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Flight of the Phoenix

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The world around Midoriya turned grey and the people around him slowed until they were frozen in place. Kacchan's face was stuck in a furious scowl (Midoriya's mother had always said it might stick that way), and the villain's sludge poised mid-drip. Midoriya, caught mid-leap, found he could move, albeit very slowly, and eased himself to the ground. He looked around cautiously for some hint of who had caused that, and found...a person. It was...hard to look at them; something about their shape or face was difficult to perceive or remember. Their face was angular, he thought, and there was a hint of a wide smile.

“Hey, looks like you got yourself in a real pickle, Jade-kun! I say pickle, but of course I mean an absolute shitshow. Because in about thirty seconds that villain’s gonna turn you inside out and then kill your little friend over there.” The person paused. "Also, I say thirty seconds, but we got as much time as I want to chat before I let you suffer the consequences of your actions."

Midoriya felt a hitch, a spark of excitement at the declaration. For all that everyone's Quirk was different, there were Quirks that were common in theme, and those that were uncommon. And time manipulation was among the rarest of Quirks. He didn't know of a single living hero who could slow, much less stop time, which meant this person was a new hero.

"Who are you? Are you a hero? Did you just stop time, or accelerate our perception of it?"

"Whoa." The person held a hand up at Midoriya. "I may have said we as much time as I want, but that’s not as much time as you want. I’ve got other places to be. So we can either get a good angle on the moment when your buddy's eyes pop out of his head or talk business."

Midoriya's stomach churned at the mention of Kacchan's eyes; he glanced up at the sludge villain, trying to tell if the sludge was moving, if Kacchan was struggling.

"Don't worry - he can't feel anything right now. Can't even think. We could leave them like this forever, but it's a bit boring for a tableau, you know? If I wanted something to pose in the foyer, I'd go for something a little more dynamic."

"This isn't the time for making jokes; Kacchan needs help!"

"Well, sure, eventually. But I think you might need a hand, too." The person slipped around Midoriya, standing between him and the villain. "I mean, if you had a Quirk, you might stand a chance. But you knew that. And you still jumped in without a second thought. A real hero."

He didn't say the word hero the way most people did, with awe, respect, or envy. He said it dry, dismissively, like Kacchan saying 'Deku'. Like jumping into danger to protect people was foolish. Not a hero, then. But if he wasn't a hero...what was he doing here?

But he was wrong about Midoriya. "I'm not a hero-"

"No, you're a hero, kid; I know the type. A shame they-" The person made a gesture toward Kacchan and the sludge villain, "can't see that without you having some flashy powers. But I promise you, kid, whether or not the heroes let you join their little club, you're the type that makes the worst trouble for villains."

Midoriya felt a quaver in his chest and a prickling at his eyes - he'd started running toward the villain without thinking, but had panicked when he realized he was going to die, that everyone who'd told him he would never be a hero without a Quirk was right. To hear this stranger tell him they were wrong, in a tone so matter-of-fact that it should be obvious to anyone, left him uncertain how to feel - except overwhelmed.

A corner of his mind, a quiet thought, asked how the opinion of this strange man, not a hero or villain but something else, could matter more than that of All Might.

"Who are you?" Midoriya demanded. "I've never heard of a hero like you-"

"I'm not a hero, Jade-kun. My Quirk's not really suited for this sort of fight. But I like to offer assistance where I can." He held out a hand. "Harai Akira."

Midoriya reached out his hand automatically. "Midoriya Izuku."

"Well, now that we've got the pleasantries out of the way, how about it, Jade-kun?"

"How about...what?"

"You want a Quirk? Take a shot at surviving the next five minutes of your life?"

If time hadn't already stopped (and was that Harai's Quirk?), Midoriya would have said it did when Harai asked that question. What he was suggesting was impossible. You couldn't transfer Quirks. If it were possible-

"Can - you do that?"

There was a suggestion of a shrug. "I can do pretty much anything I put my mind to, and right now that includes giving you a Quirk."

"Well-" Midoriya struggled to fit this declaration into his understanding of the world. Not the part about 'pretty much anything', because that suggested Harai Akira was some kind of god, but simply that there was a path laid in front of him which ended with Midoriya having a Quirk.

...A path that involved a gift offered by a near stranger.

"And is there something...you want in exchange for that?"

"Ah, the straightforward type. I like that. You're a smart kid, Jade-kun. Observant. I bet nothing gets by you. I'm sort of the same; I see lots of things. But I don't know everything - not yet. That's where a kid like you comes in handy. I've seen that notebook you keep - where you keep your observations, theories, and strategies about every hero you've seen. That's what I want."

"My...notebook?" It struck Midoriya suddenly how ludicrous this was - the thought that he had anything valuable enough to trade for a Quirk. Maybe he'd taken a hit from the villain, lost consciousness, and this was a dream. Because no one would trade a Quirk, or at least a good one, for some fanboy's journal.

"Yeah, I wanna know everything you know about all this stuff. Quirks. Heroes. All that jazz."

"And in exchange, you'll give me a Quirk? A good one?"

"I'll get you through this fight, kid."

"And it's not going to fade? You won't take it back?"

"Yeah, yeah, it'll be yours - no takebacks. All you gotta do...is shake my hand."

Midoriya snapped his gaze down at Harai's hand, stomach churning again. Not only did all of this seem impossible, it seemed like...it might be a really bad idea. He'd never heard of Harai Akira, who had impeccable timing for a random bystander.

"Do you think he's really going to drown that kid?" Harai looked back at the villain, at Kacchan trapped inside. "I don't think so - he wants the kid's Quirk. The process can't be pleasant, though. Making someone feel like they're drowning is torture - banned by the Geneva Convention, but maybe this guy's American - guys like that don't care as much about that sort of thing. Of course, if he doesn't kill that kid, means he's planning to wear him like a suit. I wonder what that's like, being stuck in your own body, watching it be used to do terrible things you can't stop. I hope that kid doesn't want to be a hero - even if he broke free, I doubt his reputation could recover from that."

"I'll do it."

---

The other heroes lunged uselessly at the boy - the normal, Quirkless boy - as he rushed toward the villain and his hostage. Toshinori, helpless, his power exhausted, watched in unique horror. Because while the onlookers, the other heroes, saw a child running into danger, only Toshinori knew the child had no Quirk, no way to fight this villain.

Only he knew this child was going to die.

The boy swung his backpack around and threw it in a wide arc at the villain - a clever move, one that distracted the villain for a key moment. But it wouldn't be enough; Toshinori saw the villain recovering, tightening his grip on his hostage. The hostage screamed, and another explosion rent the street.

The boy raised a hand to shield his eyes, and the flames-

Washed around him, gathering around his arms like sleeves. Quirkless? Had the boy been lying, or was it merely a power he'd never had reason to discover?

The boy seemed as surprised as Toshinori felt, which is why he stepped forward, calling forth One for All. Quirk or no Quirk, the boy didn't seem confident enough to control it. The villain slammed a tendril of sludge down toward the boy, who danced back, tracking the movements of his opponent with a keen eye. The flames around him raged, but didn't touch the boy, instead covering him like a shroud. Toshinori didn't have the time to consider what the boy’s Quirk was, only to be grateful it was keeping him safe as Toshinori pushed through the crowd, and the villain finally noticed All Might was here.

He tried to tighten his grip on his hostage, but the boy was suddenly yanked from the villain's grasp. The (not so) Quirkless boy was underneath him, both boys colliding in twin shouts as All Might seized his chance.

"Detroit Smash!"

Toshinori had some time to think as he tracked down the boy, the not-so Quirkless one. The boy who'd wanted to know if he could become a hero without a Quirk. Who'd leapt into danger without a second thought. Had he really believed he had no Quirk? In that moment, Toshinori had thought so, had been so moved he'd remembered what it meant to be a hero.

Whatever the boy's circumstances, one thing was certain.

He was a hero already.

Tears glimmered in the boy's - Midoriya's - eyes at Toshinori's declaration.

"But I must know one thing, young Midoriya. You asked me if you could become a hero without a Quirk. But you used a Quirk in that fight."

Midoriya stiffened, hands clenching against the ground. "I didn't - I wasn't lying to you, All Might. Sir. I never - this was the first time I ever used a Quirk. I don't even know what it does!"

Toshinori held up his hands. "I believe you! But if you want to be registered - recognized - as a hero, you will need to learn what your Quirk can do. Learn to use it with the same familiarity as kids who've been using theirs since they were four or five years old." He didn't know why he said what he said next. Except.

He'd come here to find a successor. He wasn't certain if this reckless boy with an untrained Quirk was an appropriate heir to One For All. But All Might was more than One for All. He had a legacy that he was returning to U.A. to pass on. He had ten months until he began teaching other young heroes.

"And I would be honored to help you learn."

Maybe starting with one would help ease him into it.

---

"This beach used to be a beautiful place, I've heard. But over the years it's become a dumping ground for trash. And with every person who used it as a dump, two others thought it was okay." All Might stood atop an abandoned fridge, waving a hand at the piles of junk obscuring the waterline.

Midoriya carefully looked around the makeshift dump, deserted except for him and All Might (deflated, angular, no longer forcing that perfect smile). "Why are we here?"

"To train, of course!" All Might pointed at Midoriya. "Becoming a hero isn't just about knowing how to use your Quirk. Every hero must know how to fight, and from what I can see, you've got a long way to go with that." He pointed dramatically at Midoriya. "So I have developed a training regimen for you - a diet, schedule, to get you into fighting shape! And part of that is cleaning up this beach." He gave Midoriya a flash of a grin. “It’ll be good practice for real hero work, too. Too many heroes think their job begins and ends with villains. It used to be about community service. But nowadays the sort of hero who lets themselves be seen cleaning a park gets ridiculed. If you train under me, though, that’s exactly the type of hero you’ll be. Understood?”

"Y - yes!” Midoriya shouted out. “But…" Midoriya looked at his hands. He remembered the flames caused by Kacchan's uncontrolled blasts encircling his hands, torso, his entire body. He'd felt safe, the fire enveloping him with comforting warmth. He'd wondered afterward if this is what if felt like to use one’s Quirk. He hadn't, however, been able to duplicate the feeling. He couldn't create fire himself, or hadn't been able to, no matter how hard he'd concentrated. But he'd thought about it, and his Quirk made some sort of sense. It was most common for children to inherit one parent's Quirk, or something like it. It was rarer, but not unusual, for children to inherit Quirks that combined both their parents' Quirks. Midoriya's father could breathe flame, and his mother could pull objects toward her, so a Quirk that let him pull fire toward him was perfectly reasonable. At least it wasn't a Quirk unrelated to either of them - even though a kid could have a mutated Quirk that wasn't like their parents, it always made people talk.

"What about my Quirk?"

All Might huffed and crossed his arms. "That's trickier. If we had a better idea of what it is, we could schedule some time at a Quirk gym." Because people weren't allowed to use Quirks in public, there were places a person could go to practice controlling their Quirks - they were free to use for students under adult supervision, but some adults would pay to practice keeping a handle on Quirks that could make their life difficult, or master a Quirk they'd never been able to as a kid. Not knowing exactly what his Quirk did, though, made it difficult to know what assistance they'd need at the gym.

"I…think I can use fire to - protect myself. My mom can pull objects toward her and my dad can breath fire - I think his throat's fireproof."

"Hm. Fire resistance, and the ability to draw an element toward you. We can work with that. But! Regardless, you must train your body. Without the ability to fight, even someone with a powerful Quirk will be at a disadvantage. So. Let's begin!"

It took two weeks before All Might was able to secure a discreet session at a Quirk gym. Two weeks of grueling training, in which Midoriya made no progress. Midoriya spent most of the train ride to the gym in a glum fog. For some reason, All Might thought Midoriya could become a great hero, but Midoriya was failing him. Harai had given Midoriya an amazing Quirk, he was sure, and he hadn't done anything with it.

He was failing both of them.

He paused on the train platform, chest feeling hollow, skin shivering with chill, and for a moment, the world around him was pale, almost colorless. He wondered if Harai was returning to reprimand Midoriya for not using his Quirk well, to take it back (he'd promised, but someone who could give someone Quirks could take them away, too, Midoriya guessed). A young woman with hair the shade of an apple, red blending to yellow, passed just outside of Midoriya's reach, and he started back to himself, unsure how long he'd been standing there moping. Long enough he'd be late if he didn't hurry (Harai probably never had to worry about that, with his time-stopping Quirk), so Midoriya jogged out of the station toward the gym.

The gym was a squat building next to a department store; it had a heavy, industrial look that someone had tried to combat by painting the entrance a vibrant shade of red. Midoriya passed a pair of tiny old women with six-inch-long fingers, and someone who looked like they were made of building blocks, as he entered. The front desk was plain, a bored-looking young man tapping the counter with iron claws as he listened to music.

Midoriya saw other people wandering past the counter, returning from what he guessed were locker rooms, and felt his nerves ease a little. He'd somehow imagined this a - remedial class, where only people terrible with their Quirks went. But it seemed there were ordinary people here - there was someone with awkward bat wings fluttering behind them, a group of young students led by a harried teacher, a salaryman giving the boy at the desk a professional nod.

And there was All Might - not buffed up, and therefore standing, gangly, sickly-thin, to the side of the door. On seeing Midoriya, he straightened to his full height (much less imposing without the muscles to bulk out his form) and waved.

"Midoriya."

"I'm sorry I'm late, All-" Midoriya froze mid-word, tongue stumbling over the sudden realization he didn't have anything he could call this man except All Might, and that would expose his secret to the world. "Um."

"You can call me Sensei, if you want." All Might scratched at his chin. "Yagi-Sensei, I suppose."

"Yagi...sensei?"

"My family name isn't 'Might', young Midoriya. Come on, we've only got an hour."

Sputtering, Midoriya hurried after...Yagi-sensei, who waved at the boy at the desk as he wandered through, past the changing rooms and into a surprisingly high-ceilinged room lined with mats and pads. There was a ceramic urn at the center of the room, and a whirring clatter from above; Midoriya glanced around until he noted the exhaust vent rattling along, clearly to handle the results of any mishaps with Midoriya's Quirk.

Yagi-sensei ambled to the urn and fiddled with something on it until an orange flame flickered to life, dancing along the rim of the...brazier, Midoriya guessed now. Yagi-sensei looked to Midoriya, one eyebrow raised.

"Now, you've only been able to affect fire that already exists, correct?"

Midoriya nodded hurriedly. "Sorry, but yes. My father can breathe fire, but-"

"No need to apologize; it's your Quirk, not your father's. I just wanted to make sure I had the setup right." He waved at the fire. "So we'll start slow. I remember during the fight the fire wrapped around you, so I just want you to see if you can touch the flame without-"

It had caught Midoriya by surprise, seeing the flame appear, but as Yagi-sensei had spoken, he'd found his gaze drawn to it, the orange blended with yellow and orange, no blue, no core of black, as Yagi-sensei had clearly decided to start with a weak fire to avoid burning Midoriya. The thought seemed strange, to Midoriya, who had felt an answering spark in his chest when the flame had flared to life. Yagi-sensei had stopped mid-sentence because Midoriya had passed his hand through the flame, or tried to.

The flame parted as his hand passed through it, before settling on the back of his hand. It was...warm, and as Midoriya twisted his hand around, the flame climbed around it, leaving a - film or sheath of fire as the flame settled in his palm. His whole hand felt warm - not just warm where the fire touched, but inside, as well, where he could feel small pulses of heat along with the beat of his heart.

"It doesn't hurt at all, Midoriya?" Yagi-sensei asked cautiously.

"No! It feels…" Midoriya looked up at Yagi-sensei, who started, eyes a little wide, as if taken aback. "How does it feel when you use your Quirk?"

"Feels?" Yagi-sensei tapped at his chin again. "Like a rushing waterfall pouring into me. Like a thousand explosions all at once! What is it your Quirk makes you feel?"

"Like…" Midoriya let his eyes drift closed as he took in the sensations, of the welcoming warmth, fire cultivated, sustained by his Quirk. Where he held the flame, his hand felt...soothed. He'd been clenching his hands in his lap the entire trip over here, but that hand didn't feel tense. "Good. My hand-" He shook it, and the flame separated, vanishing once it had no more fuel. The ache didn't return to his hand, and he felt a flare of something (surprise? hope?) lit in his chest. "It feels good. Warm."

"Well, it is fire," Yagi-sensei murmured. "It didn't hurt?"

Midoriya shook his head. It was strange - his mother had always warned him to be cautious with open flames, only for Midoriya to gain a Quirk that seemed to make him fireproof. Except…

"Can we try a hotter flame?"

Yagi-sensei gave Midoriya a concerned look, but bent to the side of the brazier, which flared a little hotter; Midoriya could see blue flickering in the heart of the flame. He swiped his other hand through it once, and all at once it was engulfed in flame. Yagi-sensei yelped in surprise, but Midoriya waved him away before looking at the fire, enshrouding his hand like a mitten, complete with the warmth soaking into his bones. It was unsurprising, he supposed, that sheathing his hand in fire soothed muscle aches as well as a hot spring could, but for a Quirk he hadn't imagined to have much variety to prove its flexibility right away was…

Well, he'd been a little disappointed when he'd rushed at the villain imprisoning Kacchan and found he didn't have a Quirk he could use to defeat him in one go. But clearly Harai had given him something valuable - a good Quirk. He wasn't sure yet if it was enough to get him into U.A., but it was something.

"Are you sure you're alright? A lot of fire-based Quirks can make their users overheat if they rely on them too much."

Midoriya nodded. "Yeah! I'm fine. Can we try-"

"No. We aren't here to train your Quirk - we're here to get a feel for it. So let's move on to something else. Back there, I thought I saw the fire move toward you - which means, with your mother's Quirk, you might have some ability to control fire, so I want to see how much you can do."

The answer wasn't much. If there was fire within about a meter of Midoriya, he could pull it toward him; if he didn't immediately wrap it around a limb, it went out. But it was something, and Yagi-sensei seemed pleased with the results of the session, promising to schedule in some time for Midoriya to practice his Quirk.

"No practicing in public," Yagi-sense warned. "It may feel new and exciting, but it isn't allowed, and getting in trouble over something like that might keep you out of U.A."

So Midoriya refrained from practicing in public, but he did try his hand at the stove at home before their next meeting, proudly announcing to Yagi-sensei he could withstand temperatures as high as two thousand degrees without any injury. Yagi-sensei had responded to that with an odd look before forbidding Midoriya from practicing his Quirk at home, either.

And slowly...Midoriya made progress. First, he found he could shove smaller pieces of trash with little effort and move the larger ones. And then he could lift, and even toss around the smaller parts and start moving things like refrigerators. With some effort, he could pull fire toward himself from two meters, but it left him a little strained and sore in a way a flame coat couldn't soothe.

Other things he discovered in the next nine and a half months:

The flame coat couldn't fix cuts or bruises, though it did mute the pain of such injuries.

Yagi-sensei knew a lot about movies, especially American movies. Strangely, he didn't think much of movies about heroes.

With some effort, Midoriya could increase flames touching him, nurturing them until they were spread over his whole body. With time, he could do this even from a single spark, though it didn't seem worth it. He did, however, practice until he could go from a spark to a flame engulfing his entire hand with little thought. And Yagi-sensei had helped him get a pair of gloves that created sparks when he snapped his fingers.

Yagi-sensei was as hesitant to discuss himself as he was in interviews. Consequently, Midoriya didn't ask the question he most wanted to - namely, what All Might's Quirk was.

When Midoriya was holding fire, anything he was touching before he called the fire to hand took no damage from the flame cloak (this was why his clothes didn't burst into flames every time he used his Quirk). After that, though…

Yagi-sensei lost one shirt to Midoriya's Quirk, and they'd set off the fire suppression system twice before he learned to keep his hands to himself once he'd picked up flame.

And suddenly, too soon, the U.A. entrance exam was upon them. The night before Midoriya had shown off his work on the beach, which he'd cleared further than Yagi-sensei had asked, soothing his aching muscles every night sitting in the bath, body enshrouded in flame. This morning he woke with a buzz in his mind, his chest tight, not quite an ache, and something he knew his Quirk couldn't ease.

Today, he decided his future.

---

A few careful strikes with flame-enshrouded hands was enough to singe some critical systems in the one-point robots. The two-pointers were more aggressive and required better reflexes to avoid and get in close enough to hit.

Midoriya didn’t trust his strength to get through the armor on the three-pointers, so he let others blast their way through those.

At least until he saw the wild-haired kid with tired eyes facing off against one.

Not facing off, Midoriya corrected himself when the boy scrambled away from the villain bot’s charge. Trying to escape. The boy was clearly like Midoriya, unwilling to test his strength against the heavily-armed villains. But the robot had him cornered between the buildings on either side and another that had collapsed, blocking the road.

So Midoriya charged in slamming a fist against the robot’s treads to no effect. He snapped his fingers and took a deep breath, flame spreading up his arm, dodging away from the robot’s arms as it swiveled around to crush him.

“Can you get at some weak point if I distract it?” Midoriya asked.

The boy, watching Midoriya with wide eyes, shook his head. “I can’t - not against machines-“

And it occurred to Midoriya only then how unfair this test was to applicants whose Quirks weren’t geared for combat. Pro Eraserhead wouldn’t have been able to fight robots like this. He remembered Harai, who couldn’t fight like the boy with engines in his legs, or the pretty girl who’d saved him earlier, who was lifting robots high enough to break them when they fell. Harai wasn’t a hero, but he’d still-

“Stick with me, and I’ll keep you safe.” The boy’s face scrunched up like he wanted to protest, but then a pair of one-pointers hopped over the wall of rubble. Midoriya dispatched them with relative ease, and when he turned back, the boy had drawn closer.

Close enough Midoriya yanked his hands back. “Sorry! I don’t want to burn you by accident. If I were touching you before I’d used my fire, I could protect you. Otherwise-“ Behind him, one of the robots crashed to the ground.

The ground shook and the other boy swore, staring over Midoriya’s shoulder.

“What is it?” Midoriya twisted his head around and saw it.

The zero-point robot.

They’d called it an obstacle. This wasn’t an obstacle; it was a force of nature! Meters high, it rolled toward them, hero applicants fleeing before it. Midoriya moved to shield the other boy and urge him away.

“Can you keep that fire up just by concentrating?”

“What? Yes. Why?”

“I’m sorry,” the boy murmured.

“For-“

—-

Shinsou had been staring at the envelope from U.A. for ten minutes, but it hadn't grown any larger, and he was beginning to wonder if the envelope was mocking him, a sign he'd been doing this too long. It wasn't as if he had a chance, anyway. He'd ended the practical exam with no points, and in the last moments, seeing one of the applicants trapped under a pile of rubble, about to be crushed by the zero-point obstacle, he'd used his Quirk on another applicant. He'd forced the messy-haired boy with the plain face into danger to strike at the key weaknesses of the monstrous robot to send it falling away from the trapped girl. They'd been clear that manipulating other applicants was one of the few prohibitions in the test, so there was no uncertainty about Shinsou's fate.

Well, that wasn't true. They might decide Shinsou's violation of those rules meant he was unsuitable for the General Department, as well.

So he sighed and sliced open the envelope with his letter opener, bracing himself for the 'Thank you for your application to the Hero Department, but'-

A small metal disk fell out of the envelope and bounced onto his desk. It flickered and then an image of All Might appeared in the air, about eye level. All Might smiled, and for a moment, Shinsou felt it was a smile directed at him.

"Shinsou Hitoshi!" He jolted in his seat, the unexpected address startling him. "U.A. has decided to respond to our applicants with these holo-messages, and I, All Might, am recording each of them to discuss your application results. Shinsou, you did exceptionally on the written portion of the exam - within the top 10. Of course, your score on the written exam means nothing if you failed the practical exam. You are aware you defeated zero of the robot villains, giving you a villain score of zero. Of course, other factors came into play, and I think you'll be interested to see this!"

The image shifted to a messy office. Present Mic was sprawled in a chair staring intently at a screen (music, or villain data, or the results of this exam, Shinsou didn't know). A knock at the door drew Present Mic straight up. "Come on in!" the hero shouted, and the door opened to admit the messy-haired boy, and Shinsou's heart sank. Here it was - if they hadn't already known what Shinsou had done, the boy would have told them. Of course, anyone would be eager to get rid of an aspiring hero with such a villainous Quirk.

"Present Mic...sensei?"

"Oh, no, don't worry about that. I'm not anyone's sensei until they start at U.A. What brings you here?"

"My name is Midoriya Izuku. I was one of the applicants-"

"Yes, yes. We've been tallying the results. And we aren't going to release the results until-"

"I know you haven't released the results yet - that's why I wanted to talk to you about one of the other applicants!" Midoriya took a deep breath. "I didn't get his name - he had really wild hair - blue or - and looked sort of tired…" He looked up at Present Mic with wide eyes, until the announcer nodded slowly.

"Shinsou Hitoshi. He was in your testing group."

Midoriya nodded. "He was. During the exam - I think he used his Quirk on me. In the last minute or so, I sort of...lost control of my body."

"You mean during your most impressive moment of the exam?" The image shifted again, showing Midoriya rushing around the massive arena trap robot, one hand out, flaming, drawing along its treads. It turned, unsteadily, toward him, but something was clearly wrong. For all that the decision had doomed him, Shinsou felt a thrill of satisfaction watching. He'd watched other applicants take down the robots, seeing their weak points, where they could stand even if you struck them there. Obviously, despite their different appearances, they were made with the same design, and so Shinsou had known just how to weaken the robot enough to collapse under its own weight.

"That wasn't me. He said something to me - apologized, and then I couldn't - I wasn't in control. And I know we were told not to do that, not to attack other applicants, but I realized that he didn't attack me. There was someone near the robot - trapped. I think he thought there wasn't time to tell me what I needed to do. Maybe he thought...I wouldn't help her even if I did see her. I don't know, but you can't penalize him for that!"

Present Mic leaned back in his seat, steepling his fingers together. "Shinsou didn't earn a single villain point in the practical exam. Having seen his Quirk, I'm sure you know that."

"I know. But I thought - you might tell other schools what happened, and I don't think you should. If he can - do what he did, people might get the wrong idea. He shouldn't have to suffer for making the right choice."

Shinsou wanted a way to pause the video, to have a moment to process that. Of course protecting that girl had been the right decision - he hadn't had to think about it. But something about Shinsou's Quirk made people nervous, made them wonder what his real motivations were - he couldn't think of a single person outside of his parents who'd defended his Quirk. His chest felt tight, and the projection was inexplicably blurry.

"You're way off base there. Heroism is about sacrifice - every hero can tell you a story about something they've lost because they made the right choice. But you're also right. The U.A. entrance exam isn't just about combat prowess and cool moves. It's about being a hero. Which is why...in addition to villain points, for defeating the robot enemies, we award rescue points, for acts of heroism."

Midoriya was staring at Present Mic with wide eyes. "You, Midoriya Izuku, scored 40 villain points, and 20 rescue points - and with that, earned a place in U.A."

The image shifted back to All Might, who gave Shinsou a blinding smile. "So while you scored zero villain points, Shinsou, your heroic act - risking not only your admission to the U.A. Hero program, but your reputation, even your future, to save one person - earned 60 rescue points!"

Shinsou didn't hear what All Might said next; he kept trying to follow the thought of '60 points' to its logical conclusion and kept falling short. Midoriya had gotten 60 points and gotten in U.A. If Shinsou had also gotten 60 points…

Shinsou's father stepped in half an hour later. "It's time for dinner." Shinsou nodded, silent. "Your mother said the letter from U.A. came. You smashed the General Department exam, I'm sure."

"I didn't get into the General Department," Shinsou replied, dully.

"Impossible! Whatever they think of your Quirk, you're brilliant-"

"I got into the Hero Department."

To his father's stunned silence, Shinsou reached out and pressed the disk, replaying the last few moments of the video.

"Shinsou Hitoshi, welcome to the U.A. Hero Program!"

Shinsou swiped at his eyes, because he wasn't going to cry, no matter how impossible this had seemed. That somehow he'd rendered half a dozen contingency plans moot...because when things had come down to the last moment, he'd acted like a hero.

---

Stendhal looked up, cautiously. The noise of the streets outside had faded, and something was...wrong. He grasped a dagger and raised it in one smooth motion. You didn't get where Stendhal was without making enemies, and now that he'd realized his enemies now included over half the 'heroes' in Japan, he was feeling jumpy.

"Hey...nice knife!" There was...someone else in Stendhal's apartment. He must have had some sort of visual distortion Quirk, because no matter how long Stendhal looked at the intruder, he couldn't remember what the person looked like. "You know where I can get one like it, or is this one of those 'forged with the blood of your enemies' deals?"

Stendhal flipped the knife around. "Get out. I won't ask again, and won't be involving the police."

There was a moment of quiet, and then the other person burst into laughter. "Are you…threatening me?"

"I am telling you what will happen if you don't leave."

"Oh my goodness, you are!" The intruder laughed again, an enthused, rapid-fire sound, with something - a hint of malice, Stendhal thought - worrying in it. "That might be the most adorable thing I've ever seen!"

"If you think I'm bluffing-"

"Oh, I know you aren't. I've watched you with a great deal of interest, Stain-kun."

There was something wrong with what the intruder had said. "It's Stendhal."

"Sure, whatever you say! I just thought you might need a new name - a new motivation, a new life, a new name, right?"

Stendhal felt an unfamiliar worry curl in his chest. He tucked the knife in close, wondering how much of the intruder's apparent unconcern was bravado. "How do you know-"

"Like I said, I've been watching you, Stain-kun."

"Why? How?"

"That's not really important right now."

"Not-"

"Fine, I don't want to tell you. Needless to say, I'm a fan."

"A - fan?"

"Of your work. Your convictions. And I've got to say, I'm expecting big things from you, Stain-kun."

"Big…" Stendhal's chest fluttered oddly; he couldn't place the feeling, or its source.

"Oh, yes. You remember? When you realized? Heroes are supposed to be different from villains."

"You…" Stendhal wanted to protest he'd never said anything like that aloud, only thought it in his own head - but he was growing more certain he couldn't do anything to hurt this intruder, so no threat would earn him an answer if the intruder didn't want to give one. "Why are you here?" That, at least, the intruder should have no trouble answering.

"I want to help you, Stain-kun. You want to unearth the dark side of hero society, expose and destroy those who aren't real heroes."

"And you do...too?"

There was a movement, the hint of a shrug. "What's the point of heroes who aren't heroes? Unfortunately, due the nature of my Quirk, I don't do things for free, so I'm gonna need something from you in exchange."

Chapter Text

In the ten months before he joined U.A., Midoriya did a lot of reading. Other people called him a fanboy or a nerd, but would also add Midoriya knew more about heroes than anyone else.

It took only a week of reading for Midoriya to realize...he didn't know much about heroes at all.

The first thing he did was the easiest one, but also the one with the lowest likelihood of success. And indeed, searches for 'Harai Akira' uncovered three living people with that name, none of whom lived close enough to be the bystander who'd given Midoriya his Quirk. All of them were proud of their Quirks, and none of their Quirks - Unlock, Double-Jointed, and Proboscis - could be the same Quirk that Harai had used to stop time.

Searches for Quirks that stopped time proved even less helpful - no Pro hero had such a power, no sidekick, no entertainer or public figure. The closest he could find was the scandal when some pro video gamer had proven to have an unregistered Quirk that gave them enhanced reflexes.

But driven to discover the identity of his benefactor (to make sure he wasn't secretly a villain), Midoriya decided to brave the public library.

Of course, staring at the stacks of nonfiction books about Quirks, Midoriya realized he had no idea what he really wanted to look for. Knowing about time-stopping Quirks wouldn't let him figure out who Harai was.

But thinking about Quirks made Midoriya realize there was another possible Quirk Harai could have. If he had the ability to transfer Quirks, he could have any Quirk he wanted (such a person could reasonably claim to be able to do 'pretty much anything' they put their mind to).

"Hey. You lost, kid?"

Midoriya looked up, and there was a young woman - adult, but likely younger than Midoriya's mother. Her face was slack, a little disinterested, as she was leaning against the opposite shelf, eyes narrowed at Midoriya. Her hair, cut to her chin, was black down to her nose, where it went purple, a ragged line dividing the two shades. Dressed in grey and black, she looked a little imposing, although her nametag reading 'Kaisa' suggested she was not supposed to be.

"I - don't know." Midoriya looked back at the shelves, imposing fat books next to slim, brightly-colored ones. "I met someone with an unusual Quirk, and I wanted to know-"

"Quirk registries are classified, kid."

"Y - yeah, I know! But I thought...I don't know, he might be famous, or his Quirk, at least, it was pretty unusual, and not the sort of Quirk people would tend to keep quiet. But it was powerful, so if you didn't want to be a hero, or a villain, it might be something you don't like people talking about. And maybe not the type of Quirk you'd learn about when you were young - people who learn about their Quirks later in life tend not to become heroes; the rigorous training is best started before you're past your physical prime-"

"Yeah, I'm not well-equipped to answer undirected rambling," the librarian interrupted. "But hey, you asked about a Quirk. You know what it is?"

"I think...he could give people Quirks."

Midoriya was good at paying attention to people. He'd watched heroes fight - on the news and in person - for close to a decade, taking notes on every detail. So the tiniest stiffening of the librarian's form didn't get past him, even if she pushed herself away from the bookshelf to conceal her shock.

"You're right someone with a Quirk like that might keep it quiet. Even if they were a villain...or a hero. I think...you might want to read about the history of Quirks." She stepped past Midoriya, ducked down, and grabbed a book from the bottom shelf. It was almost six inches thick, tan, and entitled, 'Individuality: The History of Superpowers in Humans and Other Species'. It seemed excessively thick for a book covering a century or two of human history.

But on the librarian's recommendation, Midoriya checked the book out and sat down to begin to read it.

An hour later, Midoriya tracked down the librarian, who was reshelving books at the furthest end of the library. He paused, watching her work, need to understand warring with an unwillingness to interrupt her work. At last, though, his drive to understand, the confusion born on what he'd read in the third chapter of 'Individuality', pushed him forward.

"Excuse me? Kaisa-san?"

The librarian set her book down on the cart next to her and turned to Midoriya. "Yeah?"

"There was something in that book that-" had left Midoriya shaken, had made him realize the world of heroes, that he thought he understood, was nothing what he'd thought it was, "confused me."

"Jozeha is a notoriously difficult read. The dictionaries are-"

"It's not a word I didn't understand. The book talked about 'presumed Quirks'..."

"Well, yeah." The librarian shrugged. "Not every country requires citizens to register Quirks - America's a big offender there. And it took a while even for Japan to get a good handle on describing Quirks. So when talking about historical figures, we need to presume their Quirks based on capabilities they demonstrated."

"But Sarutobi Sasuke?" Midoriya demanded, louder than he'd intended; his voice was muffled, a little, by the shelves, but the librarian raised a finger to her lips, and he felt his cheeks heat in embarrassment. "Sorry," he whispered. "But Sarutobi Sasuke was born-"

"Five hundred years or more ago, give or take a century," the librarian said.

"But that would mean-"

"'Individuality' is among the seminal works on the history of Quirks, and an excellent examination of the academic consensus that Quirks have existed nearly as long as humanity." The librarian stepped up to Midoriya, who couldn't put words to the feeling inside him. Everyone knew that the first human to manifest a Quirk was the Luminescent Baby of Qingqing. Everyone, apparently, except anybody who knew anything about the subject. The librarian put a hand on Midoriya's shoulder. "The first lesson you need to learn when looking for the truth, is that you need to be prepared to find answers you didn't expect...or didn't want to hear."

"But why…" Midoriya's eyes were watering, and he sniffed, trying to keep from crying out of - frustration or confusion, he didn't know what - in the public library. "You could have warned me."

"You would have gone searching through that book for proof of what I told you. You wouldn't have read it." She stepped back. "There's a reason I suggested this book, and it requires you to read it without preconceptions."

With that admonishment, Midoriya returned to the book, as he did often over the next several months, in between other books and articles recommended by Kaisa. Because it was comprehensive in addressing, at least in brief, every aspect of the history of Quirks.

Because the origin of Quirks was the greatest mystery of the modern age. Midoriya had heard the 'mouse virus' theory, as well as a dozen others. Early on, a geneticist had been roundly mocked for suggesting Quirks had always been in the human genome. But in time, her hypothesis had grown traction. A genomic factor present in close to 80% of the population would be incredibly sensitive to a change in environment that made expressing that factor beneficial.

From a cultural standpoint, tales of gods and superhuman heroes had always run through human folklore. It was hard to argue, with the existence of people who could set fires with their minds, that such tales were merely flights of fancy, especially once the biologists started agreeing that the Quirk factor - the genetic component to Quirks - was much older than people had first believed.

There were hints, some suggested, that there had been periods of history where Quirks were more common. The rise of Quirks in the modern age was not unlike the Greek mythic age, than any mythology that spoke of gods and heroes walking the earth. After all, was All Might much different from Hercules, or Gilgamesh, men of prodigious strength and resilience?

And then there was the modern age. Midoriya knew the story of the early years, before heroes, when people used their Quirks indiscriminately for personal gain, for crime, for violence. And then the period where real villains appeared, and the kingpins - tyrants who held power because they used their Quirks, or those of their followers, to keep the peace - flourished. In such an age, a power like Midoriya suspected Harai possessed could have made him a king.

Midoriya all but abandoned his original theory that Harai's Quirk was time-related, but searching for someone with the power to grant Quirks wasn't much more fruitful. The existence of a Quirk like Eraserhead's proved that Quirks could affect other Quirks, but discussions of other potential Quirks online died out quick - there was no proof of anyone with similar Quirks (Quirks that could amplify, join, steal, transfer other Quirks) existing, making the discussions a lot of running in circles until they gave up.

It wasn't a particularly productive ten months, all told.

But Midoriya had learned something. And, well, could easily see why Harai would try to stay out of everyone's way, with such a perilous Quirk.

---

At the end of a grueling week of evaluating the class' physical capabilities, free of any limitations on Quirk use, Aizawa-sensei scanned Class 1-A levelly. "Some of you have demonstrated creativity in the application of your Quirks. Others have shown...acceptable commitment to physical conditioning. Others have not. This is your first, and only warning: the life of a hero is brutal and physical. If your Quirk cannot support you physically, you will fail as a hero if you do not take steps to compensate." He shot Shinsou a pointed look; the boy didn't give any physical response, but Midoriya winced in sympathy, anyway. He couldn't imagine what it'd be like to be singled out by the teacher; it was bad enough being singled out by Kacchan, whose raving at least seemed to irritate their classmates, rather than giving them reason to pity Midoriya.

Of course, while Midoriya had received a rambling, if heartfelt apology from Iida, the serious guy who'd called Midoriya out during the explanation of the exam, he'd managed to accumulate another...enemy or rival or whatever in Todoroki Shouto, who had given Midoriya a shocked look when he'd used a spark to run flame down aching muscles. The shock had quickly turned into a focused glare whenever Midoriya happened to look Todoroki's way. Midoriya tried to ignore it, but it was hard to pretend it didn't bother him when Endeavor's son clearly hated him.

The day after the conclusion of their Quirk assessments, at lunch, joined by Iida, Shinsou, and Uraraka, the girl who'd saved Midoriya only to be saved by Midoriya (sort of) in turn, Midoriya lamented Todoroki's hostility.

"He doesn't use his fire much," Uraraka mused. "Maybe he doesn't have a lot of control over it. Maybe he's jealous!"

"Whether he's jealous or not, it's unprofessional to let those feelings interfere in our education," Iida said with a chop of his arm.

"We're fifteen," Shinsou said, dry. "They're the same age as the people who six months ago were still asking me if I was responsible every time they heard about a crime in our district. So I guess you can say I don't have much faith in our classmates."

"We're all here to be heroes!"

"Not all of us are here out of a sincere desire to help people, Iida," Shinsou retorted. "Some just want the fame, or the power, or the money. Sure they help people, but only as much as they need to get what they want. People like that - they shouldn't be here. Not pretending to care about other people."

Uraraka shoved herself up with a clatter of her chair. Midoriya looked up at her, startled; she was staring at her feet, and what he could see of her face was bright red. He reached a hand toward her before letting it drop. He didn't know where the boundaries were, if he were allowed to touch, even to comfort. So he only got out a startled syllable, barely even a word, before she stormed off, fists clenched at her sides. Midoriya looked back at the other boys for some idea of what had happened. Shinsou was staring after Uraraka, eyes focused, mouth twisted in a thoughtful frown. Iida's expression didn't seem to have shifted, but it was focused on Shinsou, instead of the fleeing Uraraka.

"I don't think that criticism was appropriate, Shinsou," Iida said.

"Why not? We don't need heroes who won't solve problems because they won't get paid enough to."

"People have all sorts of reasons to enter different professions. Would you judge the world's greatest surgeon because they took up the work for a comfortable living?"

Shinsou scoffed. "It doesn't make them a bad person, but someone like that doesn't deserve to be called a hero."

Iida let his arms drop with a huff. "Perhaps. We still need to respect our fellow heroes."

"When they deserve to be called heroes, I will," Shinsou retorted, settling back and folding his arms. "I'm not here to make friends, so I'm not going to suck up to people who think having a good Quirk or knowing how to fight makes them worth my time."

"Well." Iida nodded his head. "You clearly have thought this through, and I cannot fault you for your ideals. But they are harsh, and you should consider avoiding offending your classmates so early."

Shinsou shrugged before shooting Midoriya a glance. "What about you Midoriya-kun?"

"M - me?" And yes, Shinsou was looking at Midoriya, one eyebrow raised curiously. More used to being ignored at best (most used to people telling him to stop muttering), Midoriya found the attention disconcerting. His cheeks heated, and flustered, he tried to formulate a response. "Well, people have always debated whether compensating heroes would corrupt the profession, but at the same time, it's not reasonable to expect heroes to risk their lives every day for free. It's the same as police officers and rescue workers, I think. Of course, the commercialization of heroes, including the merchandising, does risk creating heroes more concerned about their own images than doing what's right. A hero's pay, though, comes directly from the government in proportion to the amount of good they do, so theoretically, if you're just in it for the money, you'd do more good than someone in it for the attention, who would gravitate toward high-profile work. I've seen arguments that there are inherent in flaws in how the government determines the value of hero work - too much weight to the high-profile villain work, while undervaluing other social benefits heroes could provide, but that's not the fault of any individual hero. The debate over heroes taking second jobs revolved around this same problem, some arguing it would devalue heroes' work, others that divorcing a hero's livelihood from the work itself, would create a stronger incentive for heroes to do good for the sake of it. Of course, since most heroes with second jobs are just capitalizing on their hero images, it all ties together into the same problem. The real problem, I've read, is that the weight we give to the word hero means the profession offers legitimacy to people with less-than-noble motives...though…" He faltered, looking up at Iida and Shinsou, and their expressions, Iida a little wide eyed and bewildered, and Shinsou staring at him, intense. Midoriya's cheeks heated again. "Sorry. Everyone says I mumble too much - I just."

"No. It's commendable you've considered all of these issues before coming to U.A.," Iida replied. "Many people never consider such weighty issues until they have already become a Pro, which can interfere with their work."

"You didn't answer me, though," Shinsou mused.

Midoriya ducked his head in the best bow he could manage while seated. "I'm sorry - I don't think I have an answer the way you do. I think - if a hero does good, works every day and helps, protects, or saves people - they've done everything we need them to do. Not that - we don't need people who do it because they just want to help people! We do! Just...I think judging those who see it as a career, instead of a - calling - isn't quite fair."

Shinsou was watching Midoriya carefully throughout, quiet, and let that silence stretch on once Midoriya had finished. Midoriya shifted anxiously in his seat, feeling the weight of Shinsou's gaze. At last, the other boy nodded. "You aren't entirely wrong," Shinsou agreed. "Especially about the value of different categories of public service. Obviously it's important to help defeat villains, but heroes shouldn't feel it's more profitable to patrol for potential villains than help build hospitals we know we need."

It was hardly a flawless school lunch; Midoriya still felt he should check on Uraraka, to make sure she wasn't upset (were they good enough friends for her to want him to care? he didn't know). But it was still among the most enjoyable he'd ever had at school.

It seemed fitting, somehow, that his afternoon was one of Midoriya's worst. He'd felt a flare of excitement when All Might had declared them ready for combat training - hero combat training. His excitement dulled a little when he was partnered with Todoroki, who glared at Midoriya as if he'd personally offended the other boy. Still, they were teamed up to win a fight, so Midoriya steeled himself and stepped up to Todoroki.

"Hey, Todoroki! I guess we're going to be working together, so-"

"You should stay out of my way," Todoroki interrupted, curt.

Midoriya quailed, a little, used to hearing that from Kacchan. But Todoroki wasn't Kacchan, and Midoriya wasn't useless, Quirkless anymore. "Look, I know I can't do fire the way you can, but I had some thoughts how I can use my Quirk to help augment your fire-"

"I'm not going to use my fire," Todoroki retorted. "And I won't need help from yours, either."

Midoriya fell back, uncertain how to argue with Todoroki. It was a team challenge, but he couldn't force Todoroki to cooperate. And Todoroki had gotten in on recommendations - doing that without a strong Quirk was nearly impossible, no matter who your father was. So it was possible he could get by without Midoriya's help. So Midoriya spent the few minutes while other partners conversed (he saw Kacchan snarling at Shinsou, Uraraka conversing quietly with the boy with a bird's head, and Iida apparently talking to empty air, which meant he was partnered with Hagakure) examining his costume. The jumpsuit, green and white, didn't immediately bring to mind Midoriya's Quirk, though the pouches full of firestarters showed that when his mother had sent in the design she'd kept Midoriya's Quirk in mind. The mask and protrusion from the hood (he saw All Might give him a significant look, and Midoriya fought down a blush) gave him a look more like a rabbit than a - fire user. But Midoriya's mother had made it from his childhood designs, and he'd fight anyone here if they commented. And his firestarter gloves, at least, were there.

Midoriya and Todoroki were set to battle against Yaoyorozu (the other student who got in on recommendations) and Asui, whose Quirk left her swift, maneuverable, and, with that tongue, capable of restraining them even without capture tape. Yaoyorozu and Asui immediately went into a huddled conference, while Todoroki remained standing away from Midoriya, aloof and with that edge of hostility. Which was fine - Midoriya could brainstorm strategy without Todoroki's help.

He didn't end up spending as much time as he'd like planning, instead observing the other battles.

The first, Ashida and Aoyama as heroes versus Koda and Sato's villains, was an exciting first start. Ashida's acidic Quirk gave her maneuverability and offensive ability that complemented Aoyama, and as he needed to recharge between attacks, allowed them a relentless offense. That sort of capability let them move circles around Sato, and against Koda, who hadn't been able to wrangle enough support from whatever animals were available in the training ground, they won handily.

Iida and Hagakure made formidable villains, even if Uraraka snickered as they watched Iida try to psych himself up to devoting himself to the cause of evil. Even with a dozen ears and eyes, Shoji could barely see Hagakure, so she successfully kept him occupied while Ojiro struggled, and failed, to overcome Iida's extraordinary speed.

And then there was Kaminari and Jiro, who executed a terrifying defense against Sero and Kirishima. With Jiro tracking their passage through the building, Kaminari ambushed them at key chokepoints. But with Sero in charge of their maneuvering, carrying Kirishima as he swung through the halls, they were eventually able to evade Kaminari long enough to confront Jiro, whose costume channeled deafening soundwaves, and whose jacks were six-foot whips, skills only slightly mitigated by Kirishima's hardening Quirk. Eventually, Kaminari made the mistake of an indiscriminate blast of electricity, which left everyone else unconscious and him a drooling idiot, which…

Kaminari and Sero won. Technically.

But All Might used that fight as an example, explaining that disabling yourself to take out your opponents wasn't a good long-term strategy. Given Kaminari's state afterward, it was possible the shock had given him permanent brain damage, which definitely couldn't be a good plan.

And then there was Kacchan and Shinsou trying to defend against Uraraka and Tokoyami.

"So," All Might said afterward. "I would like to hear your thoughts on that exercise. What did Bakugo and Shinsou do wrong?"

Kacchan, nursing a number of bruises from when the building had collapsed on them, glowered at the class in general, a silent threat, Midoriya knew, to keep their mouths shut. Tokoyami and Uraraka, a little better off (Tokoyami's Quirk, Dark Shadow, had absorbed the brunt of the force of the collapse), stood off to the side, Tokoyami leaning against the wall of the debriefing room looking cool, Uraraka tapping her fingers together, looking a little worried. It was pretty clear no one had won, but Midoriya didn't think Uraraka had anything to be worried about. She hadn't saved Shinsou's life, probably, but he would have been injured worse if she hadn't been able to hold up parts of the building.

At last, Iida raised his hand. "While villains do sometimes betray one another, by attacking his partner, Bakugo ensured their eventual loss."

Kacchan snarled, standing up and taking one step toward Iida only to run up against All Might's hand. "Yes, an excellent way to explain Bakugo's mistakes."

Yaoyorozu raised her hand. "Still, using your Quirk to take control of your ally against their will isn't a wise decision, either - among villains, Bakugo's rampage once he was freed is expected, and among them, might be reasonable."

"Rampage? That nerd deserved worse for what he did to me!"

Midoriya winced; he'd never had that level of fury directed at him, but it was unsurprising. The moment Kacchan's angry retort to Shinsou's suggestion they make a plan had stopped and the boy's face gone slack, Midoriya had known Kacchan would flip out when he got free.

"Well, yes. When Recovery Girl has finished with Shinsou, I will be discussing his performance. But although the result was...explosive, it was an important reminder. Even in a fight against villains, we have to keep in mind the effects of our Quirks, what sort of use might be crossing a line. Using a Quirk like Shinsou's on an ally against their will, outside of a life-threatening situation, is one of those lines."

"I'm gonna kill him when he wakes up!" Kacchan snapped.

"That is also one of those lines," All Might said, his free hand falling onto Kacchan's shoulder. "You are here to learn, Bakugo - your classmates are not villains."

Kacchan scowled, but was clearly aware he couldn't throw off All Might's hand, because he didn't keep going.

"Now-"

"Excuse me."

All Might glanced at Midoriya, smile returning in full force. "Yes, Midoriya?"

"Do you want to hear critique about the hero team, as well? Or just Kacchan's?"

All Might's eyes widened, just a little, but he nodded. "Certainly. This is a training exercise, so any insight you have is welcome!"

"Well…" Midoriya glanced up at Uraraka, and took a breath. All Might was right; this was training, so he couldn't be afraid of hurting her feelings. "Once the heroes realized the villains were fighting each other, they should have mobilized to take advantage and capture them, or get the bomb out of the way. Treating this as an exercise, though, they didn't take into account the possible effects of the building's collapse on the surrounding area. The destruction of a lair, containing a dangerous bomb, can cause mass devastation in a wide area. Once it became inevitable that the building was going to be destroyed - Uraraka and Tokoyami should have been trying to shield the area around the building from the fallout."

All Might blinked once, before nodding. "You are right, Midoriya. In a real-world situation, heroes should always remain concerned about the well-being of bystanders. However, in this situation, knowing there were no bystanders, prioritizing the safety of one's partner is paramount. On that note, it is time for our final fight, with Midoriya and Todoroki as our villains, and with Yaoyorozu and Asui as our heroes."

Todoroki was silent as he and Midoriya carried their fake bomb into the building. He wasn't glaring at Midoriya, but his resolute disregard was frustrating in its own way. And while Kacchan and Shinsou had set the bar for this exercise as low as it could be, Midoriya didn't want to be another example for today's class.

"Hey, Todoroki, we should plan-"

"I'll handle this myself."

"You said you're only going to use your ice; We should have a plan in case we need more than that."

"I don't need his fire!" Todoroki snapped, his right hand frosting over, and his left steaming for just a moment. "And I don't need yours, either. Stay out of my way and accept the win."

He sat in front of the bomb and gave Midoriya a narrow glare. "Stand in the corner unless you want to end up frozen to the floor."

Midoriya retreated to the corner (the one nearest the entrance to the room), but he didn't just wait for Todoroki to do all the work. Obviously, Todoroki wasn't going to provide fire...or any other support, but Midoriya wasn't going to write off the other student who got in on recommendations. Her Quirk had something to do with...creating, he recalled, but nothing she'd shown off much during the assessment. Asui, though, was more predictable, and as long as she could avoid Todoroki's ice-

A puff of frost from Todoroki was all the warning Midoriya got before ice spread across the floor in a rush, climbing up the walls and out into the hall. He heard a pair of distant yelps, and when Midoriya turned to Todoroki, the other boy just stared back. He wasn't even smiling, barely looked like he cared how impressive what he'd just done was.

"It's over," Todoroki said flatly.

Midoriya shrugged, and, shivering a little, snapped his fingers to get some warmth along his arms. Todoroki started at the sound, and when he saw Midoriya's hands engulfed in flames, glared at him.

Midoriya's patience snapped. "Why don't you like me?" he demanded.

"I don't know you," Todoroki replied, voice flat. Cold.

"You're sure acting like you do, the way you glare at me - at least Kacchan lets me know what about me irritates him!"

Todoroki gave Midoriya a confused look, eyes wide, giving Midoriya a clear look at Todoroki's one grey eye and one turquoise one. "Who?"

Midoriya huffed. "It doesn't matter. Didn't you hear All Might after Kacchan's fight with Shinsou?"

"I'm not going to attack you."

"That's not-" A quiet sound drew Midoriya's attention and he turned on his heel just as Asui leapt through the doorway at him. She was wearing a heavy coat and leggings, something there was no way she'd brought with her to class. Midoriya raised one arm, only for Asui to open her mouth to snap out her tongue at him; her tongue entangled his legs, sending him stumbling forward as she landed behind him and tugged back.

Todoroki stretched out his right hand toward Asui, and Midoriya winced in sympathy-

A high-pressure blast of flame erupted from the now-open doorway, intercepting Todoroki's ice and splitting its path so it missed Asui. Yaoyorozu, dressed in insulated pants and an open coat, traced her flamethrower across the room, cracking pillars and spikes of ice with the pressurized flames, and splattering the flaming liquid across the room, fire that died relatively quickly but left patches of unfrozen ground.

Midoriya slapped his palms on his thighs, sending the flames enveloping his hands down his legs and forcing Asui to retract her tongue and retreat before the flames burned her tongue. He rolled up to see Todoroki erect a massive wall of ice between him and Yaoyorozu. It was solid, but although it didn't shatter, or even crack, under the pressure of Yaoyorozu's flamethrower, flaming liquid splashed from the impact site, and Midoriya saw a subtle shift in the wall. It wouldn't last forever, and while Todoroki was keeping Yaoyorozu busy trying to take down the wall, Midoriya had to fight Asui.

Midoriya snapped his fingers and swung a flaming hand at Asui as she hopped back in, but even on a surface of melting ice she was dextrous, and kept just ahead of Midoriya.

But she was avoiding the still-frozen patches, and that made her predictable enough that Midoriya caught up with her; rather than hit her, though, he grabbed at her coat, finding the material igniting about as easily as Yagi-sensei's shirt. Asui let out a startled 'ribbit' and threw the coat off, where it fell, smoldering, against the ice. Midoriya grabbed the capture tape from his pocket and extinguished a hand as he reached for Asui.

Except then Yaoyorozu turned and chucked something at Midoriya. He was committed to his jump and couldn't dodge, so the projectile, a thin membrane in the shape of a ball, hit him, dousing him in a foul-smelling liquid. In the distraction, Midoriya's fire had gone out, but when he tried to snap his fingers, they slid uselessly against each other, and he realized it was some sort of grease-

Todoroki's wall fell apart with a deafening crack and there he was, eyes wide in shock as Yaoyorozu turned her flamethrower toward him. Midoriya grimaced and scrambled up, charging directly into the flame stream. Yaoyorozu made a startled sound a moment before the flaming liquid washed over Midoriya and the flame caught, stayed, and he turned back toward her, cloaked entirely in flame, as he'd only done two or three times in the past year. Yaoyorozu's eyes widened, and Midoriya could see Asui crouched, shivering but unmoving, several meters away. He hadn't done this before, Midoriya realized. They hadn't seen him fully enshrouded.

He turned his head to look back at Todoroki. "Cover me or keep them away from the bomb; I'll take care of this-"

Midoriya didn't get a chance to finish, because a moment later, his whole body was encased in ice, close enough to his skin that the flame separated and dissipated. Todoroki's eyes were wide, wild, at least until Asui tackled him, binding his hands behind him. Yaoyorozu ambled past Midoriya and Todoroki's bound form, turning back just as she placed her palm on the bomb.

"The heroes win!"

---

Endeavor was abroad, would be until the next week, so once Todoroki avoided Fuyumi, it was a straight shot to his room, where would be mostly undisturbed. He dropped his bag next to the door and himself next to his desk. He didn't need to look at All Might's analysis of his performance during the battle test, so he let the stupid piece of paper stay in his bag.

The analysis was not kind - 'overbearing', 'overconfident', 'refusing to make use of available resources' - it went on.

It touched only obliquely on the most embarrassing and unforgivable moment of the exercise, warning Todoroki to be cautious of his use of area-effect Quirks near allies who might be vulnerable to them.

It wasn't a blistering denunciation of his decision to use his Quirk to attack his teammate, as Shinsou's and Bakugo's evaluations were certain to be, but only, Todoroki guessed, because All Might didn't believe Endeavor's son would have been as irresponsible as...'Kacchan'.

Midoriya, he was certain, knew Todoroki had not accidentally caught him with his ice. Asui had been too cold to notice, but Yaoyorozu had been close, and was intelligent. She might have noticed.

He thought (hoped) none of them understood why he'd done it.

He'd been uncomfortably aware of Midoriya since the first time he'd heard a 'snap' and seen flames leap to envelop Midoriya's hand. It wasn't anything nearly as impressive as what Endeavor could do, but Todoroki had long ago trained himself to notice the tiniest spark, to notice even the hint of smoke or soot (it was Fuyumi's job to ensure their home never smelled of smoke, so the scent was a reliable way to identify Endeavor's presence). So he couldn't ignore Midoriya, not without abandoning instincts he'd relied on for years. Only the fact that Midoriya was nowhere near as powerful as Endeavor, that he couldn't even create fire himself (the 'snap' was from his uniform's gloves, a tool as necessary as Aoyama's belt, that he used to generate sparks), allowed Todoroki some peace.

Still, from the looks Todoroki had caught Midoriya giving him, Midoriya was aware of Todoroki's discomfort.

Todoroki was certain he would have been able to get over it and quietly ignore Midoriya for the rest of their careers if…

If Midoriya's Quirk hadn't been what it was.

If, refusing to accept Todoroki's promise that he could protect the bomb without any fire, Midoriya hadn't intercepted Yaoyorozu, hadn't let the flames engulf him.

Hadn't stood there, wreathed in flames, looking back at Todoroki, looking down at him, and snapped, "I'll take care of this."

That moment, that sight, those words, promised Todoroki would have to weather additional lessons, corrections of his behavior. Endeavor had heard Todoroki's mother crying about Todoroki once, and promised her he'd 'take care of it', giving Todoroki that cool, disdainful glare.

If Midoriya had been taller, broader, had actually looked anything like Endeavor, Todoroki wouldn't have been able to strike back. But he'd seen a flash of an expression, a tone, within a mantle of flames, and had panicked.

If that was going to happen every time Midoriya went all out, Todoroki was going to need to find a way to get over it, and quickly. And if Midoriya became a Pro…

With a wordless cry, Todoroki threw himself to his bag, tearing it open to find the evaluation, which he burned to ash with his left side, destroying the evidence of his weakness, so his father would never see it, so Todoroki wouldn't have to remember it existed.

---

Toshinori answered his phone without checking it; if he'd seen the unfamiliar number, he wouldn't have, and that would have been the greatest mistake of his life.

"Hello?"

"Is this All Might?" The voice, cool and level, was unfamiliar to Toshinori. A telemarketer?

"Who is calling? How did you get this number?"

"That's not really important at the moment. My name is Shishou Kaisa, and there's something important I need to tell you."

There was an edge to her voice at that point. Concern. And Toshinori could no more have ignored that tone than he could have ignored the sight of a villain.

"What is it?"

"You left All for One for dead. That was a mistake. Because someone with his Quirk is still out there."

Chapter Text

Midoriya stared blankly at the blackboard, which showed two tally marks under his name. Two other people wanted him for class representative, which was two more than Kacchan ("Who the fuck would vote for Deku?" he demanded). It was one less than Yaoyorozu (presuming, along with Midoriya's vote for her, she'd voted for herself). He reached up to his chest, which felt uncomfortably tight, swiping at watering eyes. Fuck. He shouldn't cry here.

"Well!" Iida, who'd proposed the election, stammered, "It looks like our class representative will be Yaoyorozu."

It occurred to Midoriya, as Yaoyorozu took her place at the front of the room, that if he'd voted for himself, he and Yaoyorozu would be tied for first.

She took a moment to compose herself before looking the class over. "I appreciate the confidence you have placed in me. I will do my best to live up to your expectations and be an effective representative. However!" She glanced at Aizawa-sensei, who could be relied upon to be unconscious for at least another five minutes. "We need a vice-president."

"Midoriya-kun is the only other person with multiple votes," Shinsou drawled.

"Fuck if I'm gonna be in a class with Deku running things," Bakugo snarled.

"I hope you aren't about to suggest yourself as an alternative."

"And why not?" Bakugo roared. Shinsou raised an eyebrow at Bakugo, whose scowl deepened, if possible.

"That attitude isn't going to impress anyone on the staff, much less anyone you have to deal with outside the class."

"More impressive than you, Eye-bags."

"Hey!" Everyone, even Bakugo, swiveled around to Iida, who stood tall, arms out, having clearly just chopped them down to catch attention. His eyes were all but blazing, fierce. "We are not here to argue; we are here to come together as classmates, as allies. We all agree that Yaoyorozu is a fine choice for president." Midoriya nodded, and saw agreement, with varying levels of enthusiasm, all around the classroom. "So we should trust her to select a vice-president."

"I-" Yaoyorozu took a hurried step back. "I thought everyone wanted to vote. I don't think-"

"Think of it as your first official act as our representative!" Uraraka offered.

"Yeah!" Kirishima agreed with an upward punch of his fist. "Let's see some decisive leadership from our 1-A representative!"

"Well…" Yaoyorozu glanced to Midoriya, and he felt a flare of - something. Being a class officer wasn't the sort of duty that had excited him before, but being a representative at U.A. would attract attention a hero trainee needed to build a career around. On the other hand, Midoriya didn't need one more reason to earn Bakugo's ire. And if he were being honest, the thought of helping Yaoyorozu represent their class was a little intimidating.

Yaoyorozu nodded once, a sharp movement. "Iida, then."

"He didn't even get any votes!" Ashido retorted.

"Which is exactly the reason I want him - Iida is one of the few people in the class who didn't vote for themselves. He looked to the good of the class over his own self-promotion." Yaoyorozu folded her arms in front of her and offered Ashido a narrow smirk. "In any case, you agreed it's my decision, however I got to it."

"I…" Iida had gone pale, hands gripping the edge of his desk. "Ashido is right - I didn't get any votes-"

"You agreed to abide by my decision, too, didn't you?" Yaoyorozu asked. "So I'm afraid you're stuck with it."

"Are we done here?" Yaoyorozu, for her credit, didn't flinch when Aizawa-sensei appeared behind her.

"Yes." She waved to Iida. "Iida will be my vice-president-"

"Great. Now that that's over, we can get some real work done."

Midoriya didn't take in much of the next few classes; he found himself a little occupied with the question of who had voted for him. There were a few people who obviously hadn't (one, really). And that left the question if it was someone who actually liked Midoriya, or someone who'd been impressed by him being ambushed by his own teammate. The people who liked him left three possibilities - Iida, Shinsou, and Uraraka, none of whom got any votes. It was strange, imagining having friends who...had faith in him. Didn't mind putting him in front of them. Midoriya had to blink away tears a few times before they broke for lunch, but had more or less composed himself when he met Iida, Shinsou, and Uraraka for lunch.

Lunch had become a little strained. Uraraka seemed to do her best to ignore Shinsou, clearly still hurt or angry at him. Midoriya tried his best to keep things smoothed over; the topic of Iida's unexpected vice presidentship managed some of that, as Iida flushed under Uraraka's and Midoriya's congratulations. Shinsou merely advised Iida not to fuck up, which Midoriya guessed was his way of dealing with the disappointment of his own chosen candidate (Midoriya?) losing.

Aizawa-sensi was there to greet them for Foundational Hero Studies. "Suit up and head outside."

Midoriya didn't join the few students who peppered Aizawa-sensei with questions; he'd learned it wasn't worth the effort. Surreptitiously checking his phone, Midoriya saw a series of alerts about All Might's morning heroics, suggesting one possible answer to the questions his classmates had about All Might's absence. He almost certainly didn't have enough time left in his bulked-up form to supervise an entire class.

Still, as a result of leaving rather than trying to demand answers from Aizawa-sensei, Midoriya was one of the first out to the bus waiting in front of the main building, with Uraraka, Iida, Todoroki, Hagakure, and Yaoyorozu. He shifted to keep Uraraka and Iida between him and Todoroki, still uncertain if he should demand an explanation, an apology, or just ignore whatever had gone on in battle training. If he were sure he could talk to Todoroki without getting yelled at, he might try getting an...explanation, if not an apology. They might have to work together some day, making figuring out how to avoid his own colleague freezing him in place during a life and death situation a good goal.

But he hadn't figured out how to approach the other boy before the rest of the class arrived in a chattering crowd, boarded the bus, and settled - and Midoriya somehow ended up sitting across from Todoroki, who sat, face impassive, arms crossed across his chest. That left Midoriya's only other choice for conversation Asui, who aside from having beaten him and Todoroki in the combat training, he hadn't seen much of.

"So, Asui-"

"Call me Tsu," she said with a smile.

"T - Tsu. You were pretty good in the battle training."

Tsuyu waved a dismissive hand at Midoriya. "Yaoyorozu-chan came up with that plan - well, getting through Todoroki's ice, anyway."

"But you were pretty fast. If you weren't trying so hard to avoid the ice, you might have gotten me. Your Quirk is-"

"Frog," she replied. "Pretty much anything a frog can do, I can do. Jump, swim, catch things with my tongue-"

"Hallucinogenic sweat?"

"Well, no." Tsu tapped her chin. "It makes people a little itchy. And what about you? We all thought you just did that - hand thing."

Midoriya shook his head. "I can do my whole body. If I start with a spark, it takes a while, but if someone's spraying me with a flame-thrower-"

"You do the whole Human Torch thing."

"Well, I can't fly," Midoriya corrected.

"Still - can you control it? You can do a really imposing fire silhouette, like Endeavor-"

"Don't."

Midoriya jerked his head up to see Todoroki glaring at Tsu.

"Leave her alone; we were just talking!"

Todoroki huffed. "Don't try to be like Endeavor."

"Well, obviously Midoriya-chan doesn't want to be like the Number 2 hero," Tsu mused.

Which was true (All Might was fading, and someone had to take his place), but Midoriya found himself holding his breath. Used to Kacchan's explosive fury, he knew the moment before someone cracked, turning a conversation into a fight. Insulting someone's father - their famous, Pro hero father, was bound to upset someone who'd attacked Midoriya on no provocation whatsoever.

The silence in their corner of the bus stretched on for a long moment, before Midoriya couldn't keep it up, and he exhaled. Todoroki snapped his gaze at Midoriya, then back at Tsu. He sat back and shook his head. "If you want to be Number One, don't worry about Endeavor." Worry about me went unspoken, but it settled over Tsu and Midoriya, dampening their enthusiasm, at least until they arrived at a massive, sprawling dome set apart from the other buildings of U.A. Midoriya felt a shiver of excitement - this looked like another training exercise, and, despite the outcome of the last one, he was eager to experience another.

Everyone, it seemed, felt the same way, as they piled out of the bus when it stopped, to meet a figure dressed in a space suit at the entrance to the dome.

"Greetings!"

"Oh my gosh," Tsu cheered next to Midoriya, "It's the Rescue Hero, Thirteen!"

And it was; the presence of the Space Hero Thirteen gave a hint to the purpose of the day's exercise. Thirteen waved them toward the entrance of the dome.

"Welcome," they (some people were inordinately concerned about what gender Thirteen was - it was clear if they had one they considered it immaterial to their personal or professional life) announced, "to the Unforeseen Simulation Joint! This massive complex will give you an opportunity, over your three years here, to experience as many disaster scenarios as I, and your other teachers, have. After all, fighting villains is only part of the work of a hero - natural disasters are as much a threat to the safety of the world as villains. So come on, and we'll take a look at where you'll be working today."

Tsu was moving with a bounce in her step (she had a frog Quirk, but it was still noticeable). "I want to become a rescue hero myself, you know. Heroes that can specialize in different types of terrain really help there."

It was strange to realize that different people...had different ideas about what sort of hero they would be. Midoriya had always wanted to be like All Might - a smiling face to stand strong and give people hope. Other people...even those who respected All Might...might see different heroes as their examples. Thirteen for Asui. Endeavor for Todoroki, Midoriya guessed.

Once inside, standing at the plaza looking over the many zones in the USJ, Thirteen turned to them, hands raised. "Most of you have come to U.A. having learned how to use your Quirks to fight. But in the USJ, you will learn to use your Quirks to save lives - against foes that cannot be subdued, only avoided or turned aside."

"Foes that cannot be subdued? An apt description, though I think I'm offended if you think you can avoid me." Something - a cloud or shadow - appeared in the central plaza of the USJ, and from it stepped...dozens of people, chief among them a slender, almost emaciated person, whose face was covered by a strange, disembodied hand, with similar hands grasping down along their arms.

"This is a closed practice session," Aizawa-sensei said, voice even. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"Closed…" The person with the hand over their face tilted their head. One of their companions, a hulking person with an exposed brain and a toothy beak, took a step forward; the person held their arm in the way, and their companion paused. "These children are meant to be heroes, aren't they? Paid by the government to keep people safe? I should think that makes their training a matter of public interest. You've got such a magnificent fence to keep people out, though. I wonder what happens here that you don't want the public to know about."

"I'm going to ask you and your friends to leave again," Aizawa-sensei repeated.

The leader chuckled. "But you're training! Against fake earthquakes and simulated floods." They sighed, letting their hand drop. "I always hated tutorial levels. Let's go - it's time for a wake-up call." The people around him stepped forward, weapons appearing in empty hands. "A little welcome to our low-level heroes from the League of Villains."

"League of-"

"The intrusion alarm aren't going off," Aizawa-sensei muttered. "Thirteen?"

"Some sort of jamming Quirk," Thirteen agreed. "Can you handle them?"

"I'm going to have to." Aizawa-sensei leapt forward, the strips of cloth making up his scarf snapping out. He ensnared one villain immediately, using them to sweep a path through the others. There were shouts of surprise as he used his Quirk to shut down villains' Quirks at key moments, a delicate dance of martial arts, the use of his capture cloth, and his Quirk. People thought of Eraserhead as a lesser hero than the flashier fighters, but this was proof that you didn't become a Pro, a teacher at U.A., without real skills to back you up.

"Come on!" Thirteen called, waving the class back toward the entrance. Midoriya saw other students pause, staring at Aizawa-sensei, the villains, the fight. Midoriya grabbed Shinsou's arm and tugged him away from the scene. It was, Midoriya guessed, an inspiration for someone with a noncombatant Quirk like Shinsou's to see Aizawa-sensei holding his own fighting without a Quirk enhancing his abilities.

"Oh, you're not getting away." The black mist appeared between Thirteen, the class, and the exit, yellow slits like eyes gleaming from within. "Shigaraki wants you all here to see this."

"The fuck if we'll let some gasbag like you keep us here!" Bakugo leapt at the glowing yellow eyes, Kirishima only a little behind him, one hand sparking, the other hardened into a spiked fist. Both Kirishima's fist and Bakugo's explosion passed harmlessly through the mist, which raced around the entire class, closing up ahead of them, and Midoriya realized in a shocked moment they were facing someone with a teleportation Quirk.

But it was a moment too late to do anything about it, because the mist spiraled in and the world went black.

---

Dark Shadow caught his beak around a streetlamp as Tokoyami fell, slowing his descent and allowing him to land safely on the rain-soaked street. Wind whipped up Tokoyami's cloak as rain fell in a sideways torrent. He took a quick glance around him as Dark Shadow ventured a little further afield. It had been early afternoon when the villains had appeared, so the sudden darkness had Dark Shadow relishing the surge of strength.

"Hey." Dark Shadow was suddenly close, circled around Tokoyami protectively. "There's villains out there. Koda, too."

"Show me."

Tokoyami followed Dark Shadow a street to the right, where Koda was huddled down, muttering to a sparrow.

“Koda! Are you alright? Dark Shadow has informed me we are beset by villains.”

Koda nodded hurriedly before drawing a wide circle with his hands. They truly were surrounded, then.

“Dark Shadow, are there any other allies nearby?”

“I don’t think so.” Dark Shadow, who’d been edging further away, the mundane darkness fusing with the darkness of Tokoyami’s own soul to leave him powerful, but wild.

