get as many points as possible."

"We have four different villains for you to face… the one, two, and three-pointers. The higher the points, the more difficult they are to beat!"

A row of robots appeared. Izuku balked at the sight. He'd trained, sure, but he hadn't known exactly what to expect. Blocky, angular silhouettes, each one labelled with 1P, 2P, and 3P.

A boy with glasses raised his hand.

About to start his spiel, Present Mic paused. "Yes?"

"Ah, sir! You said there are four villains, but you have shown only three. Is this a mistake?"

Present Mic's face split into a blinding smile.

"Good ears, little listener! In fact, there is a fourth villain…" He waved a hand, and the screen changed to show a last silhouette.

"My apologies! Thank you!"

"...the zero-pointer!"

0P appeared under the silhouette. The room burst into whispering.

Izuku found himself puzzled, too. Zero points was zero points. There was no point to fighting something that was, well, zero points.

Present Mic leaned forwards, putting his hand by his mouth like he was about to let them in on a big secret.

"Don't fight this one, kids. The zero-pointer is the largest and most difficult to beat!" He coughed. "Anyway! Your final scores will be ranked by how many villains you dispatch and how many points you accumulate."

"A few quick notes: fighting other candidates will result in immediate disqualification. Your placement in battle centers is based on your middle school - people from the same middle school will be placed in opposing battle centers. That's all there is!"

"Remember," Present Mic said, looking around the auditorium. "The great hero Napoleon Bonaparte once said... 'True heroism consists in being superior to the ills of life.' Plus Ultra! Break a leg, everyone!"

Izuku was assigned Battle Center B. After Present Mic was done, Kacchan tried to reach him, probably to yell, but Izuku ducked and weaved into the crowds. They were assigned separate battle centers, which Izuku decided was a fantastic idea.

He did feel bad for everyone in the same battle center as Kacchan. Not that Izuku doubted the abilities of all the applicants around him, but because Kacchan wouldn't stand to be defeated by anyone. Combined with his Quirk, he was sure to blow through the exam.

"See you at U.A., Kacchan," Izuku muttered to himself.

As people began to shuffle in their respective directions, Izuku caught a group of teachers at the far side of the stage. Present Mic had just joined them, slinging an arm around a familiar figure—Eraserhead.

Eraserhead was scanning the crowd, taking in the prospective students. Izuku lifted a hand and waved in his direction. It took a second, but eventually Eraserhead spotted him.

Eraserhead didn't wave back, and from the distance, Izuku couldn't see his expression. But he did nod, and that was more than enough for Izuku. Then he was moved along in the crowd, their brief moment over.

The group assigned to B stepped into the battle center. Izuku stopped short, staring.

He'd never seen this at U.A., despite his training. Present Mic hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said the staff had replicated an urban setting. It looked like a real city, with tall buildings and clean streets. Bright light lit up the area. Izuku felt like he was being swallowed by the battle center.

"Woah…"

"U.A.'s rich…"

"This was not what I was expecting."

Izuku didn't bother joining in any of the conversations, but he privately agreed with everyone in awe.

Suddenly he spotted the girl who'd helped him earlier—the girl from the train. She was stretching; Izuku headed in her direction, figuring he should thank her. It'd be incredibly awkward, that was for sure, but Izuku thought he had to at least wish her good luck.

"Hey!"

Izuku was blocked by a tall figure, a boy with broad shoulders that loomed over him. He chopped his arm down in front of Izuku. Looking up, Izuku caught the glint of glasses; it was the boy from earlier, who'd interrupted Present Mic.

"Uh…" Izuku said, trying to step around him. "Ex...cuse me? I'd like to pass."

"You're going to talk to that girl over there, aren't you?"

Izuku thought he was going to start sweating. Was this something normal people asked? Was Izuku doing something wrong?

"Ye— yeah?"

"She's preparing, can't you see? If you talk to her, you'll distract her."

"Uh… sorry, right. Y-yes."

Izuku decided it wasn't worth it; maybe he could catch her later, before the written exam started. And the boy was right, even if it was a little strange. Izuku would make it too awkward, anyway.

He moved off to an empty area and took a deep breath. One for All was already waiting for him. Izuku let the Quirk simmer under the surface as he reached under his shirt to pull out of the knives Eraserhead had given him.

"Hey, are those allowed…"

Izuku sighed.

"They've been approved," he said shortly. Izuku raised an eyebrow. "Shouldn't you…"

"Okay, little listeners! Prepare for the start of the exam!"

Far above their heads, timers with large red numbers waited, frozen at 10:00.

Izuku clutched his knife in one hand and left the other free for maneuvering. Everyone would race for the center of the city, Izuku figured. He would veer left first, try to pull ahead and maybe encounter one of the robot-villains. With no way of knowing how his fellow candidates' Quirks worked or even what they were, Izuku would have to move quickly in order to get enough points.

Knives first, like Bonestealer had taught him. Since One for All broke his fingers, Izuku would have to save them for when he really needed—

A loud sound blared. People raced ahead as loud footsteps came from the other direction.

Izuku swore, going left like he'd planned and picking up speed. A shadow fell over him, and Izuku skidded to a stop.

Slowly he looked up as the robot looked down, target locking on Izuku.

The robot was massive. Far, far bigger than Izuku—or Bonestealer—had prepared for. Suddenly Izuku felt very, very, very small.

"Oh," Izuku said faintly, "shit."

He dodged out of the way as a large foot came crashing down, sending pieces of pavement flying. No time to panic; Izuku had to move, to take the villain down, no matter how large it was.

Izuku gripped his knife and charged, feeling a grin spread on his face despite his nervousness and the pressure weighing on his shoulders.

Besides, Izuku thought, these "villains" were robots. Izuku lived with villains and saw at least one every day.

This?

Izuku jammed his knife into the back of the robot's knee, where there was a joint where the two parts of the leg connected. The robot jerked, stumbling, and Izuku wasted no time using his knife as a springboard to leap up. Fluorescent light spilled around him.

Izuku drew his other knife and defeated the robot in one doomed move, cutting through its very power source. It whirred as it started to collapse, and Izuku dropped as far down as he dared. He rolled as he hit the ground and went back to retrieve his knife.

Behind him, the street shook as the robot fell.

This?

This, Izuku decided, was nothing.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter ten


Time was ticking down. Izuku panted as he ran through the streets, searching for another robot to take out.

He dove behind a building to avoid a terrible explosion, light at the edge of his vision and sound ringing in his ears. When it passed, Izuku kept going.

He glanced up. Two minutes left on the clock.

"I need more points…"

Izuku had managed to score a little under twenty points, if his rushed calculations were any marker. He knew it wasn't enough, but Izuku wasn't fast enough.

It wouldn't be enough to get him into U.A.

"Come on…"

Izuku spotted a robot heading his way and ran towards it. There wasn't time to use his knives; Izuku had lost one of them, anyway, stuck in some poor robot now buried under rubble.

Two of his fingers were already twisted and broken. Though they throbbed dully, Izuku could hardly feel them, too caught up in the rush of the fight.

He pressed his thumb to his middle finger, ignoring the way his hand hurt, and felt One for All swell in him. He flicked out, and power surged from the tip of his finger.

The robot didn't stand a chance. It flew backwards, the center crumpling in on itself where Izuku had aimed. Another point, maybe two. Izuku had forgotten.

A minute and a half.

Izuku hissed, clutching his hand. He had to go back to using his remaining knife, or else his hand would be useless.

For the past few minutes, Izuku had fought his way towards the center of the city: where the robots seemed to come from. They quickly moved away, meeting combatants in battle, but if Izuku could reach the center, there was a chance he could catch a couple more.

There.

Izuku took off. He leapt onto a nearby mailbox and then onto the robot he'd found, clinging to its arm. His hand burned as he dug his fingers in. Tears gathered at the corner of Izuku's eyes, but he pulled himself up.

Now on the robot, Izuku dashed quickly to the base of the neck. He almost lost balance but caught himself again.

A hand came at him. Izuku jumped between two fingers and found himself in freefall for a brief moment—

He slammed onto the robot's face, its single eye gleaming red as it tried to search for him. Izuku hooked his fingers on the metal plates, pulling himself closer. Then, careful to keep his balance, Izuku used one hand to swing his knife out in an arc.

The knife broke through the glass of the eye. Something sharp bit into Izuku's wrist, but he kept going until the red light flickered, then died.

One more.

A minute left on the clock.

Izuku was running again, searching for robots. He had to climb over one, lying in the streets with a large hole gaping in its chest. He vaulted over the scattered pieces of another robot.

Minute. Minute. Minute.

"Come on," Izuku said again, searching still. "Where are they?"

There was screaming in the distance.

Izuku shifted gears and headed towards the sound. A blur passed him, followed by several people in a panic.

"A zero-pointer!" one of the kids cried. "Get out of here!"

"AAAAAHHH!"

"I didn't sign up for this!"

A distant robot loomed far above the city. A glittering eye searched for a target. Izuku could only make out the head of the robot through the buildings and thick smoke pouring from a fire.

The robot broke through a building, and Izuku dropped low to the ground, covering his head. Debris flew around them. Izuku shut his eyes, waiting for it to pass.

When the air seemed to settle, at least for a second, Izuku got back to his feet and turned to head in the opposite direction. He was not dealing with that. Definitely not. No, sir, Izuku was going to run as far away and as fast as he could.

"Help!"

Izuku stopped.

He turned on his heel, using his hand to direct his vision.

"Help! Someone!"

Where was the cry coming from? Izuku's heart pounded. He clutched his knife tightly, looking around in an attempt to discern what he was looking for.

"Help!"

Izuku's gaze zeroed in on a small figure struggling under rubble. She was trapped, he realized—and the zero-pointer was heading right towards her.

"Don't do anything stupid, don't do anything too stupid," Izuku chanted as he ran in her direction. "Izuku, don't do anything stupid…"

As he got closer, Izuku realized he recognized the trapped girl. He was at her side in a flash, trying to pry off the rubble. Another candidate hollered at Izuku's back.

"What are you doing? You're going to get yourself killed!"

Izuku didn't care.

Help her.

"Hey," he said, crouching down at the girl's side. Izuku started moving away the rubble frantically. "We're going to get you out of here."

"There's too much—"

The girl slammed a hand on a piece of rubble. It began to float immediately, but her face turned green, sick with the effort.

The ground shook underneath them. Izuku swore again.

Save her.

"Go!" the girl shouted.

Izuku did as she said—but he ran towards the zero-pointer. Someone screamed.

Izuku launched himself in the air.

Help her. Save her.

It was the same instinct that had led Izuku to put himself in front of Toshinori, the first time they'd met. It was the same instinct that had driven Izuku to fight the sludge villain when he'd seen the look on Kacchan's face.

It was the same instinct, pushing Izuku to act. Being a hero, Toshinori had called it.

"Come on…" Izuku said to himself.

There was a moment before the chaos—just one. Izuku breathed.

Power swelled in him, gathering like thunderclouds before a storm. One for All spread and leapt down his arm as the robot in front of him locked its single eye on him.

The blast left Izuku's fingertips. A shockwave travelled back up his arm as he was blown away by his own Quirk. There was a screech of metal as the robot crumpled, destroyed by One for All.

Izuku had about a second to celebrate victory. Then he started to fall.

Great, Izuku thought. He'd gone and done something stupid after all.

"Hey!"

The girl Izuku had just helped was suddenly floating next to him. She reached a hand out, and Izuku stretched out his uninjured arm. He twisted, trying to get closer.

Their fingers brushed, but it was enough. Izuku came to a sudden stop as the girl released Izuku's body from the confines of gravity. They hung in the air for a moment, staring at each other.

"Release," the girl whispered, reaching out for him again. She dropped them slowly but steadily, activating and releasing her Quirk until they drifted to the ground. Once down, the girl immediately leaned over and puked.

Izuku, unsure if he should do anything, patted her back gingerly.

"Thanks," she said after a while, straightening. Her face was pale, but she managed to smile at him. "You saved—"

"And that marks the end of the exam!"

"It's over," Izuku said to himself, turning in a slow circle to survey the damage. "Wow."

The city was half in ruins. It was a good thing it wasn't real. Large buildings had been destroyed. The fire Izuku had passed earlier seemed to have died down a little bit.

All around them, robots were in pieces on the ground. Izuku looked at the remains of the zero-pointer and only felt a sort of strange awe.

The applicants were all directed towards the exits. They would take a short break to recuperate while the staff prepared the next portion of the exam.

Some of the people were told to stay still as Recovery Girl swept through to heal any injuries with her Quirk. Izuku sat down slowly on a large piece of cement; the girl, though mostly unhurt, plopped down next to him.

"Hey, that was really cool! Your Quirk is amazing."

Izuku stared at her. "My Quirk is amazing? Have you seen your Quirk?"

"You destroyed that robot like it was nothing!"

"Uh," Izuku said, feeling like he was missing something. "Your Quirk lets you reverse gravity, doesn't it? I think that's way cooler than mine."

"No way!"

"Way," Izuku said.

"Oh, I didn't get to finish! Thank you for saving me…" The girl wiped sweat from her brow. "I really thought I was done for."

"O-oh," Izuku said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm, well, I'm sure others would've come. And I mean, the teachers really wouldn't have, have let you be crushed by the zero-pointer or anything, you know?"

"Still, that was really heroic of you."

Izuku ducked his head. "...Thanks."

"I'm Uraraka, by the way! What's your name?"

Izuku opened his mouth and closed it again, remembering the right name to give.

"Akatani," he said, holding out his uninjured hand to shake. "So, your Quirk…"

A tapping sound interrupted him. Izuku looked away from Uraraka to meet Recovery Girl's stern gaze.

"A-ah… hi, Recovery Girl?"

"Of course it's you," she said, pursing her lips in disapproval. "Come on, boy, I have others to get to. Let me see."

"Only a few fingers," Izuku said, holding his hand out.

Recovery Girl tutted. "You didn't break this many before," she said, but she pressed a gentle kiss to Izuku's knuckles. "Goodness, finally, I'm not going to see you for a week until results come out."

"Hey," Izuku protested. "You like me."

She shoved his head. "Don't get silly thoughts like that stuck in there."

Recovery Girl turned to Uraraka. "Any injuries?"

Uraraka shook her head. "A few bruises, but I think I'm okay!"

Recovery Girl checked over Uraraka anyway, telling her to be sure to rest and take a drink and snack during the break to recover from the strain of her Quirk.

Izuku flexed his fingers. Good as new.

Still, the fight and Recovery Girl's Quirk had drained his energy. Now Izuku staggered to his feet, catching his balance.

"Want to walk together?"

Izuku shrugged.

Uraraka kept up a steady stream of chatter as the two of them left the battle center together. She talked about her own ambitions in heroics and wondered about his.

Izuku didn't say much.

"I want to help people," he told her when she asked.

She kept the conversation flowing as they were ushered into a large room that looked like a cafeteria, set with tables. Already the room was filled with people, chatting about how their exams had gone and cramming quickly for the written exam.

"-nervous? I studied a lot, but to be honest, I don't know what to expect from a written exam about heroics. Definitely probably questions about real-life situations I guess, and what choices to make, but I don't know…"

Izuku nodded along. He searched the crowd for Kacchan but couldn't find him anywhere. Izuku guessed that was a good thing; they wouldn't run into each other. Izuku didn't want to see his childhood friend, especially since said childhood friend apparently hated his guts.

Akatani Mikumi, not Midoriya Izuku. But whatever. Kacchan didn't know they were the same person.

"-wonder if they've got snacks? Recovery Girl said something… oh, there!"

Uraraka, grabbed Izuku's arm and pulled him in the direction of where a group of kids wsas crowding. She squeezed through, and Izuku followed, uncomfortable with the push and pull of the bodies around them.

They reappeared on the other side victorious, clutching energy bars and juice pouches.

Izuku spotted a corner where they could hide in and gently steered his new friend in that direction.

Izuku and Uraraka sat down together. He pulled his knees to his chest and ate the energy bar slowly. It was a good idea to take a break between exams—the practical exam was demanding, not to mention tiring. Izuku imagined if they'd been shoved into desks and had thick exam papers piled in front of them, he'd have fallen asleep in an instant.

Uraraka chatted with Izuku for a few more minutes. She asked him about his Quirk, noting its power and its drawbacks. Izuku gave a few vague answers, not really trusting either of them.

In turn, Izuku asked about Uraraka's Quirk, which he discovered really was an anti-gravity Quirk. The possibilities and the fine details of it made Izuku want to barrage Uraraka with questions, but even Izuku knew that made for a bad impression.

She was nice, though. Izuku liked her a lot.

It wasn't often Izuku got to spend time with kids his age. It made for a strange experience but not an unwelcome one. And Izuku had missed this, too; even with Silver and all of his teachers, he never had the chance to connect with someone who was really like him.

He felt a little disappointed as time was called. The bright mood in the cafeteria deflated, talk quieting.

"I think we're in different rooms," Izuku said, smiling apologetically. "But, um…"

"That's too bad!" Uraraka tapped her chin. "Are you free after the exam?"

"Uh… uh, what?"

"I asked if you were free after the exam," she chirped. "We could hang out."

Hang out wasn't really in Izuku's dictionary, but with time running out, he accepted warily. They planned to meet just outside the main entrance once the exam let them out.

"Hey," Izuku said, as they walked together as far as they could to their examination rooms. "Good, um. Good luck."

Uraraka beamed, and Izuku knew it'd been the right thing to say.

"You too!"

The candidates were put into classrooms, with an exam proctor to watch over them as they tested. Izuku's proctor was Vlad King, who introduced himself as the Class 1-B homeroom teacher. Izuku had heard of him in passing but had never gotten the chance to see him, nor did Izuku know his Quirk. He seemed kind, though—encouraging, despite his large stature and almost rough look.

Vlad King went quickly over the parameters of the exam, not wasting any time. Then there were tests in front of each of them.

Izuku flipped to the first page.

U.A. ENTRANCE EXAMINATION: WRITTEN PORTION

General Heroics

Rescue Efforts

Combat Situations

Publicity & Media Attention

Hero Choices

Izuku flicked his gaze up to the clock on his wall and sighed. He turned to the next page, greeted with questions and empty boxes to write his answers in.

It was a long three hours. The only reprieve was a short, fifteen-minute break in the middle. Izuku put his head down the entire time and reconsidered the whole 'hero' thing. This sucked.

Izuku scribbled in his answers. The exam wasn't difficult. Some of the questions were easier to answer; others, it seemed, had multiple 'right' answers.

By the time Izuku was on the last few questions, he thought his brain had turned to mush and his hand to jelly. Looking around, his fellow test-takers didn't look any better. One student had given up, putting her head down on her desk.

Given two choices that are both morally 'wrong,' what is the best course of action?

Izuku frowned at the paper. He didn't like the question. It was vague (though Izuku didn't think specifics would make it any better), and he wasn't sure there was a right answer.

"Both wrong…," Izuku mumbled under his breath. "Two choices that are both wrong…"

The exam seemed to be mocking him.

He could practically hear Bonestealer's voice crooning in his ear.

So what'll it be, kid? The tap of Bonestealer's cane against the ground.

If you don't want to help us, I do have some means of convincing you… A sharp smile. The first time Izuku had been threatened, years ago, but the memory was so vivid it hurt.

Take your pick.

Izuku screwed his eyes shut. No. Not here, and not now. He just had to get through the exam—it was just one question.

He'd do the opposite of Bonestealer, Izuku figured, if given the question.

Not the right thing, but the best thing. That was all Izuku could think to do. He started writing.

Before Izuku knew it, time was up. He sat, tight-lipped as Vlad King collected their papers.

"Well done, well done," Vlad King said, going down the aisle. He smiled at Izuku when he got to his seat. "Don't be nervous, I'm sure you did great."

Izuku fidgeted in his seat as Vlad King picked up the last of the papers.

"You've done it," Vlad King announced, "you've finished the U.A. entrance exam."

A loud cheer echoed through the examination room. Izuku smiled faintly.

"I know you're all in a hurry to leave, so I'll make this quick. Results will be sent out in a week. You'll be contacted by mail with an acceptance or rejection letter based on your cumulative performance in the practical and written exams. In the meantime, keep your hopes up! And Class 1-B is the best, by the way, so don't be discouraged if you're placed there. That's what the B stands for, best."

A laugh rippled through the room.

"You're free to go," Vlad King said, stepping over to open the door. "And of course, please don't discuss the exam or exam questions with anyone!"

Another, quieter laugh rippled through the crowd as they all swarmed for the door. Right, like that was going to happen. The moment they left the room, there would be talk of what had been on the exam and who put what on which question.

"Thank you," Izuku said as he passed Vlad King.

"Good luck!" Vlad King responded, holding the door wider. Someone ducked under his arm to continue out.

Izuku headed for the main entrance of U.A., looking for Uraraka. It was bright outside, now just after noon.

"Hey! Akatani, over here!"

Izuku spotted Uraraka standing by the gates, waving a hand. He jogged in her direction.

"So you are free, right?" she asked.

Izuku shrugged. He didn't have any plans, and he'd told Hisashi to leave him alone after the exam.

"Yeah. I'm good. A-are you sure you want to, uh, do whatever? I mean, we're kind of strangers. Not that I'm a creep or anything! I promise I'm not a creep."

"Well, we're not really strangers anymore. I firmly believe there is nothing like bonding over the shared suffering of an exam!"

Izuku decided he really couldn't argue with that.

Uraraka smiled. "I already contacted my parents to tell them I was going to stay out a little longer. Hey, are you hungry? There's a ramen shop down the street I hear all the U.A. students go to."

"Whatever works."

They did, in fact, end up getting ramen. The lines were long, though, but Izuku didn't mind, just glad to be out of the exam.

"That was tough, huh," Uraraka said, sipping at a spoonful of soup.

"Yeah," Izuku agreed. "I'm going to burn all my study materials later, probably."

Uraraka laughed.

"I hope we both get into U.A.," she said, tone sincere. "I think you're really cool."

Izuku choked on a noodle. Uraraka reached across the table to pat his arm as Izuku wheezed.

"Th- thanks," Izuku said, "You, too."

"We're friends now, right?"

"...we are…?"

"We are!"

"Oh. Okay."

Friends: two, Enemies: too many to count. Izuku had levelled up, it seemed.

"I'm not sure I'll get into U.A., though," Izuku confessed, staring down into his soup. He stirred it with his spoon and watched the particles swirl about. "I don't think I did so great in the practical exam."

Uraraka frowned. "But you demolished that robot at the end! That has to count for something."

Izuku shook his head. "I don't know… I mean, Present Mic said it was useless, right? He even told us not to fight them."

"Yeah, but there has to be a reason for the zero-pointers, right? Besides, even with that one, I'm sure you got plenty of the other villain-bots."

"Not enough," Izuku said, frowning, "Probably twenty points, maybe more."

"That's— not bad," Uraraka said, faltering. "Hey, that's not fair, though. You saved my life…"

"No, it's not," Izuku agreed, "but I can only hope it's good enough. Sorry. What about you? I'm curious how you used your Quirk against the robots."

Uraraka lit up. "Oh!"

Izuku was happy to listen as she described using her Quirk to manipulate gravity. By making the robots weightless, it was easy to send them crashing to the ground, destroying them.

"That's… really, really cool."

Izuku's analytical brain started kicking in. He wondered about what Eraserhead would ask about the Quirk, what questions he'd pose to Izuku if they were discussing it.

He muttered under his breath about the different possibilities. Used on herself, it could be a cool and effective way of transportation by pushing off objects and timing the activation and release of gravity. And it would be really useful in a fight. But mostly it would rely on close combat, though maybe Uraraka could launch some kind of projectiles from a distance. It was hard to judge how well that would work, but it was a cool thought. Eraserhead would've asked how well Uraraka could use her Quirk for stealth, or for situations—

"Uh, I think what you're saying is really cool, but I also can't quite make out everything?"

Izuku stopped.

"Was- was I saying all that out loud?"

Uraraka nodded. Izuku blushed, waving his hands in front of himself frantically in apology.

"Sorry, sorry, I just get a little, I think your Quirk is, uhh, really cool, that's all!"

"You said something about transportation, right? And close combat, and stealth?"

Izuku was impressed she'd been able to catch all of that in the midst of one of his mumble-storms.

"Uh, yeah. Haha. Yep."

Bowl of ramen finished, Uraraka pushed it to the side, propping her chin on her hands.

"You seem like you have some really good ideas, Akatani."

"A-ah… I'm a bit of a Quirk… er, enthusiast," Izuku stammered, "I mean, I'm not- I'm no expert or, or anything, but I- I like to think about this kind of stuff in my free time."

"Tell me more about my Quirk!"

"You're.. encouraging… me?"

"Please?"

It was too hard to say no, so Izuku obliged. He launched back into his thought process, careful to slow down so his words were intelligible. Uraraka was a good listener, though a bit excited, interrupting to make a comment or correct Izuku if he made a wrong assumption.

The afternoon passed just like that. The next time Izuku blinked, the sky had changed, and the day had slipped away without him even realizing.

Uraraka's dad called her—the only reason they realized they'd been out for so long.

"I've got to go," Uraraka said apologetically, twirling a piece of hair around her finger. "But it was really nice to talk to you!"

"Yeah, um. Same."

"Here—"

Uraraka held out her phone, opening a new contact. Izuku took it warily, but Uraraka insisted on Izuku putting his number in.

"So we can tell each other about our results!" she said cheerily. "And like I said, we're friends now."

Izuku's resolve crumbled to nothing.

"Okay," he said finally, tapping in his number. "Um… here."

Uraraka smiled. "I'll see you around, Akatani!"

Left alone outside the ramen shop, Izuku fiddled with his fingers for a moment, wondering if the past few hours had actually happened. He'd made a friend. They'd hung out together. And afterwards, she'd actually liked him enough that she wanted to keep in contact with him?

"Wonders never cease," Izuku said to himself, starting his own journey back.

Hisashi wasn't at the apartment when Izuku returned, which suited Izuku just fine. He wouldn't have to look at Hisashi and feel like he'd failed.

With lunch taken care of, Izuku decided to take the rest of the day easy. There was nothing he had to do, nor was there anyone talk to, so Izuku curled up on the couch with a book. He flipped absentmindedly through the pages, skimming more than reading.

His phone buzzed on the coffee table by him. Izuku checked it.

Unknown Number 4:22 PM
Hey this is Uraraka! :)

Izuku typed out a quick reply and added her to his contacts. His contact list was growing; there were seven contacts now, though Izuku wouldn't use half of them.

The wait began. Izuku checked the mail every day, even though he knew the letter wasn't going to arrive until a week later. He found himself pacing the length of his room nervously.

At one point Izuku got so nervous he accidentally powered up One for All and broke through the wall separating his bedroom from the hall.

Hisashi appeared in the carnage, looking decidedly confused.

"Just testing out a new Quirk," Izuku said, voice deadpan.

Hisashi rolled his eyes.

"Sorry," Izuku said, trying not to laugh. He hid his hand behind his back. "Um, I'll… I'll work on replacing the wall. Good thing we have guest bedrooms!"

Izuku didn't dare try anything else. Instead he practiced with his original Quirk, pushing it to the limits. His broken finger he had to splint; Izuku went quietly to a nearby emergency room to get it set. Out of commission for a month, he was told.

Yeah, without Recovery Girl, any kind of adult supervision, or his wits, Izuku decided he needed to keep things calm until the letter came.

A week later, the exam results arrived as promised.

Izuku's heart fluttered as he snatched the envelope out of the mailbox - one of the only two pieces of mail they'd received. He tossed the other envelope, addressed to Akatani Hisashi, on the dining room table for Hisashi later.

Hisashi was in the living room, head bent over papers he was reading. Probably a report from one of the others. He lifted his head when he heard Izuku rush past.

"Izuku, is that—"

Hisashi was ignored. Izuku went straight to his room, shutting his door and clutching the envelope with shaking hands.

"This is it," Izuku whispered, staring at the envelope, sealed with the crest of U.A. High. "This is really it."

He'd been waiting nervously the entire past week, and it was finally here.

Izuku suddenly didn't want to be alone, though the only other option—opening it with Hisashi watching—wasn't very comforting either. Izuku opted to open his phone, pulling up the chat with Uraraka.

You 1:30 PM 
Just received my letter from U.A. Hope the results are good.

Uraraka 1:30 PM
ME TOO! Good luck.

Izuku eased the flap of the envelope open carefully, and then took a step back when a hologram appeared in the air.

He smiled when he saw All Might.

"...recording? We are? Oh, ah, ahem!"

All Might spread his arms out, grinning.

"Greetings, young Akatani! This is your U.A. results letter… and I am here! To tell you your results, of course."

"All Might…"

Izuku hadn't seen Toshinori in a week, just like the man had told him. It was nice to hear his voice again, even if it was just a recording and not the real thing.

"To begin, I am pleased to tell you that your score on the written examination was good. The graders were pleased with your answers, and you passed that section with no issues."

Izuku sighed in relief but chewed on his lip nervously. All Might had started out with the written portion, which meant that there were problems with Izuku's practical portion. Probably.

All Might's face turned grave. "However…"

Izuku covered his face, then peeked through his fingers.

"Your practical exam, on the other hand…"

"There it is," Izuku muttered. "I'm done. I'll never be a hero. This is it."

"You defeated twelve villain-bots, culminating in a point-total of 23 points. This alone is not enough when compared to the scores of the other potential students."

Izuku swallowed hard. His legs gave out from underneath him, and Izuku slid to the ground. He'd been right. He really failed the exam.

"But do not lose hope, young Akatani! Before I continue, I would like to show you… ah, can we get that clip… er, is it working?"

All Might smiled awkwardly at the camera. "Please allow us one moment for technical difficulties."

Technical difficulties?

What kind of technical difficulties were there to Izuku failing the exam?

"No, no, just play the- yes… we discussed this…"

The hologram seemed to disappear. Then a different scene opened, and Izuku watched in confusion as the clip began to play.

"Excuse me?"

"...Uraraka…?"

It was Uraraka, approaching one of the teachers. She looked nervous but determined. Izuku couldn't tell when this occurred, but he guessed it was probably after the exams in the past week. Why were they showing him Uraraka, though?

"I wanted to ask if it was possible… to share my points. With my fellow candidate Akatani."

Izuku's mouth dropped open. Share her points? Share her points?

But…

"He saved my life!" The Uraraka on-screen waved her arms in a large gesture. "I spoke with him afterwards, and he said he didn't think he was going to pass. But he deserves to! I know it!"

Izuku felt the familiar feeling of tears beginning to slip down his cheeks. The two barely knew each other, and yet—

"He saved me." Uraraka's face was set with a determination that Izuku knew wouldn't budge. "And even though the examination is judged on points… is judged on how well you can use your Quirk… shouldn't it be judged on acts of heroism as well?"

The clip stopped there, and All Might reappeared in frame.

"Young Uraraka here is correct… We at U.A. did not grant her request of splitting her points. However, there was an undisclosed, secondary criteria to the exam that no examinees were informed about."

All Might was smiling again. "For those who are pursuing heroics cannot only defeat villains. We were also searching for selflessness, a desire to help others… something that you displayed."

All Might glanced off-screen.

"And so, while you were only awarded 23 combat points for defeating villain-bots… the examiners awarded you with an additional 53 rescue points for your bravery and show of selflessness. Therefore, your total is 76 points, putting you in second place behind Bakugou Katsuki with 77 points."

A scoreboard appeared. Izuku was happy to see his name there - second to Kacchan, like All Might had said. Uraraka's name was also there, in 4th place.

The screen switched to a freeze frame caught of Izuku mid-air. The sight knocked the air from Izuku's lungs. He had his arm outstretched, about to fire One for All at the zero-pointer. His hair blew around him; on his face was a determined, set expression, with brows drawn and teeth bared. A fire was blazing in his eyes.

Izuku had never seen himself like this. It was— it was… it awakened something inside of Izuku then.

"So I am pleased to tell you," All Might continued, "that you have been accepted and will be attending U.A. as a student in the upcoming school year."

Izuku clutched his chest, then slowly lifted his hand to cover his mouth as he started crying.

All Might's smile shifted a little, and he stepped closer to the camera.

"Well done, young Akatani," he said quietly, "and I promised to tell you this when you passed the exam… I'm proud of you. I'll see you soon."

On the ground next to him, his phone buzzed with messages, but Izuku couldn't bring himself to respond. Instead Izuku sank back on his knees, holding the acceptance letter close to his chest.

You 1:42 PM 
[hacker voice] ...I'm in!

You 1:43 PM 
I mean. You already probably know that but

Eraserhead 1:44 PM 
why are you texting me

Toshinori 1:44 PM 
Yes!

Toshinori 1:45 PM 
You could at least try to sound excited, Aizawa. I know you are.

Eraserhead 1:46 PM 
Why would I pretend to be excited

Eraserhead 1:47 PM 
I better not be getting texts from this group chat. Unless it's an emergency. Maybe not even then

Toshinori 1:50 PM 
Congratulations, Mikumi.

You 1:51 PM 
Technical difficulties?

You 1:52 PM 
Really. I couldn't have done it without either of you. Thank you.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter eleven: interlude i.


Aizawa Shouta had seen a lot of things.

It was the upside—or, in his opinion, the downside—of being a pro hero. The best parts of it, grateful faces and the sharp zing of victory that gave him a rush no cup of coffee could. The gritty parts of it that no one liked to talk about, the blood and the aching bones and failure. He'd seen it all. He always thought he had.

Then pro hero Eraserhead hadn't been able to stop a kid, to help him—

Shouta gritted his teeth, holding his concentration and tugging at the spindly thread of his opponent's Quirk.

It unraveled in an instant, a brilliant thing that hummed and sang sweet songs.

Then Shouta lashed out with his capture weapon, aiming to restrain the villain's movements. His opponent slipped underneath them, short stature and small body lending to a speed Shouta hadn't expected. He began to run towards the exit; Shouta gave chase.

"Who—" he started, but he was cut off by the sight of fire spilling in from the other side of the building.

His opponent spun, hand reaching into his pocket and retrieving a small vial filled with liquid. Shouta didn't like the look of it. Poison, or some sort of chemical compound that could disable Shouta, maybe. He tossed his capture weapon again, but not fast enough.

The vial shattered on the ground. Seconds later, Shouta threw himself backwards, cursing internally. Fire rippled between them, lighting up the area and changing the visibility.

Shouta drew his arm up, trying to cover his face from the fire.

"For what it's worth…" The man spoke for the first time, voice softer and smaller and kinder than Shouta had expected. "...I'm sorry." 

He blinked. Felt his Quirk settle as it slipped away from him. Shouta lowered his arm slowly, staring at the firelight dancing across the man's face.

No.

That wasn't right.

This wasn't the villain Shouta was looking for, or the one he'd expected. This wasn't a man at all, but a boy. He couldn't have been much older than Shouta's own students. Suddenly instead Shouta saw Konuma's face instead, then Nakamura, then each of his students instead. The ones that he'd taught and raised and watched after.

He couldn't find his voice.

"You're a kid—"

"Eraserhead!"

"Eraserhead," the kid said, as Shouta reached out for him. "You're— good, you know that?"

Good. What did that mean, you're good, what did that mean. Like the kid was telling Shouta he himself was bad, or you're good, like Shouta was a good man or a good person or a good hero.

"What are you doing with a group of villains?"

There was distant shouting from Hizashi, but Shouta ignored it. He could wait.

The kid's eyes flickered up to Shouta's face. Shouta tried to memorize the kid's features—the dark hair, the shape of the eyes, the slope of the nose and the mouth. But even with the fire casting light between them, it was hard to make out a face to commit to memory and not so simple as taking a picture.

"You think I have a choice?" Shouta snapped back to the present, a shiver going down his spine. "I'd be on your side if I could, hero."

The kid was already turning away. Shouta lost side of his face, but he caught the bitter edge to his voice.

No. No.

"Wait," Shouta called, moving forward.

The kid smashed another vial on the ground, and Shouta was forced to retreat before he was burned. He watched the kid go, grinding his teeth and crying out in frustration. Slipped through his fingers. Gone.

—then pro hero Eraserhead had failed, and Aizawa Shouta was left with the fallout.

The sight haunted him for weeks. Then months.

"He could've been one of ours," Shouta said, voice low. He clasped his hands in front of him, leaning over his knees. "He could've been one of ours, Hizashi."

Hizashi looked tired. Drawn. Sad.

"I know."

His voice, usually a volume Shouta couldn't stand, was quiet now. Shouta missed its loudness, loath as he was to admit it.

"That's what I can't get over," Shouta said, suddenly furious. His hands unlocked, and he pounded a fist into his palm. "He could've been— he was the same age as one of our kids, he said, he said he didn't have a choice…"

"No leads?"

Shouta scoffed, leaning back.

"Drink?"

Hizashi passed over the mug, half-full with beer. Shouta wasn't a drinker by nature—he didn't like the taste, and he didn't like what alcohol did to the senses, to the mind. But he drank a little anyway, angry and confused and desperate.

"I've been looking," he admitted, passing the mug back. Shouta shook his head. "Nothing."

"He must've been following you for a while," Hizashi said, rubbing at his face. "Right? You caught him watching you once, but that couldn't have been the first or the only time."

The thought didn't make Shouta feel any better. Hizashi tried to smile, but it didn't come out quite right. It just wasn't one of those nights.

"You can keep looking tomorrow," his friend said finally. Hizashi took the blanket from its place over the back of the couch and draped it over Shouta's shoulders. "And the next day, and the next. We'll find him. Get some sleep, yeah?"

Shouta grunted as Hizashi settled next to him.

"You take up too much space," he grumbled as Hizashi stretched out.

"I got here first."

Shouta rolled his eyes. "I've been sitting here this entire time, Hizashi, don't be stupid."

The lamp by the couch clicked off. Hizashi nudged Shouta with a foot in his way of telling him to go to sleep. A few moments later, Hizashi was snoring.

Shouta didn't sleep that night. He didn't often sleep. Instead he made sure Hizashi was sound asleep before he left the apartment.

They'd pulled another late night on their joint hunt for the kid. Shouta gotten some security footage from around the abandoned area that the kid had been seen, but it was spotty and gave no new information.

His descriptions and memory of the kid were too vague. There were too many possible connections without a solid piece of evidence to link back. And with the factory burnt down, there was no chance of finding anything useful.

They thought he might be connected to the rising of the villain organization Chimera, but the connections were flimsy. Chimera, as far as the heroes and police knew, only had four members, and none of them fit the kid's description. But four people had been spotted with the kid in a grainy shot of their escape before they'd all frustratingly disappeared.

Mission: Extra Credit, as Hizashi had dubbed it, was not going well. Shouta hated the name, but like all things, it stuck.

Shouta didn't like to give up on things. There was a difference, in his opinion, between a failed case and one with a spark of potential. He didn't give up on his students—only pushed them to meet the mark he thought they could, and if they couldn't, he let them go somewhere where they could reach their potential. It wasn't giving up, not the way he saw it.

Instead Shouta moved Extra Credit to the back burner. He kept up his hero work, prepared for the upcoming school year (Shouta was not looking forward to his newest batch of bright-eyed hopefuls), and when he had a spare moment, thought over his failure and how he could make it right.

He wasn't particularly pleased when Nedzu announced that All Might was joining the U.A. staff as a teacher. All Might was— well.

Shouta didn't hold anything against All Might, of course. He'd done a lot for their society. He carried the streets and the cities and the people on his shoulders. He saved people. He smiled, and Japan smiled with him.

But All Might was a flashy hero. He was the kind of hero that Shouta wasn't. The kind that could sail through U.A. entrance exams, whose Quirk let him leave people enraptured and dazzled. And though he had smarts, he wasn't the brightest of the bunch, or always the most perceptive.

Then All Might asked for help.

It was a day Shouta remembered, particularly because he'd never imagined All Might asking him for help.

In came Akatani, a scrappy, skinny thing that honestly looked more like a bean sprout than a person. He was excitable and emotional, and he had eyes that seemed to fill with stars when he looked at All Might, the way every kid did.

Shouta watched as All Might prepared, rolling up his sleeves with a confident smile. Akatani faced him head-on, despite the fact that he didn't have much of a chance of winning.

He was fighting All Might. He wasn't going to win.

"Come on, young Akatani!"

Akatani seemed to gather his courage. He glanced over at Shouta and met his gaze; his eyes were dark and glittering with intent, but Akatani dropped his eyes not long after.

Shouta turned his attention to the fight. Akatani raced forwards and feinted towards All Might's chest. Then he kicked out in an attempt to sweep All Might off his feet.

It wasn't going to work, mostly because All Might was practically pure muscle. But it did make him stumble, which Shouta figured was as good as it was going to get.

Akatani aimed for All Might's face. All Might grinned and caught his hand, then with a flash of power, he tossed Akatani to the ground. He wasn't using his full strength, of course, but Shouta winced slightly anyway. That would hurt.

Akatani recovered well. He rolled, keeping his momentum, and was back on his feet. All Might was there to meet him. He threw Akatani back again, slamming hard on the floor.

All Might smiled the way he always did when he was going in for the metaphorical kill. He closed in on Akatani like a prowling tiger. Shouta was unsurprised with the results, but he had to acknowledge Akatani had tried.

Maybe he'd make a last stand with his Quirk. Strength augmentation, or something similar to All Might's, if they were fighting like this.

Akatani darted in, getting in All Might's face. He grabbed All Might's arm, holding him in place for just a sent to kick out with a foot.

Shouta leaned forward, not sure why he was trying again when it hadn't worked the first time.

Then All Might flew backwards, landing on the ground and looking up with surprise etched on his face. Shouta found himself surprised, too. He hadn't expected that.

"Look at you," All Might said.

Akatani charged forwards again. The air crackled slightly. When Shouta looked closely, he could see pale light forming around Akatani's arm—a fainy physical manifestation of the power he carried. He'd break his arm, probably what he'd been doing before.

Shouta prepared to use his Quirk but waited just a moment longer.

All Might moved to meet him. They connected.

Both Akatani and All Might were sent backwards. Akatani skidded as All Might recovered. Shouta stepped forward, eyes widening when he realized Akatani had not only done that, but he hadn't broken his arm.

Akatani reached the same conclusion.

"It's not broken. It's not… it's not? It's not broken."

All Might approached slowly, all intent of fight gone from his form. He looked at the hand Akatani held up to show him.

"You did it," All Might said, laughing.

A moment of weakness. The fight hadn't ended, Shouta thought. A perfect opportunity.

Akatani's eyes drifted past All Might to look at Shouta. Shouta nodded at him.

Take it. Take the chance.

Akatani reached back slowly. A glint of steel—a knife.

Then, smoothly, easily, Akatani strode forward, drawing his knife and placing it on All Might's chest.

"Yeah," Akatani said, voice breathless. "I did it."

Shouta hadn't had much hope for that one. Now interest sparked like flint and steel.

Something latched on and refused to let go.

It was like looking in a mirror. Just a little bit. Enough for Shouta to be take interest.

Akatani's smiles were wide and his dreams gleaming. When he talked, it was with a lot of energy. His mind was a brilliant thing, something to be polished with a little encouragement.

But like All Might, like Shouta himself, like all the heroes that had come before him and all that had come after, Akatani had a weight he carried in his heart. A sadness. Something that left them all stumbling in the dark, searching for the lights. Something that kept them grounded, kept them from spreading their wings in flight and instead sent them spiraling downwards as they tried and tried again.

That was what Shouta saw.

Didn't light cast shadows? Didn't pearls form from grit?

"Do you think I can be a hero, Eraserhead?"

Shouta blinked at the ceiling, only half-awake. "What kind of question is that."

"...Do you?"

"Why are you asking me," Shouta tried again.

A sigh. "Because I look up to you as much as I look up to All Might," Akatani admitted, and Shouta sat up. "And because I want to know. You have high standards. I heard you're ruthless."

"Ruthless is only a word," Shouta said, feeling slightly pleased.

"You're avoiding my question," Akatani said, frowning. "If you don't think so, you should tell me. Or— I think you, well. You would've told me by now, huh?"

He'd come to the same realization Shouta had.

"Get back to studying and stop bothering me," Shouta said. He laid back down. "I want sleep. You're not going to be a hero if you fail that exam."

"Right!"

As Shouta closed his eyes, he could hear the smile in Akatani's voice. Like the sound of hope.

The U.A. entrance exams drew closer and then passed.

In the viewing room, Shouta leaned against a wall, opting not to sit. All Might was close by; so was Hizashi.

Shouta didn't play favorites. It wasn't fair. (All Might, on the other hand, had a huge soft spot for Akatani and could hardly hide it. Others were bound to notice eventually.)

Shouta did, however, give credit where credit was due.

"Zero-pointer to Battle Center B," Nedzu directed. Hizashi did as was told, and the teachers moved closer to see the candidates' reaction.

Most ran. Disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. It was important to value yourself and your life, and if it didn't look like you could win in a fight, the best thing to do was run.

"There, that girl!"

Uraraka Ochako, who'd shown a surprising amount of promise. She'd done well. Shouta had seen her use her Quirk to destroy robots in quick fashion, and to save someone from being crushed by a falling part.

Now, at the end of the exam, she was losing her energy. Her Quirk still seemed usable, but Quirks were a part of the body. It took a toll, Shouta knew.

Trapped under a pile of rubble with the zero-pointer in sight, it seemed inevitable she would either have to find some way to escape or she'd have to face the zero-pointer with a depleted Quirk.

"Nedzu, should we—"

Nedzu shook his head, holding up a paw. "Not yet. Teachers, please direct your attention to Screen 13-A."

So when Akatani, points only rallying up to a disappointing twenty-three, appeared on screen in the final two minutes, Shouta leaned forward, intrigued.

All Might shifted. The glow of the screens reflected in his eyes.

"Hey," Hizashi hissed in a voice that was way too loud to be a whisper. "Isn't that that kid you were talking about?"

"Yes," Shouta said, "now shut up and watch."

Akatani had that kind of gritty resolve that didn't go away easily. Shouta knew why All Might had taken Akatani under his wing: because he'd seen a roaring fire in his spirit.

It came as no surprise when Akatani stopped to help Uraraka, and certainly as no surprise when he ran straight towards the zero-pointer.

Towards, not away.

"Come on…" All Might murmured.

With a pulse of that endless power, Akatani blew the zero-pointer to pieces. The teachers rose, talking to each other in equally wondrous and panicked tones as Akatani plummeted towards the ground.

Uraraka saved him at the last minute. Time was called.

"There it is," All Might said, sounding breathless. He coughed into his sleeve and laughed wetly. He was smiling, more than a little proud.

In the end, it was an easy choice to make. A selfless desire to save others, disregarding the danger. Enough rescue points to put Akatani on the board, and not only on the board, but in the second spot.

Shouta admitted he deserved it.

From the selection of candidates that were put into Class 1-A, Shouta thought he was going to have an interesting year.

Then again, having to wrangle and teach a bunch of heroics students made every year an interesting year. Just the way Shouta liked it.

A week out from the school year's start, Hizashi called Shouta to help him look at a new case that had come up.

"You should be preparing for classes," Shouta said, dragging himself from the teachers' lounge where he'd made his permanent residence. "I'm drowning in papers."

"Yeah, yeah. Come on, Shouta, I really think you'd be interested."

"I'm never interested," Shouta said, halfway out the gates of U.A. "Just tell me where to go."

The crime that had been called in was a simple break-in.

Well, Shouta amended, if it could be simple to break into a police station.

"Eraserhead, sir," a police officer greeted him. "Thank you so much for coming."

He nodded curtly. "The others?"

Shouta was led into a back room, where Hizashi was standing looking at a few screens displaying security footage.

"You're here," Hizashi said. He looked excited and a bit relieved. "Made it in no time."

"What's going on."

"The perpetrator, whoever it was… they weren't very interested in much, to be honest. They broke into our filing cabinets and took a bunch of files on pro heroes—of course, you know we keep those just as reference, without much sensitive information and more of a simple description, hero name, Quirk, that sort of thing."

Shouta nodded. "That's all?"

He still wasn't sure why Hizashi had called him here, but his friend held up a hand. Wait for it.

"They also… left something."

Shouta raised an eyebrow. "Purposefully? Or on accident."

"Er…" The policeman scratched his head. "Well, they put it right on our boss' desk, sir, so we think it was on purpose."

"Anything of interest?"

Hizashi snapped his fingers, too excited to contain himself. "That's just the thing, my friend."

They brought it out.

"A notebook."

It'd been a long day already, since Shouta's day typically started at around two or three in the morning. He'd picked off a few petty criminals, almost taken home another cat, and had written so many words he never wanted to see his own writing again.

And now this. Shouta had been called from his work to look at an emptied filing cabinet and a notebook.

Not a weapon of mass destruction, not some bomb that was slowly ticking down that they needed to diffuse, not even a coffee-maker, which he would have appreciated.

"Wait wait wait. Wait, wait, wait wait," Hizashi said, bringing the notebook closer. "I know what you're thinking! I know what's going on in that brain of yours—"

"Get on with it."

"It's got a load of information in it, Shouta," Hizashi said, "and that villain organization you've been keeping tabs on? The one we think is connected to Mission: Extra Credit? This notebook is chock full of it."

"Hand it over," Shouta said. Hizashi passed it over.

He flipped through the pages. It was a small notebook, and only about a fourth of it had been filled. A couple pages, but…

"Now you're interested, huh."

"Can you make copies of this?" Shouta asked. "And send them to me, please. Make sure this is kept safe. How sure are we that this information is accurate?"

"Some of the information matches up with what we have," Hizashi responded. He pointed to one computer screen, where files had been pulled up. Pictures of Chimera members, profiles, information. Not that there was much.

"Only some?"

"Well, we didn't have the rest of it, Eraserhead, sir. Some of it is new."

Shouta scanned the notebook again, reading through it quickly. Notes and notes about the three heads of Chimera: the Dragon, Miss Guidance, and Bonestealer.

The Dragon and Bonestealer had the most information. Miss Guidance was the most spare of them all and no mention of her Quirk, but there were a few scribbled notes about her fighting style and a little about her personality.

The analytical profiles of the villain reminded Shouta strangely of Akatani. He wasn't sure why—probably because Akatani liked Quirks, and liked analyzing Quirks, if Shouta knew anything from their discussions.

He briefly entertained the thought of showing the notebook to Akatani, but he dismissed the idea almost immediately. It wouldn't make sense; he wasn't a student yet, and certainly didn't have a provincial hero license.

Shouta turned the idea over in his head again.

Maybe not this information specifically, no. But soon he'd have access to the next generation of heroes: a group of some of the brightest minds and spirited fighters. While Shouta couldn't divulge anything sensitive without clearance, he could devise lessons.

Students surprised him like that. They always found a way, if they were good. They had ideas that Shouta didn't; their experiences were different, so their ideas were different.

"You've got that look on your face again, sensei," Hizashi teased, waving a hand in front of Shouta's face.

"What look. I always look tired."

Hizashi pulled a face. "Yeah, but you've got that look on your face like you want to pull another one of your logical ruses again."

Shouta frowned at him. "They work, don't they?"

"And they scare the crap out of students! I love seeing their faces. Call me over when you're testing out the kids, I want to see their reactions."

"Mm, don't think that's a good idea. You'd give it away."

Hizashi squinted. "I am very good at keeping secrets and you know it."

"You are very good about being loud."

A policeman cleared his throat.

"Right, right, sorry. Oh, yeah! You guys were just telling me as Eraserhead came in here… about the weird thing…"

"Here, watch this."

The security footage was played back. It was caught in a loop—an easy thing to rig, if you knew what to do.

At first glance, Shouta knew that everything would seem normal. On second glance, you'd see that nothing was perfect.

There was always a second where things didn't line up. A moment when things would glitch, or when a mistake occurred.

Those were the moments pro heroes and detectives alike had been trained to catch. You had to search for the end of the rope in what looked like an endless, tangled knot—and then once you found it, you could start unravelling it.

"This was last night, by the way. Late. Only a few of us were working then."

Only three policemen were visible in the tape that was being played. It looked like a quiet, easy night.

This repeated—Shouta caught the policeman at the front desk drinking from a coffee mug at the same time every few minutes.

Yet right when Shouta was about to lose his patience, the footage changed. The loop stopped. The footage blurred and then refocused, and there was a figure that hadn't been there before. Hooded, dressed in black. Standing at the file cabinets in the back, clutching a set of files.

"That's him?" Hizashi asked.

Shouta found himself breathless as the kid shut the cabinet drawer again and looked around. He pulled a device from his pocket and paused.

Then the kid looked right at the security camera. With the hood over his face and a mask pulled up, Shouta could hardly make out his features. Only a set of eyes. Even so, Shouta knew it was him. It had to be.

"That's him," Shouta breathed.

Then the kid seemed to vanish as all the lights on-screen went out. When they came back on, the kid was gone.

"There's something we don't understand about the whole situation, see. The feedback loop was useless… he stopped it, which is why we are able to see him. And no one saw him come in or out. He must have run when the lights went out, but we're not sure how he got there in the first place. Our guys on duty last night only reported what they thought was a brief outage, no sightings of anyone breaking in or out. The only reason we even found out in the first place was the notebook and when we were looking to review pro hero Endeavor."

The policeman was right. None of it made sense. The useless camera loop. The notebook. The brief glance at the camera.

Shouta paced the length of three tiles back and forth for a moment, thinking.

"He wanted us to see him," Hizashi said. Shouta stopped to look at him. "I mean, that has to be it, right? The notebook, the camera loop. He wanted us to notice him, so someone would look for him."

"Copy the footage and send that to me, too," Shouta said, a sour taste beginning to accrue in his mouth. "If you will. I think that's as far as we'll get today, but let me know if you find anything else."

"We'll look into it," Hizashi promised.

There were still questions Shouta had. Things he should ask as a pro hero, as an investigator, as was his duty.

But Shouta left anyway. He'd come back again when his thoughts weren't creeping behind him like a dark shadow. When he could think clearer and better about the situation.

"I was beginning to think we weren't going to see him again," Hizashi admitted later, when they returned to U.A. to camp out. "Was hoping that maybe it was a one time thing and the kid got himself out of there. I mean, it's been months. Can you imagine…"

Shouta let out a long sigh. "So the search continues."

Hizashi stole Shouta's newly-brewed coffee and drank loudly from it.

"So it does," he said, raising Shouta's cup in the air. Shouta snatched it back and inhaled the fragrant aroma of coffee.

He wasn't going to get much sleep tonight.

...At this point, pro hero Kamui Woods arrived on the scene. Unable to do anything about the fire, he instead faced off against villains identified as Miss Guidance and Bonestealer. However, he was quickly injured and rendered unconscious, but left alone. The Dragon was seen standing watching the flames, but the fire surrounding him was too volatile and hot to approach.

We were also able to identify the Silver Scorpion. She did not participate in the fight, and when approached, quickly escaped. The appearance of these four confirms the sighting of Chimera, though their end goal was not clear. The apartment building they burnt down was mostly devoid of people; therefore, our conclusion stands that this incident was a test of prowess and a show of power. Attention and incitement of fear.

Policemen and firefighters were able to put out the fire. We pursued them, but focus remained on making sure all civilians were evacuated. The members of Chimera that were spotted were lost, disappearing despite our best efforts. No security footage from the surrounding area showed anything out of place or any sign of the villains. Our search into alternate means of transportation or concealment continues, and this file will be updated if we learn more information.

Last note: a young girl escaped from the apartment complex. Relatively unharmed, she was put under supervision at Ogachi Central Hospital. When questioned, she claimed she was trapped inside of the building (general smoke inhalation and aftereffects confirm this). However, she told officers she was saved by a hero 'Deku.' Cross-referencing our reports and files, we have not been able to find any trace of this hero 'Deku' — he is not a registered pro hero, sidekick, or intern. There was a figure spotted nearby that potentially matched her description (it is unclear at this time), though he disappeared soon after the incident was over.

However, new information about Chimera suggests this figure was not 'Deku' as the girl had described but the co-conspirator Mirage. Mirage is relatively new to Chimera, or at least has not participated in many activities. His existence was debated by detectives for months after new claims appeared; however, this sighting and captured photograph attached proves his existence and work with Chimera. There is little to no information about Mirage, and we are unsure of his Quirk. However, we believe he assisted not in the fight but instead in getting the villains away undetected.

With the little information we have, we presume this hero 'Deku' mentioned before is perhaps a vigilante or civilian who stepped in to assist with the situation. We are unable to find any information about a potential connection to Chimera or his status as a vigilante, and unless 'Deku' resurfaces, we will consider him a civilian and file him irrelevant to our investigation…

Eraserhead: we have also sent over your requested information and security footage from last week, as well as this new incident. Please contact us if you have any insight or any other requests to make. Media attention has circulated around Kamui Woods as well as the fire, so be careful in your investigations not to release anything we have given you. Take care.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twelve


Uraraka 6:20 AM 
See you at school today! We can get lost together :D

Izuku chuckled as he read the text, getting ready and pulling on his new school uniform. It fit quite well and was surprisingly comfortable. Izuku admired the blazer and tugged at the stiff material of his pants. He hadn't dressed in a school uniform in a long time—it was unfamiliar, new.

Izuku had rejected Hisashi's offer to take him school again though Hisashi had insisted. Hisashi watched Izuku as he put on his shoes, slinging his bag over his shoulder.

"Bye, I guess," Izuku said.

"I'll see you later," Hisashi responded, cut off when Izuku shut the door behind him. He took a deep breath, enjoying the morning air.

"It's going to be a good day," Izuku told himself, marching to the elevator that would take him down to ground floor. "Nothing bad will happen today. Not at all. Good times only."

He texted Uraraka back. They agreed they'd meet in the same spot they had after the exams, and then they would navigate the school halls together.

Well, Izuku figured. He already knew where Class 1-A was, so there was no need to get lost. The only perks to spying, he supposed.

He arrived at school on time, slinking through the gate. Uraraka arrived a few minutes later, bouncing with excitement. Izuku smiled.

"Hey!"

"Hey, Uraraka," Izuku greeted.

"Nice day, isn't it," Uraraka said breathlessly. Izuku had to agree. He liked the springtime; it wasn't too warm or too cold, a nice breeze drifting through. The sakura had already bloomed, framing streets in beautiful pink clouds and falling petals that Izuku had enjoyed on his way to school.

"You don't think we're late, right?"

"Nah," Uraraka said, "and besides, it's only the first day. So there's no way our teacher could be mad at us if we get lost."

"We're not going to get lost," Izuku promised. "I know the way?"

"You do?"

He nodded. "Come on."

The two friends talked excitedly about the upcoming school year, from the teachers ("Pro hero Eraserhead for homeroom," Izuku said) to the classes ("A lot of practical training, probably") to their new classmates ("If Bakugou Katsuki isn't there, I'm going to be very surprised").

"How do you know all this stuff?"

They stopped outside of the classroom labelled 1-A.

"I just do," Izuku said lightly, and pushed open the door.

He was met with a wall of sound. Izuku looked around, confused, trying to get his bearings. Uraraka winced.

"Yo," one of the students said, perched calmly in one of the front seats.

"Please get your feet off the table!"

"Don't tell me what to do, loser! I'll put my feet on the table if I fucking want to!"

"It's such a nice way to start the day, don't you think?"

Izuku stared at the scene unfolding around him. "Uh, uh, wha?"

"And this is the famed hero school…" Uraraka said beside him, sounding just as lost.

"Happy first day," Izuku said, voice flat. He holds a hand out woodenly for a high-five. Uraraka slapped their palms together, careful not to make him float.

"Happy first day," she agreed.

"Ah, it's you! From the exam!"

Oh. Izuku remembered the boy standing in front of him. He was the one to interrupt Present Mic and who'd stopped Izuku at the beginning of the practical exam.

The boy bowed. "I have to apologize for my words."

"What," Izuku said.

"And I want to commend you for your actions in the exam! You figured out what I did not—defeating the zero-pointer and getting those rescue points."

"You, uh… I had no idea?"

"Even more commendable."

"Thanks...?" The word came out weakly. Izuku was already beginning to feel overwhelmed. He'd forgotten what a bunch of teens stuck in a room together was like, and he didn't like remembering.

"Iida Tenya, pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Uh, same?" Izuku cast a panicked look at Uraraka, like, please help me, I don't know how to talk to people. "I'm Akatani Mikumi."

"I'm Uraraka Ochako," Uraraka said, bouncing in and smiling.

"Oy, Akatani, come over here so I can—"

"Shut up," a voice snapped from behind them. The class quieted somewhat. Uraraka turned around and shrieked in surprise and fear.

Izuku turned, looking down expectantly. A yellow caterpillar—sleeping bag, he reminded himself—was inching along the ground, stopping in front of the door. Izuku stepped politely out of the way.

The sleeping bag opened, revealing a tired-looking face and a juice pouch. Then it fell away as their homeroom teacher stood.

Izuku smiled cheerily. "Good morning, Era—Aizawa-sensei."

"Hm," was the only response Izuku got. It made him grin wider.

"Get in a seat. This is no time for fooling around. I'm your homeroom teacher—you'll refer to me as Aizawa-sensei and Aizawa-sensei only." He eyed Izuku. "Eraserhead, if you have to. Why is nobody moving?"

The students scrambled to find their seats. Izuku was put near Kacchan, which made him uneasy, partially because Kacchan immediately turned to glare at him and partially because Kacchan was right there. Where he could potentially discover everything Izuku had and was working for.

Fine.

Totally, totally fine.

"Uh, sir, are we, uh, going to the assembly?"

Izuku knew the answer.

"Absolutely not," Eraserhead said. "We don't have time for an assembly. It's useless, anyway. Your time here is fleeting, and I have a lot to teach you before you get set loose in the world. Everyone get dressed and meet me outside in five minutes."

"Holy..." another student said, the moment Eraserhead disappeared out the door. He was probably headed towards the training grounds.

To Izuku's left, panels opened up to reveal sets of gym uniforms. He pulled his out. It was nothing more than a simple blue, white, and red suit, made of a lightweight material.

The students headed to the locker rooms to change, talking to each other but keeping their teacher in mind.

"He's kind of scary..."

"He's not that scary," Izuku said. "Like. Just saying."

"He's totally scary. Look at that face, right?"

"Hey, do you think the girls will look hot in their gym uniforms?"

"They're gym uniforms, Mineta. Gym uniforms. Also, shut up."

The talk continued well into the locker rooms.

Izuku didn't bother joining in on very many of the conversations. He got dressed quickly, hiding in a corner in the hopes that no one would catch his scars, and then was out of the locker rooms in record time.

He was the first to show up. Eraserhead was waiting, glancing at a stopwatch impatiently.

"The others?"

"Changing," Izuku responded. "If they're not on time, will you kick them out?"

"I'll consider it," Eraserhead said. Izuku glanced at his feet, glad he was there early.

"Got any, uh, logical ruses planned for today?"

Eraserhead raised a brow. "Where'd you hear that from."

"Oh," Izuku said, shrugging. He waved a hand. "Around."

"Say anything and I'll actually kick you out, Akatani."

Izuku saluted, grinning. "Yes, sensei."

The other students began to trickle in, gathering in a small crowd. Uraraka made her way to stand next to Izuku.

"Any idea what we're out here for?"

This Izuku didn't actually know. He shrugged.

"Listen up," Eraserhead called. "Before we begin any actual training, I'm going to run a Quirk Apprehension test. In middle school, there were restrictions and limitations placed on your Quirks… here, there are none except your own. Bakugou Katsuki."

Kacchan stepped forwards.

"How far could you pitch a ball without your Quirk?"

Kacchan thought over it for a minute. "Sixty-four meters."

Eraserhead procured a softball and handed it over. "Try now, with your Quirk."

Kacchan grinned. He tossed the ball in the air, testing its weight, and then cranked his arm back. When he released it, there was a loud boom as his Quirk propelled the ball forwards.

The flaming ball streaked through the air, almost out of sight. Izuku watched wordlessly as Eraserhead's counter ticked up.

"Over seven-hundred meters with the Quirk."

Kacchan looked more than pleased with himself. He cracked his knuckles and returned to the crowd, though he wasn't smiling.

"This test will show your limits with your Quirk…" Eraserhead began. His eyes crinkled. "...and whoever places last in the end will be expelled."

"Woah, woah, hold up, what?"

"I didn't sit through three hours of exams for this!"

"We just got here!"

"That's not fair," Uraraka cried.

Eraserhead crossed his arms, waiting for the protests to die down. "My class, my rules. If you're hopeless, you don't deserve to be here… and I'll ask you to leave."

Izuku almost snorted, but it turned into a coughing fit when Eraserhead's gaze landed on him. Dramatic. Izuku was about eighty-percent sure Eraserhead wouldn't actually expel anyone (twenty-percent unsure about Mineta, who seemed smart but maybe not the best guy). As long as every one of them had at least a little potential, they'd be fine.

Probably.

Izuku would do his best, anyway. He had to.

"So don't be last, then," Eraserhead said.

The test began.

Izuku did do his best, though it was hard. He still didn't have control over One for All (that was fun), so he couldn't use it the way the others used their Quirks. With One for All, it was either the full 100% or none at all, so Izuku had to choose between destroying his body or doing without it. Toshinori had told him with time and practice, he'd be able to scale back to different percentages.

Still, Izuku did well by his standards. He was fit, thanks to Toshinori and Chimera. He was fast, used to running for his life.

By the time they reached the third trial of Eraserhead's test, though, Izuku was dead last. Kacchan was first.

"Come on, Akatani," Eraserhead said, after everyone else had gone. He held the ball out to Izuku like it was an offering. His eyes searched Izuku's, a promise and a challenge. If Izuku didn't know any better, he thought Eraserhead was smiling.

