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Phoenix (v2)

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“So it’s back, huh?”

The voice is wet, raspy, a slick death-rattle, and Izuku can’t keep his eyes off the man’s face, white teeth grinning in the melted remains. He’s shocked the other can even open his mouth; his eyelids have fused with the skin on his cheekbones, and even though it must be agony to move at all, the man goes on, scorched tongue flopping thickly between burnt lips.

“Fuck me...if I knew you were the Phoenix, kid, I’d have kept my distance.” A wet cough, and hot, sticky blood mingles with the tears pouring down his cheeks. They’re splashing onto the man below him, but the burns are far too severe for his healing to fix, and all he can do is stare, stare through the mess of a human being below him, painfully aware of his hands and arms smouldering to either side of the man’s head.

A crowd is gathering. So is the blackness at the edges of his vision.

“Not gonna say anything to someone you’ve just burned?” Izuku can feel his consciousness slipping, slipping, but even as everything goes dark, he catches these last words, and they'll haunt him in the empty slumber that follows. “Last one was a nasty piece of work, so I was expecting you to gloat. Maybe you're just in shock...something tells me you're new to burning people.”

He wants to respond - of course he's never burned anyone to death! - but his mouth won't work, gapes like a fish out of water, and the last thing Midoriya Izuku sees before he slips away is those teeth, painfully white against the mass of burned flesh that was once a man.


 

Izuku blinked.

There was no gradual waking-up; one moment he’d been asleep, his damaged body attempting to repair itself, and the next he was awake, studying the pale ceiling overhead. It wasn’t his ceiling, that much was obvious - there were no All Might posters, after all.

He registered a soft beep to his right, but when he tried to turn his head to look for the source, he found his neck wrapped in stiff bandaging that chafed uncomfortably against his skin and stopped, biting his lip.

Just what happened to me?

Something rustled softly to his other side. He choked back a scream when he realised it was a mass of light-brown hair - someone had fallen asleep on the side of his bed! Izuku couldn’t imagine who would have done that, aside from his mother; he wasn't an outcast, but he was often overlooked the moment people heard that he knew Bakugou Katsuki. His friend was something of a celebrity at their middle school, with Izuku himself regarded as nothing more than a groupie.

He didn't exactly want to wake them up - especially considering that they wore a girl's white sailor-style uniform, and he was terrible at talking to girls - but at the same time, Izuku had no clue why anyone would fall asleep at his bedside, waiting on him to wake up (why else would she be there?). Had he done something? There was something, a blurry memory swimming in the hazy recesses of his mind, but he couldn't grasp it.

Teeth. He remembered teeth. But -

“Yo.”

Izuku jumped. Think of the devil, and he shall come ran through his mind at the sight of his friend, a shock of dirty-blonde hair perched atop his usual half-lidded scowl. “You could have knocked,” Izuku scolded weakly.

A snort from Katsuki. “You could have mentioned you were gonna burn down a bus station.”

“I did what!?

“Calm down, dumbass. You didn't go that far.” Katsuki tossed his bag haphazardly onto one of the chairs to Izuku's right, then flopped carelessly down into the other. He still wore his uniform as well; Izuku suspected he'd come running the moment he heard the news. “Who the hell is that?” the blonde added, jabbing a finger at the sleeping girl.

“I don't know,” Izuku admitted, reaching up to scratch his head and finding his arms and hands bandaged with tight gauze. “She was here when I woke up.”

There was a moment of silence, which was strange for Katsuki. Then, without warning -

“Oi, wake up!”

“Kacchan!” Izuku snapped, mortified, but it was too late. The girl stirred, then jumped, raising her head and staring between the two of them for a solid five seconds before she settled on Izuku.

“You’re awake?” Her voice was still groggy with sleep, but it suited her soft, roundish face well; two bangs framed her face on either side, complementing her bob-cut.

“Yeah, I’m...I’m awake,” Izuku squeaked. Katsuki snorted.

“Deku here wants to know what you were doing sleeping on his bed.”

Katsuki made it sound considerably more intimate than it had been, and Izuku found himself flushing, failing to get out even a stammered excuse for his friend’s behaviour.  “I - um, I - “

The girl stared blankly at Katsuki for a moment, then returned her gaze to Izuku. “Um...I’m sorry,” she told him, bowing her head. “You got hurt saving me, so I wanted to be around to thank you when you woke up...but I guess I fell asleep.”

“No, no, it’s fine!” Izuku rushed to console her, waving his bandaged hands as frantically as he could manage. “Really, it’s okay! I just - wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.”

Wait - saving you!?

The girl glanced back up at him and spoke before he could ask what she meant. “Well...I’m glad you’re okay,” she blurted out, a grin breaking out on her face. “I’m Uraraka Ochako. Thanks for helping me out back there, you were awesome!” - and, as the icing on the cake, she made a vague hand gesture that Izuku took to mean some sort of explosion.

He was pleasantly surprised; in just a couple of sentences, her attitude had changed completely, cheeks growing rosy with her smile. “I’m, ah...I’m Midoriya Izuku.” He paused, mostly to steady his pounding heart (a common occurrence when speaking to girls), but also to consider his next words. Then: “And this is Bakugou Katsuki.”

“Ah, um...I already heard your name from the nurses,” Uraraka admitted. “But I’m glad you told me anyway! And, um, it’s nice to meet your friend, too.” She sounded slightly less enthusiastic about Katsuki, who’d crossed his arms and scowled upon introduction, and Izuku cracked a small smile of his own.

“Kacchan has that effect on people.”

“Hmph” was the blonde’s only response.

A silence, not uncomfortable, settled on the three of them. Uraraka checked her phone, the pink-backed screen flipping open as she typed out a text message; as she typed, the clock struck seven, and Katsuki grabbed the television remote without asking.

“Kacchan, what are you - ?”

“You don’t remember what happened, right? It’s gonna be on the news,” his friend cut in, stabbing at the power button and flipping to one of Shizuoka’s local news stations. “Look.”

Izuku looked.

The story they were waiting on didn’t actually come on for a solid fifteen minutes. Opening the news’s hour-long time slot was a story about large-scale villain attack in Nagano, where thirty-four people had seemingly been turned to stone, and -

“That’s awful!” Uraraka squeaked. “Are they, y’know, still alive, or…?”

“Listen!” Katsuki shot back.

“The victims were rushed to a district hospital, where doctors confirmed that they still possess low-level vital signs. The Quirk and means of attack remain unknown, and security footage remains inconclusive.”

The security footage itself was not shown, and Izuku had to wonder what exactly it contained. Had the people simply stopped moving, petrifying in place? Had the process been painful? Did they still feel that pain?

...Could my Quirk heal them?

Not that he’d get a chance to find out - he doubted he’d be let into any of the victims’ rooms, and he couldn’t imagine strolling into a Nagano hospital and asking the receptionist if he could cry on someone who’d been turned to stone.

Izuku sighed and settled back into his pillows.

At the age of five, Katsuki had beaten up a kid on the playground, and Izuku, whose Quirk hadn’t manifested yet, had comforted the battered boy, crying all the while. It wasn’t until one of his tears splashed the other’s skin and the purple bruise disappeared that he realised that he was not, in fact, Quirkless.

The first time he registered his Quirk, it was under the name “healing tears”; Izuku distinctly recalled his father being nervous about something while they were filling out the form, but it was nothing compared to the way the man had blanched when five-year-old Izuku’s palms burst into golden fire, flickering like candlelight in the evening gloam. At the time, he’d taken it as his father being afraid he’d burn himself and reassured Midoriya Hisashi that he’d be careful, but in retrospect, Hisashi had a fire Quirk himself - shouldn’t he have known that fire Quirk users were generally immune to their own flames…?

His next Quirk registration, then, was a little more vague. They couldn’t think of a name that time around, and so settled on simply describing what it did: healing tears, fire creation. Around that time, Hisashi received a job offer to work on the west coast of the United States and, after a teary separation, boarded a plane to Los Angeles, where he video called his wife and son twice a week.

Still, Izuku’s Quirk progression didn’t stop. His flame-conjuring ability grew, extending slowly up his arms with each passing year. At age eight, his healing tears - which he’d grown used to using on his classmates after Katsuki had decided he had a bone to pick with them - grew more potent, able to heal injuries more quickly. When he was ten, around the time Katsuki started figuring out how to use his explosions for mobility (because only Bakugou Katsuki would look at an explosion and try to use it to fly), Izuku learned that he had a limited degree of control over his flames, though they were still weak, only able to fly around five feet or so before fizzling out. He’d been excited nonetheless; plenty of heroes had Quirks that seemed weak at first but that they’d made powerful. Kamui Woods was one such example, having once explained in an interview that as a kid he’d only been able to make his fingers and toes grow a few inches.