“Koda, I must request you stay by me." Koda did, but he gave Tokoyami a careful look as well. "Dark Shadow is a creature of the night, and so is weakened by light, and empowered by darkness. A dark environment such as this will increase his strength greatly, but also leave him aggressive, and difficult to control.” Koda’s expression was puzzled, so Tokoyami explained further. “I do not know which of those villains are here to vanquish us, but they will find Dark Shadow a formidable obstacle to surmount.”

“Fumi?” Dark Shadow’s voice was deepening, and held a sharp edge to it.

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war,” Tokoyami muttered, and Dark Shadow exploded out into the main streets with a delighted cry.

—-

Thirteen scanned the students left behind after the warp villain’s attack. Sero, Sato, Iida, Shoji, and Ashido. Losing three-quarters of their class in the first lesson was not ideal, but you didn’t become a rescue hero unless you had learned to set aside your regret at those you couldn't save and focus on those who you still might be able to.

Thirteen’s other students were beyond their reach for the moment, and Thirteen wasn't certain they could defeat the warp villain.

(And they couldn’t be certain that was the villain’s only Quirk, not if All For One had spent five more years pushing their Quirk’s limits.)

“Are you worried, Thirteen?”

They were, but a rescue hero had to remain calm under pressure, more than any other hero. They glanced to their students, evaluating them in an instant. Thirteen had a plan, but they needed their students to understand without saying it.

“This is an important lesson,” Thirteen said instead. “And the hardest for many aspiring heroes to learn. Sometimes, there is a fight you can’t win...not alone. Sometimes you have to leave people behind, people in real danger, because the best heroes know when to seek help themselves. Sometimes that is the most heroic, the most responsible decision.”

Thirteen had no time to see if anyone (if Iida) had understood, as they opened the vents in their suit and activated their Quirk.

The warp villain let out a startled cry, bracing themselves against...something, as Thirteen’s Black Hole pulled at them. There was a collar or something like it in the dark mist, and Thirteen turned their hand toward that (the villain’s physical form?).

It was Thirteen’s turn to cry out in shock as they felt an irresistible pull against the back of their suit. They stopped their Quirk almost immediately, but the damage had been done. The suit wasn’t Thirteen’s body, exactly, but damaging it was...not good for them. They fell forward, knowing as they assessed the damage that without Recovery Girl’s intervention, it would kill them.

Of course, they might all be dead before then anyway.

Except…

A strip of white ensnared the villain’s collar, jerking them sideways, low enough that half a dozen arms could grab it and slam them into the ground. Mist poured around the villain, scattering Sero and Shoji as they turned, just in time to see Sato and Iida pry the front doors open to allow Iida to escape the trap of the USJ and get them what they so sorely needed:

Backup.

—-

Kirishima was falling. Spinning a little uncontrollably, but he spread out his arms steadying himself a little, enough to see where he was falling, at least.

A small lake was spread out below him. Which was better than a lot of options, Kirishima guessed.

And then someone grabbed his arm and a violent force threw him sideways. Kirishima looked to his right, startled; Bakugo, face twisted into an intense glare, was using his free hand to direct them with rapid-fire explosions.

"What're you doing, dude?"

"You wanna break every fucking bone in your body?" Bakugo snapped.

"Um...no?"

"Then shut the fuck up and let me drop us somewhere at less than terminal velocity."

Kirishima waved downward at the lake, which was looking larger now. "We're over the lake."

"If I spend my last moments in the company of someone stupider than Deku, I'm gonna hurl," Bakugo growled, jetting them another five meters to the right. There was something near the center of the lake - a platform or boat settled in the water, and it seemed to be the target of Bakugo's fall.

"Dude?"

"I said shut up and let me concentrate!" Bakugo snapped. "Or do you want to belly flop at 50 meters a second?"

...Oh.

"Well, I can harden myself up, so it shouldn't be much problem."

"Well I can't, so unless you've been packing wings you forgot to mention, act like ballast and shut up!"

As one of Kirishima's goals as a hero was never actually getting someone killed, he shut his mouth and tried to assess their surroundings as Bakugo navigated them toward the boat while using irregular explosions to slow their descent. The sight of an immensely high dome above them suggested they hadn't actually left the USJ complex, but were plummeting toward the Flood Zone. The plaza looked less crowded than it had when all the villains were gathered there; Kirishima felt his stomach churn anxiously.

"Bakugo, I think-"

"Why the fuck do you think I'm aiming for the boat, instead of the shore?" Bakugo demanded, as he tossed Kirishima at the deck of the boat with barely enough time for Kirishima to harden to weather the fall. Bakugo landed, not lightly, but easily, before rising up to glower at the water around the boat, where a dozen or more villains, likely all at home in the water, surrounded them. "I'm not running. If those fuckers think we'll be easy pickings…" He leveled one arm at the surface of the lake, squinting to aim at the densest gathering of villains, "They can go straight to Hell!"

---

Shinsou picked himself up from the pile of rubble he'd fallen on; he'd rolled on landing, which had softened the force of his fall, which was probably why, despite his aching everything, nothing was actually broken.

But Shinsou couldn't afford to sit around cataloguing his bruises, not with the League of Villains out there. Shinsou had never heard of it, making it a new group, or something the government had suppressed knowledge of. He wasn't certain which was worse - he'd seen names buried in the depths of forums most people who wanted to be heroes didn't frequent. The Shinigami, the Nine Wings, All For One...

Something new might be better than something people on the darkest corners of the web didn't dare speak of in more than oblique whispers.

Or it might be much, much worse.

The ruins of a city district surrounding Shinsou suggested things were 'worse'.

Something hit the rubble nearby; Shinsou spun, raising his fists, heart thudding in his chest at the thought of a fight. He was outclassed by people who could use their Quirks to augment their combat skills, who'd trained with them for years. He wasn't Aizawa-sensei, who'd taken those deficiencies and - erased them.

"Hey, Shinsou-chan."

Shinsou's attacker was a figure in green and black perched on the rubble above him, eyes wide, almost unfocused.

"Asu - Tsu? What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you," Tsu replied. "I mean, not you specifically, but anyone else who might have gotten caught up in that villain's warp thing." She looked toward the sky, a frown flashing across her face. "We need as many people as we can find before we head back to the plaza."

"Back to - with that warp Quirk, we could be anywhere!"

Tsu shrugged. "True. But we're still in the USJ." She pointed at the sky, where, through the smoke, Shinsou could see the metal plates of one of the USJ domes. "And-" She snapped her tongue out, lashing around the leg of a sword-wielding villain a dozen meters away and tugging, knocking them over. "We've got company."

She grabbed Shinsou and leapt away from the scene before the villain could recover, landing heavily on the roof of a building that immediately shifted under their combined weight. "Whoops!" She hopped again, landing on another building that didn't move. "Sorry. I can find a stable rock in the middle of any body of water, but this place is a bit of a puzzle."

"How many villains do you think are in here with us?" Shinsou asked.

"How many of our friends do you think are in here?" Tsu replied.

"There are six specific environments built into the USJ - presuming there are no specific targets among our classmates, the simplest way to get us out of the way is a random distribution of three and one-third students between the zones. So somewhere between one and two."

"That's some good thinking, Shinsou-chan. Like Midoriya, but less wordy."

"Well." Shinsou tried to ignore the warmth in his cheeks at the compliment. "Unless there was a specific plan, there's no way of knowing who's in here with us."

"Down!" Tsu tackled Shinsou as a hail of bullets passed over their heads. Crouched over him, Tsu peered up cautiously.

"If the alarms were working, Snipe would be here," Shinsou said, morose.

"Well, we're going to have to hold down the fort until they get here. Look, I know you're not great in a fight, but is there anything you can do?"

Tsu might as well have punched Shinsou in the stomach. He'd been trying, training until he collapsed every day after classes, but he was useless. He might as well give up.

...

Shinsou shoved Tsu off him, rolled over, and raised a hand. "Can we just surrender?"

"Shinsou!" Tsu hissed; he ignored the fury, the disappointment in her voice, and stood up. Tellingly, no one shot at him.

"Look, I promise we won't make any trouble. Please?"

There was silence; Shinsou thought he heard muttering, and then a shout of, "Yeah, you and your friends just put your hands up and come over here, and no funny business."

There was the sound of a gunshot, and Shinsou, despite himself, smiled. It wasn't honorable, nice, or even very good, what he'd done. But it was well done. He turned to Tsu. "Come on; it won't take long for something to snap him out of it, and they won't fall for that again, but it'll give us some time to scout."

"What…" Tsu looked over toward the noises as there was another gunshot and the sound of metal against metal, and her eyes widened, if possible. "You used your Quirk on him."

"It's what they're training us to do, isn't it?" Shinsou demanded, bracing himself for Tsu's inevitable disgust, for her to start hesitating every time he spoke to her. They hadn't thought about it, really, when he'd used it on Bakugo, who none of them liked anyway. But to see it used to make a man turn his gun on his allies was bound to make Tsu start to think what Shinsou's peers had decided years ago.

"Well, I think they'll start teaching us about ethics eventually," Tsu replied, "but until then, I suppose anyone trying to kill us is fair game."

"Good," Shinsou said, setting aside the clench of his chest until sometime when his life wasn't in immediate danger. "Now let's get moving. I ordered them not to shoot either of us, so if they do, they've probably broken free." He allowed himself a moment of hope that he was right the villain hadn't been able to see any of their classmates; Shinsou's command had been fairly indiscriminate.

Prioritizing locations that weren't easily visible from the heights, it took only a few minutes to find Uraraka, or at least the echo of her voice from within the hollow of two collapsed buildings.

"Are you alright, Uraraka-chan?"

"Tsu? Is that you?"

"Shinsou-chan's here, too." There was a distant gunshot, a pained cry, and then a voice that sounded a lot like the one that had responded to Shinsou.

"We're out of time," Shinsou announced. "Tsu, get that rubble off of Uraraka-"

"No!" Uraraka snapped.

Shinsou felt a combination of irritation and fear, aware of the likely furious villain hunting him down. "We don't have time for your - pride or hurt feelings or whatever. If you don't want me helping you-"

"It's not that." Uraraka's voice was strained. "I've been...holding up some...load-bearing walls for a while now, and if you move things carelessly they're probably going to fall on me."

Tsu glanced at Shinsou, biting her lip. "Shinsou-chan…"

He shook his head; if he had an hour, he might be able to guess how to move the rubble without collapsing it on Uraraka. But between Uraraka's waning stamina and the villains coming for them, they didn't have that sort of time.

"No, it's alright! Can you describe what it looks like from out there?"

"...Why?"

"My parents are in construction," Uraraka replied. "And I studied it a lot when I was younger - I was going to get licensed and help out with the business. So if you tell me what it looks like, I think I can figure out how to get out of here."

"We...might not have time for that," Tsu said, glancing toward where the villains had been gathered earlier.

"No, wait. Uraraka. What do you know about…deconstruction?"

When the villains arrived, it was to an empty square, with Uraraka's voice calling plaintively from within the collapsed buildings. The villain who Shinsou had controlled, a squat person with a heavy gait, a meter-long gun, and telescopic eyes, raised a hand.

"Don't say anything. I bet it's that kid doing an impression or something."

Concealed halfway up a building on the opposite end of the square, Shinsou mouthed that phrase to himself. He'd always considered one of the flaws of his Quirk how easy it was to circumvent once you knew the trick. Impersonations, though...

"Just because you let a kid get the drop on you doesn't mean they're all like that. They're first years." A villain whose arms looked something like chainsaws stepped up next to the sniper. "Besides, you remember what Shigaraki said - we'll have a lot better chance of killing All Might if we've got hostages."

Shinsou tensed; it was an impossible thought, but a chilling one all the same. All Might was human, probably, but killing him…

Well, to a villain, it was probably worth breaking into the world's most secure educational institution for.

"Hey, kid! Shut up! You got two choices - we can get you out and you can come be a hostage, or we can drop this building the rest of the way on you."

"I - I'll come along. I don't want to die in here!"

"That's a good girl. Come on - I need help moving this."

It took three out of the five of them to move the heavy section of wall mostly blocking access to where Uraraka and Tsu were crouched against a carefully-balanced pillar of stone, metal and glass, arranged so the slightest disturbance would cause...maybe a hundred tons of rubble to fall on anyone unlucky enough to be standing where the sniper and their allies were standing.

The collapse took out four of them while Tsu and Uraraka escaped out the back, before Uraraka, who had clearly learned enough about physics in her lifetime to understand what happened when you removed an object's weight without changing its mass, threw an I-beam at the fifth.

Uraraka had said it so matter-of-factly, about her parents' work. That she'd wanted to join them. Such a person, well. They'd be sensitive to what a hard-working hero could earn.

It meant Shinsou probably owed her an apology.

"Hands up, kid. And don't say anything - we all saw what you did earlier." A humanoid form flickered into sight in the corner of Shinsou's eye - a camouflage Quirk, Shinsou guessed.

Shinsou raised his hands slowly, trying to judge if he could take the camouflage villain. Maybe - Aizawa-sensei aside, ambush Quirks didn't lead to people developing combat skills useful in a straight-up fight (he needed to fix that, and soon).

"Heads up!"

Once, in third grade, one of Shinsou's classmates had dropped a newt on his head. He hadn't enjoyed the experience at all.

Being hit in the face with Asui Tsuyu probably wasn't a comparable experience, but it couldn't possibly be pleasant.

"So," Shinsou said as they trudged toward the exit of the collapsed city, "Uraraka. I've been thinking lately."

"Yes, thank you for helping save my life. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"No, I...the pursuit of wealth for its own sake, or the power it provides, is...contemptible. But the reason for which one seeks wealth...matters. And you have to do...a lot of good to become wealthy as a hero. You have to risk your life more than many other paths to wealth require."

"Shinsou…?"

Shinsou took a deep breath. "I may have said things that made you believe I don't respect you. I may have been...hasty, and too rigid. You have nothing to prove, except to yourself, but…"

Uraraka turned and gave Shirou a bright smile - perhaps the first real smile she'd given him. "I get it, Shinsou-kun. Thanks." She grabbed his and Tsu's wrists and ran toward the zone's exit. "You're gonna make a pretty good hero yourself - once you learn to stop mind-controlling people just for pissing you off."

Tsu snickered when Shinsou flushed. He was still certain any of them would have done the same, but until he had evidence to prove it, he'd have to deal with the jokes.

---

"Pardon?" Aoyama demanded, certain he'd misheard.

"Shoot me," Hagakure repeated. "With however much juice you can get out of your navel."

"Cherie-"

"I don't have time to explain, Aoyama-kun - just shoot me with everything you've got!"

And Aoyama was frightened - there were villains all over the collapsed hillside, outnumbering him and Hagakure - an invisible girl and a boy who couldn't use his Quirk for more than a moment at a time. He was a hero meant for the spotlight, not dying in a training scenario.

So any idea, however wild, however absolutely insane, was worth a chance.

"Then prepare yourself, Mademoiselle." Aoyama took a breath, steadied himself, and shot his Navel Laser at Hagakure (well, the space between her gloves; he hoped it was good enough).

The laser struck Hagakure and-

Split.

Refracted. Like a disco ball, the light scattered, blasting half the villains in one shot.

"You got any more of that in you, Aoyama?"

"Y - yes! I always have the stamina for a repeat performance!"

Aoyama hadn't seen Hagakure's face - he was sure no one had in the last ten years. But he could imagine her smile. "Let's light these fuckers up."

---

"Todoroki, are you okay? Todoroki? Please say something. Please be okay!"

Midoriya sounded...worried (he sounded like he was going to cry). It was strange. Todoroki wasn't certain anyone had ever sounded like that worrying about him. Certainly no one in recent memory.

Todoroki opened his eyes and-

Midoriya was framed in fire, flames licking along the edge of his silhouette.

Todoroki bolted upward, scrambling away from Midoriya. This didn't prove to be an improvement, because he backed up against something uncomfortably warm (some days he couldn't bring himself to drink hot tea, chilling it in the cup before he could stomach it). But here, he could see the flames weren't enveloping Midoriya, not like they had during training, not like they did Endeavor.

It was just…

Everything was on fire. The world around them was a raging inferno, flames crawling up buildings, along the ground, filling the air with heat, the lungs with smoke-

Todoroki choked, fighting down the urge to vomit. He couldn't show weakness, even if he could barely stand. He struggled to his feet, waving away Midoriya's hand. "Where are we?"

"The Conflagration Zone of the USJ - I don't think that teleporting villain can send people very far, although that could be a bluff. Or maybe teleporting all those villains tired him out - it's possible he wanted-"

"Midiroya, this is not the time," another voice said from off to the side, and Midoriya, thankfully, shut up. Todoroki wasn't certain if he were capable of following Midoriya's rambling, not with the quick beat of anxiety in his chest, on top of the dull certainty that they had to do something. If it came out that U.A. had been attacked by villains and Endeavor's son had done nothing-

Todoroki flinched when a tentative hand touched his arm. "Can you make ice, Todoroki?"

"I-"

Todoroki raised his right arm, only to flinch away when something nearby collapsed, sending showers of sparks spraying toward them. If you won't use my fire, you can't use her ice, either. He was - hot, overheated, and he couldn't use his Quirk!

"You probably got a concussion or something," Midoriya said, but he was watching Todoroki carefully, and his eyes were gentle, watery…

Sympathetic?

"Man, this would've been a lot easier to deal with if we had Todoroki's ice," the other voice complained; Todoroki glanced to it, finding Ojiro there, swinging his tail at any flames that drew close.

"I don't think it'd help, really." A villain, skin rocky, dull red light glowing in the cracks, like lava, stepped forward. A gash opened in their head, like a vicious grin, and they raised a fist. "I can melt steel by touch with my Quirk. And you-" Their grin widened. "You're Endeavor's kid! Oh, this is going to be fun. You never really get chances to hurt heroes without getting up close and personal with them."

Todoroki didn't respond; the villain clearly expected him to cry and beg for his life, and Todoroki knew the face of someone who wouldn't respond to pleas for mercy. The only response that might stay the villain's hand was the simple fact that killing Todoroki probably wouldn't hurt Endeavor; the most it might do is irritate him that his great experiment had proven weak enough to be taken out by a third-rate villain.

"Stay away from him." Midoriya stepped between Todoroki and the villain, hands out to block any path to Todoroki.

"Stay out of this," Todoroki protested.

"No; you're hurt," Midoriya snapped. He turned back to the villain, settling in his stance. "If you want Todoroki, you're going to have to go through me."

"You think I'm worried about crushing two kids?" the villain demanded. They stepped forward, swinging a rocky fist glowing with heat. Midoriya hopped aside, grabbed the villain's arm, and twisted, sending them tumbling aside.

"Melting steel means your skin gets about 1,500 degrees," Midoriya said as he stepped up to the villain. "I know I can handle up to 2,000 without sweating." He looked around at the conflagration, shaking his head. "Whoever's in charge of this attack made a number of fundamental errors. The first is sending someone like you here - heat-based Quirks ironically tend to make their users overheat. Without an appropriate heat sink, that excess heat bleeds into their body, causing heat stroke, fever, even death. You can't keep this up for long, I'm sure - you probably relied on the heat and smoke to take us out of commission without you having to fight."

Todoroki found himself staring. Was Midoriya - lecturing the villain? About strategy? A hand clamped onto Todoroki's shoulder before he could protest; Ojiro shook his head at Todoroki.

"What?" Todoroki mouthed at Ojiro, who jerked his head toward the villain. Their skin was...duller than it was a moment before.

"Your second mistake was assuming we would be easy to overpower. If Todoroki weren't injured, I'm certain he would have frozen you to the floor already. There's a difference between untrained and weak, and there are enough powerful Quirks in our class that this won't be nearly as easy as you seem to expect." The villain's skin was just barely glowing anymore, and he didn't look ready to leap at Midoriya. Todoroki felt a vague sense of unease.

"Your third mistake, and probably the worst one, is spending time scouting out your location without figuring out the Quirks of the students you were kidnapping. Someone clearly thought it didn't matter where we ended up, because we're just kids, and you can handle kids. But in the right environment, even a weak Quirk can be powerful."

Everything was on fire. Everything smelled like smoke. But ten years of experience had given Todoroki a sixth sense for what happened next. "Midoriya, get out of the way!" But Todoroki was too late - he'd been so occupied watching his classmate, worrying about his own weakness, he hadn't been watching his teammate's back. The snap of fingers (overdramatic - something about fire Quirks gave people a sense of - showmanship) heralded the arrival of a pillar of flame. It was brief, gone in the blink of an eye, but Todoroki felt the heat, even five meters away from Midoriya and the rocky villain. A spindly villain dressed in burnt rags, eyes a smoldering brown, stepped forward, hands shoved in their pockets.

"Five thousand degrees. That's the same temperature as the surface of the sun. That's how much heat my Firestorm Quirk can create." The rocky villain was still, and Todoroki felt an odd twist in his gut. Heroes didn't kill. Villains did so without hesitation. And that meant Midoriya-

"And that's another mistake, attacking kids who haven't figured out the limits of their Quirks yet." Midoriya's body was wreathed in flame, as Todoroki had seen once before. Todoroki shivered as his right side tried to flare to life. "I don't know how much heat I can take, but five thousand degrees is apparently fine. You see, if you'd known about my Quirk, you'd have dropped me in the flood zone."

"That may be true," the villain agreed. "But like you said - people with fire-based Quirks can't handle high temperatures." They raised their hand and snapped again.

Todoroki felt the temperature around him rise, and closed his eyes, readying for a blast of heat he knew he couldn't survive.

He did, though. There was a flash of heat, searing, and he knew he'd have burns across most of his skin later, but then a blessed coolness, and when Todoroki opened his eyes, it was to see Midoriya reaching back toward him, eyes shining green within the corona of flame around him. Todoroki found himself shivering again, and it wasn't his ice. Midoriya had stood in front of Todoroki enshrouded in flame once, looking back at him, face impassive. Now...he was reaching out, a hand held out as if to shield Todoroki from fire that had hurt him. Midoriya turned, and it was with some satisfaction that Todoroki saw shock, fear, in the villain's eyes. It was part of their job, Endeavor had said, to be something villains feared.

"I haven't found my limit yet," Midoriya said. He sounded oddly calm, for standing in front of a villain in the middle of an inferno. He sounded oddly calm, for Midoriya in any situation. "But I think it's clear no matter how many times you use your Quirk, I'm going to end up in control of it." He stepped forward, the flame trailing behind him like a real cloak, and the villain stepped back.

"It doesn't matter what you threaten me with-"

"Threaten?" Midoriya stopped mid-step, head snapping up, the trailing end of his flame cloak snapping away, and out of existence. "I didn't - I don't. If you're going to keep fighting, I'm going to have to beat you, but we can't - I'm not going to torture you!"

The sight of someone wreathed in flame speaking like that - uncertain, kindly, hurt at the suggestion he might cause unnecessary pain - caused something in Todoroki to snap. He began to laugh.

"Todoroki?" Midoriya half-turned, one eye fixed on the villain. But the other, a fierce green like - copper fire - was watching Todoroki, concerned, worried. Laughter bubbled up in Todoroki's chest, rising to a tone he didn't think had ever escaped his mouth (when was the last time he'd laughed at all? he couldn't remember). His breaths came unevenly, wheezing, and Todoroki was certain he couldn't stop it. It was so terribly ironic he was frightened of a child so unlike his father in every way but the most unimportant one, the one quality the three of them shared. There was a bitter thought in there, that Endeavor deserved a son who would have embraced the fire Endeavor had gifted him with, a son he couldn't burn, whose mother wouldn't have scarred him. But through all that was the frantic, pained laughter.

Todoroki couldn't say how long he laughed, but when he drew his first clear breath, his gaze was drawn to Midoriya, hovering close, an arm free of flame near Todoroki's shoulder. Further away, under Ojiro's watchful gaze, was the villain, eyes fixed, wide, on Todoroki. Either Ojiro or Midoriya had bound the villain's arms, but he seemed less concerned about that than Todoroki's breakdown.

Todoroki felt his face flush. The last thing he needed was it getting around in the villainous world that Endeavor's son was cracked; although it was clearly too late to worry about keeping it from the rest of the class.

"Are you alright, Todoroki-ku - Todoroki?"

"I'm fine, Midoriya." Todoroki rose and gave the villain a cool look. "Let's get out of here so we can hand him over to the teachers, see if they can get answers out of him."

The villain was shaking; Torodoki stepped back, mindful of how his outburst must have frightening even to a hardened criminal. But after a moment, it was clear he was laughing.

"Your teachers? They're not going to be in any condition to help you. We're here to kill All Might - I don't think anyone you've got out there is going to be alive in five minutes."

And Todoroki suddenly realized what had been bothering him. The villains had let Midoriya draw things out, let them talk and boast, even when they knew they were beaten. He didn't doubt the villains would have killed them if they'd gotten the upper hand, but once they'd lost…

Once they knew Midoriya was a threat, their mission had changed from 'kill him' to 'keep him pinned down'.

Because if you wanted to kill All Might, you couldn't afford him any support you hadn't planned for.

"We need to go," Todoroki said. "Now."

And no longer cornered, no longer confused (having stood next to a figure cloaked in flame who'd reached out to Todoroki in concern had cleared up any confusion about whether Todoroki's father was here), Todoroki stretched out a hand, carving a path to the exit out of his ice.

"Todoroki?" Midoriya sounded confused, a little hurt, maybe edging on angry, and now wasn't the time to get into all of it, but Midoriya deserved something.

"I couldn't do this if you hadn't helped me...Midoriya-kun." Todoroki wasn't certain he'd ever be able to apologize for what had happened in the combat training, but maybe extending an offer of...familiarity, if not friendship, could suffice.

"Oh!" Midoriya's smile, framed by a mane of fire (untamed, indiscriminate, like his affection, and so unlike the power and control of Endeavor's flame), was…precious, was the only word Todoroki could bring to mind. "Anytime! Ojiro-kun, Todoroki...kun, let's go!"

Todoroki had to go first, to keep the path clear, but he suspected otherwise Ojiro would have outpaced him. Midoriya was skating behind both of them, flame gathered around his arms, head, and torso, so he didn't melt Todoroki's ice. Running, the flame trailed behind him like...wings, one line of fire extending from each arm. Todoroki nearly lost his balance once before turning his attention away from his teammates and toward their destination.

The thought of helping All Might was as ludicrous as the thought of killing him, but there was too much thought in this assault (even if they'd made mistakes) for the villains to have come to this without a good reason to believe they could pull it off.

And there was something in Midoriya's expression (Todoroki took a glance, just to gauge whether his teammates looked ready to fight) that troubled Todoroki. More than just concern for his hero, his teacher.

He wondered if Midoriya, who knew everything there was to know about pretty much any Pro hero, knew of a weakness, a way a determined or lucky villain might destroy the Symbol of Peace.

He knew enough to be worried, so Todoroki pushed himself, so it took only a minute or so to burst back into the main building of the USJ, and the battle raging there.

---

In some ways, Yomi was the least dangerous of the members of the organization known as The Shinigami. She didn't fight. There wasn't a story about her that mentioned her picking up a weapon.

But All For One didn't fight either. For both of them, it was a sign.

They didn't fight because if they wanted to destroy you...they would do it.

So Yomi was, in perhaps the most important way, the most dangerous of The Shinigami.

There was no show of force, no threat, that All For One could make, that would impress her.

So when All For One came to Yomi's lair, he came alone. He carried no weapons. He just walked to the door, flanked by two women in delicate traditional dress (all in white, because Yomi had committed to an aesthetic), and bowed.

"All For One-sama," one said. "You are expected."

He did not show any reaction; he would have been surprised if Yomi did not attempt a show of force, but he refused to be impressed by it.

"You will come to speak with Yomi-sama," the second said.

And All For One could posture and insist no one could command him, but.

He was here to speak with Yomi, so such posturing would earn him nothing. And for her power, she could demand such obeisance. So he bowed and followed one of the guardians into the home, which proved little more than a room set only with a great staircase descending into the earth. All For One followed the stately servant, finding the stairs went on for much longer than he would have thought they should. At last they came to an ornate door, scowling oni carved into its surface. The servant bowed and slipped through. It took only a moment for her to return.

"Yomi-sama will see you now," the woman said. She gestured toward the door.

All For One took a deep breath and stepped forward.

The center of the room beyond was well lit, and set with a large table. There was a pot of tea set on the end nearest All For One.

The far end of the room was cast in shadow, but there was a great chair, and a figure sprawled across it.

"Come. Sit. Take off your mask." All For One paused, and he heard a deep chuckle from the chair. "Are you frightened of me?"

All For One took a deep breath. "Of course I am."

"Good," Yomi said with a laugh. "Take off your mask or leave." Her voice was harsh, like steel, and All For One had nothing he could threaten her with. So he removed his mask, something little more than a child's toy. But Yomi's Quirk did not work on someone whose face she could not picture, so he had deemed it necessary. All For One sat at the table and poured himself tea. Yomi clearly valued engaging in these little rituals.

"So. What has brought All For One to my domain?"

"I need someone dead," he replied.

"Someone you cannot kill yourself? Someone you cannot simply have your loyal slaves do away with?"

"This is what you do, isn't it?" All For One demanded.

Yomi laughed. It wasn't the refined chuckle from before, but something deep, unrestrained. "You think I lurk in this dark basement, stealing lives on commission? I had presumed that for lacking any sense of morality, justice, or human decency, you might at least have possessed a decent imagination."

"I possess sufficient drive to achieve my dreams, imagination or no. Will you do this for me, or do you wish to continue mocking me?"

"I need a face and a name. You must know that."

All For One pulled the photo from his coat and placed it flat on the table. "His name is Kuni Isoshi."

Everything was silent for a moment before All For One saw movement in the darkness, and a figure drew close. Yomi was dressed in an elaborate bone white kimono, but it was her face that drew attention. Her hair was little more than a few pale wisps atop her head, and her face half-melted; there were sores and what looked like open wounds spread across it, and her eyes were pale, as if blind. She moved toward him, slow, regal (she couldn't be blind, or her Quirk wouldn't work the way it did), staring at him without expression.

She stopped just out of his reach, and looked down at the picture.

"He looks quite like you."

All For One felt a surge of irritation, tired of this woman's games. "What does it matter who he looks like?"

"There was a time when killing one's own kin would call down-"

"The wrath of the gods?" All For One retorted.

"No, the wrath of something worse," Yomi answered. "In times gone by, there were laws even gods had to obey. The wrath of the Erinyes. Vows made by the River Styx." She sighed. "But that is an age long past. Men are becoming akin to gods, and recognize no law. You wish me to kill your brother."

"Yes."

Yomi took a step forward, and All For One felt a surge of triumph as he reached out-

Something cold pressed against his skull, and All For One froze.

"This is why I tell you not to take meetings alone, Yomi-chan."

Yomi shook her head, blistered mouth twisting into a grin. "But if you are always here to save me from my foolish mistakes, how will I learn to behave better?"

"Do you want me to let this upstart steal your Quirk, Yomi-chan? I could."

"You couldn't," Yomi shot back, her voice light, bubbly. Nothing like the refined, regal creature All For One had been speaking with. "Cross-kun would be disappointed if he found out."

All For One's other hand was loose at his side, and it was clear now that he was out of reach of Yomi, the two Shinigami were unconcerned with All for One. He turned his free hand slightly and-

"And what am I to do with you?" Yomi asked, turning back to All For One. "Kuni Tsukasa."

In his shock, All For One forgot entirely about the other man, about his plan to steal Yomi's power for his own, all giving way to the unbridled panic in seeing Yomi knew his name. Had seen his face.

"Oh, don't look at me like that!" Yomi chided, waving a hand at All For One. "If I went around murdering everyone I could, I wouldn't have very many friends left at all. I still don't, but I'm certain Cross-kun wouldn't put up with it." She settled at the far end of the table and waved to the side All For One had originally taken. "Go on. Sit. And I can tell you what the consequences of trying to steal my Quirk will be."

All For One settled, cautiously, across from Yomi. She wasn't smiling anymore.

"Some days I might have killed you for your audacity. But instead, I think I'll give you a gift. Three, in fact. That's a nice number. The first, of course, is your life - I know you don't understand, but willing all of one's enemies dead grows tiresome, eventually. The second, is a piece of advice: be cautious of doing that which cannot be undone."

All For One felt a twist in his stomach, rage or discomfort at the thought he could have used that advice before he'd given his brother a Quirk.

"And the third of my gifts, Tsukasa-kun, is a secret. Quirks did not begin with the Luminescent Baby. And those that came before, those that have survived the ages, are greater and more terrible than anything you can imagine.

"Do not meddle in the affairs of gods, Kuni Tsukasa, until you are of their number."

Chapter Text

"What makes you think I'm the final boss?"

The massive villain sprang at Aizawa, moving fast, almost too fast to follow. He turned his gaze from the villain with the hand on their face (Shigaraki, Thirteen had reported), not daring even to blink, but Aizawa had met them, before, villains who pushed themselves to the height of human potential, so even without their Quirks, they could fight Pro heroes toe to toe. So the fact the massive villain didn't slow, only slammed a fist into Aizawa's stomach, well, Aizawa hadn't expected it, but it wasn't unprecedented.

As he landed heavily, the massive villain closing in on him, Aizawa tugged his capture weapon around to ensnare their legs and pulled, trying to trip them. The villain reached down and grabbed the fiber, which tore.

All Might could tear Eraserhead's capture weapon, but not many other people could.

Aizawa was not equipped for this fight - even with most of the other villains incapacitated or vanished when the warp villain stole away most of the class. A villain without a Quirk he could negate, who could all but ignore his capture weapon, was Eraserhead's worst nightmare.

...Well, as a hero. As an educator, the fact Aizawa was nominally in charge and had already lost three-quarters of the students he'd come in here with, was a slightly higher concern.

As Aizawa ducked under a wild swing from the huge villain, he tried to remember if he'd ever sparred with All Might (the answer was no. Until this year, Eraserhead and All Might had never been in the same circles). He couldn't remember ever fighting someone with this sort of strength, this sort of speed, who didn't get it from a Quirk.

...He didn't want to see what this villain's Quirk did.

Of course, he considered, as the villain slammed a knee into his chest hard enough for something to crack, he might not get a chance to if he didn't go beyond.

Aizawa snapped his capture weapon out; tripling the fold reduced the length of it, but there was a chance-

He snagged the weapon around the villain's leg, and this time, his pull sent the villain off balance. Aizawa darted in, loosing the capture weapon and readying it to tie them up-

When someone grabbed his arm.

His elbow suddenly felt numb, but in the same throbbing way as a burn before the nerves recovered from the shock and screamed at him.

Aizawa leapt away, seeing Shigaraki's hand bent, as if it had just grasped something. The numbness in his elbow seemed to be spreading, and between this and the monstrous villain, Aizawa wasn't certain what he could do.

"Take that, you bastard!" A mass of red, black, and green streaked across Aizawa's field of vision, and then the ground shattered with the force of an explosion. Within the smoke, Aizawa could see two small forms running against the huge shape of the large villain; instinctively, he looked for Shigaraki, and activated his Quirk. The edges of frayed nerves began screaming at him, but this was no time to worry about a mere injury. The incoherent swearing made clear that one of the people who'd intervened was Bakugo Katsuki - the lack of fallout from other emitter Quirks suggested the other was Sato, Kirishima-

As the smoke cleared the large villain slammed a fist down, the assault halted by an impact with something over a meter from the ground.

"...I don't think I can take another hit like that, dude." Kirishima Eijirou, then.

"I didn't ask you to take it!" A series of quick explosions caught the large villain in the stomach, chest, back of the head, and keeping his eyes on Shigaraki, Aizawa couldn't see as well what had happened. Luckily, Bakugo was nothing if not vocal about the situation.

"What the fuck is this shit?"

"Ha! Did you think we came to kill All Might with a tool that could be defeated that easily? Nomu possesses the Quirk of Super Regeneration."

Kill All Might?

Before even this year, Aizawa would have, reluctantly, expressed his belief that was impossible (he doubted Yomi, of The Shinigami, could do it, though that was because All Might had hidden Yagi Toshinori within the heart of the Symbol of Peace. There were only a handful of people knew he had a real name). Knowing now that Yagi was damaged, the strengthening nature of his Quirk fading after only a few hours of use (it was strange to realize Aizawa had always been able to counter All Might's power, but been cowed into believing, as so many others had, he was invincible), Aizawa had to conclude it was possible.

And if All For One was behind this attack...they knew that.

"Kill All Might? You won't even beat me!" Bakugo jumped at Nomu, and Aizawa, now knowing there was a Quirk at play (it couldn't be Nomu's only Quirk, having been sent to kill All Might - there would be other surprises), blinked, quickly, just enough to wet his eyes, and turned his gaze on Nomu.

Shigaraki was suddenly there, one hand clamped around Bakugo's bracer. The equipment disintegrated, falling to pieces before Bakugo could detonate the perspiration stored in it. Shigaraki reached his other hand for Bakugo's face, too close for Bakugo to bring his other arm around to retaliate, and, still focusing on Nomu, Aizawa knew he couldn't shift targets in time.

A hand grabbed Shigaraki's outstretched one, skin rough and rocky, although it started flaking away almost immediately when Shigaraki clenched his hand around Kirishima's. But Kirishima showed no sign of discomfort as he twisted Shigaraki's hand around with a snap.

Shigaraki screamed. He fell back, good hand fluttering around the bent, broken one (afraid to touch it, Aizawa suspected - it was rare for such powerful Quirks to come without drawback). "You were supposed to be low-level-"

"What the hell did you call me?" Bakugo shouted. He punched at Shigaraki, only for black mist to fill the space between him and Shigaraki, and an explosion from above to send him sprawling.

Shigaraki snarled at the warp villain as the primary mass of their dark mist appeared around him. "We're getting out of here, Kurogiri! Before we get mobbed by these-"

There was an explosion, close, deafening, and Aizawa saw a swirl of black mist eject Bakugo twenty meters away. If he could figure out what constituted that villain - Kurogiri's - body, he could negate their Quirk, but part of him wasn't certain it was worth it. Their power was weakening - or they were conserving their strength for their eventual retreat (it was clear, even if they believed they could kill All Might, they couldn't endure the Hell that would fall upon them for doing so).

The huge villain - Nomu - was suddenly inside Aizawa's guard, leaving him with no time to ensnare them, to knock them aside. Nomu grabbed the back of Aizawa's head in a palm that dwarfed it, and slammed his skull against the ground. His nose all but shattered, and the first blow bruised his eyes already. The second and third cracked more bones in his skull, and with the rattling of his brain within, Aizawa could barely focus enough to remember where he was, much less what he was supposed to be doing.

It was looking more likely that he might not get out of this alive.

---

As Nomu stepped away from Eraserhead, the hero clearly out of commission, Kurogiri reappeared by Shiragaki's side, whipping around to shield him from one of the overpowered brat's explosions, redirecting it into the red-haired kid with the enhancement Quirk.

But the kid hadn't braced himself against the recoil, and was airborne again, a blast sending him spinning toward Shigaraki.

"Nomu!" They couldn't keep wasting Kurogiri's power to keep this kid at a distance, not without compromising their escape route, so Shigaraki left their defense to the indestructible Nomu, whose imposition between Shigaraki and the brat ensured the mook couldn't get to him, took the full force of the brat's strike. But with his force absorption and regeneration Quirks, the minimal damage Nomu took was healed before the brat could swing his other arm around. Nomu caught the brat's other arm, directing the blast safely away from them, and hurled the kid skyward. The brat didn't immediately try to correct his course with his explosions, meaning either he was running low on power or the loss of his bracers had reduced his ability to use his Quirk.

Shigaraki sidestepped a charge from the kid with the enhancing Quirk, reaching out with his good hand-

"Let go of me, you fucking newt!"

Shigaraki looked up, where a kid who looked like a frog had a meters-long tongue wrapped around the explosive brat's waist. They were falling slow, suggesting there was someone with a telekinesis Quirk somewhere around here…

The frog let go of the brat, who dropped toward Shigaraki with a growl. "I'll kill you!"

Nomu, though, blessed masterwork of Sensei, caught the brat's hands in their own fists and slammed the brat down onto his back, arms held out on either side of them. The child kicked, twisted, and swore at Nomu, but as Nomu's hands could withstand the force of the brat's explosions, they weren't going anywhere.

"To be honest, kid, I didn't expect any of you to be much of a challenge - distractions from our real quest to kill All Might." Shigaraki ambled around Nomu, careful to stay out of range of the brat's flailing legs. "So consider it a mark of pride I've decided you're enough of a nuisance to kill you myself."

The brat's face twisted into a sneer and they spat at Shigaraki. "You can't kill me, you asshole! I'm gonna be the Number One hero, and I won't be beaten by a weakling like you!"

Shigaraki shook his head, feeling a chuckle wind its way up his throat. "You aren't in any position to stop me." Quickly, so the brat didn't get any ideas, Shigaraki slammed his good hand down onto the brat's face, curling it to press all five fingers against his flesh.

Nothing happened.

"What-" Shigaraki felt a moment of panic, wondering if this brat was too strong to die at Shigaraki's hand. But then he saw Eraserhead, broken, bleeding, holding himself up on shaking arms, gaze fixed on Shigaraki. "You are just too cool, Eraserhead. They call you the ambush hero, but here, outnumbered, beaten, you're still trying to fight - and for what? So these brats can become the government's clubs? A tool to turn against those society finds distasteful?" He walked to Eraserhead's side and crouched down next to him. "America doesn't limit how its citizens use their Quirks, and there's no more super-powered crime there than here. Isn't that ironic? That for all your heroes - for your Symbol of Peace - you're no better off than anywhere else? You aren't helping these kids - you're condemning them to a hopeless fight against the evils of mankind. We might not be able to kill All Might, but we should leave a mark nonetheless."

"Release!"

At the shout, Shigaraki raised his head, hand rising at the same time. This turned out to be lucky, as a full-grown tree was falling toward him and Nomu; the length that slammed into Shigaraki's good hand crumbled, disintegrating around him. The other two-thirds of the tree hit Nomu, who barely shifted as their shock absorption bore the brunt of the collision.

Of course, that required Nomu to let go of the brat…

Who lunged at Shiragaki with a scream. Kurogiri made another close save, throwing the brat ten meters away. Shigaraki turned back to Eraserhead.

He wasn't there. He saw the froglike brat hopping away, Eraserhead wrapped up in her tongue, and in his place a slim child with wild purple hair, hands loose at his sides.

Shigaraki didn't dare relax; he'd forgotten that, low-level or not, these kids could have dangerous, powerful Quirks, and with Kurogiri keeping them within the dome, they didn't have an escape route. Rats fought hardest when they were cornered. "You don't have to die here," he said, gently. "That brat-"

"Kacchan," the boy said.

"Kacchan's going to die - that's a given. Probably going to kill the little brat who broke my hand. And, of course, All Might."

"Not like that," the kid replied. "You don't know his secret. Why you'll never beat All Might."

Shigaraki shook his head, chuckling. People talked like this, sometimes - he knew the cadence of those declarations, some sentimental nonsense about how All Might lived in the hearts of every aspiring hero.

Still…

The mission was off-track because of their lack of intelligence. "And what's that?"

"If you want to know how to kill All Might, you'll let us all go - Kirishima, Kacchan, Aizawa-sensei."

"You conniving little-" Someone tackled the exploding brat (Kacchan), cutting him off.

Shigaraki considered the demand - of course he was upset, but letting the kids go today didn't mean he couldn't destroy them later. And any way to improve their chances of killing All Might was worth it.

"Fine."

"You'll let us all go?" The kid's voice quavered, and Shigaraki grinned at the evidence of the kid's fear.

"Yes, if you tell me how to kill All Might."

Shigaraki's body turned in place and took a step toward Nomu. Scowling, Shigaraki turned back toward the brat.

His body didn't obey his commands, continuing instead to walk toward Nomu, good hand reaching out toward Sensei's creation.

"What did you do?" he demanded, or tried to, fruitlessly. But as he continued to move forward, neither leg, hand, nor mouth obeying his commands, it was clear what had happened; the little brat had some sort of mind control Quirk. Something the kid had said had triggered the Quirk, obviously, but otherwise, Shigaraki had no idea how to escape it. Was it time-based? Would it function only for one command?

If it was simply a matter of willpower, Shigaraki would not allow this. But despite his best efforts, despite demanding his muscles move according to his commands, his hand reached out and pressed his palm flat against the center of Nomu's back.

Nomu's flesh began flaking away, rotting at the touch of Shigaraki's hand; their regeneration struggled, trying to keep up with the disintegration caused by Shigaraki's Quirk.

It took only a moment to determine Nomu's Quirk couldn't keep up; if exposed to Shigaraki's Quirk for much longer, Nomu would be beyond repair.

Nomu turned, one arm pulled back, hand fisted, and Shigaraki realized there was another possible outcome to this situation - having his skull crushed by an enraged genetic experiment. One of Kurogiri's portals kept the first, direct stroke from hitting Shigaraki, but the second, a mere glancing blow, was enough to send Shigaraki sprawling, his chest searing from the impact to his left lung (the months spent training Nomu to target that area, the remnants of Sensei's last fight with All Might, seemed less amusing when Shigaraki experienced the results).

The spike of pain left him reeling, but head clear - like the shock of stepping into frigid air.

Shigaraki didn't waste any time, scrambling up to his feet screaming out Nomu's codeword, and then, "Get that kid, and keep his mouth shut." The kid didn't have the skill of Eraserhead, or Kacchan's relentlessness, so he barely had the time, much less skill, to react before Nomu slammed him against the ground, palm covering his mouth.

Kurogiri was holding off all comers as Shigaraki walked to the kid with the mind-control Quirk. His anger, frustration at how hard this was proving to be had boiled away, leaving only perfect calm. Whether his claim that there was a secret to killing All Might was true, or just a ruse to capture Shigaraki with his Quirk, it had made Shigaraki think.

They were here to kill All Might, built a weapon tailored to counter his every strength.

But suddenly, it didn't seem like much of an accomplishment. All Might was old; someday he would retire, or die - it was inevitable. However much they might fool themselves otherwise, every law-abiding citizen had a small part of their hearts set aside for that moment.

Someone would kill All Might someday.

But to destroy him-

"All Might was scheduled to lead this class," Shigaraki said to the brat as he drew closer. "And in his absence, villains attacked his beloved students. What do you think it would do to him...to lose a student...because he was not where he was supposed to be? Because he was saving someone else?"

"-SMASH!" The building shook with the strength of a punch that only one person could manage. Shigaraki recoiled from the sound, stumbling back until he could focus on the entrance, where He stood. A man towering above all others, dressed in a skin-tight suit of blue, red, white, and yellow accents, wearing a sickening, brilliant grin. "Well, now, it was lucky Young Iida was able to find me on his way back to the main campus. Because now...I...am...here!"

"Always here in the nick of time, isn't he?" Shigaraki looked down at the struggling kid, and then back up at All Might. It hadn't just been bullshit, talking about destroying All Might's reputation. But no one said he couldn't kill All Might and then murder his students. "Nomu? Destroy him."

All Might was already hopping toward them, crouched for another leap, so Nomu jumped as he did, colliding with him in mid-air and bearing them both down to earth with a ground-shaking crash. And in the next moment was the brilliance of Nomu. Sensei could have found a person with sufficient will to weather the strain of multiple Quirks. But even with that sort of power, no ordinary person could defeat All Might. Even the most experienced warriors, even All Might, when faced with a threat to one's life, had to take a moment, a fraction of a second, to consider their options. But Nomu - empty-headed, genetically-engineered, and trained relentlessly, didn't need that moment. So as All Might struck the ground, Nomu's arms blurred into motion. Two furious blows to his chest, another to his skull, before All Might even moved.

But All Might wasn't the Number One Hero for an inability to fight - even weakened, capable of maintaining his prodigious strength for only a few hours a day. When his first strike failed to dislodge Nomu from on top of him, All Might slammed his foot into the ground, sending them airborne, where a two-handed smash sent Nomu plummeting back down while the force sent All Might flipping back to land a dozen meters from Nomu.

If they were in prime shape, hadn't endured a beating at the hands of Kacchan, Nomu would have been on their feet and a split-second from shattering All Might's ribs before All Might could catch his balance. As it was, All Might raised his arms to knock one fist aside and block the second, though the force of the punch sent him skidding back a few meters. Still standing, Nomu recovered faster, combining a leg sweep with an overhead swing, but this All Might met with a 'Dakota Smash', hitting Nomu's fists with enough force to have torn Nomu's arms off, if they were a weaker creature (not that it would matter). The air currents generated by the punch, though, picked Nomu up and tossed them aside, giving All Might a window to stand and close, getting in another punch to Nomu's stomach before they could land, before sprinting after Nomu.

A timely intervention by Kurogiri disrupted All Might's pursuit, Nomu landing close to Shigaraki.

"Get up," Shigaraki snapped, "and do what we taught you to!"

Nomu crouched and hurled themself at All Might, moving blindingly quickly - not quite as fast as they could have with a speed Quirk, but in the same class - and crashing into him, slamming him into the ground and jamming their knee into that one place - the wound that was killing him far more slowly than Nomu was going to. This close, Shigaraki could see the wince, the automatic reaction to pain that All Might fought to conceal, as he buckled. Somehow, in that searing pain, though, All Might managed to reach up, grab Nomu's arms, and drag them down, throwing his legs up to turn the force of Nomu's fall into a flip that sent Nomu slamming against the ground. All Might flipped about with the force of the throw, and, on taking his feet, grabbed at Nomu.

A portal beneath All Might, though, sent him off balance, falling through in a moment. But because he was All Might, Number One Hero, who possessed, in addition to his impossible strength, a keen strategic mind, he twisted in the air as he fell through the other side of Kurogiri's portal, landing light enough on his feet that he closed in just as Nomu stood. He jabbed a fist into Nomu's abdomen, and when that failed to provide results, followed with another, and then another and another and another - a flurry of blows too fast to follow.

It was an assault that had brought many powerful villains to their knees - but never anyone as powerful as Nomu. Nomu barely shifted, not under the force of the punches, and not even to block.

Seeing the complete lack of response, All Might wound up for a, "Texas Smash", but Nomu, too, had learned, and braced themself against the explosive winds generated by the punch, the force of the punch itself doing little. They grabbed his outstretched arm and pulled him in for another knee to his wound, and Shigaraki felt a spark of satisfaction at the barely-visible wince.

All Might jumped into a spinning kick that didn't knock Nomu aside, a headbutt that made no meaningful impact, and an overhead California Smash that barely bruised Nomu.

Between those blows, though, Nomu got their own strikes in - two more punches to All Might's wound, drawing a spatter of blood from his mouth, and another to his genitals, because Nomu had been trained for effectiveness, not honor. Their fist was drawing in for another strike when-

A cocoon of ice encased them from head to toe.

---

"Good work, Todoroki-kun," Midoriya cheered; while it was probably impractical for All Might to break through the ice, it would likely hold the big villain in place long enough-

"No, fuck you, Pixie Dust!" Kacchan screamed. "I'm not gonna let Half and Half fight while I'm stuck back here! He's not getting all the credit for this! I'm better than him!"

"Ka - Bakugo, no one is fighting; Todoroki is pinning that villain down so All Might can-"

"The fuck do I care? I'm going in!"

"Kacchan-"

"Shut up, Deku! You don't know anything about shit like this-"

"Isn't this a search and rescue class?" Kirishima asked. "Like, Tsu got Aizawa-sensei out of here, and Shinsou probably got a concussion getting knocked around by that big dude."

"Hypnotoad should have learned to defend himself before pissing off a guy that big!" Kacchan snapped. "You remember what happened when he pulled that mind control shit on me?"

"Plus, I think something's wrong with my hand - since I let that dude touch my hand, I haven't been able to harden the skin over it."

"Your own fault for jumping into it - any idiot could tell he's got a disintegration Quirk."

"Dude!" Ojiro poked Kacchan's shoulder. "He grabbed that guy's hand to keep him from disintegrating your face!"

"So? I didn't ask him to, and I sure as hell didn't need him to! But if you fuckers are gonna bail, you're gonna need better cover than Deku, Pixie Dust, and two crippled teammates. And put that stupid fire out, Deku! I don't need a fucking light."

"I can't just make fire," Midoriya retorted.

"If I have to spend the last moments of my life hearing about your useless Quirk, I'm going to put myself out of my misery! Fucking douse the light and-"

"We might have a problem."

Kacchan snapped around to Todoroki, hands clenched at his sides, steaming. "Of course we've got a problem; you expected Half-and-Half to fix this with his shitty, half-assed Quirk!"

Midoriya, though, could see the real problem, as Shigaraki stepped up to the huge villain, pressing one hand against the ice coating them. It took only a moment before the huge villain flexed, ice falling away from their back, but one arm actually shattering from the rapid movement. The villain with the warp Quirk finally let All Might through, the hero rearing back to slam the huge villain when ropes of tissue exploded from the stump of their arm, reforming their arm, unharmed.

"Fuck," Ojiro muttered. "What are we going to do?"

"It isn't actually that bad - regeneration Quirks are incredibly inefficient. The regrowth can allow them to recover from grievous injuries, but there's a limit to how much they can heal. All Quirks have limits, although those limits are less apparent the less flashy or draining the Quirk is. Like how Uraraka-kun gets ill if she uses her Quirk too much, or Kacchan needs to keep hydrated-"

"Shut the fuck up, Deku! I don't blab to everyone about your weaknesses!"

"They seem to be able to absorb the force of most of All Might's punches, which means their bone and muscle density must be extraordinary. But it's that regeneration Quirk that takes the most energy out of them-"

"When I'm done with them, there won't be enough left to regenerate!" Kacchan howled. No one else knew Kacchan well enough to realize what he was doing, and Midoriya wouldn't risk touching him even if he weren't on fire.

So Kacchan was halfway to All Might and the villains before any of them moved.

Uraraka slapped a hand on Ojiro's shoulder. "Ojiro-kun, watch his back!"

"Um." He crouched, letting out a worried whine as even that gentle force pushed him from the ground.

"Just kick off; I'll drop you when you're there!"

Ojiro nodded and slapped his tail against the ground, which sent him soaring into the air much like the ball Uraraka had sent into orbit during Quirk assessment.

"Ura-"

"Shh!" She was watching Ojiro intently, until, at an apparent random moment of his flight, she shouted, "Release!" He kept rising for a few moments before he reached the peak of his arc and began falling toward Kacchan.

Then she turned to Midoriya. "Midoriya-kun, you said we can overwhelm that regeneration Quirk - can Bakugo do that on his own?"

"Maybe - Kacchan isn't dumb, but he might not be thinking how to specifically wear out this Quirk. Burns and tissue damage will force them to expend energy, but things like limb and organ replacement will do it faster. And-" Midoriya didn't add that they didn't have much time; the time limit on All Might's Quirk wasn't Midoriya's secret to reveal.

"Then Todoroki, see if you can freeze that villain strategically, force them to break their own limbs to get free."

"So violent - so brutal! If people knew what their tax dollars were paying for, I don't know if they'd be so eager to pay Pro heroes to protect them." The villain with the hand on their face stepped out of a nearby portal, shaking their head. The shadow of the warp villain was gathered around the main villain, tendrils of mist spread about them as a silent warning. "I can tell what you're thinking - Nomu can take a beating, so what should it matter? In America, they protest state-sponsored violence like this. Not very effectively, mind you, but some of them quite desperately oppose this system."

The villain didn't shout or rave; their declaration was even, rational, and for that sounded more horrible than it would have if they laughed maniacally. Midoriya knew the Pro hero system - the licenses, the police contacts, and government oversight - existed to ensure heroes were held to the highest ethical standards. And of course a villain might disagree with heroes' methods, but their description of Midoriya's plan didn't sound very heroic. It left a worrying churn in Midoriya's stomach.

"But-"

"Don't argue with him, Midoriya-kun." Todoroki stepped between Midoriya and the villain with the disintegration Quirk. Ice coated his entire right side; Midoriya could see the ice steaming at the line dividing Todoroki's left and right side. "People like him don't want to argue. They don't want to be convinced. They want to beat their opinions into you until you can't keep arguing, and pretend that means they've won."

Ice lanced at the disintegration villain; mist caught the ice, scattering the attack. But Todoroki had told Midoriya not to argue with the villain, and had attacked them. Todoroki hadn't strategized or cooperated during combat training, but had given Midoriya direction now.

So Midoriya leapt into action. For a moment he thought he might close on the disintegration villain, but black mist curled around his fists, and he braced himself for the sudden shift of being thrown through the gate.

When the mist touched the flame enshrouding Midoriya's arms, a spark jumped from it, gleaming in the dark before it twisted, growing into a tongue of flame hanging in mid-air.

Midoriya had only a moment to react. But he'd grown up around Kacchan, a boy whose sweat was made of nitroglycerin. He'd been present when Kacchan, helping his mother make cookies, had grown frustrated at dropping a bag of flour and ignited what he had probably meant to be a small explosion.

So, mind whirring along on whether the incipient chemical reaction was because the warp Quirk relied on a cloud of particulates, some dispersed energy field, or if this was simply an unusual interaction between two Quirks, Midoriya tucked and rolled.

Above him, the world exploded, not so much a sound as a force, a bone-shaking pressure that sent Midoriya to his knees as flames engulfed him harmlessly. If his fall had left him with anything bruised or broken, he didn't feel it as he stood, surveying the USJ. Everyone who'd been nearby were sprawled across the ground. Todoroki was on his left side, curled up as tightly as he could manage. Wisps of mist drifted within the bounds of a tall silver band or collar near the disintegrating villain, who was barely on their knees, one hand raised up toward where Midoriya had been.

A similar explosion seemed to have occurred where All Might and the large villain (Nomu?) were fighting. Only All Might and Nomu were standing; Bakugo was sprawled over Ojiro, back scorched because he wasn't immune to fire.

All Might was standing tall, but was tense, and Midoriya couldn't imagine how weary he was. Nomu, though, was breathing heavy and their arms were blistered.

"All Might!" Midoriya screamed. "Their Quirks - they don't have the energy to keep them up anymore!"

"Is that true?" All Might wiped at his mouth, grin unwavering. "Because if it is - it's time for a real show-stopper. Texas…"

"Get us out of here, Kurogiri!"

"Smash!"

Across the USJ where All Might had just punched Nomu, a furious windstorm tore through the facility. A window high up in the facility, opposite All Might, shattered. And black mist coiled tight around the disintegrating villain, both teleporter and disintegrator gone when the mist cleared.

"Howdy, USJ! This is Present Mic, here with the rest of your U.A. faculty members!"

With the arrival, at last, of backup, of Pro heroes to finally deal with this mess, Midoriya let out a heavy breath, dropped back down to his knees, and let his fire go out.

---

Chisaki paused when he opened the door to Eri's room. The girl stopped a moment too late, almost running into him. She yelped and backed up two steps; he gave a warning growl and she hurried a step forward to return to an appropriate distance - close enough he could disassemble her if necessary, but far enough a stray step shouldn't cause her to run into him.

But he had more important concerns right now, in particular the drawings in Eri's room. He'd heard from her guardians she had wanted crayons, pencils, paper, and had been pleased. Such tools were easier to acquire, involved fewer discussions with shopkeepers, other outsiders, about what child might want those, and so Chisaki hadn't thought much of them.

But those guardians would need re-education, because they had failed to mention the fact Eri wasn't drawing dogs and houses and trees, but the same subject, over and over, duplicated dozens of times in this room.

A triangle - a cape or dress - with a cat's eye set prominently within it. He wasn't certain if it was a costume or an insignia, but it didn't represent anyone in Chisaki's circles. It wasn't a businessman, black market organization, or villain.

"Eri. What's this drawing of?"

"Oh!" She looked up at Chisaki, eyes glittering, a wide smile on her lips, and Chisaki felt his stomach twist uneasily. Eri knew she was a danger to everyone she touched. She knew Chisaki would destroy anyone who tried to help her. He hadn't seen such a smile on her face since she'd finally grown to understand that.

"That's Triangle-san!"

"Triangle-san?" Chisaki asked. He lowered himself down so Eri could see his eyes above his mask. "And who's that?"

"Triangle-san lives inside my head," Eri replied. "I can't hurt him as long as he's there - he promised."

And Chisaki's gut loosened, unknotted. He'd thought, for a horrible moment, that someone had found Eri, was trying to lure her away. "And is Triangle-san a hero?"

"No." Eri shrugged, unconcerned. "If Triangle-san were a hero, he'd try to rescue me."

"Well. It's good to know you don't have any illusions about anyone being able to save you - not without many more people getting hurt." Chisaki waved at Eri's room. "Go ahead. I'll come for you when we need you next."

And in the end, it wasn't all that worrying, that Eri had an imaginary friend. Living inside her head? It was probably the safest place for a person to be. And as long as Eri's only friends were inside her own head, she wouldn't make any trouble for Chisaki.

Chapter Text

"So," Aizawa-sensei said, two seconds after the start of homeroom three days later, when classes resumed, "U.A. usually postpones hero law and ethics courses until students are preparing for their provisional licenses. But in light of your encounter with real-world villains, the Principal has decided we should begin preliminary discussions on the subject. So. Can anyone tell me what your legal obligations were at the time of the League of Villains attack on the USJ?"

Iida's hand went up at the same time as Todoroki's; a few others, Yaoyorozu included, were slightly slower.

"Iida."

"Without hero licenses, even provisional ones, we are not expected to provide assistance in any emergency situation. So, none, sir."

"Good. What were your legal rights?"

Hands faltered, but Midoriya's was there, steady, present, and Todoroki found himself unsurprised. It was well-known Midoriya was a hero fan, and had confided his Quirk hadn't been apparent until recently (other parents, Todoroki guessed, would not have exposed their child to enough damaging heat by the age of 14 to discover they were fireproof). So in lieu of training for entering U.A., Midoriya had studied.

"Midoriya."

Midoriya took a deep breath. "The Quirk Codes allow for the use of Quirks in public only in self defense. Therefore anyone attacked by the villains had the legal right to defend themselves from injury. Many people would say helping our teachers defeat the villains, therefore, was outside our legal rights - illegal Quirk usage."

Bakugo slammed his palms against his desk, small explosions rattling it with the impact. "Fuck you, Deku! Just because you were too much of a pussy-"

"Quiet," Aizawa-sensei said, and Bakugo, having learned early Aizawa-sensei wouldn't put up with having to ask twice, snapped his mouth shut. "Is that all, Midoriya?"

"No. There were a number of factors complicating the situation. Given the wide variety of Quirks, the law doesn't require a particular form of self-defense. The right to self-defense is the right to make anyone attacking you 'unable or unwilling' to continue an assault. So while Todoroki-kun and Kacchan both could use their Quirks to flee, the law doesn't require them to. However, the same standard isn't held to the defense of others - a person may use their Quirk to assist in another person's defense, but only to remove them from a dangerous situation - an extension of the so-called 'Act of God' exception, wherein restrictions on Quirk usage are lifted in times of natural disaster, for the purpose of the defense of life or removal of individuals from the area. Unfortunately, the villain Kurogiri complicated the situation by restricting our ability to escape. At that point, the right to self-defense was the right to use our Quirks to fight any villain that attacked us. But there's still the question of whether attacking the villain with the disintegration Quirk, or the big one, was allowed. In such a case, it would be allowed, if you could show you had reasonable cause to believe that, in your inability to remove yourself from the situation, allowing the villain to assault another person unhindered would consequently bring harm to yourself. The villains' inconsistent position about whether they intended to harm us, coupled with their cutting off all escape routes, gave us the right, absent orders to the contrary from law enforcement or bona fide heroes, to proactively defend ourselves by attacking the villains."

It was...thorough. Accurate, to what Todoroki could remember what his father had drilled into his head about keeping himself safe, although he hadn't known about that last part.

Most of the rest of the class looked dazed, bored, or annoyed, although Yaoyorozu's hand was still held high.

"Yaoyorozu?" Aizawa-sensei asked.

"Midoriya-san's analysis was accurate for an attack in public; however, because the U.A. campus is private property, its own rules take precedence, and the U.A. student handbook requires a teacher, law enforcement, or class officer authorize such responses."

"No way I'm letting you tell me when I can fight!" Bakugo snarled.

"The reason I asked this question is because becoming a Pro hero requires adhering to countless rules and regulations - laws - that govern the use of Quirks in public. Acting counter to these rules - these laws - can result in fines, the loss of your hero license, or prosecution." Aizawa-sensei glowered at Bakugo, who didn't quail under his gaze, but at least fell silent. "The faculty are considering revisions to the student handbook, to allow greater clarity in emergencies, but if you don't treat these rules with the same respect you do the laws that govern your behavior outside this campus, we will not hesitate to remove you from it."

Some nearer students flinched. Midoriya, however, was scribbling in one of his notebooks. Todoroki didn't let himself react; he'd been expected to know these rules since he'd been able to control his Quirk. The greatest shame would be failing as Endeavor's scion because he couldn't follow the rules.

"But on a less threatening note, the date of the U.A. Sports Festival has been set." Around Todoroki, his classmates were cheering, throwing up their hands, while Todoroki's heart sank.

For most of the year, maintaining impeccable grades was sufficient to keep Endeavor's grudging acceptance. But the Sports Festival was a demonstration, an advertisement. It was an opportunity for Endeavor to show off his legacy. And that meant Todoroki couldn't merely make a good showing - anything less than first place would be unacceptable. They had a month, and that meant weeks of intense training with his father.

At lunch, Todoroki's classmates were chattering excitedly. Todoroki was halfway through his soba when Midoriya looked over at him, mouth twisted, thoughtful.

"You'll train with us, right, Todoroki-kun?"

And Todoroki couldn't give the real reasons - that if his father learned he'd been training for the Sports Festival with his rivals, the result would be...fearsome. So he shook his head, keeping his face impassive. "I plan to win, and that means I can't waste time playing around."

Midoriya's grin flickered, faded, and Todoroki felt a clench of worry in his chest. His hesitant truce with Midoriya felt fragile; he wasn't certain what would offend the other boy.

And then Midoriya's smile returned - not the expectant grin, but an open smile nonetheless. "Then I guess I'll have to wait until the Sports Festival to see your new moves."

The left side of Todoroki's face warmed; he ducked his head to conceal the moment of weakness.

"We're still training after school, right, Shinsou-kun? Iida-kun? Uraraka? Tsu?"

"Certainly," Iida replied.

"Hm," Uraraka mused. "You know, the Sports Festival is all about demonstrating our skills to potential agencies. Do any of you have any idea where you want to work when you've finally gotten your licenses?"

"I think that's getting a little ahead of ourselves," Iida replied.

"Then who's your favorite hero?" Uraraka said, leaning in toward Iida.

He frowned a little, thoughtful, before Uraraka pulled away, one finger pointed up. "Wait! Let me guess."

"Guess?" Iida asked.

"Of course. I bet you didn't know I have two Quirks - anti-gravity, and mind reading."

"Really? If so, it is highly unprofessional to use it on your colleagues. We all learned that after Shinsou used his power on Bakugo."

Uraraka fell back, giggling. "Relax, I'm joking." But then she gave Iida a fierce look, one hand clenched into a fist. "But I bet I can guess all of your favorite Pro heroes!"

She tapped her chin thoughtfully, staring at Iida for a few moments; he flushed after only a few seconds of scrutiny. "Uraraka, please stop staring!"

"Alright. But let's see. Who could Iida-kun's favorite Pro hero be? Someone Iida-kun looks up to, idolizes, even?" She abruptly gave Iida a sharp grin. "Your favorite hero is Ingenium!"

"That's hardly a difficult deduction," Shinsou drawled. "Ingenium is his older brother."

"And I bet yours is Aizawa-sensei."

Shinsou shook his head. "It isn't that I don't respect Aizawa-sensei, but he isn't my favorite hero."

"Really?" Midoriya asked, perking up from his lunch of katsudon. "Who is? You don't seem the type to be a fan of Midnight or Mount Lady-" Tsu snorted from her seat. "Is it All Might?"

"Just because he's the Number One hero doesn't make him everyone's favorite," Shinsou retorted. "My favorite hero is Hawks."

"Hawks? He's a little…flashy, isn't he?" Uraraka asked.

"I didn't think you cared so much about public acclaim, Shinsou-chan," Tsu added.

"I don't," Shinsou grumbled. "But Hawks...I don't know if you've ever heard him in an interview - a serious interview. He's the only hero I've ever heard say that the ultimate goal of any hero should be - a world where heroes aren't needed." His lips twitched upward suddenly. "A world he can be bored in, he said."

"I remember that," Midoriya said. "The hero blogs went a little crazy at that - arguing back and forth about whether he was disrespecting 'real' heroes like All Might. But most people who do serious analysis agree with him, mostly. Obviously, we can't do much about natural disasters, but if we can reduce or eliminate crime enough, heroes shouldn't be necessary."

Todoroki hadn't heard about that; his father had little respect for Hawks, who he dismissed as a pathetic publicity hog.

But as Todoroki couldn't imagine Endeavor relinquishing the power and prestige that came with being the Number Two Hero, even if crime fell to nothing, he suspected there was another reason his father disliked Hawks.

"Now, I think we all know who Midoriya's favorite Pro Hero is," Uraraka mused. "Tsu-chan, though...that's a puzzler."

Tsu gave Uraraka a wide smile. "I'll save you the trouble of guessing - the Pro Hero Selkie! He's everything an aquatic hero should be! So what's yours? Thirteen?"

"Actually…" Uraraka ducked her head. "I couldn't say I have a favorite Pro Hero. Rescue heroes like Thirteen are great, but I don't just want to be one kind of hero. I want to be a well-balanced hero, and I don't know enough about heroes to know who I should look up to."

She twisted around to Todoroki, suddenly smiling again. "And I bet it doesn't take much guessing to figure your favorite hero - it's Endeavor, right?"

Todoroki nearly choked on his lunch. He should have expected that question the moment Uraraka had suggested people share their favorite hero, but.

Well, to say Endeavor wasn't Todoroki's favorite hero would be...accurate. But to say that, to hint at anything other than that he held only the greatest respect and admiration for Endeavor, would be-

Todoroki couldn't imagine what would come of that.

But as Todoroki looked up to his...classmates to respond, he realized he had been sitting in silence so long, any claim that Endeavor was his favorite would come across as plainly false.

Everyone was watching him expectantly, except for Midoriya, whose gaze was steady, green eyes fixed on Todoroki. Todoroki fought down the twitchy feeling Midoriya's scrutiny inspired, having seen a similar expression on Midoriya's face during their fight in the USJ, where the flames of the Conflagration Zone had left Todoroki useless in the face of memories of his father. The thought that Midoriya might have the barest hint of an idea of what Todoroki had gone through made his skin crawl in embarrassment, but the other alternative was Midoriya was just weird, staring at him for no reason.

"It's All Might, isn't it?" Midoriya asked.

"Yes," Todoroki agreed hurriedly, because it made sense, because his classmates would see it as funny, instead of a reason to pity him. "He's-"

"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Tsu assured him.

"But we'll keep quiet about it, won't we?" Midoriya added, and Todoroki felt a combination of relief and mortification that Midoriya understood something.

He excused himself as soon as possible after that, though, because he couldn't keep looking Midoriya in the eyes, wondering what he knew, what he only suspected, and what he really thought about Todoroki.


Most of Midoriya's next month, outside of classes and official hero training, was taken up by training, planning, and strategizing for the Sports Festival. Two days a week, he met with Yagi-sensei, exploring the limits of his Quirk, and learning to control it. Two days a week, he practiced with Iida, Uraraka, and Shinsou. Iida, Midoriya thought, was there out of some sense of responsibility, because while Uraraka and Shinsou sparred in close combat (Uraraka quickly proving stronger than Midoriya had concluded), training skills they'd never picked up in their preparation for U.A., and Midoriya and Shinsou explored how to use their Quirks in combat, Iida was there as a sparring partner, a willing test subject for Shinsou's Quirk, basically a model class vice-president.

This wasn't to say Midoriya didn't find time for his friends outside of hero-related work - regular lunches with some combination of Iida, Uraraka, Shinsou, Tsu, and Todoroki, talking with them during free moments and getting to and from the trains to school, and one weekend trip to the mall that had somehow ended with Midoriya and Todoroki waiting together for a late train. It had taken a week or two of friendship (Midoriya almost felt confident thinking of Todoroki as a friend, even if Todoroki hadn't come out and said it) for Midoriya to realize Todoroki didn't mind it when Midoriya got wrapped up and started mumbling; indeed, it wasn't unusual for Midoriya to trail off, his thoughts winding to a close, to see Todoroki watching him attentively. So the half hour they spent waiting for a train (Todoroki eyed each passing train, dismissing them as too crowded, until the arriving trains were all but empty), Todoroki was almost entirely silent, but Midoriya was certain Todoroki wouldn't have hesitated to leave if he hadn't enjoyed Midoriya's company.

So even though Midoriya was busier than he ever had been, he was balancing his dream with friendships he'd never expected to have, so when he fell into bed at night, it was with the comfortable exhaustion of a day well-lived, instead of the weariness of striving for a dream he'd never be able to pursue.

There was one other thing that commanded his time before the Sports Festival. Two weeks out, Midoriya entered a part of the U.A. campus he'd never been in before, and knocked, hesitant, at a door labeled '1-H'.