Izuku took the ball.

"Show me what you're made of."

This, Izuku could do. One for All hummed in his fingertips.

"Go beyond," Izuku murmured to himself, preparing to pitch the ball. When he let go, One for All raced along the pads of his fingers and poured outwards. "Plus ultra."

The ball seemed to disappear into the sky; the numbers on the counter climbed higher and higher until they surpassed even Kacchan's. Izuku allowed himself a private smile, but he knew he'd have to work harder to use One for All to his own full potential.

"Satisfactory," Eraserhead said. Izuku rejoined the rest of his classmates, who were murmuring appreciatively.

"That was so manly, dude!"

"Er, thanks," Izuku said.

"So powerful…"

"Broke a finger… what kind of Quirk…?"

"No way Aizawa-sensei can kick you out with a Quirk like that…"

Kacchan stormed towards him. He looked mad, though Izuku didn't know why.

"You," he seethed, stalking forwards. His hands sparked. Izuku took a step back but held his ground. It was just Kacchan. He knew how Kacchan worked; he could deal with him.

Izuku didn't have to, though. Eraserhead's capture weapon wrapped around Kacchan, holding him in place. Eraserhead didn't look sorry in the slightest.

"Don't make me use my Quirk," Eraserhead said. His hair floated around him, eyes gleaming red. He let go after a moment, and used one hand to shove his hair back. "It gives me dry eye, so I'd like to not use it where I can. I didn't think I'd have to today."

It took a moment, but eventually Kacchan calmed, sensing he'd lost the fight. He sulked at the edge of the group, other students skirting away from him.

Izuku had placed dead last, but…

"The expulsion was a logical ruse," Eraserhead droned. He didn't look in Izuku's direction. "I wanted to see you push yourselves to the limit, and there's no better way than to dangle a light threat over your heads."

"A light threat?"

"Man!"

"Dismissed," Eraserhead said curtly, and the students began to swarm back towards the locker rooms, eager to change. Izuku lingered behind.

"So I'm not expelled, huh?"

Eraserhead snorted. "Don't make me regret it, problem child."

All Might appeared suddenly in front of them. "I am here!"

"We noticed," Eraserhead said, "How nice of you to grace us with your presence."

"You're welcome!"

"We'll have to work on your Quirk," Eraserhead continued, nodding at Izuku. He turned to All Might. "If you're mentoring him or whatever it is, you're going to have to figure this out."

All Might nodded seriously.

"You don't have zero potential," Eraserhead told Izuku. "If you did, you really would've been expelled."

"I heard you expelled an entire class," All Might said.

Izuku sucked in a breath. "An entire class?"

Eraserhead didn't respond to that.

"Go to Recovery Girl for your finger," he said instead. He nodded at All Might. "Let's talk."

Izuku waved as he left.

"See you later?" All Might asked, catching Izuku before he went. Izuku nodded. They'd met a few times prior to the school year, but not often. It'd be nice to see Toshinori on a daily basis.

"How many times can you break your bones, boy?" Recovery Girl asked. She hadn't even looked up from her work.

"You knew it was me?"

Recovery Girl pointed at a bed. "Only you would show up here on the first day of school."

Izuku considered that a fair point and decided not to argue.

In a moment his finger was all better.

"Is it true," Izuku said before he left, "that if you keep breaking your bones, they get stronger?"

Recovery Girl sent him a flat look. "I'm not telling you the answer to that, and you'd better not test it."

"I won't, I promise."

Uraraka was waiting for him as the school day ended. She was standing next to Iida, who waved.

"Oh," Izuku said, surprised, "hey, guys."

"Hey, Aka—"

"—tani!"

"Is that Bakugou?"

"Uh-oh."

"You'd better run."

Kacchan appeared, jabbing a finger in Izuku's face.

"Look," he snapped, "I don't care if you want to be a hero, okay? Whatever. But don't try to pretend you're better than me, stop acting like I'm someone you're looking down on."

"Okay," Izuku said, letting him continue. He didn't even bat an eye as Kacchan stepped even closer.

"Hey, woah," Uraraka said, trying to get between them.

"We are fellow classmates!" Iida chopped his arm in a downwards motion. "We should not treat each other like—"

Kacchan whirled on them. "Shut up," he growled.

"It's okay," Izuku said.

"You think you can beat me," Kacchan said lowly. "You think I need your pity, or your help. I don't."

He shoved Izuku once.

"Eat my dust," Kacchan growled in Izuku's ear and then stalked off.

"Huh," Izuku wondered, watching his back. "It's like he's a whole other person…"

Kacchan was competitive and driven, Izuku knew that. He'd always admired that quality about his childhood friend. That was what made Izuku chase after him.

It was strange, the way Kacchan had threatened him. Like he thought Izuku pitied him, or he thought that Izuku thought he himself was the better one of the two.

That wasn't true. Kacchan was always the better of them, but that didn't mean that Izuku didn't want to be the best.

"You act like you know him," Uraraka noticed, "were you two friends?"

"Friends? That was not friendly behavior."

"Ah, uh, no," Izuku said, "we, um, we've just… run into each other a few times."

"He really hates your guts…"

Izuku shrugged. "Yeah, he can join the club."

The others stared at him for a moment. Izuku winced.

"Uh," he said, trying to think of a new topic. "What do you guys think of E—uh, Aizawa-sensei?"

"That trick he played on us was cruel," Uraraka said as they left the school.

"Well, it worked, didn't it?"

"Still," Uraraka said, "when I was imagining what our homeroom teacher was like, I wasn't imagining him. The way he showed up at the beginning of class today?"

Izuku winced sympathetically.

"Yeah," he said, snickering when he remembered the look on everyone's faces. "Eraserhead's something, isn't he?"

"Eraserhead?"

"I meant Aizawa-sensei," Izuku said, blushing. He'd have to get used to it eventually.

"You seem to know everyone," Iida noticed. Izuku shook his head.

"Not… really," he protested. "I didn't know you, right?"

Iida gestured with an arm. "I saw you stay behind to talk with Aizawa-sensei, and when I checked again, I saw All Might there as well. If you know them, why didn't you get into U.A. on recommendation? Why go to the exam?"

Izuku squinted at Iida. "You think Eraserhead would recommend anyone?"

"I guess not," Uraraka chipped in, looking thoughtful. "He doesn't seem like the type."

"And besides," Izuku said, half to himself, "I just don't think it would've been fair. If To— if All- All Might recommended me, the expectations would've been too high, and the media would go crazy. I don't think being recommended is a bad thing, but scoring well on the entrance exam was a chance to prove to myself and everyone else I could do it, right?"

Iida thought about it. "I suppose," he conceded.

"Ooh, do you think All Might will teach us tomorrow?" Uraraka paused as a thought struck her. She stopped and pointed at Izuku. "Wait, do you know All Might?"

Izuku squeaked. "No?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "That didn't sound very convincing."

"Uh…" Izuku chuckled nervously. "Would you look at the time, right? Haha, I should probably get going…"

"How do you know All Might?"

"We met under a bridge sort of?"

Iida stared, puzzled. "You met All Might.. under a bridge?"

Izuku crossed his arms defensively. "Yeah. You can ask him tomorrow if you want."

"Wait, but…"

Izuku sighed. He held up a hand. "You know how I break my fingers when I use my Quirk?"

Uraraka and Iida nodded.

"So All Might's Quirk is really similar to mine. I, um, asked him to help train me a little bit, but we're not close or anything," Izuku explained, thinking on the spot. "So I don't know know him, but I know him, I guess?"

"That's so cool!"

"I guess…"

They moved on to different topics, which Izuku appreciated. It kept the heat off his back.

His thoughts drifted away from the friendly conversation partway through. Izuku thought instead about the mistake he'd made the week before.

It wasn't— well, it wasn't a mistake. Izuku would've saved the girl in the fire again. Every time. Saving her life wasn't a mistake.

But Izuku had slipped up. He'd carried her out to safety, and the little girl had clung to him. Hands fisted in his shirt. Large brown eyes blinking trustingly up at him.

He'd told her to go find the police—and she had, but not before coming back to give Izuku a hug.

"You're my hero," she'd told him, staring up seriously.

Then she'd asked for his name so she could remember who'd saved her, something Izuku hadn't expected. Panicking and not sure of what to say, Izuku had told her his name was Deku.

He hadn't been called Deku in years. Izuku missed it.

"Hey, Akatani."

Izuku didn't register the name as his at first. Then Uraraka waved a hand in front of his face.

"Akatani!"

"Oh," Izuku said, "s-sorry. I got a little lost in thought."

"You almost tripped over the sidewalk."

Izuku looked down at his own feet. He hadn't realized. "I did?"

"Yeah. Anyway, I was asking if the two of you wanted to hang out, like we did after the exams! Iida already said it was okay."

"Oh," Izuku said again.

He checked his phone, but there weren't any new messages. From Hisashi or Toshinori.

"Sure," Izuku agreed. "Where are we going?"

"I know just the place," Uraraka promised.

Izuku had already known Uraraka from the exam and their texts, but he got to know Iida, too, as they chatted in a cafe. It was nice to sit and relax with friends, to have an afternoon where Izuku's only obligation was to enjoy himself.

Afterwards, Izuku headed back in the direction of the apartment. Then, halfway there, he veered in a different direction, letting his feet lead him.

Izuku walked, humming quietly to himself. A minute later he was at his destination: home.

Not "home," not the address listed in his records, that big empty apartment that smelled faintly of smoke. But home, the home Izuku had grown up in. The one where he always forgot about the chip in the floorboards and tripped, the one with the dent in the wall where Izuku had run into as a kid, the one where he and Mom used to dance to the radio, waltzing around the living room as they laughed and stepped on each others' toes. That home, that was cozy and warm, that had a little hole where water dripped in on really rainy days.

It didn't matter how old the place was or how tight it got sometimes. It'd just been Izuku and Mom.

He stared up at the familiar apartment building, heart aching. Izuku felt like he'd just walked back into a different life, a dream he'd once had. He could go up there, he thought. Izuku would use the spare key and open the door. Step in, take off his shoes, take in everything to see if it was all just like he remembered.

"I'll come home one day, Mom," Izuku promised, thinking of the lone All Might figurine and wondering if she still had it. "I swear."

Just… not today.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter thirteen


While Izuku knew the basic layout of the school, it was still easy to get lost in the parts he wasn't as familiar with. Izuku's focus laid in the hero courses, where he'd be spending the most time and where pro hero teachers were concentrated.

The Development Studio had large iron doors that looked a little intimidating. Izuku went inside anyway, peering cautiously into the workshop.

Rows of tables filled the room. On the wall were neatly placed tools. In the front on a screen some sort of jetpack design was spinning in a 360-degree view, parts labelled clearly.

Izuku stepped in.

"He… Hello?"

"Ooh!" a voice cried. "Looking for something?" A blur dashed in front of Izuku, and before he could react, a girl was standing there. She stepped far too close for comfort, circling around him excitedly like a cat examining a new toy.

"Um… hi?"

Izuku took a step back. The girl took a step back.

"What can we do for you? Hatsume, let the boy breathe a little."

The girl, Hatsume, sulked slightly but drew back. She didn't move very far away, studying Izuku with a critical eye.

"Oh, you're just in time… I need someone to test my new baby…"

Izuku inched towards the door.

"Hatsume's just a little excitable," someone said. Power Loader, Izuku assumed, pro hero in charge of the Development Studio. "Really, what can we do for you?"

Izuku rubbed his neck. "I'm looking for some adjustments to my hero costume, if possible? Sorry, I… I know it's last minute…"

Power Loader waved a hand. Izuku couldn't see his face from under his bulldozer-like helmet.

"The hero course isn't the only course at U.A. to produce some great results…"

The girl hopped closer. "Can I, can I?"

Izuku glanced between them and took his costume from his bag. It wasn't much of a costume—more of something Izuku scrapped together. A simple black jumpsuit with a hood he'd wear on missions with Chimera, made of a fireproof material that was lightweight but durable. He'd added dark green paneling down the sides for a more personal touch. But Izuku wasn't much of a fashion designer or a sewer, so he kept the additions minimal.

He also had a utility belt fit with pouches and a sheath for a knife, a set of gloves, and steel-toed combat boots Silver had gotten him for his birthday one year.

"I'm looking for a set of bracers," Izuku said, holding out his arms. "I break my arms sometimes, you know? And I have gloves, but I'd like ones that are a little thicker."

Power Loader disappeared and reappeared with the requested items.

"Not hard to find," he told Izuku, handing them over. The bracers were black and lined with silver, fitting over Izuku's arms nicely. The gloves Power Loader gave him didn't fit quite right, though, so he passed them back.

"Try these!" Hatsume said, shoving a set of gloves at Izuku. Izuku eyed them warily but put them on anyway.

"Hatsume," Power Loader sighed.

They fit nicely. Izuku stretched his fingers out, wondering at the strange pieces at the fingertips. Then they suddenly extended out into sharp points—somewhat like claws, Izuku realized.

"Yeah," Hatsume said, looking at Izuku's face, "kind of boring, right? They're old. I've got a better set of gloves, I've been working on these babies that are like, mini-cannons…"

"These'll work," Izuku reassured her, voice strained. He could use gloves with clawed fingers—they'd be good for climbing, or picking locks, or scratching someone in a fight. He wasn't sure what he'd do with mini-cannons.

"Oh! While you're here—"

Hatsume all but shoved Izuku towards a nearby table. She grabbed his arm in a not-so-comfortable way, and then she patted his bicep.

"Hey," Izuku said warningly.

"Oh, yeah, sorry. You've got some muscle," she said, tossing her pink hair over her shoulder. "Here, hold this."

Izuku was handed a small circular black disk that looked fairly innocent. It was heavy, but it fit nicely into his palm.

Then Hatsume, with the help of a little machine, dumped a whole armful at Izuku. It didn't matter how much Izuku had trained; between the sudden imbalance and the sheer unpreparedness, Izuku went down.

"Oh, they work!"

Izuku managed to pull himself off the floor, leaving half of the disks down there.

"What…?"

"Working on some baby prototypes! They're just regular weights, now, but I'm going to attach them—"

"Okay, that's cool, but, um," Izuku put the weights back on the table and inched away, pointing towards the door. "I'm just going to, yeah."

Before Hatsume could do anything else, Izuku rushed out a quick "thank you" to Power Loader and made a break for it. Outside, free from the Development Studio, Izuku felt himself breathe a sigh of relief.

Hatsume was overwhelming. Just a bit. Izuku thought briefly if her enthusiasm about support items was the same as Izuku's about Quirks. She'd seemed nice once Izuku got over her concept (or lack of) personal space. Maybe Izuku could come by again—it would be nice, he thought, to know someone in the Support course… maybe even when there was more time, Izuku could ask for something that would help with One for All…

A distant bell rang.

Izuku froze. He was going to be late for class. Then he clutched his costume and parts close to his chest and made a break for it.

The second day of school felt slower than the first. After Eraserhead appraised their Quirks, they settled into a more normal routine like any other high school. ("Heroes need training," Eraserhead told them, "but they can't be idiots, either.")

The highlight of the day, in Izuku's opinion, was Hero Basic Training.

The entire class chatted excitedly as they prepared for the last class of the day. Izuku found himself energized by the atmosphere in the room.

"I can't wait to wear my hero costume!"

Izuku shrugged. "Mine's okay."

"Forget hero costumes, we're going to have All Might teach us. That's so manly!"

Izuku hid a smile. He wondered at his classmates' reactions if anyone found out he'd trained with All Might for an entire year.

"Speak of the devil…" Eraserhead said quietly.

The door burst open. All Might flew in.

"I AM HERE," he announced. Izuku grinned as All Might looked around the classroom and then caught Izuku's eye.

The class exploded into cheers. Eraserhead, standing off to the side, rolled his eyes. Izuku really had to cover his mouth that time, afraid someone would hear him laugh.

"Ready for Hero Basic Training?"

"Yeah!"

"Then get dressed in your hero costumes and meet me in Ground Beta!"

It didn't take long for Izuku to get dressed. He slipped into his jumpsuit and fitted on everything else, electing to keep the hood down for now.

Everyone else looked really, really cool, though. Izuku felt a little plain in comparison, but that was okay.

"I like your costume, Uraraka," Izuku said when he saw her step out. "Oh, Iida, you, too! It's so put together."

"Thank you," Iida said. It really was—plate armor, a large helmet tucked over his head, and a certain sleekness that reminded Izuku of a robot. "It's very similar to my brother's."

The pride in his voice was hard to miss. Izuku took a step back, scrutinizing the costume again and trying to figure out who Iida's brother was; he had to be a pro hero, unless he, too, was a student at U.A. in a different year.

"Your brother?" Uraraka asked.

"Yes!" Izuku thought Iida was smiling. "My brother is— ah, I'll tell you later. Class is starting, we have to be quiet."

Izuku and Uraraka exchanged a curious glance, but followed Iida's lead, turning to face the front where All Might was waiting patiently.

"This is… the Battle Trial!"

"The Battle Trial?" Uraraka murmured. "That sounds kind of fun?"

"Yeah, maybe…"

"Be quiet, you two!"

Behind All Might stretched a city not unlike the one where they'd taken the entrance exams. It was the building right behind him that he focused on, however.

The rules were simple. Two groups of twelve: one group of villains and one group of heroes. Inside the building, the villains would guard a nuclear weapon, and the heroes had to stop them.

Heroes won when they retrieved the weapon or captured the villains. Villains won when they captured the heroes or managed to keep the nuclear weapon from heroes' hands.

Villains were allowed a five-minute head start before heroes could then make their move, but that also meant heroes had five minutes to plan. With only five minutes of actual combat, the fights would have to be quick.

The teams were drawn from lots. Izuku found himself interested in the different pairings, but as his classmates were sorted, he grew more nervous. It was only an exercise, but…

"The final villain team will be… Akatani… and Bakugou! Facing off against the final hero team… Iida and Uraraka!"

Izuku sighed. "I knew it."

Izuku snuck a glance at Kacchan's face. He didn't look happy, but he didn't explode. Probably, Izuku realized, because Eraserhead was giving Kacchan a not-so-subtle warning look.

Iida and Uraraka seemed happy to be paired together. They'd make a formidable team, for sure: smart, with versatile Quirks.

"Hey, um, doesn't Bakugou kind of hate you? A little bit?"

Bakugou and Akatani?

"Yeahhhh," Izuku said. "You guys will probably win."

Both Izuku and Kacchan were powerhouses in terms of their Quirks. The problem laid in whether or not they could actually work together, but Izuku was betting the answer was going to be no. Iida and Uraraka would, of course, take advantage of that…

"First teams, prepare! The rest of the class will be going with me to observe the fight."

The students trickled into the viewing room. Izuku looked around curiously at the set of display screens. There were cameras everywhere, covering every inch in the building.

Izuku hesitated before sidling over to Kacchan, steeling himself for an explosion.

"Hey," he said. Kacchan spun around.

"You," Kacchan growled.

"Ka— Bakugou," Izuku said, knowing he only had a few precious seconds of Kacchan's time before he'd stop listening. "Look, I know you don't like me, but you- you want to win, right?"

"I can fucking win by myself," Kacchan spat, turning away. So much for that plan.

So it was a bit of a desperate gambit when Izuku blurted out the next thing on his mind.

"Hasn't anyone ever told you to stop being the lone wolf?" The words left Izuku's mouth before he could think about it. Kacchan froze. "Doesn't the lone wolf need a pack, too?"

Stupid.

Stupid, stupid.

It was something Izuku used to say, back when they were younger whenever Kacchan tried to push him away. They'd spent years together, always present in each others' lives whether they liked it or not.

Kacchan had a bad habit of leaving people behind—because they weren't good enough for him.

And it was true that Kacchan didn't need help, not really. But it was always nice to have someone there, to not be alone in the dark. Izuku had spent a long time chasing after Kacchan's back and catching his sleeve so Kacchan would turn, and see him. They'd had a rough patch in the middle, but Izuku hadn't given up.

"I know you don't need me," Izuku said quietly when Kacchan didn't move, "but I need you. I'll- I'll even let you kick their asses, all by yourself."

Kacchan huffed, but he didn't snap at Izuku or leave. He was listening.

Then Kacchan grabbed the front of Izuku's shirt.

"Fine," he hissed, eyes meeting Izuku's. Something flashed in Kacchan's eyes—but it wasn't anger. "But you don't say what you said before to me again, do you understand? Whatever this fucking truce or teamwork thing is, it's temporary, got it?"

A smile tugged at the corner of Izuku's mouth. "Yeah."

"And after we fucking win and I kick four-eyes' and floaty's asses, don't think I'm not going to kick yours."

Izuku really did smile then.

"Okay, K- Bakugou."

"Tch," Kacchan scoffed in that familiar way of his before he turned and stalked away.

Staring at Kacchan's back, Izuku suddenly thought he knew what he'd seen in those eyes when he'd called a truce. After Izuku had told him not to be the lone wolf, that he needed a pack, someone by his side. He knew Kacchan. It hadn't been anger. It was hurt.

"Teams, your five minutes are up!"

Izuku dropped the thought and hurried to stand by his classmates to observe the first teams. Though Izuku had seen everyone use their Quirks the day before, this time it would be in battle. Izuku was interested to see how everyone would display their skills and their smarts.

The first to go were Ojiro and Hagakure as the villains and Todoroki and Shoji as the heroes.

While Izuku had been talking to Kacchan, everyone had already prepared. Hagakure had disappeared—she'd slipped her clothes off, Izuku assumed, trying not to blush hard at the thought. It was a good idea; without her clothes, no one would be able to see Hagakure. Good for surprise attacks and keeping an advantage. Ojiro was standing by the nuclear weapon, tail curled in front of him as he watched warily.

It didn't matter, Izuku realized in a second. On the other end, Shoji used his tentacle-like arms to form eyes. Within a few moments, he'd located the villains on the first floor.

Todoroki motioned for Shoji to step out. The audio crackled as a sheet of ice crept across the entire building, seeping over floors and walls.

It didn't matter how prepared the villain team was. Todoroki froze the entire building over, trapping the two villains in ice. Shoji and Todoroki slipped in, going to the fourth floor and quickly finishing off the villain team.

"His control…"

Izuku's jaw had dropped at some point, and he hadn't shut his mouth since. He closed it, eyes wide.

Todoroki was far more powerful than Izuku had realized. Maybe even more powerful than Kacchan, who had an incredible Quirk. And he'd obviously had years of training, to be able to use his ice so quickly and effectively.

All Might seemed speechless for a moment, but his face was set with soft delight.

"Well done, hero team," he congratulated as the ice began to melt. "Incredible work, young Todoroki."

When the two teams returned to the viewing room, the students immediately crowded around Todoroki to ask questions. Kacchan stood off to one side, arms crossed and looking unimpressed. Izuku had caught a moment of sheer surprise on his face, though.

"Your technique is impeccable," All Might complimented Todoroki, "and you were able to take control quickly. And young Shoji—your Quirk allowed you and your teammate a good advantage in pinpointing the other team's position. Well done."

There wasn't much of a fight to discuss, so the battles moved forward. Izuku was almost vibrating as he watched the other students show off their Quirks. They were all incredibly interesting, and Izuku couldn't help himself when he started muttering, going over everyone's performances.

Yaoyorozu's Quirk was so cool, and so useful; Izuku wanted to single her out after class to ask her about how it worked. He'd never seen anything like it. Her team took the win easily.

By the time it was Izuku's turn, he wasn't sure he'd be able to do anything. Mostly because Izuku's mind was still reeling over the plethora of information he'd just gotten on his classmates; he'd have to write it down somewhere later, so he wouldn't forget.

"Come on, fuckface," Kacchan said as he passed. "Don't make me leave you behind."

They brought the weapon into the building and after a short discussion took it to the top floor.

"Okay, here's the plan," Kacchan said, "I'm going to take them down. They're not going to get past me, but if they do, you can stop them or whatever."

"Wait," Izuku said.

Kacchan bristled.

"I think they know enough of you by now to know you'll go after them," Izuku said, "so why don't we surprise them when you don't?"

Kacchan opened his mouth to argue. Then his eyes narrowed as he seemed to remember something, and he grunted.

"What stupid idea's in that stupid head of yours."

"Well," Izuku started. "Uraraka's probably going to find us by floating herself, so first I think we need to put the weapon somewhere where it won't be easily seen. Then we need to get everything out of this room, because if there's any other objects, she'll use them as weapons."

Izuku thanked his lucky stars when Kacchan actually listened.

"Iida's very fast," Izuku said.

"No shit," Kacchan replied.

"R-right," Izuku said, "um, but we can probably get him to run right into a trap. If he's going too fast, he won't be able to stop."

"Hmph."

Now that Izuku had sparked something, it was easier to cross the bridge into planning. Before he knew it, time was up.

"Hey, Bakugou."

"What."

Izuku nodded at Kacchan. "I'd tell you good luck, but… you don't need it."

For the first time since they'd met as Akatani and Bakugou—not Kacchan and Deku—Kacchan grinned. A predator's smile, blood and all.

"Damn right I don't."

Despite Izuku's original thoughts, they'd agreed that Kacchan would go off right at the start. He'd try to take care of Uraraka; Izuku knew he'd be able to overpower her. Even with a plan, Izuku figured Kacchan could beat Uraraka in terms of sheer power.

Already, Kacchan was sprinting down the hall, disappearing.

"FIGHT ME," Izuku heard Kacchan shout in the distance; he had to hold back a laugh. "FLOATY FACE, I'M COMING FOR YOU."

Izuku moved quickly, knowing that with Iida's Quirk he didn't have a lot of time. His first action was to move the weapon to a neighboring room—risky, but Izuku was close enough that he'd know if anyone tried to go through it. It was heavy, and Izuku had to drag and push it, but he got it there eventually. Then, back where he'd started, Izuku dragged in a large number of boxes, stacking them on top of each other in front of one of the windows to make it seem like he was hiding something. The nuclear weapon was tall, so Izuku made sure to get enough, stacking enough to get to the ceiling.

Distant explosions were already beginning to pop. They got louder.

Izuku crossed back to stand in front of the boxes he'd set up, glancing intermittently between the doors to the left, where he'd hidden the weapon, and the doors in front of him, where he knew there was access from below and where the heroes would come from.

Then he played the waiting game.

It didn't take long, and it wasn't hard for Izuku to pick out when Iida arrived.

Not only because Izuku could hear the roar of the engines, but also because a room away, he could hear Iida shouting.

"Villain! I am here to apprehend you!"

Izuku prepared himself, standing protectively in front of the boxes when Iida burst in. Then Izuku smiled, the way Silver did after she got in a good hit, the way Hisashi did, smoke curling around his head, the way Shigaraki did when he tasted fear.

"Good of you to join the party," Izuku crooned. He cracked his knuckles in front of him menacingly. Iida narrowed his eyes, but Izuku could tell the display had taken him slightly off-guard.

"Hand over the weapon, villain."

Izuku deliberately glanced over his shoulder at the pile of boxes and then stepped forward casually, crouching slightly. He chose his next words carefully.

"Mm," Izuku said, "You'll have to get past me first."

Light glanced off of Iida's helmet. His voice was firm when he addressed Izuku next.

"I will."

That was all the warning Izuku got before Iida moved.

Iida Tenya was faster than Izuku realized. He became a white blur as he charged across the room, engines roaring.

Izuku barely got out of the way in time. He spun, slightly off-balance, as Iida crashed through the mountain of boxes. Izuku grabbed Iida, who had his back turned, and flipped him over his shoulder.

"Come on, hero," he said, putting himself back between the now scattered boxes and Iida. "I'm not letting you take what I've worked so hard on."

Over the intercom came All Might's voice.

"Uraraka of the hero team has been restrained."

Izuku couldn't see Iida's face, but the other boy did stop for a moment.

"Uraraka… I won't let you down!"

Iida charged again, running for the boxes. Good. He hadn't suspected, yet, that the boxes were anything more than a decoy. By the time he realized, it would be too late.

Glancing to the doors, Izuku spotted just what he needed. Kacchan had restrained Uraraka in cuffs and dragged her into the room with them silently, keeping one hand over her mouth. Her eyes widened when she saw them. She glanced around, looking for the nuclear weapon, and then realized it wasn't in the room before Iida did.

Then Uraraka turned, spotting the next set of doors, and beyond that, the nuclear weapon the heroes had been searching for.

Several things happened at once.

Iida blew Izuku out of the way, toppling the rest of the boxes and using his hands to shove them away. He stared, stunned.

"The weapon… it's not here…?"

Izuku was already creeping up behind him, footsteps silent.

"A trick," Iida gasped, whirling, but it was too late.

Behind them, Kacchan released Uraraka, just like they'd planned. "So what'll it fucking be, hah?" Kacchan asked Uraraka. "Your friend, or the weapon?"

"Iida!"

Through the door to the left, she'd be able to see the nuclear weapon. But now Kacchan was there to guard it, a feral grin on his face as his hands sparked, and, well—

"Sorry about this," Izuku said. "Really."

Before he could regret it, he snapped a foot forward right into Iida's back, shoving him forwards—

—and right out the window.

Iida hollered as he pitched forward, flailing.

Uraraka wasted no time. She jumped after him, slamming her hand on Iida's shoulder to activate her Quirk. Izuku smiled faintly; she'd saved Iida just like she'd saved Izuku.

Izuku walked back over to the other room, retrieving the nuclear weapon.

"Not bad, Bakugou," he said as he passed Kacchan.

Kacchan crossed his arms, but Izuku could tell he was pleased.

"I should've been the one to vault him out the window," he grumbled, but there was a little more respect in his voice now. Like he was finally looking at Izuku—not as a threat, not as a second, but someone he could maybe sort of work with in his own way.

Just what Izuku wanted.

"You're still a loser," Kacchan said, like he thought Izuku thought they were friends now or something. "And I'm still going to beat you. It's you and me now, and I'm going to win."

Izuku grinned. As All Might called their win, Izuku replied.

"I'll hold you to your challenge," he said, "but don't think I'm weak either. I'm going to do my best and beat you, too."

They returned to the viewing room, where the rest of Izuku's classmates were waiting.

"Well done, villain team," All Might praised. Izuku smiled at him.

"Bakugou's so strong!"

"Yeah, that fight with Uraraka… that was crazy!"

"Okay, but did nobody see how easily Akatani just kicked Iida out of the window?"

Izuku winced, turning to Iida and bowing. "S-sorry about that, Iida! I really am, it just, well—you know, time, and with Uraraka's Quirk, since I thought you would be too fast for me to just restrain…"

Iida bowed. "It was very clever. Ah… not what I was expecting. Well done, Akatani, you've proven yourself again, but please don't push me out a window again."

Izuku winced again. "Don't worry, I don't have any plans to."

They ran through a critique of the exercise. Uraraka had done well fighting against Bakugou, attempting to use debris to launch at him. Like Izuku had guessed, he'd been able to overpower her.

All Might complimented Izuku and Kacchan's teamwork—something, he admitted but worded politely, he hadn't expected. He did point out how unnecessary the villain team's plans were (Izuku did realize that kicking Iida out of a window and sending Uraraka after was a bit much), but he acknowledged that it'd worked in the end.

"It was super dramatic, though," someone called from the back.

"We were just playing villain," Izuku offered, mouth twisting, "so you know. Had to go out with a bang."

All Might dipped his head. "A daring plan… it is good to take risks, sometimes—risks can get you places staying safe may not."

They finished class, and the students returned to the classroom. Izuku lagged behind, and after checking, All Might did, too.

"You didn't use your Quirk today."

"No," Izuku agreed, "I didn't need to. Do- do you think I… should have?"

All Might shook his head, smiling. "Sometimes it is better to diffuse a situation without a Quirk. Sometimes it is more effective. Sometimes, for example in a fight against Eraserhead, you may not be able to use your Quirk. I think it's good that you are able to plan without it."

Izuku nodded, mulling over the thought.

"And," All Might added, "Recovery Girl will be happy to hear you didn't hurt yourself today. It's good, that you don't always use your Quirk if you'll injure yourself with it."

"She will, won't she," Izuku said. "Maybe I should stop by, just to let her know?"

"I won't be joining you, then," All Might said, "and be mindful not to tease her too much… Well, go on. I'm sure your classmates are waiting for you."

Izuku made to go after his classmates when he was called back.

"One more thing," All Might said. "I truly was impressed by the way you were able to get through to young Bakugou today. That skill, being able to communicate and being able to understand people, is very important."

"Well," Izuku drew the word out. "Well, see, I figure the only thing Bakugou doesn't like more than working with me is losing, so…"

"Still," All Might said, clapping a hand on Izuku's shoulder. "You did well today, villain dramatics aside. Heh, you really do have a good heart, though… no villain would have apologized, I think. I look forward to seeing more of you."

Izuku beamed.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter fourteen


 

The next day at school was hectic. As Izuku approached the school, he found a large crowd gathering outside and wondered curiously at it.

"Hey, you, plain-looking kid!"

A microphone was shoved into Izuku's face.

"What's it like being taught by All Might?"

"All Might! All Might!"

"We demand a statement."

"Uhh…" Izuku said, coming up blank. All Might being a teacher wasn't exactly news, but the attention was probably because the school year had just started. Perfect time to get a scoop.

"Akatani!"

"Uraraka," Izuku called, catching his friend in the crowd of reporters.

"Come on, tell us a little something!"

"Is All Might actually here?"

Izuku wanted to melt into the floor. He didn't like reporters. They asked too many questions and had too many cameras.

Then came the peppering sound of explosions.

"Out of my way, fuckers!"

"Aaand there's Kacchan," Izuku muttered under his breath as Kacchan blew his way through the crowd, temporarily scattering people.

"Get out," someone said flatly, raising his voice over the din. Izuku clung to the voice like an anchor—Eraserhead.

"All Might isn't here and won't be here to answer your questions," Eraserhead continued. He stepped through the crowd, one hand pushing past people. Fingers wrapped around Izuku's wrist and pulled him closer; he stumbled forwards as Eraserhead put Izuku behind him and into the U.A. gates.

Somewhere in the crowd, Izuku thought he saw a familiar face. A flash of blue hair. A shiver ran up his spine as the reporters continued to call out questions and demands, and though Izuku looked, he couldn't find the person he'd seen again.

His imagination. It had to have been.

"Who are you?"

"Come on," someone called. "Show us All Might!"

"All Might may be a pro hero, but he has a job and isn't someone for you to gawk at. You're disrupting our students and staff, and I'm going to ask you all to leave."

"Akatani!"

Uraraka had broken through the crowd to stand by Izuku's side. Her face was tinged pink.

"Get to class, you two," Eraserhead told them, without looking back.

Eraserhead let go of Izuku's wrist and leaned forward into one of the reporters' microphones.

Then he said, clear enough for everyone to hear, "Get out."

"Come on," Izuku whispered to Uraraka. She took his hand and pulled him across campus, the two of them fleeing quickly from the swarming reporters.

"It's good we have that security, huh?"

"Y-yeah," Izuku said, forcing out a laugh. "It's that infamous U.A. Barrier."

"I read about it," Uraraka said as they walked to class together. She let go of his hand. "Supposedly it's super high-tech. It'll shut out anyone who isn't a student or staff member, or here and registered in the systems."

"Cool," Izuku said, because it was. His heart hadn't stopped pounding, though. Who had he seen, in the crowd?

"Wonder what we're doing today."

"Yeah…"

It turned out it was time to pick a class president. Which was—

"So… normal?"

"You can choose one however you like," Eraserhead told them. "Just don't be too disruptive."

"We should have a vote," Iida said immediately when it was clear Eraserhead was finished. "If one person comes out with more than one vote, then it's clear they deserve to be class president, if they have the support!"

"Good call, good call."

Many of Izuku's classmates were probably going to pick themselves— it was, of course, a way to stand out. Izuku didn't really want to stand out, nor did he want to help be in charge of a bunch of other teenagers his age, so he put someone he thought would be good at it.

Then the results came out.

"Nope," Izuku said, staring at the board. "No. Nuh-uh. No way, not happening."

"Dude," Kirishima called from across the classroom. "You got the votes, man, get up there."

Izuku got up, but his legs felt like lead as he walked to the front of the classroom.

"No, no, no, absolutely not," Izuku muttered once he was up there. "Why would you guys vote for me, this is the worst—"

"Akatani as class president and Yaoyorozu as vice," Eraserhead said from his corner. "Very well. Now get to work. You still have a reading to do."

Izuku liked Yaoyorozu—she was clearly smart and very adaptable, and she seemed calm, standing in front of the class next to him.

"Congratulations, Akatani," she said quietly, smiling at him. "I look forward to working with you."

Izuku swallowed hard. "You, too."

At lunch, Izuku slammed his tray down hard enough to send a little soup out of his bowl. Uraraka looked up, concerned.

"I can't be class president."

"You'll be great!"

"No, no," Izuku said. "I'm, I'm actually, like, the least qualified to be class president? Why am I class president. I can't."

And then everyone would follow him, would see him, would trust him.

"No," Izuku said again.

"I don't know why you're so opposed to it," Iida said, sighing. "I- I admit I was hoping for the position, but you are very capable, Akatani! In fact, I voted for you. You've shown yourself already as someone with remarkable character, and I'm sure you'll be a great class president."

"Hear, hear," Uraraka chimed in. "I voted for you, too! You're already such a great hero—"

"Guys," Izuku whined, picking at his food. "I really don't… I voted for you, Iida, I thought you'd be perfect for the job."

Iida pushed up his glasses. "I'm flattered," he said, "but you are the better between us!"

"Iida, no," Uraraka said, "you would've—"

Desperate to change the subject, Izuku blurted, "So who's your brother?"

Two sets of eyes flickered to Izuku's face. "Huh?"

Izuku ducked his head, blushing.

"Before the Battle Trial, you were talking about your brother. Pro hero, right? Which one?"

Iida straightened in his seat. The effect of mentioning his brother was immediate, like someone had cast a glow around Iida.

"I'm from the hero Iida family," Iida announced proudly, all signs of disappointment from before gone. "You see, my family has a long history of being involved in heroics, passing down our Quirks. My older brother is the pro hero Ingenium! I— I aspire to be a hero like him. He's the best I know."

"Aww, Iida!"

"That's really cool, Iida," Izuku said, "wow… must be amazing to come from a family like that."

"I'm very proud to be," Iida said, "and I hope I can be just as good, if not better…"

He was cut off by a loud wailing sound.

"...Sirens?" Izuku asked, exchanging a look with his friends. "Why, what's going on?"

The entire cafeteria exploded into chaos. Izuku cried out as he was separated from his friends in the sea of bodies, pressed tight between people.

"Akatani!"

"Iida! Iida!"

"What's going on?"

Swallowed by the panic, Izuku felt his own rise. Panic pricked up his spine and tugged at his insides.

What if it was the League of Villains? What if Shigaraki had decided to come on a whim? What if—

"No, no, no," Izuku murmured, "don't think like that, come on, get yourself together."

It was too late. The ebb and flow of bodies, the panicked yelling, Izuku's own thoughts crowding and crowding; it was too much. He needed air, needed calm, needed somewhere to think.

A figure sailed above their heads.

Izuku was so surprised his thoughts screeched to a halt as Iida slammed into the wall, right above the emergency exit. He froze there for a moment, and so did Izuku, staring up at his friend.

"Everyone!" Iida yelled over the din. The crowd quieted. "It's just the media! There's no need to panic, it's just some reporters!"

People began to calm. The crowd separated, drifting back towards the cafeteria as Iida continued to shout reassurances. Izuku felt his own heart settle as Iida spoke.

"Iida, that was super manly, dude!" Kirishima called after Iida carefully returned to the ground. "Emergency Exit Iida! Emergency Exit Iida!"

A couple of the other students caught onto the chant as they filtered back into the cafeteria, and as Izuku walked, he knew what he had to do.

After lunch, Izuku stood in front of the class to address them.

"I'm stepping down from the role as class president," he said, voice calmer than he felt. "I don't think I'm fit for the role. In my place I'd like to nominate Iida instead—his actions today at lunch, his quick thinking, and his ability to calm and inform the crowd show the qualities I think we need in a leader for Class 1-A. Thank you."

"Emergency Exit! Emergency Exit Iida!"

"Yeah! Emergency Exit Iida for class president!"

"Akatani…" Iida said, eyes shining as Izuku walked back to his seat. Izuku gestured to the front of the class.

"Go on, Iida."

"I…" Iida said, "thank you."

He went to the front of the class and bowed deeply. "I'm grateful and honored to carry this mantle," Iida told them all, "and I hope to serve you well as class president."

Yes, Izuku thought, he'd made the right choice.

Izuku left U.A. that day happier than he'd arrived—until he remembered the incident at lunchtime. Heart in his throat, Izuku crossed campus to the front gates.

A group of teachers, including Principal Nedzu, were already gathered there. Izuku stayed a safe distance behind; he didn't think he was supposed to be here.

The front gate was destroyed. U.A.'s Barrier—like Uraraka had said, super high-tech… completely demolished.

Izuku's stomach twisted. He stumbled back a few steps, trying not to make too much noise.

It wasn't the work of any ordinary reporter, that was for sure. It couldn't be, not by the way the gate had crumpled to ash.

"Shigaraki," Izuku whispered, name on his tongue. He'd felt that same power held against his throat.

It was a show of power. The first card on the table. A test of U.A.'s defenses—maybe, Izuku thought, preparation. The teachers would know that, surely.

But Izuku knew it was also a warning. For him.

"Remember… we have our own eyes in U.A., so no tricks. Well?"

Izuku lowered his head. "An… an isolated training facility off-campus."

Shigaraki's eyes glittered. "All Might will be there?"

Izuku hesitated; Shigaraki took a threatening step forward, pushing up his sleeve.

"He- he should," Izuku choked out, staring at the floor. He'd lifted the information from Toshinori after he'd mentioned it briefly. "That's what I was told, at least."

"Good," Shigaraki said, glancing briefly at the TV in the corner. "Don't give yourself away just yet… hero."

Izuku was deposited not far from U.A. in a back alley. He stood, legs shaking from underneath him. Already, he saw, the sky was darkening, the day drawing its curtain and letting night step in.

"What have I done?" Izuku whispered, touching his throat gently. "Toshinori…"

He stepped out of the alley, trying to think what he could do. Warn Toshinori? Maybe go to Eraserhead? No, no— Shigaraki and Chimera both had made it clear if Izuku revealed any connection to the villains or any of their plans bad things would happen. At best it would just be Izuku, but at worst… they'd shown him before, and they wouldn't be so kind again.

"Think, think…"

Izuku took comfort in the fact that All Might would be there. Surely whatever plan Shigaraki and his sensei had put together wasn't enough to beat him. Eraserhead was a formidable opponent, too, and if put in danger Izuku knew his classmates would measure up.

But that was the problem— he didn't want them in danger at all.

"Why did I…"

Izuku told himself to stop thinking about it. He couldn't take back the words or the information he'd given away. He couldn't let his cowardice get in the way of making sure things would turn out alright.

Maybe no one would find out, this time.

But who could Izuku tell—

Izuku went back to the apartment, quickly going through his things to find what he was looking for. He tossed on a set of clothes, then a jacket with a golden eye stitched on the back. When he was done, he pulled up his hood and the mask to cover his mouth.

Approaching All Might was out of the question. Mostly because Izuku thought if he saw All Might, he would burst into tears, and nothing good would come of it. And Izuku wasn't sure how much All Might knew about Chimera; they'd kept their work with the League of Villains on the down-low, and though Chimera was dangerous, it wasn't being taken as a high-level threat… yet.

Instead Izuku opted for someone else.

He kept to the shadows, occasionally using his Quirk to keep himself somewhat hidden. When Izuku reached the building he wanted, he pulled out the gloves Hatsume had given him, hooking the little claws into the wall. The climb was easy and quick. The building wasn't very tall, either. Izuku perched on the edge of the rooftop, tugging his hood a little lower and then pulling out his mirror to change his appearance just subtly.

Then he waited.

Izuku didn't have to wait for very long. In the distance he spotted a lone figure flying along the rooftops, flitting from one to another like a bird.

Izuku locked his fingers together and began to weave an illusion of fire. Flickering gold and red flames shifted between his fingers, moving beautifully as if they were alive. The sound of a landing and footsteps told Izuku someone was behind him.

"Eraserhead," Izuku said, before the pro hero could speak.

"Do you need help?"

Izuku sighed. Eraserhead approached slowly, crouching so he was at Izuku's level.

"...do you remember me?" Izuku asked, turning.

Eraserhead's eyes flickered to the little he could see of Izuku's face, to the back of his coat, then to the fire burning between Izuku's fingertips.

"I've been looking for you," Eraserhead said after a long moment. His voice sounded rough. "I've been looking for you for a long time."

Izuku hadn't expected that. Now he wasn't quite sure what to say.

Eraserhead reached out with a hand and settled it on Izuku's shoulder, like he wasn't quite sure Izuku was real. Izuku didn't feel it.

"Are you alright," Eraserhead said in a low voice.

Izuku felt a lump form in his throat at the simple question. Eraserhead had… looked for him. Remembered him. Now he was asking if Izuku was alright—

"I- I have some information for you," Izuku said instead, heart stumbling in his chest, "that I think is important."

Eraserhead waited.

"The League of Villains," Izuku said, "you're in danger. The day after tomorrow, when your off-campus exercise takes place, they'll attack. Their goal is to defeat All Might, but I don't think they'll… I don't imagine they'll be very, um, kind to anyone who's in their way."

Eraserhead's hand tightened on Izuku's shoulder.

"Be careful," Izuku said, "I'm… sorry I don't know any more beyond that."

"How—" Eraserhead worked his jaw for a moment, thinking. "You… how sure are you, of this?"

It wasn't how can I trust you or how do you know this. It was how sure are you.

"Sure," Izuku answered quietly.

"I don't know how much I'll be able to do," Eraserhead admitted after a minute of thinking. "But… thank you for the warning. If the worst comes to pass tomorrow, at least we'll be a little more prepared than before."

Izuku nodded. "Sorry I can't—help you more."

I'm putting you in danger, Izuku thought. I'm putting both of us in danger, being here.

"I have to go."

"Wait," Eraserhead said, "Wait, kid—"

Izuku backed away. His foot hit the edge of the roof, and Izuku stopped. Eraserhead had his hand out, reaching.

"Wait," Eraserhead said again, a pleading note to his voice. "Let me help you. Please."

"You can help me by being careful on Wednesday," Izuku said, heart hammering in his throat. "I'll— see you around, Eraserhead."

Before Eraserhead could stop him, Izuku dropped off the side of the building. He caught himself easily, hooking his fingers into the wall. By the time he hit the ground, he'd created the illusion of smoke to hide himself.

Izuku ran. He heard the distant sound of Eraserhead going after him.

Checking to make sure Eraserhead was far enough behind, Izuku slipped his jacket off and turned it inside out, a plaid pattern showing instead of the other design. He tied it around his waist, showing the casual white tank top he'd put on underneath. He slipped from alley to alley, all the way, changing his appearance completely.

Slowing to a jog, Izuku took a pair of glasses from his pocket and a set of earbuds he put in.

When Eraserhead broke out into the street, the only person he saw was a young man out for a evening jog, music blasting loudly in his ears. Izuku jogged down the street, putting distance between them until he was sure he'd lost Eraserhead.

"Shit," Izuku said. "Shit."

To think for a moment Izuku had wanted to go with Eraserhead. To pull down the mask and hood, to let him see…

"You've done what you can, Izuku," he told himself. "Tomorrow we'll see."

Eraserhead didn't look happy as he stood in front of the class the next morning. He seemed more tired than usual (or at least, that was what Kaminari had loudly whispered, before someone kicked his chair and told him to be quiet).

Izuku hadn't slept well either. He'd had nightmares.

He didn't remember them now, vanished with the first rays of morning when he'd shot up in bed awake for the fourth time earlier. He did remember the sound of static crackling in his ears, and cold fingers at his throat, and dark, dark shadows that stayed, hungry and wanting.

"We'll be going off-campus today," Eraserhead droned.

Izuku clenched his hands under the desk. So they were still going.

"Several of the other teachers will be accompanying us," Eraserhead continued, "on a last-minute notice. It was originally going to be me, but I don't trust you enough to behave yourselves."

Izuku pressed his lips together. A lie. Eraserhead was lying—the extra teachers had to be because of his little tip-off the night before.

It made sense, at least. In the case that the villain attack was a false alarm, Izuku supposed there would be no use in telling the students. Or, he figured, causing unnecessary panic.

There was a pause. Then Eraserhead sighed.

"Alright, you lot. Get ready and get yourselves on the bus."

The class gathered their things. Izuku lagged behind, a heavy feeling in his stomach.

"Hey, Akatani, you alright?" Uraraka asked as they were walking out to the bus.

"Huh?"

"You look a little pale. Are you alright?"

Izuku glanced at Iida, who was up ahead. Their new class president was directing their classmates, not paying attention to Izuku or Uraraka in the back.

"I'm fine," Izuku said, flashing her a tight smile.

Uraraka hummed, looking unconvinced. "If you're sure. Don't be nervous about the exercise! I bet it's going to go great."

"I guess," Izuku said, though that wasn't why he was worried. "H-hey, as long as Iida doesn't stand too close to any windows, huh?"

"Akatani," Uraraka cried, "don't tease like that or push Iida out any windows!"

"What's this I hear about being pushed out of windows?"

Izuku cringed at the loud voice and turned to see Present Mic climb on the bus after them. He relaxed a moment later—another hero.

The whole class heard Present Mic. Iida turned from where he'd been scolding one of the girls about to attempt a handstand on the seats. He chopped his hand down in a now-familiar motion.

"Akatani! You- you, that was a training exercise, but tossing your fellow classmates out of windows is not proper classroom etiquette! Please set a good example."

The class laughed, recounting the story to each other. Izuku blushed at the attention.

"You'll have to tell me more," Present Mic said, plopping down in one of the seats and leaning forward.

Soon the bus was off. There ended up being three heroes joining Class 1-A: Eraserhead, as their homeroom teacher, Present Mic, and Midnight. Izuku figured they were a good team but wasn't sure how well they'd stand up to Shigaraki.

Down the bus, someone had started teasing Kacchan. Tsuyu had started it, or maybe one of the others, but Izuku laughed along.

Kacchan blew a few explosions, but Izuku knew it was just for show. He yelled and complained loudly about how his public image would be perfectly fine (everyone laughed).

"He's like an angry cat," someone commented.

Kacchan turned in his seat, glaring across the bus. "Who said that? Huh? Huh? I'll show you—"

"Bakugou," Eraserhead called, without even turning to see who'd made all the ruckus. "No blowing up the bus."

Next to Izuku, Uraraka giggled.

"He doesn't seem that bad, huh," she whispered to him. "Bakugou, I mean. At first I thought he was kind of… well…"

"An asshole?" Izuku offered, because Kacchan kind of was in the best sense.

"Well… anyway, he's— I don't know."

Izuku smiled as he watched the rest of the class tease Kacchan. Kacchan yelled right back, but he wasn't really upset by it. People were seeing Kacchan the way Izuku did. It was nice.

Izuku thought about it for a moment. He'd left almost four years ago, back when the two of them had been on the verge of middle school.

He'd missed that part of Kacchan's life. A little piece he wouldn't be able to get back, a distance between them that Izuku couldn't just— erase. It wasn't that easy. Most days Izuku could get by not thinking too much about his life before Chimera. Some days slipped through the cracks; some memories slipped through the cracks.

"You're zoning out again, Akatani," Uraraka said, waving a hand in his face. "And you were staring at Bakugou."

"Oh. Sorry."

Uraraka bumped his shoulder. "Don't be sorry! Oh, yeah, what's up with you two, anyway?"

Izuku shrugged. "You know the sludge villain?"

Uraraka thought back. "Yeah, I know the—oh. Oh."

In the distance, the facility appeared, a gleaming dome that was far larger than Izuku anticipated. Suddenly Izuku realized he hadn't seen Toshinori at all that morning—no, that wasn't right. He'd seen All Might on the news.

Glancing briefly at his teachers, Izuku pulled out his phone, texting quickly.

You 7:54 AM 
Where are you?

You 7:55 AM 
Are you not coming with us?

You 7:55 AM  [Draft]
You should c

You 7:56 AM 
Time?

Toshinori didn't respond. Not to the first text, or the second, or the third. And not to the second string of texts Izuku sent as Class 1-A disembarked and shuffled into the facility.

"Akatani!" Iida hissed. "Put your phone up!"

Izuku shoved his phone in his pocket, stomach lined with dread. Eraserhead had already begun explaining the Unforeseen Simulation Joint and rescue exercises, introducing rescue hero Thirteen. As the two passed each other, Eraserhead held up three fingers.

Time's up, Izuku thought.

He began to pick his way to the front, moving closer to Eraserhead as Thirteen talked about rescue missions. Sweat formed at the back of Izuku's neck.

He wasn't the only one alert. Present Mic and Midnight surrounded the students, but they weren't listening. Instead they scanned the USJ, from the watery pools to the distant fire.

And then Izuku felt it.

If asked, Izuku would be hard pressed to explain. It was something in the air. A pulse, a tingle. A cold that pooled around the ankles. A shimmer in the distance, a bit of glimmering darkness.

He'd learned to catch it, after a few times. The precious moment before the warp, the second right before Izuku would be jerked away by darkness—before Kurogiri.

"Eraserhead?" Izuku asked, voice trembling as he caught Eraserhead's sleeve. "Eraserhead, something's—"

A shadow coalesced in the center of the facility, then whirled open to reveal a group of villains. Izuku shuddered.

"Akatani," Eraserhead started. He turned, and then his eyes went wide, because—

Izuku stepped backwards into nothingness. Kurogiri wrapped around him, and the teleportation made Izuku's head spin like it always did. He was dropped far, far, far from the entrance. He thought he heard someone call his name.

Izuku got to his feet slowly, feeling heavy.

"Hello, Midoriya Izuku," Shigaraki said, one eye blinking slowly past a pale hand. "I think it's time to play."

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter fifteen


Kurogiri didn't stick around for long. He curled around Izuku warningly, intangible body whirling like a wall of darkness before he disappeared. In the distance, a few screams sounded as Izuku's classmates and teachers were scattered by Kurogiri's Quirk.

"Now," Shigaraki said, stepping close to Izuku, "you and I are going to wait here a while, hmm?"

Izuku took a step back as Shigaraki advanced, not liking the look on the other's face. Not that, of course, Izuku could see much of it.

"Uh," Izuku said, "hey, how about, um, I mean, isn't it kind of suspicious that Kurogiri took only me, and, and not. You know."

Izuku gestured around the USJ to prove his point. "Don't you think it's a little suspicious I'm here?"

Izuku's instincts were telling him to run. Put as much distance between him and Shigaraki as possible; nothing good would come of whatever tricks Shigaraki had up his sleeve. Izuku was sure of it.

"You," Shigaraki started, "you are going to play hostage."

Shigaraki pointed towards the distant steps, where Izuku saw Eraserhead sprinting down to engage with a wave of villains. His heart lurched—Eraserhead was throwing himself head-first into danger. There were more villains than Izuku could count; he hadn't realized the League of Villains had so many among their ranks.

"Your teacher cares for you, huh?"

Heart beating fast in his throat, Izuku responded, "N- no, he doesn't."

Shigaraki scratched his neck.

"Disgusting," he said after a while, "no, I think he cares more for you than you say. He's looking for you."

"So, um," Izuku started, "can we talk about how much I don't agree with this plan? I'm, like, what, fifty percent of it, shouldn't I have more of a say?"

"Quiet," Shigaraki snapped. "You don't have a choice."

Izuku held up his hands in surrender as Shigaraki turned a glare on him. "Okay! Okay, that's super cool, yeah."

"Tell me something, Midoriya," Shigaraki said, "where is All Might?"

It was a question Izuku had been asking himself on the way to the USJ and as he'd stood, a moment before the chaos unfolded. Where is All Might?

Three fingers and a knowing look between Eraserhead and Thirteen. The news from this morning. Where is All Might?

"Out of time," Izuku murmured to himself.

Shigaraki's eyes flicked to Izuku's face. "What did you say?"

"I- I said I don't know."

Shigaraki paced. "He was supposed to be here. He was supposed to be here, you said he would be here, why isn't he here?"

"Akatani!"

Shigaraki scratched his neck furiously as Eraserhead drew closer. Izuku couldn't make out his face, only the coiling lines of his capture weapon as he tore through enemy after enemy.

"He's really a pro, huh?"

"Turn around," Izuku whispered, "turn around, leave me…"

Eraserhead was winning, though. He didn't slow one bit as he crossed the pavillion, and his opponents were no match for him.

And, Izuku noticed, he'd clipped his hair back like Izuku had told him to. It was a small comfort.

"Do you think All Might will come if he hears enough of you U.A. brats screaming?" Shigaraki materialized at Izuku's side. "Do you think All Might will come when he realizes he's failed?"

Yes, Izuku bit back. All Might would come running.

Usually it would be a comforting thought. Then, faster than a snake, Shigaraki pressed a hand to Izuku's throat. The fabric peeled and fell away, and Shigaraki lifted a finger before his Quirk could do any real damage.

"Shigaraki—"

Eraserhead reached, slowing when he caught sight of Izuku. He loosed his capture weapon and approached warily.

"Let my student go."

His voice was calm and even. Izuku pressed his lips together, not trusting himself to say anything.

"Hmm," Shigaraki said, fingers tightening. Izuku clawed at Shigaraki's hand as his vision tunneled. "I don't think I will."

His grip loosened. Izuku sucked in air, coughing.

Shigaraki was the kind of dangerous that was easy. A touch and Izuku would crumble to dust.

"I'll say it again," Eraserhead said lowly, shifting into a fighting stance. "Let Akatani go."

Izuku shuddered.

"Get out," he coughed.

Eraserhead's capture weapon snapped against the floor. "I won't leave without you."

"Touching," Shigaraki said. "Tell me something, Eraserhead. What would you do to save your precious student?"

Eraserhead didn't answer. Izuku could tell he was weighing the situation, weighing Shigaraki's words and the risk.

"Don't…" Izuku tried weakly.

"Careful," Shigaraki murmured in Izuku's ear. "Don't move, little dragon."

The nickname was enough to make Izuku's limbs lock. Only Sensei called him that. Suddenly, Sensei's name rushed back to him: All For One.

"How about a demonstration?" Shigaraki asked, raising his voice so it was loud enough for Eraserhead to hear. "You've got a cool Quirk, Eraserhead… but are you stronger than me?"

Shigaraki dug his fingers into Izuku's shoulder. Izuku cried out as his suit dissolved, and then he was screaming.

Shigaraki's Quirk was a million times worse than Izuku's nightmares had made it seem. Izuku had burned himself before, carelessly messing around in the kitchen when Mom hadn't been looking. He'd tripped down half a set of stairs once—everything had turned out okay, save for the light flaring behind his eyelids. He'd been beaten black and blue by Bonestealer, knew the tender spot Bonestealer liked to hit as Izuku's breath left him. He'd shattered his arm again, and again, and again.

Izuku was no stranger to pain, but this hurt.

The pain didn't stop, but somewhere Izuku recognized Shigaraki's Quirk had stopped spreading. Something warm and wet seeped into the remaining fabric of Izuku's suit. Blood. Izuku's scream withered into a choked whimper.

Shigaraki let go and stepped away. Izuku's legs gave out under him. He reached up with a shaking hand and pressed his fingers to the wound, almost blacking out for a moment. Then Izuku crawled forward towards Eraserhead—to safety.

Eraserhead tossed his capture weapon, but it wasn't directed at Shigaraki. Instead it wrapped around Izuku's torso. Eraserhead snapped his wrist back, sending Izuku skidding on the ground behind him.

"Can you stand?"

Izuku put pressure on his hand as he braced himself. Hot pain flashed through his arm; Izuku gritted his teeth and got up anyway.

"Y-yeah," Izuku managed to say. "Eraserhead—"

Eraserhead kept his gaze on Shigaraki, but he reached out a gentle hand to touch Izuku's uninjured shoulder.

"Run."

"I- Eraserhead—"

Coward, a poisonous voice whispered in Izuku's head. Coward, liar, you always run away.

Izuku stood his ground. Eraserhead growled in frustration, a low guttural sound.

"This isn't time to be a hero," Eraserhead said, "run, and let me take care of this."

How many times had Izuku heard that?

"Would you rather have Akatani be a villain?" Shigaraki mocked. Shigaraki glanced pointedly at Izuku. Then he rolled up his sleeves slightly, exposing pale skin.

"Shut up."

Eraserhead surged forward, capture weapon fluttering like ribbons. But Shigaraki only stepped back calmly, looking to the side at the creature he'd brought with him.

"Nomu."

The Nomu lumbered forward. It cocked its head, reminding Izuku of a hawk about to go in for the kill.

One for All crackled and rose in response to the threat, but it was too late. In the blink of an eye, the Nomu moved from its position behind Shigaraki to inches away from Eraserhead. Izuku watched, almost missing the too-fast movement of the Nomu's fist against Eraserhead's too-slow dodge.

It connected. There was a horrible cracking sound Izuku would never forget as Eraserhead went limp—but the Nomu didn't stop. It shrieked, a horrible grating sound. Then it slammed Eraserhead into the ground so hard the dirt cracked.

Izuku stumbled, hand going to his mouth. A pitiful sound made its way from his mouth and between the gaps of his fingers.

"Stop," Izuku said, voice wavering. "Shigaraki, please, stop—"

Eraserhead groaned. Izuku inched forward but didn't dare move any further when the Nomu lifted its head to affix glittering eyes on his face.

Shigaraki crossed the distance Eraserhead had put between them calmly, like he was going for a stroll.

"Do you like it?"

Izuku couldn't speak. He wheezed out a few strangled breaths in response.

"Sensei created it, of course," Shigaraki said, stepping in so the conversation was private. "Remarkable, isn't it?"

Izuku found his voice. "I wouldn't call it— remarkable."

The Nomu hadn't moved. It kept its fingers locked in Eraserhead's hair; the clip had fallen out, leaving Eraserhead's long hair pooled around his head on the ground. Izuku thought he saw blood.

Kurogiri appeared behind them.

"Pro heroes Present Mic and Thirteen have been incapacitated," he reported, "and it seems you've managed to take down Eraserhead as well. The attack is progressing."

Eraserhead forced his head up at the words. Blood streaked down his face.

"Any sign of All Might?"

Kurogiri's body constricted. "None—but one of the U.A. students managed to escape before I could stop him. He's fetching reinforcements."

Shigaraki cast a curious look in Izuku's direction. "Is he?"

Iida, Izuku thought desperately. If there was anyone who could make it to campus on time to get help, it would be class representative Iida.

But what would happen in the precious time it'd take for help to arrive? Eraserhead was bleeding in front of Izuku's eyes. Thirteen and Present Mic were down for the count. Midnight, Izuku presumed, was still out there fighting, but how long would she be able to hold out?

And that didn't even cover Izuku's classmates. Were they okay? Were they out there fighting for their lives while Izuku stood shaking and unmoving?

"Kacchan," Izuku bit out, and an image of Kacchan flashed across his mind—his body, broken and bloody, smoke pouring around him.

"What will be our next move?"

Shigaraki hummed. "We'll wait and see who comes."

Kurogiri didn't seem happy. "And if they overpower us?"

Shigaraki inclined his head in the direction of the Nomu, and then beckoned with a hand. The Nomu dropped Eraserhead and stalked in their direction, looming over Izuku threateningly. Izuku shivered. Its fingers were slick with blood.

The short exchange had given Izuku some measure of hope, despite his initial doubts. Help was coming. Toshinori would come; All Might would come. The fact that Kurogiri was worried meant that Izuku's classmates were faring better than the League had originally planned for.

The only thing Class 1-A had to do was hold on.

Izuku eyed the Nomu. It wasn't human, that was for sure. Some twisted, terrible thing that didn't belong in this world. Super strength, for sure. And based on the way it moved, it had super speed. Under that monstrous frame, Izuku knew, there was still a multitude of things he didn't know.

It'd taken out Eraserhead like…

Izuku swallowed back bile. Past the villains he could just barely make out Eraserhead.

Still.

Still. Hold on.

"Do you like it?" Shigaraki asked again. He tapped a finger on the Nomu's arm. "Like I said, Sensei created it… to kill All Might."

Izuku swallowed.

"Multiple Quirks," Shigaraki said. His eyes flickered in Eraserhead's direction. "Eraserhead's cool, but the Nomu was made to fight far stronger heroes than him. Super speed, super strength… any guesses?"

Izuku shook his head. Shigaraki put his hand on the Nomu's arm again—this time with all five fingers. Izuku watched as the arm crumpled, not understanding.

Something red pulsed at the empty socket of the Nomu's shoulder, but it wasn't blood. It was muscle, flesh; Izuku understood in a flash.

"Regeneration," he said slowly. The Nomu twisted its new wrist experimentally.

"Smart," Shigaraki said. He huffed. "You know… Sensei usually lets me destroy the things I don't like. All of them except for you."

Still.

Hold on.

The Nomu didn't have weaknesses, not the way humans did—at least none that Izuku could think of then, half-blinded by pain and fear and regret. Izuku knew he wasn't going to win in a fist-fight.

Izuku would have to find a way out himself.

Izuku bit at the inside of his cheek until he bled. He had to think—no, no, there was no time to think.

He glanced off to the side and caught movement out of the corner of his eye. There in the distance were two figures at the edge of the water; by appearances Izuku guessed they were Tsuyu and Mineta. He waved a hand by his side, hoping they'd seen him.