At age fourteen, then, Izuku was able to ignite his entire arm up to the shoulder and sling fire up to ten feet...or so he thought, until the next story came on.

“The attempted abduction of a middle-school girl by a villain in Shizuoka today resulted in the death of the villain in question. Uraraka Ochako, age fourteen, stated that she was waiting at a bus stop in the central metropolis this afternoon when a man threatened her with his Quirk and was promptly intercepted by one Midoriya Izuku. The attacker turned his attention to Midoriya-san, but in the ensuing scuffle, the attacker caught fire and was pronounced dead on the scene by paramedics. He has not been identified, but police are currently not pressing charges against Midoriya-san.”

“...I did that?” Izuku whispered. The footage from the bus station’s security cameras was slightly grainy, but there was no mistaking that hair colour - he was definitely seeing himself tackled to the ground, the man lunging for his throat, and he was definitely seeing himself light up like a torch, flames swirling up his arms before he thrust both hands forward and sent the fire slamming hard enough into the man to throw him backwards into the station wall.

The footage cut off early.

“Yeah, you did.” Katsuki fixed him with as close to a sympathetic look as he could muster, though his next words weren’t quite as kind. “Just had to go overboard with it, huh?”

“Bakugou-kun!” Uraraka snapped, surprising both boys with her sudden ferocity. “Midoriya-kun saved me and protected himself - that guy’s Quirk was super scary!”

“What was it, anyway?” Izuku asked her, quietly. He couldn’t quite meet her eyes; even though nobody had said it, he felt as if it was the elephant in the room. He’d killed someone, even if he hadn’t meant to - his Quirk, which he’d used to comfort people before now, had displayed a lethal side….

“I dunno, he smelled really bad,” Uraraka mused. “His skin was all grey and he was covered in these, like, peeling sores - oh, and his nails were super sharp, too. Look at this.” She held out her wrist, pulling back her sleeve to reveal several long scores in her pale skin. “If I didn’t know any better, I would have said he was a zombie or somethin’.”

“Zombies burn, right?” Katsuki put in. “Probably why the bastard lit up like that. Fucker had it coming.” Uraraka stared at him, surprised by Katsuki’s sudden vitriol, but he went on: “Anyone who tries to prey on a girl at a bus stop like that is a weak little shit. Who the hell knows what he had going through his stupid skull?”

He had a point, but it didn’t make Izuku feel any better. In his opinion, nobody had the right to take a life unless it was absolutely necessary to prevent another from doing so. He'd been pinned, sure, but he could have simply used his Quirk to force the man off of him...

Those teeth flashed through his mind’s eye again, and he shuddered.

On the screen, the footage now showed three ambulances and several more police cars positioned outside the bus station as the anchor continued to speak, but her voice became background noise the moment Izuku spotted them.

“They were there?” He couldn’t help whispering it aloud, and both Uraraka and Katsuki whipped around to fix him with baffled and concerned looks, respectively (or at least the closest thing Katsuki could manage to concern, which was essentially a glare but with thirty percent less eyelid); Uraraka was understandably confused, but Izuku could tell that his friend knew exactly what he meant.

“I wasn’t gonna say anything,” Katsuki admitted. “You don’t fuckin’ need that on top of this shit.”

Izuku shook his head. “No, I get it. I’m just….” A hard swallow. “Why?”

His friend looked away. “Couldn't tell you.”

Uraraka was baffled. “What - who are ya talkin’ about?” she blurted out, and in that instant, Izuku caught a sliver of a Kansai accent - well-hidden, but definitely there. He was, however, in no mood to address it.

“None of your business, round face,” Katsuki growled, but Izuku shook his head.

“No, it's...Kacchan, I think she should know. What if she starts seeing them, too?”

“What? Start seeing who?” the girl demanded, and Izuku bit his lip again, hard enough to bleed this time.

How do I tell her? How do I explain?

“Uraraka-san,” he began, slowly, “why were you in Shizuoka today?”

“Um, you might laugh, but I was checkin’ out Yuuei,” she admitted. “I've been thinking about the entrance exam...so I figured I might take the weekend to head up to Tokyo. I'm from Mie,” she added. “So Shizuoka is the quickest way to Tokyo.”

“Yuuei? The hero school?” Katsuki cut in. “You're planning on going?”

“Well...yeah, if I can. I really just wanna help my parents out. Why does that matter?”

“Kacchan,” Izuku warned him. His friend, with his flashy Quirk, was planning on attending Yuuei himself, and while he'd eventually come to accept Izuku, he remained fiercely competitive with anyone else who might dare interfere with his dreams.

Personally, Izuku was certain Katsuki would score in the top ten; his Quirk was perfectly suited for it. Katsuki, however, would not accept top ten - he had to be number one.

The blonde snorted, but let Izuku continue.

“Well...as you've probably figured, Kacchan and I live around here. And, um, my entire life, I've been seeing the same person. Or multiple people, I don't know. It's only ever one at a time.”

He felt a little silly saying it, but plowed on in spite of Uraraka's perplexed expression.

“Only my mom ever believed me...when I was six, she told the police and we were kept under surveillance for a while...except whenever they were around, this person wouldn't show up. Eventually they put in a recommendation for psychotherapy for the two of us, but it didn't change anything. Kacchan didn't believe me either, until we were...ten? Or eleven?”

“Eleven,” Katsuki confirmed.

“Yeah. We were out super late one night, and we spotted something in the alley along the street we were walking on - Kacchan wanted to check it out, but I could see the silhouette and told him not to...there's not really a way to stop him once he gets an idea into his head, though.”

“I would believe that,” Uraraka deadpanned. Katsuki snorted violently.

“Well, of course he went after it...and it was just...right there in the alley,” Izuku continued. “Black robe, black hood, couldn't see their face. It - they - just...stared. Didn't move. Didn't react to anything he did. Eventually we just ran for it, and they didn't budge an inch...just stood there, watching us. We didn’t look back.”

“That sounds kinda….” Uraraka chewed her bottom lip, choosing her next words carefully. “Hard...to believe? Like, you guys aren't just...messing with me, are you?”

“I knew you'd say that,” Izuku sighed. “I'm sorry. I know it sounds really dumb - “

“Here!”

Katsuki shoved his phone across the hospital bed. On the opposite wall, the news went on, but none of them were paying attention anymore.

“Isn't this the video we just saw?” Uraraka asked. “Outside the bus station?”

“Yeah. Take another look at the top left of the crowd.”

Izuku watched her expression shift from baffled to horrified in the space of ten seconds. It would have been a little funny if the situation hadn't been so serious.

“Kacchan's seen them on his own a few times since it happened,” he explained quietly. “So, if you happen to start seeing them too...well, now you know why. I'm really sorry, Uraraka-san.”

She was silent for a moment, not quite looking at him, and he could feel tears starting to well up in the corners of his eyes. Then -

“Hnk!”

He let out a strangled sort of yelp as she threw her arms around his neck, and to his complete bewilderment, she was - laughing?

“If I had to pick between gettin’ eaten in a subway tunnel and havin' to see some guy in a robe every once in a while, I know which one I'm pickin’.” Her voice was much closer, around his shoulder, and her hair tickled his ear; it would have been embarrassing enough on its own, but Katsuki couldn't resist a jab of his own:

“Depends what kind of eaten you're talking about.”

“Kacchan!”

Uraraka let go very quickly, and neither of them could look at one another for several minutes afterward.


 

Izuku was discharged two days later.

His temperature had always run pretty high - doctors had concluded years ago that it was a side effect of his Quirk, being a fire Quirk user - but with the burns covering half his upper body, the hospital staff decided it was a good idea to make sure he hadn't contracted some sort of infection, festering in the burned skin of his chest and shoulders.

He hadn't, and so after a few changes of bandaging he was set free. His mother had insisted on picking him up, but he'd managed to shake her off, claiming that he was fine, that he could pick up some groceries on the way back.