"Come in!"

Midoriya opened the door; something flew at his head, forcing him to duck to avoid having his head taken off. When nothing followed the original projectile, Midoriya turned cautiously. A circuit board, scorched along its entire length, was buried in the wall behind him.

"Sorry about that! The occasional explosion is the price we pay for progress." A pink-haired teen with gold-rimmed goggles over her eyes, poked her head from around a pile of, well, junk.

"It still might help if you post warning signs," Midoriya suggested.

"I asked Power Loader about that once, and he said the sign that says 'Support' should be considered warning enough." The girl flipped up her goggles, giving Midoriya his first glance of yellow eyes that had something of the appearance of targets in them. "Now, who are you, and what are you doing down here? We're not supposed to take walk-ins."

"Um, my name is Midoriya-"

"Izuku?" The girl bolted straight up, her eyes blazing in excitement. "Please tell me you're Midoriya Izuku."

"I - yes?"

"Excellent," the girl purred, suddenly close enough to grab Midoriya's hands and run her fingers along his gloves. "Passable work," she said, "but I cannot tell you how many ideas I've got for you."

"Wha - who are you?"

The girl paused, looked up at Midoriya, lips pursed in concentration before she grinned and held out her right hand. "Hatsume Mei, Hero Support Class 1-H."

"Oh."

"Now, please tell me I can help you."

"Um, I'm not certain that you can. I wanted some help with equipment I could use in the Sports Festival, but I don't know if I can use equipment designed by another student. Plus I couldn't ask you to take time away from your studies just to do me a favor, especially since we're going to be rivals-"

Hatsume laughed. "Midoriya, I cannot begin to tell you how off-base you are. Any support student would jump at the chance to have their work help an up-and-coming hero make a good showing at the Sports Festival."

"Good showing?" Midoriya asked nervously. "I can't promise-"

"You don't need to promise anything, Midoriya," Hatsume replied. She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the classroom - the workshop - beyond. "They let the Support class see a lot of data on your Quirks and combat showing, and if I were allowed to bet on the outcome of the Sports Festival, I'd put money on you making the top eight. And with my help, I wouldn't rule out you taking the whole thing."

Midoriya froze, breath stuttering. "What do you mean? I'm not - Todoroki-kun, or Kacchan-"

"Well, of course they have powerful Quirks, and good combat instincts. But with the right tools, the right strategy, any Quirk can be powerful. And I have thoughts about yours."

There were a dozen or so workstations in the room, most with neat stacks of blueprints or notes. The one Hatsume was aiming for, however, was a mess of bolts, wires, and what looked like disassembled phones. She shoved all this aside and pulled open a drawer halfway down.

Midoriya, though, was still reeling. It wasn't just that Hatsume though Midoriya on his own was good enough to place well in the Sports Festival (the top sixteen was enough to get agency notice). It was that she was excited to work with him. Support agencies couldn't refuse to work with Pro heroes, but support-dependent heroes were vocal on the importance of a good relationship with their engineers. So an engineer who spent her time thinking of ways to help you-

And Hatsume was still talking. "Obviously you want multiple ignition points and methods; I saw how Yaoyorozu disabled your mechanical ignition with lubricant. How do you feel about flight?"

"What?"

Hatsume handed Midoriya a strip of plastic with an exposed wire about halfway along its length and pulled him to a whiteboard covered in diagrams of some sort of engine. "Jetpacks are difficult to design when you have to worry about third-degree burns from heat-based propulsion or exhaust, but a fireproof user-"

"Um, I don't think I need to fly," Midoriya offered, because he didn't want to be flying with the aid of a device designed by someone who'd been looking forward to a fireproof beta-tester.

"Well, I'll put a pin in that. But I've got so many other ideas - I got my hands on this fire-retardant fabric that I've been playing with-"

"Um, my Quirk can keep my clothes from catching fire when I'm using it."

Hatsume nodded. "The analysis said that, but an easily de-oxidized treatment coating a fire-retardant fabric would be able to burn without you actively focusing on it. And I know you aren't enthused about flying, but I've got an idea for jet-propulsed skates."

"Would they even let me use those in the Sports Festival?"

"Well, no," Hatsume replied. "Your Quirk's 'combat-capable'; you can request assistive technology to enable you to create flame to manipulate, but nothing that substantially increases your capabilities. This isn't an exhibition on who's got access to the best Support work. But I'm all about the 'big picture', and once you've won the whole thing, I'm going to outfit you in enough ground-breaking innovations you could take on All Might!"

"But, of course," she said, before Midoriya could respond, "Let's get you some firestarters that won't quit just because they got wet first."

And maybe Midoriya had to talk Hatsume down from building him a spring-loaded flamethrower, robot exoskeleton, and heat-activated capture cloth, but it was a fun afternoon anyway. Midoriya hadn't seen a lot on the Support side of hero-work; he knew about the importance, knew heroes that made extensive use of specialty Support devices, but hadn't talked to many Support workers, hadn't seen one at work. Had never really thought about what brought them to the business - money or fame or a desire to do good or what.

Or if they were Hatsume, insistent on demonstrating their brilliance by dominating the Support market (Midoriya still wasn't sure if she wanted to do good or was offended by the existence of equipment inferior to what she could design, and wasn't sure if the difference mattered).

He did get the paperwork filed for two items that Hatsume promised would be ready in time for the Sports Festival - a pair of gloves that should be able to generate a spark unless coated in a perfect lubricant, and a belt that could heat a fuse to spark if the gloves failed.

Still, he and Shinsou practiced fighting against Iida and Uraraka, trying to hold their own without their Quirks. And in two weeks, they were ready - or as ready as they could be - for the Sports Festival. Midoriya didn't check his phone that morning; the rise of a mysterious villain killing Pro heroes meant any news would just depress him. Instead, he ate a healthy breakfast, accepted his mother's well wishes, and took the train to the stadium.

It looked more crowded than Midoriya had ever seen on prior year broadcasts, the masses packed on the train, flowing toward the stadium once Midoriya disembarked, requiring a struggle to reach the student entrance, where Cementoss formed an unambiguous barrier between the audience and participants. And then Midoriya was inside with the other students. The locker rooms weren't quiet, exactly, but those students talking did so in whispers. Midoriya nodded when he saw Iida, Shinsou, Todoroki (who gave a curt nod - not a smile, but enough that Midoriya felt relief that Todoroki hadn't been offended by his suggestion they train together), and paused when he saw Kacchan, who was glowering as Kirishima talked at him. After a moment of thought, Midoriya decided against approaching Kacchan; he wouldn't appreciate the distraction. Instead, Midoriya mentally ran through his notes - observations about the capabilities of his classmates, his own capabilities, and strategies he'd thought about after classes. He still wasn't sure about Hatsume's claim he could win this (with Kacchan and Todoroki both, Midoriya doubted he could make it past the top four), but he could do his best, show everyone what he could do.

All too soon, though, the announcement came through summoning them to the opening ceremony, and, eventually, to the first part of the Sports Festival. It was usually a race of some kind, but there was enough variation that Midoriya couldn't be certain what to expect. Still, as long as he placed well, it'd be enough to get to the next phase.


"That fucking nerd must have cheated!"

Todoroki rolled his eyes as Bakugo snarled at Midnight. The obstacle race was still in progress, the people without Quirks easily used to increase their speed bringing up the rear, but most people's attention were on the guy who came in second place yelling at the referee.

Todoroki, however, turned away and tried to block out the shouting. He'd had enough of Bakugo's outbursts in class without putting up with it outside of school. And Midoriya pulling up from behind to take first place in the obstacle race may have been surprising, but he'd hardly cheated. He hadn't used anything other than his own Quirk and what could be found within the boundaries of the course.

Todoroki glanced at Midoriya; he was standing apart from the small groups of students, two water bottles in his hands. Shinsou, hands on his knees, was panting, winded, from a run he'd made without the aid of any Quirk. Except for getting free of Todoroki's ice at the start, cutting through the robot obstacles, and his explosive leveraging of the minefield for the air and speed he'd used to beat Todoroki and Bakugo, Midoriya hadn't used his Quirk much to get through the obstacle course, either - an impressive showing.

Todoroki nodded, making a decision, and stepped toward Midoriya. The other boy jerked his head up and, seeing Todoroki, smiled at him (wide, honest, eyes a little watery).

"Todoroki-kun!"

"Midoriya-kun," Todoroki greeted. "I didn't expect you to beat me."

Shinsou raised his head enough to frown, eyes narrowing, at Todoroki. Midoriya, though, just shook his head. "Neither did I! But I wasn't going to do my best if I didn't try, so-"

Todoroki felt a flicker of something - an uncomfortable feeling, a twisting pain in his chest, or stomach - that he shrugged off (he couldn't let emotions get in the way of his performance at the Sports Festival). But it wasn't a surprise that Midoriya had needed to go all-out to beat Todoroki (not arrogance, but a simple fact, that Todoroki's Quirk was much more powerful than Midoriya's). Still.

"I don't think you cheated. You did a good job."

"Oh?" Midoriya's gaze flickered to Bakugo before shrugging. "Kacchan just gets a little worked up sometimes."

Of course, everyone in 1-A knew that, knew how overdramatic Bakugo could get. But Todoroki was certain he was the only one who saw more, could see how carefully Midoriya talked to Bakugo, how cautious he was to avoid more of Bakugo's attention than necessary. But to suggest to Midoriya he understood, Todoroki would have to expose his own weakness, as unforgivable as failure (moreso - weakness could be exploited a thousand times over).

So he just nodded. "Still," Todoroki said, "Don't expect to beat me again."

Midoriya's smile went from gentle to sharp, excited. "Don't expect me to make it easy for you to beat me, either."


"Look at you," Stain growled, "a 'hero'. What does that even mean?" There was a cough behind him, a wet sound as his latest victim struggled to speak. "Don't even bother. I know what you'll say. Heroes fight villains. Heroes protect people. But that's not all, is it? Heroes are celebrities. Heroes have special privileges - do you know what that word means in English? 'Privilege' means private law. Heroes live by a different set of rules from the rest of us. We like to pretend they're public servants - they receive pay from the government based on how much 'good' they do - but they have sponsorship deals, merchandising contracts, book tours!"

"Y...you…"

"With the sort of money a hero can earn, they can become rich. Wealthy. And wealth has its own power, grants its own privilege. And powerful heroes will have children with powerful Quirks, who can become powerful heroes, and...well, you can see where I'm going with this."

"Wrong," Stain's victim gasped.

"I know, I know. Anyone can become a hero. Except the twenty percent of the population without Quirks, and however many lack useful Quirks. Do you see where I'm going with this? For all the talk about how the Pro Hero system is a great equalizer, a way for anyone who wants to do good to become great - it's just another caste system. A world ruled by those with powerful Quirks. After all, if I didn't have a powerful Quirk, our fight wouldn't have ended the way it did." Stain casually licked his knife, letting the coppery tang of his victim's blood activate his Quirk (it probably wasn't necessary, but Stain didn't feel like taking chances). And then he turned back to face his victim. The man was pinned against the far wall of the alley, held in place by the swords piercing his broken crimson wings. His face, which Stain had only ever seen in an easygoing smile, the charming face of one of the most popular heroes in Japan, was twisted into a silent snarl.

"And the worst part," Stain continued, stepping toward Hawks, beaten, bloodied, and dying, "is that there's no incentive for anyone to change this. A hero's wealth and status is dependent on the existence of villains, so why would they bother trying to make a world free of them?"

Hawks' face shifted for a moment, choking as his eyes widened, pained, but whatever he wanted to say, it was too late for him. His breath escaped his mouth for the last time, and then he was still.

A sharp clap echoed from behind Stain, and then, after a moment, another, and another.

"Good job, Stain-kun!" Stain turned on one foot; while it seemed like the interloper was the mysterious creature who guided Stain to the worst hypocrites, those who made a mockery of the word hero, Stain had enough enemies he couldn't afford to risk otherwise.

But it was them, the vague, smiling figure who had once appeared to Stain and given him his name.

"A little over the top, maybe, but I'm not going to criticize people for people over-dramatic. It'd make me a real hypocrite - not that I mind that, but still."

"What did he do?" Stain asked.

"Hm?" Stain's benefactor asked. "Oh, nothing! I told you, when I agreed to help you, that there was a price. That sometimes, I'd need you to take someone out, no questions asked. I mean, if you actually believe that little speech you gave him, he's part of the problem - a glory-hound profiting off of a problematic system. But no, he's not one of the bad ones."

"So what? I just killed a hero for no reason?"

The creature laughed. "No reason? No, you had a reason. You killed him because I told you to! But I get what you're asking. You're wondering if I had you kill him for a reason other than that it amused me. And I promise you, I did. There are people I need to get in touch with, and this - Hawks the latest victim of the Hero-Killer Stain - is the best way to find them. But don't worry, Stain-kun. If we're lucky, the fallout from this will give you the opportunity to kill…him. The worst of them all."

Chapter Text

"I've got some bad news for you all!" Midnight's voice drawled across the stadium speakers. "Forty-two first-year students passed through to the second round of the Sports Festival, which is just a tad too many for our final round. So we need to cut that number down, and for that we have an amazing free-for-all battle of dodgeball! It's a classic, and quite simple - if you're hit by a ball thrown by another competitor, you're out! If you catch the ball instead, you're fine - but you'll still have to hit your attacker with your own ball to take them out."

Shinsou glanced at Midoriya, almost expecting the other boy to be taking notes. Instead, he merely watched Midnight with a determined frown. Shinsou let his gaze skim from Midoriya to the other students competing in the second round - Bakugo and Todoroki, obviously, but also Uraraka, Tokoyami, Iida, Tsu, even Aoyama - almost all of Class 1-A. Some he might have some idea how to take out in a game of dodgeball, but others…

And then there were the students Shinsou knew nothing about - a few he'd seen from his place near the middle of the pack, but others who were a complete blank. He didn't know how he'd make a showing of his Quirk, much less place, in a free-for-all.

"Unfortunately, I have to explain all the fiddly details, which just aren't sexy at all. The game is fifteen minutes long, and for every minute you stay in the game, you get 100 points. For every player you remove from the game, you also get 100 points. Of course there are a few little twists. The first is that taking out any of the top three from the obstacle race nets you 1,000 points!" Midoriya stiffened at the declaration, which Shinsou didn't blame him for. Going all out had put a target on Midoriya's back, making it that much harder to place in the second round.

"In exchange, those top three receive 200 points for every minute they survive the battle." It wasn't a fair exchange, but Shinsou supposed it wasn't meant to be. The best Pro Heros were targeted by villains, but didn't receive enough acclaim or money to make up for it. "Now, we know this free-for-all might be a little - intense - for some of you, so you can form teams if you like. You can go it alone if you think you've got the - guts - for it, or team up with as many as three others. Your scores overall will be averaged, so even if you get taken out early, your team might carry you to victory! Of course, if your teammate is one of the top three, you get double points for your time, and taking you out earns your opponent 1,000 points, as well! You've got 15 minutes to make your teams and plan your strategies. Let's go!"

At the mention of teams, Shinsou felt a brief temptation to do something - well, not necessarily against the rules, but tremendously underhanded, bordering on villainous. With the exception of Bakugo, he was certain no one else would suspect the question, 'do you want to be on my team?' to be a set-up for Shinsou's Quirk.

But one glance at Midoriya made Shinsou abandon that thought. He'd been terrified that using his Quirk on Midoriya to save someone else's life would bar him from U.A.; using it solely for his own advancement was unthinkable.

Nevertheless, as Midnight announced the beginning of the round, Shinsou turned to Midoriya. "Midoriya-kun-"

Midoriya shook his head. "Sorry, Shinsou-kun. I've got a strategy, and you're not part of it."

Disappointing, but Shinsou couldn't expect Midoriya to welcome a liability onto his team, someone who brought nothing-

Shinsou scanned the assembled students, some already gathering into small groups; there were a lot of good Quirks there, but not necessarily ones that would work well together. But Quirks weren't everything; coordination made a good team great.

But he didn't have much time to debate, so Shinsou made a decision. He hurried to his nearest target, grabbing Aoyama's elbow. The other boy twisted around, raising one eyebrow before smiling.

"Shinsou? What brings you-"

"I need you," Shinsou muttered. "Come on." He didn't even use his Quirk, just relied on Aoyama's desire to be wanted to drag him along. Shinsou ducked around Bakugo shoving Kirishima away from him, dodged around a number of students he didn't recognize, and grabbed Sero's shoulder at the same time as Iida. Shinsou dithered for a split-second before deciding to play dirty.

"Do you mind if I talk to Sero for a moment?" Shinsou asked, offering Iida a gentle smile.

"Oh!" Iida nodded. "Of course, if you need to talk to him, go ahead."

"Thanks. Come on, Sero." Shinsou felt a little bad, but Iida was going to have to learn not to let people take advantage of his sense of fair play. And Sero followed because of Shinsou's inertia (an offhand comment from Midoriya about 'social engineering' had made Shinsou realize there were ways to get people to do what you wanted without mind-control Quirks).

It took a few steps for Sero to get his balance, but then, still trailing along with Shinsou, asked, "So what are we doing?"

"We're getting a team together," Shinsou replied. "And I need to get one last person before he gets snapped up. Hey! Ojiro!"

Ojiro looked up from where he looked to be in the middle of an argument with Kaminari; Sero waved at him, which seemed to make up Ojiro's mind, as he jogged toward them.

"What's up?" he asked of Sero, who shrugged and jerked his head toward Shinsou.

"This is his show."

"Oh, really?" Ojiro turned to Shinsou. "It doesn't look like you picked us at random. So what's the plan?"

"A defensive strategy," Shinsou replied. "Your repulsive, long-range, and evasive skills are good contenders for surviving the round, but any one individual is at risk from an unexpected attack. With proper coordination, though…"

"Wait, you're not going to take control of our brains, are you?" Sero asked.

"No. I can't manage that level of fine control over more than one person at a time," Shinsou said. He gave Sero what he hoped was a comforting smile; the other boy didn't edge away from him the way some dumbasses did when they realized what Shinsou's Quirk was (failing to understand that distance wouldn't do anything). "But you need coordination, mind control or not."

"That is a good point," Ojiro said. "What's the plan, exactly?"


Dark Shadow curled tight around Tokoyami's waist, eyeing the wide circle of students standing at the edge of the playing field. Twenty bright orange balls sat, scattered strategically, about the battlefield. Tokoyami tightened the grey headband he and Iida had received when they announced their team, and turned to nod at his teammate.

"Are you ready, Iida?"

"Yes!" Iida agreed, giving Tokoyami a thumbs-up. "As soon as they announce the start-"

"I know our strategy," Tokoyami interrupted. "Don't tell everyone."

"Right!" Tokoyami rolled his eyes, and felt a sympathetic surge of annoyance from Dark Shadow. Iida was fast, but his attitude, while commendable, lacked the subtlety of one who had grown up in the shadows. Tokoyami took a moment to scan the circle, picking out the teams. Todoroki and Bakugo were each on their own, the only solo contestants. Midoriya and Uraraka had teamed up with a girl from the Support class, and Yaoyorozu and Tsu were clearly trying to replicate the chemistry of their team-up in the first hero training class. Shinsou, Ojiro, Aoyama, and Sero made another team (and they all appeared lucid, meaning those three had agreed to team up with Shinsou). Kirishima, Kaminari, and Ashido made another, a ragtag group, but an athletic one. Jiro, Sato, Koda, and Hagakure made another team, and the other seven teams were largely people Tokoyami didn't recognize except vaguely in passing.

"Three!" Midnight called, and Tokoyami snapped his gaze toward the ring. "Two!" she shouted, and Tokoyami heard the rev of Iida's legs. "One!" and Tokoyami glanced left, trusting Dark Shadow to be checking his right.

"Go!"

Most of the other students, Iida included, dashed forward for the nearest ball. Tokoyami, though, moved to cover Iida, Dark Shadow stretching out to double their range of vision. Keeping special watch on those with fire and light-based powers (in particular Bakugo, Kaminari, and Midoriya), Tokoyami caught the two balls Iida, moving at top speed, grabbed as he cut in front of slower contestants, which, with the two Iida kept for himself, left Tokoyami and Iida with 20% of the available firepower.

Tokoyami took a careful assessment of the battlefield. Unsurprisingly, Bakugo had surged to the nearest ball and hurled it with all the force he could muster at Todoroki, and his scream of frustration as a wall of ice blocked the attack was likely to become a refrain during this battle.

"Fumi!" Tokoyami leapt aside as a ball bounced past him, Ashido laughing joyously as she skated past.

"Stay on your toes, bird-boy!" she called, scooping up her ball and spinning around to find another target.

"And Kendo Itsuka is the first casualty of this pitched battle, taken out by a lucky shot from Hiryu Rin!"

Ashido flung her ball again toward a pale-haired girl; the ball stopped in midair, and, as the girl turned, flew back toward Ashido. But Ashido, who was clearly a veteran of many dodgeball battles, snatched a passing projectile out of mid-air, ducked under her target's projectile, and tapped her with the ball.

"And Yanagi Reiko is taken out by a close-combat maneuver from 1-A's own Ashido Mina!"

Dark Shadow yelped, muffled, and Tokoyami cursed himself for his inattention, turning to find Dark Shadow with a ball in his mouth, flinging another toward a pair of boys surrounded by an all-but invisible barrier that blocked all assaults. Two people with the same Quirk? No - the blond shifted as Dark Shadow's assault bounced off the barrier, forearm suddenly spinning like a drill that he slammed into the slow-moving projectile.

Tokoyami dove to the side as the ball rocketed past, rolling past a wall of ice that was either shielding Todoroki from the battle entirely or allowing him to face an opponent with no interruptions.

"And Ashido Mina scores another victory, taking out Komori Kinoko!"

Dark Shadow circled Tokoyami warily; no one had caught him in bright light, but it was only a matter of time. There was a motion at the corner of Tokoyami's vision, close, too close; he stumbled back as a dark form stepped from the shadow that bonded Tokoyami and Dark Shadow.

"I hadn't expected to be able to use my Quirk much, with everyone wearing their uniforms," the form said, raising one hand holding one of the balls up, "so I should thank you for giving me such a perfect opening."

Tokoyami snarled and dropped low, kicking at his attacker's legs; they dropped back into the shadowy connection between Tokoyami and Dark Shadow, stepping out of the shadows cast by Todoroki's ice wall. They waved before turning to hurl a ball at a girl with horns on top of her head.

"Kirishima Eijiro uses his teammate's cover fire to take out Koda Koji - this is an amazing start to this dodgeball battle!"

Something like a phoenix blazed across Tokoyami's vision. It took a second to resolve the figure into something more reasonable - Midoriya wearing some sort of heavy boots rocketing away from Tsu, a brightly-colored gun in her hands, her tongue wrapped around one of the balls. Midoriya's form was coated in flames, an attempt to keep anyone like Ashido getting close, Tokoyami guessed, and the fire streaming behind him had made the impression of some flaming bird.

The ice wall exploded and Bakugo's roar echoed across the field. One of Bakugo's arms was sparking, a ball reaching the arc of its own flight as Bakugo soared toward it. It took only a moment to see the likely trajectory was too close to Tokoyami.

Something grabbed Tokoyami's arms and yanked him away. He struggled for only a moment before he recognized the sounds of Iida's engines. Bakugo propelled the ball down, an explosive spike that sent clouds of dust billowing up. Midoriya's flaming wings vanished (Tokoyami approved; they didn't need a repeat of the uncontrolled explosion that had capped off the USJ fight), and Iida skidded to a stop just long enough to drop Tokoyami out of the danger zone and grab a discarded ball.

"Thank you, friend," Tokoyami said.

"No thanks necessary - it was my duty as your teammate."

"And yes, it looked like Bakugo Katsuki's explosive attack removed Tokage Setsuna from the field!"

"Hahahahahahahahaha!" Tokoyami glanced up; Midoriya's teammate from the Support class was evading a guy with a boiler for a head, a guy whose face seemed to be an empty dialogue box, and a dark-haired girl. Poles lanced out from her backpack, sending her shooting to the side when one of them threw a ball at her, her boots, similar to the ones Midoriya had been wearing, letting her skid along the ground away from them.

Well, Tokiyami wouldn't pass up the opportunity of three distracted opponents. He reared up and tossed his ball at the girl who didn't have some gadgets dodging for her.

The boy with the dialogue-box head turned and shouted, "THUD!"

The ball bounced off of massive black letters that appeared from nothingness at the boy's shout.

"Clearly not a wise battle to insert myself into," Tokoyami mused. He retrieved his ball; as he did so, the ground erupted in a mass of vines that twisted toward Tokoyami. He fell back with a yelp, scrambling to avoid them. Dark Shadow took an offensive swipe at the vines, separating a large clump with no apparent effort. "Good work!" Tokoyami praised.

"Ashido Mina caps off her amazing streak with a double header, taking out Rin Hiryu and Jiro Kyoka in one shot!"

There was a shift in the battlefield marked by a familiar howl and an explosion propelling a blond form toward the pink flash at ground level; clearly Bakugo had decided Ashido was a threat, or challenge to his superior skills.

"Come on, Fumi, there's no penalty for making throws," Dark Shadow whined, scooping up a ball that bounced nearby. "Let's make it rain."

"An excellent strategy." Tokoyami handed over his ball to Dark Shadow, who hurled one at a passing Shoji. The boy caught the first throw by snapping one of his wing-like limbs around it, and the second with a hand manifested at the tip of his other.

"Nice try, Tokoyami!" Shoji called. He threw the ball held in his hand back at Tokoyami's head, and then turned, leaping toward another target.

Dark Shadow caught the ball easily, but it was a disappointment, having his attack fail. Tokoyami spared a glance for Iida, finding him, as expected, nimbly avoiding most assaults. Feeling buoyed by his teammate's success, Tokoyami turned back to the melee just in time to see a massive ball hurtling toward him.

"Fumi!" Dark Shadow howled, panicked. Tokoyami didn't waste a moment, leaping to the side; with the ball's speed, he wasn't likely able to outrun it, but it wasn't so large he couldn't dodge to the side if he kept his wits about him.

"And at three minutes, forty-five seconds in, Mineta Minoru becomes the first person to succumb to Todoroki Shouto's impressive skills!"

It hadn't even been four minutes? This wasn't just a fight - it was a marathon. Lasting the entire fifteen minutes wasn't just a good way to earn points - it was a demonstration of skill, power, and endurance.

Dark Shadow yanked Tokoyami back a step just in time to avoid a ball slamming into the field at his feet. Kirishima landed just behind the ball, scooping it up. They stood there a frozen moment, Kirishima close enough to put Tokoyami out of the game with no effort-

A ball shot at Kirishima from just to Tokoyami's side, forcing the boy to scramble (a hardening Quirk wasn't much use if getting hit took you out of the game) to avoid it.

"Thanks again!" the dark shape said to Tokoyami. "Having you on the field is pretty useful!" They vanished again, and Tokoyami growled, feeling his frustration rising. He'd never much liked this game when he was younger, and this event wasn't more enjoyable than any other time he'd played.

"Fumi!" Dark Shadow twisted around, catching two balls, but a third soared toward Tokoyami. Tokoyami ducked down, catching it even as the force sent him sprawling.

"Haha, nice catch!" Ashido called as she skated past. Her teammates, Kirishima and Kaminari, ran past. Dark Shadow took a potshot at the two of them (Ashido was just too maneuverable), but to no effect. Tokoyami reserved the third ball for later use.

Shoji sped past Tokoyami, empty-handed, until he tripped, one foot sinking into the ground. Tokoyami turned, nodding when he saw a boy with an exposed, skeletal grin. He reared his arm and let fly with his ball. A wall of air intercepted the attack, and then the blond with the copying power bounced a ball off of the back of Shoji's limbs.

"Monoma Neito has just taken out Shoji Mezo! And as we're approaching the five-minute mark, thirty-three heroes are still in the game! Unfortunately, the team of Mineta Minoru and Shoji Mezo, and the team of Kendo Itsuka, Yanagi Reiko, Tokage Setsuna, and Komori Kinoko have a low enough score they don't have any chance of advancing to the next round!"

Dark Shadow scooped up another ball, but a flash of orange forced Tokoyami to roll out of the way of another volley, a ball with a red line along its hemisphere. Breathing hard, Tokoyami gave a desperate scan for his attacker. Only a shout from Dark Shadow gave Tokoyami enough warning to dodge back to his left, as another ball soared past him. No - it was the same one, with the same line.

No, not a line-

A tongue.

Dark Shadow flung his own ball in the direction of the returning ball's trajectory, forcing Tsu, crouched behind a low wall of shattered stone, to leap out of the way. As she sailed away, she swiped the ball at another figure. The ball bounced off another wall of air, but with Tsu's control, she swung it around to strike the back of the other person's back.

"Asui Tsuyu brings an end to Monoma Neito with an amazing feint!"

A ball sailed at Tokoyami; he hopped back to avoid the impact, and bent down to seize the ball for himself. He had a single moment of warning, the awareness he'd begun to gather from combat training, and rather than keep reaching forward, fell back. The air in front of Tokoyami pulsed, and then exploded, rock and dirt flying away from the impact - of what, Tokoyami couldn't see. He dodged around two more balls, the second coming with another secondary blast, before bright laughter heralded Ashido's arrival, blasts of acid sending Tokoyami and his attacker, a plain-looking boy, scattering. Tokoyami rolled, ducking behind enough rubble that Ashido focused on the other participant.

"And Ashido Mina continues her brutal kill streak, taking out Shoda Nirengeki!"

"Is she gone?" Tokoyami asked Dark Shadow, who only peeked his head briefly above their cover before nodding. Tokoyami sighed in relief and rose, taking a step away from his cover before his skin prickled, a sensation that gave him pause. A premonition of impending disaster, perhaps? No, he corrected, as he tasted a dryness in the air.

Static.

"Dark Shadow, to me!" Tokoyami shouted as he sprinted back the way he'd come. Looking away, Tokoyami saw only the reflection of the flash as Kaminari discharged his full power.

"What a show! Kaminari Denki has stunned two, three, four - I don't know how many contestants, and his teammates are moving to clean up the mess!"

Wait - Tokoyami paused mid-step. If Kaminari had used his full power, he'd be useless - easy pickings.

"Ashido Mina takes out Tsuburaba Kosei with brutal efficiency!"

As Tokoyami turned, red flashed by him, trailed by a path of ice, and a moment later, Present Mic's voice boomed across the arena.

"Todoroki Shouto takes advantage of Kaminari Denki's incapacitation to remove him from the game! But Kirishima Eijiro is on fire - taking out Shishida Kurota and Sato Rikido in quick succession! With that, Rin Hiryu's, Shishida Kurota's, and Shoda Nirengeki's team is out of the running entirely!"

Tokoyami turned, and came face-to-face with the dark student who kept slipping in and out of Dark Shadow to move around the battlefield. He grinned, a flash of white within an all-black face.

"I think I've waited long enough," the other boy murmured. "Time to take you out, bird-brain."

He raised a ball in one hand, grin widening.

And then Iida slammed into Tokoyami's attacker, stopping quickly enough that it sent him flying. "Tokoyami! Are you alright?"

"Yes, thanks to you," Tokoyami replied. "You were right that it would serve us well to split up."

"But it doesn't mean we shouldn't look out for each other," Iida said.

A flash of sparkling light shot Aoyama across the field, and a moment later, "Aoyama Yuga takes out Kuroiro Shihai with flair!"

"There are fewer students now," Tokoyami said, "so it may be best for us to stay closer together."

"I concur," Iida replied.

"Oh, excellent - it's so much easier if you're standing together!"

"Fumi!"

Tokoyami wasn't certain who was able to change the size of the balls, but whoever they were, they weren't yet out of the running, as a massive one was heading for he and Iida. But for all they were a larger target, with Iida at hand, they were a faster one, as well. Iida grabbed Tokoyami and charged out of range of the giant ball. It crashed to earth behind them, but as it did, Tokoyami saw Yaoyorozu pulling on an elastic band attached to her arm, an orange ball at the end of the strap. She let go, launching the ball through the air.

It seemed only a split-second later that Present Mic screamed, "Yaoyorozu Momo hits Kodai Yui where it hurts, bringing us to our halfway point and the last twenty-five students!"

Their chances were better, now, but the competition was fiercer. Tokoyami shoved Iida away, splitting them apart as Ojiro slapped a ball their way. Having seen Tsu's strategy, though, Tokoyami was ready for the follow up, Dark Shadow scooping up a ball and Tokoyami looking back toward the source of the projectile. And there - Sero braced on the ground, flinging his tape out to catch the ball and drag it back for a boomerang attack.

Dark Shadow hurled the ball at Sero, only for a blast from Aoyama's laser to knock it aside. As a result - Tokoyami wasn't in a place to evade Sero's swinging attack.

"Damn it." Tokoyami had planned to rely on a lengthy tenure to make it through to the next round, but it looked like that wasn't going to happen. A hand grabbed the back of Tokoyami's uniform and yanked him away from the projectile - Iida living up to his responsibilities in this partnership.

"Todoroki Shouto takes Bondo Kojiro out of the running!"

Ashido skated back into Tokoyami's view, a pair of balls in her hands. She hurled one at Tokoyami, forcing him to hop back; she spun in place, tracking Iida as he tried to dash away from her, and threw the second ball just in front of him. He tripped, somersaulting over the ball, quite possibly by accident.

"Fukidashi Manga is out, thanks to Bakugo Katsuki!"

"Behind you! Kirishima!"

Tokoyami spun, rolling, just in time to avoid a throw from Kirishima, who'd used his and Iida's preoccupation with Ashido to flank them. With Kaminari out of commission, Dark Shadow didn't have to worry about that Quirk, but there were still plenty of threats. A series of explosions behind them suggested Bakugo was still chasing Midoriya or Todoroki.

"Ha, isn't this fun, Tokoyami-kun?" Ashido asked, somehow holding a ball again, bouncing it against her arm before throwing it at Tokoyami. Dark Shadow caught it, spun around Tokoyami, and pitched it at Kirishima.

A ball wrapped up in tape shot between Tokoyami and Kirishima, swinging in a wide arc that forced them both to jump over the tape. As Sero yanked back to recall the ball, Mina sliced through the tape with her acid, grabbing the ball from mid-air.

"Ha, you gotta keep on your toes, Sero-"

A ball slammed into her side, sending the ball in her hands flying, and stopping her mid-sentence.

"Ojiro Mashirao brings an end to Ashido Mina's reign of terror!"

Kirishima grabbed Mina's ball before it could even hit the ground, hurling it at Ojiro with a growl, but Aoyama knocked it aside with a blast from his laser, allowing Ojiro to retreat into their team's defensive huddle.

Vines erupted from the ground near their feet; Dark Shadow swiped across to sever them before they could ensnare Iida, but that left Tokoyami open to get caught. A silver-haired boy leapt into Tokoyami's range of vision, two balls in hand, throwing them simultaneously. He heard a yelp from Dark Shadow as his companion caught a throw from behind, meaning Tokoyami was on his own. He grabbed the vines around his legs and yanked them up, interposing them between him and his attacker. The person controlling the vines lashed them around to catch the balls, freeing Tokoyami to beat a retreat.

"Awase Yosetsu is out, at the hands of Todoroki Shouto!"

A flaming ball arced toward Tokoyami, impossible for Dark Shadow to take ahold of, forcing Tokoyami back, stumbling over uneven ground. He didn't think Todoroki would be using his fire, which made that - Midoriya? The balls hadn't shown much damage from other Quirk usage, but they might still be flammable.

"And Bakugo Katsuki isn't going to let Todoroki pull ahead of him, blasting through Kamakiri Togaru's razor-sharp defense to take him out!"

"Some sort of explosion!" Dark Shadow called; Tokoyami flicked his gaze to the right, to find an orange dot rocketing toward him (with something very much like a rocket strapped to it). He took a step to the left, and the ball shifted.

Was that a homing missile?

Tokoyami changed direction, running to the right, dodging through the gap between a green-haired girl whose hair moved purposely enough to be the vines that had ensnared Tokoyami, and Yaoyorozu. The ball twisted around to plunge through the same space - following Tokoyami. He didn't have time to work out how it functioned.

"Dark Shadow! Get the rocket attached to the ball!"

"Right!" As the ball approached, Dark Shadow slammed into the small rocket propelling the ball, yelping at the sudden exposure to light from the flames. It was still moving forward, and fast, but as it was no longer homing toward Tokoyami, he caught it with ease. He didn't see the Support girl nearby, which made sense, if she was using rockets to attack people at a range. He took aim at the nearest person - the silver-haired guy working with the vine girl, but the guy proved a little too dextrous.

"Fighting alone against countless enemies! There never was a more manly contest!" Kirishima cried. He pitched one ball toward Ojiro, who snagged it, turning to throw it into another melee, and another, a split-second later, which knocked into Shinsou's head, sending him sailing into Aoyama.

"Kirishima Eijiro avenges his teammate, taking out Shinsou Hitoshi! Five minutes left in this free-for-all, and nineteen contestants remaining! But don't get too cocky - a confident offense can knock even the leaders down a peg or too!"

Strips of tape pulled Aoyama and Ojiro away, their team trying to recover from the loss of their leader. Tokoyami grabbed a ball and ran toward the trio of Sero, Aoyama, and Ojiro. "Iida!" he called - with a coordinated attack, they might-

Something on the ground shifted; Tokoyami hopped to the side, worried it was the weird swamp Quirk that had caught Shoji. But although he landed on solid footing, Tokoyami was off-balance. What had he seen? He stared at the ground, the shifting shadows caused by fighting students and ever-shifting lights, and several still silhouettes growing in size-

Tokoyami leapt back again; three balls slammed into the ground a moment later, falling, he guessed from their trajectory, from just over his head. He twisted in place, and when he saw Uraraka's familiar shape, threw at her. Iida skidded to a stop next to him, taking a shot at Ojiro.

"Sero Hanta takes out Honenuki Juzo!"

How many were left? Eighteen? An impact made Tokoyami turn, bringing him face-to-face, for the first time, with Midoriya. Midoriya was panting, but was holding himself easily - he didn't look fatigued at all. His legs were wreathed in flame, and he held two balls in his hands.

"Hey, Tokoyami-kun," Midoriya said. "Good job avoiding Uraraka's trap."

"I avoided your other teammate's attack, too," Tokoyami replied. "So you won't find me easy prey."

Midoriya shrugged, but halfway through, turned on one foot, the slightest shift, and threw one of his balls. Iida, readying a throw, was forced to kick off to avoid Midoriya's attack. Midoriya spun and threw his second at Tokoyami.

At point-blank range, Tokoyami had no chance of dodging.

But the ball missed, flying over Tokoyami's left shoulder. He heard an impact, and saw a ball bouncing away, as if thrown from mid-air. Dark Shadow cried out in triumph, swooping around to throw another ball at Midoriya, but Midoriya was already hopping away.

"Maybe next time, Tokoyami-kun!" Midoriya called.

Tokoyami was frozen in place for just a moment - what just happened?

"Man, Midoriya's cool!" Dark Shadow declared, curling around Tokoyami's legs. "He knocked a ball right out of the air."

Of course! None of them could afford to pay attention to only a single target. They were all targets themselves, and Midoriya had taken that to heart, seeing an attack coming in even as he prepared to take out Tokoyami.

"Stay close!" Iida commanded. It was a wise decision; most of the other teams were drawing together. A wall of ice, though, erupted between Tokoyami and Iida; he heard a shout from Iida, but no corresponding announcement from Present Mic, so Iida must have been holding his own for now. Tokoyami turned, looking for a clear target or at least another ball.

"It's a double-knockout! Kirishima Eijiro and Tetsutetsu Tetsutetsu take each other out!"

Whatever had happened, Tokoyami had missed it, because explosions, rapid-fire like a string of fireworks, drew his attention above the field. Bakugo was rising, juggling five, six balls with his Quirk, as he climbed to a ludicrous altitude. At last, he paused; Tokoyami could imagine his feral grin as the balls around him reached the zenith of their trajectories, and shouted,

"DIE!"

With one massive explosion, Bakugo sent six balls streaking toward the earth like meteors. One was headed in Tokoyami's direction, so he ran. Behind him, one of the balls smashed through Todoroki's ice wall, raining frozen daggers on Tokoyami and everyone near him. He was too occupied with that attack to see the other impact sites, but was certain Bakugo had chosen them to send his opponents scattering. It was flashy and destructive, but Tokoyami found himself wondering if Bakugo was stupid enough to think he'd actually hit anyone with those attacks.

"Tsunotori Pony falls to Todoroki Shouto!"

Tokoyami heard Bakugo's scream, saw the flashes of him propelling himself to earth, a spark of orange visible, and he realized what Todoroki likely had - the meteors were a screen, to shatter his opponents' defenses so when Bakugo made his real attack, there wouldn't be any way to escape.

And indeed, Bakugo slammed to the ground, and a moment later, "Bakugo Katsuki follows up that show of celestial force by taking out Shiozaki Ibara!"

Bakugo rocketed away from the site of the impact, the same ball in his hands, dodging a hail of attacks as he made for the remnants of Todoroki's ice wall. "I'm coming for you, Icy Hot!"

His charge was broken when two balls nearly hit him, a pincer attack that forced him to change direction, turning to fling his ball at Ojiro. Tokoyami turned, looking for Midoriya, who was dangerous even without the sort of power that made this battle easier. Tokoyami hadn't taken more than a step before someone landed on the ground in front of him; he ducked as a ball, tethered by a meters-long tongue, swiped through the air above him.

"Trip her up!" Tokoyami commanded Dark Shadow, who swept toward Tsu's legs. Looking for a ball to use to take Tsu out when she fell, Tokoyami saw it - four canisters soaring toward him, sparking warningly - grenades.

"Never mind!" Tokoyami and Dark Shadow both dove for cover, moving serpentine to avoid Tsu's tongue, and the ball at the end of it, as they did. The grenade exploded behind them, a blinding flash that would have grievously injured Dark Shadow if they'd taken the brunt of it. Tokoyami hopped up, Dark Shadow tossing a ball into his hands, and looked back to Yaoyorozu and Tsu. If his Quirk weren't a constant companion, Tokoyami couldn't stand a chance on his own against them. As it was - Tokoyami dove again as Tsu flung her tongue, and the attached ball, at him.

"Iida!" Tokoyami shouted, desperate. As Tokoyami reached his feet again, Yaoyorozu snapped her hand around, dragging a ball along with her movements. Tokoyami hopped back, now used to the uneven footing, but not the trajectory as the ball jerked in mid-air to swing at him from a new angle.

As he stumbled back, Tokoyami saw a flash of light in the air between Yaoyorozu and him, and understood. She'd made an elastic band, like Tsu's tongue, to double their effectiveness. There was a flaw in that, though. With the right motivation, Dark Shadow could cut through steel, and Yaoyorozu's thread wasn't a part of her body.

Dark Shadow circled around the twin attacks, aiming for Yaoyorozu's thread, at least until someone landed on the ground next to Yaoyorozu. Yaoyorozu yelped as she flew away from the impact site, rising at a slow but steady angle.

Uraraka! Tokoyami redirected Dark Shadow to scoop up a ball and try to take out the concentrating girl. But someone dropped out of the air in front of her, Midoriya, arms wreathed in flames. He pitched one ball at the floating Yaoyorozu and dropped his gaze back down to Tokoyami.

"Midoriya Izuku removes Yaoyorozu Momo from the game! There's less than two minutes left in this round, so it's your last chance to shine!"

A laser blast forced Tokoyami, Midoriya, Uraraka, and Tsu to break apart in different directions. Midoriya's and Uraraka's teammate roared past on her rocket boots, grabbing Uraraka to soar out of reach while Midoriya circled back around toward Tokoyami.

Tsu's tongue whipped around toward the laser's source, and a moment later, Present Mic called out, "Asui Tsuyu takes down Aoyama Yuga at the ninety second mark!"

Tsu landed lightly, whipping her tongue toward Ojiro; he flipped nimbly out of the way of one swipe, then a second.

Tokoyami spared little more attention to them, though, as he backed away from Midoriya, whose flames had spread across his shoulders and back. It was strange, Tokoyami mused, that Midoriya was still aflame. Fire alone wasn't particularly useful in this contest, and Midoriya wasn't the type to use it to intimidate people. And that meant...there was some aspect of Midoriya's flame that benefited him that others didn't know about. Unless, of course, Midoriya knew about Dark Shadow's weakness.

At the noise of an explosion from above, Tokoyami leapt back; Midoriya did the same, just before a ball rocketed into the ground. Unlike Bakugo's meteor attack, this was aimed, precise, and would have hit at least one of them if they hadn't had that moment's warning.

"Don't run away from me, Deku!"

Leaving Midoriya and Bakugo to fight each other, Tokoyami turned his gaze up; Uraraka and the Support girl were contributing heavily to their team's mobility. And that meant-

"Ojiro Mashirao is down, at the hands of Asui Tsuyu!"

The Support girl's backpack stuck out a rod that propelled her away from a ball - automatic avoidance, Tokoyami guessed, but not infallible. It would sense how projectiles moved, or how people moved, but someone like Dark Shadow could move in ways physical beings couldn't. He charged at her from behind, and when her backpack shoved her away, dodged in from above, tapping her on the top of the head.

"Oh, amazing! Hastume Mei's Support equipment is foiled by Tokoyami Fumikage! And Todoroki Shouto takes out Sero Hanta!"

Another string of explosions heralded a rain of balls that sent Tokoyami and the nearest students fleeing; this one, however, ended with the call of, "and Bakugo Katsuki gets Asui Tsuyu in the last minute of the round! Forty-five seconds and eight students remaining - this is so exciting!"

Dark Shadow yelled a warning, allowing Tokoyami to dodge as Midoriya, ball held in one hand, arms and back coated in flame, stumbled through where Tokoyami had been standing.

"Good try, Midoriya, but you'll have to do better than that."

"I know," Midoriya said. "I'm sorry, Tokoyami."

"Sorry? For what?"

Between one moment and the next, Midoriya's whole body was sheathed in fire, a blazing silhouette that forced Dark Shadow to recoil. And this close, without Dark Shadow to protect him, Tokoyami had no chance.

"Tokoyami Fumikage is out of the match, taken out by Midoriya Izuku!"

Tokoyami's leg would bruise from the impact, he was sure, but he barely had taken a moment to consider when Present Mic shouted out again. "Uraraka Ochaco gets the drop on Iida Tenya!" And there she was, hands empty, Iida rubbing his head at ground level where she must have dropped a ball on his head.

"Ha, get out of my airspace, Floaty!" Bakugo leapt at the floating Uraraka, punching another ball at her. Midoriya was running at her, but too far away to protect her, and without Hatsume or Midoriya to help her, she lacked the maneuverability to avoid the attack.

"Bakugo Katsuki takes out Uraraka Ochaco!"

An ice path rose from the ground, carrying Todoroki toward where Bakugo was falling from his apex.

"Uraraka!" Midoriya called. He grabbed a ball, aimed for Bakugo, and-

"Hagakure Toru makes a sneak attack to take out Midoriya Izuku!"

Tokoyami felt a thrill of excitement; of course Hagakure had been waiting for a chance to execute a sneak attack, and now that he remembered she was here, saw her gloves moving toward Bakugo and Todoroki, where Todoroki was skating in irregular circles to avoid Bakugo's rapid explosions, attempts to knock Todoroki off balance enough to take him out. Hagakure's team hadn't scored great, but taking out another thousand-point target might carry her into the final round.

She had just seconds, though - Tokoyami wasn't certain who he'd aim for, as Bakugo was nearly as maneuverable in the air as Todoroki was on his ice. But she'd either thought this through, or was quicker at decisions than Tokoyami, as she hurled the ball at Bakugo.

He twisted mid-air, blasting it away with an explosion, and in that moment, the last seconds of the match, Todoroki threw a ball at Bakugo, just ahead of him, so Bakugo ran into it.

"And that's time! In the very last moment, Todoroki Shouto takes out Bakugo Katsuki!"

"What? No! There's no way Icy Hot took me out!"

He had, and by taking out Bakugo, earned the most points in the second round. The other two students who'd lasted the whole round - Hagakure and Kaibara Sen from 1-B, didn't place, their teams' lack of points from taking out other students keeping them from ranking. Hagakure was close - if she'd taken out Bakugo or Todoroki, she, Jiro, Sato, and Koda would have moved on; instead, Kirishima's and Ashido's aggressive strategy just barely got them and Kaminari a place in the finals.

After Todoroki and Bakugo came Midoriya's, Hatsume's, and Uraraka's team; and then Tokoyami and Iida. Tsu and Yaoyorozu trailed after that. Shinsou, Ojiro, Aoyama, and Sero came next; their defensive strategy had served them well by earning them a high average time.

But blissfully, thankfully, they were given a break before the next round started, time Tokoyami spent sprawled on the floor in the darkest corner of the ready rooms. If he was going to beat anyone in the combat round, he'd need all the strength he could get.


Aizawa eyed Nezu warily. Nezu knew Aizawa worked best when he had a routine, when a day was laid out well enough that he could time his available time to sleep to the second. So the unexpected summons to Nezu's office was something important. Something urgent.

Nezu leaned forward, chin perched on his hands. "So tell me, Shouta, what do you think of Class 1-A?"

Aizawa gave the room a careful examination. There was no sign of bugs or cameras, and nothing in Nezu's posture seemed unusual. Still, he might have been replaced by a keen actor with some sort of disguise Quirk.

"You have my reports, Nezu, sir."

"Oh yes, I know all about their capabilities and potential and those sorts of things, but I want your thoughts, Shouta. Your feelings. Our students' skills, you know, are only part of the equation that might make them good heroes."

It didn't sound suspicious, and it was in-character. He supposed it was plausible to think Nezu sprang this meeting on Aizawa to get his feelings, unfiltered and honest.

...He hated that sort of thing.

"They're enthusiastic, but first-years usually are. The Sports Festival, of course, has them excited."

"But not many first-year classes face villains so early in their career," Nezu offered. "You are the best-suited to evaluate their attitudes, their reactions."

Aizawa still wasn't certain what Nezu wanted, but had something of an idea of it. Remembering what he had seen of his students first-hand, and what had been captured on the USJ cameras, he probably had enough observations to offer his opinions.

"Unsurprisingly, they jumped at the opportunity to fight villains - even when faced with a real villain, I would expect novice heroes to believe themselves capable of handling themselves. I was most impressed, though, how they banded together to support each other when they discovered the true situation."

"They did indeed support each other - and you." Aizawa nodded to concede the point. "But that isn't quite what I wanted to know." Nezu hopped onto the top of his desk and began to pace the edge of it. "Midoriya Izuku. You are aware he believed himself to be Quirkless for most of his childhood, correct?"

"Until he and Bakugo encountered that sludge villain," Aizawa replied.

"Yes. Midoriya disclosed his apparent Quirklessness to All Might, who later witnessed Midoriya's flame resistance and pyrokinesis. He concluded that Midoriya's Quirk is not one that might manifest in a household that practiced good fire safety."

Aizawa frowned, feeling a touch of - concern, he supposed - at his thought of where this conversation was going. "Midoriya is passionate about his dream of becoming a hero."

"So it is quite convenient his Quirk appeared just early enough he could attend U.A., you agree."

"...Yes. The means of achieving a lifelong dream, I would say."

Nezu turned to look out his window, allowing silence to settle between them. "What do you think Midoriya would do to achieve that dream?"

"Would he pledge allegiance to All for One, is what you mean?"

"It's a question worth asking. Following the tip All Might received about All for One, we've discovered evidence - nothing conclusive, yet, but certainly suggestive - that All for One is still at large."

"Well, I think the answer is clear," Aizawa replied.

"Oh?" Nezu turned his head just enough to look at Aizawa.

"I have seen enough of Midoriya's character to say with confidence that he would not make such a trade. I even suspect-" Aizawa shook his head, cutting himself off.

"Do elaborate, please."

"I would speculate that, even knowing All Might told him it was impossible, Midoriya would have pursued his dream even without a Quirk. To be told there were conditions to that dream, that obligated him to someone else - to a stranger - I don't think he would have accepted it."

Nezu's face shifted to a smile, a wide one. "That's good to hear. This has been weighing on my mind, and to hear you and All Might offer the same opinion suggests you are more likely than not to be right."

Aizawa wasn't naive enough to presume Nezu had dropped the issue; he wasn't naive enough to drop it himself. But the mystery of Midoriya's Quirk, the possibility he might be one of All for One's cat's-paws, receded to the back of Aizawa's mind.

It only occurred to him when it was much too late that he and Nezu had asked the wrong question - and that the right question had an equally obvious answer.

The correct question, after all, wasn't 'what would Midoriya do to achieve his dream of becoming a hero?'

It was, 'what would Midoriya do to save someone's life?'

Chapter Text

Midoriya winced as Ashido punched Aoyama. He'd known, had seen, how maneuverable she was in the dodgeball battle, but one-on-one, it was something else. It had made quick work of Aoyama, even with him doing his best to catch her in the blast. Along with the battle between Tokoyami and Yaoyorozu, it was competing for second-shortest battle of the first round (Todoroki freezing Sero in place with one gesture was the fastest by far). Tokoyami and Yaoyorozu had just been a poor match-up, although he had a few ideas he might have explored if he'd had Yaoyorozu's power (even without figuring Dark Shadow was vulnerable to light). Todoroki - he wasn't bound to have much trouble except with Bakugo, who he wouldn't fight until the finals, presuming they both got there.

"And here's Kaminari Denki, electric powerhouse, going against Shinsou Hitoshi!" Midoriya perked up at Midnight's call, looking down at the field, where Shinsou was shaking Kaminari's hand, saying something. Kaminari smiled and said something in reply-

Oh no, he thought. Kaminari wasn't that stupid, was he? Except he'd used one of his big blasts in the dodgeball round, and those always left him a little slow the rest of the day.

"Begin!" Midnight called.

"Please, walk out of the circle," Shinsou said. He was calm, smiling gently, arms folded in front of him - like he didn't have a care in the world. Because if Kaminari had answered a question (and Shinsou had been practicing, could make anything into a question), the match was over.

Kaminari nodded and turned, walking placidly to the edge of the ring and stepping out.

"O...kay?" Midnight said. "It looks like Kaminari has forfeited by leaving the ring!"

Kaminari was looking around, shoulders slumping in defeat when Shinsou stepped out of the ring after him, clapping a hand on his back. Midoriya watched for a moment, just to make sure - but most of their classmates weren't Bakugo, Kaminari the least of all. They knew Shinsou wouldn't use his Quirk outside of training, or a life-and-death situation, and that took away the fear other, less charitable people might have had of it, and him. Being off-guard enough to be caught by it when you were fighting him was - well, a little embarrassing.

But Midoriya had bigger things to worry about.

Well, smaller. But faster, and with a prehensile tongue and toxic mucus.

Rather than watch Iida's fight against Hatsume (she was talking to Iida near the entrance to the lockers, down on the ground level, which was probably a bad sign), Midoriya climbed down the stands and to the halls down to the waiting rooms - little more than a table, bench, and a water cooler. He sat at the table and just breathed, trying to focus. He was pretty certain he had an advantage against Tsu; she had to touch him to affect him, and thus would be hindered by his fire. But she knew that, too, and wasn't stupid. He had one or two ideas, but Tsu knew her own power better than Midoriya did.

Midoriya was going to have to be ready for anything.

A high chime broke through the silence of the room. Midoriya took one last steadying breath and stood.

It was cool outside, bright, the crowd's excitement audible as a low roar, like surf. The field was clear, and the screens hanging under the announcers' booth listed Iida as the winner - even though Hastume was unruffled by the exit, and Iida was scuffed and bruised.

Tsu was standing across the field, and when she saw Midoriya, she gave him an enthusiastic wave. He waved in response before stepping up himself. He heard Present Mic coaxing Aizawa-sensei into some comment, but let the words fade into the background. Midoriya was here to fight, and he needed all his focus for that.

"Alright, kids, onto the field!" Midnight commanded.

Midoriya stepped forward, seeing Tsu doing the same.

"I want a clean fight," Midnight said. "As entertaining as Miss Hatsume's product demonstration was, it was...underhanded, leaving me a little hot under the collar." Midoriya didn't ask, just filed the question of just what had happened in Iida's fight to the side. He had to fight Tsu right now.

"Ready, go!"

Tsu sprang forward, tongue lashing out toward Midoriya's hands, obviously intending to catch them (or render them wet enough that he couldn't snap a flame with them) before Midoriya could act. Luckily, Midoriya had another card up his sleeve.

Well, on his belt.

Midoriya dropped one hand to his belt buckle, and raised the other between him and Tsu. Her tongue snared his hand and forearm, but at Midoriya's touch, the buckle sparked and flamed, the wire woven along the center of Midoriya's belt catching fire, as well.

Tsu's eyes widened as she landed, but braced herself and snapped her tongue around. If her tongue had been around Midoriya's torso, he'd have been doomed. As it was, she yanked his arm out, and with the strength of the pull, Midoriya could go where she was pulling him or keep his arm - not both.

Tsu dragged Midoriya toward the edge of the ring; his feet barely touched the ground as he followed, bouncing as she attempted to throw him out of bounds.

But Midoriya had fire nearby, and had spent the last month training hard to improve what he could do with it. Bringing his free hand up from his belt brought a trail of fire, so when he grabbed Tsu's tongue, the flame caught her tongue before spreading along the rest of his forearm.

"Ow!" Her tongue (barely burned) retracted in one movement; Midoriya took the chance to shake both his hands, the motion causing the flames on each hand to trail out, respond to his focus to twist around both his arms, and settle in a sheath of flames.

"Sorry, Tsu," Midoriya said.

"It's alright," Tsu replied. "I might've hoped, but I didn't expect this to be easy." She leapt back into motion, left, right, straight, right again. Midoriya fell back, moving on light, steady feet, because he had to be ready when she-

Did that!

Tsu was close enough that she was just a hop away, crouching, tensing, before launching herself toward Midoriya. Midoriya's guard had kept his attention, so he hadn't done more than maintain the flames on his arms, but as a consequence, he was paying enough attention to dodge to the side when Tsu jumped at him.

And she'd somehow made her jump look more forceful than it actually was, because she dropped just out of reach of where Midoriya had been standing, twisted toward where Midoriya was standing now, and kicked off toward him, twisting her elbows around to jam into his stomach before he could react. He fell back, breathless, and the distraction lost him his focus; Midoriya's fire went out as he skidded across the ground. Tsu closed fast with a powerful hop, but Midoriya still had the flame along his waist (if he won, he was telling everyone it was all thanks to Hatsume).

So he swiped his hands along the fire, shook them once to spread the flame, and grabbed Tsu's arm as she fell toward him. He could smell her uniform scorching as he rolled to toss her toward the edge of the field, but her tongue snapped around his leg, drawing her back in before she could fly out of bounds. Midoriya stuck one flaming hand out to keep her from punching him in the stomach again and ran the other along his free leg. Tsu yelped and landed, retracting her tongue, giving Midoriya the chance to sheathe his other leg while dragging his other hand along his torso. As Midoriya stood, Tsu hopped back, eyes darting across as she looked for a weak point. All that was left was Midoriya's head, and he took care of that with a swipe of his hand from the back of his neck to his forehead, and then.

Midoriya was sheathed in flame, the pain of Tsu's blows fading in the warmth of the fire covering him. His heart was still beating quickly, though, and Midoriya grinned at Tsu. He felt - vibrant, refreshed (he wondered about that, still - other Quirks tired their users out, but wreathed in flame, Midoriya felt invincible, indefatigable).

And there were still weaknesses, here. If Tsu were willing to get burned, she could damage the fuse on his belt, disrupt his concentration, throw Midoriya out of the ring before he could catch his breath.

He charged at Tsu, and she hopped to the left; Midoriya slammed a foot down to twist in place, throwing himself after her. She sprang further this time, nearly to the edge of the field, forcing Midoriya to follow. It took only another exchange before Midoriya understood - Tsu was keeping him at a distance. Midoriya could only fight at close range, but Tsu could handle anything within a close to medium range. She could wait for him to get tired, distracted, and strike. And her Quirk didn't put undue strain on her body; she could wait a while.

Tsu landed at the short end of the field, nearest the entrance to the lockers, and Midoriya stopped ten feet away. They held there for a moment, watching each other.

"And the contestants are staring each other down! Is this a stalemate, or the prelude to a master stroke?" Present Mic's voice filtered through Midoriya's focus, and he took a deep, steadying breath. A master stroke? Not quite. But he had an idea.

It was a risk - if it failed, it'd leave Midoriya wide open. But throwing himself at the sludge villain had been a risk. And Midoriya had been testing this for weeks - he hadn't yet succeeded, but nothing had been on the line, before.

His mother could draw objects toward her, so Midoriya could draw flame toward himself. His father, though-

Midoriya threw his hands out toward Tsu and exhaled, using his steady stance and the same will that let him grow flamed along his whole body from a spark to push the fire at Tsu.

Twin lines of flame streamed from Midoriya's hands, the fire along his body thrown at Tsu in one moment. Startled and pinned, Tsu leapt back away from the fire and out of the ring.

"Asui Tsuyu has left the ring, and forfeited the match!" Midnight called.

Midoriya put his hands on his knees and tried to steady his breathing; he felt winded, something in his chest tight and - strained. But he'd won - surprised Tsu and everyone who thought they knew exactly what his Quirk did.

"Hey, Midoriya-chan. Good job."

Midoriya looked up; Tsu was standing just within reach, hand out. He shook her hand and stood. "You, too, Tsu. You nearly got me a couple of times."

She bobbed her head. "It's nice of you to say so, but I-"

"No, really!" Midnight was waving them off the field, so Midoriya tugged Tsu in the direction of the lockers before letting go of her hand. "I didn't even know if that last trick would work! Just because I can 'pull' fire doesn't mean I can 'push' it - and I hadn't really gotten it to work before. And I think I might have sprained something doing it, so maybe I shouldn't do it again-"

"Well, that's something to take up with Aizawa-sensei - or All Might-sensei," Tsu allowed, breaking through Midoriya's musing. "Still," she continued, "it was a good move. And a good fight."

"Yeah," Midoriya agreed. He turned to head back up to the stands, only to be stopped short by a hand around his wrist. He looked back at Tsu, who was frowning at him (gently, but from Tsu, even a gentle frown could feel like a slap).

"You should check in with Recovery Girl," Tsu said.

"I'm fine!" Midoriya protested. "And I want to see Ojiro and Kiri-"

"You can watch it later," Tsu retorted. "Your mom's taping it for you, I assume."

"Ah." Midoriya felt a flush crawl up his neck. "Just so I can study my performance-"

"You don't have to pretend, Midoriya-chan. It's - really impressive how much you know about people's Quirks and fighting styles. We're lucky you want to be a hero - I can't imagine having to fight someone who thinks about this stuff as much as you for real."

Midoriya sniffed, feeling the prickle of tears at his eyes. It was still so weird to have people who, even if they laughed at his tendency to babble out his whole train of thought, didn't think he was weird for studying heroes. Impressive - studious - admirable - they called it.

"Come on," Tsu muttered, tugging Midoriya along, "once Recovery Girl checks you out, you can go back and watch the fights."

"Oh!" Midoriya struggled, but Tsu was relentless, dragging him along after her. "I wanted to talk to Uraraka about her fight-"

"No," Tsu said, firm. "You need to worry about yourself, first. And…" She was quiet for a few steps. "Maybe you should let Uraraka-chan fight her battle without help."

"But Kacchan-"

"Let her worry about Kacchan," Tsu said. "You...won't always be around to help people - even your friends. Besides, Uraraka-chan is smart. She knows the fight will be hard. I bet she's got a plan."

Midoriya hoped so. He barely listened as Recovery Girl pronounced him more or less healthy, providing him with a gummy and warning him against using his Quirk to push again until he figured out how much strain it caused. Sitting back in the stands, watching highlights from Ojiro's and Kirishima's fight (Ojiro, having the stamina to out-last Kirishima's Quirk, had won just before Midoriya had arrived), he worried. Kacchan could be brutal; if Uraraka didn't have a plan, the fight would be over quick, and he wasn't certain how she'd handle that.

"Here's the runner-up from Rounds 1 and 2, the kid with the explosive Quirk, and more explosive temper, Bakugo Katsuki! And the airborne menace from Round 2, Uraraka Ochaco!"

Midoriya's hands clenched in his lap as Kacchan stormed to his stop at one end of the field, and Uraraka did more slowly. She - was standing straight up, not afraid, and Midoriya felt a moment of hope. He knew what he'd do if he had her Quirk.

"Go!" called Midnight, and Uraraka ran toward Kacchan, low to the ground, hands nearly dragging across the floor of the field.

Kacchan responded with a blast from his hands. "You're not going to touch me, you fucking nerd!" he screamed. Uraraka rolled back, smoke rising from her body, and darted back in at a different angle. "Seriously, are you stupid enough to think you're gonna sneak up on me?" Kacchan growled, snapping off another explosion at Uraraka, who skidded back, shifted, and charged in again. "God, you're dumber than Deku!" he snarled, knocking Uraraka back with a punch of his Quirk. Uraraka landed, paused, breathing heavily, eyes fixed on Kacchan, and then darted in again, sweeping her arms in low, just trying to touch him - if she could touch him, he'd be at the mercy of her Quirk.

Uraraka stumbled back from the force of Kacchan's explosion - he was getting frustrated, Midoriya thought. "You're not going to fucking touch me, you nerd!" Kacchan shouted.

Frustrated...or scared. There were Quirks you could resist or avoid, and those you couldn't. If Uraraka caught Kacchan, no amount of struggling would free him. It would be like the sludge villain all over again.

The crowd was murmuring uneasily; Midoriya could see frowns, scowls on the faces of some people near him. And he could understand it, if they didn't know Kacchan, if they didn't know Uraraka. However much he raged at Uraraka, Kacchan knew she wasn't stupid. If she kept throwing herself at him, she had a plan - one he couldn't afford to discount. Uraraka fell back from Kacchan, wiping at her forehead, swaying in place, and launched in again. He blasted her back with a furious shout, and this time, watching closely, Midoriya saw it.

Uraraka wasn't burned - not indiscriminately, as if she'd been throwing herself headlong at Kacchan. Her arms were burned - the only part of her that'd been close enough to Kacchan to be caught in the explosions.

"Just give up, you nerd!" Kacchan shouted. "You aren't going to beat me! You're half-dead already, and you haven't even used your shitty Quirk!"

Her Quirk? Midoriya's gaze slid, without his conscious thought, up, where the debris from the half dozen or so explosions hovered over the field, held weightless within a cloud of cement dust.

"Release!" Uraraka rushed Kacchan as the rocks began to fall, an incipient avalanche that could crush him, or distract him from Uraraka's rush.

"You fucking-" Kacchan put both hands together, sparks dancing along his palms before curling into the sinking cloud of dust-

Uraraka dropped flat, hands pressed over her head.

With his experience watching Kacchan, Midoriya knew it would have been a massive explosion on its own.

Amplified by the cloud of dust igniting, exploding, at the same time-

Midoriya threw his hands up too late to block the flash; everything went white, and the stadium shook as a concussive blast struck the audience. Kacchan had knocked Midoriya out once when they were younger, and the explosion from the field brought back that moment, when he'd wondered if his skull would burst from the pressure, the roar deafening him to any other sound, so that in the moment after the explosion, he couldn't say if the sound had stopped or not. Midoriya's chest was tight, like when he'd pushed with his Quirk. Or - Kacchan would pin Midoriya down, to make sure he stayed down, after a demonstration of Kacchan's Quirk (to make sure Midoriya had been defeated). And oh god, everything was dull and quiet - Midoriya began to breathe quick and shallow, the sound loud and empty, the same way it had been in the space between breaths in which he'd met Harai-san.

"Midoriya!"

Midoriya twisted around, hand striking out, and something caught him - something cool, such a contrast from anything Midoriya had experienced with Kacchan that it shocked him back to himself, to the present.

Todoroki was bent over Midoriya, holding Midoriya's hand in his right, grey and turquoise eyes both wide, gaze fixed on Midoriya's face, frowning...oddly, somehow.

"Midoriya-kun?" His voice was muted, but it was a friendly voice (not cold, anymore, even if he could be uncertain, wary).

"Todoroki-kun?"

"I'm taking you to see Recovery Girl," Todoroki said.

"You're up next," Tsu chirped up from a few seats away. "You're fighting Iida-chan."

"I don't-" Todoroki started, before snapping his mouth shut, jaw twitching.

"I'll take him," Tsu said, gently. "I already had to bring Midoriya-chan to see her after our fight; I won't let him weasel out of it."

"Oh." Todoroki's jaw loosened and his shoulders eased. He gave Tsu a curt nod. "That would be...good. Thank you."

"Don't I get a say in this?" Midoriya demanded.

"No," Tsu and Todoroki snapped in unison. Tsu pulled Midoriya up by his free hand, tugging him out of his seat; she paused, turned, and gave Todoroki a quick salute. "I'll be sure to take care of him."

"Thank you," Todoroki said, following them back until they reached the steps that would take Todoroki down to the field. He stopped, pulling Midoriya and Tsu to a stop because he hadn't let go of Midoriya's hand. "I hope nothing's wrong," Todoroki murmured. Quiet, gentle, and Midoriya felt his eyes tearing up.

"Good luck, Todoroki-kun," Midoriya said.

"I - thank you." Todoroki let go of Midoriya's hand and stepped away. "I won't go easy on you, Midoriya-kun, when we face each other."

"I won't go easy on you, either!"

"Come on, Midoriya-chan, you have to see Recovery Girl," Tsu grumbled, shoving Midoriya down along the hallway. "Good luck, Torodoki-chan!"

Todoroki was gone only a moment before Tsu nudged Midoriya. "I didn't realize you and Todoroki-chan were so close," she said.

"W - what do you mean?"

"He ran over as soon as Bakugo set off that giant explosion."

"W - well. We...understand each other." It was probably a lie, but it was the closest thing to an explanation Midoriya could come up with, at least without bringing up his suspicions about why Todoroki got jumpy around fire.

"Well, I'm glad. You can both use someone who understands you." Tsu knocked and pushed open the door to the infirmary. "Hi!" She pulled Midoriya in after her.

"What's wrong?" Recovery Girl demanded. "You aren't even scheduled for another fight for-"

"Todoroki-chan thinks he hit his head or something when Bakugo blew up the stadium."

"Ah." Recovery Girl slipped out of her chair and ambled close; she tugged Midoriya's head down, turning it carefully as she peered into his eyes. "He doesn't seem to have a concussion, but take a seat."

Midoriya nodded, but in that motion caught sight of Uraraka sitting on one of the cots, head down, and he realized he hadn't seen the end of her fight.

He nudged Tsu. "Tsu, how did-" He pointed at Uraraka.

"Oh." She tapped at her mouth. "It was really impressive. She avoided most of the explosion, and got Bakugo when he was stunned from the backlash. Once he was weightless-"

"It's alright, Tsu-chan." Uraraka looked over at them. She was smiling. "I didn't really expect to win." She didn't sound sad - but she didn't sound happy, either, smile or no. "If he'd been stunned longer, maybe, but - he might as well have jets on his hands."

At that, it clicked into place. Kacchan could maneuver in mid-air with explosions. Being weightless just meant there was one less force to worry about. Even scorched and bruised, reeling from the explosion, he'd be dangerous like that.

"But I did my best!" Uraraka continued.

"You didn't make it easy for him, either," Tsu allowed. "Everyone's really impressed."

"Ha. That's - good," Uraraka concluded. There was a chirp from her lap; she lifted her phone, and her smile - wavered. "I've got to take this. Good luck, Midoriya-kun." She hurried from the infirmary.

Tsu watched after her a moment before shaking her head. "It's gotta be rough," she said.

"What?"

"She wanted to win," Tsu replied.

"But she said-"

"Do you think you can beat Bakugo?" Tsu asked.

Midoriya paused, and considered that for a minute. Kacchan was strong, smart, inventive. He'd kept some of the limits of his Quirk in reserve, and wouldn't be tricked into knocking himself senseless again. Todoroki was the only person in the tournament who could match Kacchan's power, but Midoriya had some ideas - among them using the threat of another explosion like that to herd Kacchan. Kacchan wasn't fireproof, even if he was adept at ignoring pain.

"I don't know," Midoriya concluded.

"But you want to."

"Of course!"

"Well, there you are," Tsu replied.

It was a worrying thought; Uraraka had smiled, but she was upset, and Midoriya didn't know what to do about it. Recovery Girl eventually pronounced Midoriya perfectly healthy, so they were able to get back to their seats just as Ojiro and Shinsou took to the field (Iida, it seemed, had lasted longer than Sero by virtue of his speed, but Todoroki had caught his engines before Iida could throw him out of bounds. Midoriya felt a pang at having missed seeing that live, but felt a different sort of pang remembering Todoroki's pinched expression when he'd insisted Midoriya go see Recovery Girl).

"You don't think he'll get caught by Shinsou-chan's Quirk like Kaminari-chan was, do you?" Tsu asked as they took their seats.

"I doubt it," Yaoyorozu replied from the row ahead of them. "Ojiro-san is disciplined; he won't be easily tricked."