Tsuyu waved back. She dragged Mineta onshore but stayed there, watching warily.

Izuku didn't know what to do. They could help—or it was possible his classmates would just end up in danger.

Izuku caught Tsuyu's eye. Slowly, deliberately, he flicked his gaze in the direction of the entrance.

Run.

He glanced back towards Shigaraki, standing with the Nomu. He was muttering something under his breath, hand having reached back up to scratch his neck. Izuku's fingers curled into a fist.

Blood roared in his ears. Izuku felt One for All begin to build a pressure in his bones; the power was almost alive, tearing through the restraints Izuku had put on it to rage at the situation. He let it go, the sound of it crackling in his ears, and then he moved.

Izuku didn't think about what he was doing. Warmth spread through his body; the wave of power reached its peak but didn't fall. Izuku barely had time to consider One for All as he slipped around his companions to hoist Eraserhead over his shoulder and run.

He made a few scant meters before his instincts screamed. Izuku dropped, curling his body around Eraserhead as a rippling black hand grasped the air where he'd been. He left Eraserhead on the ground and turned to meet the Nomu head-on. Dust billowed around them. The Nomu blocked the first fist Izuku threw, and the second.

One for All pulsed once then dissipated.

"Shock absorption," Shigaraki called. He cocked his head, curiosity shining in his eyes. "Though… what power that is…"

Izuku retreated when the Nomu made no move to attack again. He planted himself in front of Eraserhead, shaking.

"Don't touch him," Izuku growled as Shigaraki strode closer. A moment later Izuku realized he'd started crying.

Out of the corner of his eye, Izuku saw Tsuyu dragging Mineta, the two of them creeping closer and closer. They were being careful and slow, but Izuku wanted to scream.

All Might…

"...where are you?" Izuku whispered. No one heard him.

"Eraserhead won't live to see tomorrow," Shigaraki said, "no, Akatani, I'm more concerned about you. You're playing hero well… maybe too well."

Izuku coughed. "Well. Isn't that my, my job?"

The panic Izuku had temporarily staved off was beginning to rise again. One for All—or at least, Izuku's pitiful control of it—wasn't enough. Illusions weren't enough.

The Nomu reached out and wrapped a huge hand around Izuku's midsection. He cried out as thick fingers squeezed. Something cracked.

"All Might's not here," Shigaraki spat. "You…"

Izuku wasn't paying attention. He turned towards where he'd seen Tsuyu and then slowly lifted a hand to tap his mouth, then point to Eraserhead. Shigaraki wouldn't kill Izuku yet, but he had no reservations about any of the other students or teachers.

A distant boom rattled the entire USJ. Izuku couldn't see what was happening, but he didn't need to. Instead he stopped struggling and went limp with relief.

One for All buzzed in his chest as if recognizing its other wielder's presence.

Tsuyu took the distraction, just like Izuku wanted. A long tongue shot out and wrapped around Eraserhead, then pulled him away to safety.

Izuku closed his eyes. The adrenaline was wearing off. His injuries left Izuku useless.

But it was okay, because…

"I am here," All Might called. Izuku cracked his eyes open again, struggling to turn in the Nomu's grip so he could see. All Might didn't sound reassuring—instead he sounded angry.

Shigaraki laughed. "Finally… level up."

"One of my students contacted me prior to the lesson," All Might began. He hadn't noticed Izuku yet. "And as I was heading here, I ran into another student who explained the entire situation to me."

He cracked his knuckles loudly.

"All Might!" Mineta screeched from a distance.

All Might's gaze shot towards where Tsuyu and Mineta were shouldering Eraserhead, carrying his weight between them in retreat. All Might didn't hesitate. He sped over, lifting the three of them easily and carrying them to the foot of the entrance stairs.

Izuku didn't have the strength to cry, but half-dried tears had already caked on his face. All Might came back towards them but stilled when he saw Izuku clutched in the Nomu's grip.

"Young Akatani…"

"You should…" Izuku wheezed, meeting All Might's eyes, "get everyone out…"

Things would work out. Shigaraki would leave Izuku alive, and All Might was strong enough to evacuate the USJ. Thirteen had held up three fingers, All Might had blood on his face, but he could do it.

"Nomu?"

Izuku's breath left him as he hit the ground. He blacked out for a moment from pain, sound and sight returning slowly.

The next thing he knew, All Might had him in a hold that was impossibly gentle.

"It's alright now," All Might said when he noticed Izuku blink up at him.

"All Might…"

"Don't worry."

"The Nomu," Izuku whispered. He couldn't seem to lift his head. "They- they made it f… for… you… I wasn't- strong, it's…"

"Don't worry," All Might said again. He smiled, and blood stained his teeth. "You did well holding out. I'll take it from here."

He set Izuku down close to where Tsuyu and Mineta were struggling with Eraserhead. Izuku's knees buckled the instant his feet touched the ground, but All Might didn't let him fall.

"I'll end this," All Might promised. And there was that budding rage again, as he took in Izuku's face, his injuries. It faded for a second as All Might pressed a thumb under Izuku's jaw to lift his face towards him—Izuku saw something soft shining through.

Then All Might was gone.

Izuku didn't know what happened much after that. Out of danger, out of Shigaraki's grasp, his body decided it was time to start shutting down. Izuku struggled to stay awake, catching flashes of a fight.

All Might… protect…

He forced his eyes back open but saw only two hulking figures battling each other in the dust.

"Hey, hey, hey, Akatani, stay with us."

Izuku couldn't get his mouth to work. His thoughts flitted; distantly, he recognized the people around him.

Kill All Might echoed in his head. Shigaraki's voice. Izuku needed to—

"Shit—hey, I need help, he's not responding…"

"Careful…"

"Shoji, can you…?"

Izuku drifted then snapped back. All Might. All Might. All Might.

"He—"

"Hold him, hold him!"

All Might, where was All Might, Izuku needed to help, protect, help.

"No, no, just stay, just, we can't, hold on."

"...wish Yaoyorozu was here, she could make something…"

Izuku blinked. Faces swept past him, their mouths opening and closing as they talked, but the sound wasn't coming out. Izuku blinked again, and he saw Eraserhead being carried. Izuku blinked, and the world faded around him when he saw All Might standing alone.

The Nomu was gone.

Smoke twisted and poured around All Might. Out of time. Out of time.

Shigaraki and All Might were too far for Izuku to hear what they were saying, but a moment later Shigaraki was advancing. All Might stood still. Not moving. He was—

I'm the only one who knows.

Izuku's shoulder throbbed. So did his chest. His head was spinning, and he wasn't sure he could see right.

But unnoticed by his classmates, unnoticed by All Might, unnoticed by the slowly-approaching Shigaraki and Kurogiri, Izuku moved.

He curled his legs tight under him and then pushed himself to his feet.

Protect, Izuku thought, and One for All answered.

His legs protested, One for All too much for them, but Izuku made it in time. No one saw Izuku coming. One moment he'd been on the ground, pain clouding his thoughts; the other, he was there, knocking Shigaraki aside.

They flew through the air. Izuku caught the side of Shigaraki's face, shock evident in his eyes. He reached a spindly hand out, but a sharp sound rang out. A gunshot. Blood splattered on Izuku's cheek as the two of them hit the ground.

A few more shots rang out. Izuku turned his cheek against the ground and saw heroes at the entrance.

Kurogiri used his body to block the rest of the attempts to shoot, then warped him and Shigaraki away.

"...Mikumi?"

Izuku lifted his tired eyes to All Might.

"Hey!" someone called from the distance. Izuku saw a red-haired figure dash in their direction. "All Might! Akatani!"

All Might's eyes widened. Blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth; there was blood on his shirt, too. Izuku hadn't seen.

Izuku lifted a hand weakly and focused. More smoke billowed around them, the best Izuku could do. The footsteps slowed.

"It's alright, young Kirishima," All Might called. He transformed a moment later but continued to call through the smoke. "I've got a handle on this. Please head back to your classmates and the other teachers so we can ensure your safety."

"Oh! Right, got it, sir!"

Toshinori stumbled over to Izuku and knelt carefully down. He tugged Izuku into his thin arms, and Izuku made a half-sound of protest.

"It's okay," Toshinori said quietly. "You can let go now. It's okay. Everyone is safe."

"All… a…"

"Rest," Toshinori said. Someone approached—another pro hero, but Toshinori didn't tear his eyes away from Izuku. "It's okay now."

Izuku believed him.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter sixteen


"Ah, you're awake."

Izuku blinked at the doctor, trying to make sense of things.

"You were admitted to the hospital," the doctor said, "it's Wednesday afternoon."

Izuku nodded. He looked down at the twisted bedsheets and the body under them - his. Bandages peeked out and disappeared under a standard hospital gown. It ached a little when he breathed.

"You broke two ribs, had some fracturing in your legs, and your shoulder… your shoulder was badly damaged, but with a mix of healing Quirks and light surgery, it's rather intact. The injury was pretty localized. You'll be able to use it to its full extent in a few weeks, but you'll have to be careful for now."

Izuku reached up and touched his shoulder. Bandages. A dull, throbbing pain.

"Thanks," Izuku said quietly.

The doctor smiled kindly at Izuku. He glanced towards the door.

"Well, you should be fine to receive visitors. There's a few people in the hall, if you're up to seeing them?"

Izuku nodded.

"I'll send your father in first."

The doctor left before Izuku had a chance to protest.

"—my son. Where is my son?"

"Sir, please, right this way-"

The door flew open. Hisashi stormed in, followed by a concerned nurse. He looked around, eyes landing on Izuku, and the line of tension in his shoulders eased. Not completely, but…

"Izuku."

Hisashi crossed the room in a few long strides. Izuku struggled to sit up but eventually gave up, slumping back on his pillows.

"Izuku," Hisashi said, softer. He didn't touch Izuku, but he did grip the bedside railing tightly. "You're— alright?"

Izuku blinked. He was— concerned?

"Fine," Izuku said, too tired to properly muster any anger or more confusion.

Hisashi took him in. Izuku wondered if he looked half as bad as he felt, and then decided he did if the look on Hisashi's face was anything to go by.

"They let you get hurt," Hisashi said.

"The heroes?" Izuku asked, "Or the villains?"

Hisashi's face darkened. He didn't answer.

Izuku licked his lips. "When do- when do I get out?"

"Tomorrow," the nurse in the back answered. Hisashi sent her what must've been a withering look; she bowed and ducked out of the room, leaving them to speak alone.

Hisashi reached by his side and procured a cloth bag. He set it on the table by Izuku's bed.

"Fresh set of clothes," Hisashi said gruffly. He looked at Izuku again, and Izuku couldn't tell what the emotions on his face were—concern? Worry? Anger?

"What," Izuku said.

Hisashi gave him that strange look again. He opened his mouth as if to answer and then shut it.

Then, again, "You're alright?"

Izuku swallowed. Hisashi's eyes were dark—intense, but not unkind. Not uncaring.

"...I'm alright," he said, and the word was strange in his mouth when he added, "Father."

Something flashed across Hisashi's face; his eyes widened a fraction. Then he nodded, face setting.

"I have to go," Hisashi said finally, "to have a talk with Shigaraki—"

"Oh," Izuku said faintly. He wondered what Hisashi would say.

"I asked Silver here to watch over you," Hisashi said, though he didn't seem particularly happy, "and some of your… friends are here to see you. Call me if you need me."

"Okay."

"I'll come back tomorrow to sign papers and pick you up."

"Okay."

"Take… I'll see you, Izuku."

"Okay."

Hisashi reached out to brush Izuku's hair back out of his face in what was an almost tender action. He kept his gaze on Izuku for another moment longer before he left.

Izuku touched his hair gingerly, staring at the closed door.

Hisashi…

The door opened again. Izuku tensed, but it was only Silver.

"Idiot," she said, crossing the room to wrap Izuku in her arms. Izuku relaxed into the embrace, pressing his face to her shoulder.

"Of everyone you could've gotten yourself into trouble with!" Silver pulled back, and her tail whipped up to lightly flick his forehead. "You literally— you.. Gahh."

Izuku gestured with his hands, trying to explain himself but only managing to speak gibberish.

Silver flicked him again. "Dumbass. Don't do it again."

Izuku stared at the floor. "I don't think I can avoid it."

"What do you guys say at U.A.? Go beyond?"

"Plus ultra," Izuku finished, groaning. "Don't remind m— where, is, do you know if everyone's okay?"

Silver shoved him back. "Your friends are fine."

"And the heroes?"

Silver shrugged. "I haven't heard much, to be honest. Only thing I know is that the League is not happy with the results."

"Good," Izuku said vehemently. "Good."

Silver sighed. Izuku twisted his mouth into a smile.

"Oh, yeah, your friends are here to see you or whatever."

Izuku perked up. "Really?"

"You're like a puppy," Silver said. She nodded towards the door. "You up to see them?"

"Yes. Yes, yes, yes," Izuku said. He wanted to make sure everyone was okay, he wanted to see them, he wanted to ask someone about Eraserhead, and All Might, and the heroes.

Silver nodded. "I'll come back later. Want some soda?"

Izuku squinted. "Am I allowed to?"

"Do I care?"

Silver grinned at him, and it was nice to see her after what felt like so long.

"I missed you," Izuku said.

"It's not mutual," Silver replied at the door, but her voice was fond. "It's so boring without you to annoy, though."

She ducked out of the room. A moment later, the door slammed in, and Izuku barely had time to wonder how many more visitors he was going to have before someone was yelling in his face.

"—were so worried oh my gosh Akatani, it was so scary please don't do that again, you—"

"What, what?"

"—thought you were going to die and Aizawa-sensei didn't look much better and there was so much blood, and you're really nice and—"

"Wait, wait, wait…"

"—and—"

"Uraraka!" Iida said, bringing his hand down in a familiar chopping motion. "Let Akatani breathe!" Uraraka finally stopped, a little red in the face. She closed her mouth then wrung her hands together.

Izuku was still trying to process everything. He looked up at his friends.

"Hey."

Iida was smiling faintly. He adjusted his glasses. "I'm glad to see you're alright, Akatani."

"Sorry," Uraraka squeaked. "I was just so worried."

"I…" Izuku said, faltering. He wasn't really sure how to react. "Um… that means a lot, thanks. I didn't think that anyone would be so worried…?"

"Awww, Akatani—"

"Of course we worried about you! You're our friend."

Izuku ducked his head. "Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry."

Uraraka threw her arms around him. Iida patted his shoulder, looking a little awkward but happy. Izuku might've cried a little bit. A tiny, tiny bit.

"You guys…"

"I recorded the class notes for you," Iida said, taking a step back and setting a folder onto the bedside table. "The teachers said they would let you turn in work late due to the… circumstances. And if you need any help, I'd gladly assist you."

Izuku ran a hand over his eyes. "That's really thoughtful, Iida. Thank you."

"We brought you some food, too," Uraraka added. She lifted a plastic bag from her side. "It's a little cold, sorry, but…"

"No, that's, that's great, thank you."

"Do you know when you get out?"

"Oh, uh, tomorrow," Izuku replied. "I'm supposed to take it easy, or something."

Uraraka and Iida exchanged a look.

"What?" Izuku asked.

"Are you actually going to?"

Izuku made a noise. "...Maybe?"

Iida adjusted his glasses and sighed. "Please take care of yourself, Akatani."

"Unlike Aizawa-sensei," Uraraka chirped, and Iida sighed again, louder this time. Izuku's heart missed a beat.

"What… wh… is he okay?"

"I can't believe him!" Uraraka burst, throwing her arms out. "He showed up to class today all covered in bandages! To teach us!"

"So he's… is that a good… a bad thing…?"

"Well, Aizawa-sensei looked like he was still supposed to be in the hospital," Iida said, "though he said there was no time to waste and that he was well enough. Which is good, I suppose."

"Oh." Izuku thought over it for a moment. "Well… what about the others?"

"Oh, they're fine!" Uraraka beamed. "Mic-sensei was even super loud today, which was great, except I think his English and his volume are like, inversely proportional, you know? But everyone's okay!"

Izuku nodded. "That's… yeah, that's, that's good. That's really good."

"I believe our time is up," Iida announced. He checked his phone and nodded. "We were told we only had a limited time to visit, and we still have some work to do for class."

Izuku's heart dropped.

"You're leaving?"

Uraraka looked back at the door to the room. "Well…"

"If you have to go you should go," Izuku said. He smiled weakly at them. "Don't worry about me."

"I feel bad," Uraraka said. Izuku waved his hands.

"No, no, you guys should go," he told them. "It's okay, um, my, uhh… my family friend is here anyway, I don't want you guys to get in trouble or anything."

Uraraka reached out and patted his hand. "We'll see you tomorrow, then, Akatani!"

Izuku tried for another smile. "Yeah."

After Uraraka and Iida left, it was finally quiet. The first time Izuku had a moment alone to himself since waking up. He needed it.

Izuku ran through everything that had happened, slowly revisiting USJ. He found his memories weren't as vivid as he thought they'd be—actually, Izuku didn't remember very much of it at all. Everything had faded into snatches of memories, little flashes of sounds and images that Izuku had to fit together.

He did remember Shigaraki and Kurogiri, and that damn Nomu.

And Eraserhead, and a horrible noise, and All Might. He'd smiled even though there was blood between his teeth, and he'd smiled as he'd carried Izuku to safety, and he'd smiled again after it was all over.

Izuku sat in the half-dark room wondering what he'd gotten himself into.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Izuku had a handful of other visitors, mostly Silver, but a few of his other classmates as well. He slept. He stared at the wall and the ceiling and thought—of what to say, or what to do.

Izuku was discharged the next day, though not before he had two other visitors: Toshinori and Tsukauchi.

He was finishing tying his shoes when they entered. Izuku's head whipped up.

"Oh- oh," Izuku said, feeling his eyes widen.

Detective Tsukauchi took off his hat. He smiled. "I hope this isn't a bad time?"

Izuku shook his head. "I've got nothing but time, Detective."

"Healing alright?" Toshinori asked. He was in his civilian form, probably not to draw attention; from under his oversized shirt, Izuku thought he spotted bandages wrapped tight around his thin limbs. Toshinori walked to the bed and ruffled Izuku's hair as he looked over him.

Izuku leaned into Toshinori's hand slightly, thinking about Hisashi and how different the touch felt. Then he felt guilty.

"Not too bad," Izuku replied, smiling up at his mentor. "I'm getting discharged today—oh, I guess that's why you came, huh, so you could catch me before I left."

"I do have to ask you a few questions," Detective Tsukauchi said, looking rueful, "though only what you know."

Izuku had expected it, though his stomach clenched. "Yeah, sure. Part of the job."

"Right," Detective Tsukauchi said. He got out a clipboard and a pen.

Izuku peeked over at Toshinori. "You didn't have to come."

"No," Toshinori agreed, "but I wanted to make sure you were okay. I wanted to see you."

"Oh. Huh."

"You gave me quite the scare," Toshinori murmured. He sat on the edge of the bed. Izuku lowered his eyes.

"Sorry."

Toshinori shook his head. "It's not your fault."

Detective Tsukauchi cleared his throat. "Sorry to interrupt…"

"No, no, go ahead."

"I'd like you to run through your perspective of events for me, please. From what I know, at the beginning of the incident, you were warped away into the central pavilion?"

Izuku nodded. "Uh… yeah, right."

He flicked his gaze to Detective Tsukauchi's face.

Careful, now.

Izuku went through what had happened, trying to keep his story as plain as possible without getting too close to his own thoughts or some of what Shigaraki had said. Detective Tsukauchi nodded, listening intently the entire time as he took notes. Toshinori looked upset.

"Good, thank you…" Tsukauchi said when Izuku finished.

"Questions?"

"Yes, just a few, if you will."

Izuku nodded, forcing himself to relax. He wasn't exactly the best liar—especially in front of a lie-detecting detective—but he didn't need to be a good liar. He needed to tell the truth. Just the truth.

"Oh," Izuku interrupted, before Detective Tsukauchi could keep going. "Um, I said this earlier, but I don't really remember everything, especially near the end of the fight, so…"

Izuku let Detective Tsukauchi's mind fill in the rest.

"Of course. Answer what you can, please. Shigaraki seemed to target you in particular right at the beginning… do you know why he chose you?"

Izuku's heart rate picked up. He was glad they'd disconnected the heart monitor already, or else it wouldn't have taken long for Izuku's cover to be blown wide open.

Just the truth. Tell the truth.

"He… he did say he needed a hostage," Izuku said slowly, "so I guess he chose me."

"Mm. Can you confirm for me Shigaraki's goal for attacking USJ?"

Izuku glanced at Toshinori then away quickly. He couldn't look at Toshinori's face.

"He was hoping to, to, um. Kill All Might." Izuku pressed his lips together to keep himself from saying any more; when Izuku was nervous, he tended to say more than he should have.

"Obviously that didn't work."

Izuku glanced at Toshinori again. "N… no. No."

"Did Shigaraki say anything about the… creature that was with him? The being that All Might fought?"

"The Nomu?"

"Is that its name?" Detective Tsukauchi's brows raised. He quickly wrote it down when Izuku nodded in confirmation.

"They tried to question it," Toshinori explained after a beat, "but it didn't seem to be capable of speech. It did follow orders well enough."

Izuku licked his lips. "He said… he said the Nomu was created for All Might specifically. Enhanced strength, um… speed. And it had—"

Izuku could see it: the Nomu's arm crumbling to dust under Shigaraki's touch, the crack of its hand around Izuku's ribs, its beady eyes and hungry gaze, and the pulse of One for All as Izuku had hit.

"—shock absorption and regeneration Quirks," Izuku finished. "I don't…"

Izuku stopped himself before he could tell a lie. He'd gotten distracted.

Toshinori and Detective Tsukauchi exchanged a weighted look that Izuku didn't understand.

"Created," Detective Tsukauchi repeated.

"Created," Izuku said.

"By Shigaraki?"

"I…" Izuku began, then shut his mouth. Careful, now. "I don't—think so."

Toshinori's eyes flashed. "Did Shigaraki say who?"

"Um…" Izuku floundered, "I didn't get a name, no."

Detective Tsukauchi didn't look happy, but he didn't look very suspicious, either. He mumbled something to himself, scribbling away on his clipboard. He wrote a few more things down as Izuku watched.

"Ah, right— and anything else you think might be important?"

Izuku shook his head. "Nothing I haven't told you."

Detective Tsukauchi nodded. "Well, thank you for answering my questions, Akatani. It's very helpful."

"Uh… yeah. Yeah."

"It's good to see you're alright," Detective Tsukauchi continued, "and of course, we'll be looking into this group of villains to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. Ah, here."

Detective Tsukauchi wrote something down on a piece of paper then ripped off the corner, handing Izuku a long strip. Izuku looked at it—a phone number.

"Just in case," Detective Tsukauchi said when izuku gave him a questioning look, "or if you remember something or need any help, you can contact that number. Ah, be considerate, of course—that's my personal cell, so please don't share that with any of your classmates or anyone unnecessarily."

Izuku nodded solemnly. "Th… thank you."

"Well, I think we'd better let you rest," Detective Tsukauchi said. He put on his hat and looked pointedly at Toshinori. "Come on, old man."

Toshinori grumbled as he got up. "Still don't understand why you call me that."

Detective Tsukauchi winked at Izuku.

"I'll see you… tomorrow?" Toshinori asked. Izuku smiled.

"Yeah."

The door opened, and all three of them turned to see who it was. A nurse stepped in, followed by Hisashi. The atmosphere went tense.

"Mikumi," Hisashi said, sharp gaze flitting over Detective Tsukauchi and Toshinori. "Who are your visitors?"

"Um," Izuku said, voice a few octaves higher than normal.

Detective Tsukauchi remained calm though, stepping forward to offer his hand and using his other to reveal a badge.

"I'm Detective Tsukauchi," he introduced smoothly, "and this is my friend Toshinori from U.A. We were simply here to ask Akatani a few questions about the events at USJ."

Hisashi took it in. "...Very well. Are you done?"

"We were just about to leave."

"Hm," Hisashi said, "so were we."

He cut between Detective Tsukauchi and Toshinori, and Izuku caught the rough knock of Hisashi's shoulders to Toshinori's.

"Mikumi?"

"Father," Izuku said, just because the others were watching. He stood woodenly, and Hisashi put a careful but heavy hand at the back of Izuku's neck. They walked to the door together.

Before they left, Hisashi paused. He sent a scathing look over his shoulder.

"Keep my son safe," he said, and Izuku felt the words echo like tolling bells. Then they swept out of the door.

Leaving the hospital was fairly uneventful. Hisashi signed some papers, Izuku was asked a few questions, and they were both told about how Izuku should be careful but that he was alright to return to school as long as he didn't overexert himself. Recovery Girl would keep an eye on him, he had a few painkillers he could take, if there were any complications, please return to the hospital.

Izuku nodded along. He wasn't really listening.

Izuku was finally allowed to return to the school the next day. He left the apartment early; seeing Hisashi made Izuku's head hurt, and when left alone, Izuku had quickly realized he'd spiral into a mess of anxiety about the League of Villains.

When he got to school, Izuku looked around the empty halls and then headed to his classroom. Eraserhead was already there, looking frustrated with papers scattered on the floor.

"Eraserhead?"

He didn't respond, instead scooping up the papers from the floor.

"...Aizawa-sensei?"

"Do you need help?"

Izuku hurried over, putting his schoolbag down and helping Eraserhead pick up the papers from the floor. He glanced at the grades, wincing in sympathy for Kaminari, and didn't look at them again.

"Thanks," Eraserhead said shortly. Izuku handed him the papers. "What are you doing here? Class hasn't started."

Izuku took the moment to examine Eraserhead. He looked okay. A lot better than Izuku remembered—broken, bloody—though no less tired than usual.

"I don't know," Izuku responded. He just hadn't wanted to be alone. "Just… just wanted to be here, I guess."

I wanted to see you, Izuku didn't say. I wanted to know that things will be okay.

"What trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?"

Izuku snapped his head up at the question. He blinked, looking for the words. For a moment he was tempted.

Very, very tempted. Then the words died on his tongue.

"It's nothing," Izuku mumbled.

"It's never nothing."

"I'm just…"

What was Izuku going to do?

"Eraserhead… there was a question on the entrance exams, I think. I don't remember it exactly, but it was something like, like, what do you do when you have to pick be-between two wrong choices? What would you do?"

Eraserhead looked taken aback at the sudden question.

"This isn't something to talk about at eight in the morning," he said finally.

"I know," Izuku said, shoulders slumping.

"It's easier to ask the question than to answer it," Eraserhead said, "Even as your teacher… I can't tell you what to do, because I'm not sure, either. It's something we'll have to discover for ourselves, when we face it. But—"

Izuku wondered what he was thinking. Did Eraserhead remember him? Not as Akatani, but as Mirage, who kept slipping out of Eraserhead's grasp.

Remember him as he really was? As half-villain, half-hero; as a puzzle and a mystery?

As Izuku?

"You do what you can."

Eraserhead closed the distance between them and brought his hand up. He rapped the side of Izuku's head, knocking away the thoughts swirling in his mind. Izuku gaped up at him.

"You make the choice that's the better of the two, the one that will help the most people or hurt the least people, and then you pick yourself up and keep going. And you do your best to make up for it and fix whatever mistakes you've made, and you hope the people you've left behind will forgive you."

Pick yourself up and keep going. Do your best to make up for it, fix your mistakes.

Izuku thought about Toshinori, smoke billowing around his form. He thought about the death warrant he'd signed—for all the people in his life he loved.

Forgive me.

He lifted a finger and found a tear at the corner of his eye.

"Thank you, Eraserhead," Izuku said, "I'll… I'll keep that in mind."

Eraserhead studied him. "You know your teachers are pro heroes, right?"

Izuku paused, confused. He picked at his sleeve. "Well—yeah?"

"If you have a problem, you come to us, got it?" Eraserhead pinned him with a look. "Let us make those choices. Though— bother All Might first. Understood, problem child?"

It's too late, Izuku thought, and his voice shook when he said, "Understood."

"Good," Eraserhead said sharply. He looked like he wanted to say more, but the bell rang, and classmates poured in.

Izuku's classmates cheered when they saw him, piling over each other to welcome him back. It made Izuku smile—they cared more than he'd realized.

Class started. Izuku quickly lost himself to the business of it, finding that with Iida and Uraraka's help, he wasn't as far behind as he'd thought. His shoulder did give him trouble, and Izuku kept losing himself in thought.

Eraserhead sent him home before training that day. He stopped Izuku before the class headed to the training centers.

"Go see Recovery Girl, and then go home."

Izuku opened his mouth to argue. "But—"

"You need more time. I'm surprised you came to school at all," Eraserhead said, "you need to go home, Akatani."

Izuku lowered his eyes. "Yes, Eraserhead."

"I'll see you tomorrow after you've gotten some rest."

"Yes, Eraserhead."

Eraserhead cuffed the back of Izuku's head. "Go."

Izuku skipped seeing Recovery Girl. No doubt she'd scold him again, and Izuku didn't want to see the infirmary for a while. Instead he stepped out into the still-morning air, backpack on his shoulders. There was a figure waiting outside the gates, sitting on a bench opposite the school watching. Izuku stopped.

The figure looked up. A black hood fell slightly, and Izuku saw Shigaraki's face.

"Come with me," Shigaraki said, and Izuku fell into step behind him as they stepped out of eyesight from U.A. and into an alley.

"You're healed?" Kurogiri asked when he appeared a moment later.

"Healing," Izuku corrected. He felt tired. "You can't let a guy rest, huh?"

Shigaraki didn't answer. Kurogiri took them away a moment later. When they arrived at their destination, Izuku saw the TV already on, waiting for him.

"Little dragon."

Izuku swallowed. "Sensei."

"I'd like to apologize, Izuku, for what happened at USJ. The events seemed to have gotten a little… out of hand."

Sensei continued when Izuku didn't respond. "Do you have any questions for me, Izuku?"

"The Nomu," Izuku blurted.

"Ah… right to the chase. What would you like to know?"

"You made it."

"I did."

"How?"

Silence.

"Hmm… I'm not sure it's time just yet… no, perhaps it is. Let this be considered a measure of trust between us, hm? I trust you. I hope you can come to trust me."

Izuku shivered.

"I have a very unique Quirk, Izuku. I can take and give away Quirks."

The air left Izuku all at once.

"All for One…" he whispered, unbidden.

All for One. All for One. All Quirks… for one.

All Quirks—except the one he couldn't take.

The realization was like being thrown into freezing water. Izuku felt every nerve in his body jolt, felt the hairs on his skin raise. Was suddenly aware of the blood rushing under his skin.

All for One, forcibly taken.

One for All, willingly given.

"I cannot tell you more than this, unfortunately," Sensei said, "but if you continue to help me, I will help you, my boy. I think you and I are quite similar… you want to change the world. I could give you the power to do it."

"Why do you want to kill All Might?"

"...he took everything away from me, little dragon. Everything. My brother, my legacy, my life. Do you think him a hero?"

"Isn't he?"

"He's fool enough to fool an entire nation. Be careful, Izuku. That smile means nothing."

Not to me.

Doubt wormed its way into Izuku's heart. He pushed it out, but the words were already there. He couldn't take them back.

"Yes, Sensei."

"I think your father would be upset if I keep you any longer, but… remember something for me, Izuku."

"Yes, Sensei," Izuku whispered.

"You are the lock."

Izuku blinked. The world seemed to tilt briefly. "I… don't understand."

"You will."

Kurogiri was at Izuku's arm. Then they were gone.

If Izuku had left any later, he would've seen the door to the bar swing open. He would've seen a tall figure dressed in gold survey the room with cold grey eyes. He would've seen a face he recognized—but he didn't.

Heels clicked against a dirty wooden floor.

Miss Guidance had always liked the sound heels gave her. Controlled. Steady. An announcement to the world that she was there.

Heels, of course, weren't very practical in a fight, but Miss Guidance wasn't looking for one anyway. Instead she headed to the back of the bar, where the bartender had appeared alone.

"Miss Guidance."

"Kurogiri."

"You're here for…"

Miss Guidance inclined her head. She liked the way the dim bar light glimmered and reflected off of the gold mask covering half of her face; it had no practical use, but it kept attention on her.

The TV in the corner blinked, like it was waking up. Miss Guidance took measured steps toward it. Click-click. Click-click. Click-click.

"...Miss Guidance, my dear."

Miss Guidance smiled at the TV, a quick flash of white teeth though she knew the man behind it wouldn't be able to see.

"All for One," she greeted.

"It's been a while since we last spoke, my dear," All for One said, "have you come to visit me at last?"

"I've been busy."

"How does Chimera fare?"

Anger flashed, quick and hot. Miss Guidance forced ice to crackle and cool through her veins; no, she was in control. Emotions meant little.

"I'm displeased."

"Oh?"

Miss Guidance pulled a golden coin from her sleeve and spun it idly between her fingers. She thought of Izuku and closed her fist around the coin, cold metal biting into her palm.

"Things aren't going as they should."

"You were always too impatient. The pieces will come together in time. Have faith."

She ran a thumb over the face of the coin. "If you insist."

"Have you been enjoying my little gift?"

Miss Guidance knew not to give too much away. Enough blood to taste, but not to drink.

"Useful," she said. She spun the coin again. "But Izuku…"

"Ah, him… he interests me."

"You can have him. I don't care for him—though Hisashi does, in his own way." Miss Guidance gritted her teeth. "It makes him weak."

"Perhaps."

"Have you found who you've been looking for?"

"Have you?"

Miss Guidance huffed. "Not yet, even with Izuku's help. But the U.A. Sports Festival is soon… I'll keep an eye out for you, if you hold your end of the deal."

A low chuckle. "Have I ever lied to you?"

Miss Guidance smiled. "Plenty of times."

"Miss Guidance. Find me All Might's successor, and I will remake the world in your image."

"You have such a way with words, All for One," Miss Guidance said. She looked at the coin in her hand, then tossed it. It spun in the air—once, twice. Then she caught it, pressing it to the back of her palm.

"Heads or tails?"

"Heads." She didn't need to look. Instead Miss Guidance slipped the coin back into her sleeve and turned to leave. "But you know the chances always fall in your favor."

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter seventeen


"So!" Uraraka clapped her hands together. "Are you ready for the Sports Festival?"

Izuku spat out his water. "What," he coughed, waving a hand when Iida looked concerned. "What Sports Festival?"

Uraraka gave him an are-you-serious kind of look.

"You know," she said, "The Sports Festival."

Izuku stared at the table for a long moment, trying to decide whether or not it was possible to active One for All in a way so his limbs would explode.

"Oh," Izuku said finally. "That Sports Festival."

"You probably missed us talking about it," Iida said, directing his chopsticks at an invisible diagram in the air. "Aizawa-sensei was telling us about it. The faculty are still deciding whether or not to host it, but he said it was likely the festival would continue."

Izuku picked up his lunch tray and stood.

"I'm going to go panic somewhere else," he said, scanning the lunchroom. Izuku eyed his friends. "How come no one told me?"

Uraraka scratched her head. "Well… we all just assumed you already knew. It's always held the same time every year. Are- are you actually leaving… us…?"

"Right," Izuku said, backing away slowly, "cool. Cool! Cool."

Izuku had only been half-joking about going somewhere to panic (the Sports Festival, where Izuku would be exposed to the entire world, oh, crap, how had he forgotten about the Sports Festival). But he'd also meant to join… ah, there was the table he was looking for.

"Oh, hey, dude," Kirishima said when Izuku set his lunch tray down.

"Mind if I join you for lunch?"

Kirishima grinned, moving over. "Sure!"

"Fuck off."

"Hi, Bakugou," Izuku said cheerily, sitting down.

"What the fuck are you doing here, Akatani."

Izuku tapped his chopsticks lightly against the side of his bowl. "I didn't know you had vision issues, Bakugou."

Kacchan's eyes snapped up. It was only Kirishima's quick movement that kept him from tearing across the table. Izuku grinned.

"Hey, hey, he was only joking," Kaminari piped up from where he'd been watching, arms crossed over his chest and eyes alight with amusement. "That was a good one, Akatani."

"Get out of here."

"I think I'll stay."

Kacchan didn't tell him to get out again, which Izuku counted as a win. It meant Kacchan had gotten past the initial hate phase (hopefully) and had now moved onto grudging toleration.

"Hey, last time you two worked pretty well together, huh?"

"Tch."

"Not bad," Izuku said, pleased.

"Oh, yeah, you guys totally killed Iida!"

"What's this about killing Iida?" Uraraka said, sitting across from Izuku. She smiled. Iida appeared behind her a moment later, looking concerned. Kaminari moved so the two had space.

"What the fuck— I'm going to kill Four Eyes again if he doesn't leave. You, too, Round Face." Bakugou frowned at the newcomers over a half-finished lunch, though Izuku could tell he really wasn't all that upset. Izuku smiled to himself, pumping a fist under the table when he wasn't included on the list.

Then Kacchan's gaze swung towards him. "You, too, Bone Breaker."

"Woah, Bakugou," Kirishima said, "not going to lie, that name sounds pretty manly."

"Yeah," Kaminari snorted, "too bad Akatani doesn't break other people's bones instead of his own. Uh—no offense, man."

"No, that's fair," Izuku said. "I- I guess I have broken some bones, huh? Haha."

"Hey, your Quirk's pretty cool! Minus the breaking your arms part."

"I guess." Izuku propped his chin on his hand. "Though yours is too, Kirishima!"

"You think so? I kinda wish I had a Quirk like yours. Or Bakugou's! Both of you just go blam, and it's like all in your face."

Izuku frowned. "But I'd never break an arm if I had your Quirk." He cocked his head, suddenly curious. "Can you break your arm?"

"Well," Kirishima started, pausing to swallow, "I'm pretty tough when I'm using my Quirk. I can take quite a bit of damage, but eventually it'll wear me down."

"So you'd have to work on endurance right? Like, upping your damage threshold."

Kirishima scratched at his chin, picking off a grain of rice. "I guess so."

Uraraka leaned forward, propping her chin on her hand. "Don't get him started, Kirishima."

Izuku pouted in her direction. He knew she was only teasing.

"Nerd," she said, smiling.

"Dork," he replied.

"Stop flirting," Kacchan said. Izuku sputtered. Uraraka went red. Iida looked thoroughly confused.

"How was that flirting?" Izuku shot across the table after he'd caught his breath. "I bet you don't even know what that's like."

Kacchan growled.

Izuku let up on the teasing. It wasn't long before the crowded group fell into an easy conversation, talking about the homework they'd been assigned and all the latest hero gossip.

"Did you guys see that article with pictures of the top ten heroes when they were in school?"

"Noo, let me see, let me see!"

Izuku raised an eyebrow. "They got pictures of All Might in school?"

Kaminari shook his head. "Actually they couldn't find any, he's missing from the list and apparently declined. But dude, look at Endeavor."

Endeavor looked a lot nicer younger, Izuku thought. Not quite so gruff. He wondered what happened.

"Very interesting," Iida commented. He tilted his head. "I wonder what we will look like in ten years?"

"Nevermind that," Uraraka said, "I want to know what you guys were like as kids!"

She showed them a photo of her younger self surrounded by dozens of floating lights. Young Uraraka was chubbier, and her hair was much longer than it was now. But her wide smile and the bright sparkle in her eyes had stayed the same.

The table gave a collective "Awww."

"Your turn!" Uraraka sang, looking around at all of them.

Iida took out his phone. He didn't seem to have very many photos, but he did have one with an older boy who was obviously his brother. They were both grinning happily at the camera, Iida looking a little more relaxed than Izuku was used to. It made Izuku smile.

"I don't have any photos," Izuku said apologetically. "Not on my phone, anyway, and Dad doesn't like photos."

"Boooo."

Izuku shrugged uncomfortably, but relief swept through him when no one pressed the issue. It was true Hisashi didn't like photos, though it wasn't like he'd been around when Izuku was a kid anyway.

He did have one in his school binder, old, folded, with the corner torn. It was from years ago, the one with him and Mom at the beach building a sandcastle together.

Besides, if Kacchan saw a photo of him, well—

"Weird," Kirishima said. He showed them his own photo.

"Woah, Kirishima!"

Kirishima laughed. "Yeah, I looked pretty different, huh?"

"The hell?" Kacchan grunted when he saw it.

"Your hair," Izuku said. "It's black. And… flat?"

"Boring, right?" Kirishima ran a hand through his hair, showing off the bright red strands. "I wanted to change my hair after I got into U.A."

"Red suits you," Iida complimented. Kirishima beamed. Then he turned to Kacchan.

"What about you, Bakugou?"

Kacchan grumbled and glared. "Fuck no."

"Please, Bakugou? I need to know if your hair was always like that."

Bakugou squinted. "Like what?"

Uraraka and Kaminari seemed to have the same thoughts. "You know… like that."

"What the hell does that even mean?"

Kaminari started pounding the table with his fists, chanting Bakugou's name. Kirishima joined him, and after a moment of hesitation, Izuku did, too.

Iida tried to stop the chanting, citing disruption and that we must respect our classmates' wishes, even if it was Kacchan.

"Bet you were an ugly kid," Kirishima said hotly.

Kacchan glared. "I wasn't."

"Prove it."

The chanting died down. Kacchan growled and then reached into his pocket—but he didn't use his phone, like Izuku expected. He pulled out a dark wallet and then eased a photograph out from its folds.

Kacchan stared at it for a second. A shadow flitted across his face, but then his lip curled and it disappeared. He held it out, frowning.

Kirishima took it gingerly then smiled when he looked at it. Kacchan crossed his arms.

"I take it back," Kirishima said. "You were a cute kid."

"Hmph."

The photo was passed to Uraraka, who squealed. Kacchan rolled his eyes.

"That's adorable, Bakugou! I never thought I'd say that, but there's a first time for everything."

"Yo," Kaminari said, peering over Uraraka's shoulder. He pointed. "Who's that?"

"Must be Bakugou's friend from middle school," Iida said. He pointed to a bottom of the photo. "See here, it says, Pro Heroes Kacchan and… Deku to the Rescue?"

Oh, Izuku thought. He glanced in Kacchan's direction and found his friend staring at the edge of the table.

He was passed the photo. In it were two people that Izuku recognized. On the right side was Kacchan; on the left Izuku stared at his own face. They were dressed in mock-hero costumes, bright-eyed and mid-shout. The bottom part was Mom's handwriting. Izuku ran a finger over it. Then Izuku gave it back before he could give himself away.

"Wow," Izuku said after a pause.

He hadn't seen a picture of himself in a while—the way he used to look. The dark green mop of hair he'd gotten from Mom, the spotting of freckles Izuku covered with makeup these days, happy light in his eyes. It was almost like Izuku was looking at a whole other person.

Kacchan snatched the photo back and put it away. He scowled when he saw the table looking at him.

"What," he asked.

"Your hair really was like that," Kaminari said.

Uraraka shrugged. "You looked really happy in that photo, Bakugou! You seem a lot more, ah—serious now."

"I can be happy."

"When you're beating us all up in class, sure."

Everyone laughed then groaned at the thought. Kacchan's mouth twitched, a faint smirk appearing.

"How come your friend's not here at U.A.?" Kirishima asked, tone curious. "From the looks of it, you both wanted to be heroes."

Izuku bit down hard on the inside of his cheek.

"He's—" Kacchan said, but he cut himself off.

"I wonder what it must have been like knowing Bakugou as a kid?"

"Loud?"

"Drop it," Kacchan said lowly, a note of warning in his voice.

Izuku kept quiet, not sure where this was going. Kacchan had a short fuse, sure; he was often proud and brash and angry. But most of the time, Izuku knew, his anger was mostly for show, more a spark of annoyance than true anger.

You had to strike deep to get Kacchan really angry, had to hit right where it hurt. Izuku thought pushing Kacchan any further at this point—even unintentionally—was like digging your nails into an old wound, prying up a deep scar from the past. Izuku had never known what Kacchan's reaction to him leaving had been like.

Now he thought he'd gotten a glimpse of it.

Izuku's ears were buzzing. One of his friends said something lightly, but Izuku couldn't stop looking at Kacchan's face. The shift of his teeth as he ground them. The draw of his eyebrows. The simmering anger—and underneath it, Izuku thought, a deep underlying hurt that hadn't healed over right.

"I said drop it," Kacchan shouted, shooting up so fast that Izuku fell back on the bench. His lunch tray flew forwards, spilling half-finished food over the table.

The table went silent, stunned. The group watched as Kacchan stalked away, anger radiating off of him. He left the cafeteria.

Kirishima looked guilty. "I shouldn't have said that, huh?"

"He's so… unpredictable," Uraraka said uncertainly.

"I should go apologize," Kirishima said, standing up.

Izuku remembered how to move again. He put a hand on Kirishima's arm to stop him.

"I'll go," he said.

"Hey, tell him I'm sorry, too."

"Are you sure?" Kirishima asked. "I mean, no offense, you two…"

Izuku smiled wanly. "It's okay. I think I know how he feels."

Kirishima nodded slowly and sat back down. A trickle of a conversation had started back up.

"Send my apologies, Akatani," Iida called after him. Izuku murmured a response absentmindedly, looking at the doors that had shut after Kacchan.

Out of the cafeteria, Izuku didn't see a sign of Kacchan anywhere. He checked the classroom first, then the training rooms, thinking maybe Kacchan would've gone to let off some steam. He wasn't in either.

Izuku ran through the list of locations in the school, from the most obvious ones to the less common ideas.

"Where would he…" Izuku mumbled. Somewhere out of the way, where he could be alone.

Izuku passed a stairwell and then rounded back. He thought he knew where to go, something tugging in his gut.

His instincts were right. Izuku jogged up the last couple stairs and found the person he was looking for, the bright blue sky swallowing him. Up here on the roof, the only sound was the wind blowing and Izuku's careful footsteps.

Kacchan turned away from the railing, curses on his lips, but stopped when he saw Izuku.

"...what do you want," he bit out after a moment. Izuku could see the surprise in his eyes. "If you're here to—"

"I'm not here to laugh at you," Izuku said quickly. "Or call you weak or something stupid. Uh, just passing on an apology. Also apologizing, because I know you were kinda mad, guess that's an understatement, and I probably should—"

"Shut up."

When Kacchan didn't say anything else, Izuku padded up next to him, leaning over the railing. It was quite high up. A couple students milling in the courtyard during their lunch hour looked like ants.

Izuku opened his mouth to say something and found himself unable to speak.

It was the first time Izuku was alone with Kacchan since the Battle Trial, when they'd been paired together. And—Kacchan hadn't told him to leave, not yet.

"Stop pitying me," Kacchan said. His voice was rough.

Izuku looked Kacchan in the eye. "I'm not."

Kacchan looked away. "Then why the hell are you here?"

He sounded tired—too tired to be angry, just sad.

"My parents divorced when I was young," Izuku said, the lie he'd been taught to tell sitting on his tongue. "Moved with my father and had to say goodbye to everything I ever knew. Um… I don't really know what happened to all the people I left behind, but— yeah."

Oh, this was dangerous. Izuku was walking on the line of truth, and if Kacchan looked too closely he'd see it, but God, this was Kacchan. It was still Kacchan, a little older, a little hardened, a little rougher.

"I used to know someone who reminds me of you," Izuku finished. "That's— all I wanted to say, really."

"Why are you telling me this."

"I don't know," Izuku said, and he sat down, pressing his back to the railing. A moment later, Kacchan followed. "I just thought you might want to hear it."

"Why would I care?"

"Not about me," Izuku said, "you don't have to care about me. I don't know what happened to your friend, and you don't have to tell me. I meant I thought you might want to hear that you're not— alone."

"I'm fine by myself."

Izuku thought about Toshinori and said, "It's lonely up top, Bakugou."

Kacchan grunted.

The bell rang in the distance. Izuku dragged his fingers on the concrete, lingering even though he knew it meant they'd both be late to class. Eraserhead wasn't going to be happy.

Kacchan lifted a foot and scuffed at the ground. "Look, Akatani—"

He seemed to run the words through his mind again and scowled at the ground.

"Look," he said again. Kacchan hissed through his teeth. "We're going to be heroes."

He trailed off again.

"Yeah?"

"I'm going to fucking make it," Kacchan said finally, getting the words out. "I'm going to fucking make it, and I'm going to be number one."

"No, you're not, I am," Izuku said without thinking. Kacchan's eyes glinted when their gazes met. "Let's be rivals, Bakugou."

I don't want to be alone anymore, I don't want to be alone.

"Look, Akatani—" And Kacchan had this strange look in his eye. I don't want to be alone. "You'd better fucking be there."

Izuku thought he understood what Kacchan was trying to say. It was like a silent pact, some sort of mutual understanding between two lonely souls. Don't leave me alone, and I won't leave you alone, because I understand.

Izuku stood up. "We should go."

He dusted off his pants and then held a hand out to Kacchan.

Kacchan eyed Izuku's hand for a second like he was actually considering it. He didn't take it though, standing up by himself.

"You don't tell anyone about this."

"Not a word," Izuku said.

"We're not friends."

"I know."

Kacchan took the photo out again and looked at it. Then he tucked it away safely and left.

Izuku followed.

The photograph was from years and years ago, Izuku thought. Kacchan had kept it pinned to the wall above his desk with a couple other photos and posters—though at some point Kacchan had obviously switched to carrying it around.

Izuku followed Kacchan, staring at his back. He wondered how Kacchan felt. Why did he keep the photo on him? Was it sentimental? A reminder? Did Kacchan look at it fondly, or was it spite?

Kacchan stopped before the two could enter the classroom.

"I'm going to beat you at the Sports Festival," he said.

Izuku smiled slowly. "We'll see."

They slipped into class. Eraserhead glared and reprimanded them for being late. Kacchan said something cutting and crass, but Izuku apologized for the both of them.

"As I was saying, about the Sports Festival…"

Eraserhead pointed to the board, where he'd written a loose outline of the day's events and how the Sports Festival worked for first years. Izuku could feel his classmates' eyes on him and Kacchan. He waved a hand dismissively in their direction.

Eraserhead continued talking. When nobody was looking, most of his classmates' attention on the board, Izuku opened his binder and slipped a photo out. There he was with Mom. He'd nearly forgotten about it since the start of the year.

"Akatani, talk to me after class."

Izuku snapped his binder shut and looked up. Eraserhead was looking at him.

"Yes, sir."

When class was over and his peers had started chatting excitedly about the Sports Festival, Izuku approached the front warily.

"I'm sorry about—"

"I wanted to ask you something on behalf of the U.A. faculty, Akatani."

"Oh."

"Our plans were to continue with the Sports Festival." Eraserhead levelled him with a stare. "The public's opinion of U.A. has shifted since the incident at the Unforeseen Simulation Joint. I didn't have a chance to ask you your opinion on whether or not U.A. should host the Sports Festival this year or not."

Izuku felt bewildered. "Why me?"

"You were the only student severely injured the attack. We value your opinion, and there is some attention on you."

"I don't see why not," Izuku said. "Like you said, the public's opinion changed. This could be a good way to bring some positivity back. And I wanted to participate."

Eraserhead nodded. "So it's settled. That's all—ah, Akatani."

"Yes?"

"Don't be late to class again. And try not to break too many bones at the Sports Festival, understand?"

"It was important," Izuku said, then bowed. "I'll try. You'll see me at the top, I promise."

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter eighteen


With only a week left before the Sports Festival, training was kicked into high gear. Eraserhead had them training their Quirks and bodies alike, pushing them through simulations that tested their limits.

Izuku found himself struggling. Everyday Izuku left U.A. and returned to the apartment to meet Bonestealer. Another round of training until Izuku couldn't anymore.

The air always had a sense of urgency these days. Izuku caught himself looking over his shoulder more, slipping nervously from place to place.

"You're not good enough," Bonestealer snapped when Izuku threw a punch and missed for the hundredth time that week.

"Isn't that," Izuku panted, "my instructor's fault?"

Bonestealer's mouth tightened. They tapped their cane on the ground as Izuku straightened. He held himself loosely as Bonestealer circled him, using their cane to correct his form.

"Try again."

Izuku lunged forward, clocking a fist at Bonestealer's face. Bonestealer caught his wrist.

"What are you doing?"

"Huh?"

Bonestealer let him go, frowning. "Your fighting style. It's different."

Izuku hesitated. "...You taught me."

Bonestealer shook their head. They weren't mad; otherwise that set of white hands would be curled tighter. Instead they just looked confused.

"You're holding yourself back," Bonestealer started, trailing off into thought. "The way you're carrying yourself… you pull your punches right as they're about to hit. You're hesitating. There's no room to hesitate in a fight."

Izuku turned his fist inwards so he could look at it. He hadn't noticed.

"You need to use your entire body."

This time it was Izuku's turn to frown. "I am."

"You're not." Bonestealer demonstrated. "See, you're trying too hard with your fists and overextending, but you're not using the rest of your body. I didn't teach you that, kid."

Izuku chewed on his lip.

"Use your legs."

"What do you mean?"

Bonestealer snapped a leg out and caught Izuku off-guard. He tumbled to the ground and found himself staring at Bonestealer's boots.

"Your legs are stronger than your arms, kid."

Izuku rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "Huh."

Bonestealer jabbed the cane into Izuku's shoulder none too gently. "Stop holding yourself back. We're done for the day, kid. Figure it out."

"Figure it out," Izuku mumbled to himself, "figure it out, figure it out."

Alone in his room, Izuku half-munched on a plate of reheated food as he thought about what Bonestealer had told him. In terms of fighting, Izuku was fairly ahead of a number of his classmates, who had spent their entire lives training their Quirks but not their bodies. Izuku was starting the other way around.

One for All was volatile and unpredictable.

Bone Breaker, Kacchan had called him.

That was it, wasn't it? Every time he threw a punch with One for All, he shattered his arm. Now he pulled his punches when he could, trying to stop the roaring wave, and it meant that habit had trickled into his fighting even without his Quirk.

Use your legs. Use your body.

One for All hummed. Izuku called it to the surface and remembered the way the power pulsed through him, too much for his arm to handle.

"Use your body…" Izuku said slowly. He got his notebook and dug out the encoded notes about his Quirk. He'd written down some scribbles here and there, but there was nothing substantial.

For all the time Izuku spent analyzing Quirks, he hadn't bothered to spend much time studying his own.

"Stupid…"

Izuku crossed back in his room to stand in front of the mirror. Maybe he'd been thinking about it all wrong. Maybe he needed to stop throwing punches blindly with One for All, the way he and Toshinori had tried, and start using his body instead.

A memory suddenly struck him. It was fuzzy; Izuku couldn't quite place it. But when All Might had been fighting at USJ, Izuku remembered his body moving by itself, tearing across the plaza to tackle Shigaraki. He hadn't broken any bones then.

Izuku took a deep breath and called up One for All again. His fingers ached briefly, like they were remembering the flare of pain that accompanied his Quirk.

His chest seemed to hum louder, like his Quirk was answering a silent question. Izuku closed his eyes and focused, and this time he spread One for All through his entire body.

When he reopened his eyes, Izuku saw in his reflection sparks of bright green light dancing across his skin.

The air left his lungs. A moment later the sparks disappeared, but the feeling remained: a strange undercurrent running throughout his body. It was terrifying and at once exhilarating.

He held his arms out in front of him and tried again.

There it was—

Izuku watched the light spread across his skin one more time before he turned on his heel, searching for a gym bag. He stuffed an extra set of clothes and a water bottle inside.

When Izuku reached Dagobah Beach, he was pleased to find no one there this late save for a couple of stragglers. They were far enough Izuku figured he didn't have to worry.

This time activating One for All was as easy as drawing a breath. Izuku put a hand to his chest and felt it expand under his fingers. Izuku had always thought the Quirk had felt almost alive, and now he thought it felt— pleased.

Izuku set out on a slow jog to test its limits.

There wasn't a moment when Izuku noticed the change, but suddenly he was flying across the sand. The world bent and blurred around him, and Izuku spread his arms out, laughing.

He had to convince himself to stop. Clouds of sand billowed around him like a grainy fog rolling across the blue sky. Izuku's body crackled with power. It was only a minuscule part of One for All, just five percent, but Izuku thought he could've run forever. Run to the edge where the sky met the earth and then past that.

Forgetting his exhaustion, Izuku tested One for All, seeing how it felt as he moved. With the Quirk no longer concentrated in one part of his body, Izuku found, any impact when he struck was dulled. Even still, the power behind it was strong enough that it didn't make much of a difference.

And, Izuku thought, he hadn't broken any bones.

Izuku kept his discoveries to himself as he went to class the next day, though he did catch his friends looking a little confused when he seemed far more cheerful than he had in a while.

He did tell one person, though. Once the lunch bell rang, Izuku darted out the door. All Might was meandering down the hall, greeting a student from one of the other classes and waving at a few more.

"All Might!"

The name burst from his chest in a loud shout. A couple heads turned. Izuku waved frantically and then caught up with his mentor.

"You seem to be in high spirits today, young Akatani."

"Yeah," Izuku said, heart about to burst from his chest.

They walked a little further to get out of the main crowd. Izuku bounced on his feet. Finally they turned the corner.

The thoughts had built up in Izuku's head. He'd run over what he was going to say: the realization, the visible sparks of power, the feeling of flying across the beach.

Instead Izuku blurted, "Legs!"

All Might coughed. He blinked owlishly. "I… confess I don't quite understand."

Izuku spread his arms out. "That's the answer, All Might. Legs!"

All Might worked his jaw up and down for a second, then said, "I think you're going to need to explain this to me a little more, my boy."

"See," Izuku started, just barely remembering to take a deep breath, "see, see, legs are stronger than arms, someone told me that, and I've been going about using my Quirk all wrong—"

All Might frowned, putting a heavy hand on Izuku's shoulder to stop him.

"You're… going to break your legs instead of your arms?"

Izuku, who had been about to keep going, stopped. He hadn't thought about it quite like that.

"Um, no? I mean, I don't think so. Well, maybe."

"Young Akatani…"

"Huh, you have a point, now that you mention it. I didn't really think about that—"

All Might looked aghast. "I didn't mean to give you the idea."

"Anyway," Izuku said a bit too cheerfully, "I think I've figured it out, what I was doing wrong."

All Might's face split into a wide grin. "Really!"

Izuku beamed up at him, basking in the warmth of All Might's evident pride.

"Keep your eyes on me at the Sports Festival," he said. All Might shook his head, grinning.

"I'll only be watching you."

Izuku blushed, a little embarrassed.

"I suppose you're going to keep this under wraps until the festival?"

Izuku tugged at his blazer. "No one will see it until then."

All Might nodded slowly. He turned something over in his mind and then said, "Then give everything you've got, my boy. This is your chance to announce to the world that you're here."

All Might looked every bit the hero that Izuku had watched with bright eyes since he was four years old. Now he thought All Might was giving him the same look back.

"I will," Izuku promised.

Izuku thought about All Might's words all day and wrote down possible applications of One for All in his notebook, which led to a scolding from Present Mic in English that Izuku only half-understood. Not very many of his classmates seemed to be paying attention, either, too excited about the upcoming Sports Festival to care about English's quite-frankly confusing spelling system.

After class, Izuku slid up next to Iida and Uraraka to walk with them out. He briefly caught Kacchan's gaze and nodded a goodbye.

They didn't get very far out the door, though. There was a sizable crowd of other students. Izuku thought he recognized a few of them from seeing them around, but because they were from different classes, he didn't know any of their names. From the looks of it, they were the other first-year students.

Iida immediately went into class-president mode, trying to clear the crowd because they were blocking the way and causing disruptions. It didn't work; in fact the crowd only seemed to swell. Izuku made a distressed noise, seeing that there were quite a few hungry eyes on him.

"Oi," a familiar voice snapped, "the hell are you guys standing around blocking the hallway for? Get out of the way, losers."

A boy stepped forward—a Gen-Ed student, Izuku thought. He narrowed his eyes at Kacchan.

"Losers?" He snorted, glancing behind him at his friends. "Do you hear this guy calling us losers?"

"What's it to you?"

Kirishima popped out of nowhere. "Woah, Bakugou."

"We just wanted to see the famous Class 1-A for ourselves, that's all," the boy declared hotly.

"Scoping us out because we defeated a group of villains?" Kacchan said, cracking his knuckles and grinning. "I hope you know that means Class 1-A is going to beat your asses at the Sports Festival next week."

"Actually, we're here to declare war. You may think you're strong, but plenty of General Education students have transferred into Heroics after performing well at the Sports Festival… and the reverse is true too, Bakugou."

Kacchan snarled but held himself back from throttling the Gen-Ed kid.

"You think you're so mighty," a boy from 1-B sneered. Monoma, if Izuku remembered his name correctly. "Just because you barely held out against a group of low-level thugs and had heroes come to the rescue… defeated a group of villains, eh?"

"I'm going to smash your face in."

Next to Izuku, Uraraka looked upset at Monoma's words. "I can't believe him," she muttered furiously, glancing in Izuku's directions. "Those were no low-level thugs, and he treats the attack like we wanted it to happen so we could show off or something. You even got seriously injured, arghh, he's so disrespectful!"

"He's not worth the time," Izuku replied, rolling his eyes. He shifted his school bag and unconsciously reached to rub at his previously-injured shoulder.

"You're not the only students striving to be heroes," the first boy said. Monoma was dragged away by another student from Class 1-B. "So I advise you to watch out. You're going to have a fight on your hands."

The crowd dispersed as Eraserhead appeared, glaring out over the mass of students. He crossed his arms over his chest as he watched them go.

"Don't let me down," Eraserhead told them bluntly, "each one of you is here because you have the potential to be a great hero—powerful Quirks and strong motivations. Lose them, and you may lose your place in 1-A."

"That's Aizawa-sensei for you," Uraraka sighed.

"He said we could be great heroes," Izuku said in the same tone.

But that boy from Gen-Ed was right. Class 1-A had the potential to be great heroes, but there were plenty of other students who had the same chances, motivations, and strength. Izuku wasn't alone; he'd have to try far harder and be far better than the others to make his dream come true.

The last few days passed in a blur. Izuku pushed himself as hard as he could. He wasn't going to master One for All in a handful of days, especially with the new technique he'd dubbed Full Cowl. But now that Izuku had unlocked some secret to controlling it, activating One for All and using Full Cowl got easier and easier. With his Quirk, and maybe some smarts, he had a fighting chance at the Sports Festival.

Not everything was going smoothly, though. Every time Izuku saw one of the members of Chimera—and they seemed to constantly be spinning in and out of the apartment now—they seemed unhappy and unsettled. Something was going on behind the scenes, and Izuku knew it wasn't anything good. Hisashi refused to tell him many details, but Izuku finally managed to extract from him that the League of Villains had allied with someone his father didn't approve of.

"A fool," Hisashi finished darkly. "I don't know what Shigaraki's thinking."

Izuku hadn't seen Shigaraki since USJ. Whether that was because Izuku had been busy or because Hisashi looked like he'd murder Shigaraki on sight (much as Izuku didn't like his father, he wouldn't be sorry), Izuku didn't know. It didn't matter. The less Izuku saw of him, the better off he would be.

He had his suspicions, though. Word had been flying around of a "hero-killer" stalking the streets at night. The title sent a shiver down Izuku's spine. He didn't know if Shigaraki had really allied with this hero-killer, whoever he was, but Izuku didn't like it at all.

There wasn't much time to dwell on dying heroes, though—not when it was time for the next generation of heroes to step into the light.

The morning of the Sports Festival dawned bright and early. Class 1-A stood in nervous groups, chattering to each other wondering what the day's events would look like.

"Maybe they'll pit us against each other," Uraraka suggested.

"I should hope not," Iida said, "I would much rather work together than fight one of you."

"Why," Izuku said, "because you're scared we'd utterly destroy you?"

Ashido, who'd been standing close enough to hear their conversation, shrieked. Uraraka was laughed at the miffed look on Iida's face.

"Ah- Akatani," Iida sputtered.

Izuku patted his shoulder and stepped past him so he could go find Kacchan.

"Don't worry, I know you'll give it your best," he said.

Of all of them, Kacchan looked the least nervous. In fact, to anyone who didn't know him, he didn't look nervous at all. Izuku knew he was, though—he was sliding a finger over his thumbnail in a gesture that might've looked nonchalant, and he was slowly but surely grinding a hole into the dirt with the heel of his foot.

"Did you write a speech?"

Kacchan huffed. "Think you could do better, Bone Breaker?"

"Your speech is probably about how Class 1-A is going to kick everyone's asses, right?"

Kacchan rolled his eyes. "As if I'd include you."

"So how you're going to kick everyone's asses."

Kacchan's huff was more than answer. Izuku smiled to himself. Some of the other students wouldn't be pleased, but at least Kacchan was doing what he did best—making a statement. Maybe a couple heroes watching would admire his tenacity and confidence.

"We're rivals, remember," Izuku said, though he wavered slightly, unsure. "So don't underestimate me or any of the others."

"Sure," Kacchan drawled.

He did take Izuku seriously, though. Kacchan was confident but not stupid. Like Izuku, he knew the Sports Festival was going to prove a lot of things, and one of them was whether or not Class 1-A was really the best. Izuku hoped so.

"Akatani."

Izuku turned, surprised, to find Todoroki speaking at him. They weren't friends or anything—actually, Todoroki wasn't particularly close with any of his classmates.

Todoroki inclined his head to the side. Izuku glanced at Kacchan, who watched them with suspicious eyes, and then followed Todoroki.

"I just wanted to say," Todoroki said, once they were mostly out of earshot, "that I'm stronger than you."

Izuku balked. He hadn't expected that. It was true that Todoroki was one of the strongest students in their class, and his control over his Quirk made Izuku look like a baby. But Izuku was getting stronger, and better.