What Izuku didn't tell her was that he intended to return to the bus station. He didn't really know why; he was acting purely on a hunch that could be completely wrong, but something told him he should head back there, to the spot where he'd

burned a man to death

saved Uraraka from a would-be kidnapper and dominated headlines for a solid afternoon, before the media moved on to their next buzz.

Speaking of Uraraka, she'd given him both her number and a very warm hug before she left that evening, and he hadn't seen her since (nor had the guts to text her). He dearly hoped that everything was okay, but what if he texted her and it was? What if they ended up just chatting? Would she expect him to be funny? Or talkative? As far as he knew, he was neither; Katsuki had once told him he was about as personable as a slug, and their classmates seemed to agree.

In spite of that, though, Katsuki had stayed by his side through thick and thin, and for whatever reason, Uraraka seemed very impressed by him, enough to want to stay in contact with him.

Perhaps it was something in the air.

When he reached the bus station, which was more or less back in service barring the boarded-off alcove where the man had approached Uraraka -

Wait a second. These alcoves only have benches in them. Where was he before he came after her?

He supposed it wasn't improbable that the camera was angled so that it hadn't caught the man sitting on the end of the bench. On the security footage, however - and here he pulled out his phone to rewatch it for the nineteenth time, though this time for a reason other than to remind himself that it had actually happened - there wasn't anything on the bench at all until very suddenly their assailant emerged, already standing. He hadn't risen from a sitting position, but rather stepped straight out from the wall….

Ignoring the way people were looking at him, he studied the adjacent alcove; the wall of the bus station was punctuated with them, each one the width of the wall segment between them to stagger the benches by depth rather than simply spacing them apart (and wasting space). They weren't particularly deep, perhaps a foot more than the benches themselves, and even as he looked up and down the row of benches, he noticed the toes of boots sticking out from beyond the wall of each alcove.

There was no doubt about it. Even if the camera hadn't caught his full form, the man's shoes would have at least made it into the shot, and as the video played on Izuku's phone for the twentieth time, there was definitely absolutely nobody in the alcove next to where Uraraka had been sitting.

So where exactly did he come from…?


 

He forgot to pick up the groceries and inevitably faced his mother's ire.

Midoriya Izuku had never been a troublemaker or a problem child, but he supposed it was never too late to start. Inko, expecting him to bring back the vegetables she needed for their dinner, had already started to sautee the meat and was understandably confounded when he came home empty handed.

In spite of his bandages, which had been trimmed down to cover his more damaged chest, he found himself running for the store the moment he realized his mistake. He needed the exercise, anyway.

By the time Izuku reached the supermarket, the sun was sinking in the sky, dyeing the world in its dying light; he stepped in through the sliding glass doors as they parted for him and grabbed a basket, making the rounds as quickly as he could. Within five minutes, he’d piled the basket high with all the vegetables they’d need - he knew the recipe offhand at this point, and even if he didn’t, it wasn’t like the dishes they made used anything he was unfamiliar with.

Rushing for the cashier, Izuku didn’t notice her until they’d collided with one another.

They both dropped their baskets at once, but only Izuku’s tumbled to the supermarket floor; both he and the girl fell on their backsides, but even as he rushed to apologize, she burst into laughter.

“I thought I might run into ya again, Midoriya-kun, but I didn’ think it’d be literal!”

“Uraraka-san!? What are you still doing in Shizuoka?” he blurted out, unthinking, but she didn’t seem bothered by the question.

“I told ya I was gonna take the Yuuei entrance exam, didn’t I? I’m stayin’ here for a little while, and if I get into Yuuei, I’ll be livin’ here while I go. It’s lots cheaper ‘n Tokyo.” She grinned, and Izuku found his gaze drawn to her teeth.

flashing white in black flesh

He had to tear his eyes away.

Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Izuku cleared his throat, but thankfully Uraraka chose that exact moment to notice that he’d dropped his basket. They were drawing stares, still sitting on the floor amidst the spilled cabbages and asparagus, and she flushed, leaning forward to help him gather the scattered vegetables. When they’d packed every last one neatly back into Izuku’s basket, they stood together, Uraraka taking the handle of hers like it hadn’t simply been floating there, as if waiting for her.

“Is, um, is that your Quirk?” he asked, nodding at the basket, and she brightened.

“Oh! Yeah, it’s called Zero Gravity! I might not look too strong, but I can float about three tons so far! I’m really hopin’ it gets me through the entrance exam at least, I hear it’s super focused on combat….”

Combat.

Izuku clenched his fists, nails digging crescent half-moons into his palms. He'd been practicing with his Quirk, and though Katsuki remained faster and stronger, more agile and more creative with his Quirk, Izuku had been starting to feel as if he might at least have a chance of getting into Yuuei.

That was, until a few days ago...

“Do you, uh - do you know how you’re going to get through it?” he asked, Uraraka walking with him to the nearest open cashier; he let her go in first, and as she checked out, she nodded at him, gesturing wildly and nearly knocking over the magazine stand to her right.

“Yeah! I’ve been practicing lots - when you don’t really have a Quirk that’s super good for fightin’, you have to get creative. As far as I know, we’re not goin’ up against real people, so I’m thinkin’ I can make my clothes super light and get in close to touch whatever it is - I read online that they use robots as fake villains, so I figure I can jus’ use how heavy they are against ‘em.”

Izuku didn’t respond right away, using the ringing-up of his purchases as a way to give himself some breathing room. He had the distinct feeling Uraraka was quite the chatterbox, which he didn't mind, but what she'd said had given him pause.

He hadn't even tried to use his Quirk since the incident. It definitely hadn't been that strong before, even in his self assigned practice sessions the previous week. Truthfully, he'd no memory of the events at the bus station, but after seeing that tape...he was scared.

What if my Quirk goes off like that again? What if someone gets hurt?

“How about you?” Uraraka went on, skipping a few paces ahead of him to do a little twirl on the sidewalk, leaving her basket to float in the air where she'd been standing. “Hahh, it's such a nice day out! I feel like the last couple of days were just like a bad dream, don'tcha think?”

her pale skin charred black and the white bones

“Yeah,” Izuku mumbled. “A bad dream.”

Mou , Midoriya-kun. You okay?”

“Yeah, I'm - I'm fine. I just - don't really have anything interesting to say most of the time, that's all.”

“Hmm.” She paused, turning back to face him, finger on her lips. “I don’ think that's true. You hang around Bakugou-kun a lot, don't you?”

“We grew up together,” Izuku shrugged; around them, evening sunlight gilded the spring blossoms, and a few long-dead leaves trundled by, following the breeze. “Why?”

“Well,” she mused, turning to stare up at the sky, “he seems like the kinda guy who's popular in school, and if you're always around someone everyone thinks is great, you might stop seein’ the good things in yourself.”

Izuku blinked.

Nobody's ever told me that before. They've never singled me out, especially when Kacchan's been involved.

“So, how're ya feelin’ about the entrance exam?” she repeated, and there was a little smile on her lips.

“I…” His mouth had suddenly gone dry; taking a moment to give a hard swallow and collect himself, he spoke, honestly. “I don't know. I - I practiced...I've been studying heroes for a really long time, since I was a little kid, and I always hoped I'd end up being able to turn my Quirk into something fit for a hero - did you know Kamui Woods could only grow his fingers and toes a few inches when he was ten? - but it's just not really getting any stronger, it feels like it's just time that does it - makes it stronger, I mean - and no matter how hard I work I can't seem to make it do more than what it does, even while Kacchan's getting stronger all the time - “

“Midoriya-kun.”

Uraraka's soft voice cut through his nervous rambling.

“Relax. I get if you're excited - I am! - but you're probably overthinkin’ it. Yuuei's gonna teach us how to make our Quirks really strong, and I'm sure if you get in, they'll know what to do for you! So jus’ work on what you can do for now, and do your best with it! I've jus’ been tryin’ to increase my weight limit, since I know that's what I can do.”

Mortified by his nerve-fueled tirade, Izuku nodded mutely, and Uraraka giggled .

“The exam's in about a month, but I'm expectin’ an update before then, ‘kay?”

Another mute nod.

“Awesome! I gotta turn at this next intersection, but I'll be waitin’ - you still have my number, right?”

“Y-yeah…”

“Alright! See ya, Midoriya-kun!”

And with a last wave and a final laugh, her spark danced out of view. Izuku stared blankly after her until he remembered his mother was still waiting on the vegetables.


 

In spite of Uraraka's pep talk, he found himself reluctant to push his Quirk's limits. The flames still wouldn't move further than his shoulders - how had his whole body gone up like that? - and he still couldn't cast them further than ten feet.