On the ground, Ojiro was slapping his tail against the ground, a steady beat Midoriya wouldn't be surprised if he was using it to psych himself up. "Are you ready?" Shinsou shouted, and Ojiro just gave the other boy a feral smile. No, Ojiro wasn't going to make it easy on Shinsou.

But Shinsou hadn't been doing nothing but brainwashing people for the last month; he wasn't going to make it easy on Ojiro, either.

"Go!" Midnight called, and Ojiro was off with his particular leap (more easily controlled than Tsu's, albeit with less power behind it, and if you got ahold of his tail…).

"Quiet, Midoriya-chan, I'm trying to pay attention," Tsu grumbled.

"Going right for the kill, are you?" Shinsou asked. "Are you that brutal all the time?" He sidestepped Ojiro's first attack, a falling swing of his tail, and ducked inside the punch that followed. Ojiro snapped his tail around, but Shinsou was moving away from the swing, getting in a quick punch to Ojiro's sternum before he stepped quickly out of reach. He'd told Midoriya he was taking lessons outside of class, and there was a careful form to Shinsou's movements - a cautiousness to his steps that suggested he was paying close attention to his balance. He hopped over a horizontal swing of Ojiro's tail, only to get tripped up as Ojiro stepped in and shoved his chest. Ojiro pivoted to slam his tail into his prone opponent, but Shinsou shunted the blow aside with an arm held up, angled, and rolled in the opposite direction.

"Did you think you'd get me that easily?" Shinsou demanded, receiving only silence in reply. Midoriya felt a flicker of - pride, he guessed, even though he had no responsibility for Shinsou, no reason to feel that Shinsou's victory was his. But Shinsou was pressing his opponent, both by talking, constantly, trying to draw out a response he could use to activate his Quirk, and fighting, not giving any quarter (that, at least, Midoriya could feel proud of. He'd helped Shinsou spar, bringing some real experience to complement Shinsou's outside classes).

Shinsou swept low, and Ojiro hopped up, easily balanced on his tail, and drew one of his legs up for a kick. Shinsou, though, was already twisting, letting the leg pass him by and grabbing it. He yanked and shoved high at the same time, sending Ojiro turning, tumbling to the ground as Shinsou pursued him.

"Can't you do any better?"

Ojiro stopped his movement with a tap of his tail, and then shot himself back up to his feet with a hard slap. He deflected two quick punches from Shinsou before slamming his fist in for a strike to Shinsou's sternum, payback for the first hit, Midoriya guessed. Ojiro snapped his arm up, giving Shinsou another glancing blow to his chest with Ojiro's elbow, though his hand missed Shinsou's chin and nose as Shinsou shifted back.

And slammed his forehead into Ojiro's chin. Ojiro spat blood as he took a dazed step back, probably having bitten his tongue.

"I didn't get you too badly, did I?" Shinsou asked, voice softer, concerned. And that...might have gotten Midoriya - he knew Shinsou cared, worried about how people saw him, and so Midoriya might have thought Shinsou's concern was genuine (that was mean - Shinsou did worry, Midoriya was sure; he wanted to win, though).

Shinsou swiped at Ojiro, two quick sideways strikes that were almost grabs. Ojiro leaned away from the second, and actually kicked back to avoid the third.

"Do you think my Quirk works if I touch you?" Shinsou asked. "If it did, you'd already be under, right? I got the first hit in, remember?" He rushed Ojiro, side-stepping his tail to get in close, two wide swings that Ojiro evaded again, taking one, two steps back-

"Ojiro is out of bounds! Shinsou Hitoshi is the winner!"

It was quiet for a moment, the people higher in the stands craning about for a better look before the screens flashed up to show Ojiro's feet just over the line. And then the crowd was applauding, enthusiastic. Midoriya clapped louder, and offered a cheer for good measure; the crowd was clapping for the good show, but Midoriya knew how well Shinsou had done. Knowing the limitations of his Quirk, he hadn't relied on it. But he'd used it - the threat of it - to keep Ojiro off balance. He'd used his surprising skill in hand-to-hand combat to knock him off balance further. And with Ojiro focusing on those two threats, he'd forgotten about the third - his positioning. It wasn't as exciting as a knock-out, of course, but if you were fighting in a dangerous area and were able to force a villain into a hazard you'd made them forget about - it could be as good as a knock-out.

Shinsou might have once despaired of ever becoming a hero, but he'd done his homework. The Sports Festival was a time to show off your talents, and Shinsou was making sure any Hero Agency watching knew those talents weren't limited to just his Quirk.

Midnight called for the next round - Kacchan versus Tokoyami - and Midoriya groaned. He wanted to watch it, but he was on deck. He waved to Tsu and Yaoyorozu and hurried down from the stands. Once in the silence of the halls, he stopped, and took a deep breath. Ashido wasn't going to be an easy fight - her maneuverability and long-range attacks put Midoriya at a disadvantage.

Still.

It wasn't like he didn't have any ideas.

But his stomach was still fluttering as he stepped outside and found Ashido already waiting, hopping on the balls of her feet. She waved at Midoriya, smile bright (she was having the time of her life, Midoriya knew).

"Are you ready to go down, Midoriya?"

He shook his head. "I'm not ready to be out of the festival yet." But he smiled at Ashido; she deserved that much. "But I expect you're going to do your best to beat me."

"Naturally!"

"Alright, let's save the youthful banter for the actual fight," Midnight interrupted. "Ready? Go!"

Ashido was off immediately, skating toward Midoriya on her acid. She was faster than Midoriya, and with the low-friction acid she could secrete from her feet, much more maneuverable. But there were - limits. Tells, for one. If it were less bright out, Midoriya could watch Ashido's eyes to predict the direction of her movements, but bright light made her eyes look solid black. But that was alright. Ashido couldn't change direction without a point of solid contact with the ground, free of her acid. So when she dropped an acid-free foot to the ground, it told Midoriya where she was going.

It was difficult to keep an eye on her feet and not look like that's where Midoriya was looking, but it was important to keep Ashido from realizing how he could react to her movements.

Midoriya used the few seconds it took Ashido to build up speed to rub his gloves together, get up enough of a spark to coat his hands in flames.

"I don't know how that's going to help," Ashido shouted from several meters away. She flung a handful of acid at Midoriya, forcing him to duck, and then another that, if he hadn't been watching Ashido's footwork to pinpoint her movements, would have caught Midoriya full in the face (they'd all gotten some on their skin at one time or another; it wasn't pleasant). "If you could throw around fire all the time, I'd have seen it before."

Ashido kicked off from the ground, soaring a few moments before she landed, acid on both feet sending her rocketing forward. She was coming in close - closer than she should have, knowing Midoriya's Quirk. One foot rose as Ashido twisted sideways, and Midoriya scrambled back. Ashido's foot slammed into the ground, bringing her to a skidding halt that sent the acid pooled under her feet splashing at Midoriya. It caught his legs and waist, the chemical burn as it ate through his clothes a distracting sting.

"My baby!" Hatsume howled from the audience.

Ashido tripped over her own feet, somersaulting to fall flat, spread-eagled, on the ground. "What," she said flatly. Unwilling to let the advantage of Ashido's momentary confusion pass him by, Midoriya charged at her, hand dropping to his waist-

Where the switch, and the wires, of his belt were a smoking, melted mess (Hatsume's scream made sense, now; she'd disturbingly called several of her devices 'babies', both when Midoriya first met her and when they were planning for the dodgeball round).

As much of a blow as it was, it didn't leave Midoriya defenseless. He stopped next to Ashido and punched down-

She grabbed his fist in one hand, wincing as the flame licked at her skin, but grinning as her acid dissolved the glove covering Midoriya's fist. In Midoriya's shock, she flailed toward his other hand with her free one, acid splattering across his glove, not destroying it entirely, but fusing the surface into something without the friction necessary to create a spark. Midoriya stumbled back as Ashido skated after him. He still had fire on one hand, enough it would hurt Ashido to touch him (but what did that matter? once his fire was gone, she could pick him off at a distance).

A rapid-fire string of acid blasts forced Midoriya into a serpentine run to avoid getting hit again, taking care not to step out of bounds. He pulled up near one corner of the field; Ashido was skating casually close to the middle, framed by the torches framing the elevated field.

The lit torches.

Midoriya didn't know the exact range at which he could manipulate fire - more than the range of his mother's Quirk, but how far beyond he didn't know. It got harder the further the fire was from him, so the ideal place to try was one of the corners of the field.

Except what was the point, if he couldn't get close enough to make a difference? Midoriya dodged to the side, and in toward the center of the field, as Ashido skated toward him, acid trailing from both hands.

Both hands.

Midoriya grinned and jogged ahead of Ashido, aiming to get as close to the center as he could. There wasn't a lot of room for error on this - if he could do it at all. Midoriya took a deep breath, and then another. There was fire nearby, four bright flames flickering at the edge of his awareness. He could feel a connection between him and them, a hint of the warmth they could impart to him if they were here. He'd only ever pulled at one source of flame at once, but he'd never pushed fire before today, either.

"Ready to give up, Midoriya?" Ashido asked, charging from one corner of the arena.

"No," Midoriya whispered, and yanked. There was strange resistance where the flame was connected to its source, its fuel, but tongues of flame streamed from two opposite torches to envelop both his arms.

Ashido yelped and swerved to avoid the line of fire bisecting the field.

"And Midoriya uses the ceremonial torches to make a wall of fire! Is that even allowed?"

"Yeah, I like it," Midnight purred. "Go ahead!"

"Nice trick," Ashido said, skating just along the line on Midoriya's right, moving fast. "But now you're locked down, and I just need to knock you off balance and that fire's gone!"

Did she?

Midoriya pivoted, swinging his right arm around; Ashido laughed, shifting as the line bent toward her. And then the connection between Midoriya and the torches snapped. Free from its other mooring, the line of flame enveloping Midoriya's arm whipped around fast enough that Ashido avoided it only by a three-foot-high vertical leap. She landed lightly, kicking back to try to keep out of Midoriya's reach while Midoriya experimented. Instead of simply responding to the pull of Midoriya's will, the flame felt like an extension of his arms. He flicked the tip of one of the whips of flame at Ashido with a snap of his left wrist, swiping the other at her feet, forcing her to hop over one and roll under the other.

"You've been holding out on us, Midoriya!" Ashido said, delighted. "Tentacles made of fire? So cool!"

It was cool, if - disconcerting. Midoriya didn't know how he was doing it, and worried if he thought too hard about it, it would stop working. Which meant the only way to win was to-

Stop thinking.

Midoriya whipped high and low again, forcing Ashido to drop into a crab walk and actually flip into a handstand. She flipped back to her feet and rushed at Midoriya (whatever she'd said, she clearly recognized this was new, that Midoriya was unfamiliar with what he was doing), slinging acid.

Midoriya threw his hands up, the flames trailing behind; they sliced into the acid, turning it from liquid to gas, and leaving Ashido exposed. Midoriya kicked at her, and, bracketed by flaming whips, Ashido didn't have any place to go. And, more importantly, she didn't cover her skin in acid to dissolve whatever touched it.

There was a limit to how much acid she could produce before her skin couldn't resist the corrosiveness anymore.

"Okay! I'm out!" Ashido shouted from the ground. "Those fire whips are hella intimidating up close."

"What?"

"And Ashido Mina can't take the heat!" Present Mic cheered. "Midoriya Izuku is the winner!"

"Way to steal my thunder, Hizashi," Midnight grumbled. "But yeah, nice job, kid."

The applause from the crowd filtered dimly into Midoriya's awareness; he felt dazed, disconnected.

"You can lose the tentacles, Midoriya," Ashido said, patting Midoriya's shoulder. "You won."

"But I didn't - you just-"

"Intimidated the fuck out of me, Midoriya," Ashido said. She flashed Midoriya a toothy grin. "There's a lot of ways to win a fight, Midoriya. Endeavor's won fights just by showing up."

The flames along Midoriya's arms went out as his stomach sank. The matchups for the semi-finals were easily visible, and Midoriya would be fighting Todoroki. Todoroki, who feared fire, who Midoriya was expected to intimidate into winning.

They had half an hour before the semi-finals, and Midoriya spent most of that time with his head in his hands, trying not to hyperventilate. Because he didn't know how he'd done what he did today, or how he was supposed to fight wondering if Todoroki was frightened of him.

A knock drew him out of himself. "Come in!"

Todoroki stepped into the room with small, precise steps. He was - standing straight, stiff, looking at the wall next to Midoriya's head.

"Midoriya-kun," Todoroki said. "We're going to fight, soon. And I need you to understand...I can't be your friend out there."

"I know - we're all trying to win-"

"Midoriya." Todoroki waited until he was sure Midoriya was quiet and took a deep breath. "I'm going to do my best to crush you, and I want you to understand why."

"Um-"

Todoroki sat down a few feet from Midoriya, gaze fixed on his feet. "I want to talk to you about Endeavor - and my mother."


Alexandria was burning, flame dancing across the roofs of the city like a living thing, smoke rising in a column that darkened the sky. A man stood at the edges of the city, far enough that errant sparks wouldn't strike him. He was dressed all in black, loose clothing draped over his form. He was pale, slim, and, surprisingly for a man standing outside a city that was in the process of being sacked, unarmed.

There was a shift in the air behind him, a shadow drifting across the sands, and he turned. A man, stocky, skin the color of the shadow he cast on the sand, eyes a glittering hazel, stepped up next to the first man.

"This is - horrific," the first man said.

The dark one shrugged. "I suppose. They'd all be dead in a hundred years, anyway."

"I meant the books," the first one replied. "All that knowledge - lost." He sighed. "Unless you found-"

"Dead," the dark one said. "I'm pretty certain we're the only ones left. Us and…"

"Him," the first concluded. "I saw him, you know. Not a figment or a nightmare, but him. A living creature reading books as if the library weren't burning around him."

The dark one's breath hitched. "He wasn't affected by the flames?"

"No." The pale one turned, narrowing his eyes. "What does it mean, that he wasn't burned?"

The dark one shook his head. "Nothing. If he had - well, we wouldn't be worrying about who'd survived the purge." They were quiet for a moment, before the dark one spoke up. "You said you saw him, though. In the flesh."

The pale one shivered. "So to speak."

"So did you-"

The pale one nodded.

"Where?" the dark one demanded.

"Yuuei," the pale one replied.

"Yuu...ei? You don't know where that is, do you?"

"You're the traveler," the pale one retorted.

"Well, we've all the time in the world," the dark one said.

The pale one nodded, and as the city fell to embers, they went their separate ways.

They were not yet the Shinigami, the Gods of Death. They were just the last remnants of another age. For a time, they were content to remain in the shadows, until a child was born whose skin glowed brilliantly, like sunlight.

In all that time, Hades never told the others exactly what had happened in Alexandria. To use his Quirk on another creature, he had to touch their hand and meet their eyes, and their enemy allowed such a touch only in one circumstance.

Hades had been allowed to use his Quirk only by sharing with the Cipher knowledge he had learned by using it.

And so it was certain, as intently as the Shinigami had watched for a place called 'Yuuei', the Cipher had watched with as much interest.

...More, even.

Because it was of great interest to an immortal the place where he would die.

Chapter Text

Midoriya leaned over the railing of the front row seats (Tsu and Uraraka had grabbed the seats during the half hour intermission), watching the combatants as they waited for the fight to begin. Kacchan was standing at the far end of the field, unnaturally still, miraculously quiet, glaring murderously at Shinsou.

Midoriya jerked his gaze away from Kacchan; he didn't want to think about him.

(Todoroki was staring at the surface of the table, quiet, hands twitching. Midoriya found himself doing something he'd so far managed to avoid doing before today - staring at Todoroki's scar. But it was easy to avoid staring by telling himself it wasn't his business; it was much harder when Todoroki told Midoriya about it.

"I'm-" Midoriya shook his head, stumbling over the words, because he didn't have words to express how hearing that Todoroki's father was so abusive and heartless it drove Todoroki's mother to permanently scar him made him feel.

"You don't have to say anything," Todoroki replied. "I just want you to understand - Endeavor wants me to be his masterpiece, his legacy, and I won't be. I'll be better than everyone, and do it without his fire."

"But I do have to say something!" Midoriya protested, heart tight, racing, at the thought of Todoroki at the mercy of a man like the one he'd just described. "You don't deserve that - and someone like that doesn't deserve to be called a hero-"

"Then why do you look up to him?" Todoroki demanded.

"Endeavor? I don - I did, but that's because I didn't know-"

"Not Endeavor. Bakugo.")

"You can see Bakugo Katsuki isn't taking any chances, keeping his mouth shut; they're classmates, so it's certain he knows how to avoid getting caught by that brainwashing Quirk. And Midnight's counting down…" Present Mic's voice filtered through Midoriya's memories, bringing him back to the stadium. He glanced around, but didn't see Todoroki. He'd been upset, earlier, and Midoriya still wasn't sure if he'd offended Todoroki.

"Go!"

Kacchan leapt forward, disturbingly silent, hands sparking. Shinsou was shifting already, a committed dash away from Kacchan's angle of approach. Kacchan hit the ground, turned with one twist of his knee, and sent a blast in Shinsou's direction. Shinsou dropped, rolled, and was back on his feet in an instant.

"Do you know what your problem is, Kacchan?" Shinsou asked, his voice booming through the stadium (had he gotten a microphone from Hatsume?) "Don't worry - I'll tell you. You're never going to be number one; you know that, don't you?" He broke away as Kacchan launched himself at Shinsou before making a series of quick diagonal dashes that meant when Kacchan pivoted back to rush him, Shinsou was already moving to get out of the way.

("Kacchan's strong, and smart-"

"He's a bully!" Todoroki snapped. "You've said enough outright about how he used to treat you to prove that, so you can imagine what I've come up with reading between the lines."

Midoriya shook his head, struggling for the words to explain that Kacchan was proud, and ambitious, and-

"What's the most heroic thing you've ever seen Bakugo do other than fighting villains?" Todoroki demanded.

"You can't say someone isn't a hero just because I can't list off every act of heroism-"

"I asked for one.")

"I hear it every day," Shinshou continued. "You fucking nerd, I'll kill you!" Midoriya gasped, and he saw Pro Heroes in the audience leaning closer, interested. Because Shinsou's voice had changed - not enough to fool Midoriya, who'd known Kacchan practically their whole lives - years, anyway, but good enough Midoriya bet it would fool anyone else. Shinsou laughed. "Oh god, if you could see your eyes, Kacchan-"

Shinsou had been watching Kacchan, but had wasted a moment just looking without predicting, and got caught in a wide blast (Kacchan was learning, knowing large areas of effect were the best way to catch Shinsou). But Shinsou fell well, catching himself quickly enough to leap away from Kacchan's follow-up attack.

"You ignore him a lot, and I don't know if it's because you can't hear him over your own incoherent screaming or what," Shinsou said, back in his own voice, "so since I've got a captive audience, I'll remind you what our class vice-president has to say on the matter. Don't you know it's unbecoming of a hero to act like this to your classmates, your colleagues?" And it was Iida, the same sharp, serious tones, and good enough that if Midoriya weren't watching Shinsou say the words, he might have thought it actually was Iida.

And all around the stadium, more people were perking up, because even ordinary people could recognize what these impersonations meant for someone with Shinsou's Quirk. If you were a villain, and heard your compatriots call out for help, of course you'd answer - or if you'd seen this, and knew what Shinsou was capable of, keep silent, unwilling to risk any exchange. You couldn't coordinate in the field, change plans, without risking the person you were talking to was actually Shinsou.

Kacchan threw out a pair of explosions that encompassed almost the entire field, and although Shinsou was a little scorched when he stood, rising from a crouch, he was still smiling.

"Of course, we all know what you'd say to that - you've said it every time we have team exercises. I don't need anyone else's help to win, so stay out of my way, losers! Was that right? You'll tell me if I got it wrong, right?"

Midoriya was impressed; he'd never heard Kacchan stay quiet this long when someone was talking to him. He blasted the floor of the field, sending shards of concrete zipping at Shinsou along with the explosion, but Shinsou had somehow gotten behind him.

Was...Shinsou actually getting to Kacchan? It seemed impossible; even furious, Kacchan could strategize incredibly quickly.

("He wants to be the Number One Hero!" Midoriya cried back. "That's-"

"He wants to be the most famous hero. The wealthiest hero. He wants the rest of the world to validate his overblown ego. I've seen first-hand what sort of person lives like that.")

"Do you think the teachers talk about you?" Shinsou asked. "In the break room or whatever? I can imagine - Bakugo refuses assistance out of principle, even when it proves to his detriment. A rational hero would have learned otherwise by now. Or do you think I got it wrong?"

"That Eraserhead impression was spot-on, folks!" Present Mic announced.

"But he isn't your kind of hero, is he? You couldn't care less what a hero who sneaks around thinks about you. So what does All Might think about you? Do you ever wonder? Oh, I know what he'd say to other people - Bakugo has a lot of spirit, and a lot of power. I know he has the makings of a great hero." It shouldn't have been a surprise; there were enough audio samples that a dedicated impersonator could get a lot of practice - but Shinsou's All Might impression was flawless.

And Kacchan - stumbled. He blasted the ground to keep from falling, and turned it into a twisting leap that sent him flying at Shinsou, but he was shaken.

It was easy, after all, to ignore the dismissals of people you didn’t respect, but Midoriya knew well the devastation of someone you looked up to saying your dream was impossible. Midoriya would never forget hearing All Might say he could never be a hero without a Quirk.

Young Bakugo is skilled - with his Quirk, his intelligence, and diligence, he can easily rise to become the Number Three Hero - or even Number Two. But not Number One. Never that.

Midoriya grabbed the railings tight, shaking, as Bakugo rose with the aid of an explosion, and pointed both hands straight down. The blast rocked the stadium, not as powerful as when Uraraka had deliberately amplified it, but still massive; somehow, though, Shinsou’s voice mimicking All Might’s continued, even through the roar and dull ringing following the blast.

He doesn’t understand what I mean when I say ‘I am here’, why it comforts people. I am here to remind innocent bystanders that someone is on their side - someone is in their corner. It’s about supporting people, backing them up. Young Bakugou doesn’t see that. He just sees the villain, the fight, his personal glory. I would trust Bakugo to fight the worst villains, but never to bring hope to anyone.

Midoriya was shaking still - it wasn’t fair, saying these things where Kacchan couldn’t defend himself. Not because Kacchan cared what Shinsou was saying, but because the Pro Heroes watching - the people who could decide Kacchan’s future - did.

I’ve seen how he treats his peers - he brings them nothing but despair. I’ve seen how he treats those he thinks are beneath him."

("That's not fair!" Midoriya yelled. "Uraraka wants to make money-"

"For her family - to support them!" Todoroki growled, frustrated. He took a deep breath, letting his hands fall to the table between them."

"Kacchan's gotten a lot better-" Midoriya started.

"When he found out you had a Quirk," Tororoki replied, quiet. "Do you think someone like that can be expected to protect innocent bystanders?"

"Stop it! You can't just say stuff about Kacchan like that! You don't understand!")

“Leave Kacchan alone!” Midoriya screamed. “You can be a great hero, Kacchan, you know that, right?”

“SHUT UP, DEKU! I DON’T NEED YOU-“

Midoriya slapped his hands over his mouth, glancing between Tsu and Uraraka. They were staring at him, eyes wide. He pulled his hands away. "Did I-?"

"Your mouth didn't move, so unless you're really good at ventriloquism-" Tsu replied.

It was suddenly, blessedly silent. Down below, the smoke cleared. Kacchan and Shinsou were standing just a few feet apart. Kacchan was still, scowling, and Shinsou was smiling.

“You yelled at Midoriya - Deku, in case you’ve forgotten his real name for all the time you’ve called him that vile epithet - once for suggesting what your weakness is, but you’re oblivious to what your real weakness is. I could have taunted you for hours and you would’ve stayed silent as the grave, but at the suggestion that Midoriya felt sorry for you, you couldn’t help lashing out at him. Or, as it turns out, at me.”

But Kacchan was smart enough to watch Shinsou's mouth, once he'd realized the other boy could do passable impressions. It wouldn't have worked if Kacchan hadn't set off an explosion that covered the field in smoke, which meant - Shinsou was smart, too. He wouldn't have expected his mockery to get Kacchan to lose control and talk, but he must have thought it was enough to get Kacchan to - blow up anyway.

“So here you are,” Shinsou said, “completely at my mercy. You’ve been here before, and I know you hate it. Walk with me." Shinsou walked to the long edge of the field and paused, just at the edge, and Kacchan joined him there, still silent. "I could make you step out of the field, just like I did Kaminari, and there's nothing you could do. But-“

Shinsou paused, and shrugged. “I don’t really want to fight Midoriya or Todoroki.” He turned to Kacchan and gave him a bright smile. “Smile, Kacchan. You won.”

And Shinsou stepped out of bounds.

"You fucking loser-" Kacchan screamed, lunging at Shinsou. But Cementoss must have expected something like this, because a wall was already rising between them.

("Don't you get it?" Todoroki snapped. "Every story you've told me about your childhood with him, everything I've seen of him, he's no better than my father, someone you said doesn't deserve to be called a hero! What could possibly-"

Todoroki paused, his expression smoothing out, though he was clearly still standing tense. It wasn't a cold expression, but it was neutral - not like when they'd first met, because Todoroki had been hostile.

"It doesn't matter," he murmured. "I'll be better than him - that both of them - without my fire." He turned, walked to the door, and paused. "Just watch, Midoriya.")


Todoroki spared the displays a glance when he stepped out into the field. From the screaming he'd heard, he'd presumed Bakugo had lost, but it turned out it was just Bakugo throwing some sort of tantrum.

He frowned, not caring that the monitors watching the field likely caught it. He was still off-balance from his realization that Midoriya was in love with Bakugo. He'd been shocked at first, but it was the only explanation; only love could so distract an otherwise brilliant mind from Bakugo's innumerable flaws. Plenty of men and women chose - and stayed with - partners who were abusive in all sorts of ways. Some had little choice, but others...Midoriya had probably spent so long idolizing Bakugo that the way Bakugo treated him seemed the way decent people treated each other.

And it was clear he would tolerate no criticism of his choice.

Well.

Todoroki tightened the fists at his side. If he - someone who didn't treat Midoriya like trash - proved himself a better hero than Bakugo, perhaps he'd understand how disastrous his choice was.

He looked down to find Midoriya climbing the steps to the battlefield. Todoroki grit his teeth and moved to his own side. A part of him was certain this would be a quick battle - they both knew Todoroki could freeze Midoriya so thoroughly any flame he had on his body would go out. But a more sensible part of his mind knew better. Midoriya had been watching all of them - he likely had strategies to fight any member of class 1-A.

It didn't change the fact that Todoroki's best chance was to end it quickly.

"The last round of the semi-finals pits Todoroki Shouto against Midoriya Izuku! The winner will go on to face Bakugo Katsuki for first place! And it looks like Midnight is ready to start! Let's watch in!"

"Alright!" Midnight called from the halfway point between them, "I want a clean fight - no one attacking each other after the match is over. Ready? Begin!"

Todoroki twisted his foot and the power within him. His right side cooled as his ice erupted from the ground, leaping toward Midoriya according to Todoroki's will. Midoriya was still, hands covering his mouth. Todoroki had no time to consider the reason for the strange action before he encased Midoriya in ice.

The crowd was quiet, waiting to hear Midnight's declaration, and Todoroki felt - satisfied. He'd expected some trick, but it was best he win quickly, so the use of his ice didn't give him frostbite, so he didn't reach the point he'd have to choose between using his fire or succumb to his own Quirk.

The ice cracked, pieces falling away from Midoriya as he stepped forward. Midoriya's hands were aflame, as was his face. Fire burned brightly along Midoriya's shoulders, arms, like some parody of Endeavor. Midoriya had used the fact Todoroki wasn't willing to risk suffocating him to nurture flame along the one place that would remain uncovered, even if Todoroki tried to freeze him in one shot.

Midoriya grinned. "You - didn't think it would be that easy, did you?" he asked.

Todoroki stepped forward, aiming to knock Midoriya out of the ring with the next mass of ice (requiring some more focus to make it a hammer instead of a web of spears). Midoriya, though, was running, dodged to the side of the first ice wall, and sprinted at Todoroki.

He was closer now, though, and Todoroki's control at this distance was greater. He threw up a wide wall of ice and slammed it into Midoriya, shoving it back. Midoriya punched through the ice two-thirds of the way across the field, now enshrouded entirely in flame. Still, it meant Todoroki could keep Midoriya from getting too close.

Todoroki clenched his right hand, his fingers stiff from the lingering chill. He flipped up his arm and used it to shoot a series of projectiles at Midoriya; Midoriya dodged most of them, but the ones that struck him shattered, the heat near him apparently intense enough to weaken them even if it couldn't melt them outright.

Midoriya dashed forward again, forcing Todoroki to set off another string of projectiles - larger ones, harder to melt - to keep him at a distance. It didn't work quite as well this time; Midoriya was watching Todoroki's right arm, giving him enough warning to dodge the attack. Todoroki twitched his leg to steady it and launched another massive wall - thicker this time - to shove Midoriya away. If it were thick enough to resist Midoriya's flame, maybe he could force Midoriya out before-

There was a massive crack, a sound that Todoroki felt in his bones, and an explosion of steam. Todoroki could feel the wall - it wasn't in one piece anymore. And then he saw Midoriya. The flames around Midoriya were yellow, bright, and, at the very boundary of the flame and Midoriya's body, pale blue. Todoroki flexed his arm, feeling some ice crack and fall away from his skin. The chill was deeper, more persistent, now.

Midoriya's gaze darted to Todoroki's right side, and remembering what Midoriya had told Todoroki about fire Quirks, he was certain Midoriya knew what the ice and pale blue shade of Todoroki's right side meant.

Still, Midoriya kept his distance. "You can't keep this up forever," he said. "I could just wait you out."

Todoroki sent a trio of small pillars of ice at Midoriya, each offset enough to force him to dodge around each individually, or risk punching through them again. But Midoriya was already moving, forcing Todoroki to change their trajectory to just clip Midoriya's side, sending him tumbling, but nowhere near what Todoroki had hoped. It was frustrating; he'd caught Midoriya a few times, but it seemed Midoriya was expecting him the second time he tried anything. Todoroki wondered, briefly, if Midoriya was somehow telepathic, as well, because the only way he could imagine Midoriya being able to avoid some of Todoroki's moves was if Midoriya knew what Todoroki was doing-

Todoroki inhaled, a sharp shock to his chest as he thought-

Todoroki had to move to control his ice, and knowing that, he'd learned to minimize the motions necessary to do so. But if anyone would have noticed, learned to watch Todoroki closely enough to predict what he was doing, it would be Midoriya.

"Todoroki, you can't do this," Midoriya said.

"I can win," Todoroki growled. "Without using my fire."

Midoriya rushed at Todoroki; knowing Midoriya could anticipate any precision move, Todoroki threw up a rising wall of ice to slam into Midoriya from the side to knock him off his trajectory. Midoriya tumbled, and paused on catching himself, panting as he watched Todoroki from his crouch. He didn't even look bruised, while Todoroki's arm and leg were burning with cold, and the right side of his face completely numb. He could keep this up; he had to.

"You're going to get frostbite," Midoriya said. "You could lose a finger - your whole arm!" He was frowning, one of his thoughtful frowns, although his eyes, framed in fire, were wide, wavering, and steam was rising from his cheeks.

Midoriya was crying. He was so worried about Todoroki he was-

"I know my limits," Todoroki growled. "I can keep going."

"You don't have to!" Midoriya shouted back. "Your fire-"

"I won't use it!" Todoroki roared. He sent another wall of ice to knock Midoriya back, but couldn't make a thick wall, and Midoriya punched through it easily, steam rising away from him as he stepped forward. "I'll show him-"

"You have an amazing power!" Midoriya protested. "Your body's made to use it - both parts of it-"

Todoroki felt a rush of - panic or anger, he wasn't sure which ("You were made to surpass the Number One Hero, to be my legacy."). "Nobody - nothing - can make me use it! It's-" He stumbled, whether from the growing threat of frostbite or the feeling he was standing at the edge of something, a yawning realization or-

"It's your Quirk," Midoriya concluded. "Not your mother's, and not his. It's not something your parents gave you - you don't owe them anything for being born with it."

"You're right," Todoroki agreed. He clenched his right fist as tightly as he could, trying to ignore the stinging, the pain. "I don't have to use it." He looked to Midoriya, hoping the other boy could see the determination in his gaze. "I don't have to give him the satisfaction." He slammed his foot against the ground, covering it in ice. Midoriya, unsurprisingly, hopped up enough to avoid it (although Todoroki was certain he could have freed himself regardless). Todoroki, though-

He stumbled. He'd thought he could handle this and a follow up, but…

His head swam, thoughts moving sluggishly, his entire right side numb with cold.

Fuck.

A haze settled around Todoroki, his vision darkening. Any moment now he'd hear Midnight declare Midoriya the winner, and Todoroki would-

A sharp pain, like burning needles, danced all along Todoroki's right side. He didn't think he'd ever pushed himself this far, so for a brief moment, wondered if he was dying. But then the pain was followed by a wash of warmth, the cold of Todoroki's Quirk receding. His vision brightened and cleared, and Todoroki found himself on his hands and knees, shivering as flames flickered along his right side. He flinched, once, before he realized the fire didn't hurt. It vanished after a moment, and Todoroki's mind, still slow from overuse of his Quirk, caught up to current events.

"Midoriya?"

"The fight isn't over yet," Midoriya said, giving Todoroki a wide smile - eyes bright.

"Apparently, Midoriya is helping his opponent get back into the fight? This is a surprising turn of events!"

"What?" Todoroki glanced to the side; Midnight appeared to be swooning, moved, he supposed, by Midoriya - what - refusing to take the win? "Why-"

"You're right," Midoriya said. "It's your choice how you use your Quirk. It was - unfair of me to try to make you use it."

"You…" It was - ridiculous, senseless, stupid, but also so like Midoriya, that Todoroki laughed. "It's not a good idea to let villains get up because you feel bad about how you beat them, Midoriya-kun."

Midoriya's smile brightened, eyes glimmering with tears, and Todoroki felt a sudden unsteadiness in his chest.

"You're not a villain," Midoriya replied. He stood and took a step back. His body was still wreathed in flames (flames that could burn, but flames that could soothe. If Endeavor's fire was anything like Midoriya's, it was telling of his character that he'd never used it that way); they were, after all, still in a fight. "You're my friend."

The warm feeling in Todoroki's chest vanished, replaced by a knot, or tightness - a sour feeling to his thoughts. "That doesn't mean much; you'll be friends with anyone."

"W - what? I wouldn't-" Midoriya's smile vanished, face settling to something neutral, not quite a frown, but. "You're talking about Kacchan."

Todoroki felt a spike of anger, and because this was still a fight, a battle, he struck out, finding his ice responding as easily as if it were the beginning of the fight - the beginning of the day - and exploding toward Midoriya. He couldn't freeze Midoriya, not without risking his life, but he could hit Midoriya with enough power to throw him out of the ring. He heard shouts from the audience, but Todoroki was certain he hadn't done enough to hurt anyone.

Todoroki waited; there was no shout from Midnight, so the round wasn't over, but where did that put Midoriya?

Midoriya vaulted over the pinnacle of Todoroki's ice and began hopping down toward Todoroki; where his feet touched, the ice steamed and gave way to give him stable footing (he must have climbed the ice that way). "I get that you don't like Kacchan-"

"It's not that!" Todoroki slammed his foot against the ground again, sending ice, more tightly controlled, racing up the mountain as Midoriya climbed down. Midoriya punched the leading edge, causing an explosion of steam. "It's that you - keep treating him like he's worth so much more than he is - telling people he's better than he'll ever be. You call him Kacchan, and he calls you worthless!"

Midoriya smashed through the outer layer of ice and completed his descent in a quick hop to the ground. He shook his head, face set in - focus, determination, brow furrowed, and Todoroki felt - not quite hope, but he'd expected Midoriya to defend Bakugo automatically. Midoriya looked like he was thinking, though.

"You said he doesn't deserve to be called a hero-"

"And he doesn't. Not in any way that matters. Shinsou said you told him...we shouldn't have called this job 'hero', that it gives equal worth to people who just fight villains and those who devote themselves to improving the lives of others." Todoroki scowled. "I hate to say it, but Bakugo will be good at fighting villains."

"Then what-"

"But he doesn't deserve your affection!" Todoroki shoved a wall of ice at Midoriya, hoping Midoriya didn't see the tears gathered in his eyes. It was - embarrassing, weak, how this affected Todoroki, but he was certain he wouldn't be this angry if it weren't clear how much Midoriya cared for Bakugo, and how little Bakugo cared for him in return. Obviously he couldn't blame a person for not returning Midoriya's feelings, but to view such a brave, selfless boy with nothing but contempt-

Midoriya smashed through the wall; Todoroki winced, bracing himself for the anger, confusion, disgust. But Midoriya was - looking at Todoroki, intense, not frowning, but thoughtful. "Are you...jealous?"

"No!" Todoroki barely had time for friends, much less romance. "It's just - you're better than him - in every way that matters; seeing you think there's anything about him you should - admire, or aspire to - makes me sick." Midoriya stepped back, lip quivering.

"Todoroki-kun-"

"Telling me he's worth looking up to because he's smart, and powerful, and wants to defeat villains - all I hear is that people like my father can be excused their depravities if they're high-ranking heroes." Todoroki blinked, surprised to find his eyes blurry - wet. He swiped at them with his left hand (the only time he'd use his left side this battle) and slapped his hand toward Midoriya, an indiscriminate spray of ice to give Todoroki just a moment to ground himself, so he could fight.

Midoriya's own flame turned most of the projectiles to steam, giving him a moment of cover. But Midoriya was surrounded by a corona of flame, making him easy to pinpoint. And the remnants of Todoroki's prior attacks left Midoriya with little room to retreat, anyway.

Todoroki wasn't cold anymore. Catching sight of a flicker of red and yellow, he slammed his foot down to box him and Midoriya within a tower of ice. Midoriya turned, hands up to attack, but he didn't have space to maneuver, and Todoroki felt refreshed, invigorated - determined. He'd beat Midoriya, and beat Bakugo, on his own terms.

Todoroki twitched his foot, twisted his right hand, and pushed. He'd done this before, which meant he could do it again. He'd been at point-blank range, then, too, where he had the greatest control.

And to his direction, ice flowed from Todoroki, thick, sturdy, so it wouldn't melt as it passed near Midoriya's flame. Still, the layer nearest Midoriya melted to steam and water, and that, along with the ice behind it, pressing closer, doused the flames all along Midoriya's body, allowing the ice to bond to his clothing, his skin, holding him in place. He made sure to freeze Midoriya's hands in place, first, and finally created a thin film to cover Midoriya's head, and face. It melted almost immediately, but the steam and condensation did its work, so when the steam cleared, Midoriya was motionless within a pillar of ice, no fire to be seen.

"And the audience is waiting with bated breath - to see the outcome of this intense battle, which is now encased in ice!"

Todoroki glanced at the wall surrounding them, and the small mountain of melting ice beyond that, and huffed - not quite a laugh, his chest was still heavy from the stress of their argument.

"Um! I'm definitely immobilized!" Midoriya shouted. "It'll take a bit to get this ice out of here, though!" He twisted a little against the ice before laughing. "Less if you let me out of here," he added, to Todoroki.

"Oh! Certainly." Todoroki stepped next to Midoriya and pressed his left hand against the ice, applying heat to melt it.

In the moment of relative silence (it was hard to hear the crowd in their insulated space), Midoriya murmured, "If you don't want to use your fire to attack people, that's - I understand it. But keeping yourself from hurting yourself with your Quirk-"

"I think we've talked enough about my Quirk today," Todoroki said. He turned as the last of the ice faded from Midoriya, raising his hand to the ice wall.

It was quiet for a moment before Midoriya spoke up again.

"I'm sorry if I made you think - I looked up to Bakugo more than you. That I thought he was a better friend than you. He isn't. You're a better friend than he is. And - you'll probably be a better hero, too."

In the end, the only way for Todoroki to beat Bakugo was to use his fire to attack, and - he wasn't ready to do that. So Bakugo won, and raged, certain Todoroki had conspired to deny him a legitimate victory, while Todoroki stood on the second-place podium, and Midoriya and Shinsou a step below, Midoriya sniffling through the closing ceremonies.

And objectively, Todoroki knew that the day was a failure. He'd lost, proving his ice alone wasn't enough to beat Bakugo or Midoriya. He'd failed to prove anything to his father, and doubted he'd made a real impression on sponsors - he'd needed Midoriya's help to survive their fight.

But somehow, he still felt like he'd won.

And, buoyed by the promise that Todoroki was better than Bakugo, that neither his Quirk nor his body were his father's, Todoroki decided to do something he'd never had the courage to do before.

If Todoroki's mother couldn't bring herself to see him again, it wasn't his fault. But Todoroki wanted the chance to tell her he didn't believe what had happened to him was her fault, either.


"Ohashi-san?"

Native opened his eyes, finding his vision - blurred, for a moment. It was bright here, brighter than what he last remembered. It had been dark, shadowed, a grinning, bloodied face (Native's blood smeared around the mouth) looking down at him.

Now there was a dog's face, black-and-tan, looking down at him from a human height. "Do you know who I am, Ohashi-san?"

"Tsura-" Native coughed, blood splattering across the white sheets covering his body. His throat raw and scratched, Native croaked out, "Police."

"Yes. I am the chief of police. I was called because the nature of your wounds have led us to suspect you were attacked by the Hero Killer."

Native nodded. He hadn't been looking for the Hero Killer; knowing the villain had taken out Hawks hadn't left Native eager to risk himself. It was bad luck he'd run into the man while on patrol through a dark area of Hosu.

"Good." The chief pulled a chair closer and sat next to Native's bed. "You see, you're the first hero who's encountered the Hero Killer and lived. Which means you have a unique opportunity to help us with our investigations. What can you tell us?"

"Blood," Native replied; his throat spasmed as he tried to continue.

"Blood? We're aware his victims all died from blood loss, primarily from wounds caused by edged weapons or some puncturing Quirk."

Edged weapons...Native nodded, reaching up to his throat, which was covered in bandages.

"You were in surgery for some time," the chief said. "The doctors said - well, it's a miracle you survived until the paramedics got to you."

A miracle?

(A face looked down at Native, framed by distant streetlights, dark, with hazel eyes glittering like gems in the darkness. "Don't worry," a man's voice spoke, not accented so much as speaking in a strange rhythm, "You've got some nasty injuries, but you'll be alright as long as I am here."

"But-" Native protested, "That man-"

The man above Native laughed, one hand tapping his chest while the other remained on Native's shoulder. "Oh, don't you worry about him. He might feel big enough to kill heroes like Hawks, but he knows better than to cross me.")

"Yeah. A miracle."

Chapter Text

"Fuck no!" Bakugo roared at the rest of the class. Midoriya twitched, which made Shinsou's hand clench where it sat in his lap. But everyone else had their attention on Bakugo, who had responded predictably when Kirishima had suggested his hero name be 'Kacchan'.

"It's better than 'Lord Explosion Murder'," Midnight offered.

"And what's wrong with that?" Bakugo snarled at her.

And Midnight straightened, folding her arms in front of her, her expression becoming - serious. Stern. "There's more to being a hero than strength. No matter how powerful you are, you can't become Number One without public acclaim. And that means your name - your persona - has to appeal to the masses. Yes, some heroes have dangerous-sounding names, but usually ones that evoke a sense of retribution or justice - to give the public the sense that no matter how dangerous the hero is, that power is directed at villains, never at them. I will admit, 'Kacchan' doesn't quite fit - no matter how approachable your name sounds, it won't trick people into thinking you're friendly." She gave Bakugo a gentle smile. "So how about you sit down and try to think of a - more appealing name?" Her smile was suddenly sharp. "Or we might just name you 'Kacchan' after all."

Bakugo stormed back to his seat, muttering, but Midnight was already scanning the class again. "Who's next?" she asked. Iida snapped his hand up. "Excellent! Come on up!"

Iida did, his writing board held close to his chest, and Shinsou found himself curious. Iida idolized his brother Ingenium, so it was possible he would pick something to bring that name to mind, like Kirishima's choice of Red Riot.

Iida bowed to the class. "I have been thinking deeply on what sort of hero I want to be - what I aspire to be as a hero. During the villain attack on the USJ, Thirteen made me realize how much bystanders rely on us to be there. So I chose - First Responder!"

"Oh, wow!" Midnight cheered. "That really brings your speed to mind, and 'Responder' makes you sound dynamic and active! Great choice! Now who's next?"

Shinsou took a breath and raised his hand. He hadn't gotten a better idea yet, and he doubted he would just sitting here.

"Alright, come up, Shinsou."

He heard a muttered curse from Bakugo, although that might have just been Bakugo struggling for a hero name that Midnight would approve. Shinsou strode to the front of the room and turned. "I came up with - the Voice Hero, Siren."

"Sirens do have an alluring voice," Midnight said, tapping at her chin. "And a siren is a warning, a sign that help is coming. I like it!"

"Yeah!" Ashido cried. "Lure bad guys to their doom with your voice!" A few other students joined in, and Shinsou felt a flush on his cheeks as he retreated to his seat. He'd gotten used to his classmates recognizing his Quirk itself wasn't evil, but their acclaim was something...unusual. He didn't know how to feel about it - Kirishima had greeted him the first day of class after the Sports Festival with a fist-bump, a congratulations for beating Bakugo (no one knew better than his peers that Shinsou hadn't given up for fear of not being able to beat Bakugo). And Bakugo himself - he gave Shinsou a wide berth. Shinsou wasn't certain if it was respect, fear, or what, but it made him feel - bigger. Less uncertain about his place in the world of heroics.

Bakugo stabbed his writing board, and when it snapped, demanded a replacement from Kirishima. As Bakugo wasn't about to contribute, Todoroki stood and took his place at the front of the room. This, too, Shinsou watched with interest. Todoroki might be his father's son, but his refusal to use his Quirk's flame in battle, his reserved nature, everything about him, distanced him from Endeavor. And so he wondered if Todoroki would pick a name to remind people of their connection, or further distinguish himself.

"Freeze Tag."

The response was complete silence - shocked, Shinsou guessed, at such a - whimsical name.

And then Sero burst out laughing. "Brilliant, dude!" At the obvious confusion of his classmates, Sero bolted up to the front of the room to sketch out Todoroki's name - 'Shouto', erase the first kanji, and write out - 'freeze tag', not the foreign sound of English, but proper Japanese. And it was brilliant - if out of character for how light-hearted the name was.

Or, Shinsou amended, as he saw a tiny smile quirk along Todoroki's mouth, unlike how Shinsou had come to see him.

"You're right, it's very clever. But it's a - fun name, not a serious one," Midnight said. "I don't think you should have a name like that if you can't give us a smile."

"Yeah, give us a big, All-Might-sized smile," Uraraka called.

Todoroki stiffened, a little, and Shinsou wouldn't have been surprised if Todoroki frowned out of reflex. But he looked toward Shinsou's side of the room, and his expression - saying it transformed seemed unfair, because Todoroki wasn't emotionless. But the smile that graced Todoroki's face was gentle, sincere - unfamiliar lines tugging along his face, and his eyes bright, not looking away or down.

...Everyone called Todoroki the prettiest guy in their class, but Shinsou hadn't really gotten it. Not until he saw Todoroki smile.

Shinsou felt a moment of panic when he realized Todoroki was looking in his direction. He was not ready to deal with that sort of thing.

But Todoroki wasn't quite looking at Shinsou; he was looking slightly in front of him at-

Well, Shinsou had to think it was Midoriya, because the thought of anyone looking at Bakugo with that sort of tenderness made Shinsou feel vaguely queasy.

But then the moment was gone, Todoroki returning to his seat, and Midnight looking to Bakugo and Midoriya. "Alright, boys, let's see what you've got."

Midoriya stood, but Bakugo shoved him back. "Out of the way, Deku," Bakugo grumbled. He slammed his board on the teaching podium. "Okay, brace yourself, losers. The next Number One Hero - Shrapnel!"

"Hm, it's still a little - abrasive," Midnight offered.

Bakugo slammed his (Kirishima's) board against the podium; the board snapped. "What the fuck would you pick, then?" he demanded.

Midnight took a step back, frowning thoughtfully as she stared at Bakugo. She stepped around him, a slow circuit, expression still, unmoved. "As much as you might want a 'cool' name, we can't have one that draws attention to your more...unpredictable tendencies. If it were up to me, I'd go with...Triumph."

Bakugo was scowling, hands gripping the podium, but after a moment, his stance eased, scowl giving way to - it might have been a smile.

"Triumph? Yeah - that's pretty awesome." He smirked, and slammed his palm against the podium. "Remember that name, nerds, because Triumph's gonna be-"

"Thank you, Bakugo," Midnight said. "We've got one student left. Back to your seat."

"Yeah, one left," Bakugo said. He pointed at Midoriya, expression morphing to its familiar sneer. "You're not going to top a name like 'Triumph', Deku. Just remember that."

"Yeah, but we're always going to know you didn't come up with the idea yourself," Shinsou said. "Just like you only won the Sports Festival because I let you." He grinned in the face of Bakugo's resulting scowl, knowing Bakugo wouldn't do anything worse than yell at him - couldn't do anything worse than that.

"Shut the fuck up, nerd," Bakugo growled, dropping into his chair, and, by all appearances, ignoring the rest of the class.

Midoriya stood, shaking a little, but seemed to have steadied himself by the time he reached the front of the room. "Um." He tapped his fingers against his board. "I - wanted a name that really, um, inspires hope when people hear it. But also something that gives an idea what I can do - I know it's a little old-fashioned, but I think it's good to know what a hero who shows up can do. Like 'Freeze Tag' - that's Todoroki-kun's signature move. And Charge Bolt really describes what Kaminari-kun does. But-"

"I think we'd like to hear your idea, Midoriya," Midnight prompted.

"Oh! O - kay." Midoriya flipped his board. "Firebird."

"Why not something like Phoenix?" Midnight asked. "Firebird is a little - generic."

"Actually," Yaoyorozu said, "Igor Stravinsky's 'The Firebird' tells the story of a boy who enlists the help of the titular firebird to defeat an immortal sorcerer. The ballet is famous, and I would suggest 'Firebird' would bring to mind a relentless enemy against evil, and a loyal defender."

The class was quiet in the wake of Yaororozu's analysis, at least until Sero blurted, "That is so cool."

"Yeah, but it might make people think Midoriya can fly," Tsu said.

"Maybe," Ojiro agreed. "But Midoriya does this awesome thing when he's on fire. When he moves really quickly, his arms get this trail like-"

"Wings of flame," Todoroki said. "I think it's an appropriate name."

Midoriya beamed, which Shinsou got. Midoriya liked nothing better than approval, and from someone as cool as Todoroki, well.

With that done, Aizawa-sensei brought them to the next order of business, which ruined Shinsou's mood. Because he'd had hopes of distinguishing himself in the Sports Festival, of attracting the attention of his own hero.

But not anymore.

Hawks was dead at the hands of the Hero Killer, a villain who left his victims broken and bleeding, who likely had access to a paralysis Quirk, and was still at large. He'd attacked Native, a lesser-known hero who was nevertheless the only one of the Hero Killer's victims to survive. And it left Shinsou - anxious. Talking about internships, working under real heroes, all Shinsou could think about was that there was someone out there killing heroes, someone no other hero had been able to stop.

Shinsou had received offers - offers from hero agencies he regularly saw in the news - people he'd dreamed of working with since his Quirk had manifested. People who could help him make his name.

But all Shinsou could think about was...

Well, there'd been talk, after the third or fourth of the Hero Killer's victims, about what they had in common. And there were - similarities. None were unknown - they were all visible, present. And there were - questions about them. Rumors. Accusations. Even Native - well, he didn't have the most sensitive costume, and was unapologetic about it.

So among the forums Shinsou frequented, there'd been suggestions that the Hero Killer had seen something rotten in the world of heroes, and was doing something about it. Violently, terribly, but-

They were doing something no one else cared about, or was capable enough to do.

Or would be, if they hadn't killed Hawks, hadn't done so gruesomely, the scene plastered across the internet even though the police had tried to censor them, keep the public from seeing such graphic images.

Shinsou would have agreed the Hero Killer should be stopped when he believed the Hero Killer was executing some form of twisted justice against heroes who used their fame as the cover for - well, being like Bakugo. But knowing they'd attacked a real hero - someone who understood that there was a goal to heroism, a distant, impossible goal, but one to work for, to aim for?

They had to go down. And Shinsou was certain there was no one better than him to do it.


Endeavor was trying to make a point, Todoroki was sure. He probably believed that by not extending an offer to Todoroki (by not, as Todoroki had expected, simply commanding Todoroki to show up on the first day of his internship), he was making Todoroki reflect on his mistakes. That at the end of the week, he would crawl back to his father, expressing remorse at having disobeyed him, begging forgiveness and promising to train until he could use his fire as well as Endeavor did.

And that left Todoroki with a choice - not as many as Shinsou, who practically had his pick of agencies to work with - but enough (more than Bakugo, who had one). He was surprised to see Ingenium on his list; he would have thought Iida Tensei would favor his own brother. There were others, too, and it would be easy to just pick one that would appreciate his skills.

But. Midnight was right that Todoroki's hero name suggested a more - sociable person. If Todoroki really wanted to be Freeze Tag, he needed a different sort of training. He needed someone more like Midoriya…

His gaze stopped when he saw a - familiar name.

'Visage'.

One of the top twenty, a popular, well-liked hero. The occasional subject of Endeavor's rants about heroes who cared more about rescuing kittens from trees than 'real work'.

Todoroki wrote 'Visage' in his top choice, and then, following it, put 'Ingenium'. For his third choice, he thought, briefly, before writing in 'Best Jeanist'. There were few heroes who understood the importance of image better than Best Jeanist - even if he was...eccentric.

In the end, when they got their results the Friday before their internships were to start, Todoroki got his first choice.

"So who'd you get?" Kirishima asked of Bakugo, twisting around to look at his reporting instructions.

"None of your damn business," Bakugo snarled, crumpling the paper.

"Yes!" Uraraka cheered. "I got Gunhead!"

"Really?" Tsu asked. "I wouldn't think you'd be interested-"

"No, it makes sense," Midoriya cut in. "Uraraka's Quirk requires her to touch her target - the ability to fight well hand-to-hand, especially when it comes to closing in on a target, is invaluable. In addition, she can't be certain a villain will be defeated easily just by making them weightless - she needs a way to counter them if they prove maneuverable even when floating. Is that it?" he asked.

"Uh - yeah!" Uraraka agreed, nodding. "And what about you, Firebird?"

"Oh! Um." He bit his lip, looking at his feet. "I got only a few offers, and none of them seemed like the right fit. But." He muttered something, and Todoroki felt his chest seize up, because he couldn't have heard what he thought he had.

"Endeavor?" Uraraka asked. "Really?"

"Yeah," Midoriya replied. "He is the Number Two hero, and - I could use some pointers how to use fire in hero work."

Todoroki snorted; Endeavor didn't give pointers. He taught by example, usually, in Todoroki's experience, by using his son as the target.

Midoriya glanced at Todoroki, hands clenched around his instructions, eyes wide, and, Todoroki thought he noticed, shaking. "You-"

"I'm working with Visage," Todoroki said, cutting off whatever Midoriya was going to say.

"And what about you, Shinsou-chan?" Tsu asked.

Shinsou shrugged. "Manual," he said. Midoriya's face wrinkled in confusion, in thought, Todoroki supposed. Because Shinsou, after demonstrating an amazing Quirk for incapacitating villains, had gone on to show off incredible battlefield awareness, the ability to hold his own in hand-to-hand combat, a talent for mimicry, and sufficient grasp of psychology to manipulate even a person who knew his Quirk to get caught in it. He'd received the most offers in the class, as heroes scrambled to see if Shinsou was the asset he'd presented himself as.

"Oh, is there a particular reason you chose him?" Midoriya asked. "Manual doesn't get a lot of attention, but every hero has their strengths, and-"

"Midoriya?" Shinsou cut in. "I'm a little tired, okay?"

"Oh." Midoriya's mouth snapped shut, and he nodded. "Sorry. Um. Good luck!" Aizawa-sensei dismissed them at that point, and Midoriya all but fled. It left Todoroki's throat tense, his stomach troubled. He sort of wanted to yell at Shinsou; he'd seen the hint of tears in Midoriya's eyes as he'd left. But he wasn't sure Midoriya wasn't upset with him, too.

He wasn't sure he wasn't upset with Midoriya, himself. So he left it alone, still unsure how to approach the people he'd started to think of as friends, until that Sunday, when he went to see his mother. It was his second visit since - she'd gone to the hospital, and he still didn't know how to feel, how to act. They'd both apologized to each other, and they'd talked, blandly, about the weather.

But when he settled and his mother looked to him, and asked how his classes were, he felt the tightness rising back up, and knew he had to get free of it.

"We're starting internships with Pro Heroes next week," he said.

"Oh." His mother drew back, her hands twisting in her lap. "I suppose your father-"

"He didn't invite me to join him," Todoroki said. "I - I told you about Midoriya, in the Sports Festival. He told me it was okay if I never used fire in battle, if I never wanted to use it to hurt people. So I didn't. I haven't. He...invited Midoriya to join him. Midoriya agreed."

Todoroki's mother didn't speak, and as the silence stretched out, Todoroki found himself panicking. He'd somehow offended Midoriya, and now his mother?

"You're upset," she said softly. Gently. And at that tone, Todoroki just jerked his head into a nod, relieved she didn't sound angry. "With Midoriya?"

"No!" Todoroki burst out. "He's - he spends all his time studying heroes and Quirks. Even though he knows - what Endeavor is like - I know he wants to see him using his Quirk up close. I understand."

"Then with your father?"

Todoroki opened his mouth to respond, before letting it close again. Was he upset with Endeavor?

Maybe.

He probed at his own feelings. He didn't think he was - jealous, or feeling abandoned or anything; his father's indifference was the nearest thing he had to peace. But the thought of Midoriya spending a week with Endeavor left Todoroki feeling - sick.

"I don't want - Midoriya shouldn't be around Endeavor. He-"

Endeavor ruined things. Endeavor ruined people. Midoriya didn't deserve that.

"Shouto." He started at the voice - at his name. His mother was smiling at him, still gentle. "Is Midoriya a cruel person?"

"No, of course not. He - he's wanted to be a hero forever. He's watched them his whole life, wants to be like All Might-"

"Strong?" his mother asked.

"No, he wants to be - he wants to be the sort of hero that makes people feel safe."

"So do you think - that Endeavor could change him, to make him see things Endeavor's way - in just one week?"

"I...no," Todoroki whispered. "But - I still don't want…" He trailed off, unable to explain the lingering fear that somehow, just being near Endeavor would - ruin everything, the small bubble of happiness Todoroki had. Maybe Midoriya would see enough of Endeavor's character to realize what Todoroki had in common with his father. Maybe-

A thousand maybes flooded his thoughts, fighting for attention, and Todoroki sobbed, a shuddering, whispered sound (because heroes didn't cry). His mother reached out, pulled him close, and, after only a moment's pause, rested a hand along the left side of his head. It was cool, whether because of her Quirk or just because most people's skin was cooler than Todoroki's left side, he didn't know. They spent most of the rest of his visit like that, and when Todoroki left, he felt.

Not better, certainly. Not less worried.

But.

Midoriya was smart. He was kind. He hadn't let a childhood spent in Bakugo's presence beat him down, leave him cold; a week with Endeavor wouldn't do the same. And beyond that - he had to trust his friend.

Endeavor ignored Todoroki for most of the weekend, not even acknowledging him when Todoroki left for his first day with Visage. Visage worked in the western portion of Tokyo - an area usually a little quieter than central Tokyo, or even Musutafu - so Todoroki took the train. He had his hero costume in its case - he'd requested an upgrade after the Sports Festival, something that didn't feel - that didn't restrict him, if he decided to use his fire, and that didn't make him look so-

Cold.

It was simple, little more than a jacket and pants, with a utility belt for such tools as medical supplies (even Endeavor kept such supplies on him).

It suited him, he thought. Endeavor had to be seen, had to be recognized. Todoroki didn't need that.

Visage's agency wasn't much more than an office in a multi-suite building - a door with 'Visage Hero Agency' set on it within a sliding nameplate frame. Plain, unassuming. It probably didn't cost much; even the nameplate itself looked cheap. Used to his father's wealth, to even the high-tech, fancy facilities at U.A., Todoroki felt disconcerted. But then the door swung open to reveal the office. Most of it was a cozy waiting area, low chairs set along the wall, a box of toys and games set in one corner, a television playing some talk show. There was another door on the right wall, with a button next to it. 'Ring for service' it read. Todoroki stepped up to the button and pressed it. A smooth, two-toned ring sounded, muffled through the door.

"That's not really necessary - I'm right here."

Todoroki didn't jump, didn't yell. He did stiffen, running his mind backward through the last few moments to understand how he'd let someone sneak up on him. He turned, cautious, right hand out. There was no one behind him.

"Hey, kid, calm down." The voice was - not quite familiar, but not strange.

"Shinsou?"

"Who?" There was a moment of quiet, and then a quiet laugh. "Oh, man." There was someone in front of Todoroki, someone who hadn't been there before (or had there? Todoroki was good at noting when a room was occupied; it was a necessary skill in Endeavor's household). They were wider than Todoroki, and - soft, a little fat. Black hair, a little wild, like Midoriya's, puffed away from their head down to their shoulders, and within the frame of that round face was a smile, bright, with a gap between the front teeth, eyes a dark brown, almost black. They wore a long, loose green coat over a blue jumpsuit (it looked a little like U.A.'s hero uniform, absent the white highlights), and a shirt with a hood bunched just beneath their chin.

"Sorry about that! I keep my mask up around the office unless I'm expecting someone, which I was, but I was also trying to avoid my neighbor - you actually don't want to hear about that, do you?" They stuck out a long-fingered hand. "Izaki Ai, although you'll be calling me 'Visage' out in the field. Which is presuming you're Todoroki Shouto, which I think you must be, unless someone with a shapeshifting or illusion Quirk snuck in here."

"Yes, I am." Todoroki felt a little bit in a daze; listening to Visage speak was a little like being around Midoriya. It wasn't quite the same; Visage didn't seem to be as invested in thinking about Quirks as Midoriya, but that tendency to forget themselves and just keep on talking was familiar.

While Todoroki had been thinking, Visage took his hand and shook it once. As Visage stepped back, Todoroki, remembering himself, offered a bow.

"It's an honor to meet you, Izaki-san."

"Oh, don't bother with that! Visage is fine. You'll want to get used to that. Eventually, even the most famous heroes will be your peers, and these names - our hero names - will be the easiest way to speak to each other. But it's understandable; the first time I met All Might in the field I called him 'All Might-sama', and he hasn't let me forget it since."

"Ah. Okay."

Visage paused, glancing at Todoroki, and clicked their tongue. "You're the quiet type, aren't you?"

"S - sort of. I wanted to change that. I admire your work, Visage-"

"Hm." The sound was short, and had just enough annoyance that Todoroki knew to stop speaking immediately. He bit his lip, waiting for - not necessarily an explosion, but.

Consequences.

"Well, come on. We'll get the paperwork out of the way first; I've always said, paperwork first, and then you can complain about it after."

Todoroki remained in place as Visage headed toward the second door, with the buzzer, until the Pro Hero pulled the door open and paused, turning back at him. "Well? Come on. We've got a lot of work to do."

"Oh. Sorry." Todoroki followed Visage into their office, pulling the door closed behind them. Whatever Visage had thought about Todoroki's comment, they'd apparently let it go. Or, rather, he thought, eyeing the closed door, didn't want to risk clients seeing their reaction. He tried to gauge if Visage were the sort to want an apology right away, or if they wanted to tell Todoroki first what he'd done wrong.

They were digging through one of four filing cabinets set about the room, small but not feeling it, with a small half-desk set next to Visage's chair, a squashed green couch across from it, and the filing cabinets. One small window was set high up against the wall, but the room was lit with a warm light, and the walls covered in picture frames. Not pictures of Visage posing with other heroes, or the people they'd rescued, in fact, almost no pictures of Visage at all. Some were of families, or individual people, a girl hugging a dog, both smiling at the camera; others were pictures - children's scrawls, sketches, and an oil painting nearly hidden by the other frames. The drawings, Todoroki realized, were where the pictures of Visage were.

Todoroki wasn't certain how he felt about it; he wasn't certain what the pictures were saying.

So he looked back at Visage, who had pulled out two folders, setting one down on their own desk before flipping out a folding table from behind one of the cabinets.

They were waiting for Todoroki to speak, he decided.

"I'm sorry if I offended you, Visage," Todoroki said.

"What?"

"I wasn't thinking about what I said earlier, so-"

"Offended?" Visage asked, voice slow, uncertain. "What would I have to be offended about?"

"I...I'm afraid I don't know," Todoroki replied. "But you were upset-"

Visage huffed and sat down onto their chair. "You could tell, huh?" They waved at the couch. "Go on, sit down. Take the table with you; we've both got to fill stuff out." They waited until Todoroki sat, gingerly setting himself at the edge of the couch before speaking again. "I'm not mad at you, kid. You're what, sixteen?" Todoroki nodded. "I was just - surprised that you said that. I wouldn't expect your father to have much to say about me that would paint me in a good light."

"I'm not my father," Todoroki said.

"Oh, don't I know it!" Visage chuckled. "Freeze Tag? I almost killed myself laughing when I saw that." They pressed their lips together, although the motion didn't do much to hide their smile. "But you're right. I shouldn't be surprised you've got a mind of your own. We all do - and I saw enough of you in the Sports Festival to know you use it to think for yourself."

"What-" Todoroki jerked his head away, unwilling to voice the question. It wasn't his place to ask, and it sounded - presumptuous, or like he was fishing for compliments.

But Visage seemed to know what he'd been asking. "You never used the 'hot' part of your Quirk. You had a reason for that, even though I know Endeavor wouldn't be happy with it. And your friend, Midoriya - he warmed you up so you could keep fighting."

Todoroki shook his head. "That doesn't have anything to do with me; Midoriya would do that for anyone-"

"But you let him help you," Visage cut in. "It means you don't have your father's pride, even though you have every reason to. A powerful Quirk can make someone hard. I...think you might understand that."

"No." Todoroki surprised himself with the sharpness of his voice; Visage jerked back a little, surprised, too, he guessed. "A Quirk doesn't make someone hard. No Quirk can make someone a worse person than they are - or a better one." He took in a breath at the end of that, realizing this was much more than he'd intended to say to Visage.

But at last, Visage nodded. "You're an interesting kid, Freeze Tag. So tell me - what do you want to get out of this internship?"

"I...want to be the sort of hero who makes people feel better for being there. I need to learn-"

"How to be 'Freeze Tag' instead of an ice king," Visage concluded. "Well. I can work with that - as long as you're willing to listen. Some people say they want to learn how to talk to people, but get defensive when you point out how they make people feel."

"People already say I'm - cold, and aloof," Todoroki replied. "So I'd - like to know if I can be different."

"Good!" Visage said. "Then first step - fill out your paperwork first, so you aren't distracted worrying about it later!"


At the end of a long day, Re-Destro would retire to his rooms and read through the secret history of Quirks. His father and his father's acolytes had scoured the world for the secrets bound within these books, and Re-Destro had grown up hearing the histories as bedtime stories.

"There have always been people with Quirks, Rikiya-kun, did you know that?"

"Yeah!" he'd exclaim. "Like Sarutobi Sasuke, Susanoo, um, Heracles…"

The acolyte would laugh and ruffle Re-Destro's hair. "Quite right, Rikiya-kun. But the secret the government tries to keep people from learning is that these heroes weren't the only humans who had Quirks. Because when a human had a powerful enough Quirk, they were called a god."

He'd look up at them with wide eyes. "Like Jupiter and Mars and Venus?"

"Like all the gods - Xango and Thor and Indra and Quetzalcoatl. Their Quirks were so powerful that no human - even one with a Quirk - could hope to challenge them."

"But there aren't any gods around now," Re-Destro would protest.

"No," the acolyte would reply, quiet. "For every history of those who had Quirks beyond what we can imagine today, there is a story of how they fell - how their world was destroyed. Men with the blood of angels were washed away by the flood, Fenrir consumed the sun to bring about Ragnarok, and only ordinary men and women were left."

Re-Destro would frown, then. "But then why are there Quirks?" he'd ask.

"Because the Quirk factor is a part of humanity - no matter how many times it is driven underground, it will rise again. No matter how they try to beat us down, our Quirks will struggle to be free."

It had been a pretty story, but like all children's stories, was - simplified. Quirks were normal. There were always tales that suggested the existence of a Quirk, but there were also times where so many had Quirks it must have been an age like the modern one. But each such age came to an end.

Destro had had his revelation before his acolytes had discovered the truth, but in finding it, they had hailed his vision. For the tales of the end of each age suggested a judgment - the Flood, Ragnarok, and others.

Destruction of those found unworthy, and the passing of the age of Quirks.

Destro's acolytes, and Re-Destro himself, had studied these texts, trying to understand these times of judgment. And there were a few undeniable truths.

There was an entity - a will, immortal, undying - that stood in judgment of humanity. It did so at some undeterminable time after a substantial portion of humanity possessed Quirks. It possessed the power not only to destroy so much of the world that the survivors would remember only the cataclysm, but to ensure those who remained would not manifest Quirks, and would not for centuries to come.

The leaders of the Meta Liberation Army believed, though there was little direct evidence of the fact, that the entity's power could destroy not only people, not only whole swathes of the world, but Quirks themselves. And Re-Destro found it easy to suspect such an entity also had the power to create Quirks.

Because imagining such a being made sense - one who gifted humanity with Quirks, only to take them away if they disappointed it.

It was clear to Re-Destro and his father's acolytes how humanity had fallen short of the judge's standards each time. In every prior age, Quirks had grown powerful, and those with the most powerful Quirks had set themselves up as rulers of humanity. They claimed to be inheritors of creation, gods who stood above those with less power than them.

It began with humans seeking to control how mankind used its God-given Quirks.

So it was a matter of - not faith, but fact - that unless the Meta Liberation Army shattered the laws that bound humanity's Quirks, they would again find themselves judged, and be found wanting.

Chapter Text

Stain licked the flat of his shortest knife. The man sprawled against the far wall of the alley didn't move, but that was the point. He was pretty sure the guy was type A, which required a little extra care to keep him from moving before he was out of commission.

"Tokoname Tatsuyuki," Stain drawled. "Slidin' Go. The ideal picture of a friendly, helpful hero. Or so you'd have people believe. But I know the truth. What you get up to on your off days. Encouraging lawbreakers and criminals - people with no principle, just a selfish desire to use their power to whatever end they feel."

"We have - principles," Slidin' Go gasped. "The freedom of the individual, the rights to wield our own powers without limit-"

Stain kicked the man's side, nicked his arm with his knife and licked along it again, because activating his Quirk stopped even the heart for a split-second. It tended to shut people up, and he was sick of listening to Slidin' Go's hypocrisy. "You sound like an American," he snarled. "Acting like refusing to hold people to any standards makes you morally superior. Do you somehow believe that if everyone had leave to use their Quirks as they desired, that there would still be heroes? That anyone would take up the mantle to protect people, if they knew people could use their own Quirks to protect themselves? It would be a slaughter, and the fault for it would rest on your head. So don't think of this as murder - think of it as a pre-emptive execution."

"Why are you doing this?" Slidin' Go gasped, voice rough, pained.

"Because the world is broken," Stain snapped.

"Drop your weapons and don't move," a new voice said, and Stain felt his body obey that command, hands loosing his blades as his arms fell to his sides. And then a boy stepped into the alley. His hair was wild, a purple halo around his head, and eyes violet, bags under them, like he didn't sleep. He wore a grey-green suit, in dark shades that faded into invisibility much more easily than amateurish black. There was a dark band around his throat, likely armor, and some sort of mouthpiece that must have made it easier for him to project his voice.

Stain couldn't even twitch a finger, bound by the command as helplessly as both of the boys caught by Shinsou Hitoshi's Quirk during the U.A. Sports Festival.

He'd been unaccountably careless, but he'd assumed Shigaraki's Nomus would have taken care of any heroes lurking around looking for him.

But that didn't mean he'd lost.

Shinsou stepped forward, glancing from Stain toward Slidin' Go. His eyes narrowed. "Will you need assistance to get out of here?"

"Paralyzed," Slidin' Go said. "It's his Quirk - if he cuts you, it's over."

"Well, we don't have to worry about that," Shinsou said. "My Quirk will hold him until the authorities get here." A distant explosion was answered by sirens, and if he could move his mouth, Stain would have smiled. The authorities wouldn't be here anytime soon, and the boy couldn't hold him forever. Every Quirk had its limits, its weakness.

...And in the Sports Festival, they hadn't declared Shinsou Hitoshi the winner until his opponents left the ring.