"Todoroki…"

"I also wanted to tell you that your connection with All Might is not as subtle as you may think," Todoroki forged forward. Izuku's heart thudded in his chest when Todoroki's eyes narrowed in determination. "And that is why I'm going to beat you."

Izuku went still.

"It's true you're stronger than all the students here, and… stronger than me," he said, glossing over what Todoroki said about All Might, "but Todoroki… everyone here wants to be a hero and everyone here is ready to give this their all. So am I. I'm going to be putting up a fight. Don't expect to win."

Todoroki met his eyes. He looked faintly surprised—and maybe intrigued. Izuku found his gaze drawn his classmate's face: closer now, the cold in his different-colored eyes, the splotchy scar on his skin, his mouth set in a hard line. Then Todoroki nodded curtly and walked away.

Uraraka approached again. "Did he… what did he want?"

Izuku shrugged. "He was challenging me."

Uraraka's brow pinched. "Challenging you…"

Izuku nodded but tried to smile cheerfully at her. "I can take him. So could you, actually!"

"He's strong."

Izuku reached out and squeezed Uraraka's shoulder. "So are you."

Uraraka's eyes flashed. "Watch me today," she said as Iida joined them, "I'm going to win."

"See you in the winner's circle," Izuku said, and they high-fived.

"Bakugou is about to give the opening speech, you two," Iida said. "We have to prepare."

Class 1-A stepped out first to a roaring stadium. Izuku's mouth dropped slightly as he scanned the crowds. Civilians and heroes alike had their eyes locked on the stage. Numerous cameras and equipment had been set up to broadcast the Sports Festival to the whole of Japan.

The whole of Japan. Izuku's mouth went dry. Hisashi would be watching. Shigaraki might, frothing at the mouth and scratching at his neck. And maybe so would All for One.

Kacchan headed to the podium when Midnight gestured him over.

"Uh oh," Uraraka said, watching Kacchan.

Kacchan leaned into the microphone. "I'm going to place first," he said. The stadium swelled with cheers and shouts—some positive, some negative. Kacchan wasn't done, though. He pointed at the other first-years in 1-B and General Education. "Class 1-A is going to kick your butts."

It wasn't the best speech. In fact, it wasn't much of a speech at all. But Kacchan had remembered to include his classmates, and not only that, but he'd publicly declared that he believed in them.

Kirishima whooped, raising his hands. "Yeah we are!"

"That was almost nice," Uraraka commented. Izuku laughed.

"I don't know what they expected," he said, looking at the other students. "That's just how K… Bakugou is."

Kacchan strolled back to Class 1-A looking pleased. Up next to the podium, Midnight looked like she'd been taken off-guard by Kacchan's declaration.

"Well…," she said, looking hesitantly back towards her fellow teachers, "with that— encouraging speech, I am happy and proud to announce that the Sports Festival has officially begun!"

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter nineteen


"An obstacle race," Uraraka said, laughing nervously. She glanced at her friends. "Should be easy, right?"

"Uh huh," Izuku replied, keeping his eyes trained on the road ahead.

He knew if he used Full Cowl, he could get a good head start on the others. Then the only thing Izuku had to worry about was keeping the lead.

Midnight's voice boomed around them as she finished talking about the obstacle race. Four kilometers of tough terrain the teachers had constructed for them—full of surprises, Izuku was sure.

"Only the first event," Izuku muttered to himself. It was too early to show off his Quirk, especially since they had no idea what the following two events were going to be. If he pulled too close to the front, he'd have a target painted on his back for the rest of the festival.

Izuku's neck prickled. He glanced around the stadium and suddenly felt like he could feel all of the eyes resting on him. All Might was in the stands, a bit too far away for Izuku to see his face, but—

He ducked his head.

No, he decided. He'd save One for All for when he really needed it.

Izuku glanced sidelongs down at his classmates and saw a few of them eyeing Todoroki. He nodded to himself. Todoroki would make the first move.

A horn blared.

"BEGIN!"

Izuku darted forward and then sprang into the air. A blast of cold air whipped his hair back as a sheet of ice swept across the ground.

A chorus of loud shouts sounded. Izuku landed on the ice and slid forward. When he looked around, he found the rest of Class 1-A pulling ahead—but not any of the other students, who'd unfortunately been subject to Todoroki's Quirk.

Izuku allowed himself a small smile but felt it fade as he heard the loud creaking of metal.

"AAAGH," Kaminari shouted in the distance. Electricity crackled. "Why does it always have to be robots?"

"Weren't the entrance exams enough?" Izuku asked quietly. He reached for the knives at his side—a U.A. issued set they'd allowed him to bring.

Todoroki wasn't done, though.

A wave of ice destroyed an entire row of bots, and the last glimpse of Todoroki Izuku caught was the flutter of his distinct hair. Then he was gone.

"Thanks for the gift," he muttered.

Izuku stared at the mountainous pile of bots Todoroki had left them, then at the remaining bots. He thought fast and sheathed his knives, darting to grab a sheet of jagged metal instead.

A laser bored into the ground next to him. Izuku gritted his teeth as a bot approached, picking up speed.

No time to be scared, Izuku thought.

The bot swung towards him. A flash of gleaming blue metal and glowing red.

Izuku stood his ground. He gripped the piece of metal tightly and waited for the perfect moment—

Something connected. Metal screeched. In a second it was over, and Izuku stood over a decapitated bot, triumphant.

All around him, U.A. students were waging war against various bots. Some were pulling ahead. Izuku narrowed his eyes and forged forward.

When another bot approached, Izuku didn't bother this time. He ran forward heads-on at the bot with the sheet of metal.

"Thanks, Todoroki," Izuku said again, grinning, as he tossed the sheet of metal down and threw himself on top of it. He shot through the bot's legs faster than it could react, and was up and running forwards before it could go after him.

Up ahead, Izuku spotted students clambering over heaps of metal. He joined them, easily scaling over the obstacles.

Dropping down on the other side, Izuku glanced at the sheet of metal he was still carrying. It hadn't let him down yet, Izuku thought. He'd keep it.

Pay attention, Bonestealer said in his mind. Izuku did, and found the next obstacle facing him was a large divide where the earth had split. Ropes had been strung from one side to the other, presumably for them to walk across, but that was the only help they were given.

He made it to the edge of the pit and peered down. Just darkness. No sign of ground if anyone fell.

"Okay, okay," Izuku said. He reached into his belt and found a length of cord he could use to strap the metal piece to his back, leaving his hands free. "No big deal. Just… don't fall. Easy."

"Easier said than done," someone grumbled from next to him. Izuku chuckled nervously.

Izuku looked around. He spotted a few of his classmates, but Kacchan was out of sight. Izuku huffed. He was lucky—he'd probably just blasted his way right past the canyon.

He thought of the rooftop with Kacchan and gritted his teeth. It wouldn't do to not make good on his promise.

Izuku tested one of the ropes and sucked in a breath. Then he took the first step across one, keeping his weight centered.

"Akatani!"

Izuku cried out. There was nothing underneath him. Izuku fell off the rope, only barely managing to grab it.

Hanging there by one hand, Izuku slowly swiveled backwards.

"Are you trying to sabotage me, Hatsume?"

He swung, then grabbed onto his rope with both hands to pull himself back up. The rope bounced unsteadily; Izuku clung to it, praying he wouldn't fall again.

Izuku glared at the girl from the Support department who'd surprised him. She was standing cheerfully on solid ground, hands on her hips as she watched him struggle.

"If I wanted to sabotage you, Akatani, you would've already lost the Sports Festival!"

The rope wobbled dangerously as Izuku got his feet underneath him. He curled in on himself, keeping his center steady, and slowly regained his balance.

"You going to join me?"

"Heh," Hatsume said. She laughed. She had that crazy look in her eye that Izuku recognized as the same look like when she was working. "Don't need to."

"Lucky you," Izuku called over his shoulder. He carefully inched his way further on the tightrope. "If I could jump this canyon, then I would."

"See," Hatsume yelled after him, "Support course students can compete too! And the U.A. Sports Festival is just the perfect place to show off my babies. Too bad you can't jump this canyon."

Then she— she soared past him.

"Great," Izuku groaned. "I don't know why I even try."

It took him a while—and a few terrifyingly close calls—to get across the canyon. Luckily, Izuku hadn't been the only person struggling. Though some lucky students could go airborne (wow, Kacchan was kicking his butt), most everyone's Quirks weren't very suitable for the task. Izuku spared only a second looking at his opposition before he went on.

Izuku let loose a tiny spark of One for All, bursting forwards—

A sound like thunder cracked through his ears. Izuku threw his arm over his face as he was thrown violently backwards. White light flared.

When Izuku's vision had cleared and he could hear past the ringing sound, he realized what had happened. A landmine explosion.

One of many potential ones, it seemed, judging by the field of landmines.

Izuku rolled over and clambered slowly to his feet. The back of his arm hurt, he realized—the metal piece he'd been carrying had cut into his skin when the explosion had gone off. Other than that, though, there didn't seem to be any lasting damage.

He finally spotted Todoroki again. He was way ahead of Izuku, but Izuku realized he had slowed down. He had to pick his way through the landmines carefully. This meant Kacchan was catching up.

Izuku sighed, eyeing the ground carefully this time as he took his first few steps. Fine. It was fine. He'd still made it past quite a few of his fellow classmates, and overall he was ahead.

"Third place will have to do," Izuku said. "Maybe fourth. Or fifth!"

Izuku hopped over another mound and glanced up at Kacchan and Todoroki, then further at the blinding audience, a mass of cheering people.

Kacchan had caught up to Todoroki easily. Now, instead of pulling ahead, he'd instead changed directions and was attacking him.

Izuku wanted to facepalm. A couple more explosions and he'd be well past the finish line. And he'd stopped to fight Todoroki?

"Idiot," Izuku grumbled. Maybe he could catch up now.

He wasn't letting anyone down, was he? It wasn't like Izuku could use One for All or his illusions to do anything. Unlike Kacchan, who seemed to be having a blast, Izuku's Quirks weren't going to get him across a field of landmines.

Kacchan let loose a particularly large explosion. Izuku squinted at the bright light. Metal dug into his back.

Explosions, Izuku thought.

He stopped trying to get through the landmines and worked quickly, using his knife to carefully begin prying a few from the ground. Once he'd done that, he stacked them and slung the metal plate off his back.

"This is really dumb," Izuku said aloud, as if he could stop himself from doing it. "This is really, really dumb."

He did it anyway.

In seconds he'd gone airborne, propelled by a powerful blast. He went weightless for a moment. The world blurred around him. Light poured in on the edges of his vision, and Izuku held on tightly as the air tore past him.

"INCOMING!"

Kacchan and Todoroki flew apart from each other as Izuku shot right between them. Kacchan swore and went after him. Izuku cackled with glee.

boom echoed in his ears. Izuku pressed his body close to the metal and saw Kacchan to his right, catching up. His teeth were bared. His gaze flitted towards Izuku—a moment later he followed, slamming into Izuku bodily.

They tumbled through the air. Izuku shouted, scrabbling for a purchase and grabbing Kacchan's arm. Kacchan growled, the sound torn away by wind. Izuku fell.

He curled tight and rolled when he hit the ground, dirt biting into his back. Pain shuddered up his shoulder, but Izuku started running for the finish line—so close, now.

The impact had made Kacchan falter, too. Izuku stumbled once as he ran, and in the air behind him Kacchan was catching up. Their eyes met. Izuku saw the realization clicking into place. He was going to win.

Just beyond the finish line, Izuku caught sight of a crew of cameramen. One of the cameras had turned on him and Kacchan's desperate bid for first place, and Izuku wavered.

Slowed enough for Kacchan to pass him and that final line.

Izuku skidded to a stop a half-second later, panting. Kacchan glared at him, striding over like he was about to say something, but he was interrupted by Midnight declaring him first. Izuku second. A minute later, Todoroki third.

The rest of their opponents trickled past the finish line. Izuku cheered as Yaoyorozu crossed. A couple of his classmates shot by, whooping and laughing. When Izuku spotted his friends, he raised his arms in a victory symbol and beamed at them.

After the last few students crossed the line and finished the race, they were all ushered out of the stadium so the teachers could set up the next event. Class 1-A congregated, grouping together and chatting excitedly.

"Oi," Kacchan said. Izuku followed him to the side, out of earshot.

Kacchan jabbed a finger in his chest. "You pulled back on purpose."

"I didn't," Izuku said weakly.

"You did."

Izuku took in a shallow breath. He looked Kacchan in the eye and steeled himself.

"I didn't."

Kacchan held his gaze for a moment. Izuku knew if he looked away Kacchan would know, so he held still.

"Tch," Kacchan sneered, then stepped back. He was frowning.

"What," Izuku said.

Kacchan looked around like he was making sure no one else was there. Then he punched Izuku's shoulder.

"Keep up," he said. Then Kacchan turned and strode back outside towards the stands.

They had a seven-minute break to themselves, something Izuku was immensely grateful for. Iida was passing out water bottles he'd procured out of nowhere. Izuku took one, smiling.

"Great job, Akatani!" Iida congratulated. Izuku blushed. "Second place in the first event. Really admirable."

"Ah...," Izuku said, not knowing how to respond, "thanks, Iida. You, too."

"That was harder than I thought it would be," Uraraka chimed in. She unscrewed the cap of her water bottle and took a swig. "Also made me realize I need to train my Quirk and my body more. That canyon killed me."

Iida hummed. "You didn't float across?"

Uraraka shook her head, brown hair ruffled. "I wanted to save my Quirk. Besides, that was a long stretch."

Izuku sighed. "Yeah."

"I agree," Iida said, "and our Quirks weren't very suitable at all. Do you think that was intentional?"

"Probably," Izuku replied, "I mean, it wouldn't be much of a race if we could all just—well, blast our way to the finish line, huh?"

Uraraka squinted at him. "You almost beat Bakugou, though."

Izuku dipped his head. "Almost is the key word there."

He held out his water bottle. Uraraka tapped hers against his like they were clinking wine glasses together, and then they both drank.

"Hey," Uraraka said, cocking her head, "did either of your parents come?"

"No," Izuku said a bit too quickly. "Er— well, what I mean to say is, um, he wouldn't, no, um. No."

Iida and Uraraka shot him strange looks. Izuku gave them an uneasy smile back.

"My brother couldn't take off work to come watch," Iida responded. He looked a bit put-out at the thought, but not terribly disappointed. Izuku thought it must have been expected. "But he did say he would try to get off-duty a little earlier and take the train back so we could have dinner together."

"Oh, that's nice!"

Iida smiled.

"Take the train?" Izuku asked. "Where is he now?"

"Oh, Hosu," Iida said.

"Hosu," Izuku said thoughtfully. He couldn't quite place why a chill had run up his spine—he'd heard it somewhere…

"Huh," Izuku murmured to himself. He shook his head and let it go. "What about you, Uraraka?"

"Hmm? Me? Oh, no, my parents are at home watching on TV." She grinned. "They said they'd be cheering me on."

Izuku smiled.

"Endeavor is here," Iida noted. Izuku nodded. "But I'm not sure about anyone else."

"I think Kirishima mentioned his parents coming." Uraraka brightened. "Oh, maybe we can meet some of our classmates' parents! I've always wondered what they were like."

"Hey, let's go out on the stands," Izuku suggested, "maybe we'll be able to see what's being set up for the next event."

"Midnight will probably have something to announce too," Iida added. The three of them stepped out. Kacchan was already there, as well as a couple others, scanning the stadium. Present Mic was doing a running commentary as large screens played back the obstacle race. Izuku spotted himself on-screen and ducked his head.

"Nothing so far," Izuku said. "Looks like they're still just cleaning up."

"Mikumi!"

It took a few seconds and his friends' stares for Izuku to realize someone was calling his name. He spun around, searching, and there— a waving hand.

"Mikumi! Over here, stupid!"

Izuku jogged over to the stairs and then made his way up, mouth splitting into a wide smile.

Silver pulled down her green visor. Under it, her eyes gleamed. She was dressed nicely, in a green ensemble. Her tail had been looped through her jeans like a belt, and she'd taken off the metal casing she usually had so it was a little more inconspicuous. Now, with her hair up, tail hidden, and a face full of makeup, Izuku thought she looked like a completely different person. They were good at that, the two of them.

"That was a dumb move you pulled," she said, flicking his arm.

"You thought it was cool," Izuku said.

"I didn't," Silver replied, but her mouth curved upwards. "You didn't place first."

Izuku shrugged. "I was thinking of keeping a low profile."

Silver punched him this time. "Second place is not low profile."

Izuku crossed his arms petulantly. He scowled at the ground. She was right—he hadn't really wanted to place in the top few spots, worried he'd draw a bit too much attention for his liking.

"I didn't think it'd work so well," he admitted. "It wasn't like there was much time to think. I just wanted to catch up."

Silver blew out a breath. "What's next?"

"They haven't told us anything either," Izuku replied. "Honestly, I don't have any idea."

Silver grunted.

"There's a lot of people watching," Izuku said. Silver raised a brow.

"There are."

"Hisashi's not here."

Silver shook his head. "He wouldn't miss it, though. The others, maybe, but you can count on him watching."

Izuku dropped his head back to stare at the sky. "Great."

"Are you going to show off your new… Quirk… ability… whatever?"

"I have to, if I want to win."

"Careful," Silver said. She looked around, frowning like she wanted to say something but knew she couldn't. "There's a lot of eyes on you."

"More than I'd like," Izuku agreed. "I'd— I'd better go. Time's almost up."

Silver gave him a weighted look. She twirled a piece of hair around her finger. Her mouth puckered, and then she nodded.

"I'll see you after, maybe?"

"Maybe," Izuku agreed, though he wasn't sure. Maybe they could go catch a meal together, or some sodas down the street without getting caught by anyone. He could spare a bit of time before going back. That sounded nice.

"Don't be stupid," Silver shouted after his back as he headed back.

He spun to face her, making a heart with his hands. "No promises!"

"Was that a friend of yours?" Uraraka asked when he got back.

Kaminari slid in out of nowhere. "Saw you talking to a pretty girl, Akatani. Girlfriend?"

Izuku choked. "No!"

Kaminari patted his chest. "That's exactly what you'd say if you were dating her. Damn, Akatani, scoring with the ladies."

Izuku shoved him and then crossed his arms over his chest defensively when Kaminari ran off, grinning.

"She's not my girlfriend," Izuku told his friends. "Just a friend. We're like siblings."

"Oh," Uraraka said. She looked a bit red in the face and was studying the ground. "Well- well, we'd better get ready for the next event!"

She darted off towards the stadium grounds. Izuku sent Iida a confused look, and then the two of them followed her out to where the U.A. students were gathering.

When Midnight saw that they'd all arrived, she started explaining the second event.

"Next up is the Cavalry Battle," she said. "You have ten minutes to form teams of two or four."

To simulate both hero competition and teamwork, Midnight explained, each student had been assigned a point-value that corresponded with their placement in the obstacle race. Team totals were worn on headbands assigned to the 'rider'—funny, Izuku thought. He wasn't exactly sure having a Human Cavalry Battle was reflective of the real world, but he supposed the event would be interesting, at least.

Midnight explained a few other rules as Izuku digested the information and started scouting his classmates. It'd be nice to have Uraraka and Iida on his team, but they'd need a fourth member. Sato or Shoji? Sero's Quirk could be useful. There wasn't a chance that Kacchan would work with him, or Todoroki, for that matter.

Iida nudged him. "Point values are going up. Pay attention."

Numbers were being called out, starting from the lowest to the highest. Izuku chewed on his lip, worried, as they got closer to the top. When they called his name, Izuku sucked in a breath.

"Akatani Mikumi — ten thousand points."

His friends' eyes darted to him.

"That's a lot," Izuku squeaked. Most of the point-values had ranged from under a hundred to about a thousand. Todoroki, in third, had five thousand.

Uraraka patted his shoulder. "It was nice knowing you."

"Last," Midnight called, smiling deviously, "but certainly not least, Bakugou Katsuki — ten million points."

A ripple shot through the crowd. Izuku gaped. Uraraka was blindly grasping at Izuku's arm, like she needed support to hang onto.

Kacchan, to his credit, only grinned. He'd be a target with that ten million points, with all eyes on him. But Izuku knew the strength and versatility of his Quirk would draw people to him. He looked Izuku in the eye, silent challenge crossing between them.

"Well," Izuku told his friends, smiling nervously back, "I'm glad I wasn't first."

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty


"Please be on my team," Izuku begged, putting on a smile for his friends. "I know we can do it together."

Uraraka beamed back at him. "Of course I'll be on your team!"

She held out a fist, and Izuku bumped their knuckles together, grinning. He turned to Iida, who was polishing his glasses and frowning.

"Iida?"

Iida fit his glasses back on. "I apologize, Akatani." He took in a breath. "You're my friend, but you're also a strong student. I need to prove myself."

Izuku rolled the words around in his mind for a second.

"I'll miss you," he said, smiling, "but good luck."

Iida dipped his head. "You, too."

Izuku shifted back and forth on his feet. Already people were clumping together into teams.

"Maybe we could just be a group of two," Uraraka suggested. Izuku scanned the crowd of students again.

"Yeah—"

"Hey!" Izuku didn't even flinch as Hatsume materialized in front of him, beaming. "I'm on your team now."

"Huh?" Uraraka sputtered.

Izuku took an easy step backward out of Hatsume's personal space.

"Eyes are going to be on you," Hatsume said, pointing a finger at Izuku's face. She tossed her hair. "So if I'm on your team, I can show off my babies to all the big companies."

She pulled a heavy case out of nowhere. "You've already seen some of my babies, but these are some of my best ones!"

Izuku squinted. She'd brought a lot of equipment, but Izuku wasn't about to turn her away. Support course students were meant to, well, support heroes. He knew Hatsume's designs—or from what little he'd seen of them—enough that they could come in handy in a pinch, especially seeing the hungry eyes around ten thousand points.

"Is that a spud shooter?"

"It doesn't matter," Hatsume said, then winked. "It can shoot a lot more than potatoes. Right now it's filled with goop! Based that around Cementoss. Ooh, do you like this one? I modeled this baby after a certain hero."

Izuku looked at the jetpack Hatsume shoved in his hands. "Er, this isn't what you used earlier, was it?"

Then he looked closer. "You… you, are you talking about the Buster Hero? Air Jet?"

Hatsume brightened. "Of course! He's so cool. You like him?"

"I got to tour his agency when I was a kid, since I lived close by."

Hatsume started going off on a spiel, talking about the jetpack's design and the improvements she'd made, as well as how much she admired Air Jet's team of flight heroes.

"You're on my team now," he agreed, then coughed. "Er, Uraraka, this is Hatsume. She's from the Support Department. We, uh… we met a while back. Hatsume, this is my classmate Uraraka."

Uraraka got over her surprise and nodded. "Nice to meet you."

Hatsume's eyes were sparkling. "You're the gravity girl."

"That's me."

"Hatsume," Izuku warned, but he was only half-focused on how interested Hatsume seemed to be at Uraraka's costume. Instead he was searching for a last person to round out their team. Both Hatsume and Uraraka were powerful in their own right, but Izuku thought that together, they made a good getaway.

It was a tragedy Iida had rejected Izuku's offer. But still—

Uraraka called after him as Izuku left his two teammates, gaze locked on his target.

"Tokoyami," he said, grabbing his classmate's shoulder. "I need your help."

Tokoyami swiveled to face him. Izuku smiled, showing all of his teeth, and with that, their team was set.

The time ticked down to zero. Izuku led Tokoyami back to his team, crossing paths with Todoroki on the way.

He stopped, glancing sideways at Todoroki.

"Looks like it's not me you have to target, Todoroki," he said, keeping his tone casual as he tilted his head in Kacchan's direction. "You want to be on top, you'll have to fight Bakugou. And if you want his ten million points, you're also going to have to fight me for it."

Todoroki's gaze followed Izuku's cue. His eyes narrowed when he saw Kacchan.

"Looking forward to taking it," Izuku said cheerily, then walked away before Todoroki could respond. Izuku crossed his fingers and hoped his jabs had paid off.

"Are you really going to fight Todoroki and Bakugou?"

Izuku grinned at Tokoyami as they joined the rest of their team.

"No," he said, "I'm just making sure Todoroki goes after Bakugou and not after us. After that, we won't have to worry so much about keeping our points."

Uraraka peered at him as he was hoisted up. "Is that the plan?"

"Well," Izuku told them quietly, "once Todoroki goes after Bakugou, they'll probably keep each other occupied the entire time. They're our two strongest students, right? And if one of them steals the other's points, they'll be chasing after each other."

"So we'll stay far away," Tokoyami said.

Izuku ran his tongue over his teeth. "My goal this round is to secure all of us a place in the final event. Top four."

"Playing it safe?"

"There's still nine other teams," Izuku pointed out. "I don't think we're playing it safe at all. Ten thousand points is no joke."

There wasn't any more time to talk as the cavalry teams lined up. Present Mic drew the crowd into a frenzied roar-then the horn blared, and they were off.

Izuku's team immediately went airborne. Something shot towards them. Tokoyami knocked it away as they veered sideways. And with that, the battle began.

Izuku lost himself in a whirl of movement. They slipped from the ground to the sky easily, taking flight when they needed to. A projectile clipped Izuku's arm, but it only stung.

"Todoroki's heading to Bakugou," Uraraka reported. "Incoming-"

Another group slammed bodily into them. Izuku cried out as they tried desperately to keep balance.

Hands tore at his head, his hair, his neck. Izuku lashed out blindly, trusting his instincts. He caught someone in the face, then in a dirty move jabbed his fingers into her throat as he tore off her headband.

The jetpack on his back shuddered. Izuku realized a terrifying second later that he was no longer going up and instead going down.

And his team was going with him.

Something dark swept under them; Dark Shadow cushioned their fall. Izuku's scream caught in his throat, but the danger wasn't over.

Uraraka shrieked when a roll of tape wrapped around her and pulled harshly. Izuku fumbled blindly for his knife and cut into the open air as Sero's Quirk wove around them. The temperature dropped, then rose again.

"Shit," Izuku hissed. They'd been knocked right into the thick of Todoroki and Kacchan's fight, and with their means of escape ruined, they'd have to fight their way out.

"Good to see you join us," Todoroki called. Izuku bared his teeth.

He needed to think fast. Todoroki's team was powerful. Kacchan was- well, he was Kacchan.

"New plan!" Izuku shouted to his team. "Let's just… give it everything we've got!"

His friends all called their confirmations. Izuku gritted his teeth as he took a second to size up their opponents. Kirishima was a good partner for Kacchan; their Quirks complemented each other very well. Todoroki, too, had corralled a good team. Hard to beat.

Time was ticking. Caught between Todoroki and Kacchan, there was no way Izuku would make it out with his ten thousand points without using his Quirk.

He gritted his teeth.

"Let's go!"

One for All ignited as Izuku's team rushed forward. Kacchan turned to face him, and his eyes widened when he took in the crackling power around Izuku.

Uraraka sent Kirishima skyward. Before the other team could regain control, Dark Shadow was there, screeching. Izuku pushed forward, feeling the power surge in his limbs.

He rammed into Kacchan, pounding under his defense. His headband was right there, so close.

Izuku scrabbled at it, but reeled back as light followed by a closed fist burst in his face. His teammates didn't let him fall. He surged right back, the two of them grappling dangerously.

There wasn't time to play nice. Izuku brought his elbow up hard into Kacchan's stomach, then tugged again at the ten-million headband again. An explosion rattled him, but Izuku braced this time. He shut his eyes, pulled again, and felt the headband giving way.

"Back!" Izuku shouted. Someone pulled him backwards as Kacchan shouted, fire blossoming in his hands.

"You actually got it," Uraraka cried breathlessly.

A blur of motion too quick for Izuku to catch. His fingers burned, then closed around air. A laugh followed.

"Never mind," Uraraka shouted as Monoma fled with the headband. Izuku swore, reaching up to make sure his own headband was still there. It was. Kacchan screamed in rage, turning his gaze onto Monoma instead.

"Five minutes!"

"Go after it!" Hatsume yelled, "we can take that dumb blonde!"

"Which one?"

"Both!"

"New problem," Tokoyami cut in, "Todoroki's heading our way."

"I can break the ice if he gets too close," Izuku said, firing up One for All again. "Look. He's tired."

"His team isn't."

"Hold," Izuku said, narrowing his eyes. "We need to get Iida out of the picture."

"No windows to kick him out of."

He thought for a moment about his team. Uraraka could float Iida, perhaps, but that meant he had to be close enough to touch. Izuku wanted him eliminated before he even got close.

"Hey… Hatsume?"

"Yeeeah?"

"Do you still have your, uh," Izuku coughed, "spud… goop… gun?"

Hatsume beamed up at him. "'Course I do!"

He jerked his head in Iida's direction. "You think that'll be enough to stop Iida from blasting off?"

"They're gaining," Tokoyami warned.

"That's a good idea," Uraraka said, as they retreated backwards. "We could stick them all where they are so they're stationary. Then they're forced on defense."

Tokoyami had been keeping his sharp eyes on the battle ahead.

"Whatever the plan is, you need to act fast," he warned.

"Hatsume?"

"Yeah, boss?"

Izuku levelled a hand in Iida's direction. "Fire away."

"Tokoyami, you and Dark Shadow act as distraction. Aim for Todoroki so he's on defense - he'll leave Iida open."

Dark Shadow hissed something, curling around them. A blur of darkness swept past. The opposing team slowed when Dark Shadow shrieked in their faces. Ice swept upwards, but it was slow in its formation. Dark Shadow pulled back, blocked by Yaoyorozu, but it didn't matter.

"Take this, Turbo Kid!" Hatsume shouted. She was laughing a bit more gleefully than Izuku expected as she started firing. Todoroki swung his arm, ice crystallizing, but Dark Shadow smashed through it.

"Akatani, behind!"

Izuku twisted, Quirk sparking. He reacted just in time to grab Monoma's shoulders and shove him backwards.

"Heh," Monoma said, grinning. He flexed his fingers. "Let's see what Quirk you've been hiding."

Izuku hissed in a sharp breath. He'd let his guard down. If Monoma had his Quirk - had copied his Quirk - then Izuku was done for.

One for All sparked between his fingers. Monoma hadn't stopped smiling, but Izuku knew he could count on the fact that One for All had a bit of a… learning curve.

Then Monoma's expression changed. First to confusion, then anger.

"What-"

Izuku narrowed his eyes at the headbands slung around Monoma's neck. Kacchan, it seemed, had taken his back. Things were starting to click. Ideas whirled around in Izuku's head, but he shoved them away.

"How do you like my Quirk?" Izuku asked.

Monoma growled, frustrated. Before he could copy anyone else's Quirk, Izuku shoved Monoma's chest and sent him backwards again.

"Fine," Monoma hissed. Fire blossomed from his hands—not Todoroki's Quirk, but Kacchan's. Izuku swore.

"Two minutes!"

"Team Todoroki is down!"

Izuku swiveled around. Monoma paused.

"Thanks for the help," Monoma said. A second later his team sprinted past Izuku's, heading towards where Hatsume had helpfully immobilized Todoroki's entire team.

The entire stadium's focus turned on the team with easy pickings. Even immobilized, though, Todoroki's team could pack a punch.

"Stay," he said, when his own cavalry moved to follow. "Let them fight."

Izuku touched his neck, where the headbands were settled. They still had all the points they'd started with, plus a little extra from what his team had taken in the fights. There was no point in risking it.

"C'mon, boss man," Hatsume whined.

"I think Akatani is right," Tokoyami said. "There's maybe a little over a minute left, and we have enough points for a place."

Izuku tuned them out.

"Uh… guys? I think Bakugou is coming after us."

"What's the plan?"

"Hatsume—"

"I'm out of ammo."

"Quirks?"

"Dark Shadow and Blasty don't go well together."

"I'm almost out."

"Let them come," Izuku said, heart pounding. For the last time, One for All jumped across his skin. It hummed loudly, like it knew it was time for a fight. "I need you guys to keep moving while I try to get the ten million."

"Are you sure?"

"Akatani!"

"Funny seeing you here, Bakugou," Izuku called. Dark Shadow burst forth; Kacchan blasted him away, but then Izuku was there in his face.

Light enveloped his vision. Izuku had braced for the explosion; he reacted blindly, striking out with a fist. He connected with something, but Kacchan let loose another.

"Give me your fuckin—"

Izuku twisted under Kacchan's arm, grabbing it and pulling him closer. Caught off balance, Kacchan and Kirishima stumbled forward.

The ten million headband was right there. Izuku retaliated against another explosion and then reached. Fabric pulled loose in his grip; Kacchan yelled, but Izuku's team was already retreating.

Kacchan gave chase. Izuku fumbled, slipping the headband on and just barely moving in time to miss getting his head blown off.

"You!"

"Thirty seconds!"

Kacchan grabbed Izuku's arm, nails digging in. Izuku tried to shake him loose, but Kacchan let a small explosion burst with his other hand. Izuku flinched on instinct, and that was when Kacchan struck. Izuku felt a weight disappear off his chest as Dark Shadow screeched.

He shouted, throwing himself forward. The resulting fight had no thought involved. Izuku found himself caught in a flurry of limbs, moving on instinct. Kacchan's face, lit by the fire of his own explosions and set in a snarl. Izuku, eyes stinging, power pulsing through his body.

Kacchan tore through his defense and grabbed the headbands around Izuku's neck, pulling. They came free; Izuku made a last, desperate move and managed to get two back.

"Stop! The Cavalry Battle is finished!"

Izuku caught Kacchan's gaze. They stared at each other, headbands hanging loosely from their fingers.

"It's over," Uraraka said, quietly.

"Sorry," Izuku said, "I lost—"

It was then he took a second glance at the headbands he was holding. The top one was just a few points, but the next—

"That's not ten thousand," Izuku said faintly as his feet met solid ground. His team crowded around him.

Hatsume whooped, slugging Izuku's shoulder. "That's ten million, baby!"

In the end, Team Akatani placed first. Kacchan had come in a close second—they'd switched places. Team Todoroki, it seemed, had managed to hold onto their points, staying in third. A Gen-Ed kid—Shinsou—placed fourth.

Izuku laughed when his team lifted him on their shoulders, chanting ten million over and over again.

"Guys, stop," Izuku tried, but laughter bubbled from his throat. When he was eventually set down, he bowed to his team. "Thanks, guys. I couldn't have done it without you."

He smiled at them. "Don't know about you, but I'm wiped."

"It's good that we get this lunch break," Uraraka agreed. "I need to recharge before the last event."

"If it's a team event, I want you," Hatsume said. She didn't look tired at all, clipping her used and broken equipment to her belt. She caught him looking and said, "I'll fix it over lunch."

"We should— ah, eat lunch together," Tokoyami suggested, though he looked a bit hesitant. Izuku beamed.

"That's a great idea!"

Izuku looked around at his classmates. They were all mingling, relaxing after the tough battle. Iida was bowing furiously to his teammates, but Yaoyorozu was gesturing calmly back. Kacchan was leaning against the back wall, arms crossed over his chest as Kirishima waved his arms empathetically.

"So… lunch?"

"Lunch," Izuku agreed.

"Hey, what do they play on TV while we're on lunch break?"

"Ah," Tokoyami said, "that's when performances start getting reviewed. For the first two events. That way, agencies and heroes can get a better view of the different students and their Quirks, since there's so much going on."

"The third event has to be more individual, then," Izuku pointed out as they walked, "I mean, otherwise it wouldn't make sense. Besides the timing, of course."

A couple of the students' families had started to trickle in, supervised by the teachers. Izuku watched, jealousy stirring in his stomach as other kids were congratulated and cheered at.

"Mikumi!"

"Oh, it's you again," Izuku said, but he smiled brightly at Silver. She poked him.

"Did you think I'd leave?"

Izuku shrugged back at her. "Thought maybe you could be called away for business."

They both made faces at the same time. Business was never any good.

"I think," Silver started, then shut her mouth. Her gaze travelled over Izuku's shoulder.

"You think what?"

"I think you and I are going to get lunch together," Silver said, clamping her hand around Izuku's wrist. "Sorry, we're going to go."

"Silver, wha—"

She dragged him away, but Izuku dug his heels in.

"Silver, stop, Silver."

Silver stopped this time.

"Don't turn around," she said finally.

Izuku, of course, turned around. He regretted it instantly when his gaze settled on a short figure rushing from the stands. Izuku's heart leapt in his throat. He took a step forward, then a step back. Silver's grip on him tightened, like she could stop him.

"Katsuki!"

From where he'd been brooding against the wall, Kacchan startled. He looked around, then spotted the woman rushing towards him. His posture softened.

Mom, Izuku mouthed to himself.

"I'm so proud of you," she said. Mom took Kacchan's hands, talking excitedly for a moment before bursting into tears. Kacchan rolled his eyes, sniping back a little, but Izuku knew he didn't mean any of it.

"Izuku?" Silver whispered, only loud enough for him.

Izuku couldn't tear his eyes away from the scene. Mom straightened Kacchan's shirt, told him something. Kacchan batted her away, but he responded. Then Mom grabbed Kirishima's arm, pulling him in so she could take pictures.

"Izuku?"

Izuku had lost the ability to speak, to breathe. He just kept staring and staring at the woman who'd raised him. She looked like he remembered, dark green hair pulled back in a bun, warm and soft, smiling brilliantly. She wiped at her face and then took Kacchan's arm. Mom looked around at the rest of the students; her gaze paused on Izuku, and the air left his lungs. But recognition didn't spark in her eyes at all. She released him from her gaze, and Izuku felt like all he had suddenly drained out of him.

Silver put an arm around his shoulders and pushed him until Izuku started walking. He kept looking back into the sunlight, where Mom was standing.

"I'll take you to lunch," Silver said. Izuku wheezed. She steered him out and around the stadium, where little booths and stores were set up temporarily.

Then Silver looked into his face and sighed. She led them somewhere dark and quiet and then put her arms around him.

Izuku hadn't realized until the sound around them had faded that he'd been panting, strange little noises escaping past his mouth. He whined into Silver's shoulder.

"I know," Silver said, and he held on, comforted. "I'm sorry. I didn't know she was here."

Izuku shook his head. He couldn't speak.

"You good?"

Izuku buried his face in Silver's neck for a moment. After a while, his breathing seemed to settle. The emotions that had threatened to pull him under now sank back down.

"Thanks," he said. Izuku wiped at his face but found it dry.

"It's been a while, huh."

"Years," Izuku said. "We should, we should get lunch."

Silver didn't let him go past. "Are you alright?"

Izuku didn't want to tell her that if he said any more he was sure he'd fall apart at the seams. He hadn't realized what it'd meant to him, seeing Mom again.

"I'd rather cry into a bowl of katsudon," Izuku said. Silver let out a breath, and they walked back out together to get lunch. Then the two of them tucked themselves into a private, shaded area to eat together.

Izuku picked at his food.

"You should eat," Silver said. "You're going to need it."

Izuku dutifully put a piece of meat in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed hard.

"I thought," he started, then stopped. "I didn't know."

Silver shook her head.

"I don't know whether I'm happy to see her again or terrified," Izuku said finally. Standing in line for food had given him a little more time to calm down and sort through his thoughts, but also to think more about Mom.

"Yeah."

"I wasn't really thinking about it, but if I was I might've just… gone and ruined everything."

"Yeah."

Izuku shoved some rice into his mouth.

"I wish it wasn't like this," Silver said, "but I don't think it's time yet."

Izuku snorted. "Are you kidding? Things are just getting worse and worse. I'm not going to drag anyone into this mess."

"You know I've got your back," Silver said quietly. Izuku nodded, then took her hand and squeezed it, suddenly grateful.

"I just… they made it clear that," Izuku said, gesturing so Silver knew what he meant. "You know. I can't…"

"Izuku."

Izuku jerked up, meeting Silver's eyes. She put a hand on his knee.

"I know I said it's not time yet, but… I think we should start figuring out a way for you to get out of here."

"I don't think there's a way out."

"There's always a way out."

"Silver…"

"I can't help you much," Silver said, "not without putting myself in too much danger. But you and I both have friends. I've got money. Not now, while everyone is watching, but when you get the chance, you could run."

Izuku thought it over.

"And leave you behind?"

Silver leaned back on her hands. "That was always how it was going to end up, Izuku. I can't go with you."

"No."

"I'll find a way to get things to you," Silver said. "We're good at sneaking around."

"How much do you know about what I'm involved in?"

Silver paused. "What do you mean? With the League?"

He nodded.

"I know Shigaraki needs you for information."

Izuku stabbed his chopsticks into his rice, then hastily took them back out. She didn't know about All for One, then. Izuku wasn't sure at this point there was any running away he could do. He'd just hold on for as long as possible, try to glean as much as he could before the day came when it all went down.

"It's… more than that," Izuku hedged. "I— we shouldn't talk about this now, Silver. Don't get my hopes up like that."

He silently begged for her to drop the subject. Silver frowned.

"Another time," she pressed.

"Yeah."

Silver checked the time—they still had ten minutes before the noonday break was over. Izuku finished his lunch and then pulled his knees up to his chest. Soon he wouldn't have any time to waste worrying about Mom or the League or anything. Soon the only worrying that Izuku would be doing was probably about staying alive and not being frozen by Todoroki or something.

"Will I see you later?"

"Probably not," Silver said. "Even in disguise, this place is crawling with heroes. No offense, that's probably a good thing, but once the Sports Festival is over I'll be out of here."

Izuku nodded. "I understand."

"I doubt anyone would look twice at me, though." Silver's mouth twitched upwards. "All eyes are on you."

"Don't remind me."

"Ten Million," she teased. Izuku huffed, covering his face.

"I can never disappear again," he groaned. "Now people are going to pay attention to me. Especially Kacchan."

Silver laughed. "I wish I could've seen his face up close when he realized you'd stolen the number one place."

"Don't get used to it," Izuku warned, "since I'm going to hold back this next event."

"You've made enough of an impression," Silver agreed. "It's time to pull back before you get too much attention."

She stood, brushing off her pants. Izuku followed suit.

"This is it, then?"

"Don't be so dramatic, Izuku," Silver said. "Good luck with the rest of the Festival."

"See you later, then."

Silver squeezed his shoulder. "I like that better. See you later."

He watched her go, disappearing into the crowd easily until she was nothing more than a dash of color. Izuku took a deep breath, thinking of all the things he was scared of, then let them go.

It was time to face the last event of the Sports Festival.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-one


"Akatani."

"Ah— Todoroki. Uh, hi?" Izuku chewed on his lip. "Oh! Good job in the last event. Your team did really well."

Todoroki raised an eyebrow. "Not well enough. You came in first place."

Izuku cleared his throat. "Did you… need something?"

Todoroki tilted his head to the side, gesturing for Izuku to follow. They stepped into a hall, somewhere private and out of the way.

"The last event starts soon, so I won't waste your time," Todoroki said, "but I wanted to talk to you."

"Oh, um, okay?"

Todoroki folded his hands over each other, pale and smooth, like two little birds settling into place.

Izuku had to wonder what Todoroki wanted to talk about. They weren't close, nor were they close to being friends. Maybe it would be another declaration of war.

"You're All Might's illegitimate son, aren't you?"

Whatever Izuku had been expecting, it wasn't that.

"Uhh…?"

Todoroki didn't seem very impressed.

"I've been thinking about it," Todoroki said. "It makes sense. Your Quirks are similar. The way he acts around you, the secrecy… you're his son."

Todoroki blinked slowly, then looked at Izuku through his lashes. "I suspect Akatani may not even be your real name."

Izuku made a high-pitched, wordless noise. Todoroki continued.

"It took me some time to figure out, but I think I understand."

"You… really don't," Izuku said, and then he started laughing. "He— oh, man, he's, he's not… my dad."

Todoroki looked bewildered—the clearest expression Izuku had seen on him yet.

"It's alright," he said finally, "it doesn't matter what your relationship to him is. Regardless, both I and my father consider you his— successor. That makes you my competition."

Izuku was still reeling from the thought of All Might—All Might—being his dad. He frowned.

"Competition?"

Todoroki took in a breath. He'd never looked more serious than when he next spoke.

"Have you ever heard of Quirk marriages, Akatani?"

There, under the stands, Todoroki told Izuku about everything he had left: Endeavor's ambition, an empty pot of boiling water, and half of a Quirk.

Izuku felt sick. He felt the same way as when Hisashi had first blown smoke in his face—eyes burning and stinging, lungs filling with thick darkness, poison seeping into his skin.

"Todoroki," Izuku said, and the name felt bitter in his mouth.

"Don't," Todoroki said. "I don't need your pity, Akatani. I have no use for it."

Izuku swallowed. He wasn't sure what to say, just that he wanted to speak. There were words sitting on his tongue, waiting for him to unfurl them, but he couldn't decipher what they were, couldn't quite taste them.

"But..."

"I only wanted to tell you so you would understand."

Izuku licked his lips. "Understand what?"

Todoroki's hands, which had remained folded throughout their entire conversation, now lifted and then fell to his sides. Like the little birds had dropped from the sky.

"That I refuse to use his Quirk."

Izuku blinked.

"I'm going to beat you," Todoroki said, "because I have to, but I'm going to do it without fire."

"Fire," Izuku echoed.

Todoroki looked him in the eye, waiting for a challenge. Izuku didn't have one for him.

"That is all I wanted to say to you."

Todoroki turned on his heel and stalked away. Izuku watched him go and saw the tense, sharp line of his shoulders. He saw the invisible ice, crackling over Todoroki's skin, enveloping him in a smooth, pristine armor. Ice was strong, Izuku thought, but it could be cracked. It could be broken.

"Todoroki, wait," Izuku said, but his voice was too quiet and Todoroki too far away. He reached out. Todoroki disappeared into the stands, and Izuku was left standing there.

He looked at his hands. Making sure there was no one to see, Izuku conjured for the first time in a while an illusion. Flames danced gently between his fingers, wavering. He thought of Endeavor then—when Izuku and Kacchan were younger, they'd admired Endeavor, too. He was second-best after All Might. The fire hero, the man who could walk through flames, who could withstand any heat.

They'd both wanted to be strong, like All Might, and unyielding, like Endeavor. Izuku bit down hard on the inside of his cheek until it hurt.

Now Izuku knew. All Might was as he'd always been, regardless of being a hero or a civilian. There was no difference between All Might and Yagi Toshinori, except perhaps Toshinori carried more sadness, and his smiles were more genuine. But his heart was the same—his spirit was the same. Izuku had learned that.

Endeavor, it seemed, was the opposite. That victorious smirk, the strong stance he took. The number two hero, ever-burning. Somehow in his bitterness and jealousy he'd turned down a path Izuku could have never imagined.

"I'm sorry," Izuku said aloud, though he knew no one was listening.

Maybe— maybe after the Sports Festival, Izuku could find the chance to speak to Todoroki. If he dared to. He'd offer a hand in friendship, the only thing Izuku could give that was worth anything.

"Akatani?"

Izuku turned and saw All Might striding towards him. A glance around, and then he was just Toshinori again.

"Ah… hey."

Toshinori's wide smile faltered when he saw Izuku's face.

"Are you alright?"

Izuku took in a deep breath, about to say yes, and then stopped. "I don't know."

"Is this about the Sports Festival? Mikumi—"

"Yes, no, I don't know," Izuku said. "It's the Sports Festival, but it's, like, not the Sports Festival. It's, I, I don't know, I can't talk about it."

Toshinori put both hands on Izuku's shoulder.

"Stop," he said, and Izuku did.

"I don't think I can do this."

"Do what?"

Izuku gestured hopelessly. "Any of it. All of it. I'm sorry."

"Everybody's watching," Izuku said, "I know it, and everybody's waiting for me to mess up. And people have noticed that we- that us... that you and me aren't just, I don't know, teacher and student? You said this was my chance to show the world who I am, and I'm going to blow it."

Toshinori's brow creased. "That... I..." he struggled. Izuku swallowed.

"I just can't do it," Izuku said again. He was sure, now, that things were going to start falling apart.

"You can," Toshinori said.

Izuku's face was suddenly pressed against fabric. Toshinori's thin arms wound around him tightly, and Izuku stood shock-still as Toshinori hugged him.

"I know you can do it," Toshinori said in his ear, "because you are strong. I saw that in you when we first met. I still see it in you. It's a spark that no one can take from you."

Izuku's throat went tight.

"Toshinori..."

"I am not asking you to win," Toshinori said gently, pulling back so that he could look Izuku in the face. He took Izuku's chin in a large hand and held it there with long fingers so that Izuku was forced to look him in the eye.

"Then what are you asking me to do?"

"Make your mark. Show the whole world that spark that I see in you. That's all you have to do—be true to yourself, and the rest will follow."

Toshinori let Izuku go and folded him into another hug, looser this time.

"You don't have to be me," Toshinori said. "You just have to be you."

Izuku stared at his mentor, wordless.

"There's a lot on your mind, I can tell," Toshinori said, tapping the side of Izuku's head.

"Don't worry so much, my boy. Let it go."

Izuku dropped his gaze. "For now."

Toshinori gave him a smile and then an expectant look. Izuku sighed, but he stretched his lips upwards into a small smile back. The light in Toshinori's eyes made Izuku feel a little better.

"I'll be rooting for you, alright?"

Izuku nodded.

"Good luck."

"Thanks, Toshinori. I should get going. My first match is soon, I think."

Toshinori was nodding along. A puff of smoke, and then All Might grinned down at him, ruffling Izuku's hair with a large hand.

"Um, this is it, I guess."

All Might put a hand on Izuku's back and then pushed him forwards. "Go on, Akatani."

His friends were in the stands. Uraraka waved when she saw him emerge.

"Hey," Izuku said, plopping down in the empty spot next to her and trying to pretend that none of the events in the last hour had happened. "What's up?"

"What's up is you disappeared on us?"

"S—"

"I'm only joking," Uraraka said, nudging him. "Did you see the match pairings?"

Izuku hummed. "You're up against Bakugou."

Uraraka went rigid. "Yeah."

"You could beat him," Izuku said. "I know you can."

"Don't give me any ideas," Uraraka said, eyes blazing. "I know you've probably got it all worked out in your head, but…"

Izuku touched her shoulder and said, "I believe in you."

"Oh, did you hear?" Uraraka said, "Ojiro dropped from this round."

"What? Why?"

"He said he didn't deserve the spot because he was manipulated, so he couldn't do his best. A Class 1-B kid, too."

Izuku scanned the rows of students, looking for Ojiro. "...Manipulated?"

"Uh-huh," Uraraka replied. "You know that Shinsou kid?"

"From Gen Ed?"

"Yeah. Something about his Quirk."

"Do you know what it is? Looks like I'm going up against him."

Uraraka shook her head. "Sorry, no."

Midnight called for the tournament to begin and for the first opponents to prepare. Izuku's friends wished him luck before he left; he waved and ducked down towards the ring.

Ojiro was waiting for him. "Hey," he said, catching Izuku's arm.

"Ojiro—"

"Be careful with Shinsou, Akatani. Don't speak to him."

Izuku narrowed his eyes, thinking.

"He has a brainwashing Quirk," Ojiro continued, "but a good hit will knock you out of it. Don't let him catch you."

Izuku paused on the thought. "Alright," he said eventually, "thanks for the help, Ojiro."

Ojiro nodded. "Good luck out there."

A brainwashing Quirk, huh? From the little that Ojiro had told him, Izuku could come up with dozens of useful applications. Like Eraserhead's Quirk, Izuku knew that this brainwashing Quirk had a more subtle nature, but could be extremely valuable.

"The possibilities," Izuku muttered to himself as he walked out to where Midnight was standing with Shinsou, "I mean, just incredible. He could diffuse a villain fight in minutes just by talking to them. I wonder what the limits are? Maybe could test his limits—no, no, that wouldn't be a good idea. Underground work would suit him well. Infiltration could be really easy…"

"Are you done?" a voice drawled.

Izuku opened his mouth on instinct to respond and then stopped himself short. Shinsou looked back at Izuku expectantly, eyes cool.

Izuku turned towards Midnight instead. "I'm ready to begin the match."

Out of the corner of his eye, Izuku saw Shinsou's mouth turn downwards. He gave himself a smile, silently thanking Ojiro for the advice.

"You heroes," Shinsou hissed at him. "You're all the same. Born gifted with your Quirks. You think you're on top of the world. You think you deserve everything handed to you on a silver platter because you're powerful, and you can punch things or make them explode."

Izuku bit down hard on his tongue.

"Please separate," Midnight said. "Either side of the ring."

Izuku shuffled dutifully to the left as Shinsou headed right.

"You don't understand what it's like," Shinsou called across the din. Izuku screwed his eyes shut, but didn't react otherwise even though he wanted to. "You don't get it. You'll never get it. You're up there with the golden boys, the flashy ones, Bakugou and Todoroki, aren't you?"

Izuku bit down harder.

You don't understand what it's like for them, he wanted to scream. He thought of Kacchan, pushing himself, always working harder to prove himself. Then he thought of Todoroki, standing under his father's shadow, clawing himself out of it.

"And the first match…. begins!"

Izuku sprang into action. He darted forward.

Shinsou's eyes widened in surprise when Izuku charged towards him. Izuku pressed down on both of his Quirks and went without, tackling Shinsou to the ground. Dust flew up in a hazy cloud.

Izuku growled wordlessly, pinning Shinsou down. It took seconds.

Shinsou glared back up at him. His lips pulled back to reveal bared teeth; he knew they were outmatched in strength and skill. Bonestealer had taught Izuku to fight, and All Might had trained him.

The crowd went wild, roaring. Izuku could barely make out snatches of their words.

Shinsou slipped a hand free. Izuku moved, but Shinsou didn't fight back. Instead he grabbed the front of Izuku's suit and pulled him closer so he could whisper into Izuku's ear.

"And I bet," Shinsou said lowly, just for the two of them, "that you've never been called a villain, hero."

Izuku jerked back like he'd just been dealt a physical blow.

Shinsou was smiling. Izuku couldn't tell what kind of smile it was—if it was razor-sharp and barbed like his words, if it was sad, if he was a hungry wolf.

It didn't matter.

"Go on," Shinsou invited. He tilted his head towards the white line of the boundaries. "Knock me out."

Izuku ground his teeth together.

"How dare you," Izuku said lowly, and the words were almost worth the delighted surprise in Shinsou's eyes. He'd been caught, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

"How dare you," Izuku shouted this time, "do you think we have everything? Do you think we don't bleed for what we do? How can you say that— how can you think that, Shinsou?"

"Get up," Shinsou said.

Izuku's body obeyed, but the words were still pouring from his mouth. Shinsou could make him move, but he couldn't stop the tears from pooling in the corners of Izuku's eyes.

"You're no villain," Izuku said, the last thing he could manage before Shinsou's power snapped over him. "Not even close. You're the one that doesn't understand."

"What a pleasant conversation," Shinsou said. Izuku pressed against the walls of his mind but found he'd lost control entirely. "Now do me a favor, Akatani, and walk outside of the boundaries."

The world seemed to tilt. Shift and change. Then Izuku landed back into the plane of reality, but there was something that wasn't quite right.

This feeling…

He lost his breath when he glanced up. Shinsou was still there. So was the stadium, full of distant people.

Yet the world around him looked completely different, like someone had flipped a switch. And in front of him, dark shapes appeared in twisting smoke.

Fog clouded Izuku's mind. He took a step forward. Izuku's control over himself had dissipated; his limbs felt heavy and awkward as he took another step—closer to the boundaries, and closer to the strange figures that were before him.

"Walk outside of the boundaries." Shinsou's voice came again, but it echoed in the fog.

Some distant part of Izuku was screaming, clawing against the loss. This fog, this feeling like a dream, the control… suddenly Izuku felt it was familiar and known to him. This wasn't just an effect of Shinsou's Quirk. He remembered this, and it was different.

Worse, Izuku thought.

Izuku took another, slow step. So did the eight figures.

He'd seen them before, he thought. Izuku recognized them, in the same way one might meet family for the first time but know somehow, who they were. Like his heart was saying hello.

Half in the ring, half in the dream world, Izuku lifted a hand.

The figure in the center stepped forward. His edges were smoky, but Izuku could see his eyes glowing brightly.

Who are you, Izuku tried to say.

A shadowy hand touched his. Tangible. Real. Iridescent light jumped between where their fingertips touched, and Izuku felt the world shudder around him. He could feel the ground underneath him, steady and still, and understood that he was back in the real world.

The shadows began to fade, but the man in front of Izuku stayed a moment longer.

We are, he told Izuku.

Then he vanished.

Izuku found his vision replaced with the boundaries, drawn in white. His right foot moved forward, and when Izuku looked down at his hand, he saw One for All igniting across it.

His Quirk burned in a way it had never before. Pain bloomed and pooled at the tips of Izuku's fingers, and the heat spread through Izuku's body as One for All fought against Shinsou's Quirk.

Millimeters away from the boundary line, Izuku stopped.

Turned.

Smiled.

"Impossible," Shinsou said, the light in his eyes flickering. Izuku went silent even as the noise around him grew in volume.

Izuku didn't waste any time. He tuned out Shinsou's taunts and went hard, crossing the ring in seconds and forcing Shinsou back further and further.

"I don't have a Quirk like yours," Shinsou yelled. Izuku ducked under his guard and hit Shinsou twice, fast, like he'd been taught. Shinsou brought his arms up; Izuku swept his feet out from under him. He got up.

"You were born to fight," Shinsou continued. Izuku gritted his teeth, hesitating. It was enough for Shinsou to catch him across the face hard, but Izuku didn't let up.

"I wasn't," Shinsou said, breathing heavily. He came in close, swinging.

Izuku caught his arm, shifting a foot back, and then threw his opponent bodily over his shoulder.

"Shinsou has been knocked out of boundaries. Akatani is the winner!"

Izuku stared down at Shinsou.

"You're wrong," Izuku told him.

"Akatani," Midnight said, "you'll be advancing to the next round. Both of you go see Recovery Girl if you need to."

Izuku shook his head. He looked at Shinsou a last time and then walked away.

"Akatani, wait."

Izuku cut him off before he could continue. "Why do you want to be a hero so badly, Shinsou?"

Shinsou blinked at him. "I can't help what I want."

"It's no use thinking of yourself as a villain," Izuku said shortly. "Your Quirk doesn't matter. You've got potential, if you'll use it."

He got a long, contemplative look back.

"Thanks, I guess," Shinsou said, "I'll make it to the Hero Course. Just wait. And don't lose too pitifully next round, Akatani."

Izuku grunted and made to leave. He was worried if they spent any more time talking that he'd snap and say something he'd regret. Izuku felt like a mess: angry and confused.

"Did you mean what you said?" Izuku asked, and the ugly words made anger bubble up in him. "About everything?"

"Did you?"

Izuku stared at Shinsou and then walked away.

"I guess we'll both have to figure that out for ourselves," he called over his shoulder.

Izuku didn't feel like returning to the stands, where inevitably he'd have to talk to his friends. He didn't want to. Izuku liked their company, but he felt like then he'd have to explain things to them.

So instead Izuku took a turn and went to the medical office, barging through the door and throwing himself onto an empty bed.

Recovery Girl poked him. "Hurt?"

Izuku rolled over. "Not badly."

She shoved him into a sitting position and looked him over.

"You're telling the truth this time, hm?" she asked, poking at one of his cuts. There was nothing more than a few scrapes, maybe a forming bruise or two. His fingers ached.

"My head hurts a bit," Izuku said, and she stopped, humming. He let her check his eyes dutifully. "I think it's just an aftereffect of fighting Shinsou, though."

"You seem fine," Recovery Girl confirmed, "which is good, considering you need all the brain cells you can get."

"Hey."

Toshinori poked his head through the door. A lanky body followed.

"That was a good fight," he complimented.

Izuku flopped back onto the bed, covering his face with his arm and groaning into it.

"Sure," he mumbled, "if you want to call it that. I don't think it was very impressive. It probably looked boring."

"You broke yourself free from Shinsou's Quirk. That's no small feat."

Izuku sat up, lighting jolting through him.

"I- I saw something, when he, when I was under his influence." Izuku looked around and saw no one else in the infirmary, but he lowered his voice anyway. "People. Figures. Eight of them."

"Eight…?"

"The wielders of One for All," Izuku said, "well, at least I think that's who they were."

"I see."

"He helped me," Izuku blurted. He didn't know why he needed to say it.

"It's alright," Toshinori said, "I used to see them, too, when I was younger. One for All is a difficult Quirk to understand, but I believe what we see are simply imprints, if you will, of the former users, from passing down the Quirk."

Izuku opened his mouth. Closed it.

"But," he said, then trailed off.

He spoke to me, Izuku wanted to say. He was real.

"Don't worry about that now," Toshinori said, "because regardless of the imprints… it was you that summoned One for All, to break yourself free. You should go watch the rest of the matches."

"Yeah," Izuku said shakily, and tried again, "Yeah."

By the time Izuku returned to the stands, the next match was over. He walked out in time to see Sero frozen in ice, tape scattered. Todoroki had beaten him, but now he was standing next to the pillar of ice, slowly melting it with his fire.

Izuku searched along the stands to where most of the pro heroes were sitting and found Endeavor. Then he looked back to the hero's son. Seeing Todoroki slowly melt the ice until it disappeared only made him sad.

The first round passed by quickly. To Izuku's joint delight and disappointment, Shiozaki from Class 1-B took down Kaminari in the blink of an eye.

Iida's opponent was Hatsume, which Izuku wasn't sure about. Both were strong in their own right: Iida had a quite powerful Quirk, but Hatsume was challenging with her devices and support items.

The fight wasn't much of one. Izuku winced in sympathy as the two played cat-and-mouse; he couldn't say he was very surprised when Hatsume used the opportunity to show off her 'babies' before stepping out of bounds.

"Winner by default," Izuku muttered, hissing through his teeth. "Sorry, Iida."

Ashido tore through Aoyama's defenses to a cheering crowd in the fifth match. In the sixth, Izuku found himself pleasantly surprised when Tokoyami beat Yaoyorozu.

As interesting as they were to watch, Izuku found his attention straying during the matches. He couldn't stop thinking about his own match with Shinsou—everything his opponent had said, and the appearance of the previous holders of One for All.

Izuku scribbled a few notes down absentmindedly in code but eventually stopped writing and simply stared at the half-empty page.

Hisashi was watching, Izuku suddenly remembered. Heroes weren't the only ones who watched the Sports Festival. The villains did, too, to see what they were up against.

"Sensei," Izuku whispered to himself as Midnight called for the next match.

Was Sensei—All for One—watching? Izuku could see the television screen in his mind, then his own reflection. Could All for One see this little dragon, wings flared?

In the ring below, light flashed.

Izuku was jolted back into reality as he watched Kacchan and Uraraka meet each other again and again. He watched Uraraka pick herself up, watched the two of them shine brilliantly like stars.

"Go," Izuku whispered, not sure who he was cheering for.

The fight ended as Izuku expected—Kacchan won. He hadn't gone easy on Uraraka at all, and she'd put up a tough fight.

After it was over, Izuku hesitated only for a moment before going down to see Uraraka. She'd wanted to win so badly. Her strategy had been good—really, really good. Kacchan had only won through sheer firepower.

Izuku followed her back from the infirmary and was about to head into the waiting room when he heard her crying.

Izuku stopped outside the door, then carefully looked in and found his friend on the floor, knees drawn to her chest. Izuku swallowed hard and backed away. He wanted to go in, to talk to her, but… the truth was, Izuku wasn't sure what he'd say. She was strong. She was capable. Yet it hadn't been enough.

You 1:24 PM 
I'm proud of you.

It didn't feel like enough. Izuku resolved to talk to her again if he could, but he knew his time was short before his next match.

Izuku slowly shuffled away from the waiting room, intending to head back to the stands to the catch the match between Tetsutetsu and Kirishima.

"You," someone called.

Izuku stopped in the middle of the hallway. Endeavor walked towards him. He looked every bit the hero that Izuku remembered admiring, but suddenly Izuku could see an ugliness in him he'd never seen before.

"Endeavor," Izuku said coolly. "Excuse me, I have to prepare for my match."

"That's why I'm here," Endeavor said. He stepped closer, and the hair on the back of Izuku's neck raised. Izuku clenched his fists at his side and felt that deep pool of anger begin to rise again.

"I don't see what you have to do with my match," Izuku said.

"You're fighting my son."

"And?"

Endeavor's eyes flashed. "Watch your tone." He looked over Izuku, like he couldn't believe who he was talking to. "Your Quirk... from my understanding, it's one that could rival All Might's."

His distaste was clear. Izuku ground his teeth together.

"If you have nothing else to say to me, sir, I'll take my leave."

"I only wanted to ask you to give Shouto your best," Endeavor told him. "He is going to be the best hero. I don't want you to throw your match and disgrace him."

Izuku ran his tongue over his teeth and tried to pick his next words.

"It doesn't matter what you think," he said finally, and Endeavor reared back, eyes widening. "It's not your fight. It's mine and Todoroki's."

"I have no say?"

Izuku's lip curled. "Regardless of how similar my power may be to All Might's, I'm not him."

Be you, Toshinori had said. Izuku looked Endeavor in the eye.

"Todoroki isn't you, either." He bowed partly and then stepped around Endeavor to leave. "I think it would do you good to remember that."

Izuku stalked into the ring and found himself face-to-face with Todoroki.

"Take me seriously," he told Todoroki.

Todoroki blinked. "I will."

Todoroki wasn't going to use his fire. He'd told Izuku before that he refused to win with it. So it came as no surprise when the match began and ice immediately raced across the ground towards him.