He'd moved his practice area to the Dagobah municipal beach; it was less a beach than a trash heap where people illegally dumped unwanted furniture and appliances, and he focused on the latter, seeking to determine if his Quirk could destroy a metal robot. Several refrigerators proved surprisingly durable, but for the most part, he felt that his flames were hot enough to do the damage needed. The problem was that he could only generate them from part of his body, and his control was severely limited - that, and despite his isolation, there was still that lingering fear of hurting someone.

Izuku supposed it would be worse if he could actually remember the event in question. He still had flashes of what must have been his last moments before passing out, and that charred Cheshire grin haunted his nightmares, but the horror he'd almost certainly felt during the incident itself wasn't there. There was simply no memory of it.

He had a feeling that his inability to draw out the level of power he’d seen before had to do with his reluctance to go all-out, and once again, he found himself envying Katsuki’s ability to do exactly that.

Why is it I can’t get stronger like everyone else? Izuku grit his teeth, thrusting his palm forward and glaring at the washing machine in front of him as if his gaze alone could melt it; fire swept down his arm and bored into the side of the rusty drum, blasting a hole in it; he let up a moment later, huffing as the flames on his body flickered out.

The exam was in a month, and he’d made no progress whatsoever. He knew he wasn’t going to get stronger just by performing the same exercises; he might have refined his technique, but he wasn’t any more powerful than he’d been.

wake up

Frustration drove him to send another jet of fire into the drum of the washing machine. It leaked out of the hole he’d made in the back, and for a moment, he watched the flames spin around and around in the metal drum, churning with - determination? Irritation? Excitement? Izuku knew it was just fire, but he couldn’t help it; more than once, the flames from his Quirk had felt alive , from the way they moved to the way they lingered on the ground…

He launched a third torrent into the drum and slammed the glass door shut, watching the machine roil with the living heat as it vented puffs of flame from the hole in the back.

The machine, Izuku reflected, was like himself - full of fire, but with no way to use it other than the limited means it had been provided with. Uraraka had told him to use what he knew he could do, but Izuku’s strong suit had always been his sharp wit, not his raw combat ability...so instead of focusing on becoming a better fighter…

I should fight smarter, not harder.

He felt a little silly - why hadn’t he realized this earlier? Then again, his mother had told him more than once to think outside the box, so perhaps he’d simply tunnel-visioned again. In addition, if he was honest, having Katsuki for a best friend didn’t help when it came to working out a fighting style, considering Katsuki’s approach was always to blast straight through and rely on his guts and instinct to get him where he needed.

Staring back at the washing machine, the flames inside refusing to go out, he pressed his hand to the hot glass, willing them to guide him, to give him some flash of inspiration.

“Come on,” he whispered aloud. “Come on.”

Heat crept up his back, his arms, and he felt his hair stand on end as the washing machine exploded and he scrambled backwards across the sand.

wake up

It didn’t break apart - no, fire poured from every crack and every seam in the machine, its internal inferno raging and growing on its own now, spinning into a red-gold vortex that rose high above the tops of the highest garbage heaps. Izuku rose and, standing on the edge, took a single step forward, arms out to either side; he didn’t know what this meant, didn’t know what he was supposed to do, but this just felt so natural, so right , that he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

He took a deep breath, letting the flames swallow him up, letting them consume him; his clothes weren’t burning, his skin stayed pale and unmarked, but for those precious seconds, Midoriya Izuku became an avatar of flame, golden fire erupting from his body as he took another step towards the washing machine, now the epicenter of whatever phenomenon he’d wrought.

it’s time

Unguided, he wrenched open the door he’d closed, and the fire reached out to greet him, to reunite with its creator. For the first time in his life, his Quirk wasn’t frustrating him; he wasn’t lamenting its weakness, wasn’t feeling impotent or inflexible, and something told Izuku that perhaps he’d needed to come to terms with what he was capable of before he could grow.

rise, child

He knelt, feeling the flames’ heat welcome him as he jammed his arm into the drum up to the elbow and pulled , closing his fingers around some intangible core and extracting the whirling fire from the machine, where it seethed and burned in his hands.

What’s happening? What does it mean?

As if in response, the fire snaked up from his hands to his wrists to his elbows to his shoulders, then settled somewhere on his back; he felt a rush of heat to either side of him, and when he turned to look, a pair of burning wings had spread from his shoulder blades, their golden light flickering off of the hundreds of metal bits and pieces scattered around him.

What...what is this!?

Then the flames died, the light went out, and Izuku was left standing in front of the burned-out shell of a washing machine.

When he’d “powered up” before, it had been just as sudden as this; one day he’d been struggling to do more than just burn his palms and the next he’d been able to ignite his wrists as well, with absolutely no change in routine. It was definitely abnormal, but when he’d visited a doctor about it as a child, the conclusion had been that Izuku simply needed time for his body to adjust before it could use more power. Izuku had spent a long time following this line of thinking, telling himself the lack of results from exercising his Quirk would pay off as he grew, but by the time they were around thirteen and Katsuki's arms could handle the percussive force of a shotgun blast without any kind of brace, he had started to doubt what he'd been told.

Still, there wasn't much else to go on, if that wasn't the case.

He sat down cross-legged on the warm sand, sighing. This was the second time in a week that his Quirk had output considerably more power than he’d been able to for the past couple of years, but there was more to whatever had just happened than simply an adrenaline rush, which is what he’d written off the incident of a few days ago as.

Izuku stared down at his hands and thought.


 

“The fuck you wanna go to that old shithole for?”

“Kacchan, just come, alright? There’s something I want you to see.”

An angry huff. “Fine. Better not be wasting my fucking time.”

Click.

Izuku pocketed his phone, biting his lip. He’d asked Katsuki to head to Dagobah after his detention was over; the blonde was top of their class, with Izuku not far behind, but his temper had gotten him punished not a few times, so Izuku was left to walk home alone.

That was fine by him. He needed a few minutes to prepare.

It had been a week since the incident with the washing machine, and Izuku had definitely noticed a difference in his abilities. He felt more in tune somehow, as if he’d been asleep all this time and only just woken up to something greater than himself…

After dropping his stuff off and grabbing a bite to eat, Izuku headed back out; he hardly noticed where his feet were taking him until he actually got to the beach, afternoon sunlight glaring off the appliances as usual. If his watch was correct, Katsuki would be here within ten minutes, so for the time being, he ran over the techniques he’d spent the past few days refining. They were nothing compared to the ones Katsuki had been working on for years - his friend’s self-styled Howitzer Impact was something he’d have expected to see from a pro hero, not a sixteen-year-old going into his first year of high school - but Izuku had done what he could in the time he had. There were only three weeks left until the entrance exam - he needed to do something that would let him stand out if he wanted to get into Yuuei.

It felt a little more achievable now that he'd gotten the issue of his output out of the way; coming to terms with his power and whatever that had led him to was a good first step, but all the power in the world was useless if he didn't know how to use it.

That, then, was why he intended to use this opportunity to work out his weak points.

Even though they had no way of knowing their competition, Izuku had the distinct impression that Bakugou's technique was a cut above the typical applicant. He specialized in taking advantage of an opponent's vulnerabilities, and if he knocked you off balance or into a vulnerable position, that was game over. They'd sparred before, and each time Izuku had been staggered, Katsuki had launched himself into the offensive with reckless abandon, pushing the other out of the ring they'd drawn in the dirt in an instant.

The sound of a blast reached his ears, and he immediately stopped moving, leaving golden embers flickering on the sand underfoot.

“Oi, Deku! Where the hell are you?”

“Kacchan!” he called back, jogging around a trash heap to meet up with his friend; the blonde wore his usual sour expression, and he seemed about to give Izuku an earful for dragging him out to a run-down municipal beach right after school when Izuku continued.

“Let’s spar.”

Katsuki grinned.

Chapter Text

 

“What makes you think this is gonna go down any different than last time?” Katsuki snarled, teeth bared in a fierce grin.

“What makes you think this is going to be the same as last time?” Izuku countered, smirking right back.

“Grew some balls, huh, Deku?”

In response, Izuku plunged both hands straight down, sending up a sheet of golden fire that raced to either side of Katsuki and obstructed both boys from one another’s view.