Stain strained against the control Shinsou had over his body, trying to move something, anything. It might wear off naturally, like Stain's own Quirk, or might require focus. In any case, the moment he could get free, the kid was dead.

"What, are you hoping he'll just forget about you?" Shinsou's hair was greyed out, and the world around Stain still, filled with the stale scent of what Stain now knew to be a moment where time all but stopped to accommodate the whims of the man who called himself Cipher, the facilitator (muse, he'd called himself) content to help Stain destroy the corruption that infested the world of heroes. He was currently hovering just within Stain's vision, on the opposite side from Shinsou and Slidin' Go.

"His Quirk has limits - there's a way out, or his teachers would have declared him the winner the moment he caught them with it," Stain said. He straightened, stretching his stiff fingers. Whatever was happening in real time, he could at least move normally here.

"Well, sure. A little pain would snap you right out of it," Cipher replied with a snap of his fingers, "but that's not going to happen with you being all quiet and obedient. It's bad luck he isn't the type to lecture you or sit there quizzing you about your motives, or you'd have an opening."

Stain grit his teeth and took a breath. He'd accepted this man's help in setting out on his quest, but he was hesitant to ask for it again. The cost he'd already paid was...worrying. He didn't think the man had yet steered him wrong, but Stain had agreed to kill anyone Cipher demanded, a promise more daunting after the close call with Hawks (who'd proven to care too much for public acclaim to be a true hero).

Still. He couldn't let his crusade end today.

"You could help me," Stain growled. "Do more than just stand around-"

"Hey, I do a lot more than just stand around!" Cipher snapped. "For example, offering hilarious quips when you're in a tight spot."

"Then help me get out of this! I can't purge the world of filth like Tokoname here from prison!"

"Oh, you never know," Cipher replied. "But I still don't know what you expect me to do about this."

"Just distract the kid! You're good at talking-"

"Talk? To Hypnotoad?" Cipher snorted. "You must be the stupidest person alive, asking me to do that."

"Then what can you do? This isn't real - we're inside my head, right?"

"But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" Cipher quipped. Stain remained silent; if he refused to ask, Cipher wouldn't explain, and he wouldn't have to pretend to care. After a moment, Cipher sighed. "Yeah, we're in your head. What of it?"

"Does that mean you could - take control of my body?" Stain asked. "The kid didn't take control of your brain."

"Huh, I never thought of that," Cipher mused. "I suppose I could. It's a risk, though; if the kid caught me with his Quirk, we'd be screwed."

Stain snarled; his benefactor had a point, but that meant paying more for his assistance, however limited. "What do you want?" he asked.

"Short-term or long-term?" Cipher asked. "Because long-term, you don't even want to know. Short-term - well, I'm gonna need to ride you until sunrise. And don't get the wrong idea, it's what the professionals call voluntary possession."

"You'll kill Tokoname?" Stain confirmed.

"I'll try," Cipher replied. "I can't promise anything, even with those chimeras running around distracting the Pros. Plus, you've got half-trained heroes with promising futures running around, and that's a fucking wildcard right there."

It was better than nothing, given that 'nothing' was going to get him thrown in Tartarus. "Okay. You get me until the sun rises tomorrow, and you do your best to kill Tokoname and keep me out of the cops' hands."

There was a hint of smile, and a hand reached out to Stain. "You've got yourself a deal, Stain-kun." The hand grabbed his own, and something pushed at Stain. He stumbled sideways as the world came back to color and life. Stain's body laughed, an unrestrained sound that filled the alleyway, and then drew a knife out of its sheath and across Stain's cheek.

A little pain would snap you right out of it…

Stain's body tossed the knife aside where it hit a wall and stuck; and then Cipher made it leap at Shinsou, eyes wild.


Todoroki wasn't sure what was most worrying about the massive creatures - Nomu, he supposed, was an appropriate name for them, even if that had merely been the given name of the first one they met. Their sheer strength, speed, and resilience was a problem, naturally. The one he and Visage were fighting had so far avoided being caught by Todoroki's ice, even with Visage popping in and out of view to distract the monster.

…In retrospect, thinking about that had brought to light a conclusion that was absolutely the most worrying thing about the Nomus. Because Visage could conceal themselves from humans, and humans only. Animals could see them just fine, and he bet Principal Nezu could, too. Which meant…

They had been people, once. With wills, dreams, and hopes all their own.

And now they were puppets. Todoroki shivered, unsure if it was from overuse of his Quirk or the feeling that it might be better to put the Nomus out of their misery than to send them to be locked up somewhere. He let the flames of his left side flicker to life, enough to offset the chill of his right, and slammed a wall of ice into the Nomu they fought, a creature whose head was covered in waving tentacles with bulbous tips, which they used to grab and hurl anything they could reach at Todoroki and Visage. It felt - familiar somehow. Todoroki had met a boy on his first day of school with a Quirk like that. He'd tried to befriend him, an enterprise doomed to failure once Endeavor had learned of it.

Todoroki hadn't seen the boy since, so had no way of knowing if this monster was just pulling at old memories, or if-

Something too terrible to contemplate had happened. Todoroki was certain it was easier to reshape living humans than make new ones.

"Get back!" Visage shouted, from - somewhere to Todoroki's right. Even if you could hear Visage, your brain struggled to identify where they were. Still, Todoroki fell back, ducking behind a car as the Nomu hurled a bench at him. Distant sirens and the sight of smoke suggested there were more than one Nomu loose, that there were more heroes struggling to hold off these monsters.

And then Todoroki's phone chimed - the noise he'd set for the 1-A group chat. He'd set a specific ring for messages from the chat because some of his classmates could get - chatty, and it let him know the notification wasn't urgent.

Except-

All of his classmates had internships. All of them should be in the field, shadowing Pro Heroes.

None of them should have time to be sending cat gifs to the rest of the class.

Temporarily sheltered, Todoroki pulled out his phone and swiped it open.

It was from Shinsou. Two street names (in Hosu, Todoroki noted dimly) and 'HK BKUP'.

The intersection of those streets was half a mile away.

And 'HK'...

"Visage!" Todoroki shouted. "One of my classmates is in trouble!"

Visage appeared next to Todoroki, reading over his shoulder. "You don't think-" they said.

"It has to be the Hero Killer," Todoroki said. Shinsou had been quiet since the Sports Festival, and…

Todoroki remembered Shinsou enthusiastically explaining why his favorite hero was Hawks, and his evasiveness about why he was working with Manual, instead of a more notable hero. Manual didn't have a sidekick, probably wasn't used to giving orders to other heroes. And with Shinsou's Quirk - it would have seemed easy to catch the Hero Killer.

"We can't leave this!" Visage said, yanking Todoroki aside as the Nomu punched through their cover. "Are any of your friends working with someone else who might be close by?"

Todoroki thought quickly; he couldn't remember anyone else working with a hero from Hosu.

But there was someone who would be there regardless, who would revel in the chance at taking out the notorious Hero Killer, who had no fear of someone who had only taken out lesser heroes.

"Midoriya Izuku," Todroki said. "He's working with - my father."

But what were the chances Midoriya would notice the message? Could get Endeavor to understand and chase down a ghost?

Visage nodded. "Well. You know the law, Freeze Tag."

"W - what?"

Visage leveled their gaze at Todoroki, eyes all but black in the darkness. "You can't engage the Hero Killer unless they attack you directly, but you can use your Quirk to get your friend out of there. So go. I've got this."

Todoroki nodded. "I'll - make you proud."

"Don't worry about that," Visage retorted. "Just get your friend."

"Right! And - thank you." Todoroki waved at the ground to make a path and began skating as fast as he could toward the intersection.

"Thanking me," Visage grumbled in the background as they slipped out of sight. "As if this isn't what I do every day."

It was possible, Todoroki considered as he cut around the edge of panicking crowds and, once, the scene of destruction as a pair of heroes he didn't recognize engaged a winged Nomu that easily evaded their attempts to take it down, that he had a warped understanding of how heroes behaved. That taking risks to save people was expected. That Endeavor, who wouldn't risk his reputation to allow a sidekick work unsupervised, or, worse, to catch a notorious villain without him (as if a perfectly reasonable hero couldn't credit their own leadership for a sidekick's victory), was outside the norm.

The streets were quieter here, as Todoroki might expect for a villain who ambushed his prey, who fought them long enough for them to bleed out before anyone noticed the conflict. But as he drew closer to the streets Shinsou had identified, Todoroki heard the sound of metal against pavement.

The street itself was empty, but all of the Hero Killer's victims had been found in alleyways, so it was without hesitation that Todoroki shifted to burst into the nearest alley. A person wrapped in bandages, noseless face looking mutilated, the right side bloodied, stood over Shinsou, a ninja-to held high, catlike eyes wide, face twisted into a delighted grin.

"This is going to hurt you much more than it's going to hurt me," the Hero Killer said, voice breaking into a sharp, stuttering laugh.

Todoroki snapped his foot around, sending ice racing toward Shinsou, arcing up to form a barrier as the Hero Killer slammed their sword down. The ice cracked as the Hero Killer stabbed down, but it didn't give. Todoroki raised a wall between Shinsou and the Hero Killer, forcing them to hop back rather than be hit with a rising wall of spikes. Todoroki pressed a hand against the nearest wall of the cocoon of ice he'd made, melting it so he could reach Shinsou. Shinsou's hand was pressed against his throat. Todoroki didn't see any blood, but Shinsou was wheezing; the Hero Killer had probably, reasonably, targeted Shinsou's larynx once he'd realized Shinsou's Quirk.

"Are you alright?" Todoroki demanded.

Shinsou nodded jerkily. "There's another-" he gasped out.

"Oh, man, this is just as impressive in person as it is on TV!" the Hero Killer laughed, leaping from the top of the ice wall to kick off one wall of the alley to land safely on the ground. "I mean, you're no Elsa, but this is real life, not some cartoon. So." They threw a knife at Todoroki; he dodged, yanking Shinsou out of the way. He didn't want to press his luck with what constituted being attacked directly, and if he had to get a second person out of here, he needed to stay out of the Hero Killer's reach.

"You're probably wondering what I did to your friend, there. Not much, really - he's got this Quirk that can force people to do what he tells them to.

"I̷̗̣̱̼͊͋ ̵̥́̉̇Ḩ̸̧̢̮̩͉̤͙̪͍̂̾̏Ą̶̨̢̻̺̩̱̭Ţ̷͕̘̹̜̠̥͇̠̭̥̅̇̽̊̑͗͋̂͂E̴̢̥̼̲̲̩̤͔̠͖͎̼͇̒̽́̀͊͠ ̷̧͓͚̙̫̞̣̬͖͓̟̭̏̄̀̈́̆̿̾̓̔̾̌̈́͗̂͘͜͜ͅŢ̵̧̧͖̦̮̬͈̹̜͍̭̹͍̠̊̅̔̌͌̾̈́͛͋͐͒̽H̴̭̤̠̰͓̤̤̙͛͘ͅÀ̶̢̢̭̱̪͉̟̰͉̻̳̭̬̼̎̽̉̇̄̏̽̿̇͂̅͘͠Ţ̵͛̒.

"But he needs to talk to use his Quirk, so a quick throat punch took care of that."

Todoroki saw another body slumped against the far wall, beyond his wall of ice. The Hero Killer dashed toward him again.

Fuck. Todoroki yanked a wall up beneath his and Shinsou's feet, a steepled path that, as he let go of Shinsou, sent Todoroki sliding down toward the bleeding Pro Hero, and Shinsou sliding toward the main street.

Below, the Hero Killer hit the wall, braced themselves, and jumped after Shinsou.

Todoroki kicked out, creating a branching path that threw him in U-turn, racing toward Shinsou as the Hero Killer drew a long, straight blade, one yet unbloodied. Todoroki shot past the Hero Killer; he was going to make it-

Everything stopped; Todoroki was even certain his heart had skipped it a beat. But then everything was normal, except Todoroki couldn't move. His body fell, skidding along the ice before falling off the path to the ground.

"Man, this Quirk is the best," the Hero Killer drawled. "It doesn't matter what sort of Quirk you've got - if you can't move, you can't use it."

Not true. Todoroki's heart was beating, his lungs working, and he could move his mouth. Aizawa-sensei could stop the Hero Killer's Quirk even if he were paralyzed. And that meant-

They stepped closer, grinning. There was blood smeared along their mouth, which they licked clean with a swipe of their tongue. Todoroki's left leg was stinging, faintly, suggesting he'd been cut. That suggested the Hero Killer's Quirk required them to draw blood - Todoroki wasn't certain if they had to ingest it, or if it was some weird habit. But it meant if he could get free…

"Take that!" If the Pro had kept his mouth shut, had realized a target that didn't know where you were until after you hit them was better than one who had even a moment's warning, he might have taken out the Hero Killer right then.

Instead, the Hero Killer twisted, laughing, as they twisted their sword around to shove it into the Pro Hero's shoulder. Blood splattered across the Hero Killer, the alley, and Todoroki. The Hero Killer licked the flat of their sword, and the Pro Hero dropped.

So.

They had to consume the blood.

So getting cut itself wasn't game over. It increased the risks, but. Todoroki could work with it. If only he could move (the Quirk had a time limit, or couldn't catch more than one or two people, or required the Hero Killer's attention - there were too many variables, and the Hero Killer didn't seem eager to discuss the nature of their Quirk).

"Oh, man, you almost had me there!" the Hero Killer chortled. "Can you imagine if you had? You're barely on people's radar, but if you caught the Hero Killer, you'd soar through the ranks. An enterprising hero could fill the gap left by Hawks-"

"Don't say his-" Shinsou coughed, grabbing at his chest as he did, and the Hero Killer laughed. They must have figured, Todoroki thought, that a laugh didn't constitute a response. After a few moments, the Hero Killer, stepping over Todoroki, spoke.

"Look at you. A child, challenging a man twice your age, relying on a Quirk the whole world saw you use. Are you so arrogant you thought you'd be the one who could beat the Hero Killer Stain?" The Hero Killer - Stain - shook his head. "No. It's personal. Stain took away the person you looked up to the most, proved that good men will never exceed those who are willing to bully and hurt people-"

Todoroki's hand twitched, and with a roar, he rose, kicking out at Stain, tangling their legs and sending the man tumbling to the ground. Stain snarled, a dagger in his hand. Todoroki threw his right arm in the way, deflecting Stain's strike with a bracer of ice-

"Don't you know that good will always triumph - because I am here?"

Todoroki almost cried in relief; he didn't know how or why All Might was here, but the fight was wearing on him, an endless swing between safety and mortal peril, so the arrival of someone who could end it made him want to cry.

"You've got to be kidding me!" Stain snapped, turning toward the mouth of the alley, where All Might's voice had come from-

No. Toward Shinsou.

"No," Shinsou said, voice clear, steady. "Stand still. Don't talk."

And Todoroki laughed - or sobbed - or something in between, as he scrambled away from Stain. Because Shinsou was better than him at this. He'd kept calm, steady, had played up the extent of the injury to his larynx so Stain would let his guard down.

And now Stain was trapped again.

Except that didn't sound right. Stain had said things about himself that were - odd. Talking about his Quirk like he'd never seen it in action before, the way he'd introduced himself - they could just be idiosyncrasies, but they could also mean-

Todoroki kicked at the ground, separating Stain from the Pro Hero with a wall of ice just as the Hero Killer swung at him with his long sword. The ice was thick enough it didn't break, didn't even crack.

The Hero Killer turned, mouth twisted into a leering grin. And his eyes - they were brown, shaped like a normal human's. "You knew I wasn't trapped," he said, sounding - proud. Impressed? And because Todoroki expected it, he could hear other differences in Stain's voice. His voice was steadier. More grounded.

"Whoever was controlling you - didn't have experience with your Quirk," Todoroki said, hoping his voice was steady, that he didn't sound petrified. "They referred to you in the third person. So I'm guessing - if one of you gets controlled by Siren's Quirk, the other can take over. That's got to be - his Quirk, right?"

Stain shook his head. "We don't have time for an interview. I might have let you go, kid, if you stayed out of my way. But-" When he looked to Todoroki, his smile was toothy, eyes wild, predatory. "You're Endeavor's son. I can't imagine the apple falls far from the tree."

Stain licked along his blade and Todoroki's knees buckled. Stain hadn't gotten all of his blood before - he'd been keeping it in reserve.

As he hit the ground, all Todoroki could think was-

He was going to die. He'd never have a chance to surpass his father, to become someone more like All Might than Endeavor. He'd never grow up, never have a - first kiss, and he hated how much he cared about something so frivolous.

Stain took a step toward Todoroki, and was raising his foot for another when a wall of fire rose between Todoroki and the Hero Killer.

"Whether my son is what I expect him to be or not, you have no right to judge him," Endeavor said - the real Endeavor, not an imitation, because how else would the flame be there? "But know now, Hero Killer, that your reign of terror ends here, because I am here!"

"How dare you?" Stain screamed. He leapt, having somehow climbed up the buildings to either side in the moments Endeavor had been lecturing him, past Todoroki and likely toward Endeavor, flinging a dagger from each hand. He heard a grunt, and the sound of moving bodies, and then the clang of metal against brick. "Using his catchphrase, like you're worth a tenth, a hundredth of what he is!"

Todoroki found he could move again; he shifted slowly, trying to avoid attracting attention. It wasn't necessary, it seemed; Endeavor was holding Stain off with twin whips of fire, forcing Stain to keep his distance or risk being entangled and burned by the lashes. But Stain could move quickly, dancing at the edge of Endeavor's range, and the focus needed to keep that up was draining, Todoroki knew. The wall of fire behind them kept Stain pinned down, but it would require Endeavor to keep his focus on it-

"Todoroki-kun!" a hushed voice called. Todoroki turned, and of course, there was Midoriya, half-standing in the wall of fire, waving at him. He darted to Midoriya's side, leaving behind the fight between Stain and Endeavor; Midoriya swiped at the fire, opening a path to the other side, closing it the moment Todoroki was through, and for a moment, Todoroki stood there and just breathed. As impossible as it was to imagine feeling safe around his father, he knew Endeavor had no attention for anything but the villain he was fighting.

"Are you alright?" Midoriya asked. "Shinsou said you got cut-"

"I'm fine," Todoroki replied. He looked around quickly; the Pro was leaning against a nearby wall, and Shinsou was prying one of Stain's knives out of a wall. The alley cut into another street, so they should be able to escape if they just-

There was a grunt, the sound of something heavy hitting the ground, and then Stain soared through the wall of fire, tucked in tight, rolling as he hit the ground to smother any flame that caught him. He rose in front of the Pro, twin daggers raised.

"You picked the wrong side," Stain growled.

"No, you did!" Shinsou barrelled into Stain, a sharp jab to his knees sending the Hero Killer stumbling, hitting the ground with a heavy breath. Todoroki was close enough to see it, the moment Stain's eyes shifted, and he almost shouted a warning, except what was the point? Stain was already trying to kill them-

"Sorry, Stain-kun," the creature possessing Stain said, kicking Shinsou's leg to draw him down, and cut his throat.

"Shinsou!" Midoriya screamed. Shinsou dropped, the knife he'd been holding falling to the ground next to him. The flame behind them went out, but Stain was running the other way, away from Endeavor.

"We have to go after him!" Todoroki said.

"We need an ambulance!" Midoriya snapped. He fumbled at his belt, pulling out gauze, antiseptic. "If we can stem the bleeding-"

"Your friend's done for," the Pro said. He sounded - sympathetic, Todoroki supposed, quiet. But there was an edge to his voice, the suggestion that they had to set it aside, work to save the people they still could.

"Done for? No. He's not dead yet, and that makes all the difference."

There was a shift in the darkness, something falling and then, like the moment Visage reappeared next to you, there was a person kneeling next to Shinsou. His skin was brown, but so dark as to be almost black. He was - tall, slender, but with a smoothness to his movements that suggested strength kept tightly coiled, ready to unleash when it was needed. His eyes almost glowed, a glittering hazel, like jewels, and he had his hand pressed on Shinsou's heart.

"Staunch the bleeding as best you can - the less blood they need to give him at the hospital, the better."

"What the hell are you doing?" the Pro demanded. "Giving the kid false hope! We both know the kid's gonna bleed out before an ambulance can get here-"

"Not as long as I'm using my Quirk!" the newcomer shouted. "As long as I'm touching him, as long as I will otherwise, he will not die."

"Shouto." Todoroki glanced back; his father was standing behind him, having shaken off the effects of Stain's Quirk. "Come."

At any other time, Todoroki would have balked, would have argued with his father. He had to stay with his friends, to make sure Shinsou would be okay. But this was not a moment for grudges; this was about the duty Todoroki intended to take up one day.

There was a villain on the loose.

Endeavor's fire went out. "Take us after him," Endeavor demanded, and Todoroki nodded. He paused only a moment to pick up the blade Shinsou had dropped; he couldn't shake the idea there was something important about it - that Shinsou had picked it up for a reason. If they were on foot, the delay might have given Stain time to escape, but on ice, skating after Stain on a path that opened out before them, they found him quickly, trying to navigate a street that had somehow become a battlefield between half a dozen Pro Heroes and two Nomus.

"You have my permission, Shouto," Endeavor said.

"W - what?"

"Fire or ice - it doesn't matter," Endeavor said, as he leapt from Todoroki's path. "We will take this villain out together."

And Endeavor snapped his right arm out, a blast of fire erupting out, so wide it should be impossible to avoid. And Stain froze; there was a moment where one of his eyes gleamed yellow, catlike, reflecting the flames arcing toward him.

And then he kicked off the ground, which fractured under the force of his jump, and soared over the flame. Panicked, Todoroki launched a series of ice bolts at the incoming villain, but Stain's hands blurred, snapping his long sword to swat every incoming projectile away. His arms were bulging, veins pulsing with every twitch of his body.

And then Stain landed; Todoroki was shifting to freeze him in place when Stain blurred into motion - at fast, at least, as the Nomu who'd attacked them at the USJ. Stain slammed into Endeavor, or must have, because Todoroki was thrown aside by roaring wind, and when he landed, he saw his father spread-eagled against a building that looked like it'd been hit with a truck. Todoroki stomped on the ground, but Stain met Todoroki's wave of ice with a flurry of punches, shattering the leading edge with the first strike before he kicked off the ground again, a shorter hop, before blurring, slamming a leg into Todoroki's stomach with about the same force as the hardest he'd ever taken from Sato.

Or would have, if Stain's leg weren't moving fast enough the friction alone left it trailing flame, and if the blow hadn't come with another blast of wind that threw Todoroki back far enough he bounced twice before he came to a rest. When he stood, Stain was back in combat with Endeavor. Endeavor was fully aflame, every punch and sweep of his legs sending a blast of fire at Stain. But the other man was too fast; he always seemed to be just out of reach, with the only bright spot that the fire whip technique Endeavor had taken from Midoriya was mostly enough to keep Stain away from Endeavor. Stain's skin was red, something like steam curling away from it, and Todoroki felt a moment of hope. Stain was pushing himself, looked to be overheating, and that meant if Endeavor could hold him off long enough, Stain would collapse himself.

But Stain only had to get lucky once. Todoroki was already on an ice path when he saw a knife score along Endeavor's face. Unable to push himself faster, he just prayed, the only thing left he could do.

Besides think. Stain licked the knife he'd used to cut Endeavor, who went down, helpless.

...When Todoroki had arrived, there'd been blood on Stain's cheek, but neither Shinsou nor the Pro had had a knife.

Stain had cut himself, and Todoroki thought he knew why. And Shinsou had seen a knife Stain had thrown aside and picked it up.

Todoroki threw up a dome of ice, knowing it would do little to hinder Stain in his current state, but it would attract his attention.

"Is this like a union thing or something?" Stain (or rather his possessor, Todoroki noted, looking at his eyes, now both vertical slits in gleaming yellow) demanded. Stain was suddenly inside Todoroki's guard, a knee hitting his stomach, an elbow knocking him higher, and then a kick. Stain leapt after him, the two of them rising with the force of Stain's blows. "That you have to get in the way every! Single! Time!" The last word was punctuated with an overhead swing of Stain's fists that knocked Todoroki back to the ground with a bone-jarring impact. But even though his limbs ached, his head swam, and his heart was racing, full of panic, Todoroki forced himself back up. Shinsou had proven himself among the best of them, and Todoroki couldn't call himself a hero if he couldn't raise himself at least to that bar.

Besides, he knew how to win.

"You can't keep a hero down," Todoroki growled.

"Sure, you say that," Stain's friend chortled. "But I've got a way to keep you out of the way just long enough." And he swiped a knife across Todoroki's right cheek.

Todoroki, who'd been expecting that, grabbed Stain's elbow and wrist and twisted, forcing Stain's hand open so the knife fell. Todoroki grabbed the handle of the knife and darted away, trying to get some distance from Stain. But the Hero Killer was faster than anyone Todoroki had ever met, sweeping his leg before Todoroki could take more than two steps. Stain rolled Todoroki over with his foot and pried the knife out of his hand.

"Jesus, kid, I appreciate the whole 'heroic resolve' thing, but this is a bit much." Stain's tongue drew across the blade.

And he collapsed.

Todoroki dropped the bloody knife he'd switched out for the one coated with Stain's dried blood next to the man and turned. And realized he had an audience - bystanders and heroes alike, standing frozen, watching the scene. He felt his mind stutter, every lesson his father had given him about public speaking abandoning him.

All he could remember was the first thing Visage had told him about dealing with the public. "Horror and comedy come from the same impulse - surprise. Laughter comes when you realize the surprise has no threat. There's value in banter during combat, but when the danger is done, you need a way to let people know it's okay. All Might can do it with a smile, but for the rest of us, all we've got is humor."

He lay his right hand against Stain's chest, pinning him in place with his ice, as much to hold him in place until the police arrived as to think of what to say. What did people say in moments like this?

"Tag," Todoroki said. "You're it."

He wondered if he should be smiling, but it seemed to defuse the tension, anyway. The police were, it seemed, on their way, and Todoroki melted the shield he'd put up around Endeavor before Stain's Quirk wore off. Endeavor was - tense, when he rose, and Todoroki found the tension flowing to him even as he tried to handle the congratulations of other Pros. Whatever Endeavor had said, he had wanted to bring down Stain, and the fact that Todoroki had done so himself, rather than making it look like Endeavor had done it himself, promised consequences.

It left Todoroki distracted, the only explanation he had for why he didn't notice the flying Nomu until it grabbed him, talons piercing his shoulders as it rose with labored beats of its wings. They were ten meters up before Todoroki had the presence of mind to consider his ice, but he wasn't certain he'd be able to catch himself without breaking something.

He was on his third considered plan when a flaming spear struck the Nomu's skull, making it waver, its grip slackening. And then Todoroki was in free-fall. He reached out with his hand, calling up his ice, and-

Froze.

Because his father was on the ground, one hand out, smoking.

And behind his father was Stain, pale, on his knees, shaking, his hands on the grip of the sword sticking out of Endeavor's chest.

The Hero Killer had claimed one last victim.

Todoroki didn't remember who caught him, or much of what happened in the blur of the rest of the night, because all he could remember was the expression on his father's face.

Focused, but - disinterested. Detached. As if saving his youngest son's life was no more important than a press conference. If Todoroki had ever imagined his father saving him from peril, the scenario would have involved some confirmation that his father loved him, not because it was - part of the job.

It was enough to give someone a complex.

Well, another one.


"Oh! Izuku!" Midoriya's mom lunged at him, squeezing hard enough he couldn't breathe. "I was so worried-"

"I just got a little cut, Mom," Midoriya said. "Endeavor tried to keep me out of the action."

"Izuku, please don't lie to me." Midoriya's mom waved at him, and he looked down, where blood was drying in his costume.

"Oh, um, that's. Mostly Shinsou's." Midoriya felt his lip quiver. He'd ridden in the ambulance with Shinsou and the mysterious man with the life-saving Quirk, but had been sent in for a standard check-up and observation while Shinsou went to surgery. The hospital bed sheets bunched within Midoriya's grip as he remembered the bloody, panicked wait for the ambulance to arrive, his only company a man who hadn't answered the few questions Midoriya had had the presence of mind to ask. "We've been waiting for news."

"We? Oh." Midoriya's mom sat back a little when she saw Todoroki, who had a few more bandages, a sling, and was staring out the window. "You aren't hurt too badly, are you, Todoroki?"

It took a moment for Todoroki to turn his head. His expression was - not quite distant, but it was disaffected. Todoroki had looked like that a lot when they'd started at U.A. Well, not when he'd looked at Midoriya, but - when he looked at anyone else.

"No, thank you, Midoriya-san."

"Your father-"

"He's dead," Todoroki said, voice flat.

"O - oh! I'm - sorry, Todoroki."

"You - are?" Todoroki asked, voice high, incredulous. "Huh."

Midoriya tugged his mom's arm and shook his head. He'd tried to talk to Todoroki already, and the other boy was in - shock, or something.

"Well, I'm certain your friend Shinsou will be alright," she said, patting Midoriya's hand.

It was hours still before they got confirmation, when they brought Shinsou into the room and onto the free bed. And Midoriya, having been mostly cleared for anything other than actually fighting villains, scrambled out of his bed to pull Shinsou into a relieved hug.

"I'm so glad you're okay! I know that man said you'd be fine as long as he kept using his Quirk, but he wouldn't explain how it worked, so I wasn't sure, and - the police have Stain, and, they're interviewing everyone. Did they talk to you yet?" Shinsou shook his head. "Oh, well, they're probably planning to let you rest. You lost - a lot of blood. On my, mostly. I was - worried."

Shinsou shrugged, and it occurred to Midoriya he was acting strange. Quiet. And on noticing the bandages around Shinsou's throat, remembered exactly what had happened to him. "Oh. Sorry. I guess we should get you a notepad or something until your throat gets better."

It was only then that Shinsou started to cry, silent sobs against Midoriya's chest.


If Endeavor had survived, things might have been different. If the Number Two hero had taken out the Hero Killer, had glowered at press conferences while the internet was flooded with people analyzing Stain’s philosophy, Dabi would have felt disgust rise in his throat, would have been driven to the people who the media theorized had backed Stain’s murder spree.

Because anyone who wanted to destroy that bastard was worth a shot, in Dabi’s book.

Instead…

Stain had been defeated by Endeavor’s youngest son, using Stain’s own Quirk, instead of the one Endeavor had passed on to him. Stain had hospitalized one of the favorites of the Sports Festival, a boy with promise, who'd castigated an aspiring hero who didn't live up to his ideals.

If Todoroki Shouto had used his fire, had stood, imperious over his victory, Dabi might still have drifted to the League of Villains.

But the boy had paused in the face of victory, had restrained instead of wounding, and had turned his back on his father’s legacy.

Dabi had laughed for ten minutes straight when he’d heard the stiff boy say, cool, clearly, ‘tag, you’re it’. He was thinking of making it his ringtone.

He didn’t think he could fight that boy, couldn’t scar him with the flames that had haunted his childhood.

Both their childhoods.

And because Todoroki Touya didn’t join the League of Villains, things changed. Todoroki Shouto didn’t face a man who used flames to kill, whose scarred face bore enough resemblance to his father’s to trigger memories of a hellish childhood. He never faltered, and no one died for his hesitation.

The Shinigami might, in another age, been called gods, but they had learned long ago to work with a light touch. The course of the future might be shifted by a pebble falling in a different way, by the flapping of a butterfly's wings.

By a man appearing to save the life of a single child.

Chapter Text

The story, as far as the news outlets were concerned, was this:

Shinsou Hitoshi had happened upon Akaguro Chizome, the Hero Killer Stain, who had incapacitated the Pro Hero Slidin' Go. Shinsou had used his Quirk to immobilize Stain and try to get the Pro Hero to safety. Somehow, Stain had gotten free and attacked Shinsou, at which point he sent a message to his classmates, all of whom were at the time working with Pro Heroes throughout Japan.

Visage had authorized their intern Todoroki Shouto to go to the rescue, but Stain had cornered the two students and one Pro Hero, at which point Pro Hero Endeavor had arrived on the scene.

Stain had grievously wounded Shinsou, presumably as a distraction, and fled. Slidin' Go and Endeavor's intern, Midoriya Izuku, had stayed to treat Shinsou until the ambulance arrived, and Endeavor and his son gave chase.

Stain nearly proved a match for Endeavor and his son, even catching Endeavor with his paralysis Quirk, before Endeavor's son caught Stain with his own Quirk.

Unfortunately, a Nomu, one of six of the creations of the League of Villains that had attacked Hosu as cover for Stain's attacks, used the distraction to kidnap Endeavor's son, and when Endeavor moved to rescue his son from the kidnapper, Stain killed him.

The official story didn't mention Shinsou's injuries had made it so he would never speak again, and thus never be able to use his Quirk. It also didn't mention the long talk the chief of police had had with the three students and their two (living) mentors. Shinsou and Todoroki had stepped to the very edge of the line. Testimony from Slidin' Go had confirmed Shinsou had only stopped Stain from killing him, and had been inquiring about getting to safety when Stain had snapped free and attacked Shinsou, at which point, Shinsou was free to act in self-defense. On sending Todoroki to the scene, Visage had correctly commanded him to avoid engaging Stain directly unless attacked, and Todoroki had mostly obeyed. But acting unsupervised, and the fact that Shinsou admitted to have sought out Stain himself for the express purpose of stopping him - illegal vigilantism - had put all of them at risk of serious repercussions.

Midoriya, in directing a Pro Hero to the scene, acting only to remove others from danger, and treating the wounded until they could receive proper medical attention, was the only one who acted exactly as he was expected, as a student lacking even a provisional license.

The commendation did little to make him feel better. If he hadn't waited to check his phone, if he hadn't wasted time convincing Endeavor to answer Shinsou's distress signal, Midoriya might have arrived sooner. He might have been able to help Todoroki and Shinsou subdue Stain, and Shinsou wouldn't be-

He would finish out the year, but without his Quirk, only his still-limited physical prowess…

Endeavor died that night, but so did Shinsou's dream.

Shinsou was still in the hospital when their internships ended, which was probably for the best - things were awkward enough with people bouncing between quizzing Midoriya and Todoroki about what happened and offering Todoroki condolences, without them also trying to figure out how to talk to Shinsou.

Midoriya didn't watch Endeavor's memorial. He heard the Pro Heroes crowding the building alone meant the thousands of mourners spilled out into the streets.

Hawks' memorial hadn't been this large - the difference, Midoriya guessed, between Number Three and Number Two.

Between a man who'd lived a mostly blameless life and a monster who'd learned to put on a good face in front of the cameras.

When Shinsou returned to class, it was a somber occasion. He'd refused visitors for most of his stay in the hospital, so Midoriya wasn't certain what to expect. Shinsou, though, took condolences and inquiries after his health with poise. It wasn't until lunch, though, that Midoriya worked up the courage to talk to Shinsou directly. As they broke for lunch, he tapped Shinsou's shoulder.

"Shinsou?"

Shinsou rolled his eyes and waved at Midoriya - hopefully, a sign to go on.

"Can we talk?"

Shinsou tilted his head to the side before nodding. Midoriya tugged him along to a quiet spot just outside the building before stopping.

"I…" Midoriya found his tongue tangled. What could he say - certainly, not what All Might had first told him about heroes. Unable to find the right words, Midoriya stumbled over the first that came to mind. "I'm sorry."

Shinsou raised one eyebrow, but there was a twist to his mouth - disappointment?

"Todoroki came as soon as he saw your message. I let it go, and wasted time when I saw it-"

Shinsou huffed, a breathy laugh as he shook his head. He was - smiling. He gestured with one hand, paused, scowling, and then grabbed his phone. A moment later, Midoriya's phone chimed, a message from Shinsou.

'I knew the risks, Midoriya.'

"Still-" Shinsou was still typing, and Midoriya's phone chimed.

'I'm grateful. I didn't know if anyone would see my message.'

'If you came alone, maybe my throat wouldn't have gotten cut. Maybe Stain would have killed all of us. You don't know.'

"I - know," Midoriya admitted, though he couldn't help the tears gathering in his eyes. "But-"

'We're lucky. Some heroes go years before they learn not everyone can be saved.'

"We?"

Shinsou snorted, and smirked.

'I'm still going to be a Pro, Midoriya. Nothing's changed.'

Midoriya looked up at Shinsou, biting his lip. He didn't need to tell Shinsou what they both knew - the chances of someone without a Quirk becoming a Pro Hero were almost nothing. All he could do-

Was what he wished his mother had done, years ago.

"I expect you'll want to keep training after school, then," Midoriya said.

Shinsou gaped, and Midoriya knew, then, it'd been the right response. Shinsou had probably agonized over who to share his ambition with, imagining every possible response, from mockery, anger, pity-

But Midoriya couldn't imagine giving anything but support to someone who shared his dream.

"Anyway, we should get-"

Shinsou grabbed Midoriya and yanked him close, arms tight around Midoriya's chest as he tucked his head down; after a moment, Midoriya felt the track of falling tears. Even though they might miss lunch, Midoriya didn't push Shinsou away, not until his grip loosened and he stepped away on his own. Shinsou was looking at his feet, a flash of red on the parts of his cheeks Midoriya could see.

Midoriya's phone chimed.

'Thanks, Midoriya.'

"I think," Midoriya said, "if we're working together to meet our goals, you can call me Izuku."

Shinsou nodded, and Midoriya's phone chimed again.

'...Hitoshi.'

They had to hurry to make sure they actually got lunch, but Midoriya wasn't worried. Something terrible had happened, but Shinsou wasn't going to let it keep him down. Midoriya had always felt better with a goal to work toward, so he suspected it was keeping Shinsou's mood up, too.

They were distracted enough that Midoriya actually collided with someone coming out of the cafeteria.

"Sorry!" he protested, before he had time to process who he'd run into. Wild blond hair, piercing red eyes, a permanent scowl…

"K - Kacchan! Sorry! I didn't mean - I wasn't looking where I was going-"

"Then pay attention," Bakugo growled, folding his arms in front of him; his right eye twitched, "Midoriya." His eyes flicked to Shinsou, and his scowl smoothed out, and looked almost...concerned. "They say you're dropping out at the end of the year, is that right...Shinsou?"

Shinsou shook his head, even as his eyes darted toward Midoriya.

"Good," Bakugo said. "If you gave up because of a little thing like that, I'd know you were a fake." He stepped around Midoriya, Kirishima and Kaminari trailing behind him. "And it's Bakugo."

"R - right! Sorry, Bakugo."

Shinsou waited until they got their food and sat before he waved expansively at the door.

"What's going on?" Uraraka asked.

"I sort of ran into Ka - Bakugo outside the cafeteria," Midoriya said, rubbing at the back of his head. "I guess Hitoshi hasn't really talked to Bakugo since we got back from our internships." Their phones all chimed at once, Midoriya's with the ring he'd set for the small, private chat for just the five of them. He glanced at it to confirm what he'd suspected; it was a message from Shinsou.

'Can you just explain what the fuck is going on?'

"Bakugo interned with Best Jeanist," Uraraka said. At a wave from Shinsou, she continued. "When he got back, he had this - terrible haircut, and he was - well, like that."

Not polite, exactly, but composed. He was still enthusiastic in practical courses, barely-restrained fury thrown at his opponents. But he used people's names (Midoriya hadn't thought he actually knew half of them before the Sports Festival), and instead of furious deflections, spoke almost directly.

And the day they'd gotten back from their internships, Bakugo had - hadn't dragged Midoriya off, but had stepped in front of him when he tried to leave at the end of the day and said, with a twitch of his ever-present scowl, "I want to talk to you."

The conversation had been surprisingly painless.

"Look, De - Midoriya. We're going to be colleagues some day. For whatever fucking reason, we're going to have to work together. But we aren't friends. You're-" He bit his lip, jerking his head away rather than explode into a rant about Midoriya's many failings. "My name's fucking Bakugo. Or Triumph, whatever."

"Okay!" Midoriya had agreed. "B - Bakugo."

Bakugo's feelings hadn't changed, Midoriya was certain. Best Jeanist, though, had forced some semblance of civility onto him. It was...relaxing, not worrying about what might set Bakugo off.

What wasn't relaxing, was worrying about Todoroki. Todoroki hated his father; Midoriya knew that. But Endeavor had died saving Todoroki's life, and that could make things - complicated. He didn't know how to talk to Todoroki about that, and as a result, he just.

Wasn't talking to Todoroki at all. Every day that went by where Midoriya, unable to address that one question, didn't talk to Todoroki, didn't send him any messages, the thought of trying to bridge that gap made him increasingly ill. How could he talk to Todoroki now? He couldn't imagine what to say, and couldn't just - pretend he hadn't been ignoring Todoroki for a week.

If there was anyone he knew understood about Todoroki's childhood, he might ask for advice. Or-

There was another option. It twisted Midoriya's stomach and made him shaky, but for Todoroki's sake, he'd do it.

The next afternoon, when Midoriya met All Might, in his natural form as Yagi-sensei, for Quirk training (growing comfortable with your Quirk could lead to discovering new aspects of it, All Might had explained, especially if you came into your powers late, or had reason to expect certain limitations; consequently, there wasn't anything worrying about the tactics Midoriya had used in the Sports Festival), he waited until they were alone in one of U.A.'s shielded, soundproof training rooms to speak up.

"Um. Yagi-sensei? I've got a - problem. Or a question."

All Might glanced at Midoriya before sitting on the floor, patting the space next to him. "Sit, young Midoriya."

Midoriya sat and spent a minute or so - settling, looking at the floor as he shifted. And then it was quiet, as he considered what to say.

"After - that night," he stammered, "I've been. I keep wanting to talk to - one of my friends. And I...don't know what to say, and the longer it's been, the harder it is to just - start, and-"

A light hand landed on Midoriya's shoulder, and he trailed off. "Look at me, young Midoriya."

Midoriya looked up, and he wasn't certain what he'd expected - disappointment, embarrassment, at Midoriya's - inability to handle his own problems. But All Might was smiling. Gentle, not happy, but...proud.

"That is a brave admission. Some heroes take years before they reach out to someone else to help them talk about the dangers they face every day, to listen to them. Some...never do."

Midoriya nodded, eyes prickling with tears because All Might was proud of him and it never failed to make him cry.

"So - do you know what I should do?"

All Might shook his head. "Telling you how to approach your problems isn't my responsibility. Helping you learn to do so yourself is your therapist's responsibility."

Midoriya hadn't expected that to be what All Might had meant - heroes didn't have therapists, as far as he'd known. But it turned out there were enough that some therapists were hero specialists, one of which All Might took Midoriya to that afternoon. The experience wasn't pleasant; the therapist had a probing way of speaking that made Midoriya feel exposed, like he was being interrogated, needled at, judged. But because All Might asked, had told him it could take some time to find a therapist he felt comfortable with, Midoriya agreed to try the few others All Might recommended to him before writing the whole thing off.

But Midoriya had come away from the meeting with something - restarting the conversation with Todoroki wasn't going to get easier if Midoriya kept putting it off, which meant he was going to have to buck up and talk to Todoroki himself.

The next day was so busy, Midoriya barely had a chance to see Todoroki, except across the classroom. He caught up with the other boy at the end of the day, Todoroki halfway down the front stairs when Midoriya called out to him.

"Todoroki-kun!"

Todoroki paused, waiting patiently for Midoriya to catch up. He was smiling - probably; the expression was subtle, but Midoriya saw none of the tension in Todoroki's shoulders or arms that suggested he was nervous.

"I was wondering," Midoriya said as he got close, "if you were free today. To - talk, maybe get some food."

Todoroki's smile vanished, a brief twitch to his face, wrinkling of his brow. "I can't. Fuyumi and I are supposed to see my father's lawyer."

For a moment, it sounded like an excuse, a brush-off, before Midoriya realized - Todoroki's dad was dead, and that meant there were inheritances, probates, and other arcane legal things that had to be taken care of.

"O - oh."

"It wasn't urgent, was it?" His almost-scowl gave way to something more disconcerted, lips pursed, gaze darting up and down, as if Midoriya had managed to injure himself in the ten minutes since he'd seen him last. "I could-"

"No," Midoriya interrupted. "This sounds important. I can - it wasn't really that big a thing."

"We could talk...later," Todoroki said cautiously. "Tomorrow?"

"How about Friday?" Midoriya suggested. "So we don't have to worry about school the next day."

Todoroki shifted just slightly, his tension smoothing out, though his head was tilted slightly, face focused on Midoriya, thoughtful. He was quiet a few moments, long enough Midoriya started to worry a little, before Todoroki nodded. It wasn't his barely-there smile, but it was quick, a moment of his face brightened by an unfamiliar curve to his mouth, gaze still fixed on Midoriya.

"I'm looking forward to it."

It had to be true; Todoroki was close to the last person who would give meaningless pleasantries. But it felt surreal, someone as cool as Todoroki wanting to spend time with Midoriya (a part of him worried that Todoroki only talked to him because he hadn't had any friends before, that Todoroki would find better people to be friends with once he was more comfortable with himself).

"Hey, Midoriya-kun, are you alright?"

He started, jolting away from the sudden voice and nearly falling down the front steps of U.A. He would have, if the person who'd snuck up on him hadn't been Uraraka, who caught him with her Quirk. She gave him a twitch of a smile, apologetic.

"You really need to be more careful," she chided. "I'm not always going to be around to catch you."

"Hey - Uraraka? Do you want to go grab some coffee or something?"

"Ah - sorry, Midoriya." Her smile didn't shift, still apologetic. "All Might wanted to talk to me - a progress assessment or something, and he said it might take a while."

"Well - good luck!" Midoriya stood on the steps a few moments after Uraraka left, feeling a little lonely. His new friends had been around so often, easy to reach, the few times he'd been unable to reach them made him feel lost. It was strange he'd gotten used to having them around, for how long he'd been on his own.

Still, there was no use moping about it; he hadn't when his problems were bullying and an impossible barrier between him and his dreams, so he wouldn't now. When he stepped off the train, he paused on seeing a flyer for a book club at the local library.

He'd been meaning to return to the library, at least to thank Kaisa-san again for her help, and now he had one or two other things he needed.

It didn't occur to him until he reached the reference desk to find a man with a bull's head behind it, that there were employees of the library other than Kaisa-san. Still, it didn't mean he couldn't accomplish the other task he'd set out to do.

"Excuse me. Do you have books on JSL?"

"Sign?" the man, 'Chiharu', asked. "Certainly. We also have a video series, which some people find more helpful."

"Oh! Yeah, thank you!" Shinsou had mentioned the doctors suggesting sign as a way of communicating, but that required people around him who knew it, so Midoriya had decided to get ahead of the game. Once he had the four discs currently available, Midoriya paused.

"Can I leave these up here for a few minutes? There are a few other things I want to look for."

"Of course."

Midoriya drifted back to the section with the books about Quirks and scanned the titles, hoping some might offer a hint-

"You know, there's a reference desk literally twenty feet that way."

Midoriya yelped, covering his mouth too late to keep the noise escaping, and jerked into a bookcase hard enough to make it wobble. A hand grabbed his shoulder, steadying him. And when Midoriya looked up, it was Kaisa, smiling, the expression almost a smirk as she stepped back.

"Kaisa-san!" Midoriya whispered. "I was looking for you."

"Wanted another Quirk lesson?" she asked. "I'm not exactly the foremost authority on the subject."

"Not exactly," Midoriya replied. Remembering the man who'd saved Shinsou's life and his continuing concerns about someone who could give people Quirks (Harai wasn't a hero, and that meant Midoriya couldn't be certain he hadn't worked with the League of Villains - although the alternative, that there was some other means by which they'd made monsters with multiple Quirks, was equally worrying), Midoriya found vague questions struggling in his throat. "I just - why now? There were Quirks hundreds of years ago, and maybe sometime before that, but, now they're back. Why did they go away? Why are they back?"

Kaisa folded her arms and shrugged. "That's the million-dollar question, kiddo. Someone had to have the first Quirk, and something had to have happened to all those Quirks - every time."

"Can't you tell? From like - archeologists and stuff?" At Kaisa's one raised eyebrow, Midoriya pressed forward. "People with Quirks have one bone in their pinkie toe-"

"Who told you that?" Kaisa asked.

"My - doctor," Midoriya replied. "He said there were studies about how Quirks are the next stage of evolution-"

"He told you a load of crock. Haven't you been listening? Quirks have been a part of humanity for thousands of years, and people with Quirks aren't any better than those without. The toe thing is based on a whole bunch of poorly-run studies like 50 years after Quirks started showing up."

Midoriya left the library with the JSL series and a book on Quirk archeology, mind awhirl with more questions than he'd come to the library with. Because-

What if he'd always had a Quirk? What if it had never manifested until the moment he charged through a flaming street to save his classmate? What if his deal with Harai was a meaningless exchange, Midoriya providing him his notebooks and getting nothing in return?

(What if what Harai had given Midoriya something by telling him he had a Quirk, the one thing All Might had said stood between Midoriya and his dream? Did that make the exchange worth something, even if it were a lie?)

The problem occupied Midoriya's mind through most of the week, which might have caused problems with his friends, except that Shinsou, Todoroki, and Uraraka seemed to be similarly occupied, and Iida too respectful of their privacy to pry. It did cause problems in class, where Midoriya lost focus in the middle of a training session and nearly set Sero on fire, prompting Aizawa-sensei to threaten to turn off his Quirk until he could focus.

He was so preoccupied he actually forgot about his plans with Todoroki until nearly running into the other boy just outside the locker rooms after class on Friday (an exercise in working with and around your partner's Quirk, which had involved Midoriya keeping flame so cool it was almost invisible for Dark Shadow's sake, and Todoroki trying to survive ten minutes with Bakugo as a partner without an errant explosion causing someone to be sliced to ribbons by flying ice shards).

Todoroki was standing neutral, hands at his sides, but it took only a glance to notice he was nervous, gaze dropped just enough not to meet Midoriya's eyes, a slight pinch to his mouth.

"Hey, Todoroki-kun! You did really well today."

"I know," Todoroki replied, voice a little flat.

Midoriya paused, and looked harder at Todoroki. His hair was ruffled, eyes weary. "Did you want to talk to me about something?"

"We were supposed to meet after class?" Todoroki replied. His statement sounded uncertain, and Midoriya felt a sharp jolt; he'd forgotten. "It's fine. I just thought-"

"No no no!" Midoriya darted in front of Todoroki, hands waving as he tried to form a barrier between Todoroki and the exit. "We were! We are! It just - slipped my mind." He grabbed at his chest, which still felt tight, realizing how terrible that sounded. "I do want to spend time with you, Todoroki-kun. If you're not...mad."

"Why would I be mad?" Todoroki asked, eyebrows tugging inward.

"I - it's hard to explain," Midoriya replied. "Um - do you want to drop your stuff at home and meet me at the mall, or-"

"I'm fine." It took a second look to realize Todoroki had changed from his hero costume not into his school uniform but to loose pants and a shapeless dark red hoodie.

"Um." Midoriya glanced down at his own uniform, embarrassed at the realization that if he'd remembered their plans, he could have brought casual clothes to school, too. "Well, I might need to stop at home to change first."

"Oh. You look fine, though."

Midoriya, hitching his backpack up to head out, found his hand slipping and backpack dropping out of his grasp. He lunged for it, only for Todoroki to step up and catch it, waiting a moment before handing it back. He let his lips twitch into an almost-smile and didn't move away. The world didn't feel silent or still the way it had when Midoriya had met Harai, but it was equally still, equally silent. Midoriya was certain his cheeks were bright red, embarrassing even if he were certain Todoroki wouldn't notice, or comment if he did.

Because Todoroki wouldn't have said that if he didn't believe it, wouldn't have brought it up if he didn't think it was relevant, and that meant-

What?

"W - well, fine or not, I'd rather be in casual clothes at the mall...you could come by my house with me while I get changed and put my stuff away."

Todoroki's mouth tugged down to a real frown. "I wouldn't want to make trouble for you."

"It'll be fine!" Midoriya promised. "Really. My mom would love meeting you for real, instead of in a hospital room."

Todoroki was quiet in response, a tense moment before he nodded, just a slight tilt of his head. "If you're certain it won't be any trouble."

"Yeah, come on!" Midoriya grabbed Todoroki's hand, not thinking about it until they were halfway to the train station, at which point he glanced back at Todoroki, wondering if he should let go. It was easy to think that Todoroki could take care of himself, but Midoriya probably knew better than anyone there were things Todoroki would suffer rather than risking upsetting someone with the power to hurt him.

...And Midoriya was almost certain he did have the power to hurt Todoroki. He was vaguely aware Todoroki and Yaoyorozu were - childhood friends, or had passed within the same circles for long enough that they were friendly, moreso than Todoroki was to most other people. If it weren't for that, Midoriya would be certain he was Todoroki's best friend; regardless, he knew Todoroki had had few enough friends to be uncertain what was expected of him (as if Midoriya were any more certain of that).

But the thought of talking about it - trying to let Todoroki know Midoriya knew less about being a friend than Todoroki did about having one - left a weight in Midoriya's throat, so he couldn't make the words come.

So instead, when they reached the train station, Midoriya loosened his grip on Todoroki's hand as he moved to step through the turnstiles.

Todoroki's hand tightened around Midoriya's. So Midoriya squeezed back, and didn't let go as they boarded the train and found two seats next to each other. But he kept his eyes down, unable to look at Todoroki for fear of-

Well, Midoriya wasn't certain. But their joined hands were no longer an accident, the result of a thoughtless moment; they were deliberately holding hands. His gaze darted, briefly, to where their hands sat between them on the train, before he looked back out the window. He'd seen a lot of the girls in their class tug each other around by their hands, and Uraraka did so with Midoriya, once he had gotten over his panic at a girl holding his hand.

So it didn't have to - mean anything.

Except it did.

It meant Todoroki felt comfortable near Midoriya, felt more comfortable having him close, or being able to touch him.

That wasn't nothing, but what it was, Midoriya didn't know.

Except that he was sitting next to a boy on the train, their hands tangled between them.

Todoroki didn't press, didn't speak up; he was used to being quiet, Midoriya knew, unlike Midoriya, whose mumbling was a joke even among the U.A. students. So with Midoriya silently trying to evaluate every aspect of their current situation, they were quiet all the way to Midoriya's stop. When they reached the door to Midoriya's apartment, he tugged his hand away from Todoroki's and gave the other boy a tentative smile.

"Well, here we are." He unlocked the door and stepped inside. "I'm home!"

"Ah, Izuku! You'll never guess - oh! Todoroki."

Todoroki bowed. "Midoriya-san. I hope I'm not intruding."

"Of course not!" Midoriya's mom protested, waving her hands. She glanced at Midoriya.

"We were going out to the mall for a little bit, but I needed to get changed. We'll just be a minute, okay, mom?"

"Alright. Just try not to be too late." Midoriya was already jogging to his room as his mother called after him.

It took just a moment to change, not enough to think much, which turned out to be for the best, as Todoroki was still standing at the entrance to the apartment when Midoriya stepped out of his bedroom.

"You can actually come into the house, Todoroki-kun," Midoriya chided. "I mean, not now, because we're about to go, but-"

"Your mother offered me tea," Todoroki said, quiet. "I was fine waiting for you. Are you ready to go?"

"Sure. Bye mom!"

When they stepped outside Midoriya almost took Todoroki's hand again. But he let his own fall back before he did. The moment from before was over, and Midoriya wasn't certain if he'd be welcome trying to revive it.

"What are we doing?" Todoroki asked after a moment.

"Well, you're the one who remembered; what do you want to do?"

Todoroki stopped, quiet as he thought, serious but not frowning. "I don't know. I haven't really 'hung out' with anyone before. It was a waste of time."

"Shows what Endeavor knows," Midoriya said before he could stop himself, and froze. His heart was beating wildly; he'd wanted to broach the subject cautiously, avoid saying something that would offend Todoroki in case he'd decided to forgive his father in the wake of his death.

But then Todoroki huffed, a gentle sound almost like a laugh, and the still, panicked moment was over. "I wish I knew if there was anything he was right about," Todoroki said. "I spent years just - resisting. Planning to do nothing the way he wanted. And now…"

"You don't have to worry about what he wants," Midoriya said. "Would you like to get something to eat? Stuff like this is always easier to talk about over food."

Todoroki tilted his head, thinking, before he nodded. "I think I'd like that."

Midoriya felt - a little thrill at the fact that Todoroki had thought about it, and probably would like it. He probably hadn't been asked what he'd like much before. So because Midoriya had mentioned the mall, he decided to head that way anyway. But it wasn't quiet anymore. Having been given leave to do what he wanted, Todoroki talked. He was quiet, and his voice stilted (talking about how he felt must have been another thing discouraged in the Todoroki household), but he talked.

"I haven't been reading the news," Todoroki said.

"Because?" Midoriya prompted; it might not have been surprising Todoroki had been avoiding the news, but understanding why, so Midoriya knew what sort of sympathy to offer, was the point of the outing.

"He saved my life," Todoroki replied. "Just like any other hero should do. He didn't even know he was in danger, because Stain was paralyzed. But they keep saying-"

He broke off, shaking his head. But he didn't need to continue; Midoriya had seen enough in his constant review of hero news, where it was impossible to avoid talk of Endeavor, of a father making the ultimate sacrifice for his son. As if Pros who risked their lives for strangers weren't equally heroic, as if Stain's other victims mattered less…

"Do you think he loved me, Midoriya-kun?" Todoroki asked.

Midoriya tripped, and would have gone down if Todoroki hadn't caught his shoulder, tugging him back up. And all he could think was-

He couldn't even pick a thought out. Because what could he say?

"They say he did, that that's why he saved my life, but - he couldn't not have done it. If I died, close enough that he could have stopped it - that's all people would ever remember him for. And all I can think is-"

"The way he treated you isn't how people treat people they love." It was one of the rare moments Midoriya spoke without thought, and he nearly slapped his hand over his mouth afterward, because however much he might think it, it was too blunt for a moment like that.

But Todoroki sighed. "Exactly." With his shoulders hunched, head down, he looked so much like he needed a hug Midoriya almost just stepped in.

But then Todoroki squared his shoulders, stood a little straighter (head ducked a little, his face and hair obscured by his hood, Midoriya realized), and reached out to grab Midoriya's hand. He gave Midoriya's hand a gentle squeeze, and Midoriya squeezed back. And maybe Midoriya thought Todoroki needed a hug, but Todoroki seemed to think the hand in his was comfort enough.

It wasn't too much longer to the mall, but the rest of their journey, from train to street to mall, was quiet. Todoroki had likely said all he intended to, and Midoriya couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't too flippant, an obvious distraction, or dragging them back into a discussion Todoroki was clearly done with.

It was a bit of a relief to sit down in the small restaurant just inside the mall, because it gave Midoriya something to focus on. Todoroki peered carefully at his menu, brow furrowed as he took in each line. After a few minutes, Midoriya had made his choice, and Todoroki was still reading his menu.

"Is everything okay?"

"Yes, I'm. I don't get to order for myself much," Todoroki said, biting his lip as he stopped at one item. "I think I might get omurice."

Midoriya didn't mean to snicker, but the thought of serious Todoroki ordering something little kids ate was a little funny. He regretted it almost immediately, as Todoroki frowned.

"Is there something wrong with that?"

"No, I'm sorry - I was just surprised. If you haven't had omurice before, you should at least once." Todoroki nodded, but his brow was still furrowed, concerned, so Midoriya decided to take pity on him. "How about I order soba, and if you don't like yours, we'll swap."

Todoroki shook his head. "I shouldn't make you-"

"I like omurice fine," Midoriya insisted. "And you should try it, if you want to."

Those were the magic words, it seemed, 'if you want to', because Todoroki nodded his head, a sharp jerk of his chin, and set his menu aside. He wasn't quite smiling, but he looked more at ease. Once they'd placed their orders, though, he stood.

"I'll be right back; I need to wash my hands."

Midoriya grinned and waved to him before settling to wait. Todoroki hadn't been gone more than thirty seconds when someone approached their table.

"Are you from U.A.? I remember seeing you at the Sports Festival."

"Um, yes?" It wasn't the first time Midoriya had been recognized; the first day after the event, he'd gotten some notice on the train. But it was still - overwhelming - to have someone seeing him, recognizing him for something they admired.

"You did a great job; I'm disappointed you didn't win." The stranger slid into the booth next to Midoriya, and a protest was on his tongue when a hand curled around his throat - four fingers pressed against the skin, and the shadow, the hint of the presence of a fifth. Midoriya turned just enough to see pale blue hair falling across a gaunt face, red eyes sparkling at Midoriya's gasp of recognition, the rapid beat of his heart as he prepared himself-

"Don't say a word. Don't move," Shigaraki murmured. "You know what happens if I get all five fingers on you. And even if you did escape unscathed, how many people do you think I could kill before a real hero gets here?"

Midoriya swallowed, shivering at the feel of the fifth finger hovering just over his pulse point. "What do you want from me?"

"You know, I don't actually know," Shigaraki said. "I saw you and just had the - urge to come over. That's what I do - whatever I want." He was silent a moment before a growl wound up from his throat. "That's why I sent those Nomu to Hosu - I wanted people to fear me. And what happens? Stain, the kill-stealing bastard takes out Endeavor and now everyone's talking about him."

Midoriya, breathing shallowly to keep away from that last finger, shrugged. "Well-"

"What?" Shigaraki demanded, voice low, quiet.

"It's not just that he killed Endeavor. He's got a - philosophy." He winced, remembering Yaoyorozu shooting down Kirishima when he'd called Stain's desire to purge the world of false heroes 'manly'. "Sure, it's horrible, but some people believe in him, and it makes a - debate. It's compelling."

"I've got a philosophy," Shigaraki muttered. "I want to do whatever I want - unconstrained by society."

"But that's just - that's what villains do. It's not special; it doesn't make you stand out."

Shigaraki slumped back against the seat, letting his head fall back. "You say I need to be special? I want to destroy the Symbol of Peace - that's special."

But it wasn't. Every villain wanted to get rid of All Might, but it was a niggling awareness in everyone's mind that All Might wasn't immortal. Eventually he would grow old, and either retire or die. People worried about what would happen after that - there wasn't a Pro Hero that could replace him, especially with the Number Two and Three heroes dead.

"But I see what you mean," Shigaraki said, interrupting Midoriya's thoughts. "Destroying All Might so I can do what I want sounds so - unheroic." Midoriya shivered. There was something in Shigaraki's voice that worried him. "No one really wants to play as the villain, unless the villain is relatable. Is that what you mean, Midoriya? Because if that's the case - this whole society rests on All Might's shoulders. You can have heroes who are no better than salarymen because All Might is here to pick up the slack. And his light blinds you to those who are so much worse. Break that foundation - shatter that pillar - and it all comes crumbling down. Destroy the world so it can be rebuilt? Yes, I think that's a cause I can get behind."

"Midoriya?"

At Todoroki's voice, Shigaraki started, his hand twitching in surprise. And for a split second, Midoriya felt five fingers on his skin. But then Shigaraki's hand was gone (how long did it take for his Quirk to work? One second? Half? There was no way to know without testing, or worse, talking to him), and Midoriya sucked in a breath through a whole, undamaged throat.

And then Shigaraki stood in one smooth movement, as if he hadn't been keeping Midoriya hostage for the last few minutes. "Thanks, kid. You've given me a lot to think about." He brushed past Todoroki, patting his shoulder (with two fingers carefully raised) as he went. "I don't usually share spoilers, but us helpless orphans have to stick together. We're going to kill everyone in your class who hasn't dropped out by the end of the year."

"Wha-?"

Midoriya grabbed Todoroki and yanked him back before Todoroki could do something reckless like attack Shigaraki. And in that moment of distraction, Shigaraki slipped out of the restaurant, and was gone in the crowds outside.

Todoroki looked back at Midoriya, free hand clutched on his shoulder, eyes wide (frightened?).

"Midoriya, are you okay?"

And Midoriya finally took the chance to break down, shaking as tears fell, because even when he'd watched Bakugo struggle against the sludge villain, he'd never felt that helpless before - pinned in place with no sympathetic eye, no hope of escape.

He was sure he clung to Todoroki as they waited for the police to arrive, as when Midoriya's mother showed up, Todoroki had to pry Midoriya's fingers off his arm. And then Midoriya's mom had him in a tight embrace, sobbing, demanding to know if Midoriya was okay. And it took a moment to realize Todoroki was hovering; when Midoriya looked up to see why, he saw a tall man, slim, with close-cropped blond hair, watching him with grey eyes and pursed lips - perturbed or surprised.

"Dad?" Midoriya demanded, and the man's expression shifted into a smile, wide, but close-mouthed (Midoriya remembered he didn't like opening his mouth more than necessary, and not that much unless he planned to breathe fire).

"I - Izuku," Midoriya's father said. "I was hoping - but then we got a call from the police, so. Here we are."

"O - oh." Tears threatened Midoriya's eyes; it was too overwhelming, to be recovering from something like that, only for his father to show up unexpectedly. "Um."

"How about we get you home? Is that alright, Inko?" Midoriya's father glanced to Todoroki. "Should we wait for your - guardian to show up?" There was barely a pause in his voice, but enough to make clear he recognized Todoroki. Midoriya Hisashi had always been good at that - keeping in the loop.

"No. I'll be fine on my own-"

"With a madman like Shigaraki Tomura running around? Nonsense. We'll see you to the train station, at least." Todoroki opened his mouth to argue, before letting it fall closed, nodding. It was always like that around Midoriya's father; he was a very hard man to say no to, especially when he was being reasonable (and, Midoriya suspected, Todoroki really did want company, even if he wouldn't ask for it). Still, Todoroki was quiet on the way to the station, whatever mood he and Midoriya had built ruined by Shigaraki's appearance. He nodded, though, when Midoriya promised to call, to see him at school on Monday, reaching out to squeeze his hand, before they took their respective trains.

Midoriya's father was quiet, too, until they got home. He patted Midoriya's shoulder as he stepped past him in the hall.

"Come on. I need to talk to you, Izuku."

Midoriya followed him to the couch, numb from shock and, now, worry. He couldn't imagine what would bring his father back from overseas, and all he could imagine were the worst possible scenarios - he was here to pull Midoriya out of U.A., they were getting divorced and Midoriya was going to live with him in some foreign country-

"I think...I should start this with an apology."

Midoriya jerked his head up in surprise. "For what?" He couldn't imagine anything his father had to apologize for, but the man looked so forlorn, tired, that it must have been serious.

"I've spent a lot of time away from home, and there were a lot of reasons for that. Some of them good, some of them - just seemed good. But I realized that to you, all you saw was that your father wasn't around. And maybe you noticed the timing of when I started spending more time abroad and put two and two together, and. It's never what I meant, and. I'm sorry, Izuku."

And.

It wasn't something even Bakugo had ever suggested, even though it had lurked in the back of Midoriya's mind in his darkest moments - the thought that his father had seen his Quirkless son and decided it was better not to spend time around him. To hear him acknowledge that worry left Midoriya sniffling, at the edge of tears. "Then - why-"

"Well, part of it I can't talk about," Midoriya's father said, fingers twitching at his lap. "But - part of it seemed well-meaning. I thought it might - hurt you, having me around, showing off my Quirk. And knowing so many roads had closed for you, not having a Quirk, I thought there was so little I could offer you. I forgot...how much it might mean for me just to be your father."

He grunted in surprise when Midoriya hugged him; Midoriya had always thrown himself into his parents when he hugged them, and he'd been smaller the last time he'd done this, and weaker, not yet training to be a hero. It took a few moments for Midoriya's father to reach back, arms wrapped loosely around Midoriya's shoulders.

"I remember seeing you at the Sports Festival and thinking - you did all this without my help. And you shouldn't have. So...I can't promise I won't have work I need to handle, time I have to go. But I won't - vanish from your life, the way I have been. You need - you've always needed me. Or maybe that's arrogant, but - I'm sorry it took me long to realize that."

And that, at last, opened up the floodgates, as Midoriya sobbed into his father's side, the man patting his back awkwardly as he waited it out.

It had been a long day, and Midoriya had dealt with too much already, so it took a while.

But his father stayed through it all.


"Shouto?" Todoroki paused just inside the front door, glancing up; for a moment, the hesitant tone of his sister's voice sent his heart rate spiking, because she only ever sounded that nervous when the old man was in a mood.

But Endeavor was dead; he couldn't storm around and loom, threatening his children by his very existence.

"Yes, it's me," Todoroki called. "How are-" Fuyumi ran into him, arms tight around his chest, cutting off his question. She held on for a moment before stepping back, eyes teary.

"I could have come get you," Fuyumi said. "Or Natsuo. The police said-"

"There wasn't any need," Todoroki replied. After a moment, he added, "Midoriya's parents made sure I got to the station safely."

Fuyumi let out a surprised huff before stepping back. For a moment she looked strange, before Todoroki realized she was smiling. Not the sad, gentle smile of the years after their mother had been sent away, but - relieved, bright, eyes clear instead of on the edge of tears. "Good. I like knowing there's someone looking out for you out there."

"I don't need-"

"You aren't a Pro Hero yet," Fuyumi said, pushing back Todoroki's hood to straighten out his hair. "So I'm allowed to worry. And even then."

"Where's Natsuo?"

"He was looking at bigger apartments. What with him being the least recognizable of all of us."

Todoroki nodded, not feeling he had to say anything to that. Natsuo's apartment was a little cramped for three of them, but they'd had to get out of the house. When the lawyer had said, "guardian of Todoroki-san's choice," it had been clear what they'd have to do. It was lucky they'd had little to get out of the house beside clothing, and that Fuyumi had kept one secret from their father - the trust left to each of them by their mother's parents, Fuyumi's share of which she'd had access to for nearly a year.

Because now the only way for Endeavor to force his youngest son's future down the path he had so long tried to push him along was for his lawyers to drag that son from the loving care of his elder siblings, an enterprise that they were determined to make a very public affair.

It was going to get hard, soon, but at least they had each other.


The police were sorting through the contraband Selkie had seized when one of them made a concerned sound.

Selkie was there in a moment, face like a worried cat's. "What's the matter?" he asked.

The officer who'd made the noise pointed to a box. "We've seen boxes like this before. It might be a coincidence, seeing things that look like what I've seen in the past, but-" She popped the box open to reveal a grid of vials filled with a bright red fluid.

"Oh," Selkie said, quiet. "That is a problem."

"What is that?" Tsu whispered to Sirius.

"Trigger," Selkie replied, instead, face drooping into a frown that managed to look merely concerned, but not cute. "American-made, by the looks of it."

"This is worth millions on the black market," the officer added. "And I doubt this is the only box in here."

Selkie folded his arms and grimaced. "Do we have any idea who was behind these shipments?"

The officer shook her head, and the Pro Hero sighed. Because in the end, they found close to a billion yen's worth of high-quality Trigger in the shipment, which meant someone was preparing for a war.

Chapter Text

"We haven't taken these threats lightly," Aizawa had explained to the Jirou family. "To be frank, we operate under the assumption U.A. is under constant threat of attack, and following the League of Villains' prior infiltration, we've taken measures to offer further protection."

"Of course our son entered your school knowing one day he might be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice," Tokoyami Teruto had said, "but we never imagined he might face these sorts of threats this young."

"We don't expect him to face those threats," Aizawa had replied. "Situations like this are exactly why U.A.'s professors are Pro Heroes."

"And what about outside of class?" Koda Tomo had demanded. "You can't watch my baby all the time."

"Of course not. But to students who wish to continue, we're developing guidelines to mitigate the risks."

Bakugo Katsuki had glared at his parents, daring either of them to make an objection to him remaining at U.A.

...And then there had been Shinsou Hitoshi's parents. Aizawa hadn't had words, no way to ask them to place their child, who'd already lost the use of his voice and Quirk, in further danger.

But Shinsou had humbled Aizawa, speaking in hesitant gestures.

"We already discussed it. I'm going to be a hero, no matter what. And if I'm going to be a hero, even without my Quirk, I need to be learning from the best. Whatever the risk to me now, it's the only way I'll be prepared for what I need to do in the future."

Still, Aizawa was glad he didn't have to meet with Midoriya's parents. Between what he knew about Midoriya Inko, and what he didn't know about Midoriya Hisashi (the man was a ghost, and to hide from Eraserhead was an impressive feat), Aizawa would rather not try to convince them their son wouldn't come to further harm at U.A.

In the end, no 1-A student withdrew from U.A. Aizawa wished he could feel proud of their resolve, but instead he found himself depressed it was necessary for them to find the resolve so young.

They would have to do more. With two of the top three heroes dead, and whispers that the League of Villains was drawing dangerous criminals into its ranks, Nezu had decided to accelerate the first-year curriculum. If all went well, an appreciable fraction of the first-year students would have provisional licenses by the beginning of their second year.

But Aizawa had seen entire classes crack under lesser stresses, and they couldn't afford to lose this one.


Kirishima was sitting next to Bakugo again, and that meant Kaminari was sitting across from Bakugo, and Ashido across from Kirishima. Kirishima had tried this a couple of times at the start of the year, and again after the disaster at the fucking USJ. Bakugo had thought Kirishima and his friends had gotten the message that Bakugo didn't want their help or their friendship or whatever, but Kirishima had apparently taken Best Jeanist's 'attitude adjustment' as evidence Bakugo had changed his mind about him. It was pathetic, nearly as bad as De - Midoriya, how they seemed to think Bakugo not telling them to shove off and leave him the fuck alone meant they were friends.