Izuku watched it come calmly. He met Todoroki's eyes and then fired up One for All, blasting away the ice before it could reach him.

Then he dug his heels in for the long game.

A sheet of ice formed again. Izuku raced forward, One for All pulsing, and sent a blast of power right at Todoroki.

His opponent didn't let himself be taken out so easily, slamming back against a wall of ice.

Ice, again. Izuku gritted his teeth and shattered that, too.

"You're not taking me seriously, Todoroki," Izuku called. "You said you would."

"I am."

"You're not!"

Izuku smashed through another wave of ice, but he'd gotten distracted. Todoroki raised a hand, and Izuku looked down to find ice creeping up his ankle. It shone like crystal in the sun and climbed higher, until Izuku was frozen in place.

He didn't have time to free himself and only barely brought up his defense when Todoroki attacked. Ice scraped past Izuku's cheek, so cold it burned, and something wet slid down his skin.

For some reason, it made Izuku angry.

He'd been angry before—at the world, at its unfairness, at Endeavor, at All for One, and at himself. But it was fury that sent One for All spiralling down into his fingertips, and it was fury that tore through the blast of ice and freed him.

Izuku held his broken index finger carefully as he shifted on his numb feet.

"Are you really here to be a hero?"

Todoroki only response was the crackle of ice.

"Answer me!" Izuku shouted. One for All surged through another finger.

"Why do I have to?" Todoroki asked. His eyes flickered to Izuku's hand; Izuku fired up Full Cowl again, dancing out of the way as Todoroki chased him.

"Because you're not acting like it."

A second later, Izuku had a hand balled in the front of Todoroki's suit, their faces close to each other. Izuku shoved him, then followed with a fist that sent Todoroki stumbling back.

He dropped Full Cowl and hit Todoroki again before he could form more ice. Izuku fought—dirty, like Bonestealer liked. He slammed a hard fist into Todoroki's side.

Frost formed on Izuku's arm. He ignored the numbness—Bonestealer had taught him that, too—and threw Todoroki over his shoulder.

"You haven't been listening to me," Izuku said, standing over him.

Todoroki shot up. Ice burst outwards from underneath his feet, but a flash of green lighting sent him sprawling.

"Are you listening now?"

"What do you want?" Todoroki bit out. He scrambled to his feet—Izuku was wearing him down, slowly, but if he let up, Todoroki was strong enough to win.

"You want to be number one?" Izuku shouted. He let Todoroki trap him. "You're aiming for the top and—what, you're only going to use half your power? What the hell are you thinking?"

There. A spark of something. Frustration, maybe, or anger in Todoroki's face. Izuku let it fan his own raging fire and broke free again.

"Did my father put you up to this?" Todoroki yelled, chest heaving. "Is that what this is?"

"You're blind," Izuku said. Todoroki charged him again, but he was slow. Weaker than before.

Izuku flung him to the ground again.

"I'm going to ask you again," Izuku yelled, "are you going to be a hero or not, Todoroki?"

"Shut up!"

Izuku forced Todoroki backwards.

"I want to be a hero," Izuku said, pushing Todoroki back another step, "because I want to live up to All Might's expectations. So I can save people. So I can be a hero who helps people with a smile."

Another step.

"Is this what you think being a hero is?"

Another step. Izuku blocked Todoroki's half-hearted attempt at another wave of ice and felt a terrible and raw satisfaction when he hit Todoroki again.

"You're doing this, and you're not going to give it your all?" Izuku grabbed Todoroki, ignoring the ice, ignoring the pain, and shouted in his face. "You're doing that so you can disown your dad? Huh?"

He flung Todoroki down, next to the boundary line.

Close. Close. Close enough that Izuku could make one more move, and he'd win the match and move on.

It wasn't about winning, anymore. It wasn't about moving on. It was about facing someone who looked like him, who wouldn't give Izuku his all even though Izuku had fought for it.

"Get up," Izuku said, "and fight me like you mean it. I saw your dad earlier, Todoroki. Do you want to know what I told him?"

Todoroki stared up at him. His gaze was sharp yet distant at the same time.

Izuku forged forward. "I told Endeavor that you aren't the same as him. It's not his Quirk, Todoroki. It's yours. It belongs to you."

Todoroki got up.

Izuku was shaking. Exhaustion, anger, whichever one came first.

"I want to be a hero," Izuku told Todoroki, eyes burning.

Todoroki looked at Izuku like he'd never seen him before. Then something happened: fire burst forth, red and gold flames erupting from Todoroki's side, and he smiled.

"I want to be a hero, too," Todoroki said finally. Izuku grinned, and One for All sang as he called it up to the surface for the final time.

"Let's give it our all, Todoroki."

The two ran towards each other. Izuku sent a blast of pressure towards Todoroki, feeling One for All explode outwards.

"Stop! Stop the match!"

He couldn't. Ice raced towards him, followed by a raging inferno. Izuku braced himself, One for All crackling.

Izuku could win the match. He could, he thought, the thrill of power racing through him. He was bright, brighter than any star. He could do it.

Time stopped. Just for a moment.

Just long enough for Izuku to see the flames bursting towards him. There were no shadowy figures. There were no reflections. But Izuku could taste the smoke, could see again that little square television and that smooth voice. He could see his father.

Little dragon, Sensei said in Izuku's mind.

He faltered.

Light. Heat. Weightlessness, like Izuku really had wings and was flying.

When Izuku blinked, he was on the ground, staring up at hazy clouds and wondering if they were smoke instead. He still felt like he was floating.

Distantly, Todoroki was announced the winner. Izuku found his feet and curled them underneath him, pushing himself up to stand. The world spun a bit, but Izuku steadied himself.

"Akatani," he heard, and Todoroki crossed the ring to grip Izuku's shoulder before he could fall again. "Thank you."

Izuku blinked at him. "That's what heroes do."

He was whisked away to the infirmary. Recovery Girl yelled at him, but Izuku couldn't quite focus on her words. He knew they were important. Izuku let them pass through his ears anyway. All he could think about was how tired he was.

"Are you listening to me?"

Izuku squinted at Recovery Girl.

"Not really," he mumbled back. "How bad is it?"

She pursed her lips. "Not as bad as it could be, but—"

Izuku suddenly spotted Toshinori behind her shoulder and reached out for him. His mentor took his hand.

"I'm sorry," Izuku said.

"Why did you do that?"

Izuku had to think about it. "He needed my help."

Recovery Girl huffed and smacked Toshinori's shoulder. "This is your fault."

Toshinori searched Izuku's face, then said, "Your match was— an unfortunate outcome. As your mentor, I have to ask you not to do this again. You're going to hurt yourself beyond repair."

"Sorry," Izuku offered.

Toshinori squeezed Izuku's shoulder. "You did something today you should be proud of, though. I don't know exactly what young Todoroki struggles with, but you reached out to him… and he listened to you. That is one of the principal qualities of being a hero."

Izuku almost cried, but Recovery Girl interrupted the conversation before he could. "Are you done?"

She pinned them both with a look that could send any villain running. "Those injuries won't heal themselves."

The door burst open, and Izuku heard more than saw his friends' voices piling over each other. It made his chest fill with warmth.

It did not have the same effect on Recovery Girl. She whirled on them.

"Out! Get out! All of you, out!"

"Chiyo…"

"Enough," Recovery Girl said. She jabbed a finger in Toshinori's chest. "You've had your time. Now all of you leave!"

"I don't know why I'm still here," she grumbled once the room had cleared. "Now, you're going to miss the rest of the Festival—"

Izuku whined. She frowned at him.

"That's what you get. Your injuries aren't so terrible, but that does not mean you can do this again, hear me? Stop smiling. If you're good, I might let you catch the end of the Festival."

"Copy that," Izuku said.

He ended up sleeping through the rest of the Festival, like Recovery Girl had told him. When he woke up again, the worst of his injuries were gone, left with only a few bandages tight against his skin.

"Don't do anything stupid," Recovery Girl warned him.

"Yes, ma'am."

She glared at him. Izuku smiled pleasantly back, but there was nothing Izuku could do. All of the fight had left him, draining away slowly until it was gone.

"Don't come back."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Izuku said, sighing. He made his way out of the infirmary and watched the awards ceremony from the edges.

Kacchan had placed first. It made Izuku proud to see him there, but his childhood friend didn't seem very pleased about it. Todoroki was second, and Izuku smiled when he saw Tokoyami in third.

All Might appeared to give the winners their medals. Izuku watched him speak quietly to each person and found himself relieved he hadn't won after all. Up there, there was no hiding.

"Everyone here had a strong chance of making it to this podium," All Might said, and his voice echoed around the entire stadium. The Sports Festival was ending; Izuku, unnoticed, began to slip away. "It makes me proud to stand here having seen every student put forth their best effort, and I want to congratulate you on your incredible work."

Out on the street, Izuku could still hear his mentor's words. He'd already changed out of his clothes in the infirmary, but now Izuku fit a hoodie over his head. The crosswalk he'd been waiting at turned green. Izuku followed the lines and continued forward.

He paused on the street corner and looked back.

Distantly, Izuku heard the echoes of All Might's voice chasing him.

"The next generation of heroes looks bright."

Izuku nodded slowly to himself, then stuck his hands in his pockets and began to take his path away from the winner's circle.


END: PART ONE

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
interlude ii


The window was latched.

Katsuki knocked against the glass, being careful about the grocery bags hanging heavy on his wrists. You there?

He didn't expect a response. Hadn't had one for years.

Sighing, Katsuki went around to the front, pulling out the extra set of keys Auntie Inko had given him and letting himself in.

"Katsuki, dear? Is that you?"

He kicked the door shut behind him. "Yeah."

Auntie Inko emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She smiled when she saw him. The light behind her was golden and soft.

"You didn't have to," she said when she saw the groceries he'd brought. Katsuki rolled his eyes, stalking past her into the kitchen and beginning to unload.

"You say that every time," he tossed over his shoulder, opening the fridge door.

"Will you stay for dinner?"

He grunted. When he finished tossing the groceries in the fridge, he looked up to see Auntie Inko leaning on the counter, watching him.

"What," Katsuki snapped, and she shook her head, turning back to finish doing the dishes.

"Thank you, Katsuki."

"Whatever," he muttered. Katsuki stuck his hands in his pockets as he made his way down the hall to the right door and pushed inwards. The room inside always looked different from the view through the window—brighter, and more real.

He rapped his knuckles against the doorframe and then crossed the room to sit on the bed. It dipped under his weight, then groaned when he flopped onto his back to stare at the ceiling. He sat up again, reaching blindly for the lamp on the bedside table, and watched a cold light paint the room.

Auntie Inko had cleaned the room again in the past week, it seemed. There was no dust, and the two action figures on the desk had reversed positions.

"I brought you something," Katsuki said. God, he hated the sound of his own voice; things felt like they never came out right. He hated talking like this, too. It was stupid, but Katsuki hadn't ever been able to make himself stop.

"Here," he said roughly, pulling the gold medal from his pocket. The light hit it, and it shone. The number one glinted, taunting him, and he growled, throwing the medal onto the desk with more force than he needed.

"Fucking Half-n-Half," he growled.

What, Deku would've said, eyes innocent, you don't even know his name, Kacchan?

"Fuck you." Katsuki cut himself off before he could say anything else and sound like a complete idiot. Then, because he couldn't help himself, "And it's Todoroki."

Just thinking about him made Katsuki mad.

Sure, there were plenty of people who made him mad, like Kaminari, who'd almost fried his phone to death the other day. But Todoroki made him angry in a way no one had in a while.

He'd come waltzing in on his dad's recommendation? Fine. Katsuki could care less about recommendations; they didn't matter unless you couldn't prove yourself.

He had shitty parents and wanted to beat them into the ground? Good. Katsuki would enjoy the show.

He'd made it to the final round, had given Akatani of all people his all, and then he'd refused to do the same for Katsuki?

That made Katsuki's skin crawl.

Katsuki hadn't won, no matter what pretty words All Might tried to say and no matter what Auntie Inko had told him. That wasn't winning. It'd felt like Todoroki had spit at his feet, a specific fuck-you just for Katsuki, when Todoroki had looked at him from across that ring and given up.

It made his skin crawl. It made his blood boil under his skin. It made him seethe with anger. Katsuki would've been mad if Todoroki had beaten him, but he would've been mad at himself, not the other way around.

He stood, and the gold medal flashed. Katsuki slammed the lamp off and stalked out of the room, leaving in a worse mood than he'd come in.

Auntie Inko was setting up the dining table when Katsuki made his reappearance. She didn't bat an eye when he stormed into the room, only handing him a plate of bok choy and telling him not to break anything.

"You're all over the news," she commented mildly after they'd sat down to eat. She put a piece of chashu in his bowl. "Eat more, dear."

Katsuki grumbled around a mouthful of rice. "We just started."

"I can't eat all of this myself," she told him. She hummed, looking down at herself and frowning. "I have put on quite a bit though, hm?"

"So what," Katsuki said.

"Anyway," Auntie Inko continued, a bit red in the face, "I said this, but I'm proud of you."

"Don't cry."

"I couldn't stop crying when you were in the last round."

Katsuki stabbed the piece of bok choy and shoved it in his mouth. "Stupid…"

"He put up a good fight, didn't he?"

Katsuki set down his chopsticks and dug his nails into his palms.

"Wasn't a fight."

Auntie Inko stopped eating. She set down her chopsticks, too, then pushed her bowl away so she could study him. It took a minute, but he finally cracked.

"It should've been Deku," he admitted, and he hated how sorry that sounded. Then he caught the look in her soft eyes and hated what he'd said even more. "Don't— don't cry."

She reached across the table for a napkin and dabbed at her eyes.

"Sorry, I… you know I don't mean to…"

"He didn't even fucking try," Katsuki snapped, staring at the edge of the table. "Deku would've done anything just to have that chance. And Todoroki had it, and he threw it away."

"Sometimes," Auntie Inko said, "people have different reasons for what they do. I doubt that your classmate thought about that match the same way you did."

Katsuki scowled.

She tugged at his hands and then curled her fingers around them. "Maybe you're more similar than you believe."

He snorted. "Sure."

"People surprise you."

"I'm not making friends with him, auntie."

"Katsuki…"

He made a low sound in his throat. "I know, I know, make friends, blah blah, be kinder, whatever else you say."

Auntie Inko's nose scrunched up, and she was frowning when she said, "You have to try."

"I'm trying."

Some of his classmates were tolerable. At U.A., no one uselessly fawned over him. None of the other kids worshipped the ground he walked on, and Katsuki liked it. They weren't afraid to snap back.

Akatani was one of them. Something had clicked between the two of them; Katsuki didn't like it, or understand it. Sometimes he looked at Akatani and saw someone else standing there instead. Sometimes Akatani looked at him like Katsuki was someone he knew.

"It's good you're trying," Auntie Inko said. She drew her rice bowl back. "The food is getting cold— here, eat."

Katsuki grumbled, but ate obligingly. They continued in silence, just the two of them sitting at a table a chair too big.

"Won't you stay a little longer?" Auntie Inko asked when Katsuki made to leave. They'd cleared the dishes together in an easy routine, quietly talking the entire time. Now Katsuki slung his jacket over his shoulders and pulled his hands through the sleeves as Auntie Inko wrung her hands, watching.

"I gotta go."

Auntie Inko bit her lip. He didn't know why she was looking at him like that, like Katsuki was hurting her, but she dropped her gaze to the floor. She looked like she was going to cry again—he hated that.

"Are you sure?"

Her bottom lip was trembling, and Katsuki could see the gleam of tears in her eyes. She was trying to hide it, clasping her hands together to keep them from shaking.

"Why d'you want my company?"

She wrapped her arms around herself as Katsuki turned away to put on his shoes, and said, "Because you're all I have left of him."

Katsuki stopped, hand halfway to the doorknob.

Then he turned back and slowly took off his shoes again.

Katsuki would never admit to anyone that it hurt when he looked at her. Auntie Inko, standing alone in her apartment, eyes asking him not to go. Bathed in sickly, overcast light, and smaller than he remembered her to be. She'd always seemed to fill up a room when he was a kid, always hovering and smiling and worrying. Now Katsuki realized how little space she took up, and how he hadn't heard her laugh in a long time.

"Alright," he said, "Alright, whatever, I'll stay."

Auntie Inko darted forward and dragged him into a hug. Katsuki stiffened when she locked her hands around him, but he relaxed after a moment and lifted a hand to place on her back.

Katsuki didn't have anything better to do, anyway. They put on an old All Might documentary, and Katsuki talked the entire time about the parts they didn't show: All Might's over-dramatic entrances, the way he laughed when one of his students told him jokes, and how he'd affixed 'young' to all of their names. Auntie Inko didn't laugh, but her eyes got a little brighter. That was enough for now.

As the noise from the television faded into the background, Katsuki cautiously dropped his head onto Auntie Inko's shoulder. She lifted a hand and slipped her fingers through his hair, again and again until the last of the tension left him.

"Do you think," Katsuki said slowly, "that Deku would like the person I've become?"

In the way they were positioned, the two of them couldn't quite look at each other. Katsuki felt her breathe, shoulder lifting and then dropping again.

"Of course he would."

Auntie Inko shifted underneath him. "Katsuki, where you are right now... you're fulfilling your dream. That would make him incredibly happy to see."

"Doesn't always feel like it."

"Trust me," Auntie Inko said, "a mother knows."

Katsuki hummed and then drew himself out, tilting his neck from side to side to get the crook out.

"I'm going to get some water, I think," Auntie Inko said. She peered over at him. "Would you like a glass?"

"I'm good," Katsuki said. He stretched.

Auntie Inko shuffled off to the kitchen. Katsuki went to the television and retrieved the DVD she'd put on, tucking it back into its case and fitting it neatly among the others.

There was a crash from the kitchen. Katsuki's heart leapt in his chest; he was moving before he had even realized, vaulting over the couch and then crossing the last few steps to the kitchen in long strides.

Auntie Inko was crouched on the ground. At her feet were the shattered pieces of what had been a glass of water; when Katsuki took a cautious step forward, the light reflected off the different shards. Water was slowly pooling and spreading outwards.

Katsuki's throat closed off. Auntie Inko turned towards him with red-rimmed eyes. Her hands fluttered uselessly above the broken glass. When she saw him frozen in the doorway she dropped her face into her hands and wept.

Katsuki knew that for a split-second she'd expected to see Deku here instead. It happened all the time, even now. Katsuki would glance left, words on his tongue, and then realize there was no one there.

Deku would've known what to do, he thought numbly. Deku, who was as patient as he was kind, two qualities Katsuki had never had. Deku, whose smiles came just as easily as his tears. Except he wasn't here—it was just Katsuki, useless and never good enough.

He couldn't even bring himself to speak. Katsuki went to the bathroom and retrieved a broom. When he returned, Auntie Inko was still where he'd left her.

Katsuki mopped at the spill carefully and caught all the pieces of glass he could. There was something strange and somber about the scene: the soft scraping as glass slid across tile, the shine of the water, every sharp breath Auntie Inko took.

When he'd gotten the worst of it, Katsuki knelt on the ground and began to pick at the pieces of glass he'd missed. He took a shard, and pain laced across his palm.

He dropped the piece again, hissing. Blood followed a moment later.

Stupid. He'd cut himself.

Weathered hands pressed a kitchen towel between his fingers. Auntie Inko made him hold it to the cut, and then left. He didn't have to wait long before she came back, armed with a first aid kit.

The cut stung when she led him to the kitchen sink and washed his hand clean, making sure there wasn't any glass left. It hurt, but Auntie Inko's touch was gentle as she wrapped his hand.

Katsuki cleared his throat, but his thank you didn't make it out. He lifted his other hand instead and wiped at Auntie Inko's tears, swiping a thumb under her eyes. She caught his wrist, still gentle, and squeezed.

They cleaned the rest of the mess together. Katsuki leaned against the counter when it was all done and thought that despite the incident, it looked like nothing had ever happened at all.

From this angle he could see a little All Might figure standing next to the stove, tucked in a safe corner.

"I," Katsuki said, balking when the emptiness swallowed his words.

"…I thought I knew what kind of hero I wanted to be," he said. "I was going to win every fight and beat every villain. Like All Might."

That hadn't changed, not really. He still liked winning.

That hadn't changed, but Katsuki had.

He thought about Deku. Thought about All Might. Thought about the medal he'd left in Deku's room, a hollow victory that hadn't meant anything. He didn't want a win like that.

Katsuki shifted his hand back, and pain prickled along his palm. Long before he'd promised himself he'd be a hero no matter what, long before any of this, Deku had stood over him in rippling water and offered Katsuki a hand up.

He hadn't taken it.

"What kind of hero do you want to be, now?"

Katsuki thought about it. He wanted wins that counted. He wanted to surpass All Might, at the top.

Then he remembered how he'd felt, sweeping away the broken glass on the kitchen floor and picking it up piece by piece. He wanted to be that kind of hero, too.

"One that matters," Katsuki told her.

Auntie Inko touched his cheek. "I'm cheering for you."

Katsuki didn't feel like leaving the Midoriya household, so he stayed the night. Auntie Inko had washed the sheets in Deku's room only a few days ago, keeping his room clean the way she liked to.

They stood together in Deku's room for a minute, reminiscing. Auntie Inko pointed out the pictures of him and Deku that were still pinned above his desk.

"Things were a lot simpler then," Auntie Inko said as he dropped into Deku's bed, just like he used to. She tucked the blanket over him and smiled. "Goodnight, Katsuki."

The light clicked off. Auntie Inko shuffled around in the dark for a moment, lingering over something he couldn't see, and then left. A distant electric hum eased him into the soft darkness, and Katsuki fell asleep in a room full of childhood dreams.

When Katsuki next woke, he blinked at the sunlight streaming through the unfamiliar window. It took him a second to place where he was; he sat up slowly and wondered how much of what he remembered had been a dream.

He studied the room, lit now in a morning glow. All Might grinned widely at him from posters on the wall.

The next generation of heroes looks bright, he'd said.

His gaze settled on a patch of glowing light above Deku's desk. Katsuki slid his feet over the edge of the bed, standing, and he realized the glimmer he was seeing was a reflection.

As he stumbled closer on stiff feet, Katsuki reached blindly into his pocket for his wallet, pulling out the worn photo he kept there.

Taped to the wall, the same photo stared back at him: Pro Heroes Kacchan and Deku to the Rescue. His younger self was smiling, and Katsuki looked at the loop of Auntie Inko's handwriting and let himself smile back.

And there, pinned next to the photo, the medal glistened gold.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-three


 

The apartment door clicked quietly when Izuku eased it open, slipping inside and quickly shutting it behind him.

At once Izuku knew he wasn’t alone. Just past the entryway, he spotted a tall figure standing with his back to the door, voice rising and falling as he spoke. When Izuku peered around the corner, he drew back with a sharp hiss. The Dragon had company—Miss Guidance.

Izuku clamped a hand over his mouth and pressed himself flat against the wall, thankful the entryway offered cover. He’d hardly been looking forward to seeing his father, much less any of the other Chimera members.

Izuku made to slip out the door again when he heard his father speak.

“You’re asking me questions I don’t have the answer to.”

“You don’t understand, Dragon—”

A low growl. Izuku flinched. “Don’t pretend to care about my son. You took very little interest in him before, and I find it strange that you’re so interested in him now. He’s my son.”

“His performance at the Sports Festival—”

Izuku slid downwards, squeezing his eyes shut tightly.

“—is of no concern of yours.”

Footsteps. “He needs to stay under our control, Hisashi. You know he’s growing more powerful. He’s been complacent enough, but sooner or later he’s going to fight back.” Miss Guidance paused. Her voice shifted into something softer and sweeter, charged with an underlying power. “Give him to me. I can—”

“No.”

“Why are you refusing to listen to me?”

The creak of the floorboards. Hisashi’s voice came low and dangerous.

“You are throwing away everything I’ve built for the League.”

I am making Chimera even more powerful than before. We can do more with them. We can do everything…”

“Miss Guidance.”

“I need Izuku.”

Hisashi snarled his displeasure. Izuku heard the faint hiss of fire and flinched back, gasping. He slipped back towards the door, hands shaking.

“Don’t play your tricks on me,” his father growled. Izuku’s heart thudded in his chest. “And you will not use your Quirk on my son.”

Izuku stopped.

Her Quirk …?

“You’re being foolish,” Miss Guidance spat, but Izuku heard her heels click against the floor. He threw himself backwards silently, fumbling for the door and standing up straight when he couldn’t get it open.

In the entryway, Miss Guidance paused when she saw him.

“Miss Guidance,” Izuku said, voice lifting in false surprise.

A cool gaze flicked over him. The gold flecks in her eyes seemed brighter than they had before.

“Izuku,” Miss Guidance said. Her voice was low; she looked at him the way a hunter might look at its prey. A shiver went down his spine.

“Excuse me,” she said after a moment. Heart hammering in his throat, Izuku moved to the side as she opened the door, then left.

“Izuku?”

Izuku swallowed.

“Father,” Izuku said, stepping in.

Hisashi was in the center of the living room. Smoke curled around his face. Izuku could smell the thick scent of burnt fabric now he was closer—so Miss Guidance hadn’t escaped unscathed, it seemed.

Hisashi considered him for a moment. What scared Izuku the most was that Izuku couldn’t read him. His face wasn’t blank, exactly, but Izuku wasn’t sure if Hisashi was pleased or not. His instincts screamed for him to run, but Izuku forced himself to take another trembling step forwards.

Hisashi held out a hand.

Unable to disobey, Izuku walked until they were standing within an arm’s distance of each other.

“I think you have something to explain to me.”

Izuku swallowed. Hisashi blinked at him slowly, eyes glinting. Izuku dipped his head.

“I— I do.”

"You've been hiding something from me, Izuku."

Izuku swallowed again. He shut his eyes briefly, but not long enough for Hisashi to catch.

"Father," Izuku said carefully. Sweat made the back of his shirt cling to his neck. Hisashi waited patiently. “I’ve been thinking about Chimera. And… about being who you want me to be.”

Easy, easy.

"You have a responsibility," Hisashi said. "This is in your blood."

Izuku dropped his gaze. "I know. That's why— that's why I..."

A shadowed locker room. Izuku slipped inside, unnoticed, and found the locker he was looking for—Hatsume’s. He picked the lock, cracked open the case inside, and began to search.  

"Here," Izuku said, pulling out a set of gloves from his hoodie pocket and holding them out for Hisashi to see. Panic rose in him as Hisashi took them, but Izuku pressed it down. Forced it down—he just had to make Hisashi believe him. That would be enough.

"From the Support Department at U.A. You told me that I was going to inherit Chimera, but... both of us know that my Quirk isn't—"

—isn't suited for this line of work , Izuku thought. Hatsume had shown him the gloves she’d designed as they’d been planning during the Cavalry Battle; Izuku knew at once their potential.

So despite his better judgement, Izuku had taken them.

"I had them designed and built," Izuku said. "They're Powerlet gloves. They can produce wind blasts."

That was a lie. The Powerlet gloves were only a prototype, and they certainly weren’t able to do what Izuku said they could. It was a risk, but Izuku had no other choice.

Unless, of course, he wanted Hisashi to know about One for All. It wasn’t like the Quirk was a closely guarded secret and Izuku’s father was a villain or anything.

Hisashi examined the gloves.

"I needed a way to make myself stronger," Izuku said, and he was surprised at how clearly the words left him. "I needed to make sure I could fight amongst the heroes... and against them."

He held his breath. When Hisashi looked at him, Izuku met his gaze coolly.

“Really,” Hisashi said.

Izuku nodded slowly. “I think… I think you’re right,” he choked out, “I don’t belong at U.A.”

It was the truest thing he’d told Hisashi yet.

“Izuku,” Hisashi said, holding out his hand with the gloves. Izuku reached out to take them back, not daring to hope, but Hisashi wrapped his hands around Izuku’s.

Deep breath in.

“...Father?”

Hisashi’s eyes glowed like coal, a spot of darkness ringed with the fire in his gaze.

“When you were young,” Hisashi said slowly, “you always wanted to be a hero.”

“Yes,” Izuku said softly. He pulled back a hand and settled it over his pounding heart. “Not anymore.”

“I knew you would make the right decision eventually. I knew it would claim you, too.”

“It,” Izuku repeated.

Hisashi released him. Izuku drew his hands and the gloves back, pocketing them.

“This,” Hisashi said, gesturing around them. Smoke drifted as he spoke. “This path we follow is chosen for us. No matter how hard you fight, you will always find yourself walking it.”

Izuku dropped his gaze. Hisashi put a hand on his shoulder and drew Izuku into a hug.

“Izuku,” Hisashi murmured, voice tender. “ Izuku.

Izuku shut his eyes. Hisashi carded his fingers through Izuku’s hair, just once, then rested a warm palm on the back of Izuku’s neck for a moment.

Izuku felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes at the warmth, at the gentle touch. He wanted to pretend it was real. And though Izuku loathed himself for it, he felt his chest blossom, petals unfurling and turning towards a patch of light that had broken through.

A short beep. Hisashi used one hand to check his phone.

“I have matters to attend to tonight,” Hisashi told him. He paused, then let go of Izuku. “There’s been some… disagreements lately.”

Izuku ran his tongue over his teeth.

“With… with Miss Guidance?” he dared to ask.

Hisashi frowned.

“Some,” he said shortly, and Izuku knew that was the most information he was going to get. “And with the League.”

“The League? But—”

This was the first time Izuku had heard anything about conflict between Chimera and the League. The last time he’d checked, the League had seemed perfectly happy about using Izuku for their own means. More than happy, even.

Hisashi’s eyes darkened. Izuku studied his father’s face and realized then how similar they looked—how similar Izuku had made himself look to his father. How he’d turned Mom’s eyes into glimmering bits of coal, how their noses sloped the same way.

It scared him.

“Stay home,” Hisashi said. He cupped Izuku’s jaw, and then his hand fell away. “I’ll be back soon. I want to talk to you.”

Hisashi was always leaving. Always, always leaving.

Hisashi's phone beeped again with another message. He growled at whatever he was reading on the screen, but pushed past Izuku and stalked towards the door.

Izuku didn't bother saying goodbye. The slam of the door was enough for him.

Once Hisashi was gone, Izuku fell onto the couch face-first and groaned. The fabric smelled faintly of smoke; Izuku rolled off and landed on the ground, covering his face with his arms.

He eventually dragged himself to his room, running through the motions. Izuku had wanted desperately to be alone, but now that he was, his exhaustion hit him like a truck.

Izuku still couldn't quite believe that only a few hours ago he'd been at the Sports Festival, blood roaring in his ears. He'd clawed and fought against his peers, had stumbled into the spotlight and then tried to step back into the shadows. It was too late, though. Everyone had seen him.

He felt like he was still wading through a dream. That any moment now Izuku would close his eyes and reopen them, and the Sports Festival would be gone.

Izuku didn't know how he was supposed to feel. He didn't even know how he felt—only that the Sports Festival had given him something, but had taken more. The Festival had washed his secrets in bright light.

Izuku went to his closet and slid out the panel he'd cut in the back, reaching into the wall where he'd stored his things. The box of All Might figurines came out again, and Izuku took a mini-All Might and clutched him tightly.

Mom…

"Would you be proud of me?" Izuku asked. He turned All Might over in his hands, looking at the brightly-colored paint. "Would you be proud of what I've become?"

He thought he knew the answer. Izuku didn't like it, but he also thought he'd deserve it if the answer was no.

Izuku wiped at his eyes roughly and put the figurine on his desk. Then he put the box away again into its hiding space and retrieved the notebook he’d brought to the Sports Festival, pulling his chair back and dropping heavily into it.

He glanced at the All Might figurine and regretted taking it out. The little painted eyes stared right through Izuku. He moved it further away, but Izuku could still feel the weight of All Might's legacy—of the legacy of the wielders of One for All. Izuku touched his ribs and remembered that they were there with him. That he'd seen them, if only briefly.

On a fresh page, Izuku began to jot down everything he remembered about the strange encounter he'd had in the midst of his fight with Shinsou. When he'd done that, he read over the page again, memorizing it. Hisashi would hopefully never find out what Izuku was really keeping from him - what must have been a centuries-old secret entrusted to Izuku.

Izuku flipped through the other pages of the notebook. Most of it was a hurried mess; Izuku winced at some of the indecipherable writing and decided that he'd have to take the time to rewrite them when he could.

“One for All,” Izuku murmured, turning back to the page he’d written. “All for One.”

Did Sensei know? Did All for One know?

Did he know that this little dragon held a power he wanted?

Sensei had never spoken about One for All, not really. Nor had All Might spoken about All for One. Yet Izuku knew that if the villain ever found out that he had One for All, he’d do whatever it took to have it.

Izuku put away the notebook, scrubbing at his eyes. He needed sleep. Just a few hours, and Izuku would be able to think straight again. He’d made a mistake at the Sports Festival, showing himself like that—now he needed to fix it.

Izuku’s body thanked him when he crawled into his bed, sinking into the mattress and under the soft, thick blanket. All of his injuries were gone, thanks to Recovery Girl, but Izuku could still feel his muscles aching from the fighting.

In bed, Izuku found out just how tired he actually felt. He was always tired, but after today especially so. Izuku thought that maybe he could sleep for a week—at least, if Izuku was dreaming, he wouldn’t have to think about the complete disaster he’d made for himself.

Yet sleep eluded Izuku. He rolled under the covers, restless despite the rest of his body begging for him to give in.

Izuku couldn't turn his brain off—he kept running every interaction he'd had with Sensei. Over and over again. Over and over and over, the words and the images flickering behind his eyelids like the staticy television. Whenever Izuku closed his eyes, he could hear that voice again. He wanted to forget it, but Izuku didn't think he'd ever be able to.

He rolled over again and screamed into his pillow. Then Izuku got up, groaning. There wasn’t any point in trying to sleep tonight, not if all Izuku was going to do was worry.

Izuku decided he’d take a walk. Maybe even a quick jog around the block—that was always good, exercising.

A thought formed. Izuku took care to adjust his appearance, shoveling his black hair into submission and finding a pair of contacts to change his eye color. He covered his freckles again and then threw on a jacket, heading out.

Izuku was careful as he left his room, first pressing his ear to the door to listen. Hisashi didn’t seem to be home, though it must’ve been at least a few hours since he’d left. He probably wouldn’t be back for a while yet, if he was going to be back at all.

Villains. They liked to take their time.

Izuku put in his earbuds after leaving the apartment. Present Mic’s voice buzzed happily in Izuku’s ears as he headed in the direction of the studio again. He hadn’t been there in months, not since the night he’d met All Might. It would be nice, Izuku thought, to go back.

Between songs, Present Mic crowed happily about the Sports Festival. He talked about his favorite moments, which ended up practically being the entire Sports Festival. Izuku felt strange every time his own name came up.

Present Mic’s show was popular tonight—no doubt riding on the high of the Sports Festival. Present Mic had, of course, been the announcer and was a U.A. teacher. The listener calls and questions poured in, excited fans asking about a student’s Quirk or parents sharing how proud they were of their children. Izuku smiled bitterly as he listened.

To Present Mic’s credit, he was careful in divulging information about his students. Izuku bit his lip when his own Quirk came up, but Present Mic fielded the question well. The last thing Izuku needed was more attention thanks to the popular radio host.

He finally made it to the studio, hauling himself up the side of the building with a little help from One for All after checking he was out of sight. Izuku found a nice spot and then laid down, staring up at the dark sky.

After a minute, he got up and paced the length of the building roof, though he made sure not to get too close to the edge lest anyone look up. Music floated through his ears. Izuku took his shoes off and felt the cold under his feet, felt the surface ground him.

It had all started here, really. The moment that Izuku had dared to let himself hope.

A soft, not-silent-enough thud had Izuku whirling around, hand leaping to the knife at his side.

Eraserhead blinked at him. Izuku stared back.

It took a second, but Eraserhead seemed to place who he was.

“Mirage,” Eraserhead said.

“Uh,” Izuku said, dropping his voice. He pulled one of his earbuds out. “Hi, Eraserhead. Nice night.”

He wanted to smack himself. That had to be the dumbest thing Izuku could’ve said.

Eraserhead stayed where he’d landed, not moving any closer. Maybe he was worried that Izuku would run away, like he’d done last time.

“What are you doing here?”

Izuku cleared his throat. Eraserhead looked at him carefully, and Izuku backed up a step but sat down, nodding to let his teacher know that he wasn’t going to run just yet.

It probably wasn’t smart to stay. It was better to leave again, head back, back to the empty apartment that smelled like smoke…

“Do I have to have an ulterior motive?” Izuku asked. He snorted. “I guess I am a villain.”

“Hey,” Eraserhead said sharply. His hand jerked forward, then back.

Izuku shrugged. He pointed at his forehead. “Just wanted to get out of here.”

Eraserhead slowly took a seat, crossing his legs over each other.

“I could use some company,” Izuku said. He decided he didn’t want to look at Eraserhead and laid down again, folding his hands over his stomach. “Just for a little while.”

“I haven’t seen you.”

“Maybe,” Izuku said.

“You’re alright?”

“...Maybe,” Izuku said.

“I wanted to thank you.”

Izuku squinted at the sky. Present Mic continued to speak in one ear, but Izuku took his remaining earbud out so he could think.

“For what?”

“You warned me about USJ.”

Izuku coughed. “I hear that didn’t help much, huh?”

Eraserhead shuffled closer. Izuku turned his head to look at him.

“You saved my students. They could have been killed there. They weren’t.”

“I saw the Sports Festival,” Izuku blurted, uncomfortable. “Your students… your students will make good heroes, I think.”

He smiled at Eraserhead. “They have a good teacher.”

Eraserhead grunted. He looked tired, too. Izuku wondered what he was thinking.

“Being a teacher is probably similar to being a hero, huh,” Izuku pondered. “You get to reach a lot of people and help them.”

“Will you let me help you?”

Izuku played with his hands. He thought about what Hisashi said—that the path of a villain was inevitable. That Izuku could fight every day of his life and he’d circle back to that shadowed trail in the woods.

Maybe some things couldn’t be helped.

For now, at least, they could be made better. A little bit.

“Just… stay here a little longer,” Izuku said quietly. A small comfort Izuku could take. The worries could begin anew tomorrow.

Izuku would have this first, staying with Eraserhead. One day at a time. One day at a time. That was just how he’d have to take it. Izuku wrapped himself in the temporary feeling of safety and held out one more day.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-four


Izuku waited in darkness.

He blinked, though it didn't help, and felt the dark fabric press against his skin. He'd never been blindfolded in a fight before, and it kept Izuku on edge, waiting for something to happen.

To his right, the creak of a floorboard. Izuku raised an arm and managed to block the attack, but he didn't expect the fist to the ribs and curled inwards, gasping.

"You need to pay attention."

Izuku swung in the direction of Bonestealer's voice but hit nothing. He spun when he thought he heard Bonestealer move, staying on defense.

"Your performance at the Sports Festival was awful," Bonestealer continued. Izuku gritted his teeth.

A shift of fabric. A step. Izuku leapt forward, blade in hand, and brought his hand down.

He heard the impact of Bonestealer leaping back and chased after it. Izuku's knife arced down again, his hand sure, and he felt the resistance when it cut through something.

Not skin, not quite, but fabric.

Bonestealer came in close quicker than Izuku anticipated, hearing two quick steps. The knife dropped from his hand when Bonestealer wrenched his wrist to the side. With his opponent gripping him, Izuku tried to strike now that he had an anchor. But Bonstealer got to him first, sweeping his legs out from underneath him and pinning Izuku to the ground.

Fabric pulled across his face. Izuku blinked at the sudden light and found Bonestealer holding the tip of Izuku's own knife to his throat.

"You're improving," Bonestealer admitted, and pulled back. Izuku sat up. "But not enough."

They'd been training like this, taking away Izuku's sight so he'd be forced to rely on his other senses. It kept him sharp, except it had been less like Izuku practicing and more like Bonestealer using him as a punching bag.

"I'm never enough for you," Izuku said.

Bonestealer stood. They tossed the knife next to Izuku, and he grabbed it, wrapping his hand around the worn and familiar handle.

"Hisashi thought you were finally ready," they said, and Izuku blinked up at them, "but think you're far from it."

They jerked their head towards the door. "Almost time for you to leave."

Izuku picked himself back up and left. Bonestealer was right; he had a little over thirty minutes to get ready for school. Izuku groaned, returning to the apartment. Hisashi glanced at Izuku when he rushed past, throwing papers and notebooks into his backpack.

He checked his phone, scrolling through the alerts, and then stopped.

The headlines were everywhere.

Izuku's throat burned as he clicked link after link after link. His time was running short, but he couldn't stop scrolling, his fingers numb.

Hero Killer in Hosu.

LOCAL HERO HOSPITALIZED AFTER VILLAIN ATTACK.

VIDEO: Hero Killer.

YOUNG HERO CAREER CUT SHORT

He kept going, eyes flickering over the articles that were sandwiched between reviews of the Sports Festivals and gossip columns.

During the U.A. Sports Festival, the hero-killer Stain made another move in Hosu at beloved local hero Ingenium…

After last month, the Hero Killer has returned again on the day of the U.A. Sports Festival. A spokesperson for the Hosu City Police has spoken about this, saying that it is no mere coincidence…

The bright young hero Ingenium's career has suddenly and violently been cut short…

Izuku threw the phone down. It landed on his bed, bouncing once before settling face-up, taunting him. Izuku glared at the bright screen and whirled away, stomping to the bathroom.

"Iida…"

Hosu. The hero-killer. Hadn't he known? Hadn't Izuku known?

He hadn't seen Iida after his fight with Hatsume. His friend must've known then, while Izuku had been blissfully unaware, too caught up in his own selfishness that he hadn't thought to seek out his friend or to check…

"I'm sorry," Izuku said. He kicked at the rim of the bathtub, and his toes burst with pain. "I'm sorry I-"

It was like everything he'd told Todoroki had been a lie. Izuku wasn't a hero. He wasn't even smiling. He thought furiously for a moment that he could take the day off - he'd given his night to Eraserhead, taking comfort in a companion. Not at all realizing or knowing what had happened, that Iida must have been alone, hurting.

Izuku knew what that felt like. He wouldn't wish it on his enemies and certainly not on one of his friends.

But staying home was selfish, too, no matter how tired Izuku was. So Izuku fixed his appearance the best he could, wiping at his red eyes and poking at his sallow skin. He hadn't gotten much sleep lately either. The danger had just barely passed with Hisashi, but he hadn't heard from Shigaraki or anything about the League, and it kept him on edge. With Bonestealer's training and Izuku's restless mind, he'd stayed up late into the night and early mornings.

Izuku swept past the kitchen, grabbing an apple off the counter. He'd eat on the way.

"Izuku," Hisashi called.

"Bye!" Izuku shouted, already out the door. It slammed behind him, and Izuku sighed. He tossed the apple in the air, catching it and then running off.

When he reached the gates of U.A., courtyard still full of students, Izuku realized he hadn't eaten his breakfast. He looked at the apple he'd been gripping tightly, red surface waxy, and decided he wasn't hungry. Izuku shoved it in his backpack; maybe he'd eat it later, in a break between classes.

Izuku was the last student to trudge into Class 1-A. Uraraka caught his gaze, eyes shining wetly in the light; they both looked toward Iida. His head was lowered and his shoulders tense. He was looking at the table. Nothing in particular, it seemed; his gaze was empty and blank.

Izuku looked back at Uraraka.

You saw? Uraraka mouthed. Izuku nodded solemnly.

Mina stuck her feet onto the table. Iida barely blinked. Izuku felt a bitter taste accrue in his mouth as he shuffled to his seat, Kacchan's sharp gaze catching him as he passed.

Eraserhead wasn't there yet. Izuku drummed his fingers on the table restlessly. The atmosphere of the class was tense, though Izuku's classmates were trying to go about the time normally. A couple of girls had put their chairs together and were speaking in low voices. Yaoyorozu looked like she was helping Eraserhead prepare a few papers for class, but she kept shuffling the same stack methodically and straightening it.

Todoroki looked over and caught Izuku's attention. They looked at each other, not speaking, before Todoroki leaned over.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

Izuku couldn't stop his fingers. He nodded once jerkily and tried for a smile. Todoroki nodded back, face falling back into a blank expression Izuku had found aloof before.

He glanced at Iida again but could only see his back. Izuku wanted to talk to him but wasn't sure what he could say, or if Iida wanted to hear it. And the last thing Iida needed was attention.

Izuku fidgeted in his seat but stayed there.

The door opened. Eraserhead stalked in. No sleeping bag today, it seemed. He was followed closely by All Might, who smiled broadly at the class. At the sight of their teachers, some of the tension that had filled the air dissipated.

Eraserhead didn't bother with a good morning, though All Might seemed cheery as he spoke his. The class chorused back enthusiastically.

"We have a lot to do," Eraserhead said. He began to write on the board.

"First up," All Might said, cutting in as Eraserhead wrote, "you all did incredibly well at the Sports Festival. I wanted to congratulate you again on your performances."

"Thank you, All Might!"

All Might beamed. "However," he continued, "there is always room for improvement. For your homework you're assigned a three-to-four page reflection and critique of your performance and one classmate of your choice, due before your internships."

"Thank you, All Might," the class groaned, not at all grateful and far less excited.

"Internships are coming up," Eraserhead said. "We will pass out your offers at the end of class. We're going to spend a week training and working on refining a few aspects of heroics. The internships will begin the following week."

Eraserhead swung an arm up to point at the board.

SKILLS, he'd written in big letters.

"There's still a lot you don't know. The internships provided will hopefully give you a look into the roles and responsibilities of a hero outside of fighting villains."

All Might coughed. "If you've never filled out paperwork, you're going to learn now."

The thought of All Might squished at a desk filling out paperwork made Izuku snort. All Might glanced at him, having heard the noise, and Izuku flushed and looked away.

"Before you're thrown at some poor hero agency that has to put up with you," Eraserhead started, glaring out over them, "you're going to practice a few skills that might be helpful in the field."

Skills, as it turned out, covered a wide variety of things. They started in the gym, learning practical things—tying knots, basic first aid on the field, picking locks. Izuku wasn't sure how applicable the last one was, but he supposed it came in use for a hero like Eraserhead. Maybe less so for a hero like All Might, whose very presence could probably break a door off its hinges.

Eraserhead, stalking around supervising, raised his brows when Izuku had his lock picked fairly quickly. He'd had a lot of practice.

Under his gaze, Izuku winced.

"Uh," he said, and spotted a few of his classmates looking over. "I had a lock-picking phase! You know. Super normal."

"Yo, what middle school did you go to? I wanna go there."

"You wish you were that cool."

Eraserhead sighed and handed him a different one. Izuku picked it dutifully—they were simple locks, commonly used, so Izuku didn't have much of a problem.

And if he did, Izuku figured, now with One for All it probably wouldn't be hard to break in somewhere.

Izuku glanced down the line to where Iida was, focused on his own task. He looked absorbed in thought; Izuku shifted, wanting to go talk to him, but the teachers were watching closely. He wasn't sure they'd let him go.

He mindlessly picked the next lock, pushing against the barrels inside until each one clicked.

"Bro," Kirishima said, leaning over. "Teach me your manly ways."

Izuku squinted at him.

"Not sure this is manly," he said slowly, but he patiently walked Kirishima how to pick the lock.

"Hey, have you thought about your hero name?"

"Huh?"

"Your hero name," Kirishima said.

"Oh," Izuku said, then frowned, "not really. Why?"

"I think we're picking them before we start internships," Kirishima told him, "since it's supposed to be part of the experience."

"Oh," Izuku said. He hadn't really thought about it besides the fact that his hero name couldn't be Deku. "What about you?"

Kirishima grinned, bright and sharp. "I dunno yet." He pumped his fist when the lock clicked. "But it's going to be cool as hell."

Izuku smiled at him.

"I know my name," Kacchan butted in. Izuku raised his eyebrows.

"What is it? Bakugou Blast, Hear His Name and Tremble, Ugh?"

"You put a lot of thought into that," Kirishima said, snickering. "I like it, Akatani."

They high-fived. Kacchan scoffed. "King Explosion Murder."

Kirishima whooped and then burst into laughter. Izuku bit back his laughter but shook silently.

"What," Kacchan said, glaring, and Kirishima laughed so hard he fell over.

"No," Izuku said, completely deadpan as he kept a straight face, "it's a great name, Bakugou."

Kirishima wheezed. From across the room, Eraserhead eyed them but decided not to get involved. Izuku sent All Might a thumbs up when his mentor looked over. All Might beamed back.

"Hey," Izuku said seriously, keeping his voice low, "have either of you talked to Iida?"

Kacchan huffed. "Why would I talk to Four Eyes?"

But the look on Kacchan's face said otherwise. He knew what Izuku meant.

"I haven't," Kirishima said, glancing over. They all turned.

"I'm just— worried," Izuku confessed.

Kacchan kicked Izuku's ankle. "For what?"

He'll get through it, Kacchan was saying. Izuku worried at his lip but dropped his gaze.

After class Izuku ran to catch up to his friend.

"Iida," he called, and Iida slowed when Izuku approached to talk to him. "Hey, Iida."

"Is there something you require of me?"

"Yeah," Izuku said, and a bit of curiosity lit in Iida's eyes. "You know you can talk to me, right?"

Iida's face went blank.

"Thank you," Iida said stiffly, and Izuku frowned. That wasn't the reaction that he wanted.

"Iida," Izuku tried.

Iida stopped him. "I'm alright," he said, "you don't need to worry about me, Akatani."

Izuku knew lies better than he knew the truth, and that had been a lie. Iida left, and Izuku stared at his back as he got smaller and more distant. Izuku wanted to chase after him, but couldn't.

He spent the day trying to talk to Iida again, but Izuku felt like he was running into a wall.

Izuku skipped lunch and spent the entire period on the roof, watching the people down below and thinking. It didn't help him much. He checked the news again, though there was nothing new.

Hosu, Izuku thought, swinging his legs over the roof and kicking them back and forth. He clung to the railing and looked outwards.

He hadn't seen head or tail of the League.

Maybe the two weren't unconnected. There was something dark and sinister lurking Izuku could barely keep at bay, a larger plan he was a small piece of. Izuku swallowed the thought, lingering on the rooftop even when it was nearly time to return to class.

As Izuku trudged down the stairs, he spotted Iida rush by, quickly followed by Kacchan. Izuku watched them go and then chased after them.

Kacchan didn't seem to notice him, so Izuku kept close. He was blocked by a leaving group of students and hung back, and by that time Kacchan had rounded the corner and disappeared. Izuku caught up in time to hear the snatches of conversation.

"—what you're referring to."

"Bullshit."

"Bakugou, I appreciate the concern, but—"

Kacchan snorted. "I'm not concerned. But your friends fucking are, and they're not going to stop watching you like you bowled through all their fucking puppies or something."

A beat. Izuku pressed his back to the wall.

"Bakugou." Iida sighed loudly. He had the tone of voice that Izuku recognized—he was going to shut Kacchan out, too. "I admit I don't understand why you wanted to talk to me."

"Because you're a fucking idiot," Kacchan said.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. You're a fucking idiot."

"Excuse me—"

"No," Kacchan said, voice charged, "you're not leaving until you hear me the fuck out, you understand?"

Izuku clutched at his shirt, balling his fists in the fabric as he waited for Iida to respond. Maybe— maybe, he hoped, if Iida wasn't going to listen to Izuku or to Uraraka, Kacchan could get through to him. He had a… different approach.

"Very well," Izuku heard Iida say reluctantly.

"Look. Your brother's in the fucking hospital because he got injured trying to do his job."

"That's enough. If you're here to remind me of my situation—"

"Did I say I was done, Iida?"

Silence.

"Your brother is alive. Do you understand that? Your brother is alive."

"I don't—"

Izuku dared to glance around the corner, and saw Kacchan in Iida's face, presence filling up the space.

"Ingenium is alive," Kacchan said.

"He's—"

"It doesn't matter if he can fucking run or not. Or whatever. He doesn't stop being a hero after it's over, does he?"

"Of course he's still a hero! But he—"

"Ingenium is alive because he has you. Get that in your fucking head. You nearly lost him, but you didn't."

"I…"

"Your brother is alive. Ingenium is alive. Hold on to what you have, Ingenium."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Do you think you're alone?" Kacchan asked roughly.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you think that loss only happens to you? Do you think that other people don't lose the things they care about either?"

Izuku covered his mouth with a hand, heartbeat spiking. He made himself sit, trying to keep calm.

Footsteps. Kacchan appeared out of the corner of his eye; he'd backed away. He'd said everything he'd wanted to.

"You're lucky," Kacchan said, and it was soft. "He came back. Not everyone does."

He started walking in Izuku's direction. Izuku shot to his feet and swayed at the sudden movement, turning so it looked like he'd just gotten there.

Kacchan spotted him.

"Hell are you doing here?"

Izuku furrowed his brow at him, still trying to process the conversation he'd overheard.

"Going to class?" He scratched at his head. "Like you should be?"

Kacchan grunted. He eyed Izuku.

"You weren't at lunch," Kacchan commented as they began to walk together in the direction of the classrooms. He tilted his head. "Eating with your dad?"

Izuku choked. "What?"

His first thought was panic—had Kacchan seen Hisashi? Was his father here, and Izuku didn't know?

Then Kacchan said, "You know Coffee Creamer is right. You and All Might aren't subtle."

There was too much to process, so Izuku went with, "Coffee Creamer?"

"Half-and-Half," Kacchan said, like it was obvious. He rolled his eyes. "Fine. Todoroki."

"Totally," Izuku said, then realized what Kacchan meant. "He told you?"

Kacchan rolled his eyes when the rest of their exchange caught up with Izuku. "You noticed?"

"You—"

"That I wasn't at lunch," Izuku said.

"You're so fucking bright it hurts."

Izuku waved his arms trying to think of a response.

"Let's get to class," Iida called, striding between them and pointing forwards. He was calm, steady, acting like nothing had ever happened. Izuku exchanged a glance with Kacchan.

On the way back, Izuku lagged behind, lost in thought again. Kacchan had to snap him out of his muttering, but it didn't help. He was tired, too. Izuku pressed a hand to his face and felt hot.

"Hurry up," Kacchan called back.

"Just enjoying the view," Izuku replied weakly, but he slowed further.

Just a few more classes, Izuku thought. Maybe afterwards he could go back and take a nap—that always made things better. It meant he'd have to push his homework back, and maybe some of his personal training. But that was okay. After that, Bonestealer would probably seek him out again.

Sleep wouldn't come easy, so Izuku would spend the time being productive. Knowing his luck, he'd probably jerk awake in the middle of the night, anxious, and stay up until morning doing homework and staring at his analysis notebooks.

Iida, Ingenium, the Hero Killer. Hisashi breathing down his back. All for One, always there, always waiting. It was only a matter of time before Izuku would be asked the question he dreaded most.

He just needed a little more time…

"Akatani?"

Just a little more time to figure this out, to keep that precious balance before Shigaraki exploded. Needed to keep everyone safe: All Might, Mom, Kacchan. U.A. His new friends…

"Hey, Akatani?"

He felt sick.

A hand grabbed his shoulder and shook a little. Izuku's vision cleared; he was still in the hall, and Kacchan's face swam in and out of focus as he spoke.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Uh…" Izuku's face felt wooden and stiff, like it was a mask and not real flesh and bone.

He swayed, and his thoughts returned to everything that was piling on his shoulders. All Might, the hero course, his father, Shigaraki.

Weakness, he thought dimly. This was his weakness.

"Iida, make yourself useful and—"

Izuku didn't remember anything between standing in the hallway and blinking awake with his friend standing over him. He was on the ground, he realized slowly, cool tile under his back.

He sat up sharply, and Kacchan grabbed his shoulder to support him.

"Fucking hell," Kacchan said, and Izuku wanted to cry at the look on his face. "Passed out like a fucking idiot."

"Did I," Izuku said. He braced his feet underneath him. "Where's Iida?"

Kacchan rolled his eyes. "Don't even think about it. And he went to get help."

Help ended up being All Might, the closest teacher Iida could find. Just Izuku's luck. When Izuku spotted him he jerked, instinctively wanting to run, but couldn't.

All Might told the others to head to class and picked Izuku up like he weighed nothing. Izuku felt his face burn—in shame, maybe, or embarrassment—but he didn't realize how tired he was until he was sinking into All Might's safe hold.

"What did you do?" All Might asked gently. He was holding Izuku the way he had at USJ. Like he could shield Izuku from the world just by being there, and Izuku shut his eyes.

He felt All Might sigh and took an easy comfort in the feel of All Might walking. Blindfolded, facing Bonestealer without sight was a terrifying experience. Now with his eyes closed, Izuku felt safe.

The second and last time Izuku woke, it was in the infirmary.

Recovery Girl was bustling around quietly, but her eyes slid over when Izuku shifted and tried to sit up. He felt heavy, and not quite right.

"You're awake. Good."

Izuku must've stared at her for too long because she sighed.

"You fainted in the middle of the hall on the way back from lunch. Your friends got All Might to take you here, and you fell asleep."

All Might. The name shot through his mind like a bolt of electricity. He sat up.

"What…"

He couldn't see All Might, couldn't talk to him now…

Recovery Girl must've seen panic flash across his face. She pressed him back gently.

"I kicked him out," she said flatly, "because he was too busy worrying. How much sleep did you get last night?"

The question was so sudden it made his head spin.

"Th… two hours?"

"And for how long has this been a thing?"

"I don't know. After the Sports Festival?"

"When did you last eat?"

"Yesterday," Izuku mumbled. "Lunch, I think."

Recovery Girl sighed, rubbing a hand over her face.

"You… What are you thinking, running yourself into the ground like that?"

"I… huh?"

Recovery Girl sighed again, turning away for a moment. Izuku sat up fully and realized some of the fuzz that had been following him had cleared. It wasn't gone; he still felt awful, but he felt better than before.

"What's going on in that head of yours?"

Izuku folded his hands in his lap. Now that he'd caught some rest, his brain felt clearer, certainly enough to feel embarrassed about what had happened. Izuku faced down villains every day yet had managed to faint in the middle of a schoolday. And he didn't think he'd had the worst of it; no one Izuku loved had been injured and hospitalized.

"What time is it?"

"Class is nearly over. Doesn't matter—you're going straight home."

"What? No!"

Recovery Girl levelled him with a look.

"Young man," she said, but she was interrupted by the door banging open. Her face went sour with displeasure.

"Akatani!"

Uraraka's voice, typically bright, was worried. Izuku felt bad immediately. She shouldn't have had to worry over him.

A tall figure filed in after her. Iida.

"Aizawa-sensei permitted us to come," Iida said as Uraraka bounded over to the bed.

"Are you alright?" she asked. Izuku swung his legs over the side of the bed and smiled at her reassuringly.

"Don't worry about me," he said. Recovery Girl sighed like she disagreed, and Izuku frowned at her.

"You are our friend," Iida said, stepping closer. He stopped at the foot of the bed, whereas Uraraka moved closer, putting a hand on his knee.

"I'm fine," Izuku said roughly, the words grating.

"You're fine," Iida repeated in a flat voice. Izuku felt anger spark and something catch between them. "I don't believe that."

"Then that makes us both liars," Izuku said, and Uraraka sucked in air.

"Akatani, Iida…"

"I said you don't have to worry about me," Izuku said again with more force.

"I shouldn't have to," Iida said, just as strongly, "have you not thought about your actions? You're not giving yourself what you need."

"You're one to talk. Don't lecture me."

"Boys!"

Izuku glared across the bed at his friend. He didn't need Iida to worry about him. It was meant to be the other way around.

Iida looked furious, now. Izuku felt it.

"Don't you think it's hard enough I have to worry about Tensei?"

"So don't worry about me," Izuku said.

Izuku could see Iida's chest rising and falling with every word. He suddenly turned, sprinting down the hall.

Uraraka called after him.

"Go," Izuku said, tired.

"He's just scared," Uraraka said quietly. "Please be careful."

She patted his knee and then ran out the door after Iida, calling his name. Izuku sat on the edge of the bed and felt things spiral even more out of his control.

Recovery Girl hobbled around the side of the bed. She was always energetic, with her quick tongue and sharp mind, but now Izuku remembered she was old, too.

"He doesn't need to worry about me," Izuku said petulantly, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Maybe not," Recovery Girl acknowledged, as if she hadn't scolded Izuku. "You want to help him. To ease his burden."

"Of course I do," Izuku said.

"You're just like him," Recovery Girl said, sighing, and Izuku didn't have to ask who she was referring to. "Do you want to know something I've learned, Akatani? I've spent my life caring for other people. I know a thing or two."

Izuku slid to the floor, testing his balance. "Sure."

Recovery Girl looked him in the eye. "To take care of others you need to take care of yourself first."

Izuku sighed. "I'm alright, Recovery Girl."

She seemed unusually kind as she sent him off, apparently reassured Izuku wasn't going to faint again or trip down a set of stairs.

"Say that again when you believe it," she told him.

Izuku stepped out into the sunshine early before the rest of the students left. He didn't want to think about what Recovery Girl had told him, but he did acknowledge that he could use something to eat, at the very least. Even if he didn't feel like it.

Izuku pulled the apple he'd put away in his bag and bit into it. He crossed the street, tearing the flesh from the apple and seeing pale white against red.

A set of eyes was on him. Izuku recognized it. Danger.

On a nearby bench, Izuku spotted Shigaraki, legs crossed. He stood when he saw Izuku looking, and the apple dropped from Izuku's hand and rolled, the little strip of white disappearing back into red.

Izuku fumbled for his phone. Shigaraki jerked his head towards the nearest alleyway and said, "Don't let us get caught."

A careful illusion disguised them as they slunk into the darkness where Kurogiri was waiting.

"Sensei wants to see you," Shigaraki informed him, and Izuku swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Let's not keep him waiting."

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-five


With Shigaraki at his back and nowhere to run, Izuku wondered if it was appropriate to pass out again.

Probably not, Izuku decided, stepping into the familiar space. He wasn't sure he'd wake up again.

He slid his hand into his pocket and touched the reassuring smoothness of his phone, something real. There was no one in the bar this time, and it made Izuku shiver. There was something reassuring about having witnesses.

The television was already on, waiting for him.

"I brought him," Shigaraki called, voice callous, and Izuku's hand tightened around his phone.

There was no response for a while.

"Very good," Sensei said, "now, Tomura, please leave us."

Shigaraki's eyes flashed. He stomped a foot on the ground. "Why?"

"I'd like to speak with Izuku here privately," Sensei explained, patience unending. Shigaraki seethed for a moment even as Kurogiri stepped around the bar.

"You want to keep secrets from me."

If Sensei could smile, he surely would be now. "I will tell you in due time. Go, Tomura."

Shigaraki glared at Izuku. Izuku shrank back under his gaze, but Shigaraki turned and stalked out.

It was true that Izuku held no particular love for Shigaraki, but after the man left Izuku regretted it. Izuku could get under Shigaraki's skin, could mess with him.

He didn't want to be alone with All for One. He couldn't be.

"Izuku."

Izuku's eyes jumped to the television then away. He cowered.

"I told you before that fighting All Might cost me my sight, hm?" He sounded careful, casual. "How I wish I could see you…"

Izuku took in short, shallow breaths, fixing his gaze on the floor.

"I'd like to ask you something."

He wrung his hands nervously, then ran his fingers over a few sets of faint scars. Izuku opened his mouth to respond several times but couldn't.

Finally, he choked out, "Yes, Sensei."

"Do you fear me, Izuku?"

Izuku bowed his head. A shudder ran through him. He thought the answer was obvious enough.

"Yes, Sensei," Izuku whispered.

He felt like a marionette on strings, movements jerky and controlled by someone else. A blink of an eye, and the strings would be cut short. He'd drop, limp and lifeless.

"I wish you didn't," Sensei said, "you have nothing to fear of me."

"I respect you," Izuku said to the floor. He could hear his heartbeat pulsing. "So I fear you."

Sensei hummed. "You know I would never dare hurt you."

Izuku's heart missed a beat. He pressed his trembling lips together.

"How could I, little dragon? If I cut your wings you would never fly."

"Why did you want to see me," Izuku whispered. His throat felt as dry as sandpaper, and the words scraped harshly against the inside.

"You fascinate me, Midoriya Izuku," All for One said, and gone was the facade and the niceties. In its place was a villain, one who knew what he wanted and would take it. "Your quick mind, your illusions. And yet there is one thing I don't understand."

"Yes, Sensei?"

Izuku thought he would collapse again right there. He felt sweat slip down the back of his neck but couldn't make himself move. All for One was playing cat-and-mouse, slowly cornering him with jaws open wide. Izuku saw the glint of sharp teeth.

"Why did All Might choose you?"

The teeth snapped around Izuku. He could feel them, biting into his neck, sinking into his skin and drawing blood. Izuku touched the back of his neck and withdrew with his fingers damp.

"I don't know what you mean," Izuku croaked.

"Izuku," All for One crooned his name like a song. "I think you know perfectly what I mean."

Izuku's heart pulsed. Unbidden he felt the embers of his power stir. Did the remnants of this legacy recognize who he was speaking to?

He closed his eyes and remembered the wielders. Remembered One for All, their hands aligned, and it gave him strength.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Izuku said, stronger this time.

He waited.

Any moment now, All for One would come crawling out of the television.

Izuku was sure of it. Reaching tendrils of darkness would creep across the floor and surround him. Blackness would flood the room until its very stuff slipped into Izuku's mouth, inside him, drowning him, and All for One would ask again like a ghost clinging to his skin: why did All Might choose you?