Izuku didn’t waste a second - he was already sprinting along the smoke-screen’s outer edge, moving to strike Katsuki from the side. He’ll probably be expecting me to circle around and attack from behind, so -

Katsuki broke into Izuku’s thoughts just as easily as he broke through the flames, launching himself through the blaze to strike his opponent with a blast-propelled tackle. “Your footsteps are too loud, dumbass!” he barked, following up his charge with a flurry of explosive punches. Izuku, recoiling under the assault, knew he needed to make space for himself or he’d be taken out in an instant.

Think...think!

It wasn’t easy to do while fighting someone as ferocious as Bakugou Katsuki, but his only advantage in this fight would be his ability to plan ahead and use his Quirk in ways his friend wasn’t expecting. Right now, he was likely thinking that Izuku’s counter would be to try to overpower the explosions being sent his way...after all, it was what he’d attempted to do to give himself space in their previous fights.

This wasn’t their previous fights.

Instead of bracing himself against Katsuki’s onslaught, Izuku leapt back with the force of it, flames jetting down his arms and into the blonde’s face. While Katsuki might be highly resistant to his own blasts, he didn’t share Izuku’s immunity to fire, and in the heartbeat he was distracted, Izuku spread his fingers and blasted the ground around them with a viscous blaze that clung like a living glue.

If he wasn’t concerned about ethics, he could probably win a fight by simply keeping this sustained burn on an opponent, but the thought of it sent chills up his spine. He didn’t want to see another human being on fire again as long as he lived.

At present, he decided that trying to give Katsuki a hot-foot was his most effective option. He could keep this space by burning the ground around him, forcing the other to go airborne to land any sort of meaningful hit - and if he overshot, his own momentum would become a liability...

Smirking, he flicked all ten fingers, and twin jets of fire shot into the ground, burning through the sand underfoot. As expected, Katsuki recovered and barreled back in for another round, so Izuku threw himself forward to land on his stomach, leaving his friend to shoot over him and land on the blazing ground where Izuku had just been standing. As the blonde scrambled to his feet, Izuku reached out and grasped a fistful of the scorching sand and pulled it up, letting the grains slip between his fingers as they burned.

His various experiments with his Quirk’s fire over the past week had led him to the discovery that it was not simply superheated air - there was some substance to it that kept it in tune with his own emotions, his own willpower, and gave it a collective form. The way he’d pulled the flaming heart from the washing machine was one such example, but he found that he could also manipulate any fire connected to flames he touched, including across such a thin layer as the one coating the beach underfoot. It didn’t form any kind of physical barrier or object, but it was still able to exert force...

The flames he’d shot into the ground, he knew, hadn’t gone out; the cloying fire had been compressed into a ball inside the chamber it had burned out, lurking just beneath the sand, and when Izuku pulled, the pressure building in it broke. A golden geyser erupted beneath Katsuki, and the blonde only had time for a yelp before he was sent into the air by the torrential blaze.

Oh, no - did that actually - !? Izuku panicked; if he’d actually hurt his friend, he didn’t think he’d be able to forgive himself...but a second later, Katsuki came down like a falling star, plummeting towards Izuku with his trademark scream:

“DIE!”

Anyone else would have been (understandably) concerned, but Izuku had heard it dozens of times over the years, and he knew he had Katsuki fired up - his friend only got that loud when he felt challenged.

The blast would most likely strike Izuku no matter where he moved, unless he was able to get away quickly. He didn’t have much mobility, so his options fell to either taking the hit or finding some way to divert Katsuki himself. Standing in the open, there didn’t seem to be a way to do the latter, but perhaps he could mitigate some of the damage of a direct impact by at least attempting to dodge…

At the last second, Izuku dashed forward, rolling under Katsuki again - or so he thought. His opponent had changed course midair, striking Izuku mid-roll and sending him reeling. “You did that the first time!” Katsuki called. “You’re too damn easy to read!”

Izuku reviewed the “score” so far: one large hit to himself, one large hit to Katsuki...but he’d also taken a number of explosive punches, and right now, he was losing. Glancing up, he could tell from the savage grin on his friend’s face that both of them knew it.

How do I tackle the mobility issue? He’s too fast for me to strike directly...I still don’t want to use my flames directly on somebody, so even if I have the advantage of range, how…?

Suddenly, it hit him - the blow he’d landed on Katsuki had sent him flying, right?

He leapt on that thought - Katsuki was already moving to execute a technique he’d nicknamed “stun grenade,””, and Izuku had to move quickly. Though he lacked the strength to propel himself by force of emission, he could propel himself by force of impact…!

Shielding his eyes, Izuku swiped at the ground with one hand, then pulled at the flames with all the willpower he could muster while they still coursed down his arm - in an instant, he felt them sweep upwards, striking the soles of his shoes and the underside of his body up to his hips and launching him a solid eight feet into the air.

Wait a second...what was I planning once I jumped!? Now what!?

He never found out. Just as Katsuki was about to detonate the explosion in his palm, there was a high-pitched caterwaul from somewhere a few streets away, and he knelt, burying his palm in the sand to muffle the blast.

“Shit!” he cursed. “Some shitrag must’ve called the cops - get the hell down here, Deku!”

“Do I look like I have a choice!?” Izuku shot back, landing hard and only barely managing to pull off a clumsy safety roll. “Ouch.”

“Come on!”

The two took off at a run, sprinting out around the edge of the garbage heaps and making for the safety of the street, failing to notice the tall man watching them go.

The man in question chuckled into his cell phone.

“Maybe they’re breaking the law, but it’s not out of malice. I’m glad he’s not turning out like his predecessor.” A pause. “Let’s just hope he gets in. It’ll be a lot harder to explain if he doesn’t and we have to find him on our own.”


 

“Ugh,” spat Katsuki. “Just when it was gettin’ interesting.

“I had no idea what to do once I was in the air,” Izuku pointed out mildly. “But that’s what I meant to show you - when I was at the beach last weekend, something strange happened…”

He proceeded to explain what exactly had gone down on the beach, including the fact that he’d been blowing up washing machines by himself on a Friday. Predictably, Katsuki had a snark for that, but Izuku brushed it off, too excited to respond.

“Jeez. Haven’t seen you this excited since you got that vintage All Might figure.”

“It’s a Silver Age collectible!” Izuku protested. “But - I really think I can work with what I’ve got now. I just don’t understand why my Quirk decided to power up again out of nowhere...it’s been four years.”

“Maybe you leveled up from killing that zombie.”

Izuku didn’t respond, and belatedly, Katsuki realized he hadn’t been particularly tactful with that one.

“It could just be timing,” he offered, trying again. “Ain’t like you’ve been operating on a schedule when it comes to your shit acting up.”

“No,” Izuku agreed. “But...either way, I’m glad it came in time for the entrance exam. To be honest, I didn’t think I was gonna make it in…”

“Caught me off guard twice,” Katsuki grunted. “If you can do that, you’re already a cut above the shitrags who’ll be taking the test with us.”

“Twice?”

“Wasn’t expecting that jump.”

“Me neither…”

Both boys laughed, and for a moment, it felt like they were kids again, not a care in the world.

Just then, Izuku’s phone rang, and he snatched it from his pocket, thinking it was his mother. “Oka-san?” he blurted out, without bothering to check the caller ID. After all, nobody else called him besides Katsuki, and he was two feet away. “Is something wrong?”

There was a moment of silence before the person on the other end burst into a fit of giggles.

“Midoriya-kun, you don’t get a lot of phone calls, do ya?”

“Uraraka-san!?” he yelped, and Katsuki started laughing too. “Oh no - I’m so sorry! I just, um, yeah, I don’t - “

“It’s okay, Midoriya-kun,” she chuckled. “Everything’s alright. I jus’ thought I’d see how your sparring went.”

Oh. Right. I told her about the Quirk thing, too. He wasn’t sure why; they were practically strangers. Still, she was a fellow Yuuei aspirant, and on top of that, she was so... likable. “It went alright until the police showed up,” he admitted, and Katsuki laughed harder.

“I mean, it’s illegal to use your Quirk in public…”

“You floated your basket all the way home the other day!”

“You two met up?” Katsuki interjected. “Deku, did you get a fuckin’ date?

“Shut up!” Izuku groaned, feeling his face flush, and his friend let out a whoop. “We just ran into each other at the grocery store!”

“Weird place for a date.”

“Um...Midoriya-kun? The police?” She couldn’t hear Katsuki’s half of the conversation, but it didn’t take a genius to fill in the gaps, and it was an effort for her not to melt into a blushing mess.