It was fucking irritating, but at least they'd stopped trying to talk to him.

He stabbed a dumpling when Kirishima laughed (he might have been overbearing and loud, but Bakugo had to give Kirishima points for not being a fucking wimp), and tried to remember what they were talking about.

"Sure, I'd love to start out on my own, but right out of school my best best is getting a good pro to take me on as a sidekick."

Bakugo snarled, snapping his chopsticks in his hand. "Are you honestly that much of a wimp?" he demanded. "What happened to the guy who was ready to cannonball into a fucking lake swimming with villains just because he knew he could survive it, huh?"

The table was quiet for a moment. Bakugo scowled at his food, wanting to tell them to just leave him alone. He didn't need them cozying up to him, distracting him, being a nuisance or a deadweight or a fucking sneak.

"Was that - supposed to be a compliment?" Kaminari asked.

"It's hard to say," Ashido said. "It's Bakugo, so it sounded like an insult."

Bakugo felt his eye twitch, and grit his teeth. 'Yelling won't get anything done that you couldn't get done another way, and will make enemies you can ill afford,' had been Best Jeanist's response every time Bakugo had raised his voice. So telling them to shut up about him wouldn't do much.

"You barely even whined about getting your hand fucked up by that villain with the hands all over his stupid face, so I don't know why you're acting like you couldn't hack it on your own," Bakugo muttered.

"Holy shit," Ashido said, "it was a compliment! That's so-"

"Manly!" Kirishima sobbed. Before Bakugo could react, Kirishima lunged at him, and then Kirishima was fucking hanging from his neck, nearly strangling him.

"What the fuck-" Bakugo protested, flailing at Kirishima. The tangle of arms vanished a moment later, and when Bakugo turned to glare at Kirishima, the other boy was scratching at his eyebrow, a nervous smile on his face (like Midoriya, except not shaking, not stammering, and something about the comparison left Bakugo uneasy).

"Sorry, dude - forgot one of my number-one rules, no touching without your okay; it's not manly. Won't do it again."

"...See that you don't," Bakugo grumbled, looking away from Kirishima. He couldn't explain what felt odd about the moment, except that it was weird; Kirishima wasn't afraid of Bakugo, had never excused him anything for all he agreed with the rest of the class that Bakugo's Quirk and combat skills were amazing.

"Still...you don't really think Kirishima could be a big-name hero on his own right out of school, do you?" Ashido asked. "I mean, he's cool and all, but-"

"But what? It's not like you couldn't, either," Bakugo grunted, crossing his arms over his chest. "Anyway, if all you're gonna do is ask me to stoke your egos, I'm leaving."

It took Bakugo a few moments of stalking away from the table to realize Kirishima was following him. He scowled, clenching a fist as it sparked, struggling for a way to tell Kirishima to leave him alone that wouldn't make everyone think he was a fucking psycho ('violence barely constrained except when directed at villains is terrifying, do you understand that? We are meant to be pillars of security, of safety; every bystander who flinches in the face of your anger undermines that!').

"It was cool of you to tell Mina she's a good hero-"

"I didn't say it to be 'cool'," Bakugo said.

"And that's what's so manly about it! You just spoke from the heart, no artifice or pretension."

Bakugo huffed and kept walking. "I don't have time for that shit."

"Exactly!" Kirishima punched at the air. "A guy who knows his mind is-"

"If you say 'manly' again," Bakugo growled, before hissing through his teeth. He had no idea what Kirishima was trying to tell him, and he wasn't about to waste his afternoon trying to figure it out. "I'm not going to be all smiley and friendly just because you compliment me, so just-"

"Of course you're not going to be smiley; you're Bakugo." Kirishima laughed. "But I, uh, can leave you alone if you want?"

"...Do whatever you want," Bakugo ground out. It wasn't because he liked Kirishima. He'd just...gotten used to the kids who'd followed him around in middle school, even if they were mostly kiss-ups and - Midoriya.

And Kirishima at least was brighter than most of Bakugo's friends from middle school, and had a decent fucking Quirk. If he was content to think Bakugo's opinions were 'manly', Bakugo wouldn't argue.


Yaoyorozu stumbled out of the Support labs, head spinning. She'd intended to get some general engineering advice, but had been waylaid by Hatsume Mei (who'd managed to dub herself 'Overclock' before her own internship at one of Japan's leading support companies), and spent an hour being talked at. She'd gotten a lot of useful advice, but had also maybe agreed to let Hatsume redesign Yaoyorozu's costume (not that her suggestions weren't excellent, the use of sturdy velcro fastenings to allow Yaoyorozu easy access to her skin without unnecessary exposure).

She was so dazed, she nearly tripped over Tsu, managing not to fall only by the other girl catching her.

"Are you alright, Yaoyorozu-chan?" Tsu asked, offering Yaoyorozu her resting smile.

"Yes, I was just visiting Hatsume and I'm afraid she got a little overzealous." Yaoyorozu ran a hand along her arm, shame sinking in her stomach. "She kept talking about my costume, and I couldn't get her back on topic, so we're behind schedule. I'm sorry."

But Tsu's expression didn't shift, even minutely, toward judgment and disappointment. Instead her smile widened, tongue lolling out of the corner of her mouth. "Really? What did she have to say about your costume? Midoriya-chan says she's really smart about support stuff."

"It isn't important! I went to Hatsume for official class business and got distracted talking about my own concerns."

Tsu reached up, patting Yaoyorozu's shoulder, a soft touch that startled her from her spiral of criticism. "Thinking about how to make yourself a better hero isn't selfish, Yaoyorozu-chan. And it's not like you forgot about it altogether, right?"

"Well, no," Yaoyorozu agreed. "Hatsume gave me a lot of ideas."

"Then I'll treat you to ice cream," Tsu said.

"I couldn't ask you to do that!" Yaoyorozu protested. "I can afford my own ice cream-"

"But this is a thank you for being such a good class representative!" Tsu replied. She grabbed Yaoyorozu's arm to pull her along the hall, hopping slowly, but still fast enough to force Yaoyorozu to jog just to keep up. "Besides, if you're making stuff for the class, we should make sure you don't wear yourself out doing so."

"O - oh. I appreciate the thought." Yaoyorozu trailed after Tsu, bemused by her classmate's enthusiasm. Of course, Tsu was among the most energetic of their classmates, possibly the friendliest, and she and Yaoyorozu had worked well together as lately as during the Sports Festival. But Yaoyorozu had kept her distance, as she had with all their classmates, save Iida and, guiltily, Todoroki. She had responsibilities that didn't allow for such socializing.

So following Tsu to the ice cream shop left Yaoyorozu feeling off-balance and uncertain (like her battle against Tokoyami, when she'd frozen, failed to make a single move before being knocked out of bounds). She ordered a small cup of ice cream (bean paste flavor, a tiny indulgence) and settled at a table across from Tsu to eat their ice cream silently.

"So how was your internship?" Tsu asked. "I learned a lot from Selkie!"

"Ah." Yaoyorozu ducked her head. She wanted to be positive, talk about how much she'd learned from Uwabami, but.

It was so frustrating. Every other member of the class had shared stories of training, patrolling, even doing paperwork - learning the ropes of herodom. And Yaoyorozu had faced the part of the job she hated the most - the celebrity, building an appealing image, catering to fans who saw her mind and skills last, after her body and her Quirk.

"I worked with a hero who does a lot of big endorsements, and I." It wasn't professional to let her emotions get the better of her, but Yaoyorozu felt tears pricking at her eyes anyway. And if there was one person she knew would never tell, would never suggest Yaoyorozu was less for letting her guard down, it was Tsu (and the same part of her that rebelled at Uwabami telling her to start playing up her looks, because she was still a child, whispered that maybe Yaoyorozu didn't have to act like a professional quite yet).

"Yaoyorozu-chan?"

Yaoyorozu tucked her arms around her stomach and let her head fall. "What sort of hero am I? I froze at the Sports Festival, and I couldn't attract the attention of any Pros except those who think I should be using my looks to shape my image."

"You're not one," Tsu said, and Yaoyorozu gasped in shock, the words like a vice around her heart.

"Tsu-"

"None of us are. We're learning, figuring out what type of heroes we can be. The Sports Festival wasn't a test, it was an - assessment. If you know now what you want to be stronger at, you've got a whole year to work on it. And if you know what kind of hero you don't want to be, you've got two years to work on that, too."

Yaoyorozu's heart was still stuttering, but Tsu's words-

They soothed something in her. She'd gotten into U.A. on recommendation, and there'd been tests, but Yaoyorozu had never been sure she would have been able to pass the practical portion of the entrance exam, a feeling exacerbated by her performance at the Sports Festival. But Tsu's words felt like a promise that Yaoyorozu was good enough, that her work wouldn't be for nothing.

"You just need to learn to think on your feet," Tsu continued. "Maybe some sort of improv class?"

"What?" The laugh exploded from Yaoyorozu unbidden. "I couldn't!"

"Why not? There was a report last year about heroes taking all sorts of adult education courses to improve their skills - Windstorm's entire agency took ballet to improve their balance. And I bet if you asked Midoriya-chan, he'd be able to give you a whole list of heroes who did something unconventional to improve their hero skills."

It was...something to think about. Yaoyorozu almost added the complaint that she didn't have time, on top of her class representative duties. Except that Tsu was right; training to become a better hero was one of Yaoyorozu's responsibilities. And Iida had been asking for more to do.

"I'll try to find something," Yaoyorozu said at last. "On one condition. When I find a class, you'll come with me."

Tsu smiled wide. "I'd love to."


The moment class started, Aizawa pointed at the classroom door. "Aoyama, go to Recovery Girl's office. Everyone else, I'm sure you could use the extra time for homework." He dropped back to the ground, pulling his sleeping bag over his head. "When he gets back, you're up next, Ashido, then Asui. You get the picture. Don't do anything that I might have to wake up for."

It was quiet for a moment before voices rose in quiet chatter. Sero twisted in his chair to face Midoriya.

"Alright, what's up, Firebird?"

"What?" Midoriya's hands flailed, nearly catching Shinsou, who was leaning toward his seat. "How would I know?"

Shinsou tapped Midoriya's wrist, and when Midoriya looked his way, said, "Because you're a f-a-n-b-o-y; you practically know what's going on before it hits the news." His hands moved languidly, practically slurred, but he was grinning, sharp-toothed.

"Does Shinsou know what's going on?"

Shinsou rolled his eyes, but it was Bakugo who replied.

"He was calling Midoriya a nerd, Sero. Learn to finger-spell, at least, or you'll be useless in stealth missions."

"Anyway, I don't know anything about what's going on," Midoriya said. He flipped out his phone to check the news, wondering if he'd missed something.

Yaoyorozu coughed quietly behind Shinsou. "I, um. Overheard Principal Nezu talking to Aizawa-sensei and Kan-sensei before school. Apparently, the Hero Commission is requesting blood tests from U.A. students to assess our health."

Sero shrugged and glanced away, but Midoriya saw Shinsou's brow furrow, as if the explanation sounded fishy to him, as well.

"It sounds like a cover for something," Shinsou said, frowning, dropping one hand to tap on his desk.

"But for what? We've got monthly checkups from Recovery Girl and those dietary guidelines she and Lunch Rush put together. They'd only ask for blood if they were trying to find something...specific." Aoyama stepped into the classroom, and Tsu hopped out of her chair to take her turn, and Midoriya recalled something she'd said about her internship.

Or, rather, something she hadn't said. She mentioned helping catch smugglers before correcting herself, saying they'd caught villains. If the Hero Commission were trying to find evidence of something in U.A.'s students' blood, Midoriya had a suspicion of what the villains Tsu had helped Selkie catch were smuggling.

"T-r-i-g-g-e-r," Midoriya signed to Shinsou, whose eyes widened briefly before settling into a sneer, clicking his tongue.

"You'd have to be stupid to take Trigger if you're studying at U.A.," Shinsou said, hands moving with short, sharp movements. "Aside from being against the law, Trigger strains your Quirk. You could weaken it, or even lose the use of it that way." He tucked his hands under his arms, scowling. He seemed done with the topic, which Midoriya thought he understood. Powering up Quirks, burning them out, would be something of a sore subject with Shinsou.

With that conversation over, Midoriya decided to get some work done, pulling out his latest hero notebook. He'd been gathering intelligence on Visage, after he and Todoroki had gotten to talking about their internships last week. Visage's Quirk wasn't true invisibility, like Hagakure's, but seemed more like some sort of telepathic suggestion - he wondered if he'd have a chance to talk to them about it some day.

A hand rapped on Midoriya's desk; he glanced up to see Koda standing over him.

"You're up." Koda tended to flail and gesture a lot to communicate, but to someone who could read sign, he was more composed, gestures neat, practiced.

"Thanks." Midoriya stuffed his notebook away and headed out toward Recovery Girl's office. If pressed, he would have said he expected Recovery Girl herself to be taking their blood, and kissing the puncture away. If asked to offer other possibilities, Midoriya wouldn't have even imagined a bald man with a spiky mustache and tinted, gold-rimmed goggles.

"Doctor Tsubasa?" Midoriya gasped.

"Hm?" The man, settled in Recovery Girl's normal chair, reviewing a sheaf of papers, looked up. "Midoriya Izuku," he said. "Quirk - Pyrokinesis." He twisted around to Recovery Girl's computer and tapped in a few keys before turning back to Midoriya. "Well, take a seat, Midoriya, and we can get this done in just a moment."

"You were wrong," Midoriya said once he was seated.

"What?" The man paused, needle still capped on his syringe, as he looked to Midoriya. "About what?"

"My Quirk."

"It's not Pyroki-"

"You said I couldn't have one. I had too few bones in my foot."

"Ah." Doctor Tsubasa rolled his chair closer. "Hold still; I wouldn't want to have to stick you more than we need to. I broke three needles trying to get at your classmate Kirishima." Midoriya bore the prick of the needle, and the strange empty sensation of having blood drawn. It took longer than he was used to, but Midoriya supposed he didn't know how much blood you needed to test for Trigger use.

"Even men of science can be wrong," Doctor Tsubasa said once he'd pulled away. "In fact, it's the defining characteristic of scientists to be wrong sometimes. It's how we make new discoveries."

"Oh." Midoriya isn't certain what he'd expected from telling Doctor Tsubasa that. An apology didn't seem warranted; the man hadn't been malicious, just blunt. The flat declaration about science was - well, in-character, he supposed.

He was tempted, for a moment, to tell Doctor Tsubasa about Harai. To ask him if there were dangers of using a Quirk given to you.

Except how would Doctor Tsubasa know? There wasn't any reliable record of anyone who could transfer Quirks, no scientist who'd researched and tested it (and what sort of person would experiment with a Quirk like that? No one with any sort of conscience). So Midoriya was quiet until Doctor Tsubasa dismissed him, although he paused at the door, to satisfy his curiosity.

"What will you do if you find Trigger in someone's blood?"

"Hm?" Doctor Tsubasa's head jerked up. "Where did you hear something like that?"

Midoriya shrank back; Doctor Tsubasa's eyes all but gleamed behind his goggles. "I just overheard-"

"Well, it's not my job to figure that out," Doctor Tsubasa said, suddenly smiling. "I just take blood samples. Now run along and get, ah! Ojiro Mashirao."

Midoriya wondered on the question of artificial Quirks for most of the day, and on why they'd bothered testing Shinsou for Trigger, if he couldn't use his Quirk with or without it, and on the upcoming finals, and on-

"Midoriya-kun!" Brown eyes were startlingly close to Midoriya's; he yelped and nearly fell out of his chair, except for steady hands that caught his shoulders. Uraraka and Iida were standing next to Midoriya's desk (Todoroki had...some family thing with his siblings, and Shinsou was throwing himself into Quirkless training, which today included Capoeira).

"I hope we didn't startle you too badly," Iida said with a sharp bow. "Only you weren't responding to me, and Uraraka - chan - thought a more vigorous approach would be appropriate."

"It's fine." Midoriya tried to wave away their concern. "What's going on?"

"I decided we're getting coffee!" Uraraka declared, punching at the air. "We haven't met up in too long, so we're remedying that."

"Oh - okay." Midoriya fumbled for his bag and books. "I didn't mean to-"

"It's fine," Uraraka drawled. "We've all been busy."

"Yeah," Midoriya agreed as they walked out of the classroom. "Have you just been studying?"

"Ah, do you remember when All Might wanted to talk to me after class?" Midoriya nodded. "He's helping me a little with my training."

"Do you mean he's helping you with your Quirk?" Iida asked. "It's not very much like his."

"Mm, no," Uraraka replied. "More like - conditioning. I spent my internship training with Gunhead, and All Might thinks he can help me more."

"Hm," Midoriya said. All Might's training regimen had been helpful, and with Uraraka receiving that sort of training from him, Midoriya wondered why All Might hadn't suggested something like that for the rest of the class.

Uraraka poked him, and he yelped, skidding to the side. "Come on, what's going on in that big head of yours?" Uraraka demanded. "The one time you aren't mumbling..."

"S - sorry!"

"It isn't a real concern, Midoriya-kun," Iida said. "Uraraka-chan was being facetious."

"Not entirely," Uraraka said, stepping around Midoriya in a circle. "I do want to know what you're thinking."

"Midoriya-kun, you don't have to-"

"I was just wondering why All Might hasn't been helping us all with conditioning," Midoriya said. "He helped me getting into U.A." It took a few steps for Midoriya to realize his friends weren't walking with him; he turned, finding them both staring at him. "What?" he asked, stomach fluttering.

"You never mentioned you studied with All Might," Uraraka said.

"O - oh!" Midoriya scrambled at his memory, trying to remember if All Might had told him to keep it secret; not recalling otherwise, he realized he'd been keeping this from them for months. "I didn't mean to keep it from you - only I never thought much about it - not that I don't think it was special or important, but I was so happy I'd gotten into U.A. everything just sort of slipped my mind. And it's not like you missed much; he just helped me practice my Quirk and made me do a lot of work to build up my strength, which obviously helped a lot but-"

"Midoriya-kun," Iida said, cutting through Midoriya's babbling. "We aren't upset. There is a great deal of difference between deliberately concealing something from your friends and not telling them. Certainly neither of us could begrudge you your work with All Might - my brother offered me advice before the entrance exam."

"And now I'm working with All Might!" Uraraka chimed in. "I was just surprised - but you met him, didn't you, when you and Bakugo fought that slime villain?"

"Well, just before that," Midoriya said. "I…" He shook his head, trying to dispel the memory of All Might telling him he couldn't be a hero. He wasn't certain it was a good idea sharing that with his friends; he didn't want to affect their feelings toward their teacher. "It was the first time I experienced my Quirk," he said.

"Can you imagine?" Uraraka said idly. "If you'd kept on going thinking you were Quirkless and became like a - firefighter or something, and found out like years down the line?"

Midoriya could, because if he hadn't met Harai Akira, he wouldn't have discovered a Quirk. But he wasn't ready to discuss that.

"But what about you?" Uraraka demanded, whirling on Iida. "What have you been busy with?"

"Ah." Iida sidestepped Uraraka, cheeks reddening. "Studying, of course. But my brother has been advising me about my Quirk. Our Quirks are similar enough, and similar enough to our parents, and grandparents, that there are - modifications they know I can do - to the machinery."

Midoriya perked up; Uraraka giggled and ducked away as he turned on Iida. "You can modify your actual engines? Do you have blueprints or schematics somewhere? Do you need anesthetic, or are they separate enough from your nerves you can do it unaided? Have you considered asking someone from the Support department-"

"No," Iida snapped, before flushing. "I mean - I would rather maintain my Quirk on my own."

Midoriya nodded. "I understand. I mean, I don't, exactly - but it's not just an engine, it's a part of you."

Iida gave Midoriya a grateful smile as they reached the coffee shop, holding the door open for him and Uraraka. They were quiet as they ordered, and waited for their drinks (Uraraka drank dark roast with espresso shots black, Iida herbal tea, and Midoriya mocha), and then Uraraka swept them outside.

"Soooo," she said, "we've heard what I've been doing with my time, and what Iida-kun is doing, but how about you, Midoriya-kun?"

"Ah. Reading. Studying. Training. Ya - All Might still checks in, and-"

"Is that all?" Uraraka asked. She was smiling, and something about her expression left Midoriya nervous.

"Y - yes?"

"You haven't been spending lots of time with someone special?" Uraraka probed. "A classmate, maybe?"

"Uraraka-chan," Iida chided. "Leave him alone."

Midoriya glanced between his friends, trying to figure out what they were talking about. 'Someone special' sounded like he was dating someone, which he wasn't. He hadn't been on a date ever, hadn't had anyone confess to him (hadn't worked up the courage to confess to anyone else).

"What, um, are you talking about? I've been sparring with Shinsou-kun, and Todoroki-kun and I-"

"Aha!" Uraraka called, pointing at Midoriya.

"Um. What?"

"Todoroki-kun!" Uraraka declared. "You and he have been hanging out!"

"We're...friends?" Midoriya asked. "He and Yaoyorozu hang out, too."

Uraraka's face twisted into an unfamiliar expression; Midoriya's heart twisted, breath catching, uncertain what she was going to do. Then she sighed, an explosive sound. "Alright," she said. "But if anything happens, and you want to vent, get advice, whatever, you come to me."

"Uraraka-chan," Iida said, stern, and Uraraka flushed.

"If you want to," she concluded.

"O - okay," Midoriya agreed, even though he couldn't imagine anything that might happen with Todoroki that might require advice.


Tokoyami wished he could say he woke the morning of their practical final exams with a sense of foreboding, that, like the noble raven, he could see the dark clouds looming on the horizon.

But he woke to Dark Shadow complaining in his ear, a common occurrence that inspired no particular premonition. His father made pancakes for breakfast while Dark Shadow loomed, stealing bites of apple from the cutting board. Tokoyami mused on their upcoming finals; Monoma had told them it would be fights against robots, but Tokoyami wasn't sure. The world had changed since they entered U.A., two of the top three Pro Heroes dead, the League of Villains gathering strength and prominence, Trigger addicts causing more damage every week, and whispers of a new weapon, one that could remove someone's Quirk.

The world needed new heroes, ones held to a high standard. They wouldn't prove they could stand up to villains by defeating robots (Tokoyami had an idea, but he'd learned to keep such odd thoughts to himself, so not to appear paranoid).

But there was little he could do about it. He had as much control over Dark Shadow as he could manage, had pushed himself as much as he could in physical training, and had spent weeks reviewing every note he'd gotten from his instructors in practical classes.

He was as ready as he was going to be.

It was a bright, cool day (another lack of appropriate foreshadowing), so the train was crowded, although Tokoyami had his usual buffer of space that people normally gave Dark Shadow. Because they both needed to be relaxed, Tokoyami gave in and allowed Dark Shadow to watch cartoons on his phone on the way to school.

Tokoyami settled in his seat when he arrived, letting his classmates chatter while he centered himself. If he couldn't start off the day calm, he would start the test unsettled and out of control.

Aizawa-sensei arrived exactly on time. "Get on your costumes and meet me out front," he said without preamble. About half the class were chattering in curiosity, but Tokoyai was among those (including Midoriya, Shouji, Todoroki, and Yaoyorozu) who knew getting dressed and outside was the quickest way to figure out what they were doing.

And what they were doing was…

A formidable task. They had been divided into pairs (Tokoyami with Tsu), each one to face one of their teachers in a heroes-versus-villains battle. Tokoyami's anxiety wasn't assuaged by the heavy bracers the teachers were wearing; they were Pros, and that meant they had worked under greater restrictions in the past (he was relieved he wouldn't be facing Midnight or All Might).

Tsu drifted next to Tokoyami, eyeing Phantasm as they waited for the buses to arrive to take them to the testing grounds. "So, do you have any ideas?"

"I'd like to see the arena," Tokoyami said. "But if you can keep his clones at a distance, I can dispatch them easily."

"Hm," Tsu said, tapping at her mouth. "That sounds like a good plan…"

"But you wonder if there's more to this exam than meets the eye," Tokoyami replied.

"Mhm," Tsu agreed.

"Well, improvisation is an important part of a hero's job," Tokoyami said, pausing when Tsu giggled. "Is there something wrong?"

"Ah - no, sorry. I've had some experience with improvisation, recently. I think we'll be fine."

"Okay, everyone to your buses," Aizawa-sensei called. "We're ready to start."

Tsu and Tokoyami were suddenly surrounded by thick black mist, impenetrable, and, if it were what it appeared to be, a bad idea to touch.

"Yes," Kurogiri hissed, "let's begin."

And black mist enveloped Tokoyami, hurling him through space to whatever destination Kurogiri intended for him.


Yaoyorozu stood slowly, taking a quick scan to get some idea of where she was. It looked like a small town, any one of a hundred towns that might be anywhere in Japan (it looked Japanese, at least, so she doubted Kurogiri had sent her out of the country), except that it was empty. It didn't look too different from a place she might have imagined the final exams to take place in. But there was no partner with her, no teacher visible.

Regardless, she suspected the objective was the same. Subdue any villains she might find, or escape to find help. The only change was that her opponents wouldn't be holding back, and there was less justification in leaving any allies behind.

Also…

Yaoyorozu reached up to her ear and twisted the small stud she'd put on this morning. It had been created to be easy to activate, but hard to activate accidentally, because what it did when activated was send a beacon, and a distress signal, to U.A. She hoped her classmates were of sound enough mind to activate their own, because wherever she was, she doubted an appreciable number of her classmates were with her.

After doing that, she picked a direction and started walking. Until she knew what she was dealing with, she couldn't make a plan, so it wouldn't do to overexert herself now.

...At least she'd thought ahead and eaten a large breakfast.


Persephone didn't go anywhere without a bodyguard, nowadays, because she was the most vulnerable of the Shinigami. Yomi, of course, could take care of herself, and neither Hades nor Crossroads had Quirks valuable enough for others to turn to their own purposes.

But Persephone-

Well, her Quirk was powerful, and didn't provide any substantial means of defense.

So when she stepped into the Hokkaido District Hospital, it wasn't alone. She would have preferred to travel with her husband, but the Four Gods of the Shinigami had responsibilities that did not often allow them to be together.

Harbinger was a strong fighter, not quite as skilled as Hades, but had learned to use her Quirk to great effect. It took nerves of steel not to falter when visited by a vision of your own death in a fight, and Harbinger took ruthless advantage of the openings such faltering created.

Persephone flashed a badge at the front desk as she walked past into the hallways beyond, angling for the elevators (she had found a sort of bearing kept people from asking too many questions). And then it was down to the morgue. There was usually at least one person working in the morgue, someone who had to be charmed or lied to, and today was no exception. Persephone made quick work of them, ensuring at least fifteen minutes of privacy before they thought to return and ask follow-up questions.

"Watch the door," Persephone commanded before moving on to examine the drawers. In each was a corpse, a human who would never again open their eyes or speak.

Unless, of course, Persephone willed otherwise.

When she found Haraki Raquel's drawer, she let out a quiet sigh; it'd been a few minutes, and she got anxious if things got too close. Persephone pulled the drawer open to reveal the dead woman, a tiny, delicate figure whose dark hair was pinned back, and eyes closed, as if sleeping.

Persephone leaned close and swept a strand of hair back behind Haraki's ear, and the woman's eyes snapped open, giving Persephone a clear view of the pale grey shade.

"What-"

"Listen," Persephone said, "we haven't much time. You're dead, but you have a chance, a small one, to help others. Do you remember how you died?"

"Died?" Haraki asked, hand raising to her chest, where she would feel no heartbeat, and the chill of dead flesh. "No, I - I was asleep."

"Do you remember any dreams you had? Anything...strange?"

"Didn't study for a test strange, or-"

"Strange," Persephone repeated, anxious. Twenty seconds were gone already. "A - conversation, perhaps?"

Haraki shook her head. "No. I don't dream often. Can you tell me what this is about?"

"I need to know who killed you," Persephone said. "Had you met someone who called himself a muse, or even a demon?"

Haraki's eyes widened, just slightly. "Do you mean Ci-"

Forty. Damn. Persephone tapped Haraki's forehead, and her body slumped back into the stillness of death. Persephone stared at Haraki's open eyes for a long moment before she slid them closed again.

"Lady?" Harbinger asked. "We should get going."

"Yes, thank you, Harbinger." Persephone joined her bodyguard at the door and they left together, and their visit, uneventful, faded into the background noise of a crowded hospital.

And the case of Haraki Raquel became just another of the Shinigami's failures, a person with a precognitive Quirk, or a telepathic Quirk, who died in their sleep, not by heart attack or blood clot, but by brain death.

As if something reached out to them in their dreams and destroyed their mind.

Chapter Text

Nezu had sworn to himself, years ago, when he'd been freed from the lab, he would never allow himself to feel helpless again. He vowed to turn his fear and anxiety toward the actions he could take to resolve the problem. That vow had allowed him to maintain a serene, cheerful persona, as he refused to allow even the most dire circumstances to make him feel helpless.

Having twenty of his students abducted while they were within reach sorely tested that resolve.

But panicking, allowing himself to freeze, would do his students no good.

"Higari, call up the Support groups that were tapped after USJ and figure out what progress they've made tracking Kurogiri - we'll take anything they've got. Shouta, reach out to the brokers; I trust your discretion in choosing what to share in exchange for any information they have. Ectoplasm, stand by; we may need you to pursue multiple leads. Ken, Snipe, secure the school perimeter. Thirteen, I need you and Recovery Girl prepping evacuation kits. Hizashi, you'll handle announcements to the rest of the students, and Nemuri, get Lunch Rush, Ryo, and Sekijiro and handle the students face-to-face. The last thing we need is a panic."

As he spoke, he grabbed Toshinori's leg and clambered up to his shoulder before patting his ear. "All Might, my office, now. We're calling the Hero Commission."

Nezu didn't bother looking back as Toshinori hurried to the main office; if he couldn't trust his subordinates to react appropriately in an emergency, he'd already failed.

"Is it wise to contact them so soon?" Toshinori asked. "Shouldn't we wait until we have more information?"

"I understand the impulse, but no," Nezu replied. "This is an - unforgivable failure, and if we are to retain any of the public trust following it, we must remain as above board as possible. Besides, we can only benefit from more eyes looking at this problem." They reached Nezu's office, where he spoke his passphrase, pressed his hand against the pad next to the door, and let it scan his eye (none of these were the real security measures, but were very good at identifying potential fakes and notifying Nezu about the attempt).

And then they were inside, where Nezu's computer appeared to be under attack by some sort of hacker. A long string of random numbers and letters filled the screen, a piercing tone accompanying the additions of new strings every few seconds.

"Some sort of cyber-attack?" Toshinori asked.

"No," Nezu said, narrowing his eyes at the screen. The letters only appeared random at first glance, but they appeared in - a dozen or so pairs that repeated themselves. 'EH' was the first, and just behind that, 'RS'. 'TC', 'UR', 'SI’...

And the numbers weren't changing, except in the thousandths, ten-thousandths places.

"I believe our students have taken it upon themselves to develop distress beacons," Nezu said. "With codenames to reduce the bandwidth needs. 'TC' is likely Tentacole, 'UR' Uravity, 'SI’ Siren." He hopped onto his desk and began tapping at the keys. "If you could call the Hero Commission while I transmit this data into trackers we can provide to the rest of the staff." There were only eleven names appearing in the list; Nezu wasn't certain if it was because some of the students had refused to go along with whoever had come up with this plan, or if some of the transmitters were damaged or lost. The data they did get, though, was painting a picture, an incomplete one, but a clear one nevertheless.

Eleven of their students were scattered across seven different locations, eight of them in pairs.

And so it seemed almost certain that, as the League of Villains had turned the USJ class into a bitter fight for survival, they had turned the U.A. final exams into a twisted test of the young heroes' skills.


Koda cowered in the depths of a bush, trembling. He'd barely had time to recover from falling through the warp villain's gate, struggling to his knees in a dense forest, when he'd felt it - a crushing, paralyzing fear. He'd never felt something like it before, but he'd spoken to enough prey animals in his life to recognize it. It was the sensation that made deer freeze, that made creatures cower in the hopes the source of the terror would move on.

It was a miracle he'd found the energy to crawl under cover, though it hadn't helped; the crushing fear was everywhere, leaving him quivering, tense, where he sat. He knew he should see if any of his classmates were here, try to get back to U.A., but he couldn't move. He couldn't even tell how long he'd been here - minutes, or hours.

"Ready or not, here I come!" a rough, tenor voice called out through the woods. Absent the sound of any other creature (any sensible animal would flee a place like this), the rustling of someone walking through the underbrush was clear, sharp. The voice came again, huffing in laughter, and Koda shivered, hugging his arms tighter around him. If the owner of that voice wasn't affected by the fear, it meant either they were the source of it (a Quirk), or simply capable of acting when any other person would be paralyzed in terror.

"Awww," they groaned, "I didn't come out here to play hitori kakurenbo, you know? Have you ever played that?"

Koda shook his head, even knowing the villain (they had to be a villain, because no matter how fearsome their Quirk, a hero would be reassuring him he was safe) couldn't see. He'd never played games like that, the ones involving mirrors and dolls and speaking to faceless things in the dark. He didn't watch horror movies, and it had been something of a cruel joke among his classmates when they'd realized he'd gotten into U.A. - if Koda was brave enough to be a hero, there wasn't much to heroes, after all.

But he'd never imagined he'd be the sort of hero who faced terrifying villains; with his Quirk, he knew he was well-suited for rescue work, clean-up and intelligence-gathering. He'd taken a chance and written to the Wild, Wild Pussycats, even though they hadn't offered him an internship, but they must have seen what this villain had, that Koda didn't have the courage to be even a rescue hero.

"If you're not going to play, I might as well try to find your friend," the villain called. "I don't imagine they're doing much better."

The force of the villain's Quirk redoubled, and Koda sobbed in frustration at the pressure, the tight anxiety in his chest, and the realization, a moment too late, that making a noise meant the villain knew where he was.

"There we are," the villain cooed. "Doesn't it feel better, letting that fear out? Go ahead and cry, if you want. I've heard it helps."

Koda clenched his fists, tears gathering in his eyes, falling onto the dirt beneath him, free of even crawling ants, the villain's aura overwhelming even them.

Steps drew closer, slow, leisurely (with a Quirk like that, you didn't worry that people might run), and Koda's breath went shallow, rapid, too loud in his ears. Could it get worse, he wondered? How much worse could it get? Could it stop his heart?

"That sounded a little like a boy, so I'm guessing you're Koda Koji, the 'Petting Hero'. I'm sorry you're not getting much of a chance to show off your Quirk, but animals just don't seem to like me. Any theories why?"

Koda sobbed quietly into the dirt as the voice grew louder, closer. It was almost worse than being cornered, because there was nothing stopping him from running except his own cowardice.

There was a sound, metal against cloth, and Koda felt a moment of crystal clarity.

...He was going to die.

They were going to kill him, and then whichever classmate was trapped here with him (Jirou had been near him, they'd been paired up for the final exam, but with the warp villain's Quirk, it could have been anybody. Well, almost anybody; despite knowing the desperate fear this villain's Quirk inspired, Koda couldn't quite imagine Bakugo reacting to it any way except promising the person causing it a swift death).

...Koda stood, and got his first look at the villain. Pale, unnaturally slim, and dressed in a formless white cloak, hood pooled around their neck so their black eyes were clearly visible, framed by stringy dark hair. There was a long knife in one hand, and they were smiling.

They turned, and their smile widened.

Terror rolled off them like the pressure of an oncoming storm, and it washed over Koda. He was going to die, and there was nothing the villain could do to him that was worse than that.

And maybe the villain had thought cornering and taunting him would be enough to keep Koda from fighting back, but that was because they didn't get along with animals, so didn't understand them.

Didn't understand what even the meekest creature could be pushed to, if you cornered it.

Koda wasn't good at sparring, was probably in the bottom quarter of the class with hand-to-hand combat, but he had spent his entire childhood watching animals. So it was instinct that drove him to take a step forward (beyond terror into the calm moment where there was only one possible avenue) and let loose a roar, a primal scream that shook his chest and left his throat sore.

The villain startled back, eyes darting to the side, smile flickering away, and for a moment, Koda felt a lessening of the pressure around him.

He turned and ran. The terror came crashing back down, but Koda was already frightened, was firmly in 'flight' mode, certain nothing could be worse than the horror behind him. And it was unheroic, he knew, fleeing without sparing a thought for his teammate (but how could he find them, trapped somewhere in the forest alone, paralyzed by the villain's Quirk, only knowing their one potential ally was being hunted by their captor?).

He had no direction, no plan, just a desperate flight from a villain who had done nothing more than remind Koda how inadequate he was, that there was no core of strength or courage in his heart, just a kid who dreamed he might someday be more than a boy with a weird Quirk.

And then a blast of sound hit Koda - a stuttering drumbeat that lightened the pressure from the villain behind him, that left him free for another moment.

And there was Jirou, ear jacks plugged into her stereo boots, and Koda felt, not the absence of panic, but a lightening of his fear-gripped heart. She grabbed his hand and broke into a sprint. "Come on!" she shouted. He ran after her, almost as grateful for direction as he was for the absence of the fear.

It fell back on them again, but Jirou's speakers blared, a pulsing beat that dispelled the fear. And it went like that for a few minutes; Jirou's heartbeat, amplified by her ear jacks and boots, created irregular beats of safety in between the villain's aura of terror, enough of a buffer to leave them the will to keep running. And as they ran, the waves of terror grew a little weaker, and the villain's cries behind them quieter, and Koda realized they were putting distance between them and the villain. But he wasn't sure he could keep moving that long; his adrenaline had spiked, and would leave them exhausted, easy pickings any minute-

"HELLO STUDENTS!"

A deafening wall of sound knocked the two of them back, and in the wake of it, there was quiet.

And when the terror came back, Koda realized the villain had been playing, before. He was certain his heart stopped when the terror struck him; every other muscle froze, certainly. Jirou stumbled, her eyes wide in shock, and Koda's fear gave way to despair, because she'd saved Koda, when he couldn't save himself, but she couldn't stand against this. Even Present Mic was silent, likely struck dumb in the face of the villain's Quirk.

It wasn't fair.

If they'd had someone else, someone with a better Quirk, who thought better on their feet, they might have stood a chance. But all they had was Koda, useless without animals to command, terrified when he faced real villains. Even when he'd found some well of courage, all he'd been able to do was yell.

The villain stepped into view, their smile cracked, one side twisted, twitching, eyes narrow. "You think you're clever, don't you?" they asked. "But no one is immune to my Quirk. No one can stand against it. You can feel it, can't you? The fear pulsing through you, overriding your heartbeat, drowning your thoughts?"

And hearing the villain say it, Koda could feel it, could feel the slow rhythm to the villain's fear, like a heartbeat, like a purr, just at a different pattern, to panic, rather than soothe.

…A rhythm disrupted by shouting and Jirou's and Present Mic's Quirks.

Koda threw his head back and screamed, because if he couldn't make himself heard now, they'd all die here.

"It's a sound!" he cried. "The fear is just a noise!" His voice was too reedy, not directed in the right direction to do what his primal scream had done before, disrupting the noise the villain made, banishing the power of their Quirk for a vital instant. But he didn't need to do that, not if Present Mic got the message.

"A SCARY NOISE?" Present Mic shouted, his voice a roaring wind that blasted the fear away like autumn leaves. "I KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THAT! THIS ONE GOES OUT TO MY FAITHFUL FANS!" The villain grit their teeth, scowling as they turned their gaze toward the source of Present Mic's shout, likely preparing an assault to drop the Pro Hero before he could-

"DON'T STOP ME NOW! DON'T STOP ME NOW! 'CAUSE I'M HAVING A GOOD TIME, HAVING A GOOD TIME!"

The villain stumbled, snarling as they fell back, their power faltering in the face of Present Mic's, their terror insignificant in the face of a song made to rouse the spirit. And a hand rose to their ear, lips moving silently, 'I need an extraction'. Koda was rising, sprinting at the villain (if they had any faith in their hand-to-hand skills, they would have attacked him before), when black mist spiraled around them, and Koda had one last glimpse of a bloodthirsty grin before the villain was gone.


The flickering lights of the building Kurogiri had deposited Ojiro in gave the place an eerie atmosphere, something which wouldn't have normally concerned him. But every noise echoed easily here, from Ojiro's own steps, to the distant noise of an engine (the telltale revving sound suggested it was Iida somewhere out there), to the clattering noise of something like metal against stone.

Ojiro wasn't generally bothered by horror movies, but the dim hallways with occasional dark grates in the floor and ceiling, called to mind the worst ones (and damn Ashido for making him think of that movie!). He tried to head toward the distant sound of engines, but the halls echoed sound so irregularly he was moving at random through the frequent intersections. He couldn't even say if he was making progress, or walking in circles.

He wasn't even sure the signal from his tracker was getting out; if they were underground, he and Iida might be entirely on their own against an unknown villain - maybe more than one, depending on what the League of Villains was trying to do (kill them? capture them? toy with them to make it clear the U.A. students were completely at their mercy?).

An engine revved, suddenly close, and Iida kicked around a corner, sprinting at around three-quarters speed.

"Ojiro!" Iida called, reaching a hand out. Ojiro slapped his tail to push him backward, along the same path Iida was traveling, to bring him up to speed, and caught Iida's hand. He flipped around to land on Iida's back; the other boy grunted, but didn't slow.

"What are we dealing with?" Ojiro asked.

"I think there's only one," Iida replied. "I don't recognize him, but he's fast, and-"

Half a dozen pearlescent pillars speared down from a ceiling grate just ahead of them, slicing the grate to ribbons, metal shards raining down around them. Ojiro tugged at Iida's shoulder before he could slow. "Up the wall!" he commanded. Iida skirted the pillars to take two steps up the wall; Ojiro used his tail for the leverage to throw them forward, a boost that Iida might otherwise have been forced to push his engines to manage. The pillars split and lanced after them. Ojiro twisted around and swung his tail at one of them.

"Don't-" Iida called, but Ojiro had already swiped across the reaching pillar, and felt the catch of something jagged, a sharp pain that drew blood as Iida burst away.

"They're his teeth," Iida said, "I can break them with a good kick but they grow back and-"

"They hunger for your flesh!" A shape, a human wrapped up in a bloodied straitjacket, fell from the ceiling, their side teeth growing, snapping out to bar the hallway, while their front teeth shot forward, sharpened, ready to pierce and rend.

Hoping he wasn't counting wrong, Ojiro braced himself and kicked off of Iida's back. Iida fell back, causing the spearing teeth to miss him. Ojiro sailed over the attack, and found he was right - sixteen of the villain's teeth were blocking the way forward, and sixteen attacking them at ground level, so he had an open shot at his opponent's head. Ojiro's tail connected with a solid slap, sending the villain's head snapping around, blood splattering from his nose and mouth.

The villain's teeth bent, turning inward in order to cage or impale Ojiro, only for Iida to spin into the upper teeth, shattering them and giving them enough breathing room for Iida to grab Ojiro again and leap over the villain. The villain screamed incoherently and launched back into the ceiling. Iida turned, engines revving, but Ojiro put a hand over Iida's mouth and shook his head. There was the skittering noise he now recognized as teeth on metal floors (and Ojiro was never going to forgive this man for giving him a thought that could haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life), pausing after a moment, waiting.

"Go back!" Ojiro shouted. Iida nodded and revved his engines, launching himself just a few feet forward before skidding to a stop. The clattering started up again, fading slightly. Ojiro jerked his head up before leaping up to grab the now-open grate. He pulled himself up, finding the upper level was a warehouse, metal containers stacked to make tall steps, wide corridors between them. He swung his tail down, tightening his grip on the grate as Iida clambered up, settling silently on the floor next to Ojiro.

"Where are you?" the villain howled. Ojiro heard the clattering of the villain's teeth, and tensed, watching in the direction they'd sent the villain. The villain didn't appear, and after a moment, Iida tugged at Ojiro's sleeve. When Ojiro turned, Iida pointed at the far end of their current corridor, where a set of double doors stood, a tantalizing promise of freedom. But at the center of the room, the containers were at their lowest level, making for easy passage from one side of the room to the other, and making it easy to see anyone who passed through it.

Ojiro was close enough he could see Iida's jaw clench, and had listened to Iida enough to know what Iida was going to suggest.

"No," Ojiro whispered. "We both leave together, or not at all."

"It's my-" Iida began, but he never finished, because Ojiro slapped him, the sound echoing through the warehouse.

"It isn't," Ojiro hissed, rising to his feet. "You're not my teacher, or my father, and I'm not your sidekick. The only person you're responsible for is yourself."

"Found you!" the villain howled, clambering over the containers with rapid clicking of teeth extending and retracting. A pair of his teeth stretched and speared toward Ojiro. He shoved Iida aside and leapt back, landing easily on one of the lowest containers, hopped back and up again, and then launched himself at the villain, soaring from above.

"If you will sacrifice your flesh to me," the villain laughed, "I will happily accept!" A dozen teeth twisted upward, aiming at Ojiro.

"Reciproburst!"

Iida slammed into Ojiro, arms tightening around his middle as they rose, carried by the explosive force of Iida's engines in overdrive. They were sailing above the villain, their arc carrying them inevitably toward the exit. They landed a moment later, rolling, Iida's legs smoking.

"I'll be fine in a minute," Iida growled. "Just get us out the door!"

Ojiro slammed into the door, but found it shook only slightly, locked or barred. If they'd had a strength Quirk, or Iida hadn't just pushed his Quirk to its limits, they could get through. But instead, they were trapped just inches away from a way to get out of here.

The villain laughed as he raced toward them, teeth splintering, spiking, to rend them asunder-

And the ceiling fell in, a man suspended in a yellow metal exoskeleton landing between the villain, Ojiro and Iida. The man, Power Loader, slammed a metallic fist into the villain's teeth, shattering the first row, and raised his other arm to block the rest.

"Are you alright?" Power Loader asked, charging at the villain, the hand folding in to expose his metal-tipped claws, which he swiped along the villain's face. He grabbed at the villain with his other hand, only for the man's teeth to explode outward like a hedgehog's spikes.

The villain ripped his teeth through one of the arms of Power Loader's exoskeleton, howling with laughter as the arm twitched and sputtered. Power Loader raised a leg and kicked, sending the villain skidding back as Power Loader turned, sprinting to Ojiro and Iida's side. He pulled his good arm back and punched at the door with his claws, tearing through the steel door.

"Go!" Power Loader shouted. "I'll cover you!"

Iida, thankfully, didn't argue, rising and grabbing to help Ojiro clamber onto his back while Power Loader stepped back between them and the villain. Iida's legs revved once, twice, a tense moment where Ojiro wondered if they would actually stall, and then they were gone.


Five.

A punch from the villain, whose arms were covered in muscle tissue bulging from beneath his skin, sent Kirishima flying back into one of the walls of the quarry they'd found themselves in after the warp villain used his Quirk on them.

The villain turned to Sato, who twisted around, hoping to get some distance between them, but the villain was there before Sato could blink, punching him hard enough in the chest that Sato wouldn't be surprised if his ribs were fractured, at least. He fell back, bouncing and skidding along the rocky ground.

Five.

Sato rose to his hands and knees, only for the villain to kick his side, sending him sailing into the wall, hitting it with enough force his breath left him.

"They let me have the strong one and the guy with the armor," the villain said. "I thought it'd be a challenge. But look at you - the other guy's out after a few hits, and you - I thought you had an enhancement Quirk. Where is it?"

Five. That was how much stronger and faster Sato could make himself by consuming sugar. He'd always thought it was a good Quirk, good enough to be a Pro Hero.

But when your opponent was ten, a hundred times stronger than an ordinary person, five seemed inadequate. He couldn't out-fight the villain. He couldn't out-run the villain.

He couldn't do anything.

There was a pained grunt, and a wet noise, and when Sato looked up, the villain's fist was pressed against Kirishima's stomach, Kirishima's arm and the ground below it spattered with blood. Kirishima coughed again.

"What are you?" the villain demanded. "A bystander? Letting your buddy stand between you and a villain? Are you a man or not?"

"Shut up," Kirishima gasped, stepping back, raising his still-hardened fists. "Beating up a guy who won't fight back is the least manly thing I've ever seen."

"Is that the sort of thing you really care about?" the villain laughed. "Because in the end, it doesn't matter how manly you are - either you're alive, or you're dead." He punched Kirishima again, a blow that sent him staggering back, blood smeared around his mouth.

Five, Sato thought helplessly. It wasn't anything close to what the villain could do. But even if it wasn't enough, Sato had to do something.

He tore open a candy bar and shoved it in his mouth (it wasn't too sweet, so it would give him five minutes), and stepped forward, grabbing Kirishima's middle and pulling him back, toward him. The villain's eyes widened, arms and legs bulging with further muscles as he grinned.

"Are you finally going to fight?" the villain asked. "Are you going to show me your power? I wonder - how it will match against mine?"

Sato turned and pushed off the ground (he'd seen All Might do it, leap so high he could almost fly). The jump carried him higher, further than he'd expected, and he stumbled when he landed on a ledge some five meters up. The villain laughed and charged forward, slamming his fist into the wall, which crumbled at his touch. Sato leapt again, shifting his grip on Kirishima before he landed, jumped again, while the villain crowed out in delight.

Sato barely felt the weight of Kirishima in his arms, barely felt the strain of his leaps, which were higher, more powerful than Sato was used to.

...Couldn't mothers without Quirks lift cars to save their children? Was this what this was? Five times his normal strength times - what?

He landed at the edge of the quarry, a moment before an explosion from below shook the ground. The villain rose from the quarry, jumping as high in one jump as Sato had with four. Before he could land, Sato turned, finding the quarry set at the end of a long road cut through a hilly area. There were no nearby cities, nowhere to run, but he had to try.

He began to run, pushing himself until he felt the burn, moving faster than he ever had (five times what? Was the number? Did it matter?). But the villain burst into motion behind him, catching up in an instant. He kicked Sato, sending him sailing forward, rolling, tumbling along the concrete (arms around Kirishima, protecting him from the worst of the fall).

"Is that all you have? I would have thought one of All Might's students would be stronger than this. I should kill you now, before you waste your years believing you'll ever be a match for the villains of this world."

The villain was suddenly next to them (he'd moved so fast Sato had barely seen him), one arm raised to punch down. His expression twisted into a hideous grin, and then-

Everything went grey.

Sato's vision was just blank grey; after a moment, the world shook, and a network of cracks appeared before him.

It was a wall, he realized. Of...cement?

"Are you able to stand?" Cementoss asked. He stood about ten meters back, hands pressed against the ground. The wall in front of Sato shattered, to be replaced in an instant by another. It shook from another blow, but didn't crack.

Sato rose to his feet, legs trembling beneath him. His strength was fading, both that of his Quirk and the strange burst of power he'd felt with it. But he was holding Kirishima, had to protect him, and stumbled forward, while Cementoss rose barrier after barrier around the villain, walls that inevitably shattered under the villain's assault.

But every Quirk had a limit. The villain's was physical, like Sato's and Kirishima's, and no matter how strong he was, he could get tired. Collapsed next to Cementoss, watching the slow rise and fall of Kirishima's chest, Sato saw the blows against Cementoss' walls slow, the ground shuddering less with each strike.

And then...the blows stopped.

"Well, it looks like you boys are safe, now," Cementoss said. "Let's get you, and this villain, back to U.A."


Yaoyorozu tucked her cloak over her head. Made of a particular material, it reflected light of similar wavelengths to that near it, creating a chameleon-like effect. Having yet to meet a villain, she moved cautiously through the abandoned village, eyes out for one of her classmates. Presuming Principal Nezu understood the data stream their trackers were broadcasting (and she had no reason to presume otherwise), a rescue was forthcoming. But not knowing where they were, how close they were to someone who could help, Yaoyorozu had to gather any of her classmates stranded with them and keep them all safe.

Her mind was skipping along the possibilities, trying to think of what she could use to help them. Her transmitter was already doing its part to get help, and she'd created her camouflage straightaway, but without knowing what she was facing, what else could she do?

That was the limit of her Quirk - not the one known in the Quirk Registry, but the secret one. With the power to make anything, choosing the right thing to make was impossible.

"Yaoyorozu!"

Yaoyorozu turned on her heel from her crouch, something in her chest easing at the sight of Tsu running toward her. As Yaoyorozu stood, Tsu threw herself at her, grabbing onto her arm. "I'm so glad to see you!" Tsu cheered. "I was so worried."

"I'm glad to see you're well, too," Yaoyorozu replied. Tsu grinned and hopped back, bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Have you seen any of our other classmates?"

"Mm, no," Tsu mused, raising her hands as she shrugged. "I'd worry more about the villain, though."

"Villain?" Yaoyorozu's heart stuttered, an irregular beat. "Did you see them?"

"Well, no," Tsu replied, stepping up close again, tapping Yaoyorozu's nose; it was so startling Yaoyorozu took a quick step back. "But it makes sense, don't you think? The villains wouldn't teleport us all away to random locations without a reason, right? So there must be more villains to subdue or kill us."

(Say 'yes'.)

"That makes sense. But if there's a villain, why wouldn't they have shown themselves?"

"I bet they're an ambush villain, like Eraserhead," Tsu mused. "Waiting in hiding for the right moment to pounce!"

(Say 'yes, and'.)

"If that's the case, we need to be on our guard." Half a dozen ideas crossed Yaoyorozu's mind, and for a moment she panicked at the sheer number of thoughts.

(There are no mistakes.)

And then she picked one. She tore enough of a gap in her velcro straps to put her hand in and create a device, not quite as complex as the transmitters, but good enough.

"Here," she said, handing the item to Tsu. "This is a sonar device. It should tell you if someone else gets close to us."

"Ooh!" Tsu said, twisting the sonar around in her hands. "Pretty and functional. You're the best, Yaoyorozu!"

"I - i, yes, well." Yaoyorozu looked away, even though she knew it would do little to conceal her blush. "If I were the best, I would have done better in the Sports Festival."

"If you'd done better, you could have fought Todoroki-chan," Tsu said, voice drifting a little, dreamy, and Yaoyorozu jerked her gaze to Tsu. It sounded like she was-

It was strange to imagine Tsu concealing feelings like that for Todoroki (in part because Tsu was so open about everything else), and Yaoyorozu felt a moment of uncertainty. She should warn Tsu away from such a pursuit, knowing it was fruitless, but it would require sharing something told to her in confidence (a whispered secret at their third meeting, kept not because no one would understand, but because 'Father wouldn't approve').

In the end, she let it go; Tsu was forthright enough things would be sorted without Yaoyorozu's intervention.

"Huh!" Tsu said, peering at the sonar's screen. "There's someone over that way." She pointed in the direction of the town center, before tapping the side of it. "It'd be really useful if this could tell you if they were an ally or an enemy."

Yaoyorozu opened her mouth, but snapped it shut rather than explain; they didn't really have the time (and the stress must have been getting to Tsu, who was smart enough to know sonar didn't work that way).

"We should get moving," she said, instead. "But cautiously." She produced another cloak, which she handed to Tsu. "Take that - it's not as good as some support items I've seen, but it should make it harder to notice you."

"Oh, wow," Tsu breathed. "You really are amazing. Todoroki-chan is the best, but you, Yaoyorozu-chan, are fantastic!"

Yaoyorozu stumbled, but Tsu slipped under her arm, holding her up. Tsu smiled at Yaoyorozu, smile wide, toothy. "Come on, Yaoyorozu-chan, let's go."

Once Yaoyorozu was steady, Tsu stepped away, one hand still woven into hers, keeping the two of them close as they crept along the streets of the abandoned town. Moving through the silent, deserted streets, Yaoyorozu found the tension in her chest growing. Tsu was right - there had to be a villain here, or there wasn't a point to all this. But with every moment in which the villain didn't appear, she grew more nervous. They were waiting for their moment, for Yaoyorozu to make a mistake they could exploit, and the knowledge they were watching so closely left her wracked with indecision. Anything she might choose to do could be the wrong thing, and the villain would strike.

So when Tsu tugged Yaoyorozu around the corner of a low traditional home, Yaoyorozu went without thinking.

Tsu held out the sonar device. "He's just around the corner," she whispered. "You said we should be careful."

Yaoyorozu nodded. "Yes. Without knowing if it's one of our classmates or a villain, we should be on our guard."

Tsu grinned, nodded, and slipped in front of Yaoyorozu as they crept forward and stepped into a wide, open street, where Todoroki was standing sidelong next to the same house, angled so he could look both ways down the street.

"Yaoyorozu," Todoroki said, quiet.

Yaoyorozu looked between Todoroki and Tsu.

(How had she known the other student was a boy?)

And punched Tsu in the stomach.

Tsu stumbled back, coughing, and for a moment, Yaoyorozu feared she'd made an unforgivable mistake.

But then Tsu's face twisted into an uncharacteristic smirk. "Is this how you treat your friends, Yaoyorozu-chan?"

"If you'd called me that from the beginning," Yaoyorozu said, reaching into her skin, "I might not have caught on." She pulled a Matryoshka doll out and threw it at the villain, who giggled, a knife appearing in her hand by magic, and sliced the doll in half.

Yaoyorozu was already faced away, running around the villain so she could reach Todoroki (her certainty it was him was part of what had led her to conclude Tsu was an imposter). Beside, and then behind, her, the sodium within the doll exploded to light. The fake Tsu screamed, blinded by the flash, and in that moment Yaoyorozu grabbed Todoroki's hand.

"Let's go!" she shouted.

"No," Todoroki said firmly, pulling Yaoyorozu up short when she tried to move him.

"Todoroki-kun, we have to get somewhere safe-"

"Momo," Todoroki snapped, turning to the villain, who was clawing at her eyes. "The League of Villains already has Kurogiri's power; they should not be allowed this villain's Quirk, as well."

His right foot shifted, and ice sprang up from the ground, ensnaring the villain in an instant. Their Quirk didn't seem to require concentration, or the attack would have forced them into their natural form; consequently, the sight that faced them was Tsu suspended in ice, eyes still squinted closed, face twisted into a snarl. But it shifted, slowly, to a toothy grin.

"Did I hear you right, Todoroki-chan? You're going to play with me?"

"We aren't playing," Todoroki retorted. "We are holding you here until our backup arrives, and then you will be placed under arrest."

"Hm," the villain said. "No, I don't think Shigaraki would like that. Not that I care what he likes, only he whines so much. Besides, I want to play."

And then she melted.

By the time Yaoyorozu realized what had actually happened, it was too late, as the villain's true shape burst from Tsu's, allowing her a degree of freedom, enough to shatter a portion of the ice and use that leverage to break free. She was blond, yellow-eyed, and didn't look much older than Yaoyorozu, if that. She was wearing a skin-tight outfit, dark red, and a belt holding a string of red vials.

Waiting too long to make a choice ruined improvisation. You couldn't be afraid of making the wrong choice, just so long as you made one.

So Yaoyorozu didn't think, didn't analyze, just acted. The blade she created was short, sturdy, and sharp. The villain giggled and bounced away when Yaoyorozu lunged, dodged out of the way of Todoroki's ice.

"Oh! I watched you at the Sports Festival, Todoroki-chan," she said. "I watched your fight with Midoriya, watched it over and over, and I saw it. How you move when you use your ice. It's like a dance, isn't it, Todoroki-chan?" She spun around him as he tried to lash out with his ice again, and again, but she was a step ahead the entire time.

Yaoyorozu had watched the video, too, both her own failure, and each other contestant's success. And she remembered how intently Midoriya had watched Todoroki when they fought; it had to take the majority of your attention to predict Todoroki's moves.

So she watched, no more than a few moments (she couldn't afford to wait for the perfect moment; the perfect moment was the one she chose), before darting in, knife flashing. She was certain if she were aiming for something vital, she would have had no chance. The girl held a knife in each hand as if they belonged there, so must have had practice protecting her vitals.

But because Yaoyorozu's cut barely brushed the villain, the girl did little more than kick back to give her distance.

"I can see why you didn't place better, Yaoyorozu-chan," the villain tittered. "You've got no style all your own. Todoroki-chan, though-" She leapt over a rising pillar of ice, knives out.

And because her attention was on Todoroki, and the crack of ice, the villain didn't hear her belt falling to the ground. Yaoyorozu ducked in while the villain clashed with Todoroki, and picked up the belt. The vials clattered against each other, and this close, Yaoyorozu discovered their coloration was not because of the material of which the vials were made.

"...Blood?"

The villain howled. "Give that back!"

It didn't take robust analysis to know that would be a foolish decision, or what the best course of action to take would be. The glass vials were likely ideal for keeping the blood preserved with minimal contamination, but had one glaring weakness.

Yaoyorozu hurled the belt to the ground, where a fair number of the vials shattered.

"Oh, you little bitch! I've decided you aren't amazing after all." The villain jumped at Yaoyorozu, knocking her back as the villain grabbed her shoulders and locked her legs around Yaoyorozu's waist. "I don't even think I want your blood," she said. "Maybe I should just...kill you?" She lifted one hand, which somehow had a knife in it, steady even as her body shook with laughter.

A blast of ice sent the villain rolling off of Yaoyorozu to pass under the attack. When she stood, her hands were stained with blood, and she was smiling.

"One left," she said. "I wonder who it is?" She tilted one of the vials up and swallowed the blood as it spilled out. Her skin bubbled, and something flowed out from it, settling over her skin and changing it.

Blond changed to green, yellow to green as well, and it was Midoriya standing before them. His face shifted into a grin as he hopped up and down. "Oh, how lucky! If I can't be you, Todoroki-chan, Midoriya-chan is almost as good!"

She ran at Todoroki, who stood stock-still, hands loose, gaze fixed on the villain.

Yaoyorozu almost didn't make it - she was so used to Todoroki being unruffled, responsible for his own defense, looking out for him wasn't ingrained in her as it were for most of the rest of their classmates.

Yaoyorozu turned the villain's first strike with the blade she'd used to cut her belt, and earned a slice along her forearm in return. But she had the villain's attention, now, which should give Todoroki breathing room. Yaoyorozu had up her shield, blocking a few probing strikes from the villain, which should have given Todoroki time to come up with a plan, but he was still, expression...frozen.

(Yaoyorozu had seen that expression before, she was certain.)

Sparks jumped every time the villain made contact with Yaoyorozu's shield, rapid blows that likely served her well in combat (moreso, given her need for blood to activate her Quirk), and it was all Yaoyorozu could do to keep ahead of them, uncut and still standing.

And Todoroki was as still as if he'd been caught in his own Quirk.

"Shouto!" Yaoyorozo snapped. "I need your help!"

"Shouto?" the villain asked, that hideous grin marring Midoriya's face. "It's like that, is it?" She twisted to look to Todoroki, face shifting to a tearful look that wouldn't have looked out of place on Midoriya's real face. "I'd hoped, Todoroki-chan, that once you got to know me, you might want to play. We could have so much fun." Todoroki twitched, barely a shift in his stance. "Of course, it makes things more difficult if you like her - I'd have to keep her on hand so I could be her all the time."

"Stop it," Todoroki muttered. His head was down, left hand clenched at his side, right twitching in place.

"Stop what?" the villain asked, pressing a finger at the corner of her mouth.

"Stop looking like him," Todoroki growled. "Stop putting that expression on his face!"

"Oh! Oh my!" the villain crooned. "You can't give me a delicious tidbit like that and expect me to stop playing! Do you know what my favorite thing in the world is? When I've become someone I love, making sure no one else will ever love them as much as I will." She took a step toward him, and Todoroki took a step back, and as his expression shifted away from his momentary anger, Yaoyorozu remembered where she'd seen that face before.

At the end of their first training exercise, when Todoroki had frozen Midoriya, his own ally. Everyone else had thought him too unused to working with other people, that he had accidentally caught Midoriya with his Quirk. But Yaoyorozu had seen his expression, and remembered oblique statements throughout their childhood ('Father wouldn't approve').

"But I think it might be just as fun to make sure you never love anyone more than me. What is it about Midoriya you like? What part of him can I kill in your eyes? I bet you could never imagine him smiling while carving up your friend. Or maybe - I could cut you up instead?" She raised her knives, grin widening, a sickening expression that would haunt Yaoyorozu's nightmares.

"Stop it," Todoroki said, his voice barely above a whisper, his voice shaking.

"Is that all you can do?" the villain asked, "beg and plead like a child?"

She might have intended to say more, but she didn't have the chance, as between one breath and the next she was engulfed in a pillar of flame. Yaoyorozu's first thought was impossible - Endeavor was dead. Her second was - improbable.

But instead, Todoroki stood in front of the villain, left hand outstretched, face twisted into a rictus of fury, while the villain screamed.

No, Yaoyorozu realized.

She wasn't screaming. She was laughing.

Todoroki fell back, left hand dropping, and from the shock on his face, the fire should have gone out.

But it kept burning, a curtain of flame enshrouding the villain, leaving her unharmed - just like Midoriya's Quirk.

"Oh - oh my," the villain purred. "I've never - I never dreamed." She took a step toward Todoroki, eyes wild. "Can you imagine, Todoroki-chan? What I could do, if you just let me become you?"

"No," a flat voice said, and the fire went out. The villain's skin melted, replacing Midoriya's face with the wild pale one, which shifted in an instant from glee to fury.

"What-"

Grey cloth lashed out at the villain, ensnaring her wrists and pulling her up off the ground toward the top of the building they'd been fighting near, where Aizawa-sensei was perched like a gargoyle, yanking the villain toward him.

"Ugh, no fair!" she snapped. She twisted and kicked, reaching up to her ear. "Kurogiri-chan? I've run into a little bit of a problem, but tell Shigaraki-chan I've got wonderful news!"

"Pin her down!" Aizawa-sensei shouted, but it was too late, a black portal tugging the villain through it, taking a meter or so of Aizawa-sensei's capture weapon with her.


Kaminari turned in place, watching a dozen reflections of himself do the same.

"Mirrors?" he asked. He'd expected a fight with a villain, not a tour of a funhouse. But at least it'd be hard for a villain to actually sneak up on him.

Pink flashed across a frame; Kaminari was turning, hands sparking, when Ashido slammed into his back. "Kaminari-kun!" she cried. "You're okay!"

"Of course I am," Kaminari replied. "I haven't even seen any villains around here."

"That is because I had no desire for you to see me." Smoke billowed around their knees, rising in occasional curls. A tall figure appeared in one of the mirrors, humanoid, dressed in a tan overcoat and feathered top hat. A white mask covered in black diamonds concealed their face, and their hands, in red gloves, sat on the top of a wrought metal cane.

They stepped forward, a dozen images mirroring their movements. "Revealing myself to both of you at once promised the greatest impact, and ensured a swift battle."

"You're right it's gonna be swift!" Kaminari shouted, lunging at the villain's cane, hand sparking. The villain didn't move, clearly not realizing what would happen when Kaminari touched his metal cane-

Kaminari's hand closed around a stick of hard plastic.

"Did you really have such a low opinion of me to believe that I wouldn't ground myself when fighting a boy with electrical powers?" the villain chortled. "We have spent weeks preparing this event."

"Yeah, but do you have any clever ways to deal with me?" Ashido shouted, hurling acid as she jumped at the villain.

She slammed into a mirror, and a moment later, the reflections all vanished, leaving them alone.

"Of course I do, Ashido Mina. You cannot destroy what you cannot touch." His voice echoed from all around them, probably connected to some public address system.

Ashido growled, turning in place, looking for some hint of where the villain went. Kaminari's hand went to the bracelet where he'd hidden his transmitter, only to find it smoking, dead from close contact with his Quirk.

"Hey, Ashido-kun, you still have your - thing, right?"

Ashido looked around to Kaminari and shrugged, smiling. "Accidentally melted it. We're going to have to ask for Yaoyorozu to work on that once we get out of here."

"Who said you were getting away?" the villain asked, voice booming through the area. "Keeping you in our hands is the entire point of the exercise. We could hardly hope to handle you all at once - the failure at the USJ proved that. It was lucky that they were already separating you into pairs, pairs with substantial weaknesses of which we could take ruthless advantage."

"God, is talking people to death your Quirk?" Ashido asked, patting her hand over her mouth, as if yawning. Kaminari smirked. "Because if you didn't think it was, you might actually have two."

"Ah, a heckler!" the villain said, voice alight with glee. Their image appeared in a mirror to the right and Kaminari leapt at him; grounded or not, the villain couldn't be immune to getting punched in the face. The villain's hand moved, as if to block, and-

Kaminari wasn't claustrophobic, but what happened next, a sensation of being in a place just too small to fit comfortably, dark, filled with stale air, seemed tailor-made to give him claustrophobia. And then the moment was over, and Kaminari was sailing through the air, slamming into a mirror, which cracked from the impact. Ashido yanked him up and started running - right into another mirror.

"Ow, fuck!" Ashido complained. She changed direction and had better luck this time, as they got a few steps into a corridor with no broken mirrors, and she took a moment to assess their position.

"What happened?" Kaminari asked, rubbing his forehead, which was bleeding slowly.

"It's his Quirk," Ashido said. "He turned you into a marble."

"More like stuck me in a marble," Kaminari complained. "It sucked."

"Indeed! It is my pleasure to be Mr. Compress, master thief and kidnapper!" the villain cried out. He appeared in another mirror, only half-reflections caught in the others (and Kaminari could see it now - the mirror was a door or panel that slid aside, allowing the man to step in and out of the corridors at will). "It is my duty to assess your potential, your resolve, and if you prove wanting in either case, to destroy you before you become a threat to our organization."

"Potential?" Ashido asked.

"The potential to become one of our members!" Mr. Compress said, throwing his hands wide. "It was our leader's desire that the League become a power worthy of casting down the Hero Commission, something we cannot do simply waiting for criminals to seek us out!" Kaminari could feel his attention wavering, while Ashido was staring fixedly at the right side of Mr. Compress' head, frowning, thoughtful. Mr. Compress, though, seemed unaware of their distraction, as he kept talking. "Seeing that boy in the Sports Festival - the one who won, though his every opponent decried his unheroic character - gave Shigaraki an idea. And so we decided to transform this final exam into another sort of test - an entrance exam!"

"Wh - aa?" Kaminari asked.

But Ashido just burst into laughter. "Are you trying to recruit us - to be villains?"

"Villains - you say that word with such venom. Tell me - do you think I perpetrate evil for the sake of villainy itself?"

"Uh," Ashido replied. Kaminari, though, stared at the man. He looked like - a magician, a performer. Kaminari knew villains had odd ideas - there was a sort of villain Americans called a Joker, who committed atrocities for the sake of their twisted senses of humor. And in light of that, he'd always supposed villains were all like that - people with a twisted view of what was good or right.

But Mr. Compress was suggesting something else.

"I think...you do things because...they make a good show," Kaminari said.

"Indeed! And of course sometimes, such things end up violating the law. But why should I be shackled in such a way? Why should any of us? Don't you hold back your power, your desires, for the sake of this law? Don't you chafe against it? Don't you imagine what you would do - if there were no limits?"

"No limits?" Kaminari stepped toward Mr. Compress, pointing a finger at him. "Do you think I want to be a hero because I want to limit myself? Why - do you think kids want to grow up to be heroes?"

"Tch," Ashido said, pushing past Kaminari. "He doesn't know. All he knows about heroes is that they're always stopping him from doing what he wants. He doesn't realize what being a hero is."

"No, I know all about heroes! We all saw - Kacchan showed us the desire that lurks in your hearts, the desire to unleash violence on others, allowed merely because your targets are 'villains'. Why not loose yourselves of these chains, and act as you wish?"

Ashido laughed. "Kacch - you mean Bakugo-kun? You aren't offering him this deal, too, are you? Oh man, you don't get it at all! We heroes - we're the people who agreed to spend our lives training our Quirks and our bodies, to offer them in service to the rest of society. It doesn't matter if it's a villain, an earthquake, or the gods themselves! We chose to become heroes because we aspire to be the people who can stand against those threats, to be the world's shield!"

It was quiet a moment after Ashido fell silent, and then Mr. Compress clapped his hands together slowly.

"Truly inspiring," he said. "I must admire your passion, Miss Ashido. Although I must ask, to be clear - you intend to decline our offer?"

"Decline?" Ashido asked. "I can't say I even considered it!" She leapt at Mr. Compress, spinning to create an acidic vortex he would hesitate to touch. He fell back, bringing his cane up to knock her fist aside as she punched at his face, and her hand just grazed the side of his head. She landed in the space beyond the empty mirror frame, turning, just as Mr. Compress reached for her. Her right fist twisted, clenched.

"Ashido!" Kaminari shouted; rather than running, or trying to get out of Mr. Compress' reach, she winked at Kaminari. And then a marble fell into Mr. Compress' grip, and he turned.

"I don't see the point in killing you," he said, voice no longer booming from every direction. "Your power is as damaging to you as it is to your enemies - showy, but pointless. Miss Ashido, though - if Shinsou Hitoshi proves amenable to our offer, she may prove more...tractable in the future."

He raised a hand to his ear. "Kurogiri, I'm ready for pick - what?" He fumbled at his ear. "Where is it?"