There was a long, awful silence. Static skittered across the screen, then in his mind. Izuku sucked in a sharp breath, knowing it was only half-real.

Then All for One chuckled. A low, subtle thing that made Izuku shake.

"I see."

Izuku twisted his shaking hands together again.

"You're just like him."

"Just… just like who?"

All for One didn't respond. He chuckled again.

The floorboards creaked loudly as Izuku eased backwards, trying to put a little distance between himself and the television.

"Sen- sensei?"

"Yes, Izuku."

"What do you want from me?"

Izuku imagined a shadowed man folding his hands together, gazing without sight at him.

"I see something in you, Izuku. An untapped potential," All for One said finally, "and I think that of all is what you desire, isn't it? To be seen?"

Izuku couldn't seem to breathe.

Wasn't that what Izuku wanted? Just for someone to see him past it all. Strange, how a man unseeing could see clearly through him.

"There is no place for you out there," All for One finished quietly. Izuku thought he must have been smiling, now. He could hear it. "I find you and I similar. Heroes can never give what they promise."

Izuku shut his eyes and felt his heart shudder.

There was a soft sound like gathering rain. Izuku turned right and opened his eyes to meet Kurogiri's gaze.

"Come with me, please," the villain said, and Izuku cast a glance at the television one more time before he was sent away.

Kurogiri left him in the alley they'd come from. Izuku stumbled, knees weak. He steadied himself and braced a hand against the wall, gasping.

Izuku fumbled with his phone and then covered his face.

"No," Izuku croaked, and he made himself leave the alley, only barely remembering to create an illusion to disguise himself. He was too close to U.A. The last thing Izuku needed was someone he knew finding him.

Izuku wrapped his arms around himself and made his way to the apartment. Outside the door, he stood, hand hovering over the doorknob.

He couldn't go in. He thought about seeing Hisashi and knew that he couldn't. So Izuku turned around, trudging down the street again even though it was the last thing he wanted to do. The sea of people swelled and dropped in places, and Izuku numbly sank into it, just another face in the crowd.

Izuku wandered into a familiar-looking neighborhood. There was the street corner he and Kacchan used to race to. There was that old tree he liked to climb. There, that spot on the sidewalk that Izuku had always tripped over. Izuku hopped over it and then laughed a little.

He eyed his childhood home but shook his head, passing by without another glance. Instead Izuku headed to the park, already full of children laughing and playing. He could hear the children, voices a distant din that Izuku found comforting.

Izuku went to the grove of trees through which a winding path cut through. He sat under one, tucked away from sight and hidden in the shade. Then he laid back, squinting at the leaves above him making patterns of light dance.

For a moment Izuku breathed. The leaves rustled faintly, touched by wind, and he watched one drop and spiral slowly to the ground.

He shifted so he could grab it and then held it up, rolling the leaf back and forth between his fingers. A mottled spot of brown marred the bright growth.

All for One knew.

The thought struck him like lightning.

All for One knew.

Izuku had evaded All for One's questions. He'd escaped All for One's grasp. It didn't matter. None of it mattered; Izuku had lived another day but only continued down the same path.

Yet Sensei had never answered Izuku's question. What did he want? Why Izuku of all people.

With him, there was no such thing as luck. Nothing like a coincidence. All for One orchestrated his plans carefully, a puppet master toying with the people under his thumb. Izuku was just another piece.

But a piece of— of what?

The goal, of course, was to defeat All Might. All for One and Shigaraki both had made that clear. Every time Izuku spoke to All for One he could only hear riddles, more questions Izuku couldn't answer.

"Young man," a voice said, and Izuku startled, sitting up quickly. He clutched the leaf to his chest and looked up into an aged face, smiling gently.

He looked… familiar.

Suddenly it clicked. Tsubasa. Dr. Tsubasa, who Izuku had visited several times as a kid back when they'd been discerning whether Izuku had a Quirk or not, then again when they couldn't figure out what it was.

"It's a nice spot you have here," Dr. Tsubasa said. Izuku shifted uncomfortably, but there was nothing he could really do. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"

Izuku's blood ran cold.

"I'm sorry?"

Dr. Tsubasa smiled at him gently. He slowly lowered himself into the soft grass next to Izuku.

"You look well, Midoriya Izuku."

Izuku struggled to find words. No one had recognized him. Not Kacchan, who Izuku had grown up with, nor Mom, who had raised him.

"Hello, doctor," Izuku said quietly, trapped.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it?" Dr. Tsubasa asked again. Izuku nodded, throat dry. "How many years, now?"

"Well," Izuku said uncomfortably, "a lot since I saw you. But if you're asking, five since I— moved away."

Dr. Tsubasa was nodding along to Izuku's words like he knew perfectly. Then Izuku remembered that Dr. Tsubasa had a grandson that had gone to the same school. They'd played together, but the years had stretched by. Izuku couldn't remember if Tsubasa had switched schools or if Izuku had just drifted away quietly. He'd been younger, then. If Izuku shut his eyes he could remember an excited smile and a set of leathery wings.

"How…" Izuku swallowed. "How did you… recognize me?"

Dr. Tsubasa laughed a little. "Oh, I can tell," he said, adjusting his glasses. "You look a bit different than I remember, of course, but you have the same… hm, presence."

"Presence," Izuku repeated dumbly.

He still couldn't wrap his mind around it. It had taken one look for his childhood doctor to recognize him. A simple glance, and he'd gleaned all the secrets from Izuku he could get.

"It's an acquired skill, if you will," Dr. Tsubasa said, like that was a helpful explanation. "Not many people have the talent for it."

"I see," Izuku said, feeling uneasy. His stomach turned. He twirled the stem of the leaf in his hand around and around.

If… if Dr. Tsubasa could figure it out, how long before someone else did? Maybe they didn't all have the so-called 'talent' for it, but Izuku knew it was only a matter of time before he would say something he wasn't meant to, or let it slip he wasn't quite who he said he was.

Izuku had spent a lot of time watching people. Tracking heroes, picking out their weaknesses.

That was the problem and the solution, depending. Everyone had a weakness. There was not a person who didn't—not even All Might. Not even, Izuku thought, All for One, but he was skilled at hiding his weaknesses.

If All for One was skilled at hiding his weaknesses, Izuku may as well have just only covered his with duct tape and a set of sunglasses. It'd hurt when they were all peeled off.

"You seem a bit lost in thought."

"A lot to think about."

"Would you like to share?" Dr. Tsubasa's mouth twitched under his moustache. "Perhaps an old man can offer you some advice."

Izuku caved, but only a little—desperate and lonely.

"I'm just," Izuku started, but he was careful and deliberate in shaping his words. "I'm just worried, Dr. Tsubasa. I think I'm a bit—stuck, you see. In a delicate situation, and I'm not sure how to fix it."

"Well," Dr. Tsubasa said, "with any problem, you have to start at the roots, don't you?"

Izuku cocked his head questioningly.

"What I'm saying," Dr. Tsubasa continued when he saw Izuku's face, "is that problems are not solved by brushing over them."

He plucked the leaf from Izuku's hand. "You can take this leaf from that tree, but another will only grow in its place in a matter of time. You may break a branch, but the tree will heal and continue to grow. It is only from the origin that one can treat an issue that has rooted itself so firmly."

Dr. Tsubasa stood. He placed a withered hand on the tree's trunk, and his silhouette blocked out the light. He looked as eternal and solid as the tree itself.

"Good luck, Midoriya Izuku," Dr. Tsubasa said. He dropped the leaf back to the ground.

Before Izuku could say a goodbye back or ask him to wait, Dr. Tsubasa was gone.

Izuku watched him return to the walking trail, ambling along slowly, impervious to the world going on around him.

"A coincidence," Izuku murmured, but he remembered that he hadn't completely believed in coincidences. "Strange…"

Izuku wasn't sure if talking to Dr. Tsubasa had made things better or worse. He looked at the tree and the tips of the roots jutting from the ground. They disappeared under the grass, running deep. It was not so simple, Izuku thought, to uproot something that had been planted years ago.

And, he thought, dragging a foot in the grass, the ground would tear.

Stepping out of the shade and into the sun, Izuku shielded his eyes. It was lower than he thought; it was time to get back. He'd spent nearly an afternoon wandering, but Hisashi wouldn't be happy if Izuku was out too late.

Izuku went back to the apartment for the second time that day, rubbing absentmindedly at his chest. The door didn't creak, but the floor did. But Izuku didn't see Hisashi in the living room or in the kitchen.

He took his shoes off by the door and went down the hall silently, passing the bathroom. The door after that was shut, but Izuku saw light from underneath it—the room Hisashi had claimed as his 'study' when they'd moved.

Izuku hesitated outside the door then quickly pressed his ear to it. He shut his eyes and let the darkness sweep over his vision. Then he listened, like Bonestealer wanted.

A quiet shuffling. Papers. A low voice—Hisashi's, from the lilt of it, but Izuku wasn't sure if he was speaking to himself or someone else. There didn't seem to be anyone else in the room, so maybe it was a phone call. There was no indication that Hisashi knew Izuku had just returned.

That was alright. Izuku preferred it that way. He went to his room and shut the door as quietly as he could.

Izuku dropped his backpack by his bed and then flopped onto it. He reached for his phone, making sure he'd saved what he needed before checking his messages.

There was one from Uraraka and another from an unknown number quickly identified as Yaoyorozu. Both of them were about what he'd missed from the rest of the day, though it didn't seem much. They'd also both asked how he was feeling.

Izuku clicked in, intending to respond, then closed the chat again. If he replied, his classmates would surely see. It'd be taken as an invitation of concern or talk.

It was better if Izuku could pull away. Gently untangle their threads from around him. It'd keep them safe, or safer.

Izuku's phone buzzed. He blinked, expecting to see maybe Iida's name, but instead saw Toshinori's. His heart sank, but he read the message anyway.

Toshinori wanted to eat lunch with him tomorrow. Izuku frowned, but there was no way he could refuse. Not to mention that Toshinori would only find a different time to talk to him privately—at least lunch meant there was a guaranteed end time, when Izuku could run. An escape.

Izuku had a thought and plucked a hair from his head. The dyed strand was short, but that didn't matter.

"The root of the problem," Izuku said quietly.

He stood nervously outside the lounge the next day, tapping his fingers together.

Was this— was this the right choice?

"The ground will tear," Izuku murmured, and then he stepped in.

Toshinori was waiting for him. Izuku bowed slightly, then went to sit across from his mentor.

"You wanted to… see me," Izuku said, mouth sour. He didn't like the foreboding feeling he had, the way his insides were crawling over each other. It was the same twisting feeling he'd had seeing All for One, even if the person across from him was someone Izuku trusted and admired deeply. Maybe that was why—because fear and love could both hurt the same.

Toshinori gazed at him, eyes shadowed. He looked like he hadn't slept. Izuku hadn't, either.

"How…" Toshinori started. He seemed, for once, to be at a loss of words. "I wanted to ask you if you were… alright."

"Yes," Izuku said, too quickly, then said, "I'm fine."

"What happened yesterday—"

Izuku was already finished with the conversation. He gritted his teeth. "It's fine, Toshinori. It won't happen again."

Toshinori sighed. He ran a hand through his hair.

"That's not what I meant."

"Well," Izuku said, a bit too forcefully, "it won't happen again, alright?"

Toshinori looked a little bewildered, like Izuku had struck him.

"...Alright," he said after a pause.

Izuku dropped his gaze.

"Sorry," Izuku said after a moment, shame crawling in. Still, it was overtaken by a hot flash of anger. "I'm just. Sorry."

"No, no," Toshinori said. He sighed again, longer this time.

"I wanted to ask you something," Izuku blurted.

At the same time, Toshinori said, "I need to tell you something."

They looked at each other for a moment, faint surprise etched in their faces. Izuku hadn't expected Toshinori to speak. He ran a nervous hand through his hair, feeling it shift under his fingers.

"You first," Izuku said.

"No, no—"

"I mean it," Izuku said, "it's just a silly question. You first."

That Toshinori didn't protest any further meant that he was serious.

"Very well," Toshinori said, folding his hands in his lap. "I'm… I'm sorry I didn't tell you this sooner, but I… I didn't think it was going to be a problem. I thought that perhaps I'd won."

"Won?"

Toshinori folded his hands in front of him.

"This Quirk," he said, pointing between them. "The Quirk I gave you. Do you remember what it was called?"

Izuku thought he knew where this was going. He rubbed at his chest, trying to relieve the tightness there.

"One for All."

It was just a whisper, but the room was so quiet that Toshinori heard him regardless.

"Yes," Toshinori said, "One for All. A Quirk that was passed down from generation to generation, holder to holder, growing stronger each time. That is the nature of it, yes, but I never told you where it came from."

Toshinori began a story, one that had been passed down with the Quirk and pieced together. In the beginning, there had been two brothers. One held a Quirk that seemed almost harmless, lying dormant in wait.

The other, however, had been All for One.

Izuku shivered as Toshinori relayed all that he knew. All for One, who could take and give Quirks on a whim, who quickly seized all the power he could have.

Then he'd killed his brother.

But, Toshinori finished, not without passing on his Quirk, and certainly not without a fight.

Izuku sat still for a long time after Toshinori was done, trying to form words.

"Why… why are you telling me this?"

Izuku knew. He didn't need to ask, but he did. He knew.

"I fought him, six years ago," Toshinori said, "and I thought it was over. I thought I had defeated him where my predecessors had not, that One for All had finally become strong enough to overpower him. Even if it left me the way I am."

Izuku opened his mouth, then closed it again.

Toshinori didn't smile, but he came close to it. "It was worth it. It was worth every bit of pain I had to suffer if it meant no one else had to bear it."

Izuku drew his knees up to his chest.

"I've been speaking with, ah, Detective Tsukauchi about his investigation into the League of Villains." Toshinori frowned. "We're not sure, but we believe it's possible that All for One isn't as gone as we thought he was."

Izuku surprised himself by nearly laughing. The need bubbled in his throat. He wanted to laugh until his ribs hurt.

We're not sure. We believe it's possible.

Oh, Izuku knew.

Toshinori was looking at him strangely, but Izuku couldn't help the rising hysteria.

"Alright?"

"Yeah," Izuku gasped out. He rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah."

"You… had a question for me," Toshinori said suddenly, and the hysteria drained from Izuku.

"Right," Izuku said. He cleared his throat. "Why… All Might, why did you choose— why did you choose me?"

The truth was that Izuku didn't know. He didn't know what All Might saw in him, passing by a boy in the street. He didn't see what All Might saw. He looked in the mirror and saw someone else.

He wore the same clothes and had the same face, but it wasn't really Izuku. Not like that.

"I chose you because I saw someone with a good heart," Toshinori said, "because I saw someone who could do good, and who could do more if I gave you the chance. And— I chose you because I needed to."

"I don't understand."

Izuku didn't. He realized then that he really didn't understand. That all he'd been working for these past months didn't feel quite real, that everything he'd built was fake. Everything Toshinori saw was fake.

Start with the roots. Start with the roots. Izuku reached for his hair.

"I needed someone to continue my legacy," Toshinori said quietly. He was looking at Izuku like he knew something that Izuku didn't. He was looking at Izuku like when Izuku was ten and Miss Guidance had knelt in front of them, smile sweet as she took his hands and said, you're not going back, Izuku.

You're not going back. Start with the roots.

Izuku clasped his shaking hands together, then said, "I don't understand."

His voice cracked. Toshinori looked tired, and heavy. His bony hands clutched at his thighs. When they'd first met, Izuku could have hardly believed that this was All Might. Now he was all Izuku knew. All Izuku had.

"Mikumi," Toshinori said, "All for One is out there waiting. He will not stop. He will not stop until the world we know is gone, and no one will be there to stop him."

Izuku was crying. He didn't know when he'd started, only suddenly his shoulders jumped a little and a wetness had taken his face. Toshinori was still looking at him. You're not going back.

"I gave One for All to you so there would be something left of it when it's all over," Toshinori said.

"No," Izuku whispered.

Toshinori shifted. For a second All Might was in front of him, bigger than life, but for the first time he wasn't smiling. In all of Izuku's memories he had smiled. Then Toshinori was there again.

"When the time comes," Toshinori began, "I'll face him again. I'll defeat him."

Izuku was gasping for air, shuddering, but he couldn't make anything come out.

"I don't know if I'll come back," Toshinori said, and Izuku shot up. A pillow flew to the ground. He backed away until the backs of his thighs hit something, and then he tripped backwards, falling hard onto the couch behind him.

"No," Izuku said, shaking his head.

Toshinori was unyielding.

"I need you to understand."

"No."

"I had to tell you," Toshinori said, "I had to tell you, so you could know, so you could understand. You have to understand."

"You're just going to—give up?"

"I'm not giving up," Toshinori said, shaking his head, "I'm not giving up at all."

"No," Izuku shouted. "You are."

You're not going back.

"Mikumi…"

"You have to come back," Izuku said, "that's not fair, you can't leave me… you can't… no—"

"Mikumi, listen to me."

"No!"

The word pulsed through the air. Hung there.

"You," Izuku gasped, but he was angry, and he was not. He was shaking, he was grieving, he was waiting. "You can't."

Toshinori fell silent. He was asking Izuku to accept it. Izuku could see it in his eyes, the ring of blue like the rim of the ocean. His blood roared in his ears.

So it was then that Izuku felt the dam break and something surge forth.

"Coward."

Toshinori took it. He continued to look at Izuku.

"You're— coward," Izuku spat, and once the words were out they couldn't be returned.

"I'm sorry."

This was... this was Izuku's fault.

"Mikumi, I'm sorry," Toshinori said, and Izuku couldn't do it.

He got up, backing away when Toshinori reached for him and said, "Please, Mikumi..."

"No," Izuku said.

Toshinori stared at him, but his face was set and grave. In that moment he would have taken death's hand without hesitation.

Izuku choked on a sob then spun, tearing out of the lounge.

There weren't many students milling in the hall as Izuku sprinted down it. He slammed into someone. Papers flew everywhere. Present Mic took a breath, then saw Izuku, frozen and staring at him wildly. His brow furrowed.

"Hey, hey, kid," he said, voice quieter than Izuku had ever heard it.

"I have to go," Izuku blurted.

"Hey, wait!"

He ran blindly through the streets to indignant shouts and honking cars. The world blurred; Izuku reached up and wiped furiously at his eyes, sobbing.

When he reached the beach the energy left him, and Izuku dropped in the sand. He dug his fingers into it and felt grit gather under his nails. Izuku tried to clutch at it, but it all kept slipping through his fingers.

He got up, walking slowly now, chest heaving.

The worst part, Izuku thought, was the ringing silence after. The worst part was that after Izuku had left, Toshinori hadn't called after him.

Izuku waded into the cold water until his feet went numb, then dropped his face into his hands and wept.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-six


The day it rained, Izuku stopped to wait under a bridge.

His footsteps were quiet, but the rain was not. Izuku listened to the pattering of water echo strangely in the space. The curve of the structure was cool and dipped in deep shadow; Izuku ran his hand along the dry concrete underneath.

The day after the argument, Izuku stopped to wait under the bridge where he had first met All Might.

It had seemed like a lifetime ago.

Izuku stared at the ground. He scuffed his foot along the grate where the sludge villain had come out of. There were no remnants of the fight. The concrete did not remember.

He did, though. He wasn't sure he'd ever forget.

I don't know if I'll come back.

Izuku was still angry. He couldn't help that part of him, that indignant feeling. Heat pooled in his stomach when he thought about All Might sitting, unmoving.

He stepped out into the rain. It hit him in an instant, and Izuku wiped at his face.

Coward.

U.A. didn't seem as inviting as it once did. Izuku only felt his stomach twist in knots as he made his way to class, stripping off his blazer and drying off with a device one of the Support students provided.

Uraraka waved at him when he walked in. Izuku averted his gaze and pretended he hadn't seen her.

The class was fairly loud, buzzing with conversation. Izuku made his way to his seat and sat, propping a chin on his hand and staring out the window. Then he folded his arms and put his head down.

There was a loud scraping noise. Izuku ignored it, but a second later Kacchan's voice cut through the din.

"Oi," he said.

Izuku picked up his head. "Do you mind?"

Kacchan gripped the edge of the desk. Izuku sighed at him as he leaned forward.

"The hell is up with you?"

Izuku frowned. "There's nothing up with me."

"You ditched yesterday. Weren't in class after lunch."

"I didn't know you cared," Izuku said lowly, "since we're not friends."

Kacchan recoiled a little, like that hadn't been what he expected. His hand had been halfway across the desk. Now he withdrew it.

Kacchan blinked at him. "Alright," he said, eyes flickering up and down, "Fine."

He turned back around to face the front and started yelling across the room at something else. Izuku put his head back down, feeling even worse. He'd been tempted not to go to school again this morning, but he knew Hisashi would only ask questions. At least at school it was safer. Just a bunch of heroes and one villain.

"Hey," Todoroki whispered.

Izuku glanced over.

Todoroki met his gaze, looking like he had something to say, then shook his head.

"Nevermind."

Class started. Izuku drowned out the noise in his head by throwing himself into taking notes, reading the textbooks and following along as closely as he could.

When it came time for hero training, Izuku stayed at his desk a moment longer, shaking. All Might stood at the front, explaining the exercise they would be running. He kept shooting looks in Izuku's direction, but other than that there was no indication he was at all remorseful for what he'd said the day before.

Izuku paused as the class shuffled out the door towards the battle centers.

"What," Eraserhead asked when he saw Izuku linger.

"Can I… can I go see Recovery Girl?"

Eraserhead looked him up and down.

"I'm not feeling well," Izuku said quietly. "I don't think I can participate today."

A beat. Eraserhead sighed.

"Alright," he said slowly, "I'll let All Might know."

Once the rest of the class was out of sight, Izuku made his way to the infirmary. He hadn't been lying when he'd told Eraserhead he wasn't feeling well. And he wasn't sure he could look All Might in the face without breaking down again.

Recovery Girl didn't look impressed to see him again, but she wasn't surprised, either.

"I heard you and Toshinori had a— fallout yesterday."

Izuku scowled at the ground, trying to summon anger so he wouldn't cry. It didn't help. The tears welled up in his eyes anyway.

He sat on the edge of the bed, then said, "I can't talk to him."

Recovery Girl eyed him. "Do you want to stay here awhile?"

Izuku felt like a scared little kid when he nodded yes. Recovery Girl drew the curtain and let Izuku curl up on a bed, pressing his face into the pillow and trying to shut the world out. She went back to some paperwork, occasionally glancing over at him.

"How many people know?" Izuku asked, voice muffled. Recovery Girl paused. "About yesterday. How many people know?"

She shook her head at him. "I made him tell me. The other teachers are aware you and All Might were involved in a situation but know nothing else."

He pulled the pillow close and shut his eyes.

"It's not fair," Izuku said.

Recovery Girl rolled over in her chair. She put a hand on his shoulder, and Izuku forgot to turn away from the comfort.

"Have faith," she instructed. Izuku sniffled.

"He doesn't have any in himself," he said, "how can I have faith?"

"You have to believe," she said.

Izuku sat up. He put the pillow back and pushed the light blanket away, even though his body was begging for him not to leave the bed.

"I can't," he said, standing up. "I'm going to go back to class. Thank you, Recovery Girl."

He bowed and then took his leave before she could keep talking to him. Izuku heard her call his name, but he was already halfway down the hall.

He'd spent more time in the infirmary than he'd realized. It was partway through lunch; Izuku paused outside the cafeteria, looking at the crowded tables. He spotted his friends. Uraraka had dragged Iida to Kacchan's table. They were eating together, Uraraka caught in an animated conversation.

He didn't feel like going to talk to them, so Izuku turned around and let his feet take him wherever they wanted.

When Izuku blinked and realized he was outside the teacher's lounge, he stopped. The door was open a crack, and Izuku blinked, peeking through it.

Inside, Eraserhead was standing in front of All Might. Izuku frowned, distracted for a moment. He moved out of sight and crouched low to the ground, staying as close as he dared so he could hear.

"—what you said to Akatani."

"I didn't say anything."

"Cut that out, All Might."

All Might sighed. Izuku's heart crumpled. "Honestly, Aizawa… it's none of your business."

Eraserhead scoffed, the sound sharp and mocking.

"None of my business?" he asked incredulously. "None of my business, All Might? You're distracted. Akatani looks like he'd rather be anywhere than in the same room as you. It's plenty of my business."

"I wouldn't expect you to understand."

"I can't understand anything unless you tell me what's going on."

"What do you want me to say?"

"Tell me what happened."

"I can't, Aizawa. That's between us."

"Then fix it."

All Might was silent for a moment. Izuku held his breath, waiting for him to respond, but he said nothing.

"Aizawa, why did you want to see me?" A tapping sound. "Surely not for this."

A dull thud, like Eraserhead had taken a seat heavily.

"No," Eraserhead agreed slowly, "you're right."

"Is there something you need?"

This time, it was Eraserhead who sighed. "You know the villain organization Chimera?"

Izuku flinched. He drew further from the door but stayed, listening and hanging onto every word.

"I've heard of it, yes," All Might said. "Naomasa has told me about it. They're keeping an eye on Chimera—there's suspicions they might be connected with… the League."

"The League?" Eraserhead asked sharply.

"You didn't know?"

Eraserhead cursed. Izuku's heart leapt in his throat, pulsing frantically. Eraserhead paused, then swore again, sounding upset.

"I didn't… the League?"

"Aizawa? What's the matter?"

"I— dammit," Eraserhead growled. "All Might, I need your help."

"My… help."

"There's a member of Chimera. Mirage."

"Yes. Is he— dangerous?"

Izuku peeked back through the door to see Eraserhead shake his head.

"All Might, I need your help to save him."

"He's…"

"A good villain," Eraserhead said.

"A good villain?"

"He's a kid." Izuku swallowed as he listened. "He's not any older than our students. I don't know how to help him."

"A kid…?"

The shuffling of fabric. Eraserhead sighed. "Like Akatani."

"What can I do?"

Izuku turned to leave but moved too quickly and tripped over his feet. He caught himself and froze. The conversation stopped.

Izuku carefully inched forward, creeping away. A moment later he heard their distant, cautious voices begin again. He exhaled as quietly as he could.

He suddenly remembered it was lunchtime. His stomach gnawed at his insides, but Izuku couldn't tell if it was hunger or hurt.

"Looking for lunch?"

Izuku jumped.

Present Mic laughed. He'd come out of nowhere, a plastic bag on his arm and holding a stack of papers.

"Um," Izuku said.

Present Mic smiled at him. "Care to join, little listener?" He waggled his eyebrows and jerked his chin in the direction of the bag he was carrying. "I've got extra."

"I was just, um," Izuku said, but he thought about going back to the lunchroom and cringed.

"Come on," Present Mic said invitingly, and Izuku's resolve crumbled.

"Okay," he said quietly. He followed his teacher into a different office and found a chair to curl up on. Present Mic dumped his things on an already messy desk and then shoved it aside to make space. He pulled out a wrapped sandwich from his bag and held it out.

Izuku took it gratefully, unwrapping the plastic carefully. Present Mic hummed loudly as he took out two more sandwiches and a bottled drink.

"You were playing that," Izuku said, unbidden.

Present Mic paused.

"That song," Izuku explained, "a few nights ago, weren't you?"

Present Mic beamed.

"You listen?" he asked, nearly shouting, which was Present Mic's typical volume. Izuku bit into his sandwich and nodded. He peeled the plastic back a little more as Present Mic watched, bouncing.

"You've got a good show," Izuku said, feeling a bit embarrassed under Present Mic's gaze. He was a Present Mic fan, of course. "I like to listen when I run."

Present Mic punched a victorious fist in the air. "Yeah!" he crowed, and Izuku felt his mouth twitch in amusement. Present Mic glanced to the side. "Take that, Shouta."

Izuku smothered a laugh. Present Mic seemed to remember he had a student across from him and cleared his throat loudly.

He opened his mouth and then launched into the latest bit of hero gossip. Izuku stopped eating just to stare at Present Mic, unsure of how to react. He was certainly enthusiastic.

Present Mic didn't seem to care that Izuku only nodded or made a wordless noise in response. He was perfectly fine carrying a conversation on without help. It was nice, Izuku thought, not having to talk.

When Present Mic ran out of rumors to share, he just switched topics and kept going. He paused briefly when he remembered he was supposed to be eating, but kept talking in between bites.

Izuku felt more like himself by the time he'd made it through the sandwich and half-a-dozen of Present Mic's stories. He'd smiled once or twice, and Present Mic took that as encouragement to keep going.

"—and then I was like, bam!" Present Mic gushed, gesturing, "but you know, way louder—"

The bell rang. Izuku folded the plastic wrapping neatly and tipped it into the trash can. Present Mic froze, hands mid-air. He lowered them.

"Time for class," Izuku said, the first time he'd spoken since the beginning of lunch.

Present Mic lost some of the excitement he'd exuded, but he beamed at Izuku.

"Thanks for eating lunch with me, kid," he said. His mouth twisted wryfully. "Usually, ah, I'd eat with Eraser but he said he was busy, so I needed someone to keep me company."

"Oh," Izuku said. He stood, then bowed. "Thank you for lunch, Present Mic."

He was sure that Present Mic was telling the truth—Eraserhead was busy, talking to All Might. But he had a nagging suspicion that Present Mic had seeked Izuku out.

Present Mic hesitated in front of the door, then turned to look at him.

Izuku's chest locked.

"Don't," he said. The smile dropped off of Present Mic's face.

"I wasn't going to," Present Mic said seriously, then said, "but I wanted to let you know that you weren't alone."

Izuku dropped his gaze.

"The internships are soon," Present Mic said. "Do you know who you're working with?

Izuku nodded.

"Gran Torino," he replied, "he's a retired pro who worked with—"

He couldn't finish.

"That's alright," Present Mic said kindly. "If you need help, you can ask him. If you don't feel comfortable asking him or if you feel you can't continue your internship, you're allowed to contact us or leave if you need."

"Okay," Izuku said.

Present Mic squeezed his shoulder.

"It's not good to let things fester, alright? But— don't forget to breathe."

Izuku leaned into Present Mic's side for a second. Then he detached himself, shutting away everything he was feeling, and thanked Present Mic again.

Izuku went through the motions for the rest of the day, hands twisting under his desk. In the last class of the day, Midnight walked in and began to pass out whiteboards to each of them. The class murmured their questions.

"Your internships are in a very short period of time," Midnight said, "but there's still one very important thing that is required."

"Not paperwork," someone chanted distantly behind Izuku, "not paperwork, not paperwork."

Midnight threw her arms out, smiling widely. "Hero names!"

"Alright!"

"Oh, I know what mine'll be."

"Time to call my mom…"

Midnight clapped her hands, trying to restore order. "We're going to come up with our hero names and share them with the rest of the class using your whiteboard. Please remember…"

Izuku tuned her out as she explained the importance behind a hero name. He popped the cap off of his marker and held it, hovering over the board.

Some of the class had burst into a heated discussion. Others were writing furiously while Midnight went around, arms behind her back.

Izuku clutched his whiteboard close, making sure no one could see what he wrote on it.

Deku, he wrote.

Izuku peered at Kacchan over the top of his board. Then he erased Deku, staring thoughtlessly at the blank space in front of him. He wondered if he could leave it like that—just blank. No hero name for a non-hero.

"Anyone finished?"

Kacchan shared without asking, and the class laughed when he flipped his board to reveal the hero name he'd promised to take: King Explosion Murder.

Midnight, to her credit, only raised her eyebrows. "I think you need something more— reassuring."

Kacchan crossed his arms over his chest. "It's plenty reassuring," he protested, "reassuring my enemies that I'm going to murder them."

Midnight sighed. "We'll come back to you, Bakugou."

A few names were thrown out. Half of them were just for fun. Izuku tapped his marker against the board, frowning. He had to come up with something. Something different. Something new.

"Mine's Froppy, kero," Tsuyu announced, and someone applauded. Midnight smiled.

"A fitting name," Midnight complimented. After that the names seemed to come easier.

Uraraka chose Uravity. Kouda seemed happy with Anima. As more of his fellow classmates stood and shared their hero names, Izuku felt more and more pressure set on his shoulders.

Deku was out of the running. Mirage? Certainly not a choice.

None of the names Izuku had wanted when he was younger worked, either. They'd all been ridiculous, modelled after All Might.

Izuku stared at the board, coming up short. Next to him, Todoroki stood and announced "Shouto," voice quiet and name simple.

Thinking of All Might made Izuku remember what his mentor wanted. Izuku had One for All because he'd been given it. Izuku had One for All because All for One was waiting for them at the end of the road. Because All Might had chosen him to be his successor, so that his legacy would outlive him.

Izuku thought of glowing embers and darkness. He thought of eyes that glimmered gold and Hisashi's mouth forming around words that turned into flames.

"Akatani, how about you?"

Izuku stood up and turned his board around.

Phoenix, he'd written.

"It means something to me," he said before Midnight could give him any feedback.

Midnight looked at his name again. She smiled encouragingly.

"Meaning is important, too."

Todoroki leaned over when Izuku sat down.

"I like it, Akatani."

Izuku shrugged uncomfortably.

He didn't really want to explain it, not yet.

A phoenix rising from the ashes, burning through the fire of his father. A second chance, a rebirth, a legacy. He ran his fingers over the characters and then wiped the name away.

Another name to add to the list.

The internships dawned before Izuku realized. His friends agreed to meet at the train station so they could say goodbye before going their separate ways. Feeling guilty, Izuku had agreed to go—he wouldn't see them for a week.

"I'm really excited," Uraraka said, tapping her foot impatiently. "I'm going to miss you guys."

"You, too," Izuku said automatically, and Uraraka threw her arms around him and squeezed tight.

She pulled back, blushing. Then her expression turned serious.

"Akatani," she started, "just— we're friends, okay? I want to hear from you if you need me."

"Okay," Izuku said quietly. He had no plans to.

"That goes for you, too, Iida," Uraraka said, turning. Iida looked down and away from where he'd been staring into the distance.

"Thank you, Uraraka," Iida said a bit stiffly. "I'll be fine."

Uraraka smiled at the both of them, clutching her bags. "That's my train, guys. I'll… um, see you next week!"

She left Izuku and Iida standing together, waiting for their own trains.

"Look, Iida," Izuku said, "I heard you were going to Hosu—"

"My train is here," Iida said. He bowed. "I'll see you soon, Akatani."

Izuku watched him go and sighed. Alone again. He checked the time and found his own train a few minutes out.

Maybe the internship would be good for him, Izuku thought. A little extra time and space to himself. No All Might, no All for One, no Hisashi. He thought he needed it.

Izuku hefted his duffel bag higher. He glanced at his phone and was grateful to find no new messages or notifications. Hisashi happened to be away on a 'business trip' at the same time as the internships, something he hadn't revealed to Izuku.

An announcement rolled through the station. Izuku spotted the silver nose of a train approach and stepped forward with the other people waiting to catch it. The doors crowded, so Izuku stepped back and took a minute to wait.

"Akatani!"

The call was so quiet that Izuku almost missed it.

"Young Akatani! Mikumi!"

Izuku turned on his heel and saw Toshinori weaving through the station. He ran up to Izuku, pausing to catch his breath.

Izuku stepped back, heart missing a beat. He hadn't seen Toshinori all week—in fact, he'd avoided seeing Toshinori all week. He wasn't ready.

"I wanted to see you before you left," Toshinori said, clutching at his shirt. He straightened. "I wanted to tell you that I… believe in you."

"Believe in yourself," Izuku said.

Toshinori blinked at him. In that instant a thousand words seemed to pass between them.

"I'll try," he said. I'm sorry, he said.

"I'll try," Izuku repeated.

"We'll talk when you get back."

Izuku looked away. "I have to go."

Toshinori reached for him even as he stepped away. Izuku's shirt snagged in a grip, but Izuku felt tears gather when Toshinori put his arms around him.

"Rise, phoenix," Toshinori murmured in his ear.

The train whistled shrilly in warning, and Izuku ran to catch it. The train was packed with people, but Izuku found a spot by the door, holding onto the railing.

The doors shut. Izuku could see Toshinori, alone on the platform looking after him. He lifted his hand in a goodbye, but Izuku couldn't bring himself to wave back.

The train shuddered once and then began to move. As they pulled away Izuku kept watching Toshinori until he disappeared, and even then his image remained in Izuku's mind.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-seven


Gran Torino was dead.

Okay, he wasn't dead dead, but when Izuku had cracked open the door and seen the pro hero lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, he'd certainly thought so.

Izuku took a closer look and saw the rise and fall of Gran Torino's chest and the bright red sticky-looking substance on the floor.

Somewhere in Izuku's tired mind, he processed everything that was happening and promptly decided he wasn't going to deal with it.

There was a plate of sausages lying on the floor. Izuku inched carefully towards it and took a piece. He squinted at Gran Torino, who was definitely faking it, and then turned on his heel and headed back for the door.

"Going somewhere?"

Izuku blinked, and Gran Torino blocked the exit. The blood—or, Izuku figured, ketchup—was still on his costume.

"Uh," Izuku said, "going to find a pro hero who's going to teach me something, yeah."

Gran Torino raised his eyebrows. Izuku looked at him then down at the sausage piece he was still holding and slowly put it in his mouth.

"What's your name, kid?"

Izuku swallowed. "Akatani," he responded, still watching Gran Torino warily. "Akatani Mikumi. I'm from U.A. Also you could've used something more realistic for the blood."

"What blood?" Gran Torino snapped. "I was holding my sausages with ketchup and fell when you came. Made a mess."

Izuku blinked.

"Respectfully, sir, I'd like to leave."

Gran Torino's eyes narrowed. He tilted his head. "You're going to have to get past me, then, Toshinori."

Izuku's breath caught in his throat, but he kept his face blank as he skirted to the left. Gran Torino blocked him.

"Scared?"

"Tired," Izuku replied. "And that's not my name."

He wondered if this was how Eraserhead felt on a daily basis, except instead of a whole classroom of teenagers it was just a strange old guy with a cape.

He tried to go right this time, but Gran Torino held fast.

Izuku curled and uncurled his fingers.

"Stop playing games," Izuku spat. A desperation suddenly gripped him. "Either you help me or I find someone else. I don't have time for games—I need to get better using One for All."

"Do you?"

Gran Torino didn't look impressed or interested. He stuck a finger in some of the ketchup on his suit and put it in his mouth.

"He's running out of time," Izuku shouted, frustrated when he felt his eyes burn at the thought. "Don't you know?"

Gran Torino smiled. It was so unexpected Izuku felt his anger drain.

"There you are, kid. Now, come on. I want to see what you've got," Gran Torino challenged, "show me what you can do with One for All. I heard you were breaking bones."

"Not anymore," Izuku said. He let One for All spread through his body, crackling across his skin, and enjoyed the faint surprise he spotted on Gran Torino's face. It was one thing, he supposed, to see him using One for All sparingly on a screen, and another thing to face it.

Then he made a face. "At least I hope I don't break—"

Izuku yelped when Gran Torino moved. Izuku jerked away on instinct and saw a fist where his face had been. Gran Torino's eyes narrowed.

Gran Torino, Izuku found, was a hard opponent. He looked old, but he sure didn't move like it, zipping around Izuku and bouncing off the walls. Even using Full Cowl, Izuku was hard-pressed to keep up, staying on defense.

Gran Torino launched off a wall, slamming Izuku down. He rolled, but there was a flash and Gran Torino was gone. Izuku darted forwards, dodging an attack from behind and spun.

"You're super fa-ah," Izuku cried. He managed to catch Gran Torino's wrist and twisted hard, sending Gran Torino flying. It wasn't enough; the retired pro hero simply recovered mid-air and shot back towards him.

Izuku screeched when he was nearly tackled, parrying blow after blow. Gran Torino pressed him back until he was cornered, but Izuku knew it was an advantage—Gran Torino wouldn't be able to attack from behind.

"You lasted longer than I thought you would."

One for All pulsed through his body. Izuku was fast with the addition of One for All, but using Full Cowl was still new to him. He didn't think he could sustain it any longer under Gran Torino's onslaught.

"Don't know," Izuku panted, ducking under a foot, "if that—"

Gran Torino's foot shifted backwards. Izuku saw it move, and something clicked; he dove to the right as Gran Torino lunged forward. Izuku spun on his heel, following with an arm, fist making contact before he pressed Gran Torino against the wall.

"—a compliment or an insult," Izuku finished.

One for All petered out, and the hold Izuku had on Gran Torino weakened; the pro freed himself from Izuku's grip and leapt over his head. Izuku turned, anticipating a blow, but none came.

"Not bad, kid," Gran Torino said. He stretched.

"That was definitely a compliment?"

"Seems All Might's not a terrible teacher."

Izuku's mouth twisted. "Well," he said, "maybe a little."

Gran Torino snorted. "Three minutes."

"Huh?"

"You lasted three minutes."

"What?"

Gran Torino clicked his tongue. "Do you know how to tell time, young man?"

"What— yeah?"

The old hero surveyed Izuku for a minute, then jerked his chin in a different direction. "Let's break."

Izuku relaxed. He followed Gran Torino dutifully, the two of them sitting cross-legged on the floor away from the ketchup.

"Clean that up," Gran Torino ordered. Izuku bristled, though he knew it was disrespectful, and went to do as he was told.

"You're the one who was playing dead," Izuku grumbled, but he wiped the ketchup off the floor with a cloth.

"I wasn't playing dead," Gran Torino called after him. "And you're my intern, so you have to do what I tell you."

"What's next, a full-body massage?"

"Don't tempt me."

Izuku decided to stop talking.

"You're certainly better off than I thought," Gran Torino said. "Earlier this semester All Might called panicking 'cause you broke your arm."

Izuku shrugged. "A couple times."

Gran Torino smacked his forehead. "Idiot."

He made an indignant noise. "I couldn't help it—"

"All Might, not you," Gran Torino said, "though maybe you're a bit of an idiot, too, boy. He doesn't know how to teach."

Izuku sprawled out on the ground, testing Gran Torino's limits and wondering if he'd be scolded for it, but Gran Torino didn't seem to mind.

"He told me to clench my butt," Izuku muttered. Gran Torino barked out a laugh, rolling his eyes.

"Useless."

"That's rude."

"Did it help?"

"...Not really," Izuku admitted.

"It always came easier to him," Gran Torino said, catching Izuku's curious look. "One for All, that is. When he got it he could use it right away. You've got a bit of a learning curve."

Izuku covered his face. "A bit of a learning curve," he moaned. "Why is All Might perfect?"

"He can't cook for his life," Gran Torino said.

"Not even rice?"

"Didn't put enough water," Gran Torino said dismissively. Izuku frowned.

"But all you do is—"

"Exactly!"

"Huh," Izuku muttered to himself. Gran Torino laughed.

"He's a great hero, sure," Gran Torino pointed out, "but as a civilian? Absolutely useless. Saving people was easy for him, but Nana had to beat saving money into his thick head for a while."

"What… what did he spend it on?"

"You don't want to know."

Izuku sighed. He rolled his shoulders back, feeling his muscles ache slightly.

"I'm not good enough."

Gran Torino arched an eyebrow. "Give yourself credit, kid."

Bonestealer wouldn't have said that. They'd demand that he work harder, be better—there was no such thing as a break to them.

"I couldn't beat you."

"I've got decades of experience on you," Gran Torino countered, tilting his head, "and you got a few blows in. That's not half-bad."

Izuku sighed. If he couldn't beat Bonestealer, or even Gran Torino, he stood no chance against All for One. He'd be crushed like a little annoying fly.

"What's the big deal?" Gran Torino asked, catching Izuku's look.

"I can't even use all of One for All," Izuku said, lowering his eyes, "and I can't keep it going for that long, either."

"So that's what we'll work on. We'll get you to a higher output and try to sustain it consistently for longer."

"I know, but…"

Gran Torino kicked his ankle. Izuku's words died in his throat, but he glared across at the hero.

"You're already on your way. Sure, time is not on your side," Gran Torino said gruffly. "But you've got— ugh, potential. Even if One for All came to All Might naturally, he didn't become who he is overnight. You're not going to— what's your hero name?"

"Phoenix," Izuku said. He tried to be confident, but it came out wobbly.

"Takes five hundred years for those to rise again," Gran Torino said. "No one will wait for you to get stronger, so you need to get stronger quickly, but even that will take some time."

"All Might doesn't have time," Izuku said.

Gran Torino studied him, gaze intense.

"What did he say to you?"

"Nothing."

Gran Torino snorted. "You know he called me a few days ago asking for advice. He's usually too proud and too stubborn to ask for help, thinks he can do everything himself. He had to have done something, the idiot. Besides, it's years of radio silence, but after he met you he was calling me all the time. Actually have to pay attention to my phone bill again."

Izuku inhaled then exhaled again. "It's not his fault."

Gran Torino kicked him again.

"Ow," Izuku yelped. "Why are all the old people in my life like this?"

"Who are the others?"

Izuku pouted. "Recovery Girl."

"Now there's a woman you don't mess with." Gran Torino nodded approvingly, then switched back to the topic. "What did he say?"

Izuku tugged at his sleeve, feeling guilt swell in his chest.

"He told me about… he told me about—" he choked, "All for One."

Talking about it, saying the name out loud for the first time since the argument didn't help. It only made him feel worse. Izuku could feel himself slipping down the slope again, scrabbling for a purchase but finding none.

Gran Torino kicked him again.

"Will you stop that?" Izuku grumbled.

"I'll stop when you stop."

Izuku frowned. Gran Torino frowned back.

"He shouldn't have told you."

Doesn't matter, Izuku wanted to say, I already knew.

Instead he said, "It's better that I know."

Gran Torino clicked his tongue disapprovingly. He shook his head. "You're not ready to know about him. Of course you deserve to know, but that— you can't be expected to… face him."

"How…" Izuku swallowed. His voice grew small. "How powerful is he, Gran Torino?"

Gran Torino looked uncomfortable.

"I don't know," he said shortly, "he's lived for a long time, that one. All Might weakened him, but he's very powerful if he's found a way to crawl back from the underbelly."

"And… how powerful is All Might?"

Gran Torino paused. The answer was there, and it made Izuku want to cry. He didn't, holding the tears back, not wanting Gran Torino to see.

"Enough," Gran Torino said, crossing his arms over his chest. His brow creased. "Get up, kid. Break over. Let's go another round."

Izuku hauled himself up.

"But," he said, then stopped himself.

Obediently Izuku activated One for All, marvelling at how freely he could use it without the weight of secrecy on his shoulders.

They fought a few more rounds.

Izuku didn't feel like he was getting any better. Gran Torino landed blow after blow, while Izuku's hits only glanced off, if not missed Gran Torino entirely. One for All sputtered; his control slipped. Blood was warm in his mouth.

Izuku gritted his teeth, frustrated. He hadn't been lying.

There was a different and simmering anger now that hadn't existed in the past few days. Not the same one at Toshinori, for what he'd said, or at himself, for what he hadn't. This anger came from failure.

Gran Torino watched him from the other side of the room. His costume was easy to spot, but he was impossibly fast. Gran Torino's eyes flicked to a spot by Izuku.

This time, Izuku charged towards him and not away. He met Gran Torino on the spot instead of where he had been, and Izuku felt a rush of satisfaction when he landed a heavy blow powered with One for All that sent Gran Torino blasting back towards the far wall.

Gran Torino hit the wall hard, and Izuku's satisfaction gave way to concern and guilt—pro hero or not, God, Izuku had hit his elder. Then Gran Torino recovered enough to punch Izuku in the face, and Izuku stopped feeling bad.

The victory was short-lived, though. Gran Torino was fond of games, dancing around Izuku quickly and making him feel awfully slow in comparison. Izuku wasn't being beaten into the ground, but he wasn't making spectacular progress either.

Gran Torino landed in front of Izuku.

He brought his arms up to block, but the hero didn't attack.

"Stop holding yourself back," Gran Torino instructed.

Izuku lowered his arms slightly, then brought them back up to parry a quick blow.

"I'm not," he said, peeking between his wrists. Gran Torino put his hands on his hips, and Izuku dropped his defense when it looked like they were done for now.

"You are."

"Not like I used to," Izuku argued.

"No," Gran Torino agreed, "but you're still stuck somewhere. Break."

"We're not done," Izuku protested, but Gran Torino silenced him with a withering look.

"Are you in charge, boy?"

"No, sir," Izuku said, and Gran Torino snorted. He glanced outside. It was already late afternoon by now.

They took a break. Izuku made tea and served them while Gran Torino regaled him with a few tales. He wasn't sure half of them were true (once, Gran Torino said, he'd fought a giant octopus with a steak knife then carved his way through an underground crime ring), but they were at the very least amusing.

Izuku found he liked Gran Torino. He was a bit strange but funny, and his age hadn't slowed him down one bit. The internship had come at the right time to give Izuku a little bit of breathing space, a short reprieve before Izuku was thrown back into the thick of things. It was selfish, Izuku thought, but needed.

"Can I ask you something?"

Gran Torino looked up. He was sprawled on the couch in a set of comfortable-looking clothes. He sighed.

"If you have to."

"Did he kill her?"

Gran Torino sat up. He leaned forward, alarm flashing across his face—Izuku was touching a dangerous subject, but he had to know.

"Who?"

Gran Torino knew, but Izuku said it anyway for the both of them.

"All for One," he said. "Did he kill Shimura Nana?"

Gran Torino let out a long sigh. The energy left him, and he sank back into the pillows, thinking.

"Sorry," Izuku said, "I shouldn't have asked."

Gran Torino waved the apology away. He stroked his chin for a moment, his eyes far away.

"Yes," he said finally, and there was a softness there that Izuku hadn't seen from him all day.

"I'm— sorry."

Gran Torino scoffed. "You've got nothing to apologize for. Ah… she would've liked to meet you."

He got up suddenly and shuffled into another room, then reappeared holding a picture. Izuku took it gingerly, then gasped.

"That's—"

"Hm," Gran Torino grunted. Izuku studied it. There was Gran Torino, and All Might—young, but he had the same smile. And there was Shimura Nana, hair pulled back, eyes sharp, lift to her lips.

"She's beautiful," Izuku said. Suddenly he was scared to hold the picture. "Ah— why did you show me?"

Gran Torino took it back. He shrugged.

"So you could see," he said, "something to fight for, if you want."

Izuku stared at the edge of the table. Toshinori must've been lonely, then. He still was.

"Did he kill all of them?"

Gran Torino's eyes flitted to his face.

"The wielders," Izuku said, anger stirring in a bottomless pot, "did he kill all of them?"

"Why do you ask these questions?"

"Did he?" Izuku pressed, determined not to be dodged.

"...Yes."

So All for One would want to kill All Might, too. Almost had. But he hadn't seemed interested in killing Izuku, not even after he'd realized the power Izuku held.

"Are all of you so annoying?"

Izuku startled. "Huh?"

Gran Torino sniffed. "Children. Are all of them as annoying as you?"

"Oh‚ oh, sorry!" He must have been muttering. It was good Izuku tended to be unintelligible most of the time.

Shigaraki would certainly kill Izuku given the chance. But All for One seemed to have other plans.

What had he said? You're just like him.

Like who, Izuku wanted to know.

"Can I ask you another question?"

"That was another question."

"Another, other question."

Gran Torino sighed, eyes rolling up towards the ceiling.

"Why did I agree to this," he grumbled, but he didn't say anything else. Izuku took that as an invitation.

"Toshi— All Might said there was something called… vestiges," Izuku ventured, "like… the remnants of past holders in One for All. Do you… know anything about that?"

Gran Torino looked surprised. "You saw them?"

Izuku nodded, unsure.

"At- at the Sports Festival," he clarified, "I saw them. T- All Might said it was normal, but I don't think they… I don't think it was the same as what he was thinking."

"What did they look like?"

"I couldn't really make them out," Izuku said, the words tumbling from his mouth. "They weren't, well, they were like, shadows. But one of them… one of them spoke to me."

Gran Torino leaned closer. "Spoke?"

Izuku flinched back, a little wary of the attention. "Ye- yeah."

Gran Torino was shaking his head. He rubbed at his chin, then moved his fingers to scratch at his head.

"Spoke?" he asked again, quieter. Izuku nodded. "What did they say?"

Izuku shrugged uncomfortably. He'd never made sense of it himself.

That started a round of questioning for the rest of the day. Gran Torino asked him thorough questions about his use of One for All; Izuku took out his notebook, running through his own observations. They talked through his power output and Full Cowl. Ways he could use it or concentrate it.

"We'll spar again tomorrow," Gran Torino said decisively. "I still think you're holding yourself back. You're too—nervous. Or scared."

Izuku smiled weakly. "I'm always nervous and scared."

"Well, quit it."

Izuku coughed. "I don't think it's that easy. Sir."

"Stop calling me that," Gran Torino snapped, "I feel old."

"You… are?"

"What are you scared of?"

Izuku shrugged with one shoulder, evading the question, but Gran Torino pinned him with a stare. He had a way of doing that, Izuku thought. He'd zip around you in circles, circling tighter and tighter like a shark. Izuku saw it in his movements and in the way he watched Izuku.

"A lot of things," Izuku said honestly.

"You're scared of One for All."

"I'm not," Izuku said.

Gran Torino barked out a laugh, but he had Izuku in his grip.

"One for All," he guessed, "and rightfully All for One. And I've got a hunch that you're scared of All Might."

The name was enough to make Izuku felt like he'd been dealt a physical blow. He tried to hide it, but Gran Torino saw the momentary flash of weakness.

"It's not his anymore," Gran Torino said.

Izuku frowned.

"One for All. It's not his anymore, kid. It's yours." Gran Torino stood and stretched. He cocked his head at Izuku.

Izuku sat, thinking. "But…"

"What are you going to do with it?"

Izuku didn't have anything to say to that.

Gran Torino showed Izuku to his room, small and plain but comfortable. Izuku dragged his bag inside, sighing.

"I don't care what you do," Gran Torino said. "But don't make a fuss. We'll be getting up early to train, so if you don't sleep that's your fault. And don't bother me."

He left without a goodbye. Izuku circled the room, playing with the hem of his shirt. Izuku wasn't sure how early was early, but he'd need to get some rest if today was any indicator.

Izuku got himself ready for bed. The floor was hard but not uncomfortable, and Izuku drew his blanket up.

He reached mindlessly for his phone. It buzzed suddenly, and Izuku dropped his phone on his face.

He groaned, plucking it off and checking the notification.

Hisashi, 11:21 PM
Where are you?

Izuku frowned at the sudden message. He'd informed Hisashi where his internship was before they'd both left. Hisashi should have known.

You, 11:22 PM 
Why?

Hisashi, 11:23 PM 
You're not in Hosu?

A cold feeling gripped Izuku.

No, he typed back. Is something wrong?

Hisashi didn't answer for a while. Izuku sighed, but then his phone buzzed.

Hisashi, 11:30 PM 
Stay away.

It was the last message Hisashi sent. He didn't respond to any of Izuku's following questions, so Izuku sighed and put the phone aside. It was time to sleep, anyway.

He shut his eyes and found himself restless. Izuku laid in the dark, breathing deeply. He focused on his other senses and suddenly realized he could hear Gran Torino speaking.

He caught a few words—Gran Torino was on the phone, then. He was speaking quietly enough so that Izuku couldn't hear what he was saying.

Izuku rolled over, trying not to listen, but Gran Torino's voice grew louder and suddenly it was unavoidable. It was Toshinori, Izuku gleaned, and the mention jolted Izuku into wakefulness.

"You told the boy about All for One," Gran Torino shouted down the line. "You think you'd have a bit more tact by now! Why in your right mind do you—"

He was cut off for a bit.

"It doesn't matter if— no, it doesn't matter— yes, your boy is, I don't care. He wasn't ready and you knew it, but you still told him. You messed up, Toshi!"

Izuku could hear Gran Torino pacing back and forth, quick, heavy strides that sounded angry. Izuku winced, turning on his side and drawing the blanket up higher so he felt safer.

"You called," Gran Torino growled. Izuku screwed his eyes shut. "You called, and you never call. And you asked, no, you begged me to keep an eye on this boy because you— because you… yes. How did you think he would react, idiot? He asked about Nana."

There was a long stretch of silence. Izuku thought that it must be quiet on the other end, too. Something heavy had filled the room. Izuku shifted uncomfortably, feeling the pressure.

"...I supposed to do, lie?"

A beat.

"And what is he supposed to do?" Gran Torino asked, his voice so soft Izuku had to strain to hear it. "You can't make the boy give up before he's even started."

Another beat.

"He's smart, I'll give him that," Gran Torino said, "and he certainly didn't learn anything from you. That Full Cowl of his I'll bet he put together himself."

Izuku rolled over again and missed the next piece of conversation, but then Gran Torino was silent for a long time. Izuku blinked in the darkness and wondered if the wielders would come to him again, but the shadows didn't shift. One for All slumbered, silent.

What are you going to do with it?

Izuku had spent a lifetime dreaming of saving people, of helping them. That hadn't changed, but Izuku had.

He closed his eyes for the last time and dreamed of fire bursting behind his lids. Not Hisashi's, but his own, golden and bright.

Izuku wondered if all of the other wielders had been asked that at some point. Gifted with an extraordinary power to put to use. To do good, to fight All for One even if it killed them.

Toshinori was only tracing the path he thought he was on—to death. Like his predecessor, Shimura, and her predecessor and all those who had come before.

Then Izuku would follow in their footsteps, but it would be different this time. He would not have Toshinori die for Izuku to live anew—no, they would rise together, cresting in the darkness.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-eight


"We're done training."

Izuku let his head thud back onto the ground. He groaned. "Finally."

Gran Torino appeared in Izuku's vision. "I said we were done training, not that we were done."

Izuku stretched out on the floor that Gran Torino had wiped him with. He rolled over and then sat up. Toshinori hadn't been kidding. Gran Torino was tough.

"Where to?"

Gran Torino knocked Izuku's head as he passed. "Clean up. We're going to Shinjuku."

Izuku scrambled to his feet. "Huh?"

Gran Torino spun around. "You're done fighting me, boy. You'll get too used to it. What you need is some practice fighting real villains."

"Real," Izuku coughed, "real vill… real villains."

"Nothing you can't handle."

"Are… are you sure?"

All the villains Izuku knew were— well, powerful enough that Izuku wasn't exactly ready to go toe-to-toe with them.

"Bah," Gran Torino said, "they'll be a lot easier to beat than me."

Then quieter, he muttered, "Toshinori would have my hide if you got hurt."

"What?"

"What," Gran Torino grumbled. "Did you say something?"

"Did you say something?"

"What did I say?"

"Nothing," Izuku muttered, throwing his hands up and letting it go. "Are we going now?"

"Nighttime," Gran Torino said.

"Oh! Because they'll be more active at night."

Gran Torino grunted. "No, because I want to take a nap first. That, too, I guess."

Gran Torino really did take a nap, so Izuku spent the afternoon training by himself, activating One for All and racing around outside to see how long he could make it last. Inside, he sat in the room Gran Torino had provided and tried to meditate, calling up One for All to see if he could summon the wielders again.

Nothing seemed to work. Izuku felt like he was tapping on a piece of glass in his own mind.

Are you there?

He thought back to the Sports Festival, when he had seen them. It'd been under Shinsou's influence—he'd summoned One for All, and the world had gone topsy-turvy when they appeared.

Izuku wanted desperately to see the wielders again. He wanted to speak to them, to ask them their advice. Did they hate him? Were they proud of him? Did they see him, see his heart?

Even more desperately he wished he could meet Shimura Nana. Izuku hadn't known it was possible to miss someone he'd never met, but he missed her. Missed all of them, like some part of him knew they belonged here with him.

Izuku would see them again someday, when it was time. He sighed.

It was early evening when Gran Torino called a taxi to take them to the train station. By the time they'd get to Shinjuku, it would be the perfect time to do some patrolling.

Izuku bounced his leg nervously, glancing out the window as the buildings around them blurred with speed.

"We'll pass through Hosu, won't we?"

Gran Torino grunted. He still looked half-asleep, but Izuku could tell that he wasn't by the way his muscles were tense and his eyes kept flickering from place to place.

Izuku suddenly remembered Iida had taken his internship in Hosu and reached for his phone. He sent a few texts, biting his lip, but saw no response.

"Damn," Izuku muttered under his breath.

The hero-killer was in Hosu. Iida had gone there to track him down, to fight him—he'd get himself killed.

Dread was starting to seep into his bones. Izuku texted Iida frantically again, then saw in his recent messages the ones Hisashi had sent him a few nights ago. He hadn't heard from his father since, but Izuku opened the chat again and looked at the texts.

Stay away.

Hisashi, on a business trip in Hosu. Stay away, meaning something was going to happen that he didn't want Izuku there for.

Izuku lurched to his feet unsteadily. Gran Torino's eyes snapped towards him, as did a few others, but Izuku shook his head.

"Gran Torino," he said.

The sound of shattering glass. Izuku was thrown to the side; he caught his balance, Quirk flaring as he grabbed a nearby civilian to keep her from falling. Screams rose.

A pro hero lay stunned on the floor of the train, but he quickly got up, launching himself out. Seconds later a grotesque creature appeared, metal screeching as it clawed into the train.

Izuku couldn't breathe.

"Nomu," he whispered.

He was distantly aware that One for All was sparking against his skin, that the civilians were fleeing the train car. But he couldn't make himself move. It was like seeing the Nomu had suddenly frozen him in place.

Gran Torino turned to look at him.

"Stay here," he growled.

The Nomu screeched, and Gran Torino tackled it, the two flying into the darkness.

"Stay here," Izuku murmured to himself.

He could move again. One for All hummed louder, and Izuku launched himself out of the train, dropping onto a nearby rooftop and beginning his journey.

"Sorry, Gran Torino," Izuku said, darting off in a different direction. "I'm not very good at doing what I'm told."

He checked his phone again as he ran blindly. Hosu was burning. Smoke and scattered light drifted in the distance, accompanied by sound.

If not Hisashi, then the Nomu.

And Stain was in Hosu, too. He had to be. Izuku hadn't looked into him as much as he should have, but Iida's brother had been attacked in an alley.

He used One for All sparingly in short bursts. Izuku knew he had to save it and use it as needed.

"Hold on, Iida," Izuku murmured.

He could suddenly see his friend in his mind's eye, body bent at all the wrong angles and blood pooling under him.

The thought spurred him on. Izuku raced, faster and faster, deeper and deeper into the city. He saw figures in a flickering fire and threw himself down into the fray only to find himself face-to-face with a battleground.

Izuku moved. He dove for a civilian, dragging the man out of the way as a Nomu and pro hero wrestled.

"Stay safe," Izuku said.

He spotted the pro hero—one of Endeavor's sidekicks—struggling as the Nomu overpowered her. The Nomu croaked when Izuku slammed into it, One for All crackling.

"Stay out of this, kid!" the hero shouted. Someone else joined the fight as Izuku left it, tearing himself away. His body screamed for him to return, to help fight the Nomu, but he had to have faith the pro heroes had it handled.

He needed to find Iida.

"Hold on," Izuku said, slipping through alley after alley. "I'm coming."

Time was slipping away from him. His heart pounded in his chest as he searched Hosu desperately for signs of either his enemy or his friend but found nothing.

Tears stung Izuku's eyes. He couldn't tell if they were from frustration or from the smoke.

He stopped on a rooftop, digging his phone out to see if there were any updates. In a desperate bid he called Hisashi and started his search anew.

The phone rang.

Izuku wiped the sweat from his face. Another alley, empty.

The phone rang and rang.

"Iida," Izuku said, "Iida, please."

The last words they had spoken to each other had been before the internships, at the train station. Izuku could still see the storm brewing in Iida's eyes, the cruel glare of his glasses.

The phone cut to voicemail, a horrible crackle and a long beep—

Distant firelight glinted off of a line of metal—

One for All roared as Izuku dropped silently from the sky, knocking a blade from Stain's hand and snapping it. In the same moment he drew his own knife, arm rocketing forwards.

"And who's this?"

Izuku panted when their blades met. His slid when Stain overpowered him, and Izuku leapt back to avoid being cut.

"Akatani!"

"Don't," Izuku growled, breathing hard, "touch my friend."

"Akatani," Iida cried again. "Don't— Akatani, stop this!"

"I am stopping this, Iida."

"Another fake?" Stain called, eyeing his new opponent warily. Behind his back, Izuku pressed send on a set of mass texts.

At his feet, Iida was struggling weakly. His glasses were broken and askew; his eyes were full of tears as he stared up at Izuku. In the corner of the alley, another shadowed figure was propped against the wall, costume stained. A pro hero.

"I'm here to stop you," Izuku said, "so jot that down, Stain."

Stain crouched. He surveyed Izuku, eyes hungry and wild.

"Brave," he jeered.

"Iida," Izuku said, though he suspected he knew the answer, "can you move?"

"No," Iida choked out. "Akatani—"

"Stain's Quirk immobilizes people," the pro called. Izuku recognized him—Native. "Get out of here before he gets you, too, kid."

Izuku re-activated One for All, the rush of power nearly dizzying.

"And if I refuse to leave?"

Stain laughed. "I'll kill your friend. What will you do, little hero?"

"Akatani, leave! This is my fight."

"It's mine now," Izuku said flatly. He shifted a foot back. Stain mirrored him, dagger appeared after a flick of his fingers.

"This has nothing to do with you!"

Izuku gritted his teeth.

Stain lunged forward. Izuku leapt, ready, twisting as One for All pulsed through his arm. Power poured through his fist, and there was a loud crack as Izuku sent Stain flying backwards.