“Oh - um, yeah, we just left the beach. I don’t think I’d get much more than a warning, but Kacchan’s been caught a couple times already, so it’s probably not a good idea to risk it.”

“Hey! You’re makin’ it sound like I’m a goddamn delinquent!”

“Maybe if you didn’t use explosions to make a point - “

“I’ll use my explosions how I damn well please!” - and he punctuated this sentence with a blast.

Uraraka was laughing when Izuku turned his attention back to the phone, rolling his eyes. “Anyway, um, Uraraka-san. The exam’s in three weeks, are you ready for it?”

“She damn well better be if she wants to get anywhere near me,” grumbled Katsuki.

“Yep yep! I’m back at school for now, but with the end of the year comin’ up, everyone’s gettin’ restless. Half of ‘em wanna try out for Yuuei, but I think they jus’ like the idea of bein’ heroes and not the work that goes into it.”

Their conversation didn’t last much longer; within a few minutes, Uraraka’s parents wanted her help with something, and after a hasty goodbye, she hung up, leaving Izuku to blink at the screen for a moment.

I just...talked to a girl?

He nearly squealed, and it was Katsuki’s turn to roll his eyes.


 

Three weeks came and went in what felt to Izuku like no time at all. Their teachers, unable to quell the electric enthusiasm of the third-years, resigned themselves to teaching classes full of distracted fifteen-year-olds all eagerly discussing which high schools they’d be going off to, most prominent among them the name Yuuei .

It was to be expected in a society that idolized heroes, but every time he heard the name, Izuku had to wonder if his classmates had backup plans. Only thirty-six students a year would get into Yuuei’s hero course through the public entrance exam, and only four would get in on recommendations - recommendations that Izuku was positive nobody in his school could obtain. They were, to his knowledge, typically reserved for the children of wealthy families or prominent heroes.

That didn’t bother him. All Might himself had gotten in through the public exam, smashing through everything thrown his way with incredible ease.  If All Might could do it, then he would, too.

The morning before the exam, Izuku went for a jog. He’d been trying to keep in some form of shape for the past year or so, and while his smallish build would never let him “bulk up,””, he’d achieved some degree of muscle tone and fitness that he was sure would be enough for the exam. His runs routinely took him past a cemetery, green hills dotted with white marble, and on occasion, if he ran after school, there’d be a burial going on as he passed - so when the smell of fresh earth reached his nostrils, he didn’t think much of it until another far more pungent reek struck him.

Eugh - what is that? Izuku pinched his nose, swinging his head wildly to either side to search for the source of the stench. There’s no dumpster around here, and I don’t think a stink bug would smell that bad...so what…?

As he rounded the bend, he could see the patch of brown that typically indicated a freshly-dug grave. Perhaps they were exhuming someone? It was uncommon, but it wasn’t unheard of, so perhaps the smell reaching his nostrils was rot...but didn’t they embalm people nowadays?

Someone in a suit was standing beneath the tree by the grave in question, so Izuku figured there must have been some reason for them to be there in the middle of the day and paid it no mind. Sure, it wasn’t exactly a well-traveled road, but he doubted they’d be robbing a grave in a suit in broad daylight. Besides, there wasn’t even a shovel. Perhaps an inspector of some sort…?

Izuku gave a wave that wasn’t reciprocated, though the man did begin to move towards the gate on the far end of the cemetery, away from Izuku. Baffled, he slowed his pace, pausing entirely behind one of the brick pillars the cast-iron cemetery fence was anchored in and peering out at the stranger. He couldn’t really get a good look at them now; they were much too far away, and they’d begun to descend the hill, so only the top of their head was visible from where he stood.

After they’d made their way out of the cemetery by the opposite gate, Izuku made his choice. Shaking a little, fists clenched, he backtracked to the gate he’d passed and stepped inside, pausing for a moment on the springy turf before making his way past row after row after row of marble death-markers, all the way to the tree the man had been standing under.

The closest grave had clearly been emptied out, but unlike a freshly dug grave, this one wasn’t a neat rectangle with a mound of loose soil piled next to it; it looked more like someone had simply stabbed the ground until a hole large enough to cram a person into had formed. More confused than ever, Izuku lit up his palm, carefully guiding a stream of fire into the open hole so that he could see inside.

He saw silk, the backing of an empty coffin.

The flames died, and Izuku turned back to where the man had been standing. On the opposite side of the tree, something lay on the ground; thinking that perhaps the stranger had dropped his wallet, he made for it, then recoiled in disgust.

It was an organ.

Shriveled and dried, it lay upon the otherwise pristine grass, very much out of place and not a little unsettling. Unable to think straight, Izuku took a moment to sort through his panic and calm the nervous fire that raced up and down his arms like the flames of a simmering stovetop: Why is there an organ!? What is it!? Did that man...did he drop it? Why is the coffin empty?

He’d heard of things like this happening in films, but this was real life - there was no such thing as zombies, so why -

“I dunno, he smelled really bad. His skin was all grey and he was covered in these, like, peeling sores - oh, and his nails were super sharp, too. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said he was a zombie or somethin’.”

Uraraka’s words rang in his ears, clear as if she’d truly spoken them again, and he felt his limbs stiffen, mind racing to rationalize the situation.

Okay. There’s no such thing as real zombies - that’s literally impossible, right? At least, the dead walking again is...and everything’s pointing to that man having left the coffin, namely the fact that he was acting weird and the literal organ on the ground. So, I’m guessing...this has to be someone’s Quirk, right? What a morbid Quirk…

The odor of rot lingered in the air, weaker now, and Izuku shook his head. If it was someone’s Quirk, shouldn’t he leave it to a hero to sort out?

You’re trying to be a hero now, though.

Yes, Izuku confirmed, but you can’t just go pretending to be what you’re not...I have no training, and without a license, I’m just as criminal as whoever’s doing this…

Decision made, he turned and exited the cemetery the way he’d come in, then resumed his run, heart heavy and pounding in his chest.


 

The exam the next day all but wiped the strange encounter from his memory. Up and ready to go at six in the morning, Izuku was an anxious whirlwind all the way to Yuuei; he met Katsuki halfway, and the two rode to central Tokyo together before making the short walk from the bus station to the front gates of Yuuei Academy.

“Wow,” Izuku breathed. “It’s so... big.

“Really, Deku?” Katsuki snorted. “The ‘birthplace of heroes’ and all you can think is that it’s big?

“Well, it is,” he pointed out, and Katsuki shook his head.

“Midoriya-kun! Bakugou-kun!”

Izuku stopped and turned; Katsuki kept walking, then did the same when he realized Izuku wasn’t budging. “Hey, Uraraka-san!” Izuku called, a grin breaking out on his face as the girl jogged to catch up with them.

“Round Face,” Katsuki nodded, hands still in his pockets.

“I'm glad you guys made it!” she gushed, ignoring the blonde's less-than-warm welcome. “I was kinda afraid there wouldn't be anyone I knew…”

Izuku had to admit he hadn't thought of that. Even without Katsuki, he'd already spotted a few of their classmates. “Is nobody from your school trying out?” he asked, frowning, but she nodded.

“No, they are. But I'm not exactly friends with any of ‘em.” A small, sad smile. “You guys mind if I come with?”

“Sure!” Izuku blurted out, completely forgetting about Katsuki; to Uraraka's surprise, however, Katsuki didn't object - he glanced between them, then the closest thing to a smile she'd yet seen from the blonde ghosted across his lips.

For just a moment, she could guess at the person Izuku saw beneath the coarse, brash exterior, then Katsuki threw one hand up, shouting: “Come on!”

The three of them made their way to the orientation building, following the tide of middle-schoolers to the source of the booming voice echoing across campus and directing them towards the support building. Inside, they found themselves in a three-story lobby, glass walls rising high around them, and Uraraka was a little star-struck by how modern it was; it took Izuku three calls of her name and Katsuki one sharp crack of an explosion to draw her attention (and that of everyone in the vicinity).

Having gone over the same (publicly available) presentation at least twelve times in the past eight days, Izuku more or less zoned out while the hero Present Mic jabbered on about how the entrance exams would work. The written exam wasn’t what he was concerned about - it was the practical, the full details of which would only be revealed here at the orientation.

“Voice Hero...name checks out, he hasn’t shut up yet,” Katsuki grumbled from Izuku’s right.