And Kaminari grinned, because Ashido had had a plan. "Do you think you could tell us all your plans, and not have us mess them up? Messing up villains' plans is what heroes do!" He let his hands spark, building up the charge in his body. Ashido had freed Kaminari by breaking his marble, so he had to trust he could do the same to hers.

"The League relies on Kurogiri for transportation, doesn't it? And that means you need pre-arranged pickups, or communications gear." He built up his power, feeling the sparks jumping along his nerves, all but paralyzing him. "So all we needed was a timely bit of misdirection for her to get your microphone, and-"

"Indiscriminate Discharge: 1,300,000 Volts!"

In the haze of his short-circuited brain, Kaminari saw the pink girl tying the masked man up. He gave her a thumbs-up, and she gave him one in return.

"Ayyyy, nice job, Chargebolt," she said, bumping his fist. "I knew I could count on you." She turned, a dozen pink girls turning with her. "Now. How do we get out of here?"

"Yayyyyyyyy," Kaminari suggested.

The pink girl sighed. "We gotta find a way to insulate your brain from those shocks, Chargebolt."


"Man, this is going to be a piece of cake," Twice said, leaning over the railing of the observation deck of the place he'd taken as his arena.

"No, it's gonna be a nightmare," Twice corrected with a groan. "That guy's got an amazing Quirk, and the girl - she's gonna figure things out right away."

"Come on, what are you thinking?" Twice demanded of himself. "The boss knows that - that's why he gave you support!"

"Ugh, 'support' - the boss didn't give me anything. But yeah, it's a good point. I don't have to do this myself. Hey, Muscular? Pound those kids into paste for me, okay?"

"Sure thing," Muscular replied, bulking up in a twist of muscle fiber before leaping from the balcony to the floor below.


Sir Nighteye tapped his fingers against the latest report. He could not doubt the source who had provided it, and that meant that he was forced to accept the report as truth.

And if he accepted the report as truth, it provided a worrying situation.

Because the whispers of a weapon that could remove someone's Quirk (temporarily, but that could prove permanently fatal to a Hero) had drawn Sir Nighteye to the Shie Hassaikai. But recent shipments of Trigger - high-quality Trigger, manufactured in American labs, where Trigger was all but legal - were similarly linked to the Shie Hassaikai.

If you approached the question from a purely philosophical standpoint, it made no sense. Why would the Yakuza sell both Trigger and a Quirk-eliminating weapon?

But from a financial standpoint, it was brilliant, if monstrous.

By flooding the market with cheap, effective Trigger, the Yakuza could instill fear of dangerous Quirks in the average populace.

...Creating demand for the Quirk-erasing weapon - their own product.

The worrying part of all of this is that - it felt desperate, rushed. Money was flowing quickly, and Sir Nighteye was certain Chisaki was losing money on the Trigger deals.

He was acting as if someone were closing in on him, and that worried Sir Nighteye because there was no evidence Chisaki were aware of Sir Nighteye's investigations.

Meaning there was another party involved, of whom Sir Nighteye was not aware. And if there was one thing that put up Sir Nighteye's hackles, it was the unknown. If he were braver, he might-

Well, he wasn't brave, so it wasn't worth worrying about.

Sir Nighteye sighed and retrieved a blank folder to start a new file.

Chapter Text

Hagakure peered around the crumbled wall she'd used as cover. Shoji was still in place, eyes wide, whimpering at irregular intervals. The villain stood apart from him, ten meters away, hood and balaclava pulled up so only their eyes were visible. Hagakure hadn't dared look directly at them, not after what had happened to Shoji.

"Hagakure Toru," the villain said, "do you wonder what is happening to your colleague? What happens to those who meet my gaze?"

She didn't reply; she had learned early that silence was necessary to compound her Quirk. Or, rather, that unless she spoke, unless she shouted, no one would notice her. She knew every secret, every trick of remaining unnoticed, as well as unseen.

"Do you know what they call me? The Paralysis Villain, Transfix!"

Paralysis? It was certainly the effect of Transfix's Quirk, but Hagakure was certain their Quirk was more than that. Shoji was aware of something, or he wouldn't sound so distressed. Hagakure took a steadying breath, recalling a piece of advice Aizawa-sensei had offered them.

'There are villains who will cut you down without a word, but most of them like to talk. They are prideful, or vengeful, and want nothing more than attention - validation, sympathy, or just an audience. If you are capable of taking them down, do not indulge them. But if you are uncertain of your skills, or believe them more powerful than you, their desire to be heard is one of your greatest assets. If you keep them talking, you can learn their desires, their weaknesses, or if nothing else, buy time.'

"It's a powerful Quirk," Hagakure agreed. "But you didn't kidnap us just to show it off, did you?"

"Of course not," Transfix replied. "But as long as your classmate is held in place, you will not dare leave him behind."

Hagakure rubbed the choker in which she'd sewn Yaoyorozu's transmitter. If she knew that help were close, that her Quirk weren't interfering with its radio waves, she might risk it, splitting Transfix's attention to allow a rescue greater chance of success. If this were a test, she might do so, as well, knowing her teachers were teaching her that flight, even that which left a comrade behind, may sometimes be the correct course of action.

But faced with the reality of it...she couldn't agree with a lesson like that. Moving slowly, cautiously, and irregularly, she slipped out from behind her cover to take refuge in a shallow depression in the ground.

"Or have I misjudged you?" Transfix asked. "It is difficult to tell, with your Quirk. Tell me, does your Quirk conceal your clothing as well as yourself, or do you need to be naked to be completely unseen?"

Hagakure shivered, sticking her tongue, unseen, at Transfix.

"Have you left?" Transfix asked. "Have you abandoned your classmate? If so, I will take him to our leader now."

Damn.

"No!" Hagakure shouted, scrambling to stand, exposed. "I...am here."

Transfix began to laugh, head tilting toward her. "Is that the best you can offer? The echo of your teacher's words? Your friend is trapped, and as long as he is, so are you!"

Hagakure was silent, already moving, crouched, avoiding the dust and rubble on the floor of the room as she stepped. The space was uniquely suited to making trouble for her - few obstructions except for a few piles of rubble and shallow holes in the floor near the edges of the space, and close to fifty meters of space between those edges and the center of the room. The ground was littered with dust and debris that would shift under an unwary step, alerting her opponent to her position.

But his ears were covered, and his eyes fixed on Shoji, so if she moved cautiously, and from an unexpected direction, Hagakure might stand a chance.

"What use is your Quirk, when you cannot even cover your classmate's eyes from my hypnotic gaze?" Transfix demanded.

Hagakure grinned to herself; Transfix's head was still tilted toward where she'd last called out. And then she broke into a run.

"What-" Transfix asked, before Hagakure kicked the back of their knees, disrupting the villain's balance, sending his head jerking around toward the attack.

Shoji gasped, while Hagakure took advantage of Transfix's distraction to hurl a handful of dust at his eyes.

"Shoji! Run! Don't look back!"

Transfix swore as Hagakure ran for Shoji, who turned on shaky legs, scanning the room's borders for an escape. But Hagakure had already searched, knew their destination, a window ten feet off the ground, unbarred, unlike the chained and locked doors on ground level.

"Damn!" Transfix snapped. Hagakure jerked her head to the right when she saw movement to her left, a fluttering motion that had to be Transfix-

No.

Transfix's cloak.

To her right was a man, close to two meters tall, broad, wearing only a loincloth to expose his chest, arms, and legs, which bulged as he flexed.

But not with muscles.

With eyes.

His body was covered in eyes, dozens of them, absent any iris, just concentric black rings that seemed to spin slightly. It didn't matter that Hagakure had thrown dust into his eyes - he had eyes to spare.

"Foolish girl!" Transfix called. "Did you think such a simple trick would defeat Transfix, the Hundred-Eyed Villain?"

Two of his eyes twisted around, the black rings glowing red, and behind Hagakure, Shoji screamed. Hagakure turned, and her blood ran cold at the sight of him.

His limbs were spread, three extra hands visible, and a fourth on the ground, bloody, from where it had been sliced from his flesh. A line of blood welled along his cheek, dangerously close to his eye.

"W - what did you do?"

"Do you think a man with a Quirk so mundane as paralyzing anyone who meets his gaze would be worthy of joining the League of Villains?" Transfix asked. "No, my power is much greater. I am Hotoke Akira, and my eyes are the most dangerous weapons you will ever encounter." His eyes twisted around again, and Hagakure didn't wait, throwing herself between Shoji and Transfix. His gaze cut through her like knives, slicing open her shoulder and leg.

Worse, her blood began dripping from the wounds, which would give Transfix a way to track her.

The man grinned, his two standard eyes still closed while the other 98 rolled. Stone cracked and shattered as his power erupted from his eyes. A few stray blasts caught Hagakure, leaving bloody trails across her skin. She glanced behind her to find Shoji hadn't managed to escape unscathed, either. The skin between his limbs was bleeding, cut half a dozen times.

"Do you begin to understand my power, Hagakure Toru?" Transfix asked. "The force that the League of Villains brought to bear against you, among the least of our targets within your class? Imagine, then, what we have sent against the greatest among you."

His eyes rolled again, and Hagakure's wounds began to burn. There was no flame, but the skin still seared with pain; Hagakure screamed as the pain seemed to crawl deeper, into her veins, her bones.

She sank to her knees, sobbing. What she felt was beyond any pain she could imagine, was absolutely impossible.

Impossible?

No.

Why would Transfix hesitate to use a power like this? It was overwhelming, and could have cut Hagakure and Shoji to ribbons before they could react.

Instead, he had fixed Shoji in place, paralyzed him until Hagakure had broken his line of sight.

Hagakure had no idea what Shoji had experienced while paralyzed, but it had caused him pain, and now she thought she had some idea of what it was.

Transfix didn't paralyze his opponents; he offered them nightmares that kept them pinned in place. Anyone whose gaze he met-

No. If that were the case, it would have been stupid to send him to fight Hagakure.

His Quirk must have worked when someone else looked at his eyes. As a result, he dressed to draw attention to his eyes, and when he went all out, made it impossible to avoid looking at them.

Of course, avoiding it couldn't be as simple as closing one's eyes. His hallucinations likely confused any attempts to look away.

But luckily, Hagakure had a unique advantage in facing this villain, one she was certain no other person (with the possible exception of Midoriya) knew.

Hagakure's Quirk bent light, scattered it so she reflected almost none of it. It interfered with every type of electromagnetic radiation, which was why her transmitter might be useless. But light interacted slightly differently with her eyes than it did with the rest of her body, otherwise she would be completely blind.

With concentration, though, she could make her retinas as transparent to light as the rest of her body.

It was a risk, but she couldn't imagine anything else she could do, if Transfix could fool her other senses.

So Hagakure made herself blind.

The moment it became impossible for her to see, the pain vanished. Shoji's labored breathing stopped, to be replaced by high-pitched whimpers. And Transfix was no longer ranting about his power; he was speaking to someone else.

"-not worth the bother. The girl got the drop on me just because I couldn't see her, but all it took was my Hundred-Eyes to take her out."

It had to be his superior from the League of Villains - Shigaraki, or Kurogiri, maybe, discussing what to do with Hagakure and Shoji. She wanted to be indignant at Transfix's dismissal, but he was a dangerous villain, and Hagakure was a first-year student.

Still...her classmates had stood up to Shigaraki, the leader of the League of Villains.

And Hagakure had one more trick up her sleeve.

She lifted her head and let light flood back to her eyes. She could see the hint of movement ahead of her, and shifted carefully. She reached into the pockets set within her suit and pulled out a small device. Small enough to sit in the palm of her hand, it had devastating potential in the right hands.

Namely, hers.

Hagakure ran toward Transfix. "Hey, Four-Eyes!" she shouted, and jumped as high as she could. Not looking, trusting the moment would draw the majority of his eyes, she triggered the flash grenade in her hands.

She'd done something like this once before, when she'd changed the frequency of her Quirk for a moment, just enough to refract and scatter Aoyama's laser, instead of letting it pass through her.

This was just light, no force behind it, but used against someone whose Quirk relied on functioning, open eyes, it was equally dangerous.

Transfix screamed, and when Hagakure landed, she turned, still avoiding a direct look at the villain. Shoji was shifting, dangerously looking around, so Hagakure lunged and clapped a hand over his eyes (despite knowing it wouldn't do any good).

"Don't look!" she snapped. "Keep your eye on our target," she whispered, "up high, and ignore anything else."

She dragged him after her as she ran for the window, as she jumped, clambering up, Transfix cursing behind them. She doubted he would follow them now, wary of what she could do to him, but she didn't doubt she'd made an enemy today.


Aoyama ran into Uraraka's back, sending them tumbling to the ground again. The villain, Magne, laughed, running at them, her huge bar magnet raised high.

"Come on, Aoyama!" Uraraka shouted, and Aoyama blasted his laser, sending them skidding along the ground just enough to evade Magne's swing. But they were still stuck together, and would be until they could get out of her range (between four and five meters), but the factory they were fighting in had so many narrow spaces, it was impossible to pull too far ahead of her. Magne flipped her magnet around, and suddenly, Uraraka felt the pull of her Quirk, dragging them in close. She grunted and tried to grab onto something but they slid faster than her reflexes would allow, and Aoyama was looking green, sick from overuse of his Quirk.

Uraraka crossed her arms in front of her, hoping to take the brunt of Magne's attack herself. But at the last moment, Magne flipped the magnet around again, spinning them around so when she swung at them, she struck Aoyama with a sickening blow to the stomach.

(She was targeting Aoyama more than Uraraka, clearly more fearful of Aoyama's Quirk than Uraraka's - a smart move, even if the assessment made Uraraka feel a little indignant.)

"Cherie, I'm not certain how much use I will be," Aoyama whimpered. "My stomach-"

"Then hold on," Uraraka growled.

"As if he could help it!" Magne retorted. "It won't do you much good, so long as the two of you are magnetized - I can push or pull you around this battlefield at my leisure!"

(It was a mistake, Midoriya had said once, to tell your opponent about your Quirk. Ignorance was a weapon you could use against your enemy. She couldn't see, yet, how Magne sharing that knowledge was a mistake, but she vowed to ensure it was.)

Uraraka stood, legs shivering a little under the combined weight of her and Aoyama. She took a deep breath (there was strength, there, if she were brave enough to draw on it) and charged at Magne.

The villain stepped sideways, and Uraraka, guarding for another swing from Magne's magnet, didn't see the knee until it hit her stomach, forcing her off the ground just enough that when Magne thrust her magnet at Uraraka, it sent her soaring up, slamming into the upper corner of a piece of machinery. Aoyama grunted, but didn't let go, and Uraraka used the moment to fumble, grabbing the edge, scrambling up, and taking a perch. They were two or three meters up, almost far enough-

Magne dragged on them, but Uraraka had anticipated that, and grabbed onto a pipe fused to the top of the machine, bracing herself against the pull of the magnet. But it was a stopgap measure - it didn't get them away (and she didn't know how long they had to wait for assistance, presuming the teachers got the message), and the force grew stronger as Magne hopped from one perch to another, rising toward their position.

...There was strength there, if Uraraka were brave enough to draw on it.

"Aoyama," she whispered. "I have a plan, but it relies on you being able to use your Quirk one more time."

"I always aim to satisfy, Uraraka," Aoyama said, though his voice was strained.

"I need a hole - in a wall, the ceiling, whatever."

"...I'll be useless afterward," Aoyama said after a moment.

"I might be, too," Uraraka replied. "But it's our only shot."

"If you think so, I'll try," Aoyama said. He shifted on her back, and Uraraka braced herself. They were suddenly yanked forward, and then their velocity multiplied as Aoyama focused his laser, striking the ceiling as they spun and fell toward Magne.

(And there it was - she could only push or pull; her positioning was the limiting factor of how easily she could move them.)

Magne cursed and rolled out of the way, sending Uraraka and Aoyama tumbling to the ground only under the lingering force of their previous acceleration. Aoyama's grip tightened around Uraraka's shoulders. "It's weakened," he said, "but I couldn't make a gap."

Uraraka bit back a curse as Magne yanked them in close, but her mind was still racing. She caught her foot on the ground, and met Magne's swing of her magnet with her palm.

"Ha!" Magne laughed. "How does making my weapon weightless help you? It hits just as hard, and it's easier to swing this way!"

(Wrong - Magne didn't realize how much she relied on her magnet's weight when swinging it around, but Uraraka knew that wouldn't be enough to win this for them.)

Uraraka took a stance and found that her training - with Gunhead, and then All Might - combined with the slight imbalance caused by the shift in Magne's weapon - allowed her to slip close, and slam her palm into Magne's chest. The force, and the application of Uraraka's Quirk, was enough to knock Magne off the ground.

"Man, you're an amateur, kid!" Magne laughed, magnet flipping to send her sailing into the same machine Uraraka had sought refuge on earlier. The repelling force kept her crouched sideways along it, before she flipped it, and came sailing toward Uraraka.

(Uraraka was used to holding power back for fear of hurting herself. She let only a trickle of power surge from her core. She knew how important a good foundation was to a building. Power flowed to her legs, helping root herself as she pulled an arm back. Gunhead had taught her how to put force into a punch that minimized the risks to her own body. She shifted her stance, the formation of her fist.)

'Clench your buttocks', All Might had said - it was ludicrous, but she thought she understood what he meant. You had to commit every part of yourself if you were going to use One for All.

"Reverse Meteor Smash!" Uraraka howled as she punched the villain hurtling toward her.

If Uraraka hadn't used her Quirk on Magne's magnet, it wouldn't have rocketed away from them when Magne lost her grip. If Uraraka hadn't angled her punch upward, Magne would have just crashed back into the machine. If Aoyama hadn't weakened the roof, Magne might have caught herself when she struck it.

But that combination of factors meant the magnet went hurtling horizontally, while Magne was sent rocketing up, where she struck the weakened roof and crashed through, barely losing any momentum.

Aoyama's arms loosened, and he fell to the ground with a grunt. And for a moment it was quiet.

And then a ten-foot-wide section of wall behind them was ripped away.

"Uraraka! Aoyama!" All Might called, bright smile still on his face. "I wasn't certain I'd found the right place until I saw that villain flying through the roof! You are clearly victorious, but are you alright?"

Uraraka fell to her knees and threw up, while Aoyama retched silently next to her.


Tsu eyed their surroundings carefully while Dark Shadow swooped around the perimeter. It reminded her of pictures she'd seen of the Roman Coliseum, a circular arena thirty meters across, bound by a thirty-meter-high wall inset with ten rows of dark archways, ten arches apiece. The ceiling was inset with floodlights that were day-bright at ground level, and likely much too bright for Dark Shadow if they got too high.

"We will likely be expected to fight," Tokoyami, who had turned to watch Tsu's back, murmured.

"Yeah, but who?" Tsu asked.

"Fumi!" Dark Shadow snapped. Tokoyami's beak snapped up, and Tsu followed his gaze. At the highest level of the arches, she could see two shadowy figures standing on a balcony. One of them leapt, a massive humanoid form plummeting toward them, the very center of the arena.

Tsu grabbed Tokoyami with her tongue and leapt, five meters in one hop before the figure slammed into the ground with an earth-shaking impact. The person's form was bulging with exposed muscle fiber along their arms, legs, and torso, and they were grinning, wild.

"I don't do animals, much," they said, "But the boss is the boss, and, well, I've never killed anyone like you two."

"It is unlikely you will do so now, either," Tokoyami retorted.

"Tokoyami-chan," Tsu said, warningly. They had a clear path to several of the arches, and she wasn't confident about their chances against the villain (not even taking into account the other figure in the upper level). "We don't have to win."

"You planning to run?" the villain asked. "Go ahead - I do love a chase."

Tsu snapped her tongue to grab Tokoyami, throwing him to the left as she hopped right. The villain bunched his bulging legs and threw himself at Tokoyami. Tsu twisted her extended tongue around to snag Tokoyami's waist-

And the villain slammed his fist into Tokoyami's side. The villain was fast, and the blow yanked Tsu off her feet when Tokoyami soared away from him. She barely rose to her knees on landing when the villain was in her space, slamming a foot into her side that sent her sailing back again. She heard a furious cry from Dark Shadow, a surprised grunt, and then a shocked, "What?"

Tsu stood shakily. Tokoyami's hand was against the villain's stomach - no, within the villain's twisting muscle fibers. The villain's grin was wider than before.

"You made a mistake, little bird," he said. "But don't feel bad - everyone makes that mistake."

"You made a mistake, too," Tokoyami grunted. "I'm in your shadow."

"What?"

Dark Shadow rose up, swiping at the villain's eyes. He screamed, falling back, and in the shock must have lost control of the muscles holding Tokoyami in place, because Tokoyami retreated, while Dark Shadow pressed the advantage. And Tsu had been hit by Dark Shadow; he was corporeal, could be hit, but difficult to hold, difficult to predict. He didn't have to move according to gravity or momentum, and seemed immune to the villain's muscular hold.

But Tsu could see the villain was powerful - Dark Shadow's rapid swipes were flesh wounds, cuts that might hurt, but wouldn't slow the villain down. His eyes were bloodied, though, so although he was able to knock Dark Shadow's blows aside once or twice, he was driven back one step, two.

He wasn't looking at Tsu. She jumped in, one, two leaps, and pounced.

But the villain turned, catching her fist in his hand, grinning through his bloodied face as he tightened his grip, her bones creaking under the pressure.

"There isn't a pair of heroes alive that could take me," he snarled.

"Then it is fortunate there are three of us!" Tokoyami snarled. Dark Shadow snapped his beak around the villain's other hand, holding it down as Tokoyami charged the villain, whose muscles twisted, growing. Tsu wrapped her tongue around the villain's arm, grabbing his fist with her free hand, to hold him in place, and Tokoyami slammed his skull into the villain's chin.

The man stumbled back, eyes dazed, and Tsu grabbed at his hand, praying for the leverage to pry his fingers free-

They melted into sludge as the villain collapsed into a puddle less than a meter across.

"There isn't something you forgot to tell me about your Quirk, is there?" Tsu asked, staring at the puddle of sludge, hoping it wasn't some weird aspect of the villain's Quirk, either.

She spun at the sound of a clap. A person dressed in long coat and top hat was directly behind her, clapping slowly as they stepped forward.

"An excellent first round," they said. "But I think we should step up the difficulty for the next, don't you agree?"

"Step it up?" Tsu shivered at the rasping voice, her spine stiffening when a man with a hunched posture, face concealed by a grasping hand, stepped out of the archway next to the one from which the other villain had emerged. "I think we should ramp it up all the way," Shigaraki said. "Anyone can beat one villain. Eight, that shows they're worth our time."

Across the way from Shigaraki, a bald man, nearly naked, body covered with unblinking eyes, stepped into the arena. Next to him emerged a pale, dark-haired figure in a white robe billowing around their form, black eyes wide. A girl in a loose sweater and skirt skipped out of the next opening, and then a woman leaning on a long, thick metal rod held in both hands. A figure whose head was concealed entirely in a heavy mask stepped out of another arch, and then a slim form in a straitjacket stumbled forward on slim white pillars reaching from his mouth.

Eight villains (nine, Tsu corrected, eyes skipping back up to the top floor) stood at the perimeter of the arena. She stepped closer to Tokoyami, trying to see if there was any sign if any of the villains were like the other, a construct that would fall apart long before a real person would (because the League of Villains couldn't be this strong, to commit so many members to killing her and Tokoyami).

"Can you give me a minute?" Tsu asked.

Tokoyami looked up toward the highest level, and then nodded. "Dark Shadow and I will do our best. Good luck, Tsu."

Dark Shadow snapped out, cutting a wide circle that struck at each of the villains in turn, while Tsu leapt for the still-open gates, pausing after the first hop to push herself up, snapping out her tongue to pull her up to the second level.

"Night Terror! Toga!"

As Tsu turned to plan her climb to the next level, the girl, who looked Tsu's age, came sailing toward Tsu, a pair of knives in her hands. She landed lightly on the edge of her platform and took a step forward, grinning.

"Hi! I'm Toga. I hope we can be friends - Tsu, is it?"

Tsu felt a little ill. "I'd prefer you call me Asui," she said. "And I really don't have time-"

"Oh, friends can make time!" Toga interrupted, lunging at Tsu with one of her knives. Tsu leapt back to grab onto the wall and-

Fell as a crushing wall of terror hit her.

"Oh!" Toga giggled. "I see you met Night Terror. Isn't she great?"

Tsu gasped, struggling against the suffocating weight of what had to be Night Terror's Quirk, as Toga ambled toward her, humming.

"There is no terror that cannot be conquered, no fear that cannot be overcome!" Tokoyami shouted; there was a cut-off scream and the terror vanished. Tsu sprang away from Toga to catch the next level, and then the next.

The straitjacketed villain landed on that level just as Tsu did. "Your flesh-"

"Out of my way!" Tsu snapped. The villain's teeth twisted, forming spears and pillars, supports and weapons, and Tsu didn't have time; Tokoyami was relying on her. So she leapt up another level and when the villain rose, supported by a teetering tower of teeth, she jumped at him and used him to kick back up to her perch. He swayed, trying to catch his balance, but Tsu was two levels up by then. He couldn't catch up, she knew, and it seemed the range of their catapult or whatever was exhausted.

And then here she was, at the highest level of the building, the last villain in front of her, a person in a black and grey suit covering their entire form, green and red wristbands the only hint of color.

"Don't hurt me!" the villain said.

"No, please hurt me," they purred.

"Ew," Tsu muttered. "I'm just here to help Tokoyami-chan."

"By beating me? Clever thought," the villain said, and then immediately after, "No, it's stupid. I don't need to be awake for the clones to keep existing. So you came up here for nothing."

"No," Tsu replied, "not nothing." He'd told her the villains below were all clones, weaker than their living counterparts. Plus-

She launched herself off the balcony. The nearest floodlight was suspended by a thick cable which she latched her tongue around. Swinging around from under it, she kicked the fluorescent bulbs, which, heavy-duty they might have been, still cracked and went dark.

"Hey, what are you doing? Stop! No, I want to see what she's up to!"

There were six lights suspended from the ceiling, and on the third, she heard a roar from below, and grinned. She stopped at five, because she could barely still see, and flipped onto the far balcony. She could see five villains still, down there, and Dark Shadow was raging at the others. But one caught one of Dark Shadow's claws, and the spirit (demon, whatever) screamed.

"Fumi! I'm - it hurts!"

"I'd wondered if I could do damage to you," Shigaraki mused. "But it brings to mind the question - what happens to your host when you die?"

"This is not a discovery you will make today." Across the arena, about halfway down, a figure stepped out onto the balcony. "Though I am impressed by my students' performance so far, five against one is hardly sporting." White fog billowed from the figure, spilling down onto the ground floor, where it resolved into twenty identical figures. "Though I must admit to some hypocrisy myself - still, whatever it takes to win the fight."

Tsu glanced up to where the last villain had been, about to shout to Ectoplasm, but the figure was already vanishing into a portal.


If Shinsou had been paired with anyone else, he would have had to leave them behind. But when Sero, unable to hold his breath any longer, had collapsed under the influence of one desperate breath of the gas swirling through the warehouse, Shinsou had been able to procure enough tape to secure Sero to his back.

If it weren't for Shinsou's face mask (if he were already wearing a mask to amplify his voice, why not add supplementary functions, Hatsume, who had, it seemed, taken a shining to Class 1-A, had asked), he'd be out, as well, and the two of them would be at the mercy of Mustard - and it was Mustard, he was sure. With poison gas filling the entirety of the warehouse, and the uncanny way the villain tracked Shinsou with his revolver when Shinsou tried to get out of melee range, it could be no one else. Shinsou had seen the one fight a Pro had with Mustard that had been caught on video - with Gunhead, where Mustard had proved an almost supernatural ability to track someone within the poison gas gathered around him.

Shinsou had only been shot once - a nick across his shoulder he'd slapped more tape on immediately, for fear of what would happen if the poison got into his bloodstream. But the longer Mustard watched him (or, at least, the tracks Shinsou left moving through the gas), the more accurate he would get.

The best Shinsou could do right now was weaving in and out, trying to stay close enough Mustard wouldn't shoot him to keep him close, but just far enough Mustard had to move to get a hand on him (and, Shinsou thought proudly, he'd demonstrated he could read the movements of the smoke nearly as well as Mustard could, sidestepping a kick and getting close enough to nearly disarm Mustard before the villain had recovered from his shock).

"Is that all you can do?" Mustard demanded. "Run?" He laughed, voice made hollow by his gas mask. "Except I forgot - you're as good as Quirkless, now. Does all that fancy training do much when you can't even use your Quirk?"

Shinsou knew the game Mustard was playing; it was his own preferred tactic - goading his opponent until they made a noise to betray themselves. There was one flaw to the strategy, of course (well, two). The first was that it gave Shinsou a clear idea of where Mustard was. The second, unique to Shinsou, was that he'd spent years keeping his mouth shut in the face of every sort of ridicule (besides, even Bakugo had been able to keep his mouth shut when necessary, and Shinsou wouldn't be shown up by him).

"Maybe I'll take a bit off you when I'm done, too. What do you think? I'm thinking your ears - make you deaf and dumb."

It was an interesting thought - that counter to what Shigaraki had told Midoriya, Mustard didn't necessarily intend to kill him. There were plenty of reasons Shigaraki might have made an empty threat, but one kept sticking in his mind. The students they'd kidnapped - the students who hadn't dropped out in the wake of Shigaraki's threat - were brave, or confident, or rebellious. And they'd proven some aspect of their strength, surviving the USJ. Splitting them up, talking to them, constantly hinting that there was a way out of this alive, suggested Shigaraki was dumber than he seemed.

Because in the right light, this felt like a job interview, something Shinsou couldn't imagine going over well for any of his classmates (Bakugo included - whatever he actually understood about what made a hero, he wanted to be one with more intensity than Midoriya did).

"Of course, we don't worry about that sort of injury around HQ - the Doctor's got some amazing tools on-hand. He could fix you up without any sort of trouble." Half-true at best, Shinsou guessed. Obviously, the Nomu at the USJ had had super-regeneration, but Shinsou had seen enough footage of heroes and villains to know how reckless regeneration made people; even Recovery Girl's Quirk made U.A. far more dangerous than other hero schools. Mustard was being far too cautious to have that sort of power at his disposal.

"Are you hiding?" Mustard demanded. "I hate hide-and-seek, I'll have you know. If I have to search every inch of this fucking place, I'm going to be annoyed when I find you."

Hiding? Obviously a terrible idea, but there was a suggestion in there, of what Shinsou could do. He pulled a few items from his utility pouch and hurled the pouch to his left. When he heard Mustard shout in glee, Shinsou scrambled, low, cautiously, toward the outer walls of the warehouse. There, boxes, crates, and drums sat in uneven piles. Setting Sero down behind one of the more stable stacks, Shinsou looked up, where a few rafters hung low, and took a breath. He had only one chance at this.

Pulling out extra tape (vowing to treat Sero to something to make up for the lost calories if they got out of this alive), Shinsou looped it slowly around a nearby empty drum.

"Where'd you get to?" Mustard demanded. "You're actually hiding now - I don't know what you hoped to accomplish with that decoy. Maybe it's for the best you got cut out early, if this is the best you can do."

Shinsou grit his teeth and tossed the loose end of the tape upward, a heavy weight used as a lead to let it fly, grinning when he heard a clank and found the line stuck when he tugged at it.

"You climb up there, and you're a sitting duck, kid - you have to know that."

Shinsou made a quiet grunt, shifted, holding the drum high, and then - let it fall.

"Got you!" Mustard shouted as the drum swung down from its height. But he hissed when he realized the approaching mass was too large, too regular to be his prey. And alerted to the ruse, he stepped aside and turned, scanning the gas behind him for sign of Shinsou moving within it.

And as the drum closed in, as Mustard looked away from it, Shinsou leapt from his perch on top of it, close, close enough for one strike.

Mustard was already turning back, gun raising toward the boy falling toward him, when Shinsou hit him, and if Shinsou had been trying to punch him, knock him out, he would have been too low, and the shot would have hit him.

Instead Shinsou's hands latched onto Mustard's gas mask and he wrenched as he fell, pulling the mask from Mustard's face.

...Midnight, after all, didn't wear a mask to protect her from her own Quirk.

When Midnight dropped from the rafters five minutes later, the gas had dissipated, Sero and Mustard were still both unconscious, and Shinsou had tied up the villain. She looked Shinsou up and down, and her professional expression gave way to a wide smile.

"We're getting you into Support consultations first thing next year," she said, "presuming you want to stick with the Hero Course."


Bakugo punched another robot, the machine shattering at the touch. The teetering humanoid figures were nothing like the armored targets from the entrance exam, pale, silent, and crowding the corridors of the building in which Midoriya and he had been deposited.

Midoriya followed Bakugo closely, ensuring nothing rose up to attack them from behind. But they'd been climbing through the structure, a maze of narrow hallways full of steam from exposed pipes, for nearly half an hour (and either shielded from radio, or so far away from U.A. that no Pro Hero had been able to respond to Midoriya's beacon), and there was still no sign of when they might find an exit. Bakugo was frustrated, that was clear, his punches getting more vicious, even if they were no less controlled than when they'd started.

Bakugo snarled when they reached another door which, if prior experience was any indication, would lead one story up and leave then fighting another horde of robots.

"Bakugo-"

"What?" Bakugo snarled. "I'm not waiting around for someone else to come rescue me! I'm going to-"

"I have water," Midoriya said. He extinguished the flame around him and dug into his pack to produce a bottle.

Bakugo stared at it a moment before snatching it from Midoriya's hand. "The hell sort of shit did you think you'd need this for?" he muttered.

Midoriya shrugged. "I didn't know, so I-"

"You aren't Yaoyorozu; don't try to fucking prepare for everything. This shit'd be dead weight if you were with Todoroki." Bakugo threw his empty bottle behind them.

Midoriya flinched at the motion. "S - sorry."

And Bakugo paused, giving Midoriya more than his usual dismissive glance, and his brows furrowed. "You're lucky the shit you've got is halfway useful," he said, slowly. "And you can always fucking chuck it at someone's head as a last resort."

He turned back to the door while Midoriya followed him, dazed, moving unsteady because - that was probably the nicest thing Bakugo had said to him in years.

"It's actually sort of pathetic, if you think about it."

Midoriya yelped, jerking back so he ran into a line of hot pipes. Harai hovered (he was floating, Midoriya was almost certain, even though his face was indistinct, impossible to remember) just behind Bakugo, whose hair was grey, as it had been when Midoriya had last been in Harai Akira's timeless space.

"What's - pathetic?"

"This! The whole 'my best friend doesn't even like me' trope. Once you've seen a hundred variations on the theme, you get a little sick of it."

"I…" At the beginning of the year, Midoriya might have protested, defended Bakugo, because Bakugo was his best friend, then (the alternative, admitting he had no friends, had been a step too far for Midoriya to admit). But...Midoriya had Uraraka and Shinsou, Iida and Todoroki, none of whom he'd risk offending by calling one of the others his best friend.

"But I didn't come here to make fun of your codependent relationship with a heartless monster," Harai said.

"Then why-"

"You have to get out of here," Harai said.

"I know-"

"No, you don't understand," Harai said. "Leave Blondie behind if you have to - just

 

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Midoriya shook his head. "I can't leave Kacchan behind - he's-"

"He'd leave you in a second!" Harai snapped. "You're worse than an obstacle - you're a bug to him!"

The words were like blows, acknowledging things Midoriya had avoided thinking about for years. But they were also - unlike how Harai had spoken the last time they'd met. He'd been joking, treating Bakugo's struggle against the villain as entertainment, jovial even as he dangled Midoriya's dream in front of him.

Now, Harai sounded...worried.

"Bakugo's better, and together-"

"You can't beat him!" Harai growled. "And I can't do anything to protect you."

"Him?" Midoriya asked, voice quavering in the wave of the terror in Harai's words. "Who?"

"There's not much point in telling you - you never would have heard the name Kuni Tsukasa, and you won't find anything about him in any library. But you're going to have three choices - join him, run, or die."


Sir Nighteye settled in the booth at the very rear of the restaurant. He wouldn't be here, except-

Tsuragamae had insisted, and when the Chief of Police insisted, you listened.

The restaurant was dim, and lightly attended. It felt like a cliche, something out of a bad spy novel, that Sir Nighteye almost expected a man with a high collar and hat pulled over his head to join him.

Instead, a few minutes after he arrived, a tall man, pale-haired, grey-eyed, strolled into the restaurant. His suit was dark, brown, and rumpled, and his collar singed (a fire Quirk?). He held out a hand.

"Midoriya Hisashi," he said. When Sir Nighteye didn't take his hand he started, tugged it back, and smiled, awkward, at Sir Nighteye. "Ah. I forgot. Your Quirk-"

He shrugged and sat. Sir Nighteye didn't speak, didn't ask how this man knew his Quirk (with the circumstances mysterious, the man unassuming, he knew there was more to this man than met the eye).

Midoriya smiled, a mere twitch of his mouth. "You must be wondering what this is about. I work for an agency - I suppose you could think of us as like the Hero Commission, with a - wider jurisdiction."

"The International Quirk Crimes Commission," Sir Nighteye said, and Midoriya smiled for real.

"Ah - yes, I suppose a man like yourself would know about that. I'm used to people not knowing about us, what with the secrecy imposed by some of our partners - an unfortunate prerequisite of their cooperation-" He broke off with a light chuckle. "Here I am rambling when you already know all of this."

"What is this about?" Sir Nighteye asked. "I have several in-progress investigations-"

"And we don't want to interrupt that. Overhaul is a problem we are well aware of, and you will have our thanks if you can remove him before he becomes an - international - problem. But this is a subject of a more - local interest. For now, at least." Midoriya leaned back. "What do you know about the Shinigami?"

"They're a - criminal organization. Tight-knit. Elusive. Membership is denied unless you have a Quirk related directly to death. One of the oldest villain leagues."

"The oldest, we believe," Midoriya said. "We have records suggesting they met with All For One in early days of his career. And then-" He shrugged, shaking his head. "Well, that's irrelevant. The leaders of the Shinigami are mostly content to remain within their own districts - Crossroads in Africa, Hades and Persephone in Europe, Yomi in Japan - acting through intermediaries. And now, Crossroads was sighted in Hosu, and Persephone in Hokkaido."

"You're concerned that the leadership appears to be gathering here." It was unnecessary to say, obvious, but the man seemed to enjoy hearing voices. "What - are you concerned about, specifically?"

Midoriya leaned over the table, voice dropping. "The Shinigami traffic in death, Sir Nighteye. What do you think we're worried about?" He leaned back to sit up straight and offered Sir Nighteye a wide smile. "Lucky for you I happened to be in town when this came down the pipeline."

"And why is that?"

Midoriya shrugged. "Because I'm the best."

Chapter Text

Midoriya had gone pale and grabbed at Bakugo's arm. "Baku-"

"Let go, Midoriya," Bakugo snapped, and punched the next door open, and thank fuck, he could see daylight filtering down from the top of the stairs. "We are getting out of here, without waiting around for our teachers to rescue us!"

He stormed up the stairs, heedless of Midoriya, who'd probably suggested the stupid 'distress beacon' plan to Yaoyorozu, as if Bakugo couldn't take care of himself. Midoriya yelped and ran after Bakugo, like he always had, leaving a hollow sense in Bakugo's gut.

("Do - you hate Midoriya?" Kirishima asked, hesitant, and Bakugo bit back three virulent responses before he gave a jerk of his head. What would be the point?)

There wasn't a door at the top of the stairs, just an empty frame that opened out into a-

It was a fucking cathedral or something - a massive tower a hundred meters across, hundreds of meters tall, floor covered in rough concrete, walls interspersed with five-meter-tall windows nearly as wide. Outside, Bakugo saw a flat plain that fell off not too far from the building's exterior. The space between the windows was covered in - murals or some shit, pictures of some jacked guy fighting a giant snake, another guy aiming a sling at a giant-

Like, weird, artsy bullshit.

"Good afternoon." Also, you know, some pretentious ass standing in the middle of it like this was his office or something. At least as tall as All Might, he was slim, dressed in a black suit, and wearing a mask - not cloth to conceal his identity, but heavy, metal, covering his head and hissing with his every breath. "I hope you have been enjoying the little diversion I set for you."

"Enjoying - I was supposed to be acing my fucking final exams, not wading my way through some weak-ass robots in the middle of fucking nowhere!"

"Final exams?" the man asked. "Is that the sort of thing that concerns the Number One Hero?"

"Yeah, it concerns me," Bakugo snapped. "I'm going to be number one at U.A. and be number one when I'm a Pro."

"Excuse me?" Bakugo snarled at Midoriya's interruption, but didn't yell at him, because if Midoriya wanted to waste his time talking to assholes, Bakugo wasn't going to stop him.

"Yes?" The man's voice was gentle, smooth, grating across Bakugo's nerves because he sounded like everyone who'd ever tried to bullshit him by pretending to be nice.

"Is your name Kuni Tsukasa?"

The man turned his head slightly, and Midoriya flinched back, eyes wide. Bakugo narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out what had caused Midoriya to react that way. The man didn't have a weapon out, wasn't threatening with a Quirk. As far as Bakugo could tell, they were just talking.

"Where did you hear that name?" the man asked. And apparently Midoriya was good at reading people, because now Bakugo could hear the threat in his voice, cold, controlled.

(It irritated him how jumpy Midoriya was - how he always seemed to flinch before Bakugo even realized he was annoyed himself.)

"What if I told you - his name was Harai Akira?"

"Hey!" Bakugo shouted. "How about you stop name-dropping and get to business? We're here to fight you, right?"

The man turned to him, and Bakugo felt a spark of annoyance that he couldn't see the freak's face. "Fight?" he asked. "Wherever did you get that idea?"

"Your dumbass gamer nerd kidnapped us and dropped us in that idiotic gauntlet you've got underground, so I figured this was some final boss shit." Bakugo flexed his hands inside his bracers, antsy, eager, but that lecture Midoriya had given after the USJ stuck in his mind (not unless the villain attacked him).

"I'm afraid my motivations are nowhere near that crass; I wished to see what All Might has made of the students he is teaching."

"The fuck do you want with All Might?" Bakugo demanded.

"Hm. How to explain?" The man raised a hand to - where his mouth would be if he weren't wearing that mask. "I suppose the most accurate way to describe our relationship is that I created him."

"Okay, so you're fucking delusional," Bakugo concluded. "So I'll be 'nice' and give you thirty seconds to let us go before I make you."

"Hm. You know, I'm something of a teacher myself," the man said.

"Twenty-five," Bakugo said, because he wasn't going to let this guy think he was a wuss who couldn't follow through on a promise.

"I - wondered if the Sports Festival coverage gave me a warped perspective on your character," the man said. "And now I find it - insufficiently prepared me for meeting you. Kidnapped and thrown into a gauntlet of deadly robots, you threaten the man responsible for the creation of the greatest hero who ever lived."

Bakugo raised his head and gave the man a feral grin. "You're wrong about one thing."

"What?"

"I'm going to be the greatest hero who ever lived."

The man laughed - not just a burst of sound, but nearly ten seconds of full-throated laughter. "Is that so. Well, this was meant to be a final exam, so I will offer my assessment of your progress toward your goal."

"And who the fuck are you to say if I'm going to be better than All Might?"

"Because," the man said, removing the jacket of his suit before setting it on the ground, "I am the only man who has defeated him."

Next to Bakugo, Midoriya gasped, being a gullible fuck. "What the hell are you freaking out about? All Might's Number One - this guy didn't beat him."

"I can hear it in your friend's heartbeat," the man said, ignoring Bakugo. "He is closer to All Might than you are - he knows Yagi Toshinori's secret. That neither of us left our battle unscathed - that the Symbol of Peace is failing. But there are other secrets he knows - the name of one of my enemies, and my name, the one I have not used in ages."

"Yeah?" Bakugo asked. "Then what should I call you, when I tell people how I beat your ass?"

"You could call me Shigaraki - the man you met is as good as my son, as well as my pupil. I would not object to you calling me Kuni-sama. But the name by which I am known to most of my enemies is All For One."

He was next to Bakugo, then, having moved so fast Bakugo's eyes couldn't track him; the man slammed his arm into Bakugo, sending him spiraling through the air. Bakugo caught himself with a few quick explosions, landing heavy right next to one of the windows. All For One turned away from Bakugo (ignoring him, like Bakugo wasn't a threat), lunging at Midoriya, arm pulled back in a fist (did he think he could attack Midoriya seriously when he'd just swatted Bakugo away?).

"Don't turn your back on me!" Bakugo shouted, throwing an explosion behind him to close the distance between them. All For One casually turned and caught Bakugo's hand, showing no reaction when Bakugo's hand exploded in his grip.

"Are you quite finished with your tantrum?" All For One asked. "Despite my student's colleagues' enthusiasm for it, I have no particular desire to harm you."

"Who said anything about you hurting me?" Bakugo retorted, swinging his free hand at All For One. The man deflected the explosion with a brush of a hand against Bakugo's wrist and then tossed him aside. Bakugo landed easily, growling deep in his chest when All For One turned back to Midoriya, who wasn't fighting.

("I don't - hate him. I-"

"You could have fooled us. Threatening him all the time, calling him 'Deku'-"

"He always calls me 'Kacchan'-"

A hand rapped against Bakugo's skull. "Come on - you're smart enough to know that's not the same. He thinks you're amazing and all you ever did was treat him like crap. If you don't hate him…")

"Throw a fucking punch, Midoriya!" Bakugo shouted. He broke into a sprint; if All For One was going to ignore him, he'd take full advantage.

But All For One spun in place, one hand twitching to deflect Bakugo's feint and a fist slamming into his chest when Bakugo flipped over him to strike from behind. His bones felt bruised, and given how easily All For One had thrown him around, Bakugo knew the man was holding back. He tried to scream and kick at the man, but All For One slammed Bakugo to the ground, shifting to press his foot against Bakugo's chest.

"He has realized that your failure is inevitable - that no matter how strong you are, no matter how much you train, your power is insignificant compared to mine."

Bakugo glowered at All For One, hands fisting at his side. But something about what the villain had said sounded - wrong.

("He never had a chance, never had a Quirk, and kept pretending he'd be a hero - no matter how much I told him it was useless-"

"Come on, you aren't mad at him because he proved you wrong, are you?"

"I couldn't care less about that!" Bakugo shouted back. Kirishima didn't flinch, and in that lack of motion, Bakugo felt something ugly. Anger that Kirishima wasn't afraid of him. Confusion why - if he wasn't - he was still here.)

Bakugo glanced at Midoriya, whose brows were furrowed, mouth moving slightly.

Mumbling.

It had been, if Bakugo had been forced to admit admiring anything about Deku, the thing he admired the most about him.

Midoriya didn't give up. Deku had been Quirkless, worthless, and still stood between smaller kids and Bakugo-

("If he could be a hero without a Quirk, barely able to fight-" Bakugo cut himself off, flushing, hating himself for admitting the hint of weakness like that.

But Kirishima didn't mock him. "What? You think that shit doesn't matter? It does, dude! But you gotta know it's about wanting to save people - be a force of good in the world, you know?"

...Bakugo didn't know. Heroes fought villains, got respect. To be Number One, you needed a powerful Quirk. But the way Midoriya acted, the way Kirishima was talking-

If Midoriya could be a hero, either the word was meaningless, or it required a quality that Midoriya possessed. Weak, stammering Midoriya, who fought hopeless battles and reached out to people who didn't need his help. Midoriya possessed almost no qualities Bakugo respected, and that meant-

Bakugo didn't want to think about what it meant.)

So Bakugo kept his eyes on Midoriya, even as All For One knocked Bakugo aside with no effort, arm slicing through Bakugo's explosions like he couldn't feel it. Bakugo shook his arms, wondering if he should trigger his ultimate attack yet.

But he didn't dare; Midoriya was still watching, mumbling. There was a good chance he'd come out with something dumb, obvious - something any idiot paying attention could notice (it irritated him how other people thought Midoriya was some sort of genius for putting any effort at all to battlefield awareness).

But.

Midoriya had spent years doing nothing but watching heroes and villains fight. Bakugo couldn't discount that; by superior experience alone, he might have insights Bakugo didn't.

Midoriya's hands twitched at his sides, and because Bakugo was watching him closely, he recognized the motions as deliberate - finger-spelling.

"S-o-n-a-r."

Motherfucker. Of course All For One was cheating - taking a shitty Quirk and trying to build it up into something monstrous, unbeatable.

Bakugo turned, approaching All For One in a shallow arc, staying just out of reach until All For One punched at him, over-extended, and Bakugo had an opening to leap toward the villain's side, triggering an explosion that by all experience wouldn't leave any burns, but should puncture his eardrums. But All For One slammed his fist into the ground, pushing himself into the air at a rapid spin that slammed into Bakugo's back and knocked him to the ground, breathless.

"And what were you hoping to accomplish from that, Kacchan?"

"Don't call me that," Bakugo grunted, as All For One slammed a palm against his back, holding him down. "We're not friends."

"I am speaking to you as if you are a child because you are acting like one - impatient, thoughtless, helpless!" All For One snapped. "You believe you will be the Number One Hero, and yet you have done no more to me than a Quirkless brat could have with his fists."

"You're one to talk about Quirks - acting like your shitty Quirk makes you better than me."

The weight on Bakugo's back lifted; he scrambled to his feet, fists clenched at his sides (he wasn't helpless, he just needed more power, needed to gather more of his strength). All For One's head was tilted, a sense that he was looking at Bakugo curiously.

"What - exactly do you believe my Quirk to be?" he asked.

"Some sort of - bat Quirk," Bakugo said. "You're tracking me with some echolocation or shit, and that mask - you're probably ugly as shit."

"Bat?" All For One began laughing. "Oh, Kacchan, there are no words for how wrong you are. My Quirk is a power beyond comprehension, the pinnacle of what humanity can achieve. As it is clear you have no hope of defeating me, I will give you a more reasonable assessment. If you can identify my Quirk in, oh, three guesses, I will allow you to leave uncontested."

Bakugo snarled and leapt at All For One again - the man slid back with a sweep of his legs, one hand knocking Bakugo's arms aside (he kept knocking Bakugo aside, making it clear Bakugo's Quirk could hurt him if he could just get past All For One's defenses), the other snaking out as he kicked toward Midoriya, grabbing the other boy by the front of his shirt-

And Midoriya fucking breathed fire at All For One.

The villain recoiled, dropping Midoriya, who, now wreathed in flames, rolled back away from All For One. And if Midoriya had managed a flame hotter than the dull red edging his form, he might have actually hurt the villain. Bakugo growled, shaking his arms, feeling by the weight of his bracers that they were almost ready.

"You've got a fucking enhancement Quirk," Bakugo snarled. "Reflexes, strength, endurance, hearing."

"Do you think that is all one man needs to stand above all others? Do you think mere strength would allow me to all but conquer Japan? That I am no better than All Might? Wrong." All For One punched Midoriya in the stomach, his flame vanishing as he lost concentration, breath lost; the villain grabbed him by the arm and leg, spun and hurled Midoriya at Bakugo. Bakugo tried to dodge, but found his Quirk reacting sluggishly (Midoriya may have helped Bakugo from dehydrating, but his palms were still sore, scorched), and Midoriya clipped him, sending them both tumbling to the ground.

Bakugo shoved Midoriya off of him and jumped to his feet. He was through with playing around. "You're fucking done," Bakugo said, pulling the pins on both his bracers, pointing them both at All For One. He wasn't fucking dodging this.

The blast was wide, windows behind All For One shuddering with the force of it, dust thrown up in an obscuring cloud.

"My patience is near exhausted," All For One said. "I had thought there was some promise in you, but I see now there is only sound and fury." The smoke cleared to reveal the man standing tall, no visible burns, and just the hint of scorching along his clothing. Bakugo's first thought - after the wordless fury that was his first reaction - was that All For One was fireproof, like fucking Midoriya, except-

They'd had a class where Midoriya and Tokoyami had been partners, and Midoriya had kept his flames weak, a dull red color, like when he'd attacked All For One earlier. And Midoriya might have some weird reason to deliberately weaken his Quirk when attacking All For One, but when Bakugo, at close to full power, did almost no damage himself, it wasn't a coincidence.

"You're weakening our Quirks, you cheating fuck!" Bakugo charged in again, not bothering with his Quirk if this asshole was just going to damp it, just putting everything he had into an actual attack - stepping aside from the swipe that would have knocked his hand astray if he'd been trying to blow the fucker up and punched All For One right in the side.

It was like punching a brick wall. All For One turned, shaking his head. "Partial credit, but nowhere near the truth."

"You have more than one Quirk," Midoriya said. "Like the Nomu. Someone gave you-"

"Wrong!" All For One roared, suddenly next to Midoriya, holding him up by his throat. Midoriya struggled as All For One kept talking, grabbing at a hand Bakugo was certain he had no chance of breaking free of. "I have no power that is not my own! No strength given to me, dangled in front of me though I were a child, nothing borrowed! Only the power I was born with, and the power I was strong enough to take for myself."

"And your power, Midoriya Izuku, is something I desire very much."

What.

All For One lowered Midoriya to the ground, though his hand didn't leave Midoriya's throat. "You have lived most of your life ignorant of your Quirk, so it should not be so terrible to be denied it. And if you wish some comfort, it will be put to better use in my hands than yours."

"No," Midoriya growled, not shaky, tearful, but defiant. Almost - angry. "It's my Quirk."

"And what, pray tell, do you believe you can do to stop me?"

Bakugo wasn't stupid enough to believe Midoriya held all of All For One's attention, but the man wasn't omniscient - holding onto a hostage took attention, and it wasn't cheating to attack someone who was stupid enough to take attention off of you.

And Bakugo might have once said he'd rather lose, rather die than rely on cheap tricks like this, but as it turned out - he'd been talking shit. He could care about how he won competitions because they - were about prestige, how people saw you. A shitty win meant they didn't respect you. But if you were sixteen years old and beat a guy who probably had dozens of powerful Quirks, no one would care how you did it, because all they'd hear about was how you did the impossible.

So he didn't try to punch All For One, didn't try to take him down, and for doing something the villain didn't expect, Bakugo got a clear shot, leaping onto All For One's back just long enough, with just enough leverage, to pull off his mask.

All For One tore Bakugo off of him and threw him into the nearest wall; the impact shattered the nearby windows, so Bakugo fell onto shards of broken glass. And, one hand still on Midoriya's throat, All For One turned, and Bakugo got his first look at the villain's face.

All For One had said he hadn't escaped his fight with All Might unscathed, and so Bakugo had thought-

But if he hadn't been lying outright, he'd deliberately cultivated the impression he was grievously injured, that his mask was necessary to keep him alive.

Pale hair, ash-blond, curled around All For One's face down to his chin. His skin was - smooth, pale, eyes a vibrant shade of blue that could have been attractive if they weren't narrowed, mouth twisted in disdain or disgust.

"Was this your last hope, Kacchan? To wrench away what you thought kept me alive? To kill me?" He took a few quick steps and, still holding onto Midoriya with his other hand, grabbed Bakugo and shoved him up against the wall - not choking him but the intense pressure holding Bakugo against the wall making escape impossible. "What do you think, Izuku? Does a man who acts like that deserve to be a hero? Does he deserve a Quirk?"

Bakugo's blood went cold.

He'd known his life would be full of danger, fights against the strongest villains. He'd known, theoretically, that he might be risking his life (but who the fuck could beat him?). He'd done everything he could to prepare for that sort of life.

But this - was something he'd never considered, had believed impossible. He'd never imagined it, and in that uncertainty came-

A chill that soaked to his bones (like getting caught by Todoroki but worse, because the chill wasn't caused by ice he could break, but by his own spirit). A shaking to his limbs, as if he'd pushed his muscles past their limits. Tears gathering in his eyes, and a litany in his mind, a desperate plea,

'Don't let this happen to me.'

'Someone help.'

'Anyone.'

It wasn't pain, but it hurt, and all Bakugo could think in the face of it was-

How did bystanders, how did people without Quirks, survive, feeling like this? Helpless in the face of powers they couldn't fight, threats they couldn't hope to save themselves from?

All For One twisted, suddenly, with a growl, dropping Bakugo. Bakugo held himself there for a moment before looking up. Midoriya was kicking at All For One, struggling, helpless in the villain's grip. It was pointless - there wasn't anything he could do, any way he could harm All For One, but.

Bakugo's chest eased and his heart slowed. He could move his arms without shaking.

And when he stood, his legs were steady, his mind clear.

He'd raged at Best Jeanist yelling at him for an entire week, furious learning his classmates had faced a real villain while he'd been forced to dress up and play nice, but-

"My name isn't Kacchan," Bakugo snarled. "It's Triumph!" With one boy flailing, scratching at his arms, All For One was hindered, turning slowly, so Bakugo got purchase on the villain's back again, and this time he scratched and bit, desperate to inflict any damage he could. If he was going to die here, he'd give All For One something to remember him by.

All For One growled, and Bakugo saw a flash of green flying away from them as All For One reached up to grab Bakugo with both hands and throw him over his head to slam him against the ground. There were pale red lines across his face, nothing enough to scar but a sign he could be hurt. But All For One had Bakugo pinned again, face composed, expressionless, except for a quiver at one side of his mouth.

"An arrogant name for an arrogant child," All For One said. "One for whom far too many allowances have been made. But I am done, and today is the last you will ever see."

"Get away from him."

Two lines of orange flame snapped around All For One's arms like whips; he was thrown sideways a moment later, leaving Bakugo free again. He scrambled to his feet and looked for Midoriya.

Midoriya was running toward Bakugo, blue flame surrounding him, the core, closest to his skin almost violet. The whips trailing from his hands were the same color, the tips nearest All For One as the whips retracted cooling from orange to yellow.

Bakugo felt a flash of irritation at Midoriya for figuring it out first. All For One was dampening their Quirks (or just fire? It couldn't be coincidence he'd fought two people with flame Quirks with this power), so all you needed was enough power, and even dampened it would hurt him.

"Ka - Bakugo, just hold on a second." Midoriya's flames pulled up his arms and he grabbed Bakugo's hands.

"What the fuck, dude?"

"It'll help your palms," Midoriya said (not an apology, an explanation, said distracted instead of scared, and maybe that's why Bakugo didn't snap back at him). And as flames surged down Midoriya's arms to engulf Bakugo's he nearly recoiled (except what sort of a wuss move was that? And Bakugo had seen Midoriya do something like this before with other classmates - some sauna shit for aching muscles).

But it was apparently more than that, because some of the burns and bruises on Bakugo's palm faded, the pain in them reduced to an ache Bakugo could easily ignore. Nothing close to what Recovery Girl could do, but it was using Midoriya's energy instead of Bakugo's.

"Your Quirk is fucking weird," Bakugo muttered, yanking his hands back to himself. "And I'm going to end this."

"Bakugo, no! We have to get away-"

"Fuck that! That asshole tried to take my Quirk!"

"I was denying a child a toy he might hurt himself with," All For One said, sharp, standing apart from them, not even trying to kill them (like they weren't a threat, like they couldn't hurt him).

Bakugo's anger surged, leaving him feeling energized as he reached to his side where he'd stashed small bags of flour - cheap, biodegradable, and effective. He picked two and hurled them at All For One, and pulled the pins from his bracers, digging deep to the core of his Quirk. All For One dodged one of the bags and casually slapped the other one away - releasing an expanding cloud of particulates around him, and the few meters around where the other bag struck the ground.

"Fuck. You." Bakugro grunted, and let loose.

At full power, with bracers half-full of sweat, amplified by clouds of flour drifting around All For One, the explosion, even dampened by whatever fucking Quirk he was using, shook the entire tower, shattered windows three stories up, and sent All For One sailing back until he collided with the far wall, which dented.

Panting, Bakugo grinned at the villain, even as All For One pushed away from the wall, brushing at his ashy, scorched shirt. "See that?" he said. "That's why I'm going to be Number One."

"Yes, quite impressive," All For One replied. "Another few years of training and you might make a passable hero. But that took all you have." He punched a hand toward Midoriya, wind blasting from his fist, throwing Midoriya back with enough force to tear him away from his flames. And then All For One blurred into motion, and before Bakugo could react he grabbed Bakugo's hands and swept his legs, knocking him back to the floor. Bakugo kicked at All For One, useless, as All For One let his face settle into something impassive.

"One of the Quirks I treasure allows me to force someone else to activate their Quirk." His fingers, squeezing around Bakugo's wrists, lengthened into glowing red spikes that pierced Bakugo's skin. Only when Bakugo's hands sparked, experimentally, did he realize his position. All For One was holding Bakugo's hands so his palms were almost touching his skull. "It is perhaps more power than I need to kill you, but I feel it will leave...an impression."

Bakugo closed his eyes, dragging his thoughts away from his impending death (he lingered, uselessly, on the thought of who would truly mourn him - Midoriya, if he survived, and, he suspected, surprised by the thought, Kirishima).

It was silent for a moment, and Bakugo felt a flash of irritation that All For One were dragging this out - none of them could fucking do anything, so what was the point?

There was a zip, a sound like cloth dragging along cloth, and Bakugo felt a grip on his leg. There was a sharp pop of gunshots and then the hands around Bakugo's wrists retreated; the grip on his leg tightened and then pulled, yanking him sideways.

Certain he wasn't about to die, Bakugo opened his eyes; as he did, he landed, messily, next to Aizawa-sensei, who turned his gaze from Bakugo to All For One, who punched upward, a windstorm ripping apart a twenty-foot-wide section of wall two stories up, sending Snipe leaping for another perch. The ground around Midoriya's feet collapsed, sending him down with a yelp as Power Loader (absent his exoskeleton) clambered out of the hole.

"Don't let him touch you," Bakugo gasped. "He can steal Quirks."

Aizawa-sensei nodded once, sharp, before grabbing Bakugo around his chest. "Triumph's confirmed All For One's presence - approach with caution." His voice was quiet, even, but Bakugo saw a bud at his ear - if Power Loader were here, there could be any number of U.A. teachers here to rescue Midoriya and him.

All For One, though, turned, and when he saw Aizawa-sensei, grinned.

"Eraserhead. I cannot begin to describe how pleased I am to meet you." He launched himself at Bakugo and Aizawa-sensei, only to hit a thirty-foot-tall cement wall that rose between them. It cracked and shattered in an instant, but Aizawa-sensei had already jumped back, seeking a hold ten feet up on the tower while carrying Bakugo over his shoulder like a fucking sack of flour. Smoke poured in through one of the shattered windows to split into a dozen identical forms - black and yellow and clad in a long trench coat.

All For One punched at Ectoplasm's clones, but the pulse of Present Mic's deafening scream met the explosive winds of All For One's punch to create a brief, intense vortex in the middle of the tower. All For One, though, rushed forward, slicing through the wind without slowing, punching through another wall that rose in front of him, reaching for Present Mic.

With Eraserhead staring at him, All For One could strike Present Mic only with ordinary human strength.

"Sorry, listener!" Present Mic called, knocking two punches aside as he backed away from All For One's attacks. "There aren't any giveaways from today's show!" All For One rolled to avoid Present Mic's next sonic assault, jamming his hand into Present Mic's knee to bring him low enough to grab him by the speaker.

"Get away from him, Hizashi," Aizawa-sensei growled into his communicator. "If he's got ahold of you when I have to blink-"

Five of Ectoplasm's clones closed in on All For One, forcing him to let go of Present Mic to defend against their perfectly-coordinated strikes. Aizawa-sensei let out a quiet hiss, face still directed at All For One. "Three, two, one," he muttered. "Break."

Black mist swirled around Bakugo and Aizawa-sensei, sucking them through one of Kurogiri's portals before either could react, dropping them just outside the circle of clones, facing away from All For One. Aizawa-sensei swore and started to turn, but Bakugo just thrust both his hands back and set off an explosion behind him that left his palms bruised and scorched. But Bakugo's gamble, that All For One's dampening Quirk required focus he couldn't afford fighting a substantial portion of the U.A. faculty, paid off, as All For One swore, held at bay long enough that Aizawa-sensei completed his turn to face All For One.

But then Kurogiri caught Aizawa-sensei alone, sending him to the other side of the melee, exposed, almost close enough for All For One to reach-

And something - a descending shape of red, blue, white, and yellow - slammed into the ground between them with enough force to leave a shallow crater five meters across.

"I apologize for the delay; I was assuring the campus was secured when you confirmed the captor of our last two students was All For One. But now - I am here." All Might (Yagi Toshinori? Of course All Might had a given name, if All For One had been lying about having created him, like the Nomu) rose, standing tall, and although he was here - the Number One Hero - to protect them, Bakugo felt a thread of unease in his chest.

...All Might wasn't smiling. His face was set in a stern mask, arms crossed in front of him.

"Toshinori. It's been some time since we last saw each other - since you left me for dead. I hope the little souvenir I left you in exchange hasn't caused you too much trouble."

"All For One, we have foiled your attempts to harm the students of U.A. If you come quietly-"

"Do you honestly expect me to placidly submit to a lifetime in a cage, Toshinori?" All For One retorted. "I do not intend to fight you all here, so until I am better prepared-"

Black mist swirled around All For One as Kurogiri opened a path for his escape; the villain was gone in an instant as the mists rose to circle Kurogiri himself. And then two whips of fire, bright blue, snapped around Kurogiri's collar, and dragged it to the ground. "I've got him!" Midoriya shouted, and indeed, the villain didn't vanish through a portal to escape Midoriya's grip (in fact, the dark cloud that surrounded him seemed muted, contracted - the villain likely remembering what flames could do too close to his mist).

And with a body identified and restrained, Aizawa-sensei was able to keep Kurogiri pinned down until Midnight appeared from the perimeter to prove Kurogiri could breathe, and wasn't immune to her Quirk.


Nezu took a deep breath, looking slowly around the room of Hero Commission officials - a gathering of close to the complete commission. If he'd tried to keep this quiet, they might not have called him in for an explanation so soon, but if he'd done that and they'd discovered it later, things would have been worse.

"So," one of them (humans without mutation-type Quirks were really too similar in appearance to distinguish without effort, and Nezu found it too much trouble to go through for anyone whose safety or livelihood he had not taken responsibility for) said, "how do you intend to explain yourself?"

Nezu looked toward the official, not letting his smile slip, but took a moment to settle himself (it was going to be a long meeting or a stressful one, and he wasn't certain which one, yet). Once he was grounded, he let his smile widen a hair.

"I don't believe there is much to explain. We instituted a period of heightened security following the League of Villains' threats upon our Class 1-A; however, utilizing the skills of the villain Kurogiri, the League kidnapped the entire class at the beginning of their final exams. With the data available at the time, we had no means of preventing his entry into the campus, and although we were aware of the magnitude of his Quirk, it was not apparent he could simultaneously teleport individuals to different locations."

"Is that all you have to say? That you were powerless to prevent this?"

Nezu turned to the official who'd spoken, stilled, focused on him for a quiet moment before tucking his hands behind his back, pacing as he spoke. "Of course not. Following Midoriya Izuku's encounter with Shigaraki, the students enlisted Yaoyorozu Momo in producing beacons - devices they could activate at their initiative to broadcast their handle and location to my office computer. Because of their foresight, we were able to locate them far more quickly than we might otherwise have done. Because of the skills we taught them, they subdued, escaped, or delayed the villains until help arrived. As a result of our students' and our staff's actions, the villains Mustard, Sako Atsuhiro - known as Mr. Compress, and Muscular - most recently known for his murder of the Water Hose - were apprehended." He paused, looking across the group, before continuing. "Not only that, through a combined effort between our staff and students, the villain Kurogiri was apprehended. This is a tremendous blow to the League, whose actions were supported by the mobility afforded by Kurogiri's Quirk.

"We are the most prestigious hero school in the country. We have among our staff some of the most accomplished Pro Heroes in the world, including All Might. That invites attention, encourages villains to use every resource at their disposal to prove us a flawed institution. To expect us to prevent any incursion or threat to our students is unreasonable. For twenty students to escape the attentions of some of the most notorious villains in the country not only with no permanent injuries, but also with the arrest of four of their number, is a testament to the teaching they have received from us."

"That is all well and good, but how are we to ensure the public something like this won't happen again - that their children are safe?"

Nezu let his nose twitch, certain no one present recognized it as a sign of irritation. "Let me repeat: the villain Kurogiri has been arrested. Without him, their mobility is severely limited, and they lack the ability to bypass more traditional security systems. Furthermore, the police, in studying Kurogiri's Quirk sufficiently to keep him from using it without the aid of Eraserhead or unconsciousness, have offered data that will be invaluable in detecting and preventing the use of teleportation Quirks overall. This is a devastating blow against the League's operations, which we should consider a blessing, given what we have learned about the League.

"Members of the League communicated with our students, entreating a number of them to consider joining the League of Villains. It is clear that they are not content to limit their recruitment efforts to adults, but wish to build a legacy of villainy that could threaten our entire society. So I think you should consider it further proof of U.A.'s value that not one of these twenty gave serious consideration to the villains' offer-"

"What, even that Bakugo kid?"

Nezu turned to the speaker, and took a moment to memorize their face; they shifted, uncomfortable, under the scrutiny.

"We would not allow any student to remain at U.A. if we held any meaningful doubts about their dedication to the demands of a life of heroism. If you believe our assessments are flawed, you may present a formal complaint which I will give my full attention." He offered them a smile. "Now, are there any more questions?"

There weren't.


Chisaki wiped at his stinging eyes before returning to his review of the last week's enterprises. The money was coming in, the profit from the Quirk-erasing drug (Eclipse) making up for selling Trigger at cost. But it wasn't enough. If they didn't have to push Trigger to make people scared enough to buy Eclipse, they'd have fewer expenses, but demand would be lower, and-

He rubbed at his forehead.

It was progressing, but he was certain they were running out of time. If he couldn't discover the secret to synthetic Eclipse, they might lose everything when he had to kill the girl for good.

Because the girl was getting worse.

Stranger.

She was obsessed with her imaginary friend 'Triangle-san'; Chisaki had forbidden her crayons or pencils because she would draw him incessantly, at least until he found an image of the triangle painted in blood on the outside of her door ("to see everybody who comes to visit," she'd explained). He still wasn't certain if it had been her blood or not.

She had a song, some infernal English song she sang when she thought she was alone. "Triangle Man, Triangle Man, does whatever a triangle can…" (And what could a triangle do? Chisaki didn't know.)

And there wasn't anything he could do about it. Triangle-san was in her head - she couldn't accidentally erase him, and Chisaki couldn't touch him. And no amount of cold logic could make her abandon him.

He shuddered at the memory of the last conversation they'd had on the subject.

"Why would Triangle-san let me hurt you, if he's your friend?" he'd asked, certain he could shake her faith in Triangle-san.

She'd blinked, blank expression giving way to a wide smile. "Because pain is hilarious."

He couldn't decide, yet, if she'd lost all grip on reality because of her treatment, or if Triangle-san was a real person, someone with a Quirk that let him visit her in her dreams.

He didn't know which was worse.

All that mattered was perfecting synthetic Eclipse so they could get rid of her before-

A knock came at Chisaki's door.

"What is it?"

There was no answer. A few moments later, there was another knock. "What are you-"

He froze, because he could hear something.

A quiet, high voice, like that of a child, singing.

"Triangle Man, Triangle Man…"

She couldn't be here, he thought, wildly. There were guards and doors and-

But of course, her Quirk could erase so many of those barriers, and-

She knew things she shouldn't, it seemed. He'd first realized the scope of the problem when she'd asked him why he didn't put her grandfather back together (she shouldn't know she had a grandfather!). He'd found drawings of that infernal triangle places she shouldn't have been in.

He stepped to the edge of the door, close enough to touch someone the moment they stepped inside. "It's open," he called. "Come on in, Eri."

He slapped his hand out when the door creaked open, disassembling the person who stood in the doorway - a man nearly six feet tall (one of his own guards?).

Eri darted in through the mist of the guard's disassembled body, skipping out of reach in Chisaki's shock.

"You shouldn't have done that, Chisaki-kunnn," she drawled, before giggling. "Do you want to know why?"

There was something - wrong with her. Chisaki could see that, but with his heart racing, head pounding, he couldn't figure out what.

Oh, god. Her horn was visible. Dangerous, but not insurmountable.

"Do you know my Quirk doesn't just work on people? That it works on all living organisms?" she asked, ambling over toward Chisaki's desk. "Do you know what's a living organism? Bacteria."

Chisaki froze, hand rising to his mouth. He didn't have his mask on, this was his private room, it was supposed to be clean-

"If you rewind a bacteria to just when it's about to divide, it'll divide again right away, and again and again and again until the air is almost nothing but bacteria," she said, easily, clambering onto Chisaki's chair to look at his notes.

He stumbled after her, furious. She shouldn't be looking at this, she shouldn't be talking like this to him-

"And when you've got a lot of bacteria multiplying very quickly, it mutates. Changes. Becomes more…virulent." She looked up at Chisaki, and at her smile, wide, eyes gleaming in the dark, he fell back. "What do you think happened to your guard, that he didn't make me leave?" she asked.

"Oh god," Chisaki whimpered. If he didn't know where it was, couldn't touch it, he couldn't take it apart. He began to breathe quickly, shallow, one hand rising to his chest. Had he breathed it in? What had he breathed in?