"Iida," Izuku said, "being a hero means involving yourself in other people's problems."

Stain climbed to his feet, limbs long and lanky. He didn't look quite human as he got up.

"I see," Stain said slowly, nodding. He cocked his head at Izuku like he was seeing Izuku in a different light.

"Help is coming," Izuku reassured the others, fervently hoping it was true.

Izuku forced Stain back. He charged, sliding between Stain's legs and then leaping again like he'd seen Kacchan do a thousand times. Stain turned, but not fast enough to stop the boot right to his face. Izuku ducked under his guard and jerked his hand up. His knife cut through fabric, shining with blood.

"I've got you," Stain said. A long tongue poked out through his teeth as he drew his dagger up. One for All flared, but it was too late. Stain dragged his tongue along the side of his knife, and Izuku felt his limbs lock.

He strained against the effects of Stain's Quirk.

"Blood, huh?" Izuku forced out, though the words were hard.

Stain smiled. It was not the wide, toothy smile he had shown Izuku earlier but one that seemed more genuine, or sympathetic.

"It's a shame," Stain said, "you seem to be one of the real ones. It was a good try."

He stepped past Izuku. Izuku fought harder against the hold, shouting wordlessly as Stain stalked slowly towards Iida's prone body.

"Help," Izuku whispered.

He closed his eyes, begging for a response, but One for All did not answer. Izuku shouted, fighting, but he couldn't overcome the effects of Stain's Quirk.

"No," Izuku cried out. "Iida, get up!"

"You're no hero," Stain said lowly. He raised his katana. Izuku screamed Iida's name. He wasn't— he couldn't save him—

Stain reared back as fire lit up the alley. Izuku sobbed when the flames dissipated to reveal Todoroki standing protectively over Iida, fire flickering over his side. He raised a hand and sent a wave of ice spiraling towards Stain, forcing him back further.

Todoroki glanced sideways at him.

"I got your text," he said, mouth shifting. "Sorry I'm late. You were a little vague, Akatani."

"Better late than dead," Izuku said. "And I was facing down a villain. Didn't have time to explain."

Todoroki crouched over Iida, assessing him, then moved further so he was standing by Izuku.

"Alright?"

"Don't let him cut you," Izuku gasped, "if he ingests your blood, it'll immobilize you."

Todoroki nodded once.

"Todoroki! Not you, too!"

"Shut up," Izuku snapped, the fear fusing into anger. "You don't tell us what to do."

Stain lunged forwards again, but Todoroki sent him back with a wave of his hand. Todoroki clenched his fist, eyes narrowing.

"If you can stall him," Izuku said, "it might be long enough for us to break free. We can help."

Todoroki nodded.

Though he knew Todoroki could handle himself, Izuku hated the feeling of helplessness that washed over him as he watched Todoroki go toe-to-toe with Stain. Izuku strained against the Quirk again and felt his fingers shift just slightly. One for All sparked, and he tried again. His fingers shook as he curled them inwards into a fist.

He was close. He was close.

Todoroki blocked the alley with a wall of ice. One shattered under Stain's knife, but another one rose in its place. From his vantage point Izuku could see what Todoroki couldn't—that Stain was going to break through and—

"Todoroki!"

Stain drove his dagger down, and Todoroki couldn't move fast enough to get out of its way. Izuku shoved them, sending Todoroki spinning out of the way even as a long cut appeared on his arm.

"Thanks," Todoroki said in his ear, then yanked Izuku back as Stain leapt towards them again.

"So," Izuku said between breaths, thinking, "either the effects lost potency as it thinned out with the number of targets or the Quirk affects different blood types differently."

"Smart," Stain praised. "It does work by blood type."

"We need to keep them safe," Todoroki said, jerking his hand backward to point at who he was referring to.

Izuku nodded grimly. "We can keep a distance so he doesn't get us with his Quirk. I can move in closer if need be, and you can hold him off."

"Guys," Iida said weakly. "This—"

"What are you waiting for, Iida?"

"I told my father," Todoroki said. Blades of ice shot from his fingers. "The pro heroes should be on their way."

"Good," Izuku said shortly.

He fired up One for All again and raced forward, matching Stain. They exchanged blows; Todoroki called his name and Izuku dropped to the ground, rolling as fire raged over his head. Then he was up again, keeping the pressure on Stain and pushing him further and further.

"Akatani, Todoroki, stop risking your lives for me!"

"It's what heroes do," Todoroki said. Stain narrowly dodged a pillar of ice; Izuku came in from the other side, and Todoroki trapped him again.

"It's what friends do," Izuku called over his shoulder. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck. He gripped his knife tightly, One for All humming.

"Stop this!"

"Stop it yourse— gah!"

Izuku flung himself backward but felt a sharp sting in his leg. He went down as Stain was forced to retreat again by Todoroki, but his friend couldn't stop the villain from putting the tip of his katana to his mouth. Izuku felt the now-familiar feeling of restraint descending down on him again.

"Sorry," he croaked, and Todoroki acknowledged the apology.

"You're fine," he said. "I can hold him a little longer for you."

Todoroki could, but—

Izuku could tell he was running out of steam, too. They both were. He could feel One for All beginning to strain his body, could feel the warning signs. Todoroki looked tired. He'd used both aspects of his Quirk, something incredibly draining, and Izuku could tell he was going to burn out soon.

"Help is coming," Izuku said.

"Help is coming," Todoroki repeated.

"Todoroki… Akatani…"

Todoroki whirled. His eyes flashed. "Get up, Iida. You're not acting like a hero at all."

"Todoroki!"

Todoroki turned on his heel and threw an arm out. Ice poured from it, but it was less. Weaker. Another wall formed. Another few precious seconds of time.

"Iida," Todoroki began, "who do you want to be? If you want to be a hero, you're going to have to fight for it."

The wall of ice shattered. Stain tore through it, blades shining in the light. Time seemed to slow as Stain dropped from the sky.

This time, it wasn't Izuku who rushed in to save Todoroki. Iida burst into motion in a flash. He rammed into the katana, snapping the blade into pieces, and stood, tall and firm.

Izuku smiled.

"I'm sorry for being so foolish," Iida apologized, "but… both of you… you made me see what I did wrong. I want to be a hero like my brother. I want to help people."

"Ingenium!" Izuku shouted, warmth swelling in his chest.

"No," Stain growled. Iida and Todoroki glanced at each other, moving so they could stand together.

"No," Stain said again, "people like you don't change this quickly. I will take you down."

Iida shot forward, faster than Izuku had ever seen him. Todoroki burst into flames, keeping up the attack.

Izuku felt movement return to him and raced into the fight.

"Akatani—"

"Together," Izuku said.

"Together," Iida nodded. They flew forwards at the same time, One for All pulsing through Izuku's veins. The full force of Iida's Quirk followed by a punch with One for All took Stain down.

His body dropped, limp. Izuku stared at it, not daring to hope.

"He's—"

"Not yet," Iida said, gripping Izuku's arm. "Careful."

Stain lurched forward, fingers scrabbling for his knife then sending it forwards in Iida's direction. Izuku and Todoroki moved at the same time; Izuku threw himself in front of Iida and felt something tear past skin as ice crystallized around them. His shoulder burned.

"Akatani!"

Iida grabbed him, lugging Izuku backwards. The world spun.

"Ow," Izuku said, the only response he could think of.

"You're injured," Todoroki said, kneeling carefully. He tore off a bit of cloth and wrapped it around Izuku's shoulder.

"So are you," Izuku said. He staggered to his feet again. "Take care of Stain. Make sure he stays down. I'm fine."

Native, now free of the influence of Stain's Quirk, rushed over.

"Let me help," he said.

"Akatani!"

"Todoroki, Akatani," Iida started.

"Akatani!"

There was a blur in front of him. Izuku reached for his knife then recognized the face of Gran Torino. The pro hero gripped the front of Izuku's shirt.

"What the hell were you thinking," Gran Torino shouted.

"That I needed to help my friend?"

Gran Torino narrowed his eyes at Izuku. He turned and took in the situation and seemed to realize that the body Todoroki was dragging was none other than Stain, the hero-killer.

"Idiot," he spat, supporting Izuku. "If you weren't hurt, brat, I'd kick your butt."

"Next time," Izuku offered. They moved out of the alley as their back-up appeared.

"Huh," Izuku said, rolling his head over to look at Todoroki. "Still better late?"

"Better late than dead," Todoroki said, and he was smiling.

"I'm sorry I let you down," Iida said. He wiped at his eyes. "I wasn't being heroic at all. I'm sorry I let my emotions get the better of me."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there to support yoo," Izuku said.

"Pull yourself together, class president," Todoroki said, "you can do better now."

Iida breathed in then out roughly. Gran Torino continued nagging in Izuku's ear. The more he went on, the more he sounded like Recovery Girl.

"When Toshinori hears about this…"

"I will," Iida said.

"Not to mention, the absolute insolence…"

Gran Torino tensed. Izuku tensed, too, feeling the danger press around them.

"Get down!"

There was a flapping noise. Izuku felt the ground disappear under his feet and realized it was getting further and further. A scream was hooked out of his throat. Someone shouted his name as his vision went dark for a moment.

When it returned, Izuku's friends were distant and faraway. Fire flickered, but Izuku was too high up. The flapping was louder, and Izuku felt his shoulder burn in pain as claws dug tightly into it. He twisted in the grip of his captor and caught a glimpse of the red, leathery wings of a Nomu before it stole him away into the night.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter twenty-nine


 

No matter how much Izuku struggled, twisting back and forth in the Nomu’s grip, he couldn’t break free. After a few terrifying swoops over the tops of buildings, Izuku stopped fighting. It wasn’t any use wasting energy, not when he had no chance of winning.

They suddenly plummeted. Izuku’s stomach jumped to his throat, and the sound that left his mouth was snatched away by the wind.

His feet hit concrete, then his knees. Izuku caught himself with his hand, the impact jarring, and pain welled along his palm. Above, he could hear the Nomu flapping still, the periods between the beats growing longer as it slowed. He could still feel its sharp gaze locked on him.

Izuku reached back. Touched his shoulder and felt blood seeping through the wrapping on it.

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

Izuku shoved himself to his feet. He met Shigaraki’s gaze evenly, though internally Izuku was shaking. He wanted to know if his friends were okay, if the people and civilians in Hosu were being taken care of in the midst of the Nomu attack.

He glanced up at the Nomu, still circling.

“You should’ve told it that.”

Shigaraki’s eyes flashed with anger. He stomped his foot childishly.

“I’m surprised you’re not out there,” Izuku commented mildly. He took a step back towards the edge of the roof, and then cried out when the Nomu dove over his head, claws streaking across the top of his hair in warning. “Causing destruction, fighting heroes, your favorite.”

Shigaraki sniffed in disdain. “I don’t need to be.”

“Hiding, huh?”

Shigaraki growled. Izuku hissed, suddenly aware that he had nowhere to run. And that he was slightly injured, so maybe provoking his ally-enemy was probably not the brightest idea Izuku had.

“Tomura,” Kurogiri said flatly. Shigaraki’s mouth flattened into a line, but he didn’t say anything.

Izuku cleared his throat and jerked his hand back, pointing in a random direction that was anywhere but here. “Well, then, I’m just going to, uh… leave now. See you later?”

Shigaraki cocked his head. “I didn’t say you could leave.

“I’m giving myself permission to leave.”

“Unfortunately,” Shigaraki said, taking a threatening step forwards, “you’re not going anywhere unless I say you are.”

Izuku held up his hands in surrender. “Okay. Okay. Cool. Yeah.”

He laughed nervously, knowing he’d just pushed his luck a bit too far.

“Do you like Stain’s work, Midoriya?”

“Not—” Izuku swallowed, wondering if he’d be punished for the answer. “—particularly?”

Shigaraki frowned. He stepped a little closer, but he didn’t seem to be unhappy with Izuku particularly. If Izuku had to hazard a guess it might instead be directed at Stain.

Wow, Izuku thought a little hysterically, a new record.

“I’m not…” Shigaraki said, voice trembling slightly, “ happy with him, but he’s useful enough, don’t you think? We share the same goals, him and I. We’d like to weed out the heroes. Destroy this society from the roots.”

“I can get behind that,” Izuku said, smiling uneasily.

“See, that’s the problem. I don’t believe you.”

There it was.

“You don’t believe me,” Izuku said flatly.

“I don’t trust you,” Shigaraki replied.

“Well, it’s mutual,” Izuku said, jutting his chin out a little in defiance. “Do you have a point, Shigaraki?”

He expected a blow, but it didn’t come. Shigaraki’s shirt shifted; under it Izuku spotted bandages. So he was injured, too.

Shigaraki’s face looked sharp and hollow. He raised his hand, and Izuku focused on his fingers, too aware of the damage he could do.

“Sensei’s taken an interest in you,” Shigaraki said finally after a long moment. His lip curled in distaste, and he peered through his hair at Izuku. “I don’t like that much, Midoriya.”

“Well,” Izuku grumbled under his breath, “that makes two of us.”

Thankfully, Shigaraki seemed to have missed Izuku speaking. He began to pace the length of the rooftop in quick, controlled strides. His hand rose to his neck then lowered, but Izuku could tell he was beginning to get angry now that he was thinking.

“You haven’t been very helpful,” Shigaraki said. “In my head… you’re a useless NPC. But Sensei thinks you’re a playable character.”

Izuku stayed tensed. He curled his toes. Felt the aching of his injuries and the warmth of One for All in his chest.

Izuku wondered how much longer he could use One for All before his control slipped. It’d almost happened with Stain, but with the help of Iida and Todoroki he hadn’t pushed himself past his limit. Here there was no one to help him.

It looked like Shigaraki was forgetting about Izuku entirely and instead began to speak to himself. Nearby, Kurogiri kept a watchful eye on both Izuku and Shigaraki but made no move to involve himself. He probably wouldn’t, not unless there was any sign of danger or if Shigaraki asked him to.

“A key…,” Shigaraki mused. He flexed his fingers. Izuku shivered. “A key—”

Which side was he on?

A player character , Shigaraki had called him. Like Izuku was meant to be controlled and not be the controller himself.

Shigaraki turned and paced three steps until he was in front of Izuku. He raked a hand through his hair.

“I have a proposition for you, Midoriya Izuku.”

“Do you,” Izuku replied unflinchingly.

“I could use you,” Shigaraki said. His head tilted to the side, and his shoulders dropped, releasing tension. “Sensei says he needs you to bring down All Might, but he won’t tell me anything. He wants to— wait. So I’ll take matters into my own hands.”

“I want All Might dead,” Shigaraki spat, “and the sooner this world can be rid of him the better. And you are going to help me.”

The words rang in Izuku’s head.

“What about Sensei?” he croaked.

“Sensei will agree with me,” Shigaraki said, and Izuku could tell he was confident and sure in his belief. “He always lets me have what I want. If I ask him he’ll agree.”

“Shigaraki Tomura,” Kurogiri said, an edge to his voice. He surged forward, a black mass, but Shigaraki threw up a hand in his direction.

Interesting , Izuku thought.

“And if I disagree?” Izuku asked.

Shigaraki’s mouth formed a hard, tight line.

“I don’t think you would like the other option,” he said softly.

Shigaraki’s fingers flicked out, and that was the only warning Izuku got. Claws dug into Izuku’s shoulder, and he screamed as the Nomu wrenched him upwards, spiraling up and up. Wind tore at Izuku’s face, at his suit, and once they had reached high enough that Shigaraki looked like a smudge, the Nomu dropped him.

Izuku clawed at the air, searching for something he could hold onto, but there was nothing but emptiness. One for All crackled as the buildings and the ground drew closer, but then the Nomu swept down again, crying out as it snatched Izuku again.

“Shigaraki!” Izuku shouted, fear making him desperate. The distance nearly made his words disappear. He struggled against the Nomu’s grip uselessly, each movement growing weaker. His left shoulder felt like it was going to pulled out of its socket. The cold wind fought against him. “ Shigaraki !”

The Nomu screeched in Izuku’s ear, and he lost his hearing to the sound. The world flipped. Izuku was dropped again, screaming, then snatched from his plummet.

The next time Izuku stopped screaming. The Nomu dove, Izuku swinging in its sharp cage. His back hit something solid, and Izuku’s vision was obscured by darkness as they slid backwards, gravel flying.

The Nomu screeched again, pinning Izuku, claws trapping his throat. Izuku thrashed, trying to get free. It opened its ugly mouth, revealing a row of sharp teeth, but stopped when Shigaraki came to crouch down by Izuku.

“Either you help me,” Shigaraki whispered, “or…”

Izuku lifted a hand, trying to pry the Nomu’s claws away from him, but he wasn’t strong enough. Its wings flapped; Izuku kicked up at its body, struggling, but it remained where it was.

“Let me go, Shigaraki,” Izuku panted, “let me go, let me go.”

“I don’t think you understand the things I would do to see All Might dead.”

“Shigaraki,” Izuku begged, the pain in his shoulder so bad he cut himself off biting down on his tongue. The Nomu shifted, blocking Izuku’s line of sight, but Izuku could still see Shigaraki watching patiently.

“When—”

Izuku!

Heat blasted across Izuku’s face. He felt the pressure lift off his chest but didn’t understand what was happening. He stayed where he was, staring up at the flames. None of the fire touched him.

It was only after the blast of fire ended that Izuku caught someone land in front of him. The Nomu winged up and away, but Izuku could smell something burning.

He crawled onto his knees, then looked up to see the shape of his father standing.

“The Dragon has joined us,” Shigaraki drawled. He drew a hand close to his chest, fingers curled.

Izuku couldn’t see Hisashi’s face. He didn’t think he wanted to.

“What do you think you’re doing, Shigaraki?”

“What am I doing?” Shigaraki laughed. “I’m simply doing the work that needs to be done. Did you like my Nomu’s work?”

Hisashi roared, the sound not human but animal. Fire dripped between his jaws. Izuku crawled away and could just see the line of Hisashi’s jaw and the ridge of his nose.

A fire had caught on the rooftop. Now they were all lit in warm light, Izuku could see everyone’s faces. The light hit Hisashi’s suit, dark and deep, a soft shine reflecting back like a dragon’s scales.

“And Stain?”

The disdain in Hisashi’s voice was evident.

“Do you have a problem, Dragon?”

“I do,” Hisashi rumbled, stepping forwards. His hand curled. “And whatever game you were playing with him is over now. He’s been captured by the heroes.”

Stain. His friends. Gran Torino.

Izuku fumbled in his suit and almost wept with relief when his fingers touched the surface of his phone.

Shigaraki stood, rocking back and forth on his heels. His eyes were wide with disbelief. His hand rose to his neck, and he began to scratch the skin there wildly.

“What?”

“I said, ” Hisashi repeated, “that Stain has been caught. By the heroes.

Shigaraki was breathing hard now.

“No. No, no, I don’t believe you.”

Hisashi threw his head back and laughed without mirth. “You didn’t listen to me,” he said, still laughing, “when I told you not to work with him. Stain’s weak.”

The wind blew, and smoke swept them into a haze. Izuku coughed when it hit him, eyes stinging, and he pushed himself up. Through the smoke he could see the Nomu circling uselessly.

It dropped, but Hisashi turned. He braced himself and then released a stream of pale blue fire. Izuku clawed at the roof. The Nomu screamed, drawing away, but its wing had been badly damaged.

Shigaraki charged forward, shouting in anger, but Hisashi sent him back with a warning shot. Kurogiri twisted around, looking unsure of whether to fight Hisashi—an ally—or to retreat.

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” Shigaraki said. He looked shaken.

You are just a child,” Hisashi hissed. “You know nothing.”

“I’m going to take down All Might,” Shigaraki shouted back.

“Shigaraki,” Kurogiri said.

No.

“And what have you done? What have you accomplished? All Might is still standing, isn’t he? What have you done except for hurt my son?”

Izuku got to his feet, breathing heavily. He reached with his hand to grip his shoulder, and his balance tipped. Hisashi stayed in front of him. Hisashi was— he was keeping Izuku safe, protecting him.

“You…”

“I have a few questions I think need answering,” Hisashi said, cocking his head. Izuku stumbled away, searching the sky for the Nomu, but it was gone.

“The League—”

“Enough of the League!”

Shigaraki let loose a cry and rushed forward. Hisashi snarled, teeth sharp, and smoke poured from his mouth. He turned, and the light flared in his eye when he looked at Izuku.

“Go!”

Izuku scrambled to the edge of the roof, closed his eyes, and jumped this time of his own volition. Power raced through his legs, and he landed hard on the next roof. His ankle throbbed from the impact, but Izuku didn’t stop. He ran.

Izuku glanced back over his shoulder and saw fire break the dark of night. He stumbled, and pain shot through his leg, but Izuku pushed himself farther and farther away. He leapt, almost missing the next roof, then again to the ground. The shock rattled his bones, and the ground broke under his feet. One for All sputtered then slipped from his grasp.

Izuku limped from the alley and kept running, not knowing where he was going. His ankle pulsed with pain—he’d landed wrong earlier and was paying for it now. There was light in the distance; Izuku veered towards it, hoping he was heading towards other people and towards safety.

He could hear now the sound of police sirens growing louder and louder. Izuku felt his chest swell with hope. He ignored the pain and kept running.

Someone appeared at the end of the road in the light. Izuku cupped his hands over his mouth and called for help.

He could see them now—Candlelight, Izuku remembered. One of Endeavor’s sidekicks.

“Phoenix!” she shouted, and Izuku remembered jarringly that that was his name. He laughed in relief as she headed towards him.

She unclipped a comms unit from her suit and spoke into it. Then she stopped, expression changing, and Izuku turned.

“No,” he whispered.

But there it was—the Nomu, features disfigured and one wing torn and burnt. Its eyes locked on Izuku, and he scrambled forward. Candlelight broke out of her shock, hands lighting with fire as she dashed towards him.

Izuku felt his ankle give and cried out as he dropped. Candlelight shouted his name, and Izuku turned, scrambling backwards desperately as the Nomu swooped down, mouth wide open.

“Not on my watch, kid!”

Gran Torino slammed feet-first into the Nomu, and they went tumbling over each other. A police car pulled up, officers getting out suited in vests and armed with guns. Candlelight’s fingers extinguished, and she rushed to his side.

“Can you walk?” She looked him over, frowning. “You’re injured.”

“My ankle,” Izuku said. He tested it and almost fell over again. “That’s not good.”

“Come on,” Candlelight said as she helped him walk. He cast a look over his shoulder at where Gran Torino was wrestling the Nomu. Police rushed past them, and then Izuku saw Endeavor appear on the street, having run once he was contacted. His gaze swept over Izuku and his sidekick before he chased after the Nomu.

“Don’t worry,” Candlelight said, “the others will take care of it. Endeavor will fight it.”

Izuku would’ve protested, but he knew he was in no shape to fight, not after Stain and the Nomu. He’d only get in the heroes’ way.

There was a human cry of victory from behind them. Izuku limped away faster, and he saw an ambulance arrive in the distance.

“My friends,” he started. “Gran Torino—”

“They’re alright,” Candlelight reassured as he was handed over to the paramedics. “Don’t worry.”

The hospital was familiar, even if Izuku didn’t like it. He felt like he was in Recovery Girl’s office. They treated his shoulder and wrapped his ankle, though Izuku was out for most of it. When he woke up again he saw he wasn’t alone. There were two other beds in the same room, and Izuku saw seated in them his friends.

Izuku sat up.

“Guys,” he said, then broke into a coughing fit.

“Akatani!”

“Akatani…”

He waved them off. “I’m good. I’m good.”

Izuku looked up at them and grinned widely.

“We made it, guys.”

Iida, on the far bed, adjusted his glasses. “Akatani, I… when you— that Nomu…”

Izuku wasn’t ready to talk about it. “It’s okay,” he said, “the heroes saved me.”

Todoroki frowned. “I’m glad, but…”

Izuku squinted at him. “It wasn’t your fault, Todoroki. Or yours, Iida. It just happened.”

Todoroki was still frowning. He didn’t look completely convinced, but he glanced back at Iida and seemed to let it go.

“Are you guys okay?” Izuku asked. He pushed himself up farther but decided he wasn’t going to do anything past that. His friends looked better than he remembered, now that they were out of the alley and in a clean hospital room, bandaged and taken care of. Izuku wondered how he looked.

“We’re fine,” Todoroki acknowledged. He looked the least injured of all of them; Iida had heavy bandaging over his shoulder, too, and his legs. His hand looked the worst, though.

“Stain was taken care of,” Iida said stiffly, “and from what I heard, the Nomu, too, after they caught you.”

“Gran Torino…?”

Todoroki cocked his head. “The pro hero that was with you…?” Izuku nodded in response, and Todoroki continued. “He’s fine. He and Manual are going to stop by later to visit, I think.”

“Not Endeavor,” Izuku said, meeting Todoroki’s eyes.

“He’s assisting with cleanup,” Todoroki responded, “so, no.”

Todoroki cleared his throat then looked between Izuku and Iida. “I think we need to talk.”

The door opened. Whatever Todoroki was going to say was dropped, and his face slipped back into a neutral mask as a dog-headed police officer stepped in, followed by Gran Torino. Gran Torino nodded once when he saw Izuku, but stood back respectfully.

“Don’t bother,” the officer barked when it looked like Todoroki was going to stand. Izuku slid his feet back under the blankets from where he was about to move.

“My name is Chief Kenji,” the man said, “I’m Chief of Police here.”

“Sir—” Iida started. Chief Kenji held up a hand.

“I’m here to speak with you about what happened with Stain,” Chief Kenji began, “He’s severely injured but being treated. I’d also like to remind you about Quirks in our society.”

“Oh,” Izuku said quietly. This was the part where he was supposed to regret running off by himself. He didn’t.

“Heroes began to use their Quirks to do good when the police could not,” Chief Kenji said, “and we are grateful to them for that. But all heroes, for using their Quirks, are subject to strict law and moral codes—and you are no different. You’re still, ruff, young, just first years. You’re not yet ready to take on that role, and that is why you are assigned the supervision of your teachers and your mentors.”

Chief Kenji turned his stare onto the heroes behind him: Gran Torino, who crossed his arms over his chest disapprovingly, and Manual, who simply bowed his head.  

“But—”

“No matter who you fought, even if it was the Hero Killer, you broke the laws that were put in place to protect civilians from being hurt by accident or other serious incidents.” Izuku winced. “For your failure to comply with the law, both you and your supervisors will be subject to punishment.”

“Are you serious?” Todoroki thundered. Izuku turned, surprised to hear him, but Todoroki was glaring at Chief Kenji.

“Todoroki, we should—” Iida interrupted.

“What did you expect us to do?” Todoroki asked. He didn’t raise his voice, but it cut through all the same. “Stand idly by? We’re not pro heroes, but you can’t expect us to do nothing! If Akatani and I hadn’t acted, Native and Iida would be dead.”

“Todoroki!”

“Enough,” Gran Torino said, the first time Izuku had heard him speak.

“If you had let me finish, that was simply the opinion of a police officer. However, this is not an official disclosure—you three will be going unpunished.”

Izuku slumped, sighing. He didn’t need any more trouble than he already had. Iida enthusiastically thanked Chief Kenji. Todoroki simply folded his hands together.

Chief Kenji nodded towards the two pro heroes. “They will have their teaching license revoked. Though you go unpunished, you will not be rewarded, either. There aren’t enough eyewitnesses—instead Endeavor will be credited for taking down the hero-killer.”

Izuku peeked at Todoroki’s face but found it blank. Iida bowed the best he could in a hospital bed, and Izuku followed suit, murmuring his thanks.

“Thank you for your bravery and your work,” Chief Kenji said, “without you Stain would still be free. Please do not disclose your involvement with anyone, but… I believe you three are promising young heroes.”

He took his leave, the three of them thanking him. Manual crossed the room to speak with Iida, but Gran Torino came to Izuku’s bed.

“Boy,” he said, tone sharp.

Izuku rubbed at his hair. “Sorry.”

Gran Torino’s face softened a fraction. Izuku grinned toothily at him.

“What was it you said? Not on my watch?”

“Kid,” Gran Torino groaned, “you’re an absolute piece of work, aren’t you?”

“He’s a magnet for trouble,” Todoroki put in. Gran Torino sniffed, then cuffed the back of Izuku’s head.

“Don’t do that again.”

“No plans,” Izuku promised, and his smile faded when he remembered the feeling of the Nomu clutching him, the feeling of falling, and falling—

“I called Toshinori,” Gran Torino said. “Earlier, to let him know what happened, and then again once you’d been taken care of. He’ll be here soon.”

Izuku opened his mouth, then shut it again.

“Akatani,” Gran Torino started, “did…”

The Nomu. His father.

“Not now,” Izuku cut in, “and not here. Please.”

He squeezed his eyes shut. Shigaraki. Fire. Gran Torino put a hand on his uninjured shoulder, and the images in Izuku’s mind vanished at the touch. He stayed there as his friends spoke in low quiet tones, and then Izuku opened his eyes when Gran Torino moved. He made a noise when the hand left his shoulder then looked past and saw Toshinori in the doorway, looking to all the world like he’d run here. When Izuku saw Toshinori there, time seemed to stand still.

Toshinori mouthed his name, then came in stumbling like he wasn’t sure he was welcome. Izuku reached for him, and Toshinori crossed the rest of the way.

“This isn’t what I meant,” Toshinori said softly, kneeling by the bed, and Izuku’s laugh was watery but genuine.

“Toshi…”

“I’m sorry,” Toshinori whispered. He gripped Izuku’s knee. “Mikumi, I’m sorry —”

“No,” Izuku said, sniffling. “No, no…”

“When Gran Torino called,” Toshinori started, but he broke off, then said, “I thought for a second I had lost you.”

Izuku’s mouth was trembling. He reached out to grip Toshinori’s shirt tight in a fist, and Toshinori wrapped his arms around Izuku.

“I saw—” Izuku whispered, shaking.

“It’s okay,” Toshinori said, “I’m here, it’s okay.”

“They’re going to kill you,” Izuku whispered, burying his face in Toshinori’s chest. Toshinori moved back, swiping his thumbs under Izuku’s eyes.

“They won’t,” Toshinori said, and Izuku cried harder. “They won’t, I promise.”

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter thirty


Hosu exploded with attention overnight.

With nothing left to do, Izuku scrolled through the news while stuck in the hospital. He stayed on his side, back turned towards his friends, and read the articles, occasionally clicking through pictures or a video.

He checked the discussion forums and found thread after thread about Stain and his ideology. How some people grudgingly admitted they thought he had the right ideas but the wrong methods. What Izuku saw was an undercurrent, a rising wave that would bring more villains in the fold.

Like Chief Kenji had told him, the credit to defeating Stain had been given to Endeavor. There was no mention of Izuku or his friends at all—good. The less attention, the better. It had been phrased as a punishment, but Izuku knew it was more of a gift than anything.

There was a fair amount of attention given to the Nomus, too, but not as much as Stain. Izuku felt sick when he saw the winged Nomu flapping against a dark sky; his stomach crawled into his throat and stayed there. Izuku clicked away before he could see it again and remember the way he had fallen.

"We need to talk."

Todoroki's voice cut through the din. Izuku clicked off his phone, shoving it under his pillow to hide until he processed the words and sat up to look over.

"Talk?"

Todoroki met his eyes evenly. "About yesterday," he said, "and about— the past weeks, I think."

Izuku swallowed. There was a sudden weight sitting on his chest, and he reached up to massage his shirt.

"What is there to discuss?" Iida chipped in. Todoroki broke his gaze to look at Iida.

"Both of you… all of us have been… struggling recently, I think," Todoroki said. "Haven't we?"

Izuku blinked, surprised. He hadn't expected Todoroki to be the one to bring it up. Before the Sports Festival, before Izuku had spoken to him, he'd been cold and aloof.

Now Izuku could see. There, the way his eyes were flickering between them and the door, the way he kept very, very still, the movement of his hands giving him away.

Izuku cleared his throat and looked away. "Yeah."

"Yes," Iida responded, "I… acted in ways that were unbefitting—"

"I think we're past that part, Iida," Todoroki cut in, "though I myself didn't get a chance to apologize."

"For what?" Izuku asked glumly. "You saved our lives."

"But not your hands," Todoroki said, voice flat. "It seems I'm always involved in hand-related incidents."

Iida's head jerked in Izuku's direction as Izuku did his. They looked at each other past Todoroki.

"Was that a joke, Todoroki?"

Todoroki cocked his head. "I don't know what you mean."

"Thanks for lending a hand, Todoroki," Izuku said, and Iida grinned. Todoroki looked between them in confusion, and that was what made Izuku laugh a little.

"It's alright, Todoroki," Iida said finally, "we're grateful for your help. And regardless, I'm sure Akatani would've found a way to break his arm—"

"Hey," Izuku snapped, but there was no real bite to it.

"You should take more care," Todoroki told him seriously, and Izuku suppressed his smile and nodded solemnly.

"What was it that you were saying, Todoroki?" Iida asked.

"Akatani taught me something," Todoroki said, and Izuku jerked. "The Sports Festival. You made me realize that there are other people around me willing to help if I needed."

"Oh…"

"Yet," Todoroki continued, and there was an anger to his words that hadn't been there before, "when either of you were struggling you didn't think to ask for help. Maybe— I am not without fault. I don't think I made it clear enough that I would listen if you needed someone to speak to, but you should have gone to someone."

Izuku fixed his gaze on the doorway. Discomfort slid down his throat.

It's not the same, he wanted to say. can't.

"I understand," Iida said quietly from the other side, "and I apologize. I was too caught up in my own head to consider others' concern for me."

"Akatani?" Todoroki prompted when Izuku didn't say anything.

"Thank you, Todoroki. I appreciate it."

Under his pillow, Izuku's phone buzzed. He ignored it, sinking back deeply into thought.

Izuku wondered where Hisashi was. Now that it was a new day, the sunlight and the heroes were chasing away the villains and the nightmares. The last he had seen of his father was the bright flames of his own fire and Shigaraki pushing through it.

As if Izuku's thought had summoned him, someone familiar appeared in the doorway Izuku was looking at. His friends' conversation died as Hisashi walked in, looking over the three of them before his gaze stopped on Izuku.

"Father," Izuku said heavily.

Hisashi looked like he always had, but his cropped hair was disheveled and his nice business shirt wrinkled. The sleeves were pulled down all the way instead of rolled up—he must have been injured, then.

"Mikumi," Hisashi responded, voice matching Izuku's tone.

Izuku didn't know how to feel. He didn't want to cry for any reason, but there was a thick sense of relief followed by a stray thought of how Izuku would have felt if Hisashi was gone. He recoiled. Izuku held no love for his father and the things he had done, but…

"I didn't think you would be here," Izuku said. Hisashi finally came to stand next to him, looking Izuku over more closely.

"It's not easy to get rid of me," Hisashi said lightly, careful of the others listening as the two of them carried a conversation that had meaning only to them. "You're hurt again."

Again, at Shigaraki and Stain's hands, like at USJ.

"I'm alright," Izuku said. He rolled his shoulder back and felt a dulled wave of pain wash through it. "It should heal soon enough."

Hisashi frowned.

"We'll speak more when you come home," he said. "I've changed my mind about one of our business partners."

"H- home?"

"After your internship," Hisashi said, "though I'll be cutting my business trip short. Hosu is… crawling with heroes."

"And reporters," Izuku agreed, sighing.

"I came to make sure you were alright," Hisashi said, glancing back at the door, "I'm sorry I can't stay. I have to go soon, to catch the train unless they shut it down again."

Izuku realized that Gran Torino must be here, too, and maybe even Toshinori even if Hisashi had no idea who he was. He'd seen Toshinori the first time with Detective Tsukauchi. Hisashi was under pressure; with Japan's eyes turned on Hosu, it was best if Hisashi could slip away quietly.

"Okay," Izuku said.

"Stay out of danger."

"It finds me," Izuku protested half-heartedly. "Anyway, I'm done fighting villains."

"Good," Hisashi said. He pressed a hand on Izuku's head, aware of the others in the room. "I'm sorry."

Izuku hummed. He wasn't sure how sorry Hisashi was, though this apology had seemed genuine. Nor did Izuku know exactly what it was for.

"I'll see you next week," Izuku said as a response. Hisashi nodded.

"I'll check in with you," Hisashi said. He looked at his phone then nodded again. "Mikumi."

"Father," Izuku said, and just like that he was gone.

"Your father?" Todoroki asked.

Izuku nodded. Todoroki was watching him a little curiously; Izuku would have to be careful.

"He happened to be in Hosu for a business trip," Izuku explained, keeping his voice steady and even. "I guess they let him know I got caught up with the Nomu or something. I don't think they'd tell anyone about Stain."

Todoroki seemed to find that a reasonable answer.

"He did seem quite concerned," Iida chipped in, "though in a hurry."

Izuku shrugged. "He said they were shutting down the trains. It might be harder to get out of Hosu."

Todoroki frowned. "But there should be plenty of people coming in and out. I'm sure some will choose to leave until things die down here, and there will be heroes from nearby places coming in."

Izuku shrugged again. "I don't run transportation, don't ask me."

"Do you think they'll let us back to our internships?" Iida asked. "I… would at least like to apologize to Manual."

Izuku snorted. "If they'll even let us step a foot out of the hospital."

"Endeavor is busy," Todoroki admitted, "and I'm not sure I'm fit to be helping. The same goes for you… and besides, those two pro heroes had their licenses revoked, didn't they?"

That was alright for Gran Torino, Izuku figured. He wasn't exactly the kind of guy who wanted to take on interns all the time, and he was retired. He'd taken Izuku because of One for All, but that was a different situation entirely.

They were eventually allowed back to the internships, but it wasn't much use. Izuku could fight, but it wouldn't be pretty.

Izuku practiced making illusions for Gran Torino, free to use his Quirk. He stretched the light into shapes and figures. People Izuku still struggled with, but with nothing else to do, Izuku could only get better.

Gran Torino also encouraged—if encourage was the right word—Izuku to try to summon the wielders again. So Izuku spent his remaining days meditating, legs crossed on the wooden floor of Gran Torino's home while Gran Torino dozed.

"This isn't working," Izuku complained. He flopped back carefully as to not hurt himself. "Maybe they don't want to speak to me again."

Gran Torino was awake this time. "For good reason."

"Hey."

Gran Torino huffed. "Saw then at the Sports Festival, did you?"

"Yeah," Izuku said, "when…"

"What?"

"Maybe it was triggered," Izuku said, "by Shinsou's Quirk. After he brainwashed me, I saw them, and I broke out of his control. So maybe it's situational."

"His Quirk's all up here," Gran Torino pointed out, gesturing to Izuku's head. "Makes sense you might see them, since no one else did. Not a physical manifestation."

"I guess," Izuku said, though he was a little disappointed. "Do you think that maybe I could see them once I gain a little more control? You said I probably have control over… what, five percent? That's not exactly a lot."

"No," Gran Torino agreed, "not compared to where you will be."

"Will be," Izuku repeated.

It was a scary thought. Already, even with the little bit of power Izuku could control, he could fight in a way he had never dreamed of. It wasn't enough to beat All for One, but Stain had proved Izuku could handle a fight.

All Might could change the weather. And the power only grew, so neither Izuku nor his mentors had any real idea of what Izuku was actually capable of.

"Can you tell me about All for One?"

Gran Torino's eyes widened a fraction, but he was careful with his expression. "What do you want to know? Don't ask me."

Izuku thought about it. "Does he have any weaknesses?"

Gran Torino laughed. "Weaknesses?"

"I mean," Izuku said, more hesitant now, "I don't know, like… everyone has a weakness, right?"

Gran Torino raised an eyebrow. "If you're normal, sure," he conceded, "but that man has been around since… since the beginning of Quirks, we think. That kind of power, that kind of life… any weaknesses are ones you have to make."

"Right."

Gran Torino stretched. "Stop dwelling on it, kid. It's not your problem to worry about. Let us handle it, and you focus on One for All and being a hero."

"...Alright," Izuku said. "Gran Torino?"

Gran Torino grumbled. "Don't you have anything better to do besides ask me questions?"

"No," Izuku said, gesturing at himself.

"What do you want."

"Well," Izuku started, thinking, "have you ever… made a mistake?"

"A mistake?"

"Well, I mean, of course everybody makes mistakes, but, like, you know. A really, really bad mistake."

"I don't know if your 'really, really bad' is my 'really, really bad,'" Gran Torino grunted. He thought about it for a minute.

"Like… putting other people in danger kind of 'really, really bad,'" Izuku said.

"So, bad," Gran Torino said.

"Bad."

Gran Torino scratched his head then looked at Izuku quizzically.

"What do you want to know that for?"

"I don't know," Izuku said, because he couldn't exactly say hey, I kind of took a part-time job as Shigaraki's punching bag and All for One's chess piece.

Gran Torino grunted. "Sure."

"Really?"

"We're heroes," Gran Torino said, "a lot of times you mess up or you make the wrong choice, and it's not just like a broken microwave that you can replace online."

"A broken microwave…?"

"That's besides the point. I almost got Nana killed."

Izuku's breath caught in his chest. Gran Torino sighed.

"I said the wrong thing to the wrong person," he explained, but didn't go any further in detail, "and the next time I saw Nana she was bleeding out in a back alley."

"Oh," Izuku said, "I'm sorry."

Gran Torino sighed again. "She lived. But I learned to be more careful after that."

There was a question on Izuku's lips that he couldn't seem to form words to.

"How do you … fix it?"

"Sometimes the problem's over before you can do anything about it," Gran Torino said, "and the only thing you can do is deal with the fallout best you can. Sometimes you can't fix it. Sometimes you can, but you give up something. It's not…"

"A broken microwave?"

Gran Torino snapped his fingers. "Not a broken microwave."

"Then what?"

"Keep going. Keep fighting. You can't fix every problem but you can keep doing good. Or you can take a job teaching a bunch of annoying brats until they drive you insane by blowing up a portion of the school in an unapproved training exercise, including the cafeteria!"

"That's…" Izuku said slowly, "very specific, Gran Torino."

He was trying not to smile. Gran Torino eyed him.

"I'm not speaking from experience."

"Of course not," Izuku said, committing Gran Torino's story to memory so he could search it up later.

Gran Torino shook his finger at Izuku. "Don't blow up my kitchen."

"I can cook," Izuku said, "I'm not Toshinori. I won't."

Gran Torino huffed. "That answer your question?"

Izuku took a deep breath. "I'll start looking for a job to teach annoying brats who blow up the cafeteria, yeah. I'm sure there'll be an opening online."

"Brat," Gran Torino said. Izuku smiled.

"You sound like Kacchan," Izuku murmured.

"Hah?"

"Nothing," Izuku said, "you just remind me of someone I know."

"You have friends?"

"Come on!"

Izuku's phone buzzed. He checked it and saw a text from Hisashi; for a moment Izuku thought of leaving him on read, then decided it wasn't a good idea. Gran Torino peered over curiously, but Izuku blocked his phone from sight.

"My father," Izuku said. "Just checking in."

Gran Torino raised an eyebrow. "If he's anything like you he's an… interesting man."

Izuku shrugged uncomfortably. "Interesting is one way to describe him, I guess."

"You don't like him much, eh?"

"I didn't say that," Izuku protested, "he's my father."

Gran Torino hummed, unconvinced. "Just ask Toshi to take you," he suggested, grinning wickedly. "I'm sure he'd do it in a heartbeat."

Izuku could feel himself turning red. He ducked his head.

"It's not, we're not… I don't- Gran Torino, please…"

"I'll let him know," Gran Torino promised.

"No!" Izuku yelped. "Please don't. Oh, God."

"He likes you."

Izuku stared at the floor. "S-so?"

Gran Torino grunted. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something and then shut his mouth again.

"What?" Izuku pressed.

"Don't worry about it," Gran Torino said. "Oi, internship's almost over."

"Wish I could stay longer," Izuku said. Outside of the mess in Hosu, he'd enjoyed the little taste he'd gotten of a different life.

"I don't," Gran Torino said. He grinned. "I'll enjoy getting rid of you."

"You like me," Izuku teased.

"Hmph."

Izuku wasn't sure how much progress had been made by the end of the week. He packed his bags, looking around at the old but comfortable apartment.

"I'll come back and bother you," Izuku promised as Gran Torino walked him to the door.

"Please don't."

"I didn't get a chance to say this," Izuku said, "so… thank you, Gran Torino. I think I learned a little more about… everything."

"Keep your control and your composure, and you'll be fine. Don't push your limit."

"Five percent," Izuku said, sighing, "got it."

The taxi was waiting on the front curb. Izuku's bags were put in the back; Gran Torino followed him out.

"You'll see me again," Izuku told him, "just watch me."

"I'm sure," Gran Torino said. He squinted up at the sun, frowned, then looked at Izuku like he'd never seen him before. "What's your name again, boy?"

Izuku narrowed his eyes. He opened his mouth to quip back that this was not how he wanted to say goodbye and opened the taxi door. Then he saw the expectant look in Gran Torino's eyes.

"Phoenix," Izuku said, and this time he liked it. Gran Torino huffed, but he nodded just once.

Izuku climbed into the taxi, door shutting behind him, and waved. Gran Torino watched for a while, standing on the curb, but when he was nearly out of sight, Izuku saw him finally wave back.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter thirty-one


"You're kidding me," Kacchan groaned, "again?"

"How was your internship, Bakugou?" Izuku asked politely, clasping his hands behind his back and smiling winningly. "I like the hair."

"I'm going to throttle you," Kacchan threatened, but to Izuku the threat meant very little. Kacchan's hair was the highlight of the week. Best Jeanist had certainly done a number on it, and Izuku had saved every picture the girls had been willing to send him. It was going to make a good laugh later when he needed it.

"You've been paired together again," Todoroki commented. He seemed amused.

"With this nerd?" Kacchan scoffed, looking away. "Ugh."

"I'm excited to work with you," Izuku chirped, which was very much the truth. "I think we'll make a great team."

"Yeah, but what is our final exam going to be anyway?"

"I heard it was robots," Kaminari piped up. He leaned in conspiratorially. "Heard it from one of the upperclassmen."

Izuku frowned. "I don't think so."

He and Uraraka exchanged a look over their lunch. "It doesn't make sense," Uraraka agreed. She tapped her chin. "And besides, I'm more worried about math."

Kaminari was already face-down on the table. "Don't talk to me about math," he moaned.

Izuku made a face. Mathematics wasn't his strongest suit either. He could count villains and subtract hours from his sleep schedule to allot to other things—that was all he needed.

"At least English shouldn't be hard," Todoroki said.

The entire table turned to glare at him. Todoroki paused with his chopsticks halfway to his mouth.

"What?"

Hisashi taught Izuku English; he believed it was useful to know. Even so, it wasn't something Izuku had picked up easily, though it had been rather quick.

"Of course you would say that."

"What?" Todoroki asked. He set down his chopsticks.

Someone farther down on the lunch table yelled so Izuku could hear her. "Stop being perfect, Todoroki!"

Todoroki frowned. "I'm not sure what…"

"Don't worry about it," Uraraka said, reaching across to pat his arm sympathetically.

Kirishima dramatically wiped a fake tear from his eye. "He doesn't even know it…"

"Oh, shut it, all of you," Kacchan said. He looked a little sullen, his chin jutting out.

Oh, Izuku thought, a laugh bubbling in his throat, he's jealous.

"And don't talk while you're chewing," Iida called, using his good arm to chop the air.

"Yes, Dad," a chorus of voices said together, then laughed. Izuku leaned back on his hands a little and smiled.

It was nice being back and surrounded by people Izuku liked. He'd forgotten what it felt like; he hadn't really talked to any of them in weeks.

And now Todoroki was joining their growing table. Izuku marveled at how easily he had joined and how easily he had been accepted. There had been a few quizzical looks at the beginning of the week when he'd hesitantly come carrying his lunch, and then there'd been a lot of shoving and shuffling to make room.

"Hey," Ashido shouted from the far side of the lunch table. "I'm going to the Support Department to make a few adjustments to my costume later. Anyone wanna come?"

Izuku raised his hand, and Ashido sent him an air high-five.

"So how was your internship?" Izuku asked, turning to Uraraka. She beamed.

"Gunhead was fantastic," she gushed, eyes sparkling. She had a sudden thought. "Maybe I should get a gun."

Izuku raised a brow. "That escalated quickly, don't you think?"

"I think it'd be useful in the future," Uraraka said, humming, "well, anyway, I learned a lot about hand-to-hand, so I'm really excited to kick your butt."

"Kick my butt? You're going to have to work hard to do that," Izuku replied, but he smiled. He was sure she could wipe the floor (or the ceiling, he supposed) with his face.

"You were with Gran Torino, right?"

Izuku cleared his throat. "Oh, yeah, he was the worst. I miss him."

Iida gave him a weird look.

"I've never heard of him before," Uraraka said.

"Oh, yeah," Izuku said, "well, once he fought an octopus with a steak knife and then— anyway, he's not a well-known hero. But he taught at U.A. And he was All Might's mentor."

Todoroki was staring at Izuku. "All Might's mentor."

"Todoroki," Izuku warned, silently telling him not to start.

"You're just denying it," Todoroki said, more passionately that Izuku had ever heard him. Izuku grabbed Kacchan's shoulder, ignoring his indignant shout, and shook him.

"Help me," Izuku begged. "All you have to do is say 'Todoroki is wrong and Akatani is right.'"

"Half n' Half's wrong," Kacchan crowed delightedly, though left out the second part.

"About what?"

"Don't you dare," Izuku hissed.

Todoroki blinked coolly. "I believe Akatani is All Might's illegitimate son."

Kacchan spat out his drink. There was silence, and then half the table burst into laughter while the other half looked at Izuku as if they were deciphering how much he looked like All Might. As much as Izuku wanted as a kid, he didn't look much like his hero.

"You're so right," Kaminari said, breaking the silence.

"No, he's not."

"How could I have never seen this before?"

Izuku whined, covering his face with his hands. He splayed his fingers so he could peek through them and found that he was still in his seat instead of melting through the floor like he wanted.

"What's Dad Might like?"

"Dad what?"

"All Might, but like, he's your dad."

"Guys, stop," Izuku protested, "he's not my dad."

Kacchan kept eating. "All Might's not his dad."

"How do you know?"

"Tch," Kacchan said, "he's too good to be Akatani's dad."

"Thanks?" Izuku replied. "That's… fair."

"Todoroki," Izuku suddenly remembered, "you met my dad."

Iida sat up straighter. "That's right," he said, "at the hospital. Yes, that was him."

"Ha," Izuku proclaimed, "explain that!"

"I think All Might has some sort of disguise," Todoroki said, "not just in regards to having a family, but outside of being a hero. After all, it's pretty hard to miss All Might, and it's not like he's been spotted grocery shopping or something."

"Oh my God," Uraraka said, snapping her fingers, "All Might gets his groceries delivered."

Izuku sent her a weird look.

"A lot of people do…?" he said. "And besides, All Might can't cook."

"You're his son! Game over!"

"Yeah, how do you know that, Akatani?"

"You're focusing on the wrong thing," Izuku sent back. "Like I said, All Might can't cook."

"Neither can I," Todoroki confessed.

"Exactly, and you're both perfect."

"Maybe perfect people can't cook," Uraraka said.

"Oh, so you can't, Uraraka?"

She wailed, turning red, and Izuku smiled. The banter continued through the end of lunch, and Izuku found himself smiling more than he had in a while.

Izuku and his classmates shuffled back to class afterwards. All Might was ambling his way down the hall. Kirishima nudged him.

"What?" Izuku hissed back.

But a moment later he couldn't help himself and jogged to catch up to All Might, ignoring the teasing behind him.

"Hey, young Akatani," All Might said, smiling broadly. "How was lunch?"

"Good," Izuku said, then remembered his classmates were watching and ducked his head to hide his blush.

All Might glanced back at his classmates, who all whistled and looked around innocently. He chuckled.

"I'm sure."

Izuku fiddled with his shirt. After the internship and half a week of settling back into class, he and All Might had slowly drifted back together. There were long stints of painful silence and apologies, but they were working on it.

"I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer in Hosu," All Might said, carefully putting a hand on Izuku's shoulder. "I thought if I was there I might as well help ease the damage."

Izuku shook his head. "You did what you should. And you came. That was enough."

All Might hummed. His hand was warm and comforting.

"Ready for exams?"

Izuku shook his head. "I haven't… been keeping up with my studies as well as I should have."

All Might stopped. "I think you'll do just fine."

"Sure," Izuku said without any conviction. He'd have to ask Iida if he wanted to do some study sessions together—or maybe Kacchan, if he was willing. Kacchan's grades had never been anything to laugh at.

"Don't worry," All Might said, and they resumed walking. Then he smiled secretly. "Well, maybe worry a little."

"Very reassuring," Izuku drawled.

"You've improved greatly," All Might said, "I'm proud of you."

"Well—" Izuku said, but he couldn't continue.

"You performed well in class the other day."

They'd raced through the buildings. Izuku had been able to keep up Full Cowl, steady and strong like Gran Torino wanted.

"Yeah," Izuku said, "but I came in last."

Then he'd slipped and come in dead last. It'd been embarrassing to say the least.

"Not everything is about coming in first place," All Might said sagely.

"Says the number one hero," Izuku grumbled, and All Might laughed loudly.

"I'm not sure young Bakugou would stand for anything less, regardless."

"And I'm stuck with him," Izuku said, but he smiled. "Anyway, everyone wants to pass. Eraserhead told us about the training camp."

He wasn't sure he could go, but it sounded nice. All Might smiled broadly.

Izuku hadn't brought up final exams or the training camp to Hisashi yet, and he had no plans to. For the rest of the week, he studied as hard as he could. Kacchan yelled every time Izuku made a mistake when they were studying, but he got shushed by the librarian and nearly kicked out. Izuku had no problem deciphering Kacchan's teaching in between the cursing, so it helped.

They even trained together a few times when they got the chance. Kacchan and Izuku quizzed each other about verb tenses in English while doing sit-ups instead of counting off, and insulted each other while trying to reference as many impressionists as they could when they fought. Other times, they learned to work together—Eraserhead had paired them for the final exams, which meant they were either fighting each other or against someone else. It was probably the latter, Izuku figured, since fighting each other meant one person was bound to fail per pair.

It was weird, being around Kacchan again. Izuku had missed years of Kacchan's life and was now running chasing after his back trying to catch up. Kacchan seemed to grow more sullen and stressed as the days passed, snapping at everyone around him. Izuku let the anger wash over him. He could take it. He tried not to push too much, but Kacchan seemed to swing between a good mood and a bad one.

"Probably just exams," Uraraka said when Izuku brought it up. "He's worried in his own way, I guess."

"Yeah," Izuku said, and dropped it.

Finals week came. Izuku dreaded it but welcomed the distraction from villainy to heroics.

What Izuku wasn't ready for was the heroics exam.

"You're going to be fighting us," Eraserhead announced when the time came.

"I'm dropping," Mineta moaned.

"Please drop," one of the girls whispered loudly.

Eraserhead cleared his throat. He explained each of the teams and what hero they would be fighting.

Izuku had been paired with Kacchan; they'd known that already. But then All Might smiled cheerily, and Eraserhead gestured to him.

"We're done," Izuku said, leaning forward so he could speak to Kacchan.

"I'm gonna punch his teeth in," Kacchan whispered back.

"I thought it was robots," Jirou called.

"It was," Principal Nedzu chirped. He seemed far too cheerful; Izuku remembered he was impossibly smart and pitied his opponents.

"The rise in villain attacks and what happened this year has lead us to change the exam to reflect real life battles," Eraserhead explained. He looked excited. Izuku didn't like that.

The class was sent off to a training area. Not within U.A., like Izuku had expected, but a large facility outside of it. It reminded Izuku of USJ; he checked around nervously but tried not to worry too much about it.

"Ready, boys?" All Might asked as Kacchan and Izuku went to follow him into their own area.

"Not really," Izuku muttered.

"Hell yeah," Kacchan said at the same time. They looked at each other. All Might laughed.

"You're going to have to work together," he said.

According to Eraserhead's announcements, he and Kacchan had thirty minutes to defeat All Might. He wouldn't be using his full power, and he'd be wearing a weighted set of bracelets Hatsume had made. They could handcuff All Might, which Izuku privately thought wasn't happening, or they could escape the battlefield.

Looking at All Might's face, Izuku wasn't sure he'd let either of the win conditions happen. Then he looked at Kacchan's face and thought he would.

"Immovable object," Izuku muttered, looking between them, "meet unstoppable force."

All Might disappeared into the battlefield. Izuku swallowed nervously.

"We need a plan," he said.

"I'm going to beat him."

"Great plan, needs some help."

"I don't need help," Kacchan said, and Izuku felt like screaming. It was like being back at square one.

The bell rang to signal the start of exams.

"Bakugou," Izuku said, "please…"

Kacchan took off. Izuku swore and took off after him, the anger mounting. He didn't know what had gotten into Kacchan. They'd been working together fine for the past week or two, yet now Kacchan seemed to have done a complete one-eighty and now wanted to be the lone wolf again. All Might would flatten him into an angry pancake.

"Bakugou!"

"Out of my way!"

Izuku drew back. He kept to hiding between the buildings but followed Kacchan.

"Hello, heroes!" All Might called. His voice bounced off of every building and echoed around every corner. "Prepare to fight me!"

A booming laugh shook the air. Then the ground rumbled, and Izuku yelped, barely keeping his balance.

"Laying it on a bit thick," Izuku murmured as All Might continued to taunt them. At least he seemed to be having fun, if no one else was.

All Might appeared through a haze of dust.

"Die!" Kacchan screamed, launching himself forward.

Even restrained, All Might was infinitely more powerful. He brought up a fist and caught Kacchan in the gut, sending him flying backwards. It looked like a relatively soft blow, considering Kacchan recovered quickly.

"Dammit, Kacchan," Izuku growled. Now he had no choice.

He zipped up the nearest building and then dropped down on All Might in a silent move reminiscent of when he'd fought Stain. All Might turned, impossibly fast, but Izuku was fast, too. Just like he'd trained.

He slid under All Might's hands. Kacchan released an explosion right in All Might's face, and Izuku charged up One for All and sent a powerful blast clipping against All Might's side.

All Might stumbled once, but only once. He was quick to recover, wrapping a large hand around Izuku's wrist and then flinging him away. Izuku hit the ground tumbling. He saw Kacchan go soaring in the other direction.

"You're going to have to try harder than that, heroes," All Might said. His voice had deepened, becoming more menacing, and the smile on his face was nothing like the one Izuku was used to.

Izuku raced forward. All Might shifted to meet him, but Izuku suddenly dropped, sliding between his legs. One for All burst outwards as Izuku switched into a run away from All Might.

"Where are you going, little hero?"

Wind pressed at Izuku's back. A chill went up his spine.

He sounded like— he sounded like—

Izuku ducked behind a building for cover.

"Focus," he whispered. He thought about the exercises Gran Torino had drilled into him, the way they'd fought.

He couldn't defeat All Might. Not alone.

And whatever was happening, Kacchan wasn't helping him. The best course of action, Izuku knew, was to get out of the battlefield alone.

Even if he didn't like it.

Thinking about Kacchan made Izuku realize he hadn't seen his friend in a worrying amount of time. Knowing him, he wouldn't waste a second throwing himself back into the fray.

"Bakugou?" Izuku called, trying to stay as quiet as he could. All Might would come after him.

He hopped from building to building, carefully keeping track of where All Might was. Izuku followed the direction he thought he'd seen Kacchan go in.

"Come out," All Might called.

This isn't real, Izuku told himself, but it was difficult to believe. He knew it wasn't real. He knew it wasn't. Yet only hearing All Might's voice chase Izuku into the corners of the street, knowing Kacchan was somewhere, maybe hurt enough that he wasn't out fighting—

"Not real, not real," Izuku chanted. He rubbed at his eyes. He couldn't think about it.

Focus. He needed to find Kacchan. Make sure he was alright.

Focus. He needed to make it out of the battlefield, one way or another.

The fear dropped in on him like the Nomu had—suddenly, and without warning. Suddenly it wasn't the final exams but it was real, and Izuku and All Might were on opposing sides of the battlefield.

Izuku stopped where he was even though he knew he shouldn't. He crouched low, touching the side of a building and trying to shake himself out of it.

He heard a distant round of fighting.

"Kacchan," Izuku whispered. "Kacchan."

He needed to get up for Kacchan, so he did. He needed to get up because All Might was waiting, so he did.

The world exploded with sound. Izuku's balance left him; he hit the ground hard. When things cleared, he crawled to his feet, determined now to find Kacchan.

"Bakugou!" Izuku called, not caring that All Might would hear him.

It was like searching for Iida again. Izuku pushed away the fear, shoved bodily against it, and searched.

"Don't do this to me," Izuku murmured.

He finally spotted a figure, distant and still, lying amongst the rubble.

"Ka— Bakugou!"

He dropped down next to his friend and raced over. Dust swirled around them, clouds flying and obscuring their vision.

Izuku couldn't make out Kacchan's face, but then Kacchan rasped, "Deku?"

Izuku's heart squeezed. He knelt blindly until he could see Kacchan's face.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Izuku said, and the words were so, so hard to say. "It's me, Bakugou. Akatani?"

Kacchan struggled to sit up. Izuku saw blood on the side of his face and reached out to touch it.

"You hit your head."

Kacchan shook his head. His eyes sharpened when he took in Izuku.

"I'm fine."

He hissed when Izuku pressed a gloved hand to the side of Kacchan's head. It looked worse than it actually was, but Izuku thought the blow had confused him for just a moment. Maybe he'd just wanted badly for it to be Izuku.

"We have to get out of here," Izuku said. "We can't take on All Might."

"No," Kacchan said.

Izuku held out a hand, but Kacchan didn't take it, shoving himself to his feet heavily. He swayed for a moment under Izuku's watchful eye, but Izuku was relieved to find that he was mostly okay. He didn't seem concussed, either, which was a relief.

"We're going to do it," Kacchan said.

"Will you listen to me now, then?" Izuku said, trying to get himself back on track. Focus. "We need to work together… Bakugou."

Kacchan met his gaze.

"Please, Bakugou," Izuku said. "Wolves hunt in packs."

For once Izuku couldn't read what Kacchan was thinking. His eyes were dark like blood, but clear.

Kacchan turned and began to walk away. Izuku's heart dropped, and then Kacchan turned again.

"Are you coming or not?"

They slipped through the alleyways. Bakugou knocked a fist against the side of a building a few times, then repeated it. The second time Izuku understood.

Deku.

"I think I have a plan," Izuku whispered.

This time, Kacchan listened.

"Time is running out, heroes," All Might called. Izuku took a deep breath.

"Bakugou!" he shouted as loudly as he could. "Bakugou, where are you?"

Izuku turned and ran deeper into the city. He could hear All Might begin to give chase.

"Bakugou, we need to work together!"

Izuku was an easy target to pick off. He was alone without help. He was heading in the right direction—towards the battlefield exit. All Might was going to stop him.

Well, not quite.

Izuku waved his hand, and a subtle screen of dust overtook the area. It was nothing that either All Might or Kacchan would find suspicious.

Izuku disappeared into the depths of his own illusion. He circled around, keeping silent. All Might pushed through to block the exit.

"Still hiding? I expected better."

"Well," Kacchan shouted, appearing out of the dust, light around him like a vengeful angel. "You want it, you'll fucking get it!"

All Might reached for him, but Kacchan attacked, letting loose an entire bracer's worth of explosions. Even All Might was pushed back by the force of it.

One for All was a comforting companion as Izuku came in from behind, Kacchan's other bracer in his hand.

He let it go.

The explosion sent him reeling backwards. Sound and light bombarded Izuku, but he shut his senses to it and forced his way through blindly.

Kacchan was there. Izuku could feel it.

All Might turned, but Izuku sent a well-timed kick to his head as Kacchan set loose an explosion close to his ear. Then Izuku wove an illusion in front of All Might's eyes, a patch of darkness that took his sight away. All Might went down as Kacchan delivered a hard hit to the back of his knees.

Kacchan was waiting for him. He took one side, and Izuku took the other. When Izuku saw his face he thought there was victory in Kacchan's eyes, and a little bit of longing.

The handcuffs snapped tightly around All Might's wrists, and before he could react, Izuku and Kacchan dragged him out of the battlefield. He knelt before them, defeated, but when All Might lifted his head he was smiling.

"Well done," he said, and Izuku smiled back. His ears were ringing a little, and there were a couple scrapes and bumps he'd have to get taken care of. But they'd done it.

"Double win," Izuku said, grinning. A bell rang, signifying the end of the fight.

"Bakugou and Akatani have defeated All Might."

Kacchan sniffed. "Of course we did."

All Might was released. He stood up and stretched, chuckling.

"Good work," he said, clapping Kacchan's shoulder and ruffling Izuku's hair. "You two had better head to see Recovery Girl. Sorry about the hit."

"I can take it," Kacchan challenged, though he looked like he wanted to puke.

"Come on, King Explosion Murder," Izuku said. "Let's go."

They went together, leaving All Might, and now the fight was over, Izuku felt the adrenaline leave him.

"Are you— okay?" Izuku asked as they trudged to where Recovery Girl had set up a tent.

Kacchan looked at him. "I'm fine."

"That's not what I meant," Izuku said, and Kacchan stopped. Izuku stopped, too.

"I'm… okay," Kacchan said, and it was real. Izuku nodded and held out a hand.

"We're rivals, aren't we?"

Kacchan took it, then hesitated.

"Friends," he muttered.