The actual premise of the exam changed each year, but it always featured the same fundamentals of combat and rescue, with robots substituted in for villains. Technically, even that was supposed to be a secret, but generations of disgruntled Yuuei rejects complaining about the exam online had stripped away the clandestine nature of its static components.

The written exam was administered after the presentation, with the hundreds of applicants shuffled at random into classrooms around campus; Izuku had a difficult time staying focused and was fairly certain he'd screwed up more than a few questions, but even going over his answers again, he couldn't think clearly enough to reevaluate them and ended up closing the booklet instead.

Nervous and already a little upset over his performance on the test they'd just taken, he met up with Katsuki and Uraraka at the school cafeteria for lunch, where they were served by the Cook Hero, Lunch Rush.

“How the hell's he call himself a hero if he just fuckin’ makes food?” Katsuki grumbled thickly, through a mouthful of vegetables.

“Maybe he can...make food that doesn't spoil or something, and they can send it overseas?” Uraraka suggested, shoveling rice into her mouth. Izuku, picking at a sprout, frowned at his phone.

“There's hardly any information on his hero career at all, but he's definitely registered as a hero,” he mused. “Hero fan websites don't even explain what his Quirk does...it's just called ‘Lunch’.”

“Maybe he’s lunch!” Uraraka blurted out, through a thick wad of half-chewed rice. “Like, maybe he’s super edible and he makes food from his body!” She mimed chopping her own fingers into sashimi with a chopstick, expression unusually intense, and Izuku quietly pushed his tray a few inches away.

After lunch, they had an hour to explore campus and digest. Izuku was excited just to be at Yuuei, but Katsuki wanted to see the battle training grounds, while Uraraka was particularly interested in the Unforeseen Simulation Joint; upon discovering that the facility known colloquially as the USJ was not actually located on-campus, they made their way to the training grounds, where the disappointed Uraraka was appeased somewhat by the urban rescue training zone.

“Did you wanna be a rescue hero?” Izuku asked her, as Katsuki watched a class of second-year support students test some kind of rocket fist against a robot.

“I guess it’s less that than I think it’s what my Quirk’s best suited for,” she admitted, watching as the students, taking shelter behind a blast shield, sent the gauntlet crashing into the robot’s midsection, tearing straight through it. “I think it’d be super cool to take down bad guys in just one punch! But I don’ think I’ve got a lot in store for me on the combat side.”

“There are plenty of heroes who don’t have flashy Quirks butwho do great work, though!” he pointed out. “Like, um…” Oh, no. I can’t think of a combat hero without a strong battle Quirk… “Uh, I’m pretty sure every hero who chooses to focus on rescue work gets combat training too, in case of a villain attack during a rescue operation,” Izuku tried, changing track. Before Uraraka could respond, the gauntlet exploded violently, and a piece of shrapnel came rocketing across the room to jam itself into the five-inch-thick plexiglass in front of them.

“Holy shit!” Katsuki hollered, pumping his fist. “That was fuckin’ awesome!

By the time Izuku had recovered from the shock, Uraraka had turned away, making it painfully evident that she didn’t want to continue the conversation.

He didn’t have time to dwell on her silence - the practical orientation came after their break, with Present Mic once again narrating the proceedings. This time, he paid particular attention to every word the blonde man spoke, trying to ignore the anxiety prickling at the back of his neck.

“Okay, listeners! Can I get a hey!” the hero boomed, to absolutely zero response; after a moment, he went on, unperturbed. “Al-right! So, listen up - this part of the exam is gonna test your potential! If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

“First part - you’ll be put into groups of five! Your groups have been specially selected to ensure you’re not partnered up with anyone you might already know! After that, you’ll be randomly assigned to either the ‘villain’ team or the ‘hero’ team and make your way to your assigned arena!

“Second part - fight! The arena is split into two halves - hero and villain! Each side has their own set of robots to defend their territory - destroy the enemy team’s for more points! Capture the other team’s flag and bring it back to your own to release your Zero-Pointer to attack them!” As he spoke, Present Mic gave vague, flailing gestures that did a very poor job of conveying information, but Izuku gathered enough to determine that the “Zero-Pointer” was the fourth variety of robot displayed on-screen and marked with “0p.””. From the sound of it, it was apparently some sort of weapon - why else would it require capturing the opposing team’s flag?

“The exam ends when both flags have been captured, or all combatants surrender or are unable to battle! Got it? Lemme here an o-kay !”

Dead silence.

“O-kay! Begin!”


 

They started almost immediately.

Izuku was shuffled onto a “hero” team with none other than Uraraka (he had a feeling the Yuuei staff sorted based solely on school and not prior acquaintance); the villain team they were facing remained anonymous, but they were introduced to the other three members of their team in a small, round room set aside for their preparations. The attendant placed a pitcher of water and a tray of glasses on the small table in the middle and closed the door, informing them that they had ten minutes to discuss a strategy before they’d be raised into the arena.

“A vast banquet of darkness…” someone murmured.

Izuku blinked.

Their teammates, in ascending order of attitude, were: a boy with pure black skin and pure white hair, who stood staring at the corner of the room; the boy who’d spoken, whose head resembled some vast bird’s and who leaned against the wall with his arms crossed; and a third boy with a shock of purple hair and bags under his eyes, who looked for all the world as if he’d rather be anywhere else.

“Hi,” Izuku started awkwardly. To his left, Uraraka gave a little wave, bouncing on the balls of her feet, but there was no verbal response; they were met with three equally disdainful stares, and when Izuku flubbed another greeting, Uraraka took over.

“Hey! So, um, let’s start by saying our Quirks. I’ll go first - I’m Uraraka Ochako, and mine’s called Zero Gravity.” To demonstrate, she floated her glass of water, giving a small smile, and to Izuku’s surprise, the bird-headed boy spoke up next.

“Tokoyami Fumikage. Dark Shadow.

After a few seconds of confused silence, Tokoyami uncrossed his arms, and from his chest emerged -

“Is that your Quirk!?” Izuku leapt to attention, patting his back for the bag where his notebook rested (it wasn’t there, and he lowered his hands, hoping nobody had noticed).

An enormous black bird-like thing had emerged from the other boy’s chest, connected to his body by some sort of incorporeal umbilical cord; fascinated, the other 4 stared at it until it gave a goofy salute and spoke. “I am - Dark Shadow!”

The purple-haired boy rolled his eyes. Uraraka giggled.

“What does it do?” Izuku asked, pressing three fingers to the palm of his left hand as if he were writing on a notepad.

“I’m right here, you know.”

“Dark Shadow can manipulate the physical realm,” Tokoyami explained, gesturing to the creature. “It is tied to my body and emotions - where it roams, I lurk nearby, and as my ire waxes, so too does its power.”

“So you have a bird that gets stronger when you’re mad?” the purple-haired boy quipped, and both Tokoyami and Dark Shadow glared, the shadow crossing its arms and pouting.

“Dark Shadow is no mere bird,” the other rumbled, then his expression shifted into something vapid, distant, and he stopped talking.

“Fumikage?” the shadow piped up, giving its wielder a confused once-over.

“Uhm...Tokoyami-kun?” Uraraka prodded, but it was the purple-haired boy who spoke next.

“Shinsou Hitoshi. My Quirk is Brainwashing.” As if that cleared everything up, he nodded to Tokoyami, and the bird-headed boy’s expression cleared before shifting almost immediately to a scowl. “When someone responds to what I say, they immediately come under my control.”

“Isn’t that kinda messed up?” Uraraka blurted out. Realizing she’d spoken out loud, she clapped a hand to her mouth, but the damage was done; Shinsou scowled, half-lidded eyes narrowed to slits.

“So I’ve heard,” he sniped back. “It only works if I want it to, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s already afraid of talking to me because of it.”

Izuku gave a hard swallow, not sure how to respond. He was saved the trouble, however, by their fifth group member melting into the black leather sofa until only his eyes and mouth remained. The effect was uncanny, but before any of them could speak, the mouth moved, eyes flickering across each of them in turn. “Kuroiro Shihai,” it rasped, and watching it, Izuku saw - he saw -

white teeth in flesh burnt black

He couldn’t remember staggering backwards, but the next thing he knew, his back was pressed flat against the wall, flames sweeping up his forearms and breath coming in ragged gasps. “No - no!” he choked out, fingers digging into the textured paint behind him. “I can’t - no - “

“Midoriya-kun? Midoriya-kun!