"What did you do? What did you infect me with?" He should have killed her earlier, shouldn't have been playing around with his stupid little scheme - using a Quirk to erase Quirks? You couldn't use a rat to kill a rat - you needed a ratter.

Eri hopped down from the chair to wander around the edge of the table. "You have to promise not to hurt me anymore," she said. "No matter what."

"Of course," Chisaki hissed. "I'll do anything you want, just don't let me die."

"Anything? In exchange for your life? Deal!" Eri said, taking Chisaki's hand.

And Chisaki realized, a fraction of a second too late, what was wrong about Eri. It wasn't the horn, which he was used to.

It was her eyes - gleaming yellow in the dark, slitted like a cat's.

Chapter Text

"The first thing I would like to say is how...extraordinarily proud of you - all of you - we are." Nezu's smile widened a moment as he scanned the class, where every seat was full, although some students were still sporting bandages or slings. "We had intended to test each of you against your most substantial weaknesses, to make you reflect upon and overcome them. We wanted to ensure when you next went up against villains, you would be prepared, and-" He wiped at one of his eyes, which was - fair. Kirishima was getting teary-eyed himself.

"I would first like to acknowledge Yaoyorozu, whose distress beacons were instrumental in allowing us to provide timely assistance to those of you who found yourself overwhelmed. The forethought involved is admirable."

Yaoyorozu rose in a quick moment before bowing low. "I appreciate the compliment, sir, but the idea was Kirishima's."

Every eye turned to Kirishima, as if this was news to them (which it wasn't, Iida had explained to everyone how Kirishima had come to him with an idea when they'd discussed the whole thing. Bakugo had said it wasn't a worthless idea! It was still Bakugo, but it almost had the shape of a compliment).

"I mean, I was just watching a bunch of spy movies with Mina and Denki and this guy got kidnapped, and he had a little, button thing that sent James Bond a signal, so-" Kirishima trailed off, unnerved by how widely Principal Nezu was smiling.

"Well!" Nezu declared. "Equally worthy of praise, if - a pleasant surprise, as well. But more than your forethought, I must commend all of your actions. You faced an unprecedented situation, and one that must have been worrying, even frightening. And all of you worked together to overcome this situation."

Kirishima shook his head. He could accept praise for his idea, but he hadn't done anything in the fight against Muscular; he'd just gotten beat up until Sato got them out of range. There were other troubled faces around the room - Sero, Shoji-

Sero raised his hand. "Sir, I didn't do anything."

Principal Nezu's smile faded. Glancing between Kirishima, Sero, and Shoji, he looked up from his perch on the front desk to Aizawa-sensei. "Perhaps you would like to field this? You are their teacher, after all."

Aizawa-sensei sighed. "Very well. Sero, from Shinsou's account of your encounter with Mustard, you immediately recognized the threat of the accumulated gas, and took countermeasures appropriate to the resources available to you. If it had been an open space, we might judge you more harshly for not seeking higher ground to escape the range of their Quirk, but your response was appropriate. Shoji, you fail to recognize the value in what you did do - trust your teammate's assessment of the situation, and join her in flight. And Kirishima...I won't pretend that attacking Muscular head-on wasn't a foolish decision. It was. But the defense of allies is a vital component of our work. So too is providing key intelligence," his gaze skipped behind Kirishima to Koda, "providing support as requested by one's partner," he glanced at Aoyama, "and working to support our allies' strengths." He looked at last to Tsu. "In short, we have concluded that as the goal of this exercise was to defeat or escape villains in pairs, and that every pair managed to defeat, escape, or hold off villains until support could arrive, you all passed. Congratulations."

"Yes!" Kirishima punched in the air while the rest of the class buzzed in excitement.

"Furthermore," Aizawa-sensei continued, voice not rising, but slicing through the chatter anyway, forcing them to silence, "in light of our need to provide additional training before the Provisional License exam, we have scheduled a special training camp at a - facility outside of Musutafu."

Kirishima saw confused faces around him, until Ashido bolted up, grinning. "Do you mean, like real camp?"

Aizawa-sensei coughed. "The facility is in a - natural setting. The exact details are, of course, confidential, but there are opportunities for recreation if you make adequate progress throughout the course."

"Yessssss!" Ashido cheered. "Summer camp!"

"While I understand your excitement at the thought of a more relaxing environment than U.A., we hope you approach this training with the same focus and dedication that brought you to this point. The examination for your Provisional Licenses is difficult in - different ways than your fights against villains." Principal Nezu waved at the corner of Aizawa-sensei's desk. "Of course, your parents will be required to provide permission for you to attend, as well as another matter. With the threats made against your class, we had considered housing the first year heroics classes, at least, on campus, for their safety; however, Kurogiri's ability to bypass our security made such measures less effective than we would hope. With his capture, however, we can now guarantee that the U.A. campus is the safest place for you.

"Consequently, starting with your second year, you will be required, as part of your enrollment at U.A., to dwell in on-campus housing we intend to complete by the end of your training camp. I don't wish this condition to sound harsh; we will be happy to provide recommendations for attendance at any other hero school - in Japan or abroad - for any student who will not be able to meet this condition. We will require an answer before the end of the week, but you are otherwise dismissed for the day."

Several students basically bolted; Kirishima, though, grabbed his stuff and ambled toward Bakugo's desk. He paused when he realized the other boy was standing, leaning over Midoriya, hands flat on his desk. He wasn't certain what he expected - he had troubling ideas about how Bakugo and Midoriya had gotten along when they were younger, which left Kirishima with oddly protective feelings whenever Bakugo paid Midoriya too much attention. It was promising that Midoriya wasn't cowering, posture as loose as Midoriya ever got.

Kirishima edged a little closer, pausing again on finding Bakugo was talking.

"-didn't ask for your help, but if you hadn't-" He jerked his head away, scowling. "So…"

"No, it's okay, Bakugo, you don't-"

"You know what Best Jeanist would do if he heard about this and found out I didn't?" Bakugo hissed. "So - thank you. For...helping me." His jaw twitched. "You're not stupid, so stay out of my way unless I-"

"You can always just ask, Bakugo," Midoriya replied.

Bakugo spun and stormed off, leaving his stuff at his desk. Midoriya watched as he retreated (and retreat was probably the kindest word Kirishima could use), biting his bottom lip, eyes - sad, although, strangely, Midoriya didn't actually look like he was about to burst into tears.

"Are you okay?" Kirishima asked, because he would be remiss if he didn't; the exchange had seemed innocuous, but he knew bad stuff could be buried deep.

"Yeah," Midoriya replied. "I'm just - worried. And." He shook his head. "He wouldn't want me to be." He was quiet, hands flexing and clenching at his sides a few times before he glanced up at Kirishima. There wasn't quite that worried tilt to his expression, but rather a tiny smile, eyes a little watery (hopeful?). "He might be alright with a...friend worrying about him." Kirishima could hear the plea without Mirodiya saying it (please - look out for him), and what could Kirishima do except answer it?

"Yeah, I got you." Kirishima held his fist out to Midoriya. "Thanks for looking out for him."

"It's just - what heroes do," Midoriya protested.

"Yeah, but-" Kirishima lowered his voice. "We both know it's - complicated, yeah? There's Pros who wouldn't be that cool. So. Fist bump?"

Midoriya bumped Kirishima's fist, and now Kirishima could see the tears gathering in his eyes. But Midoriya had people to look out for him - right now, all Bakugo had was Kirishima.

Kirishima found Bakugo sitting on the roof, staring out at the skyline of Musutafu. Bakugo didn't react, but Kirishima was certain Bakugo knew he was there. He approached Bakugo slowly, equally certain Bakugo would tell him to leave if he wasn't wanted.

"I told him to jump off a roof," Bakugo said, and for a moment, Kirishima was thrown, confused where the statement had come from, until he remembered where they'd both been, and then-

"To see if he could fly? I know I did that when I was three - broke my arm in two places!"

"Jeez, don't brag about that," Bakugo muttered, rubbing at his forehead. "No." He straightened, looking out at the city again, but from the tension of Bakugo's shoulders, Kirishima knew he was trying to avoid eye contact. "I told Midoriya - if he wanted to be a hero, he should...jump off a roof and hope he had a Quirk in...his next life." Kirishima sucked in a breath, the words necessary to respond to that escaping him. And in that moment of silence, Bakugo kept talking.

"He charged in to save me from a villain that same day, and I was so - mad at him! Quirk or no Quirk - who does that? Cries over someone who told him to - and then the fucking Pro heroes were fawning over me like I'd done anything when fucking All Might had to swoop in to save me! Like I didn't know I fucked up so bad some Quirkless kid had to come to my rescue?"

"Midoriya isn't-"

"I know!" Bakugo snarled, hands sparking where his hands rested against the surface of the roof. "And then suddenly he's going to U.A., like I was, everyone acting like he's going to be a great hero when he's just Midoriya - a crybaby who helps people who tell him to fuck off. And - then-"

"The Sports Festival," Kirishima guessed.

"I'm over the fucking Sports Festival," Bakugo muttered. "It's fucking Best Jeanist - asshole lecturing me about all this shit about how heroes have to act like fucking wusses, smile and let dumb kids ask them stupid questions, and."

He took a deep breath. "I put up with his fucking lectures, did shit his way, because he wouldn't shut up about it, but I. You think I don't know Midoriya should hate me? Shouldn't care one fuck whether I live or die?" He spat the words out, angry (and Kirishima couldn't bring himself to draw close enough to see if there were tears in his eyes).

"He - our villain - had me," Bakugo said. "I was - helpless, and all I could think was, how do people live like this? Knowing if a villain wanted them dead, there's nothing they could do? And then-" Bakugo swiped at his eyes, and fuck, he was crying, and Kirishima's chest was tight, frustrated that he didn't know if this was an exception to the no-hugging rule, or if not, if Bakugo had any idea how Kirishima could help him feel better.

"Who does that? Save someone they should hate? Offer to do it again?"

"Heroes do that," Kirishima replied. "Every day."

Bakugo was quiet, then; Kirishima took a hesitant step forward, searching for anything he could say, when Bakugo spoke again.

His voice was so quiet Kirishima almost didn't hear it, so uncharacteristic he almost didn't believe he had heard it.

"Then what the fuck am I?"

Kirishima's first instinct - to insist Bakugo was a hero - wouldn't be appreciated, he was sure; everyone had told him he'd make a great hero (Midoriya had told him that). But Yaoyorozu had told Kirishima something, after a tough day, something that had stuck with him.

"You're 15, dude. We're here to learn how to be heroes; that means we've all got something to learn. No one thinks you need to learn how to fight, but that just means...you can worry about learning everything else there is about how to be a good hero. And Midoriya - he's got that part down, the jumping in to save people, even people he doesn't like, or didn't ask for it - or don't think they need saving.

"He watches you, Todoroki, the rest of us, so he can learn to be a better fighter. So maybe-"

"I'm not taking advice from Midoriya," Bakugo huffed. There was a beat of silence, and then, "But you're right." He pushed himself up, shoving his hands into his pockets, and when he turned, his expression was-

It wasn't his normal sneer, but wasn't a smile, either. It was somewhere in between - a determined focus, Kirishima decided, seeing the tension in Bakugo's jaw.

"A guy with your brains shouldn't be fifteenth in class," Bakugo said, knocking his shoulder into Kirishima's as he walked back toward the stairs. "Lucky if we're all in some dorm, I'll have plenty of time to get you in the top ten, at least."

There were a few shocks in there - the casual compliment, physical contact Bakugo could have easily avoided if he didn't want Kirishima touching him, the offer of help (and the possibility that Bakugo didn't know how to tell Kirishima he wanted to spend more time around him). But Kirishima was good at bouncing back, so he froze for only a moment before chasing after Bakugo.

"Sure, if you want to waste all our time studying, Bakugo-"

"Katsuki," Bakugo said.

"W - what?"

"You call Ashido and Kaminari by their first names, and - you like me more than them, right?" His voice was harsh, challenging, but Kirishima knew Bakugo was just charging through his fear, pretending he hadn't exposed a vulnerability, that he cared what Kirishima thought.

The answer would have been easy before Kirishima had followed Bakugo up here; Bakugo was awesome, even if he was prickly and awkward. But now - seeing a little more of the insecurities Bakugo hadn't voiced to anyone else - it was easier.

"Of course, dude. Katsuki."

It wasn't a smile, the expression on Bakugo's face. But there wasn't a shred of tension in it, not a hint of a scowl. And Kirishima was sure he'd done good.


Face impassive, flanked by both his siblings (the fact that Touya hadn't shown up at Endeavor's funeral, either to celebrate or just to make sure the bastard was dead, was proof enough for Todoroki that his eldest brother was dead), Todoroki idly wondered what sort of person it took to be Endeavor's personal attorney. This man had a flat, droning voice, and Todoroki hadn't seen him express an emotion in any of the four meetings they'd had with him.

"We have, until now, tolerated your flagrant disregard for your late father's wishes out of respect for the strain his death must have put on you, and we have no desire to prevent you from the support of your surviving family. But with U.A. requesting parental leave for you to enter their direct care, we can no longer ignore your father's intention when he designated a guardian in the event of his death."

"I think we can," Fuyumi said. "As I expressed to you at our second meeting, I fully intend to care for my brother until he reaches adulthood. If you wish to contest the right of an adult woman to take in her brother after the tragic death of their father-"

"But that is exactly the point; we do contest it. I suppose if Todoroki Natsuo were employed, or Todoroki Touya - present - we might have a harder time of it. But Todoroki-san expressed concerns about your - fitness as a potential guardian."

Todoroki had heard every variation on the joke that people with ice Quirks were 'cold', but there was something to it - everyone he'd ever known who possessed such a Quirk had a knack for putting on a disaffected air, even when their emotions were raging. Still, Fuyumi's utter lack of reaction to the lawyer's statement was impressive.

"How, exactly?" she asked, cool, polite, tilting her head slightly, as if confused. "I have managed the Todoroki household for some time, have sufficient funds from my grandparents' trust to support him-"

"Todoroki-san made clear there are - unique challenges to raising Shouto, challenges that his own mother proved incapable of handling-"

"How dare you." Todoroki hadn't raised his voice, he was certain, but the lawyer's voice cut off, and when Todoroki looked at him, the man's face was pale, pinched (so he could show emotion, Todoroki thought distantly). Todoroki felt hot, chest burning with fury. "You've been my father's lawyer for years, so I'm certain you know the exact circumstances leading to my mother's - situation. To use that against her, against Fuyumi - is monstrous. If you want to fight us on this, I promise, you will regret trying."

"Ah - Shouto?" Fuyumi's voice, quiet, had an edge to it - worried, Todoroki thought, like when she warned him about their old man. "Your Quirk-"

Todoroki looked at his hand, finding nothing strange about it. He glanced left to Fuyumi-

His entire left side was on fire, blazing, threatening to ignite his chair. Todoroki stared at the flames a moment, stunned, before realizing it was his own Quirk. He extinguished the fire in a moment, and in the following silence, rose, bowing to the lawyer. Scrambling, he figured the best way forward was channeling Iida.

"I'm sorry - this is highly unprofessional. Certainly I am under a great deal of stress, but that is no excuse. If you'll excuse me-"

He turned and fled the office, stumbling to the bathroom outside where he braced himself on the sink and splashed cold water over his scar (there was lingering heat there, not quite burning, but a sharp memory of one of the worst days of his life). When he looked up, he sighed in relief when he saw no hint of fire, even of smoke.

His father had done this, and Todoroki had never been sure if he consciously let his flames flare when he wanted to threaten people, or if his Quirk just responded to his emotions. Of course, if it were the latter, Endeavor clearly hadn't exerted any effort controlling the response.

Todoroki was supposed to be better than him.

There was a knock behind him, and Natsuo slipped in a moment later. He was smirking, eyes bright as he ambled to Todoroki's side and nudged his shoulder with his own.

"I almost thought you used the other half of your Quirk on him, the way his face went that pale," Natsuo said. "But instead, you were sitting there, cool as anything, looking like-"

"Him," Todoroki snapped, "I know!" Natsuo's reflection raised its eyebrows, but didn't show any further reaction. Breathing hard, Todoroki dropped his head, unwilling to see if Natsuo's expression changed to one of derision or - fear.

"...Oh. I hadn't…" There was a tug on Todoroki's elbow. "Come on - turn around, let me get a look at you."

"What?" Todoroki turned his head slightly to find Natsuo close, bent down so his nose was almost against Todoroki's. He yelped and flailed, stumbling back. Natsuo raised his hands (not frightened, but cautious, giving Todoroki the distance he needed).

"Hm. Can I get a scowl - like a proper glower?"

Todoroki felt his face flush bright red (something he'd rarely experienced until this year, when he'd found a friend nearly as awkward as he was, who sometimes, with a word or glance, could set Todorok's stomach fluttering). "Why?"

"You said you looked like the old man - I want to see for myself. Of course, it'd help if you could do that - awful mustache thing."

Todoroki felt a snort escape his mouth, a moment that with Midoriya or - Uraraka or someone - could have devolved into an actual laugh. But he was too tense, too unused to Natsuo being allowed to speak to him, to let his guard down.

But they were all trying, so Todoroki tried to comply. He tried to remember how he'd felt when he heard that man say that Todoroki's mother had failed as a parent-

"Holy shit," Natsuo whispered, and Todoroki flinched, running into the far wall of the bathroom. His mind was running a desperate refrain - that Natsuo had seen it, saw now how their little brother resembled their father. And seeing that, it was only a matter of time before that was all they could see, and, like their mother, lash out at him (and for all he was stronger than either of them, he couldn't imagine what he could possibly do in the face of that).

"You look like Touya," Natsuo breathed.

"What?" Todoroki looked back at his brother, and found nothing that might suggest Natsuo was anything but - sincere.

"When he yelled at the old man, when he threatened Endeavor," Natsuo said.

"Yelled?" Todoroki asked. His vague memories of Touya hadn't included any arguments, only his disappearance, and Endeavor's refusal to discuss him.

"Yeah, um." Natsuo scratched at the back of his head. "You were a kid; he never did it when you were around, didn't want to worry you. I…" He paused, mouth twisting down. "He came by after Mom...left, and - he looked just like you did. Calm, cool, except for, you know, on fire. And he - I didn't hear half of it, but Fuyumi said he was furious. Said that no one deserved to have Endeavor as a father, least of all you."

"He...did?" Todoroki asked, hesitant. He'd always wondered how much his siblings resented him - for his part in their mother being sent away, for the neglect born of Endeavor's singular focus on his legacy, or any number of pieces of their childhood. And he'd assumed Touya, who'd gone to school before, but all but vanished about that time, had harbored some fragment of that anger. Hearing he'd, in some small way, tried to defend Todoroki-

"He left after that - probably after one of Dad's threats. But...yeah. Whatever you've got of Dad's looks, you've got Mom's - and Touya's - constitution. Ice cold, until you get pushed past your breaking point."

It was startling to hear someone compare Todoroki to his mother, so it took a moment to form a response. To consider what it meant to be like his mother.

"Maybe you can afford to have a breaking point, but I can't," Todoroki said. He crossed his arms, suddenly realizing how for all they'd been closer since he moved in with his siblings, there was a gulf between them, one that had never existed between Todoroki and his father. "You don't have the - power to be threatening when that happens, and no one's going to compare you to Dad if you flip out." And there was more, but Todoroki didn't want to discuss how he didn't want to use his fire (his, not his father's) offensively, how he'd done so only when pushed past his breaking point, and in that breaking point he'd wanted to kill the source of his anger.

"Well, there's worse triggers than a shitty lawyer threatening to use a traumatic time of your life as a lever to shove you back under Dad's thumb," Natsuo said. He shoved his hands into his pockets, rocking back and forth a little. "But I see your point." He took a breath, as if to steady himself (and maybe he was lying, that he had been frightened by Todorok's display). "Maybe-"

Fuyumi shoved her way into the bathroom and immediately fell back against the door, letting her head fall back to thump against it at irregular intervals. "I actually hate that man. Maybe it's because Dad's dead, so he's not around being an asshole anymore, but I think I hate Endeavor's lawyer more than Endeavor himself."

"What happened?" Todoroki asked. He wanted to ask if he was going to have to move out, live with whatever jackass Endeavor had thought was an appropriate guardian, but he was keenly aware he'd left Fuyumi alone with the lawyer, and couldn't bring himself to be selfish enough to ignore what she might have been through.

"Well, don't worry about setting the furniture on fire - whole place is laced with - asbestos or something; they're Endeavor's attorneys."

"I'd actually worry more about the asbestos-" Natsuo started.

"And I convinced him it's more trouble than it's worth putting roadblocks in the way of your education for his dumb power play. But we're definitely going to court over this, so I'm not getting a summer vacation."

"What are you talking about?" Todoroki asked.

"Well, someone's going to have to put together our legal strategy, get depositions, evidence, the whole thing, and I don't have hero training or an internship to worry about."

"Isn't that what you usually pay lawyers for?" Natsuo asked.

Fuyumi lifted her head and grinned, and it was a sharp, dangerous smile. "Do you honestly think I've been doing nothing but sitting around, cleaning house, and trying to avoid Endeavor's attention for the last five years? Shouto was going to be old enough to get out of there eventually, and someone was going to have to keep the old man out of our hair after that." When neither Todoroki nor Natsuo said anything, she rolled her eyes. "I've been taking online classes, even if I had to sneak out for a couple of the final exams. I actually technically have to finish my internship before I can independently practice law, but I've passed the bar, and Shouzaki-san is incredibly supportive."

She stepped away from the door and yanked it open, stepping back into the hallways. "Now, let's go home. I don't want to spend one second more than I have to in this stupid office."


"Midoriya-chan?" Midoriya flinched when something poked his stomach. He glanced to his right, where Uraraka was watching him with wide eyes, a little frown on her lips. "Are you alright?"

"Wha? I'm fine, Uraraka-chan!" He looked up at Iida, who had much the same expression as Uraraka. "Really."

"You've been distracted," Uraraka said, before scooping deep into her ice cream, eyeing the spoon before popping it into her mouth. "And we're worried."

"It's nothing!" Midoriya protested. "Really - don't worry about me."

"As your friend and class vice president," Iida said, "I'm afraid I cannot heed that request. While I wouldn't dream of prying into a personal matter, showing concern for your disconcerted state is something of a habit."

"It's - it isn't nothing. But." Aizawa-sensei had provided everyone in class referrals to therapists, strongly recommending they each take at least one visit to talk about their experiences during final exams to someone without a professional interest. As the individual was the third of the therapists All Might had recommended to Midoriya, and one who'd been too quiet for his tastes, he'd continued down the list, and.

Tai-san was thoughtful, insightful, and had a way of probing for more information that felt more like he was interested, rather than taking notes on it. Consequently, Midoriya had shared a lot, and he was still feeling a little drained the day after.

"Is it about Todoroki-kun?" Uraraka asked.

"Why would it be about Todoroki-kun?" Midoriya choked out.

"Because you haven't mentioned seeing him once since final exams ended," she replied. "Also, he wasn't at lunch with us for that last week after that. Sooo…"

Midoriya shrugged, because he really didn't want to talk about it. For one, he didn't have an answer. He was pretty sure, like Uraraka seemed to be suggesting, that Todoroki was - avoiding him. He wasn't ignoring Midoriya, given the number of times he'd almost caught Todoroki staring at him. It was like being back at the beginning of the year, when Todoroki would just - glare at him, except worse, because without that air of hostility, Midoriya had no idea what Todoroki was thinking.

There was no doubt it had something to do with his and Yaoyorozu's final exam, but the two of them had been remarkably quiet about their experience (which Midoriya understood; there were aspects of his and Bakugo's that Nezu had requested they not share with the rest of the class). But there was no easy way to press on the subject, and Midoriya had tried, and failed, to ask Yaoyorozu about it three times already.

So he'd resolved to wait it out, for Todoroki to get past whatever was keeping him from talking to Midoriya, no matter how lonely it left him.

(Not that he didn't love IIda and Uraraka and Shinsou, but there was an absence there, that of a quiet, slightly sharp-tongued boy who gave Midoriya shy smiles and the occasional compliment that made Midoriya flush, hearing it spoken so flat, matter-of-fact.)

But thinking of Todoroki brought to mind another problem, another conversation Midoriya needed to have. He'd been dithering about it, ending the call five times before it could complete, but given he wasn't going to make any progress with Todoroki, Midoriya waited no longer than until that evening to call All Might (he suspected it was Yagi-sensei's personal cell phone number, more private than even his work phone).

"Midoriya, my boy! What can I do for you?"

"I-" Midoriya glanced around his room hurriedly, pushing at his door to make sure it was closed. "I wanted to talk to you. About All For One."

"Ah." The cheer was gone from All Might's voice. "Yes. Give me an hour, and we'll meet at Dagobah Beach Park." He was silent a moment. "I'm going to invite someone else to speak with us - they need to hear what I'm going to tell you, as well, and I'd prefer to have this conversation only once."

And it made sense - Bakugo had been there, as well, had heard All For One claim to have created All Might. Of course Yagi-sensei would want to explain those circumstances to Bakugo, as well.

So when Midoriya arrived at the beach, finding Uraraka sitting at the top of the stairs down to the sand, he froze in shock. Why did All Might want to tell Uraraka about All For One?

"Uraraka-chan?"

She turned, the surprise on her face mirroring his own. "Oh! Midoriya-chan. I didn't know - I didn't expect to see you! Unfortunately, I have a - thing I have to do, so-"

"My apologies, young Uraraka." They both froze at All Might's voice as he - or the emaciated Yagi-sensei - stepped from around the nearest building. He offered both of them a wan smile. "I forgot to mention we would be meeting with young Midoriya here. He has some questions, and I have answers I believe both of you need to hear."

"Yagi-sensei…?" Uraraka asked, glancing between Midoriya and the withered hero. "What about-"

"Midoriya and I met in circumstances that required divulging some of my secrets to him. Not all - which is part of the reason for this meeting. Come on." He waved them to follow him as he climbed down to the beach and crossed a wooden pier down to a covered pavillion on the water. He tugged his shoes off and sat, dangling his feet in the water. "Sit," he said, and Midoriya settled on his left, and Uraraka on his right, she after pulling off her own shoes and ducking her feet in the water. Midoriya left his on, kept his feet tucked under his knees (it was a stereotype, he knew, for a fire Quirk user to be wary of water, but it was hard not to be - he was all but powerless in the water, unlike Todoroki).

"So. You had some questions, young Midoriya. Ask."

"When we met All For One, he said he was the only person who'd defeated you, and I guessed - he was the villain who injured you." Yagi-sensei nodded. "But - he also said...that he created you." Uraraka gasped, and Midoriya grimaced, realizing she hadn't had the luxury of having heard this already, as Bakugo had.

"I see. Well, allow me to lay one concern to rest, at least. I'm not some - Nomu the League of Villains built for some nefarious purpose."

"But your Quirk - All For One gave it to you, didn't he?"

"Gave it to you? How-"

Yagi-sensei sighed. "What I am about to share with you - the secret history of All For One and my own Quirk - is something known to only a handful of people in the world. But each of you has reason to hear it - Midoriya because I would prefer you hear the answers from me, rather than endanger yourself looking for them on your own, and Uraraka - well. We'll get to that.

"When Quirks first appeared-"

"Reappeared," Midoriya interrupted, automatic. When Yagi-sense and Uraraka looked at him, he flushed, ducking his head. "Sorry. I just - Kaisa-san at the library explained humans have always had the Quirk factor, and it just - manifested in waves sometimes-"

"Well." Yagi-sensei smiled, patting Midoriya on the shoulder. "We learn something new every day. When Quirks re-appeared, society wasn't prepared to handle them. There were debates about how to prosecute Quirk crime, whether some Quirks were too dangerous to be allowed to be used at all, and riots, unrest, as criminals with Quirks took advantage of the confusion. And during this time, a man was born with a tremendously powerful Quirk - among the strongest Quirks in the world, even today. He could transfer Quirks between himself and another person, without their consent. He quickly abandoned his real name and became known by the name of his Quirk itself - All For One."

Midoriya opened his mouth, almost protesting, but snapped it shut a moment later, instead. All For One's real name wasn't the point, here.

"He became a powerful villain, able to steal Quirks from his enemies and grant them to his followers, gather power to himself. He experimented with this power, finding some people's bodies or minds could not handle the strain of Quirks provided to them. But occasionally, giving someone a second Quirk caused them to fuse, becoming something new, more powerful than the two Quirks together.

"And he might have conquered all of Japan - conquered the world - if it weren't for his brother. Weak, Quirkless, but with a keen sense of justice, he rebelled against his brother. And then. Well, it's unclear why All For One gave his brother a Quirk. It was a Quirk for - stockpiling power, so it's possible he intended to use his brother as a repository, to store power he might draw on later. But on granting his brother that power, All For One discovered he had made a fatal mistake. His brother had a Quirk - an invisible Quirk, all but useless, except that All For One gave him a second Quirk. His brother could give his Quirk away, and more than that, his Quirk could not be taken by All For One. And although he had little strength, the brother poured all of it into his Quirk and passed it on to someone else, someone he trusted to use it to fight against All For One. And although they failed, they were able to pass it along again, and again, and again…

"This Quirk's name is One for All, and it is my Quirk, the one I received from my teacher." He looked to Uraraka, and gave her a gentle smile. "And it is yours, now, Uraraka."

"Wait - your Quirk? Uraraka-chan's Quirk?" Midoriya's mind was awhirl. "You said you can pass it on - does that mean you don't have your Quirk anymore, or can you still use it? Can you pass it on more than once? You called it a stockpiling Quirk, suggesting it gets more powerful every time it's passed on - is that just for physical strength, or can you inherit any other Quirks a previous user had when they received it?"

Yagi-sensei snorted and shook his head. "Of course you have questions, Midoriya. But I'm afraid I cannot answer many of them - most of the secrets of One for All died with All For One's brother. But it is true One for All grows more powerful each time it is passed on, and by passing it on - remnants of this Quirk remain with me, but it is fading." He turned to Uraraka. "I apologize for not discussing this with you when I first offered you my Quirk, but there is a responsibility that comes with accepting One For All."

Uraraka nodded. "Defeating All For One, right?"

Yagi-sensei nodded. "More than that now, it seems. I had been - procrastinating, passing One For All on, presuming I had time, given that I had defeated All For One. But it has become increasingly clear that All For One is training a successor, and that his defeat will fall on your shoulders, as well."

Midoriya frowned as Uraraka nodded slowly; seeing the resolve settling over her gave him a vision - imagining her broken, sadly telling another hero defeating Shigaraki, the League of Villains, fell to them.

"Bullshit." The flicker of Uraraka's expression to bright red, shocked, and the disappearance of Yagi-sensei's serious frown to a similarly wide-eyed look, sent a flush of embarrassment over Midoriya at cursing in front of All Might. But he forced the feeling down, set his jaw, and kept going. "Defeating All For One - or Shigaraki - or the League of Villains - isn't Uraraka's responsibility, any more than defeating any other villain is. Maybe she knows more about All For One than other heroes, and maybe she has an advantage, but your friends - me, Iida-kun, Shinsou-kun, even Todoroki-kun - won't let you do it alone, Uraraka-chan." He took a deep breath, aware that he was about to say something - uncomfortable, but knowing it had to be said. "Giving her this power without telling her about All For One wasn't fair, if you want her to take the sole responsibility for defeating him. You can't tell her to keep her friends out of it - can't tell her friends not to help her." And seeing it, knowing what Yagi-sensei was about to say, Midoriya stood, not tall enough to tower over the seated hero, but enough to make him feel steadier. Grounded. "You can say she shouldn't ask her friends to take on that risk, but they should have the choice! The League of Villains - Shigaraki - is a threat to everything you've built! He doesn't just want to kill you; he wants to destroy your legacy.

"And your legacy isn't just Uraraka-chan. It's Todoroki-kun. Shinsou-kun. Bakugo. Me." Midoriya's hands were clenched at his side, and his heart was pounding, wild. All Might had said Midoriya had inspired him by acting without thought, but now, speaking without thought, he was terrified. He wasn't facing down a villain - he was telling Yagi-sensei, All Might, that he was wrong. "You can't expect one person, no matter how extraordinary they are, to hold the weight of the world on their shoulders. You have to understand - your legacy is everyone who would stand beside you against All For One, between Shigaraki and the rest of the world, and telling Uraraka-chan it's her responsibility alone debases their efforts!"

He turned to Uraraka, whose eyes were still wide, sparkling with tears, mouth open in an uncertain smile. He sank, slowly, to his knees, and bowed his head low. "If you need my help - to fight All For One, to fight Shigaraki, to fight anyone - just ask and I'll come running."

Still, quiet, he waited for a reply. He didn't dare move or speak, for fear of calling his sincerity into question.

And then a wide hand landed on Midoriya's shoulder. "Stand up, young Midoriya," Yagi-sensei murmured. Midoriya did, shaky on his legs, finding Yagi-sensei's head lowered, face unreadable.

There were tears in Uraraka's eyes, so Midoriya suspected he'd at least made an impression on her.

But Yagi-sensei was still looking down and away, and Midoriya's heart was still racing.

"You never fail to surprise me, Midoriya. When I took up the mantle of One For All, the world was uncertain, Pro Heroes something of a novelty. It took everything I had to build the foundation of the world you grew up in. And for me - to keep the secret of One For All was necessary. But you, the next generation of heroes - have shown such bravery and passion that it humbles me."

"Oh, no!" Midoriya's hands rose up, flailing in front of him. "If anything, I can only do something like this because of what you've already done - I used to watch your debut a dozen times a day!"

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants," Uraraka said. She was smiling, shifting to a full grin when she looked up at Yagi-sensei. "You inspired us all, All - Yagi-sensei."

"It's like One For All," Midoriya mused. "You took your power, your drive, your ideals, and handed them down to us, so we could take them and make them stronger."

"Ah," Yagi-sensei murmured, and Midoriya could see at last that there were tears in his eyes. "There you go surprising me again, young Midoriya."


Noriyasu set a final sheet of paper atop the stack she'd been working on, and let out a sigh. Her fingers drummed against the surface of the desk, acting without her conscious direction, because her mind was busy.

Not trying to figure out what it all meant - she knew what it meant. That was how her Quirk worked.

There were many reasons why a person might have an invisible Quirk. Some were subtle, nearly impossible to prove had any effect at all. Some were so situational a person died before they ever manifested.

And some...the users deliberately concealed.

It would have interested Noriyasu Kazu to learn her particular place in human history. Immediately prior to her birth, exactly one-half of all humans possessed the Quirk factor. As a result, her birth reflected a shift in the balance of human history, the moment when Quirks truly became normal.

It was ironic, then, that Noriyasu had an invisible Quirk - that for the first twenty years of her life, she'd believed herself to have no Quirk at all. And then it all came together when she took an entry-level statistics course in pursuit of a degree in sociology. Because her classmates struggled with some principles that came naturally to her, and she found, time and again, an inexplicable certainty on what various experiments meant.

Noriyasu had at times seemed a perfectly rational child, and at others a profoundly superstitious one. She knew there was nothing unlucky about four or nine (three, though, she had always been uneasy about). She wasn't afraid of particular animals, and didn't listen to the weather reports, finding her own predictions far superior (she skipped along at an odd pace that never left her waiting at intersections).

Humans were notorious for too often mistaking correlation for causation; Noriyasu was the exception.

It was an invisible Quirk in part because it was so hard to prove. She produced studies that she knew proved the link between two factors, only for critics to claim it was only a spurious connection. But she'd yet to find a way to demonstrate her insight on the subject was superior to anyone else's.

But it was also an invisible Quirk because of the forum.

It was difficult to find, deliberately concealed through dummy links and false servers, because of the people who populated it. Everyone on the forum had an invisible Quirk - one they deliberately concealed.

Because everyone on the forum possessed a varying degree of foresight - it was a community of prophets, seers, and augurs.

And although Noriyasu was not technically of their number, she found her way, and was allowed to stay, because the community existed to protect the secrets of those who could look into the future.

Not all seers wished to spend their lives looking into the future (or the present, for clairvoyants; or the past, for exactly one person present on the forum), and so the community helped them keep their Quirks hidden, to prevent villains or wealthy men or their own governments from forcing them to use their Quirks.

But the forum also advised those who became Pro Heroes, or even villains, to conceal the exact nature of their Quirks. If pressed, the moderators would hedge and say it was 'for their own safety'.

Noriyasu, though, had gotten an answer. She had dug and researched and pressed until they'd had no choice but to tell her.

The seers called them The Enigma, The Nexus, or Clio (for the Muse of History, one user had joked). They were - a guardian, of sorts, standing between humanity and too thorough an understanding of what was to come. They could not, as near as the seers could tell, discern when someone gazed into the future, or the past. But displaying that knowledge too openly, or making it known that you possessed that power, attracted The Enigma's attention.

And they were a relentless foe. Other people, even other seers, might have dismissed the stories of seers who died after their secret came to light as - anecdotal evidence. But Noriyasu knew differently. The evidence was clear - there was a person, or at least intelligence, who made certain any seer who wasn't done in by the greed and paranoia of their fellow human beings came to an early end anyway.

So she kept quiet, a statistician who built contacts - small inroads to the offices of decision-makers - to leverage her Quirk for the greater good.

And in her free time she worked on small little projects - trying to discover if odd little correlations were just coincidence, or a sign of a deeper connection.

It was at a conference in the United States - in California - when she'd started this project. They had been discussing early work in probability study by a little-known mathematician named Ramirez when one of her American colleagues had commented she'd never met a person by that name.

And it had struck her as odd, a strange little coincidence that had turned into one of her projects. One that had spanned centuries of human history, demographic records and trips to small-town libraries to review birth and death records, old newspapers, and, on several occasions, interviewing local lorekeepers.

At the end of the research, there was only one possible conclusion.

Like her Quirk, it was nearly invisible, built out of thousands of freak occurrences, moments of happenstance and coincidence, impossible to discern without a lifespan measured in centuries, or an obsessive attention to statistical oddities.

The conclusion worried her, in part because it was such a strange thing to be certain of.

Someone had carefully destroyed every bloodline that ever would have laid claim to the name Ramirez. She couldn't imagine anyone going through such effort, engineering thousands of murders over three or four hundred years, without some tangible gain.

But the reason for it all escaped her, and she was forced to set the project aside.

(If she'd kept looking, she might have discovered the conspiracy beyond these deaths extended beyond those people who bore the name Ramirez. She might have learned of the Northwests, a minor English noble house exterminated in the War of the Roses. She might have learned of the Corduroy clan, weavers who succumbed to a terrible winter before their family could grow beyond their humble roots. She might have learned of a Renaissance-era feud that destroyed the Valentino family, or a man named Sal Gleeful, whose line ended with him when he died in the trenches of World War I. She might have discovered the history of the family name 'Pines', which came to an end a mere year before the birth of the Luminescent Baby. She might have asked if the timing of that death was a coincidence, and because of her Quirk, would have discovered it wasn't. She wouldn't have gotten much further than that, because if there was one thing the Enigma despised more than people looking at their future, it was people looking too closely at their history.)

Chapter Text

Todoroki let his head fall back against the edge of the hot spring, sighing as the heated water soothed his sore muscles. He deliberately kept his head turned away from Midoriya, who was settled at the edge of the water, body enshrouded in flames because his Quirk apparently worked like a hot pack (he could even keep himself from light bruising if he got to the wound fast enough).

Things were still...awkward, or, rather, Todoroki still couldn't find a way to talk to Midoriya without remembering the panicked look on Midoriya's face as Todoroki tried to incinerate Toga while she was wearing Midoriya's form, or the delighted laughter as Toga Himiko discovered her ability to take others' shapes allowed her access to their Quirks, as well. Toga's vicious taunts had meshed with miserable memories of the beginning of the year, when Todoroki had seen Midoriya as a threat, leaving a muddle of guilt and resentment he couldn't even begin to untangle.

"Sooo…"

Todoroki resisted the urge to groan. Mineta Minoru, of Class 1-B, had gotten it into his head that Todoroki was 'cool', which to his perspective, meant Todoroki was some sort of 'chick magnet', so the other boy had latched onto Todoroki as some sort of tutor on the subject (aside from the fact Mineta's every word on the subject left Todoroki wanting to apologize to every woman he'd ever spoken to, attracting women was so far outside his concerns he wouldn't know how to start teaching someone else).

"You were pretty awesome back in the forest," Mineta said. "Like super cool. You gotta tell me how you do it!"

"...My Quirk?" Todoroki asked. There was a snicker to the side, probably Kirishima, who had laughed himself sick when Mandalay's nephew had punched Bakugo with the ruthless precision of someone who spent his life at waist-height and was unafraid of anyone working with his aunt retaliating against a five-year-old (Todoroki actually felt sorry for Bakugo, whose awkward attempt to bond with someone anyone would have assumed was a fan of heroes had seemed sincere, or at least a sincere attempt to come across as approachable. Kirishima was allowed to laugh, though, being Bakugo's best friend, he guessed).

"Come on, you gotta give me something!" Mineta pleaded. "I'm already being tortured knowing the girls are over there-" He waved at the fence dividing them from the girls' hot spring, "and there's nothing I can do about it! Do you know what Kendo threatened to do to me if I even thought about trying to get a peek?"

"Something entirely warranted," one of Mineta's classmates (Tsuburaba, Todoroki thought, unless it was Kaibara) muttered, earning a round of laughs from the other boys from 1-B.

Mineta's right eye twitched, but he grabbed his hands together and bowed almost low enough to submerge his face. "Please! None of them have any sympathy for me! All I need is one hint about how to attract hot babes!"

And it wasn't exactly something Todoroki had meant to say. With Endeavor dead, there wasn't any concern it could get back to him and give him new reason to make Todoroki's life worse. Still, it was private. But Todoroki was drowsy, a little off-balance (he hadn't talked to his best friend in several weeks), and really wanted Mineta to stop talking to him about boobs.

"I'm not interested in attracting babes, hot or otherwise," Todoroki replied, head falling back so he could sink a little further into the water. It took him a moment to realize the bath had fallen quiet, and another for anxiety to worm itself into his chest (Yaoyorozu had told him almost no one was like his father, that no one would think he was weird or broken, but how could she be certain what their classmates would think?).

"Are we talking 'not turned on by anyone' or 'super gay'?" Sero followed up, and a surprised huff, not quite a laugh (Todoroki was too anxious for a real laugh) escaped Todoroki.

His shoulders slumped down, tension flooding from him, and Todoroki took a second to think. It wasn't technically their business, but he'd talked about this only once, hushed discussions with Yaoyorozu, and the gentle curiosity, no more judgmental than if Todoroki had shared a preference for dogs over cats, loosened some of his natural (no, his learned) reticence.

And he was maybe in a place to provide an answer beyond the pained realization that he didn't like girls (that he couldn't imagine loving, marrying Yaoyorozu, no matter how sweet and intelligent she was). He might have claimed a year ago that he simply had no interest, that any sort of romance was a distraction.

And it was, but.

Todoroki's chest fluttered at the thought of green eyes bright with tears, a form cloaked in flames reaching out to him to keep him safe, a cool hand that didn't pull away when Todoroki squeezed it, needy, selfish for human contact.

"...I mean, I doubt I'm any gayer than any other boy who prefers - boys over girls," he said. "So I wouldn't say 'super' gay."

"That's even better!" Mineta insisted. "Girls love gay guys - they share all their secrets with you!"

"Oh my god," Bakugo snarled, reaching over and dunking Mineta's head underwater. When Mineta surfaced, Bakugo was glaring at him. "Read the fucking room, Blue Balls! Not every conversation is about you getting laid, especially not Todoroki sharing fucking personal details about his life."

"Dude!" There was a twitch of Bakugo's eyebrows, like a flash of awareness that came too late as Kirishima tackled him from the side, arms wrapped around Bakugo in what could either be a poorly-executed chokehold or a hug. They both went down, Bakugo flailing wildly.

"Let go!" Bakugo shouted.

"You said hugs were okay!" Kirishima retorted.

"Not when they'll drown both of us!" Bakugo flipped Kirishima over his shoulder; the other boy landed flat on his back, sending water spraying over Todoroki, Mineta, and another of the half-dozen nearest guys. And Todoroki burst out laughing, his whole frame shaking with the force of it.

Because nothing had changed - his classmates were as weird and loud as they'd always been, and who might figure in Todoroki's romantic future had no bearing on that (of course there was still tension there - there was someone whose opinion on Todoroki's preferences mattered a great deal, but even with his limited experience, Todoroki knew re-opening communication with Midoriya by asking if he liked boys, too, would be a mistake).

The subject of conversation moved away from Todoroki after that, which was something of a relief. Now that it was out there, he didn't mind them knowing, but he'd never been comfortable being the center of attention. But Sero bumped Todoroki's fist on the way back to the boys' room, and Kirishima clapped him on the back, telling him he was brave (and manly, but that came with the territory).

So people knew, and some of them were perceptive enough to try to make Todoroki feel comfortable about it.

(But all he could dream about was the sickening smile on Midoriya's - on Toga's - face when she'd guessed he liked Midoriya. When she'd mused about how she could make sure Midoriya would never love him. When she'd asked how she could destroy Todoroki's love for Midoriya.)

He woke the next morning exhausted, shuffling to the dining room where he was still standing, squinting at the still-cold stoves when a soft footstep made him jerk around, where a short, dark-haired form stood in the nearest door.

Todoroki yelped and jerked back, ice rising up between him and-

"Are you alright, Todoroki-chan?" the intruder asked. She sounded like Tsu, but Todoroki's heart was hammering a rough staccato beat, and the image of Tsu's flesh melting to be replaced by Toga's horrible grin was as indelibly etched into Todoroki's memory as Toga's impersonation of Midoriya was.

"Stay back," he hissed.

"Wha - oh." Tsu raised both her hands, taking a step away from Todoroki. "Do you want me to get Yaoyorozu-chan or someone?"

When she didn't speak after that, Todoroki realized she expected him to answer. "What?" he asked.

"Yaoyorozu-chan told me she figured it out when the imposter villain was impersonating me - I thought you might be a little more comfortable if she confirmed I'm not her." She ducked her head, tapping at her chin. "Or I could just leave."

"No, I." Todoroki pressed his hand against the ice surrounding him, melting it in a few moments. His heart was slowing, steadying, and as his panic receded with the ice, he could see Tsu with rational eyes. It was hard to imagine Toga able to mimic Tsu's casual concern for others, or offer to leave Todoroki alone, not with the sick fascination she'd shown in him. "It's fine. I was just." He waved at the stoves, unable to express exactly why he'd been staring at them when Tsu had arrived.

"Oh, yeah. The Wild, Wild Pussycats said we'd be responsible for making all of our own meals."

Todoroki blinked at her, because there was a contradiction there. How could you accomplish anything first thing in the morning if you didn't have - tea, or coffee - first?

Tsu's expression shifted to a smile. "Well, let's see if we can get some water boiling; it might help."

It took Todoroki an embarrassing thirty seconds of silence after Tsu put a pot of water on one of the stoves to realize she expected him to light it, at which point he sat at one of the tables and dropped his head against the surface.

"I guess you aren't a morning person," Tsu said, sympathetic.

"Not when I don't sleep," Todoroki retorted.

"Hm. Sleeping in a strange place can be pretty stressful," Tsu said, settling next to Todoroki.

Todoroki didn't snort derisively, because Tsu had no way of knowing that he'd found sleeping in a place other than his room in Endeavor's house had proven substantially more restful. And since he wasn't in the mood to bring up that whole mess, his options were lying or evading the question (he wondered if there was anyone he could ask for advice; he doubted Midoriya had to scramble for plausible lies to explain his problems).

But Tsu didn't pry, just offered Todoroki a cup of tea when the water was boiling a few minutes later, sitting across from Todoroki and giving him a wide smile when he looked at her.

It was strange, how restful it was. Or rather, it was strange how he'd become so acclimated to Midoriya's chatter, that the absence of it left him disconcerted. But Tsu's presence was restful in much the same way Midoriya's was - a quiet acceptance of Todoroki's mood, and an unwillingness to intrude on it unless asked.

It wasn't long before the other students woke, stumbling into the dining hall in ones or twos, or arriving in larger, laughing parties. Iida took charge of breakfast preparation, retorting to all protests that failing to help was uncooperative, unheroic, and, except that it would be a violation of several international treaties, grounds to leave the moochers to fend for themselves. Todoroki was relegated to lighting fires, and once that was done, sat back at his seat. Yaoyorozu and Tsu joined him shortly after, the latter bringing a plate of food. He thanked Tsu softly and began eating, letting their conversation wash around him.

He pretended not to watch the complicated dance between Midoriya, Uraraka, Shinsou, and Iida, which ended with Iida sitting across from Todoroki, next to Tsu, and Midoriya taking the other two to a more distant table (he tried to ignore the uncomfortable twist of guilt; there was no chance Midoriya hadn't noticed Todoroki was avoiding him specifically, and there was no way of knowing exactly what Midoriya thought was wrong, not without talking to him).

Luckily, the actual training - strengthening their Quirks - was mostly a solo affair (or rather, the teachers and Wild, Wild Pussycats traveled in circuits, offering advice, providing encouragement, or simply demanding the students push through their exhaustion).

Although Todoroki had had a tense conversation with Aizawa-sensei before they began, the teacher dragging him just out of hearing while the others started getting direction from Mandalay.

"Since we're talking about Quirks," Aizawa-sensei started.

"I don't use fire offensively," Todoroki said, simple, firm. Aizawa-sensei couldn't do anything worse to him than his father could (had done).

Aizawa-sensei stared, expression unreadable (but not angry, Todoroki was certain). The silence stretched on just long enough to be uncomfortable before Aizawa nodded. "Come to me if you change your mind - you will not start using an uncontrolled fire Quirk in my classroom. But I wanted to be sure before you started the training plan we developed. You use your pyrokinesis to warm your body when you've been overusing your right. Our goal is to reduce your cycle time, or, if possible, allow you to use that heat while also controlling ice."

So Todoroki was set freezing and thawing water, with the goal of maintaining the water just above freezing by applying heat and cold at the same time. He caught glimpses of the others during his breaks - Yaoyorozu more or less eating constantly as she produced a wide variety of items on command; Uraraka holding herself and an increasing number of objects airborne until she had to drop to the ground, vomiting; Aoyama doing much the same as he was pushed to use his Quirk repeatedly at short intervals.

The only person who didn't seem exhausted at the end of the day was Midoriya, but his Quirk had always been strange. It took concentration to maintain any flame touching him, and effort to control flames he wasn't, but fire soothed his muscles, invigorated him, so he had greater staying power than most of them.

It was a goal to aim for - if Todoroki could maintain heat and cold at the same time, he could use his ice all but indefinitely without risk.

But thinking about that meant he was staring, which meant when Midoriya looked up from his food, he saw Todoroki staring, forcing Todoroki to look away, flushing, to glare at his own food. It wasn't fair - Midoriya was his friend, so why should it be so hard to talk to him?

Someone rapped at the table, and when Todoroki looked up, Shinsou was sitting across from him. He was wearing a loose shirt, low enough Todoroki could see the scar across his throat, vicious, puckered skin that had yet to heal into a dull, old scar like Todoroki's own.

Shinsou's eyes were dark, narrow, and he was frowning.

"You're being a," and the last word Todoroki didn't recognize. His confusion must have been apparent, because Shinsou sighed and spelled out, "A-s-s-h-o-l-e."

Todoroki huffed and looked down. Shinsou rapped his hand on the table again, and when Todoroki didn't look up, did it again.

"I can do this all night," Shinsou said when Todoroki finally looked back up.

"Fine," Todoroki muttered. "Say whatever you want."

"Midoriya-" (and Shinsou had taken to abbreviating Midoriya's name with a gesture that looked something like the sign for 'green') "is miserable. He doesn't know what he did to make you stop talking to him-"

"He didn't do anything."

"He doesn't know what's going on. He's worried about you, and worried you aren't asking anyone for help. And it's driving the rest of us up the wall."

"...Fine," Todoroki agreed. "Are you done?"

Shinsou's glower eased, although his frown didn't. "You need to talk to him."

"Do you think I don't know that?" Todoroki snapped. "Do you think I'm stupid enough not to know I'm hurting Midoriya - my best friend? Do you think I'd be avoiding him if I had the first idea of what to say? Or did you just think 'oh, Todoroki's being an oblivious jerk'?"

"I-"

"I'm going." Todoroki pushed himself to his feet and walked away, glad he couldn't see whatever protests Shinsou might have been making. He walked outside, a few dozen meters from the Wild, Wild Pussycats' complex, before leaning against a tree and closing his eyes. His breathing was uneven, heart unsteady (and when were they ever steady and normal when it came to Midoriya), but the quiet, the absence of anyone else, gave him the space to let them both slow, ease.

And then something crashed through the forest behind him.

Todoroki's right hand was coated in a bracer of ice in an instant before the source of the noise, Bakugo, stormed past him.

"Stupid fucking ungrateful monster," he growled, not even glancing at Todoroki as he kicked his way through the front door. Todoroki winced at the sound of the slamming door and lost a few moments, because he was further in the woods when he next stopped for breath, not so far he couldn't see the complex, but definitely further away than he'd been before.

Todoroki groaned. He thought he was over shit like this - Endeavor was dead, and Fuyumi promised he wasn't going to have to put up with whatever ass their father had tapped to take care of him afterward.

"Okay, this is definitely a dumb question, but are you okay?"

A yelp, a flash of ice, and then Todoroki was staring at a wide-eyed boy who'd managed to just step out of the line of fire (ice). He was just a little taller than Todoroki, his wide shoulders contributing to a silhouette that was - a little intimidating, except for the fact that he was wearing a worn blue T-shirt with an unfamiliar symbol on it (a red diamond-shaped crest with an 'S' inscribed in it), scuffed sneakers, an unbuttoned plaid shirt, and an anxious smile. His brown hair looked something like a bird's nest, except where he'd pulled some of it back into a tail that hung just past his shoulders. And he was smiling, uncertain, apologetic, as if he'd been the one to nearly freeze Todoroki.

"Like, I really don't want to leave you wandering around in the woods if you're not okay. Even if you live in the woods, they can be really unforgiving, even without stuff like manataurs or gnomes, which are totally just weird things I made up and not real at all."

"I." Todoroki was still staring; he shook his head with a huff. "I'm fine."

"Not to be rude, but you totally aren't," the other boy said. "And don't bother arguing - I trained under the best at recognizing when people need cheering up."

"I'm-" Todoroki cut himself off, unwilling to keep pretending everything was fine when it wasn't, but also.

He had no idea what the stranger could even do to cheer him up, even if Todoroki acknowledged he needed it. Saying so seemed rude, though, so he kept quiet.

"Hey," the boy said with a shrug, "I'm not going to make you talk about it. Or relentlessly try to make you smile. I was just - you might want to talk about it."

It occurred to Todoroki then that the presence of some random kid within the boundaries of a secret Quirk training camp was much less likely than Toga Himiko trying to use the guise of a teenager lost in the woods to infiltrate said camp. He took a careful step away, freezing when the other boy's gaze darted to his feet.

"Hey, you can go," the boy said. "I just saw - and thought - you can go, really." He held his hands up, not quite defensively, but non-threatening. He smiled gently.

But now that it had been offered, Todoroki was hesitant to go. If this was Toga, he couldn't leave her running around unchecked. He took a deep breath.

"Can I ask you a question? And you won't get weird about it?"

The boy shrugged. "Sure."

"Are you actually a teenage girl with a shape-shifting Quirk?"

"Huh." The boy rubbed at his nose, face crinkling a little. "That's an interesting question. I'm not, but obviously you can't take my word for it. If I had a Quirk, I could show that off, to prove I have a different Quirk, unless this shape-shifting lets someone duplicate their disguise's Quirk." He looked to Todoroki, one eyebrow raised. "Can she duplicate Quirks when in disguise?"

Todoroki nodded his head once, jerkily. Now that the idea was out there, between them, he felt his heart rate rising again. He didn't want to fight Toga again, even if she didn't have any of Midoriya's blood.

"If you've got that dude - Eraserhead - around, you could tell him to turn off whatever Quirk I have. If you have any mind readers around, or someone who can tell if a person is lying, you could have them use their Quirk on me. If her Quirk only works while she's conscious, you could knock me out and see if I change back." Todoroki felt his mouth twitch upward in an involuntary smile; the other boy, apparently lost in his musing, didn't seem to notice. "You could threaten me, obviously, but that wouldn't work if she isn't really squeamish. Depending on how well you know her, you might be able to tell just by how I'm acting - although if I had a shapeshifting Quirk, I'd probably take some acting lessons. Improv, too - you've got to think on your feet when pretending to be someone - unless she gets the person's memories?"

And that was it, really. Todoroki snickered, raising his hand to cover his mouth as he laughed, shoulders shaking as he tried to calm himself. It was just-

His response was so familiar, so much like Midoriya, that it couldn't be Toga. He waved his hand at the other boy when he took a step toward Todoroki. "It's fine. I believe you."

The boy's eyebrows raised, perplexed. "Just like that? You don't even know my name."

"You don't know mine."

"Well." The boy shrugged. "I sort of do. Todoroki, right?"

Because even if the boy was in the middle of the woods now, it didn't mean he'd been nowhere near a television in the past few months.

"...Yeah. Then what is your name?"

"You can call me…" The boy paused, scanning Todoroki with a quick, assessing glance, eyeing the trees around them, before sighing, shoulders slumping. "Ugggh," he moaned. "My name's Mason." He held out a hand.

Todoroki reached out to take the other boy's hand. He was pretty sure it was the boy's given name, and that thought left a flush on his cheeks at the casual intimacy (but Americans were informal like that, and the boy, pale, casual, speaking meticulously pronounced Japanese, had to be American).

"What are you doing out here?" Todoroki asked.

"Figuring things out," Mason replied. "The same thing you're doing, I bet."

It was, but Mason's answer was clearly an evasion. And maybe Mason was evil and his 'lovable nerd' act a clever ruse to get Todoroki to let his guard down, but Todoroki was tired of the endless threat of attack, the stress of being on edge all the time, and decided to let it go.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Todoroki asked, and Mason snorted.

"I'm not going to lay all my bullshit on you. If you don't want to talk, let's just...sit." And he stepped next to a tree and dropped himself next to it.

It was relaxing - like Tsu's nonjudgmental quiet, with the added benefit that Mason had no idea what was going on with Todoroki, so he wasn't building elaborate scenarios in his head, thinking of what he'd ask the moment Todoroki let his guard down.

Todoroki actually slept that night, and almost managed to work up the courage to talk to Midoriya, up until he actually saw the other boy in the dining hall and spilled half a gallon of juice on Kaminari.

He ended up staring at Midoriya from across the dining hall for all of breakfast, watching Midoriya answer increasingly animated questions from Mineta. None of Mineta's gestures looked obscene, but given what the rest of Class 1-B had to say about Mineta, that left few other possible topics of conversation between the two. The two of them spent much of their free time over the next week talking, and it was Uraraka, during her turn at what Todoroki had uncharitably begun thinking of their 'keeping Todoroki company' rota, who satisfied his curiosity.

"He's been asking Midoriya about Quirks. Like, all types of Quirks. I thought he might be trying to figure out how to perv on girls harder, but the two of them have been really getting into it," she'd explained. "Like Midoriya will start one of his thirty-second monologues, and Mineta'll ask this question, and the next thing you know they're twenty minutes into a debate about the first Quirks. It's honestly exhausting." She perked up at that point, grinning at Todoroki. "How have you been?"

Todoroki shrugged. "Fine." Which he was. He'd been sleeping well, some of his paranoia about Toga easing, even if he still couldn't figure out how to talk to Midoriya. He'd found Mason once more during an evening walk, and they'd sat in silence for a while. He was a little more certain Mason hadn't just been in the area, that he was watching, waiting for something, but he'd yet to allow himself to believe the other boy was a threat.

"You know, if you want to talk about...anything, you can," Uraraka said.

Todoroki shrugged. "I'll keep that in mind."

But the routine of the camp - training and the little chores of maintaining their temporary home - kept him busy, and it was easier to seek out the woods, and Mason's quiet presence, than talk about anything (he kept almost running into Bakugo returning to the complex, and there was some sort of - truce, or unspoken agreement - not to talk about what either was doing outside on their own).

It had been two weeks, and there was a 'test of courage' scheduled the next night (Mina's and Kaminari's excitement suggested this was a childhood ritual Todoroki's upbringing had kept him from experiencing before now). They were scheduled for a strategy session in an hour, and if Yaoyorozu hadn't insisted, Todoroki would have planned to skip it.

Still, he was out here for a little peace and quiet before being dragged into what promised to be a chaotic clash of personalities; Mason wasn't here, so he was looking up at the sky.

A rustle of leaves had him glancing to his side. It took a moment on seeing green against the omnipresent greenery to realize it was Midoriya, and another for his heart to clench, his shoulders to tense, and Midoriya's hesitant smile to fade. Todoroki didn't move (leaving without a word would send an unmistakable message, and he couldn't find the words to excuse himself), and neither did Midoriya for a - minute or so, Todoroki guessed.

"I was confused when you started avoiding me," Midoriya said, voice steady, strong. "And I decided, after a bit, that something was going on you needed to work through, and if I gave you space, you'd be back to normal eventually. So I did. I stayed away. But I watched. I watched you stop talking to anybody, watched you disappear whenever you could manage it. I realized you're not getting over it. So I need you to - either tell me what's going on with you, or tell me to leave you alone." And there it was, the crack in his stoicism that confirmed this was Midoriya, that this was something that mattered to him, the hint of tears in his voice.

"You don't have to tell me everything. I just need to know - that you'll tell me enough to understand what I can do for you." And Midoriya's facade was crumbling, his voice wavering, pleading. Todoroki didn't dare look, didn't know what he would do if he saw the tears, saw the quiver through Midoriya's whole expression (a small, vicious thought pointed out it was possible Todoroki was managing to hurt Midoriya worse than Bakugo ever had).

Todoroki's throat clenched as he opened his mouth, no words coming out. I tried to kill someone.

They looked just like you.

I can't help but wondering, every time I see you, if you'll trigger that same sort of panic.

If I'll hurt you.

If his Quirk had been telepathy, or - empathy, he might have found a way to convey it, to say something. But his tongue was still as he struggled for the words.

And then Midoriya huffed. It wasn't laughter, or tears. It was - a settling sound. A realization. Acceptance.

"Don't worry about it," Midoriya said, and there weren't tears in his voice anymore. "I'll see you at the strategy meeting."

He was gone with barely a sound; Todoroki turned then, too late, finding himself alone, only the chirping of insects around him to break through the empty stillness in his mind. Because his moment had passed - Midoriya had given Todoroki the chance to explain, and Todoroki had failed him. He wished wildly for a way to fix this - the perfect words, a Quirk that could let him try this again until he got it right - but neither his upbringing or Quirk offered an answer.

He jerked around in response to a quiet sound; Mason was standing a few meters away, head tilted, eyes wide, watery. "Hey, dude."

Todoroki closed his eyes and leaned back against the tree behind him. "How much of that did you hear?"

"Pretty much the whole thing. If it helps, I think it's sort of shitty to put you on the spot like that-"

"Shut up," Todoroki tried to snarl, but without any energy, his voice just came out rough, quiet. "You don't know him. Don't get it."

"Hey, I'm not judging. There's a long history of people in my family doing - phenomenally shitty things to each other. Including me. But we're okay. More or less."

Todoroki shook his head, because short of actually striking Midoriya, he couldn't imagine that exchange having gone any worse. "You heard him-"

"And saw him," Mason interrupted. "Yeah, he's upset, but that doesn't mean he's done for good. Trust me - if you give him some time and explain yourself, he'll come around. Eventually." There was a beat of silence. "That was Midoriya Izuku, right?"

Todoroki laughed, a rising, desperate noise that only after a few moments broke into sobs. For all he was miserable, simultaneously haunted by the memory of his fight with Toga and the pain his reticence was causing both him and Midoriya, it was - ridiculous. It sounded like something out of some weird hero drama series he'd overheard Tokoyami and Aoyama discussing, the overwrought, overacted problems of characters with names just different enough from real Pro Heroes to avoid being sued. A Pro being unable to talk to his best friend after a shape-shifting villain had goaded him into trying to kill her was almost the sort of poorly-explained situation that would send the entire cast of one of those shows into chaos. All it needed was either Midoriya or him getting pregnant by the villain. And that thought just set off another round of laughing, hiccoughing sobs.

When Todoroki's tears slowed and breath eased, it was to find he'd slid down to the ground, braced against the tree, and Mason sitting just out of reach. The other boy shifted a little closer when he noticed Todoroki looking.

"Do you need a hug?" Mason asked. "I can do any variety - awkward bro hug, sincere comforting hug, whatever."

Todoroki snorted, but when Mason didn't flinch, didn't look away, Todoroki reflected that a hug from someone who'd been nothing but kind to him sounded almost like it might be helpful.

So he nodded, and Mason shifted over next to him, wrapping one arm around Todoroki's side, warm against his cool side. Todoroki sighed, and let himself revel in the contact, savor the comforting touch. They sat there a minute before Mason slipped away. Todoroki bit back a protest. The hug had made him feel better, but his desire for further contact wasn't born from lingering distress (Mason wasn't remotely like Midoriya, except in his casual offer to help a complete stranger, and his intelligence, but Todoroki found himself drawn to Mason anyway. That piercing, inquisitive gaze didn't hurt at all).

But because Todoroki was his father's son, felt a need to ruin things, he broke the silence by asking, "What are you doing here? Really?"

Mason didn't answer at once, and after only a moment of silence, Todoroki braced himself for the other boy to leave.

So Mason's response surprised Todoroki by coming at all. The response being another question, though, he should have expected. "Did you ever want something that was impossible?" Todoroki bit back a retort; his father might be dead, but it didn't mean he had to talk about his struggle to break out from his father's influence. "Did anyone ever offer it to you? Maybe come to you in a moment of weakness and ask for something - insignificant - in exchange for their help?" And Todoroki snorted, because he wouldn't have believed anyone who claimed to be able to help him.

And then Todoroki remembered Stain, carrying within him a second mind, one that could act even if Stain himself were caught by Shinsou's Quirk. Remembered the possessor's cat eyes, and how under their control, Stain had been faster, stronger, than anyone without an enhancement Quirk had a right to be.

If someone like that had come to Todoroki, and told him he was helping the Hero Killer destroy heroes who were no better than the villains they fought…

Todoroki shook his head. "No. Whatever good things have happened to me - no one asked for anything in return."

"And what about your classmates?" Mason pressed.

"Are you honestly asking if any of my classmates made a deal with a villain?" Todoroki demanded.

Mason shrugged. "He's good at finding people at their lowest and offering them what they think they need. And he isn't dumb enough to call himself a villain."

"Who?" Todoroki demanded.

Mason sighed. "The sort of person who makes offers to desperate people. The sort of person who prides himself on never technically lying." He let that sit between them a moment before continuing. "So, did any of your friends - recently have a bout of extraordinary luck, or achieve an impossible dream?"

The first, impossible thought that came to him was 'Midoriya', who'd labored under the belief he was Quirkless, barred from his lifelong dream, until he'd stumbled into a flaming disaster area and his new identity as Firebird.

And beyond that, there was no one (except that Shinsou had lost so much, was vulnerable to anyone who might offer him a chance to regain the use of his Quirk). So Todoroki shook his head.

"Hm," Mason replied.

"Did - you have a reason to think he was here?" Todoroki asked.

Mason frowned, a brief downward flicker of his mouth, before his expression smoothed out. "Experience," he said, at last. "He likes being as close to the middle of things as possible, even if he does everything in his power to keep people from noticing him." He sighed. "I shouldn't have mentioned it," he murmured. "You'll spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder, wondering if he's watching you, plotting your downfall."

"I'm not that paranoid," Todoroki replied.

"Well, that's the problem; you should be." Mason slid sideways, down, to lay across the grass next to Todoroki. "It's a paradox - he's more dangerous when you know about him, but not nearly as dangerous as when he works unnoticed." Todoroki frowned; he'd never been great at logic puzzles, but there was a flaw in Mason's statement (but wasn't that what a paradox was? Something that didn't make sense?). "There are - things I'm keeping an eye out for, things that'll help, if he becomes a real problem. So just - keep your mind off it, leave it to the pros?"

Even if Todoroki believed Mason was doing this on his own - a teenage vigilante fighting against some mysterious villain he didn't dare call by name - he would have been inclined to agree with Mason's request. But Mason had mentioned family he was (more or less) on good terms with, had gotten himself into the middle of the wilderness in central Japan, both things that suggested he had support.

(And Torodoki had family he was on good terms with, people who'd tried to draw him out of the misery lingering with him since his fight with Toga.)

But there was something else there - not a dismissal, but a farewell.

"You're going," Todoroki said, voice flat, throat a little tight.

"I didn't come here to keep you company," Mason said with a casual shrug. But after a moment of silence, he pushed himself back up, frown eased a little (apologetic? Todoroki wasn't sure). "I mean, you're cool and all, and if did not have really important stuff to do - which I'm only realizing right now sounds like an excuse-"

"No, you're right," Todoroki said. "We're heroes." And heroes - didn't always get what they wanted when the fate of the world was at stake.


One of the only good things about being Mineta Minoru was that people didn't ask you a lot of questions, for fear that you would answer them. They didn't ask what you were mumbling to yourself, because they thought they knew what you were saying. As long as you weren't looking at someone's butt or breasts, they didn't ask what you were looking at. They didn't ask what you were thinking about, because they didn't want to hear it.

And if, say, you brought a steamer trunk to camp, with heavy locks, that you never opened when other people were around, they did everything in their power not to think about it.

If you returned to the boys' dorm after the test of courage and locked yourself inside, no one would dare open the door once they knew you were on the other side.

They wouldn't wonder what you were doing in there, because they believed they knew, in a general way, what you were up to, and didn't want to see it. If pressed, they would come up with all sorts of wild bullshit about every perverted thing they could imagine, but they wouldn't come anywhere near the truth.

Mineta sat next to his trunk and set a plate of food next to him before unlocking it, pushing the lid open, and leaning over to peek inside, where Mineta Minoru was ensnared, tied up expertly according to his own instruction. Of course, he'd lost most of his enthusiasm once he realized that he'd grossly misunderstood the purpose of the exercise.

Mineta's skin and clothing sloughed off, allowing Toga to stretch out and give Mineta - the real Mineta - a disgusted sneer.

"Do you know what I love about my Quirk?" she asked, ripping the tape from Mineta's face; the boy winced, but made no sound (the consequences of doing so, Toga had promised, would be dire). "Everybody thinks I'm weird and creepy, but my Quirk means I don't have to be me. I can be anybody, which means usually I get to be people with lots of other people who love them. As long as I'm using my Quirk, I get to feel what it's like not being someone weird and creepy. And then I got this job!" She shoved a spoonful of curry into Mineta's face, scowling as he choked down the food. "I have to spend all day being a creepy little pervert, seeing that look on everyone's face. Do you get what that's like? Knowing that everyone you talk to is just wondering what's wrong with you? That not one of them would miss you if you just disappeared?"

She grabbed one of her syringes from the side of the trunk and slammed it, viciously, into Mineta's vein (if she ever decided to leave the League of Villains, she'd probably make a good phlebotomist, given how good she was at finding people's veins). "I've been pretending to be you for three weeks, and no one's noticed you're acting oddly. Or." She shrugged, offering Mineta a grin. "I bet they don't care what's happened, as long as you're less of a creep." As she finished draining Mineta, she patted his cheek. He winced, and she felt a spike of irritation. Mineta was a fan of Midnight; being tied up by a cute girl should have been his fondest wish. But Toga had never been what people wanted.

"They said I could keep one of you," Toga said idly; Mineta shuddered. "Not you, obviously," she sniped. "I was leaning toward Todoroki-chan, but my charms would be lost on him. But I - you've been talking to Midoriya-chan, and he's such a sweetheart! I think we could have tons of fun together!" She grinned at Mineta. "Of course, he'll have to survive first. Maybe it will end up being you. You're actually sort of tolerable when you're not saying anything."


Being stuck in a trunk all day may suck, but it left you a lot of time to think. And aside from all the boring crap - like how this was way less sexy than all the X-rated stories Mineta had read on the Internet, and how the way Toga looked at him made his skin crawl - there were a lot of desperate thoughts about how he could escape, or, now, how to save Midoriya from the same fate Mineta had suffered.

Because Mineta wanted to be a hero. He wanted to be a super-cool guy whose awesome moves made him irresistible to women. And guys like that didn't get trapped in trunks while villains killed all their classmates (they actually might, if Mineta were going to be one of those brooding heroes who had a tragic past, but the body count required for that was a little high).

He'd always known he was going to be the type of hero that swung in to save people (mostly chicks) at the last moment. The suave, dashing type.

It was disheartening, then, to hear Toga talk about him, to lament that being him was an exercise in humiliation and rejection, to hear that Mineta wasn't a lovable rogue but something closer to Toga - whose touch, whose gaze, was like poison.

Still, for all the time Mineta had, he didn't have time to worry too much about that. Not if he was going to get out of here. Not if he was going to save the day (and maybe earn approval from some of the girls).