Izuku's breathing hitched; he couldn't form the words. Kacchan crossed his arms, looking a little embarrassed, but he couldn't take it back now that he'd said it.

"We make a good team, huh," Izuku said finally, "I think we work better together."

"Sure, whatever," Kacchan said, but Izuku could tell he meant yes. Finally Izuku thought he was beginning to see a way back, a path he could take, a light to follow. He just needed to find Kacchan, and things would fall into place.

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
interlude iii


There was something wrong with Katsuki.

Katsuki always brought groceries on Fridays. It was something he insisted on doing as many times as Inko protested, so she always tried to make dinner for him.

Katsuki was always loud. Even when he wasn't talking, Inko could tell he was there.

When Katsuki slipped in quietly carrying nothing but an All Might jacket, Inko knew something had gone wrong. He walked past her without a word, and she heard the door to Izuku's room open.

She let him have a little time to himself as she finished preparing the ingredients for soup. When Inko was done, she put a lid on the pot and went to go find Katsuki.

"Dear?"

Katsuki was sitting on Izuku's bed, looking out the window. He had a hand pressed against the glass like he'd seen something.

"Katsuki?"

He looked at her. He'd taken off his All Might jacket and carefully folded it over Izuku's chair.

"Can I sit with you a moment, dear?"

He grunted, which meant yes, so Inko sat down on the bed next to him. She smoothed the blanket over. Katsuki sighed and leaned forwards, putting his face in his hands so she couldn't see it.

Inko waited for him.

"It's been five years," Katsuki mumbled finally, and he lifted his face. Inko smiled bitterly.

"And look where we are now. Look where you are now."

Katsuki bit his lip. He and Izuku were different in many ways. Izuku had always been sweet and sensitive. He'd hold her hand. When he got hurt, Inko could kiss his bruises away, wipe the tears off his cheeks.

Katsuki didn't cry, not like her Izuku did. He was rough around the edges, and guarded himself in a thicket of thorns. Inko had spent years gently winding her way through them. Time and loss had changed both of them. There were never tears Inko could wipe with a soft towel, and all the hurt was inside, despite the light bandages around his head.

"You had your last final today," she coaxed, smiling, "I'm sure you did well."

The corner of Katsuki's lip tugged upwards, an echo of victory and self-assurance.

"Of course we did," he said, relaxing slightly. "Beat All Might."

Inko did a double take. "Beat Al- All Might?"

He nodded. "Paired up and had to take on the teachers. Handcuff them or make it out of the battlefield." He rolled his eyes. "Supposed to 'real life simulations' or whatever."

"Goodness," Inko murmured. He'd told her last week that they would be partnered and expected to be fighting robots, not teachers. She sat up straighter, looking over Katsuki with a trained eye. "You're- you're not hurt badly, are you?"

"'M fine," Katsuki groaned, "don't worry about it."

"I'll always worry," Inko said, sighing.

She was infinitely proud of Katsuki. Of course she was; she'd watched him grow up. She still remembered the days when he was small enough to fit in her lap, and now he stood tall over her. He was strong, and smart, and capable. But Inko would always worry that he'd end up hurt enough, or that one day Katsuki wouldn't come back, and she'd be left again.

"Not even your kid," Katsuki muttered, leaning back.

Inko smiled.

"Well, someone has to worry." She reached out and tweaked his ear, and he squawked and swatted at her hand in protest. "Besides, you're practically my son."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Tell me about finals," Inko coaxed. "Did something happen?"

She had to be patient. A little bit of patience would do the trick. Sometimes Mitsuki's way worked better, a little bit of loudness, a little push. Sometimes Inko found it was easier to wait.

Katsuki scowled. She liked it when he smiled better, but like his tears, Katsuki didn't often smile. Those were things kept close to the chest, guarded fiercely and only seen rarely.

"You said you were working with that Akatani boy…"

"Yeah."

"Well," Inko tried, "you did it, didn't you? You said you won."

"After All Might kicked my ass into a building, sure."

Inko gasped. It was like a shock of cold to the system.

"I kind of deserved it," Katsuki grumbled. He rubbed at his arm, looking sheepish. "Cleared my head a little, I guess."

Inko was smart enough to put a few pieces together. She knew this boy.

"You tried to do it alone, didn't you?"

Katsuki didn't flinch, but he tensed. Locked his shoulders.

"I know," Katsuki muttered, quiet now, "I shouldn't have done that, whatever, teamwork. But I— listened this time! I tried, like you told me."

"Oh, Katsuki."

"I was just being stupid—"

"Katsuki," Inko cut in sharply, "you know you're not stupid."

Katsuki made a noise. "Right. Yeah. Anyway I was being… unreasonable, and I got kicked into a building and then Akatani found me…"

He trailed off, eyes unfocused as he remembered. Past him, the sun was just beginning to set through the window, and the light was a soft pink in rectangles across the floor. The window was latched, like it had been for a long time.

"For a second…"

"Dear?" Inko asked.

Katsuki ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "For a second I thought he looked like Deku. There was all this dust, and I couldn't see, and I wanted it to be Deku. For a second it was him."

Inko pressed her hand tight against her mouth. She could feel her heart constricting painfully in her chest.

"Oh, Katsuki," she said, and the tears welled in her eyes. She wiped at them with a sleeve.

How many times had Inko done the same thing? Katsuki had come over and some days she expected to hear Izuku's laugh follow him through the door. Or Inko would see a flash of green hair the same color as hers in the supermarket, in the streets, and her heart would leapt in her chest. The first month had been the hardest—she'd seen him everywhere.

Most days Inko only saw him in dreams and photographs.

"I know, sweetheart," Inko said, "I want to see him, too."

"It's not fair," Katsuki said, lowering his face, "to Deku or to Akatani."

"You're still learning," Inko soothed.

Katsuki picked at a scab on his arm, and Inko reached out and stilled his fingers.

"I wanted it to be him so badly with me, and it was Akatani instead. Then I thought that Akatani is my— friend, too, and I had to get my head out of my ass and act like it, argh…"

"I'm very proud of you, Katsuki."

He wrinkled his nose. "You always say that."

"I'm always proud of you, dear."

A faint blush colored his cheeks. He looked away, and Inko let him gather himself for a moment.

"You're moving forward, Katsuki," Inko said gently. She had been, too, taking small steps over the years outside of the little fortress that had been built around her own heart.

"I thought I could go it alone."

"You could," Inko said, acknowledging him, "but sometimes it's good to let people help you."

Katsuki struggled through middle school, Inko knew. She'd spent many nights on the phone with Mitsuki and Masaru, talking about Katsuki, talking about the anger he carried, the hurt it was born from. How they had all tried to be there for him in some way, to encourage him to make friends; how people looked at Katsuki and saw arrogance and explosiveness, but Inko looked at him and saw a boy who was scared.

"I guess."

She smoothed the blankets again. "Are you hungry, Katsuki? I made soup." Inko nudged him, smiling. "There's daikon I bought fresh yesterday. I know you like it."

The soup should be ready by now. Hopefully it hadn't boiled over and made a mess, but it shouldn't have.

"Yeah, sure," Katsuki said, and Inko guided him to the kitchen. She lifted the lid of the pot, and steam rose. A wonderful and light aroma drifted upwards. Katsuki grabbed a set of bowls, and she spooned soup into both of them.

Together the two of them ate quietly.

"Ow," Katsuki hissed. He'd been too impatient, shoving soup into his mouth while it was still burning hot.

"Katsuki," Inko chided gently. "You know you should wait. Have a little more patience."

He groaned, but blowed on the next spoonful. Inko sipped at hers.

"Do you think," Katsuki said, then paused to chew and swallow some daikon. "Do you think it's, like, agh, hot, hot, hot."

"Katsuki."

Katsuki stirred his soup and looked up. "Do you think he would be— is it, like, wrong?"

He was always Izuku, but Inko didn't understand what Katsuki was asking her. "I don't know what you mean."

Katsuki drank his soup violently, a descriptor that applied to many things when Katsuki was involved, and then hissed at the rush of heat. Inko sighed fondly. He'd never learned.

"I mean," Katsuki said, waving a hand, "fucking… is it—okay to be, gah, is it okay to be friends and, and whatever? I don't want to… replace… him."

She stopped.

"Katsuki…"

He kept going, like now that he had started it was difficult to stop. "And I don't, it's not like I'm best friends with Akatani or anything, but I don't want, ugh, for him to feel like I- like he just reminds me of Deku and that's why, I don't know. Fucking idiot. He's not. I don't want him to be. But I want—"

Inko lifted her hand and stroked Katsuki's cheek with a thumb.

"Izuku would be happy to see you trying," Inko said, heart aching terribly, "like I am. You're not replacing Izuku by making friends, dear."

Katsuki sighed. Leaned into her hand.

"It's like me and you," Inko tried. "Just because Izuku isn't here doesn't make you a replacement for him. There's simply room in this home for you. There's always room for you."

Katsuki looked at her through half-lidded eyes. He seemed to be thinking; he'd learned to do that now, instead of completely rushing into things.

"...Thank you, Auntie Inko."

She kissed his forehead.

"Summer's soon," Inko said, drawing back. "Why don't you invite Akatani over, during the break? I would love to meet him."

Katsuki hesitated.

"Or maybe you could hang out?" Inko suggested. "That new All Might movie is coming out next month, isn't it? You could go with a few people. What about, ah… Kirishima, from the Sports Festival?"

"Maybe," Katsuki said, "I'll think about it."

"Good," Inko said firmly. She finished her soup. "Heading home yet? You'd better rest early today."

"Maybe a little longer," Katsuki said, "it's not that late."

"Let me know," Inko told him, "so I can pack soup to bring back to your parents. I've made too much."

"Don't need to."

"There's no stopping me," Inko said, her mind set. She took the empty bowls to the kitchen, passing the little All Might figure and smiling in its direction. Katsuki passed her and disappeared back down the hall again. She let him go; hopefully she had eased his mind, and there was nothing comforting like a bowl of hot soup, even if he was burning his tongue on it.

He would probably stay for a while longer yet, Inko thought. It was early evening still; maybe she could convince him to join her on a walk in the park, nice and peaceful.

Inko cleaned up the kitchen and found an old container she could spoon soup into. It was still a little warm, so she left it on the counter to cool and went to find Katsuki.

"Katsuki," she called, "would you like to—"

He was standing in the hallway looking at the pictures hanging on the wall. Inko wiped her hands on her apron and went to stand next to him. He was looking at a family photo, the only one Inko had.

Inko studied it. She didn't often take the time to look at the photos, passing by them every day like she did.

"You kept this one?"

In the frame's glass, Inko could see Katsuki's eyes narrow. Like there had been an absence in Inko's life for many years, there was an absence of fondness for Hisashi that Katsuki harbored. He had never liked her once-husband and had made it disdainfully clear.

Inko took the frame off the wall and slipped the photo out. Hisashi, dark and quiet, was smiling in it. He had a hand on Inko's shoulder—goodness, she'd been much younger then. Izuku was tiny but bright-eyed, small hand gripping Inko's. Happy and sweet, a family not yet torn apart.

"I don't know," Inko said, "wishful thinking, I suppose, dear."

"Shouldn't have trusted him," Katsuki said, bristling.

"Neither of us could have known what would happen," Inko said. She folded the photo in half—she'd throw it away later. "Don't think like that, Katsuki. What happened happened."

"It shouldn't have."

"Many things shouldn't have," Inko sighed. She squeezed his arm. "Would you join me for a walk, dear? It would be nice to breathe some fresh air after being holed up studying and testing, hm?"

Katsuki checked the time. "Alright, whatever."

"Don't forget your jacket," Inko told him, "you left it in Izuku's room. It might be colder out now the sun is just about set."

"Alright, alright," Katsuki grumbled, and disappeared into Izuku's room.

Inko looked at the empty picture frame and put it back on the wall. Surely there was some other photo she could put into it; maybe she would have Katsuki ask Mitsuki for a recent one of him.

In the kitchen, Inko looked at the photo one last time before dropping it into the trash can. She didn't need the reminder of Hisashi, as much as she had loved him. That time had come and go; Hisashi had walked as steadily into her life as he had out of it, taking Izuku with him.

Katsuki clomped out of Izuku's bedroom, jacket slung over his shoulder. He offered his arm to her, and she smiled and took it.

"What a gentleman," Inko said.

"Ha," Katsuki said and walked her to the door. He went outside first, and Inko checked the room again, spotting something gleaming on the table. Katsuki had left his key there when he'd come in, she supposed; Inko went to grab it and followed Katsuki outside into the cool air.

"You forgot your key," she said. Inko shut the door and locked it, and the two of them strolled out together.

"Thanks," Katsuki said, taking it. She squeezed his fingers.

"You're always welcome."

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter thirty-three


 

The hero costume fit just right.

The Support Department had fixed it for him—well, fixed and upgraded. It’d gone through a couple of changes since the beginning of the year. Now it looked little like what Izuku remembered, though he hadn’t been aware of much until now.

He held the suit against his body to study in the mirror. Then Izuku folded it carefully and tucked it away. He wouldn’t be wearing it for a while.

Izuku hadn’t seen any of his friends or teachers since school had let out for the year. It was strange; Izuku felt listless and empty without the routine of school. He missed them fiercely, but Izuku didn’t dare contact anyone outside of a few text messages. He felt like he was being watched more closely now.

That didn’t mean his friends hadn’t tried. Kaminari and surprisingly Mineta had invited him to come with them to train at the U.A. pool; it sounded like a fun class activity, but Izuku declined. Both Iida and Uraraka asked him to hang out, too. Even Kacchan had asked—more or less—if Izuku was available. He wanted to say yes, but he’d turned Kacchan down, too.

At least Izuku wasn’t completely stuck in the apartment. He spent a week tailing Endeavor for his father, watching his movements and keeping track of any of his villain fights. Most important was the question of if Chimera could take him down, and though Izuku hardly supported the hero, he wasn’t sure what would happen to society if the top two heroes were felled.

Izuku hadn’t been able to answer.

He pulled the stack of notebooks from his desk and chose the most important ones to pack, putting the others in a different bag. The ones Izuku wasn’t taking he would burn; they were too dangerous to leave lying around, no matter who found them.

His phone buzzed. Izuku glanced at the closed door to his room and then checked his phone quickly like Hisashi could walk in at any moment.

Iida had sent out a mass text inviting all of Class 1-A to the mall tomorrow.

If need be, we can acquire extra supplies for the training camp as a group outing, he’d written. Attached is a suggested list of items to pack.   

Izuku worried his lip, feeling uneasy. It would be nice for Izuku to stretch his legs and a good chance to see his friends; there were probably a few things he could use.  

The replies came in thick and fast. A good portion of the class seemed to be excited about it. Despite his better judgement, Izuku texted back that he’d try.

Izuku had avoided talking about the training camp with Hisashi, but parent phone calls had come in from Eraserhead the week before. To Izuku’s eternal surprise, Hisashi gave his approval - why, Izuku didn’t know, but he wasn’t going to question it.

His phone buzzed again. Izuku groaned, ready to mute the chat, then realized it wasn’t anyone from Class 1-A.

Silver, 2:02 PM
Leaving soon?

Yeah, Izuku texted back.

He finished packing what he needed, marking off Iida’s list until there were only a few items left.

Izuku did have to head out if he wanted to meet Silver on time. He pushed the stuffed duffel bag under his bed and then slipped on a light jacket. It was hot now, so Izuku didn’t really need it, but he liked the cover it provided.

He passed Hisashi’s study and saw the door shut as it usually was. It looked like his father was busy, but that suited Izuku just fine. He didn’t bother letting Hisashi know as he left.

Silver was waiting by their old meeting spot when he arrived, panting and out of breath. It’d been a long run after the move, and he hadn’t trained in a while. Silver tossed him a soda, and they walked together in the shade.

“Free from school, huh?”

Izuku sighed. “Wish I wasn’t.”

“Mm. Izuku… is it true? About the League?”

He drank from the can, soda warm. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Her tail knocked lightly against his side. “I’ve been informed Hisashi broke off the alliance with the League.” Her eyes narrowed. “The hell is that about? What happened?”

Izuku scuffed his shoe against the sidewalk. She didn’t know; she probably hadn’t been told anything, and it’d been a while since they’d been in contact.

“Did… do you know about Hosu?”

Silver swung to face him. “You were there.”

Izuku laughed nervously, reaching for the back of his neck and scratching it sheepishly. “Well, the news didn’t exactly cover everything…”

He told her about Stain and the fight. Told her about being snatched by the Nomu, then stopped, feeling phantom claws digging into his shoulders. Most of the incident had been swept from his mind in the chaos of final exams and time, but still a choking fear remained. Izuku drank more soda and found it hard to swallow.

“Hisashi…”

“Yeah,” Izuku said, lowering his drink, “he cut off ties. Kurogiri was there, so he and Shigaraki got out, but I don’t think we’re… working together anymore.”

“That’s… good,” Silver said, but she was frowning. “I don’t know, Izuku, the League won’t let go so easily…”

“You know me,” Izuku said, knocking her with his shoulder, “super careful.”

“Sure,” Silver responded, smiling now. Her tail flicked the back of his hand, and Izuku nearly dropped his drink. He swatted at hers, trying not to spill his soda.

“Real careful,” Silver teased.

“That was your fault,” Izuku grumbled. “You knocked into me. Therefore you’re not the careful one.”

“You break your bones.”

“Not anymore!” Izuku held out his arms for Silver to see. “See, they’re perfectly fine. Shut up.”

“That wasn’t a challenge,” Silver warned. She pulled back her hair, longer now, and swept it into a ponytail as she tried to escape the heat. “If I hear you’re breaking any bones I’ll break them myself.”

“That doesn’t help,” Izuku pointed out, “you’d just break more bones.”

Silver shoved him, and Izuku laughed. “No promises.”

“Oh, wait, Izuku.”

Silver dug into her bag and handed over a small box. Izuku opened it curiously and found a bracelet inside. On a short black cord sat a silver charm in the shape of a scorpion.

He lifted it out of the box. “Is this…”

“It’s a bracelet,” Silver said.

“I have eyes,” Izuku snapped, “I meant, it’s for me?”

Silver shrugged. “I’ve had it for a while. Meant to give it to you a while ago for something or the other, but I didn’t really get a chance.”

“Silver…”

Silver smirked. “I told you you couldn’t get rid of me that easily, huh?”

“Thank you, Silver,” Izuku said, staring at it. He had to struggle to slip it on, but in the end Silver took his soda so his hands were free to put the bracelet on. He slid it around until the little scorpion faced upwards at him.

“Yeah, whatever,” Silver said. She handed him his soda back. “In return you’re telling me what you dragged me out here for.”

“Huh?”

Silver raised her eyebrows. “You invited me, stupid. Not the other way around. You wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t important.”

Izuku sighed. He stopped and sat down on the curb, setting his soda down next to him. Silver squatted down next to him.

“Silver,” Izuku said, feeling the summer heat press on him, “just… listen for a second.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” she asked, but she nodded. He looked out at the street and ran his finger along the rim of the soda can. Then he put his hand out and slid his fingers into hers.

“I have a plan,” Izuku said, and began to speak.

The following day was even hotter. When Izuku met his classmates at the shopping mall everyone was dressed for the weather, t-shirts and shorts abound. Uraraka waved excitedly at him. Iida was corralling a sizable group of fellow students.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Uraraka called, and Izuku smiled as he strolled over. She wrapped her arms around him in a hug and then drew back quickly, embarrassed.

“Yeah, well,” Izuku said, the excuse feeling a bit lame, “it’s- I’ve been busy. You look nice.”

“Thanks!” Uraraka looked down at the dress she was wearing, pink and white like her costume. She beamed.

The class chatted, happy to see each other. Kacchan was chasing Ashido in circles, Kaminari cheering them on. Izuku was sad to see Todoroki missing from the group, but there had been quite a few people who’d declined to come.

They eventually split off into smaller groups. Izuku was happy to find himself stuck with Uraraka as everyone dispersed, promising to meet back together so they could get lunch together.

“Ready for camp?” Izuku asked, clasping his hands behind his back as they walked.

“Mm,” Uraraka hummed thoughtfully, “I’m excited to see everyone again and get back into training. I think it’ll be fun!”

Izuku nodded. He eyed an All Might display in one of the stores but didn’t bother going in.

“What about you?”

“Ah,” Izuku said, “I’m a bit nervous, to be honest.”

“Aizawa-sensei is going to work us hard,” Uraraka sighed. Izuku nodded distractedly. That wasn’t exactly what he was nervous about, but Uraraka didn’t need to know, anyway.

“Oh, is that a new bracelet?” Uraraka seemed to take him in all at once. “And your shirt…”

“Er, yeah, my friend gave it to me,” Izuku said cheerily. He glanced down at his shirt. “What’s wrong with my shirt?”

“It’s got a frowny face on it,” Uraraka said, “it’s summer! Shouldn’t you be wearing one that’s maybe a bit… happier?”

“I like this shirt,” Izuku said, feeling defensive. He looked down at the cartoonish sad face on it. “It really reflects my innermost thoughts.”

“Aw, Akatani…

The conversation was easy and lighthearted. The two talked about final exams; Uraraka commented she couldn’t believe Izuku had managed to work with Kacchan. Izuku only shrugged bashfully.

“He’s not that bad,” Izuku said, “you just have to know how to work with him.”

“At the beginning of the year he was at your throat,” Uraraka pointed out, “I was just… surprised you two, ah…”

“Get along?” Izuku wanted to laugh. “He’s… something.”

He checked his phone. No new messages, and the time was still early. Izuku poked at it distractedly.

You, 11:03 AM
We’re still on, right?

Uraraka peered over his shoulder, and Izuku quickly shut his phone off.

“Who are you texting?”

“Ah… er, I’m, um, I’m meeting someone later,” Izuku stammered, “I was just, er, well, yeah.”

“You’re not rushed, are you?”

“No, no,” Izuku said, “we’ll be fine, don’t worry. It’s nearby, anyway…”

“A friend?”

Izuku stared at his feet. “If you want to call him that.”

They passed a bookstore. Izuku glanced briefly at it and caught something in the reflection. He stopped.

“What do you see?” Uraraka asked, stopping when she realized he had. “Oh… books?”

“Hey, let’s go in,” Izuku said, taking Uraraka’s arm firmly and steering her towards the shop.

“You didn’t say you needed books,” Uraraka protested, bewildered. “Akatani…”

The dark figure in the reflection kept coming.

“Here,” Izuku said, stepping inside. He looked around and spoke carefully. “Since your phone is dead, you can use mine to call Tsukauchi.

Uraraka’s brows drew together in confusion. “Akatani…”

Izuku pressed his phone into her hands.

“Tell him our old friend is here,” he said, “and I’m going to go say hello. Stay here, okay? So I can find you.”

“Akatani—”

Izuku glanced over his shoulder. Shigaraki was eyeing the bookstore. He paused for a moment, looking casual, and then continued forward.

“Hurry,” Izuku murmured, entering his password for her. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

He left her in the store and walked out, trying to keep his heartbeat calm. Izuku walked steadily in Shigaraki’s direction. They bumped shoulders, and then Shigaraki spun. An arm slung around Izuku’s shoulders, and a moment later, cold fingers touched his throat. Izuku’s blood ran cold.

“Hello, old friend ,” Shigaraki said, “let’s have a chat.”

Izuku tried to stop himself from shaking. He forced himself to stay calm, because he could handle it. And in a few minutes, hopefully Detective Tsukauchi would get the message—though perhaps a different message than expected, Izuku would get police and heroes and backup, and things would be fine.

“You’re not one to make small talk,” Izuku commented as they strolled away from the bookstore together. Izuku glanced briefly behind him. Uraraka was still inside— good, safe —but she was close to the glass, staring with terrified eyes. His phone was pressed to her ear. Izuku smiled at her.

“I can make small talk,” Shigaraki said, sounding a little offended. Izuku laughed, then regretted it when the grip tightened.

“What do you talk about,” Izuku said, strained, “killing babies?”

Shigaraki sniffed. “There’s no point in killing babies.”

“You can’t kill me.”

“I will,” Shigaraki said, “soon enough Sensei will be done with you, he doesn’t need you. And then he’ll let me have what I want.”

Izuku wet his lips. “I don’t think so.”

“For now,” Shigaraki said, reaching to tilt Izuku’s head to the right. “Do you see that little girl over there, Izuku? Until I can have my way with you, I think I can still take my fill.”

“Watch it,” Izuku growled.

“You know,” Shigaraki said, “I didn’t expect to see you here. It’s quite the coincidence.”

“Funny,” Izuku said, “I came here to shop, not to run into villains I don’t like and no longer have connections with.”

“Funny,” Shigaraki said back, “I was under the impression that you still belong to us.

Izuku tensed. Shigaraki followed, pressing harder.

“I don’t belong to anyone,” Izuku said, “and certainly not to you, and certainly not to your sensei.”

“…Is that what you think?”

“What do you want from me?” Izuku asked, straining. “You want me dead. I get that. Sensei wants me alive. Okay. But why are we here? Why are you here, Tomura?”

“There’s something that has always bothered me,” Shigaraki started.

“Great,” Izuku said, “I’m not your therapist, but since we’re here you might as well dramatically proclaim your woes or whatever.”

Shigaraki ignored him.

“I hate you—”

“Cool,” Izuku said, “don’t hold your breath, Shigaraki, it’s mutual.”

“—but you… you’re unimportant. I truly despise Stain.”

“The hero killer?” Izuku ran his tongue over his teeth. “You were all buddy-buddy a couple weeks ago, huh?”

Shigaraki huffed. He looked a little upset by Izuku’s description of him being buddies with Stain, if such a thing were possible.

“There’s something I don’t understand,” Shigaraki said slowly. He stared out at the crowds of happy people and seemed to grow darker in comparison.

“Try—”

“Don’t test my patience,” Shigaraki warned, and Izuku fell silent. “Everyone’s eyes should be on me. People should be talking about me. Stain’s weak. We’re both the same, yet the whole of Japan fawns over him.

“Maybe you’re a bad villain,” Izuku suggested.

Shigaraki pulled back and hit him. Izuku’s vision spun, then stilled when Shigaraki caught him around the neck again.

“Tell me, Midoriya Izuku,” Shigaraki hissed in his ear, “what am I doing wrong?”

Izuku shut his eyes. He just needed to keep Shigaraki talking. He just needed to distract Shigaraki long enough for backup to arrive, long enough so no one else would get hurt.

“You like to destroy things,” Izuku said, “you’re trying to change the world. Alright. But what… what makes you and Stain different…?”

“Yes…,” Shigaraki breathed.

“He’s like me,” Izuku said, “have you ever watched that video, Shigaraki? The things he said went viral. He was right—there are things wrong in hero society that need fixing. He doesn’t like to destroy things but killed according to his ideals. You… you lack conviction.”

Izuku glanced up at Shigaraki. For a second he thought he could grasp Shigaraki, an echo of someone who might’ve been but wasn’t.

“You want to be seen,” Izuku whispered. He dropped his eyes. “I want to be seen, too.”

Police sirens cut through the air. Shigaraki jerked, eyes going wide, and Izuku choked on air.

“Heroes,” Shigaraki hissed, “ All Might…

Shigaraki pulled Izuku up and began to drag him through the crowd. A cacophony of sound was beginning to stir in the shopping ward, panic awakening as people realized a danger was present.

“All Might,” Shigaraki murmured, “All Might… I hate him…

Izuku drew in a shuddering breath as they moved towards an exit. He struggled, but Shigaraki put another hand to his back.

“Shigaraki—”

“That’s why, he’s why. You remind me of him, everyone reminds me of him, everyone smiling and happy because of All Might!

“Stop!”

Shigaraki turned bodily, Izuku at his mercy. The police had broken through—Izuku spotted Detective Tsukauchi at the head. Their eyes met. Izuku blinked pleadingly.

“Let Akatani go,” Detective Tsukauchi said, holding out a placating hand. “Just let him go, Shigaraki.”

Guns trained on them. They’d shoot, but there was the chance they’d hit Izuku.

Shigaraki began to laugh, the sound low and delighted. Izuku watched Detective Tsukauchi tense, his hand shift just slightly.

Tsukauchi, Izuku mouthed, but could do nothing. He could fight back, but not before Shigaraki tore his throat out and disintegrated him to dust. Shigaraki’s hand was warm now to the touch; Izuku could feel each of his fingers holding steady.

“Thank you, Midoriya,” Shigaraki whispered, only for Izuku to hear. “I think I know now—All Might has been in front of me all… this… time.”

Izuku’s breath caught.

“Burn as brightly as you like, little phoenix,” Shigaraki said. The pressure around Izuku’s throat and at his back loosened. “The next time we meet, you’ll help me kill All Might.”

Shigaraki shoved Izuku forward. He stumbled, fell, felt his knees and the palm of his hand scrape against concrete. Heard a round of gunfire, shouts. He coughed. Izuku looked over his shoulder and saw Shigaraki disappearing into the darkness of a warp gate, then looked forward to see Detective Tsukauchi kneeling in front of him.

“He didn’t hurt you?”

Izuku coughed. His throat unstuck.

“No,” he said, and they stood up together. “Detective…”

Detective Tsukauchi kept a protective arm around Izuku, his coat a barrier against the outer world. The police barked orders and directions to each other, but it was no use—Shigaraki was gone.

Detective Tsukauchi tried to smile at him. “I guess we’re both a bit early, huh. I was surprised when I got the call from your friend…”

Izuku peered out at the crowd. Uraraka—

“Is— are my friends safe?”

“We’re securing the premises,” Detective Tsukauchi said, “but no one appears to have gotten hurt. If you’ll come with me?”

The mall was evacuated, wave after wave of people flooding the exits. The police combed the area, but there was no sign of the League. Detective Tsukauchi took Izuku back to the police station to run through the event.

Sequestered in a small, bare interview room, the two of them ran through what had happened together. Izuku told the detective about Shigaraki and All Might.

One of the police officers had thankfully retrieved Izuku’s phone from Uraraka; he clutched it tightly. His phone hadn’t stopped buzzing since they’d arrived, but Izuku had to turn his notifications off though he knew his friends had to have been worried. He sent out a short text that things were fine, then stopped checking.

“I don’t really know,” Izuku said, “I was just buying time. He didn’t say very much about the League.”

“Mm,” Detective Tsukauchi hummed, looking out over his papers. “That’s alright. I do have to compliment you today, Akatani. You did very well handling the situation, and there were no injuries or casualties.”

“I’m glad,” Izuku said, then stared at the floor. “There could have been.”

“We’ll find him,” Detective Tsukauchi reassured. He put the papers into a folder and then leaned back.

Izuku wet his lips. His stomach twisted in knots, and then Detective Tsukauchi stood up.

“I think we’re done here,” he said, stretching. “Now— about our meeting…”

“Right,” Izuku blurted, “I still want to talk to you. Alone, please, as soon as possible.”

Detective Tsukauchi nodded.

“If you like, you can stay here and we can talk,” Detective Tsukauchi said. He made a face. “I know it’s not very comfortable, but at the very least it’s private.”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Izuku said. “Ah…”

“Let me get some tea, then,” Detective Tsukauchi said, “and I’ll make sure no one is listening in. We take privacy seriously here, don’t worry.”

He left, and Izuku bounced his leg nervously. He pulled his backpack towards him and checked inside; everything he’d brought was still there and accounted for. Izuku tried his phone.

Izuku looked around nervously. The room was bare, but there was a camera in the corner. One of the walls, Izuku assumed, had to be mirrored. The chances of being watched were high—but Detective Tsukauchi had promised that the conversation was private. Izuku had to trust him.

The door reopened. Izuku didn’t turn but instead heard Detective Tsukauchi approach. He was carrying two steaming paper cups full of tea, and he set one down in front of Izuku. A pleasant fragrance drifted through the room.

“It’s a bit cheap,” Detective Tsukauchi admitted. He chuckled a little. “We get packs from the convenience store down the street. It’s always a bit busy to make some proper tea.”

“That’s okay,” Izuku said quietly.

Izuku was too full of nervous energy to speak. Detective Tsukauchi seemed to sense it and waited patiently.

“How are studies?”

“They’re okay,” Izuku said softly, “but—”

Detective Tsukauchi prompted him gently when he didn’t continue. “But?”

“Haven’t told anyone this,” Izuku said finally, staring at the floor, “but, well, I was thinking of dropping out of U.A.”

A stunned silence.

“Dropping from U.A.? I don’t understand… from what I know, you’re doing quite well.”

Izuku switched positions, pulling his knees up to his chest instead.

“I think I need some help,” he admitted. “Detective, I started something, messed up, I, I did something, and now I think I’m in a little over my head, and I’m- I wasn’t, I didn’t know who to go to and th- that’s why I wanted to talk to you.”

“Thank you for trusting me, Akatani,” Detective Tsukauchi said, “and I would be glad to help you. But… you could’ve gone to one of your teachers, too—they’re still pro heroes. You could’ve gone to Toshinori.”

Hearing Toshinori’s name hurt. Izuku rubbed at his eyes and willed himself not to cry.

“No, I couldn’t have,” he replied. “I… need your help.”

Detective Tsukauchi sat back on his hands. He nodded, face calm, waiting for Izuku to speak.

“Um,” Izuku said, “Your Quirk allows you to detect lies, correct?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Okay,” Izuku said, thinking. “Okay, okay. Okay. Um. Okay.”

Izuku took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could do this. He had to do this.

“There are some things I don’t think I can tell you,” Izuku said slowly, carefully choosing his words. “But I think… I think you can, you can read enough in between the lines to- to put the pieces together, I think. And if you could- if you could do me a favor?”

“What do you need?”

“Tell me when I lie,” Izuku said, holding Detective Tsukauchi’s gaze. Then he continued. “There’s a villain organization. Chimera. I think you know about it?”

Detective Tsukauchi leaned forward, nodding slowly. “I do.”

“They’re connected to the League of Villains,” Izuku said, “which is what To- what Toshi… what Toshinori told me you work on. And, um, well, um… they’ve been planning to kill All Might for over a year now.”

Izuku was shaking. “I don't know how much you know about One for All.”

Detective Tsukauchi clasped his hands in front of him. “Most of what Toshinori knows.”

Izuku looked down. He picked at the bracelet on his wrist. The little silver scorpion charm gleamed in the light.

Izuku ran a finger over the warm metal.

You think it’s time? Silver had asked when they’d last spoken. She’d squeezed his hand tightly.

Yes, Izuku said, and he had been sure then. I think things are going to fall apart. I can’t do it.

I have you, Silver said, and he’d leaned into her as she’d drawn an arm up to put around him. I’ve got you, Izuku.

Izuku thought about Silver now, and she gave him courage. Izuku breathed, felt his heart slow just slightly.   

“Do you know about All for One?”

A sharp breath.

“Toshinori told you?”

Izuku tried not to think too hard about the League of Villains. The dingy bar, the smell of smoke, dark stains on the floor… the TV in the corner.

“I…” Izuku began, then stopped. “...Yes, I learned about it from him first.”

Detective Tsukauchi's eyes widened a fraction.

“Lie,” he said.

“He's weakened, but…” Izuku started, “he’s alive. And still very, very powerful.”

“The League of Villains and Chimera worked together to- to infiltrate U.A. That's why… at USJ…” Izuku couldn’t finish. “The Nomus are his creation. I think he intends Shigaraki to be his successor.”

Detective Tsukauchi looked speechless. Izuku forged forward, knowing if he stopped he would be too scared to continue.

“Stain… the League’s lost him, even if they disagreed with him. And they’ve lost Chimera now, too. I think Shigaraki will be searching for more villains to join him, especially now that they’re crawling out.”

“Lost… Chimera?”

“The Dragon broke ties with the League after Hosu, too,” Izuku said, “they were dissatisfied with Shigaraki and his… plans.”

Izuku cleared his throat. “An-anyway…”

Detective Tsukauchi looked troubled. Izuku had laid the pieces in front of him and he had been fitting them together, jagged edge to jagged edge. The picture seemed to be becoming clearer now.

“I’m not sure you’d answer,” he said, “but will you tell me how you know this information?”

Izuku shook his head.

“I think you know,” he said, and left it at that. Izuku hefted his bag up and dug out a notebook. He made sure it was the right one, flipping to the first page to find Weaknesses printed in his handwriting. Then Izuku shut the cover and slid it across the table.

“It’s not much,” Izuku said, “I have a couple of notes about the League and Chimera. Some addresses. Any of the plans I’m aware of. The base of the League, though… it’s not easy to find. There aren’t very many people who know about it, and, well, I don’t think they want to share, either. Oh, um, I did mark out what it looks like, though.”

Detective Tsukauchi flipped through the pages. His face had gained a bit of color.

“Akatani,” he said, “do you realize what you’re giving me?”

“Yes,” Izuku said firmly. Then he took out a flash drive out of his pocket, an All Might keychain attached to it. He put that on the table between them, too, All Might going face-down.

“Please be careful with this,” Izuku said. “It’s the only copy. I deleted the files off of my phone when I transferred them.”

Detective Tsukauchi took it gingerly.

“Recordings,” Izuku explained. There had never been enough time to do much else but keep his phone in his pocket whenever he’d gone to meet All for One, a hidden set of extra ears that had listened in carefully on their conversations. “That’s all I have to offer, detective.”

Detective Tsukauchi considered the two offerings, face lined. Izuku tried to smile.

“Consider me an… informant,” Izuku said.

“Akatani—”

“Don’t call me that,” Izuku interrupted.

“What… should I call you?”

“Nothing yet,” Izuku said lightly, then laughed. He let go of the name. “Phoenix, if you really like.”

“Why… why now?”

“I’m sorry it wasn’t any earlier,” Izuku whispered, “I was… scared.”

“That’s not…” Detective Tsukauchi sighed. He had to have heard the truth in that. “I meant to ask you…”

“Shigaraki’s ready,” Izuku said, “and All for One will follow. We need to be ready to face him.”

Detective Tsukauchi stood up. Wordlessly he walked around the table until he was in front of Izuku and then knelt in front of him. Izuku stared.

“Thank you,” he said gently, “for trusting me.”

Izuku’s face felt tight, and his throat even tighter, but he nodded. When he swallowed he felt an invisible noose there.

“I think I understand,” Detective Tsukauchi said, “but we need to talk about what’s next.”

“After the training camp,” Izuku blurted. Detective Tsukauchi blinked up at him.

“It’s only a few days,” Izuku said, “and after that, Chimera or the League of Villains will never see me again. That’s why I came to you, so I knew I could have somewhere to go.”

Detective Tsukauchi was nodding. Izuku could have cried in relief, but today the tears seemed to have vanished.

“I’ll make sure you have somewhere safe to go,” he said, and Izuku hid his face in his hands, breathing. He didn’t think this was happening, that it was real. By next week he would be somewhere else, safe, far from reach.

“I want to go home,” Izuku said, feeling selfish, and Detective Tsukauchi pulled his hands away and held them carefully.

“I’ll make sure you get there,” Detective Tsukauchi promised. He moved closer, then hesitated and asked, “Can I hug you?”

Izuku nodded, and Detective Tsukauchi put his arms around him. Izuku pressed his face to stiff fabric and felt comforted. He felt different, but nice, gentle and reassuring. It made Izuku feel better about trusting him.

“Is it safe for you to go home?”

Izuku nodded again. “It’s too suspicious if something happens. They won’t hurt me. Don’t worry.”

“You can stay with me.” Detective Tsukauchi looked him in the eye. “If you’re not comfortable with that, you can stay with Toshinori.”

“I need to get my things,” Izuku said, “and if I don’t get back my father will come looking for me. Please don’t tell anyone yet, detective. You can have the information, but don’t tell anyone who told you.”

“It’s confidential,” Detective Tsukauchi said, “but…”

“I’d like to tell them myself,” Izuku pleaded, “at least give me that. Just a few days.”

Detective Tsukauchi nodded. “I’ll find you after the training camp?”

“Please,” Izuku said.

Detective Tsukauchi walked him out of the police station. The day was dark when they left, but there was someone waiting for him outside. Izuku didn’t bother saying anything, simply walking into Toshinori’s arms and staying there, drained and exhausted. When he looked back, Detective Tsukauchi’s eyes were conflicted but clear. Izuku shook his head at him, and Detective Tsukauchi nodded.

“My boy,” Toshinori said. He pushed Izuku’s hair away from his face. Izuku blinked up at him and thought he was much better than Hisashi. He had always been.

“I have to go,” Izuku said, “to let my father know I’m alright. He’ll be upset.”

He stepped out of Toshinori’s arms and looked again at Detective Tsukauchi, who came closer. He put a hand on Izuku’s shoulder.

“I’ll see you soon.”

“You promised,” Izuku said, and Detective Tsukauchi nodded.

“I’ll keep it,” Detective Tsukauchi said, “you know where to find me.”

Izuku bowed, and the tears did start, then. “Thank you, Detective Tsukauchi. I’ll see you after the training camp.”

Detective Tsukauchi put a hand on his shoulder and then leaned in.

“The next time I see you,” Detective Tsukauchi murmured in Izuku’s ear, “you’ll be free.”

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter thirty-four


The bus ran over another bump in the road, and Izuku clutched his duffel bag tighter in his lap. His teeth clacked painfully, but Izuku didn't let himself relax any as the bus continued onward.

In the beginning of the long ride Izuku's fellow classmates had chattered excitedly to each other about the forest lodge they were going to. Izuku himself had been curious where their destination was—only a select few teachers knew the actual location, based on what Toshinori had told him.

Izuku swallowed. He hadn't gotten to see Toshinori before he'd left for the training camp, and he hadn't realized that his mentor wasn't coming along until he'd boarded the bus and looked around to find him missing.

When he'd asked Eraserhead, his teacher had told him flatly that All Might wasn't coming. Something something safety. While Izuku understood, he also thought that having All Might with them made it safer. Izuku felt safer with him. All Might, for his mistakes and his humanness, had never failed in that.

Izuku glanced around the bus tiredly. Tsuyu and Uraraka had fallen asleep on each other. Kaminari and Jirou were tossing a ball back and forth and making hand signs at each other, though none of the symbols made sense. Todoroki was reading, but next to him a few of the boys were in a heated video game competition. Next to Izuku himself, Mineta had popped one of his sticky balls off of himself and was playing with it. Izuku hoped he didn't stick it somewhere on the bus or to Izuku's things; they'd never get it off then.

Izuku sighed. He turned to look out the window like he had been the entire time. His fingers drifted nervously to the bracelet, and Izuku spun it around his wrist again and again.

Where was Silver now? He hoped she was okay. She knew now what Izuku was planning; he'd asked for her to go with him, but she'd shaken her head no.

Not yet, Silver said, but I'll see you soon.

She'd put her arms around him. Izuku's eyes burned at the memory, and he remembered pressing his nose to her hair and smelling crisp lemon.

"This isn't goodbye," Izuku whispered, pressing a hand to the window. That was what she'd told him—the words had been out of reach, but now he remembered them as he drew further and further away.

"What?" Mineta asked. Izuku glanced over.

"Nothing."

Silver, true to her word, would try to keep Chimera off of his back for as long as possible. She knew a couple of safe spots, a couple names Izuku had written on his hand, memorized, and then scrubbed away under the sink faucet. Hopefully with what she could give him and what Detective Tsukauchi offered would be enough until Izuku could...

He didn't dare think about it. If he thought about it he would cry. If he thought about it it wouldn't come true, the same way Izuku had never told anyone his birthday wishes year after year for fear they wouldn't come true.

Trees flashed by in blurs of green. Izuku suddenly realized looking out the window that the bus was slowing to a stop. He glanced to the front, where Eraserhead was sitting.

Eraserhead narrowed his eyes across the way. Izuku cocked his head. Eraserhead's face was suspiciously blank.

"I don't like this," Izuku whispered to Mineta as they rolled to a stop.

"Rest stop," Eraserhead called, and the doors opened. The aisle was trampled by eager students looking to stretch their legs, but Izuku thought it was a strange time to stop, and when he peered out the window he saw no sign of any buildings.

"Come on, Akatani!" Mineta called, halfway down the aisle.

"Move," Kaminari shouted, stuck in the back. "Some people need to pee!"

Izuku shuffled in line. He turned to look at Eraserhead as he passed, and a flicker of a warning passed across Eraserhead's face.

They climbed out of the bus. Izuku stretched out, his limbs stiff from sitting, and looked around. This was definitely not a rest stop.

"Aizawa-sensei?"

Eraserhead crossed his arms and appraised them.

"This is the first training exercise of camp," he announced. Izuku looked around. All he saw was forest—maybe the exercise was to find the forest lodge and make their way through unfamiliar terrain?

"Dang it," Kaminari shouted. Mineta whimpered. Others grumbled.

Kacchan cracked his knuckles.

The training exercise turned out to be giant beasts made of Earth. Izuku had barely any time to fanboy over the Wild, Wild Pussycats before they'd been attacked and scattered into a million different directions. Izuku found no shame in screaming and running as a heavy creature slammed into the ground next to him.

For a while the class floundered. The students were all split up from each other, and many of their Quirks were useless. Izuku could hardly keep up using One for All, smashing through one beast but turning to face another.

Slowly, slowly, they pulled together. Izuku found himself fighting back-to-back with Kacchan, blasting through dust creatures together. The class followed their lead. Izuku, tired as he was, felt pride swell as everyone worked together.

They were blown horribly off track. Uraraka volunteered to get them back on the right path, floating so she could see over the thick forestry and then pointing them in the right direction.

When the class stumbled finally to camp, exhausted and dead on their feet, they found a group of pro heroes and a young boy waiting for him.

"You made it," Eraserhead said drolly.

Izuku glared half-heartedly at him. The only thing Izuku wanted to do was collapse on the ground and take a nice long nap right then and there. He didn't only because Ragdoll announced there was food, after which a stampede of tired and hungry teenagers shook the earth more than Pixie-bob's creatures had.

"That was terrible," Izuku groaned around a mouthful of rice.

"I'm so out of shape."

"It wasn't that bad!"

"Mineta, you panicked and hid in a tree for like, an hour. Shut up."

After dinner they lugged their bags to the lodge and hit the baths. A hot bath sounded nice, but Izuku faltered when he realized they were hot springs. He elected to sit on the side and join in on the conversation, but Izuku would rather shower in his own privacy.

"You won't join us?" Todoroki asked, testing the water. He slipped in, going under and then reemerging to look at Izuku.

Izuku shook his head. "I'll shower later."

Todoroki shrugged and left it. After the training—more like train wreck, in Izuku's opinion—it was nice to relax and talk. The conversation was light now that everyone had food and was no longer hungry.

"What do you guys think we'll be working on? I mean, to come all the way out here…"

"Well," Izuku piped up, "the Wild, Wild Pussycats are a rescue team. So I bet they'll at least teach us a little bit about search and rescue."

"Mm," Todoroki said, "that's a good skill to learn."

"Probably our Quirks," Kacchan said. Even he had elected to join in and was leaning back along some rocks, enjoying the heat of the water. Everyone looked at him, and his nose wrinkled. He rolled his eyes.

"Haven't worked on our Quirks since the beginning of the year," Kacchan said. He crossed his arms and looked away, towards the wooden wall that surrounded them. "We're out of practice."

It was true, Izuku figured. Class was mostly dedicated to simulations or procedure. The internships had been more to explore the day-to-day of heroes rather than to improve themselves, though everyone had come back learning new things.

"Scared we're better than you?"

Kacchan scoffed. "You wish."

"Hey, hey, hey," Kirishima called, "mister champion here beat All Might with Akatani, huh?"

Now the boys were turning to look at Izuku. He ducked his head.

"Well, I couldn't have done it without, uh, Bakugou," Izuku said.

"Man, how you two work together I have no idea. No offense."

"Do you guys hear that?"

The attention switched. Izuku found himself relieved when the eyes left him, but frowned when he saw Mineta standing by the wooden wall. He looked like he was up to no good.

"Hear what?"

Sound drifted over the wall—laughter.

"The girls?" Izuku asked.

Mineta nodded. He rubbed his hands together, and Izuku stood up, feeling something was not quite right about the look on Mineta's face.

"They have the same bath time as us," Mineta said, and Izuku stepped forward as Mineta unstuck two balls from his body and began to climb. Iida surged upwards, water spraying as he called out. Izuku shot across the springs to Mineta, barely grabbing the back of his shirt.

"Mineta—"

But the boy was already halfway up the wall, slipping from Izuku's grip. One of the others shouted in warning. Izuku activated One for All, preparing to leap after Mineta, but suddenly a small figure appeared at the top of the wall.

"What are you doing?" the kid demanded. Izuku's felt his own eyes widen as Mineta stopped, blocked.

"Hey, kid," Mineta whined.

The boy, no older than ten, lifted a foot and brought it down. Mineta dropped, falling into the water, Izuku too stunned to react.

"Mineta, the hell—"

Izuku squinted up at the kid on top of the wall. It was pretty high up, he realized. Dangerously so, even.

"Hey," Izuku called.

The kid glanced down. He sniffed disdainfully. "You call yourselves heroes. As if. I don't even want to look at you."

There was a murmur of voices from the other side. Izuku couldn't make out what the girls were saying clearly, but it sounded like a thank you. He glanced back at Mineta, who had been dragged out of the water by Iida and was being yelled at.

The kid on the wall turned away, then screamed and fell forwards. Izuku watched it happen in slow motion.

Then it clicked, and Izuku activated One for All, leaping up to catch the boy before he could hit the ground.

"You okay?" Izuku asked. "What's your name?"

The boy was breathing hard. He swatted at Izuku's hands until Izuku let go, then turned to run off.

"I don't want to talk to the likes of you," he shouted, "I don't need your help!"

"Hey— hey!"

The boy disappeared. Izuku looked back, where the boys had gathered around Mineta.

"I'm going after that kid," Izuku called. Todoroki nodded in acknowledgement.

"Oi, tell Aizawa-sensei what happened."

Izuku chased the boy all the way to the lodge, where he disappeared into one of the back rooms. Izuku burst into the kitchens and found his teachers gathered there, talking.

"Akatani?" Eraserhead asked when Izuku ran in.

"Where," Izuku panted. He raised a hand and pointed it in a vague direction. "There… there was a kid?"

"Ah, yes," Mandalay said, "so you've met Kouta. I was wondering where he'd gone off to! He didn't want to welcome you all earlier."

"Is something the matter, kitten?" Ragdoll stood, looking concerned.

"Uh, no," Izuku said, "well, I mean, yes. Actually."

He relayed the incident at the baths to all the teachers present, recounting how Mineta had tried to climb the wall over to the girls' baths. Then Kouta had appeared, stopping him, but had fallen as a result.

Mandalay left to go check on the kid, which Izuku was glad for, while the other teachers sat Izuku down to talk.

"Well, thank you for what you did," Ragdoll said. She smiled. "We really appreciate you looking out for Kouta. He could've gotten hurt."

"Well," Izuku said, shrugging, "er, you're welcome."

Eraserhead stood. "You said Mineta was still at the baths?"

"Yeah," Izuku said.

He thought about what Mineta had done, what Mineta had wanted to do. They'd sat together all year. Izuku was on friendly terms with him, and though Mineta was easily scared, he was certainly skilled if he put his mind to it.

But Izuku didn't really know Mineta very well at all, it seemed. He'd been busy getting caught up in other friendships and other enemies—what had Izuku missed by putting his head down and not looking around?

"Good handling the situation," Eraserhead said. He patted Izuku on the head as he passed. "I'll go… speak to Mineta."

Izuku watched, feeling a little uncomfortable. He wasn't sure what would happen to Mineta, or what he wanted to happen to Mineta.

"Thank you again for helping Kouta," Ragdoll said.

"Uh, yeah," Izuku replied. "Actually… I was wondering…?"

"Curious, are you, kitten?"

Izuku blushed. "Maybe a little. But— you don't have to explain anything to me if it's, uh, personal!"

"He's Mandalay's nephew," Ragdoll explained.

Izuku cocked his head. "Mandalay…? He doesn't seem to like heroes very much for the nephew of one."

"Ah," Pixie-bob said. Her smile was sad. "Well, you see, he was the son of heroes, too. Two years ago, they died fighting a villain trying to protect civilians—a true heroic death."

"Oh," Izuku murmured, looking at his hands. "I'm sorry."

"They died as many of us do," Mandalay said, reappearing in the doorway. "Doing what we love, protecting other people. It's a risk we all accept when we decide to become heroes… you, too. But Kouta was young when it happened. He didn't understand."

"I think I understand," Izuku said, frowning, "since their deaths must have been meaningful and praised."

"He thought they chose their jobs over them," Pixie-bob said, "of course, it's not like that. But it's difficult to understand, so he chooses to despise heroes instead."

"We're all he has," Mandalay said. She sighed.

"Yeah," Izuku echoed.

He thought he understood, maybe a little. But Izuku had been the one to be leaving others behind.

He'd grown up admiring All Might, admiring heroes, but… not everyone felt the same way. Villains certainly didn't.

"I hope he can find… acceptance," Izuku said, stumbling as he tried to find the right words. But the heroes seemed to understand what he meant.

"I hope so, too, kitten." Ragdoll wrinkled her nose at him. "Now off you go, no more talk about dying. You've got a long day tomorrow, so you'd better wash up and get to bed."

Izuku bowed, leaving. He made his way to the showers and took one quicky. By the time he was done, all of the students had gathered at the lodge and were getting ready to sleep. Izuku toweled his hair, waving at his friends.

He scanned faces and realized that Mineta wasn't among them.

Izuku found his bag, unpacking his bedroll. Todoroki shifted through a few people to set his own bedroll next to Izuku's.

"Looking for Mineta?" Todoroki murmured as Izuku tugged his bedroll straight.

"I know Eraserhead went to talk to him…"

Todoroki shook his head. "He told Mineta to get dressed and then dragged him off somewhere to talk, I think. We… haven't seen him since."

Izuku frowned. He looked over where a lot of the girls had gathered; Iida approached, bowing and speaking quietly compared to his usual volume. Izuku surmised he was probably apologizing to them, though it really should have been Mineta—not that they wanted to speak to him.

"Is it bad I didn't notice?" Izuku asked. "It's not really an excuse, but I got caught up in a lot of things. I guess… well, I guess you can have all the skill in the world if you want to be a hero, but it won't make up for character."

Todoroki looked at him. "No," he agreed carefully, "I suppose it doesn't."

Izuku couldn't sleep that night. There were too many things to think about, to turn over in his mind. He turned restlessly, hoping he wasn't bothering anyone.

He knew he needed to rest to prepare for training the following day. But Izuku couldn't seem to turn his brain off.

He rolled onto his back, staring through the deep darkness at the fuzzy ceiling. Around him there were the soft sounds of sleep—slow, steady breathing, the faint shuffle of a blanket, a deep snore. Izuku put his hand to his chest and felt it rise and fall. Deep inside of him, One for All slumbered.

When he lifted a hand he could just see it framed in the distant moonlight. Izuku sighed, let it drop, then sat up. He was careful and quiet as he slipped from his spot and crept outside.

It was nice and cool outside. Izuku breathed in deeply, then took a seat in the soft grass, lying down on his back. In the city he never got to see the stars, but now he could. He counted the brightest ones, then wondered if Silver had ever gotten to see them like this—clear, shining.

The porch of the lodge creaked. Izuku tensed, but a moment later a body dropped heavily onto the grass next to him. A voice followed.

"The hell are you doing up?"

Kacchan's voice was rough from sleep. Izuku turned his head so he could look at Kacchan.

"Why are you?" Izuku asked.

Kacchan frowned. "I asked first."

"I couldn't sleep," Izuku said, "now you."

"You woke me up, dumbass," Kacchan said. "You're quiet, but I'm a light sleeper. And the door was fucking loud. Don't they ever do anything about the hinges?"

"Sorry I bothered you," Izuku said, turning back to look at the stars. "You should go back to sleep."

When Kacchan didn't move, Izuku looked at him again. He'd crossed his arms in a stubborn and silent way of saying he definitely wasn't going back.

"What are you looking at me like that for, huh?"

Izuku blinked slowly, then said, "I'm glad we're friends, Bakugou."

Kacchan looked at him for a long moment like he didn't quite believe what Izuku had said, or didn't know how to respond. The roughness left him. Izuku wanted to put a hand to Kacchan's arm, to make sure he was real.

"Yeah," Kacchan said quietly. He dropped down next to Izuku. "Yeah."

The two of them simply breathed for a while. Izuku stared at the sky and thought about how alone he was, standing in the world—but that wasn't right. He eyed Kacchan. No, that wasn't right.

"I…," Izuku started, suddenly brave or foolish. Then he snapped his mouth shut, teeth clacking against each other.

"What?"

What Izuku wanted to say was, did you miss me like I missed you? What Izuku wanted to say was, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, what he wanted to say, Kacchan. Kacchan, it's me.

He couldn't, so he said, "Why are you still here?"

"Here," Kacchan repeated. He sat up, leaning on an arm so he blocked part of the sky and Izuku had to look at him. "You said we were friends."

Izuku closed his eyes. "Yes…"

"I'm not a good person," Kacchan said.

"Yes, you are."

"I did a lot of—shit," Kacchan said plainly. He met Izuku's eyes like it was a challenge.

"So have I," Izuku responded, "but… Bakugou, we're both trying. We're getting better, I think. When I looked at you I saw…"

Izuku blinked. Looked at Kacchan and saw a piece of himself.

"I want to tell you something," Izuku said, but he didn't. "I think you're a good person, Bakugou. And I think you've got more friends than you know."

"You're passable," Kacchan said, and Izuku laughed.

"We should go back," Izuku suggested, but neither of them moved from their spots. Izuku knew he would regret it come morning, then decided that he wouldn't. Not for Kacchan.

"Can I ask you something?"

"You just did." Kacchan used his free hand to punch Izuku's arm.

"Do you ever wish you could go backwards?" Izuku asked. "Do you ever want to go back to— a different time? To the way things used to be?"

"Akatani," Kacchan said, and held his gaze, "there's no use in going back to the way things used to be. You'll never have it the same way again. When things change they're never the same after."

"I know," Izuku murmured, "but I can't help but want to, sometimes."

There was nothing to do but look forwards. Keep forging his path until it was one that Izuku liked, one that he could proud of.

Kacchan wrapped his fingers around Izuku's wrist next to Silver's bracelet. Just for a moment. Just long enough to feel the pulse of his blood under his skin, just long enough to remember they were both alive. Then he dragged his hand back like it had never happened.

"I know," Kacchan said, "I know."

Chapter Text

Flare Signal
chapter thirty-five


Kacchan kept Izuku grounded. Even here, after you thought you had gotten help, after it was all over or almost over, Izuku still found himself scared. He was hidden in the thick trees but thought he could still feel Chimera's eyes on him.

It was like he'd spent years carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and finally someone eased the burden a little. But that didn't mean it was over. It was far from over.

The second day of the training camp, Eraserhead had them working on their Quirks, just like Kacchan had guessed.

Izuku was paired with Tiger. He hadn't expected an easy fight at all, but Tiger's reactions were terrifyingly fast. It was like fighting Gran Torino again, except… less Gran Torino.

Things weren't going well, though. Izuku's moves were sloppy, as Tiger was unafraid to point out. He was distracted. He kept looking over; unlike most of the class had believed, Eraserhead hadn't sent Mineta home. Izuku didn't know what Eraserhead had been thinking, but Mineta was now running laps in the distant hills. At least, Izuku reasoned, he was far away from any of the girls. Iida was running, too, pushing his engines as far as they could go.

At some point after being clocked Izuku asked for a break and then went to find Eraserhead.

"Can I join Iida?"

Eraserhead raised his eyebrows.

"I want to work on my stamina and my speed," Izuku said breathlessly, which wasn't a lie. "With my Quirk spread out across my body—Full Cowl. I think it'd work better."

Eraserhead grunted, but didn't seem surprised. "Fine."

Izuku bowed. He headed in the direction of the hills, One for All sparking, and raced upwards. In minutes he had joined Mineta.

"Run with me," Izuku said, leaving no room for discussion. Mineta did, and they set off.

Mineta kept shooting Izuku nervous glances, but Izuku kept going. He said nothing, staying with an easy pace the same as he would any other morning. Mineta had to work hard to keep up.

When they were far enough away from the others did Izuku slow.

Mineta followed his lead.

"Tough," he gasped, "tough workout, Akatani. You're—"

"Mineta," Izuku said, stopping.

Mineta stopped, too. He looked nervous, shifting from foot to foot as he wrung his hands. He was looking at Izuku like Izuku was someone to be scared of.

"You want to be a hero, right?"

"Well, yeah," Mineta blurted.

Izuku pinned him with a look. "Why?"

"W.. why? I—"

Izuku was already shaking his head. "Not why you want to be a hero, Mineta. I wanted to know… I wanted to know why you did what you did. The other night."

Mineta sucked in a breath. For a moment it seemed he had no answer. He snapped his mouth shut, and his speechlessness made Izuku upset. It made him feel a lot of things, actually. Upset, angry. A well of disappointment seemed to open up beneath him, and Izuku didn't understand why he felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes.

"I thought you…" Izuku said, but he didn't know how to finish speaking. He folded his hands over each other. "I thought you were— better than that, Mineta."

"Look, man," Mineta squeaked, "I…"

Izuku started to jog again. Mineta kept pace, staying one step behind. Izuku could feel him at his back, insistent. When the camp sprawled back into view, Izuku stopped again.

"Everyone here wants to be a hero," Izuku said as Mineta caught his breath. He gestured out at their fellow students, training hard. Fire and light danced across the sky. The ground shook. Each person was working on their Quirks, refining themselves into someone better and stronger.

"...yeah?"

"I think… anyone can be a hero," Izuku confessed, "but that's the thing. I think, Mineta, you could be a hero. So could I. Whether or not we would be good heroes is… it's up to us."

He paused. Izuku could see Kacchan, head tipped back, hands raised as explosions burst from his palms.

"I know I can't— make you do anything. And I'm not… I don't want to pretend to be perfect, either, but I think what you did was wrong. I'm not sure if it means anything to you, but you lost a lot of respect and trust." Izuku swallowed. He kept his eyes on Kacchan, always on Kacchan, but he could see Mineta just at the edge of his vision.

Izuku clamped a hand on Mineta's shoulder, pressing down. Then he lifted it and began a slow jog down the slope to rejoin the rest of the heroes-in-training.

He stopped and looked back. Mineta was standing still, watching him go.

"Mineta," Izuku called. Mineta's head jerked. "If you want to be a hero… you're going to have to find something that you really want. Something that you'd fight for. Because if you don't— I think in the end, it doesn't matter what your Quirk is or how successful you are, because you're going to be left behind."

Izuku swallowed. He couldn't quite breathe, but when he looked back down the hill he could take in air again.

"Akatani?"

Izuku paused.

"What… are you fighting for?"

Izuku kept his gaze on a distant figure, eyes locked. He reached up absentmindedly, touching his chest. "A lot of things."

He didn't know if he felt better, tracking down the hill. Eraserhead lifted his head just slightly when Izuku returned, acknowledging him with cool eyes. Tiger had finished fighting with a few other students, so Izuku went for a few rounds before drifting back in Eraserhead's direction.

Eraserhead's eye twitched.

"Aren't you meant to be training?" He flicked his fingers when Izuku didn't move. "Hm. Problem child."

Izuku dawdled a bit. "Training's almost over though, isn't it?" He inclined his head. "We've been at it for a while."

Eraserhead's mouth twitched. "Looking for a way out, huh?"

"Eraserhead," Izuku grumbled.

Eraserhead glanced up the hill. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"I dunno," Izuku said. He rubbed his arm. "I'm— not sure I feel any better, really. But I don't know what more I could've done."

Eraserhead grunted. "It's not all up to you, kid. I'm the teacher here."

"You don't let us forget it," Izuku sighed. Eraserhead patted his shoulder, then went to call everyone to stop for the day.

They gathered outside the lodge, where it was announced from that point on they'd be in charge of making their own food. Iida immediately corralled them into different stations to make curry. Izuku was delegated to chopping vegetables and did so happily, falling into the repetitive motion.

Todoroki slipped up next to him, carrying firewood.

"I saw you leave to go run," Todoroki commented.

Izuku squinted at him. He went through another carrot, then said, "Yeah. I'm okay with running, but I'd like to build up using my Quirk while I do it."

"That's not why you went, though."

"That's not why I went," Izuku agreed.

"You think he should still be here?"

"That's not my call to make," Izuku said. He finished slicing all of the carrot and gathered it, setting his knife down before he glanced at Todoroki. "Why… why are you looking at me like that?"

Todoroki was watching Izuku pensively. His fingers trailed along a notch in the wood.

"You like to do that, don't you?"

"Huh?"

Todoroki smiled. "Get into other people's business."

"Well, well— I…"

Todoroki huffed out a laugh. Izuku liked it. "Just be careful, Akatani."

"Yeah," Izuku said, reaching for the mushrooms. "Though… I'm not sure these days if anything is working."

Todoroki cocked his head. "You got through to me."

"Yeah?"

Todoroki nodded. "You know… I admire that you want to help people. But you didn't get through to me just by talking, you know that?"

Izuku sliced the mushrooms methodically, thoughtfully.

"Sometimes actions speak louder than words," Todoroki said. He looked like he wanted to say more, but that was when Iida caught them standing together. Todoroki's nose wrinkled slightly as he was scolded for going off-duty, bidding a quick goodbye. Izuku laughed as he went.

Dinner that night was delicious. It certainly wasn't the best curry Izuku had ever had—no, Aunt Mitsuki's was pretty good—but it was delicious, and warm. And there was something nice about the way they'd made it together.

Min