Uraraka was shouting, the others were staring - his vision was swimming -

“Hey - what happened?” he heard, a demand -

“Burning,” he whispered, the only response he could give -

Everything went black.


 

It was silent.

Izuku didn’t know where he was. There was nobody around, and the entire world was darkness. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he had an inkling that this wasn’t real, but if he was in fact unconscious, it was very unlike the last time he had passed out. It didn’t feel like a dream, either; it lacked the “fuzziness” of one, and Izuku found himself quite lucid.

When a solid thirty seconds had elapsed without incident, he deemed it safe to attempt walking. Within three steps, he’d determined that the darkness all around him took the form of some impossibly thick fog rather than a lack of light. It crowded around his legs, his feet, and he couldn’t see the ground upon which he tread.

How long he walked, he lost track; all he knew was that at some point, the fog cleared enough for him to see a little further, and he found himself standing before a round slab of stone set in a wall of smaller stones chiseled and weathered into smooth, round-edged bricks. In the center of this round slab was a hole, from which that same fog spewed forth in a black cascade, and as if he’d been born knowing what to do, Izuku reached into the socket and activated his Quirk.

Instantly, golden flames raced down his arm, chasing away the darkness and casting the area in a warm yellow glow; when he withdrew his hand, the stone slab began to shudder ominously, scraping forward until it had completely escaped the confines of the wall before rolling to the right, the hole still burning bright.

Beyond the newly-formed entryway lay more of the fog, denser than ever and forming a solid black wall across the entirety of the - corridor? room? he couldn’t even tell - it revealed. The fog seemed almost reluctant to approach the golden light of his Quirk, and when he lit up his arm again, it recoiled, pressing back in on itself to make room for him.

He had nowhere else to go, so with a final glance around, he stepped forward into the blackness, his Quirk’s fire lighting the way into a corridor wide enough for two of him to stand comfortably abreast. About thirty feet in, the cobbled floor gave way to a carved staircase, the roof sloping gently downward and into the fog alongside the steps themselves. It was an eerie sight, the damp stone dropping away into a dense void, but he forced himself to descend the steps one at a time, keeping both eyes trained on the ground ahead and trusting the flames to keep the inky abyss at bay.

Why am I accepting this so readily? Izuku asked himself. As unnatural as all of this was, it didn’t feel like it; he wasn’t scared, wasn’t apprehensive, wasn’t hesitant. If Izuku had been a superstitious person, he would have said he was destined to come to this place, this sealed chamber in his mind.

Ahead of him, the bottom step gave way to level floor, and when Izuku took a step forward out of the stairwell, he found himself not in another corridor but in a rounded room that appeared to have been hewn out of the earth itself. In the center of the room lay a stone table with seven sockets in its front, each one roiling with that dark fog; when Izuku stuck his hand in one, however, nothing happened, even with his flames burning at full blast. Shrugging, he returned his attention to the rest of the room, fully illuminated by his Quirk, and immediately noticed the doorway.

Opposite the stairwell lay a set of double doors, carved out of stone possibly more ancient than even the chamber around him. Approaching them, Izuku felt a little lighter, and the closer he drew, the more intense the feeling became - standing directly before it, Izuku could barely sense his own weight. He could , however, make out etching written across the doors, and by the light of his Quirk, he read:

With each end, a beginning.

The bearer of searing sky seeks seven souls:

At the word souls , something very strange happened - he was simultaneously in that lonely chamber and in the prep room, hearing the faint drip of water and Uraraka’s shouting, seeing the doors and her face, and when he blinked, he was at Yuuei, lying flat on his back with the top of his head against the wall. Tokoyami and - Kuroiro, was it? - stood further back, with Uraraka kneeling next to him and Shinsou standing to his right, frowning down at him.

“Uraraka-san?” he murmured, turning his head. Her round face, filled with concern, occupied half his vision, and when he spoke, she gave a heavy sigh of relief.

“Midoriya-kun...are you okay?” she asked him, reaching up to press her palm to his forehead. “You’ve got a fever....”

“I’m always warm,” he objected. “It’s because of my Quirk…it’s okay, Uraraka-san. I’m fine, I just….” What exactly he was, he couldn’t say. The room he’d seen was still fresh in his mind, and the two lines he’d read on the door were burned into his vision as if he’d been staring directly into the sun itself. “How long was I out?”

“About thirty seconds,” Shinsou replied, hands in his pockets. “What was that? Is your Quirk blowing up?”

“No, it’s called Phoenix,” he explained, then stiffened. Wait. Where did that name come from? I’ve never had a name for my Quirk before, and that just spilled out like I’d been calling it that for years…

He didn’t really want to explain to a complete stranger that he’d once burned a man to death, and that Kuroiro’s Quirk demonstration had dragged the only thing he could remember about the incident to the surface.

“Um, it’s got...healing tears and fire, kinda. It’s not normal fire, it’s like...sticky? I’m not explaining this very well, am I?” he asked, trying his hardest to push away the memories.

Uraraka shook her head, still with that concerned frown.

“Well, um, I’m Midoriya Izuku. It’s...good to meet you. I’m sorry we started off like this.” Getting to his feet, Izuku gave a shaky bow, trying to calm himself. “And I’m sorry I interrupted you, Kuroiro-kun. What’s your Quirk again?”

Kuroiro, looking somehow both unsettled and elated, spoke up. “My Quirk...is Black. I am one with the darkness.”

He didn’t elaborate, and Izuku gave an awkward smile. “Great. So uh, our plan for the exam….”

“Hang on,” Tokoyami interrupted. “Midoriya Izuku...I know that name. Were you involved in a villain attack recently?”

Izuku stiffened.

Before anyone else could say anything, however, Uraraka stepped in, cheeks pink. “I got attacked by a villain when I came to check out the Yuuei campus,” she declared. “Midoriya-kun stepped in and saved me, even though it put him in danger.” Izuku noted that she glossed over the details, such as the location of the attack and the nature of its aftermath, and was grateful. Tokoyami appeared satisfied, and both he and Kuroiro regarded Izuku with a newfound degree of respect for the remainder of the planning session. Shinsou remained unimpressed, and Izuku received the distinct impression that he was an extremely difficult person to win over.

Counting Izuku’s fainting spell, two minutes had already elapsed, and the remaining eight were spent attempting to determine how their abilities could work together. Ultimately, the only synergy they could come up with was using Tokoyami’s Dark Shadow as a conduit for Kuroiro’s Black, allowing him to merge with the shadow and travel down its length as a shortcut to high ground or a flank route. Shinsou’s Quirk synergized with none of theirs, and Izuku’s actively weakened Dark Shadow with its light, meaning that they’d have to fight separately. Uraraka’s Zero Gravity made for a reliable way of incapacitating any non-mobile enemies they may encounter, but only Tokoyami possessed any means of propulsion while under its effects, making it more or less useless as a mobility tool unless they intended to move directly up a wall.

Izuku found himself doing most of the talking during this session, with occasional interjections from Tokoyami and Uraraka and, less frequently, Kuroiro and Shinsou. His mind, sharp from years of hero analysis, worked a mile a minute, rapidly cobbling together various methods by which they could navigate and fight using their quirks in conjunction. Even if there was no direct synergy, their Quirks were suited for different circumstances, and Izuku spent a solid minute rambling more or less to himself about hypothetical Quirks they might face.

By the time the attendant returned to inform them that their ten minutes were up, they’d formed a rudimentary battle plan that primarily involved sticking together and not doing anything rash; they were handed five wristbands, five ear pieces, and five small, coin-like discs that, when placed face-up on the table in the center of the room, projected a three-dimensional map of the arena above them into the air. Fascinated, Uraraka reached out and touched her map, which responded by slowly rotating around the five glowing dots that pulsed softly below the arena.

“These dots represent your wristbands,” the attendant explained. “They’ll allow you to keep track of your teammates’ physical locations in the arena, while the wristbands themselves double as walkie-talkies that transmit into these ear pieces. Any further questions?”

“I have none,” both Kuroiro and Tokoyami rumbled.

“Nope!” Uraraka chirped.

Shinsou grunted.

“Uh, no.” Izuku shook his head, trying his best to smile, and the attendant gave a small nod, stepping away from the table as a series of small clicks sounded at their feet.

“Please remain where you are,” she instructed. “Yuuei Academy would rather not be liable for student deaths caused by personal negligence.”

The floor upon which they stood, including the table, began to rise, and the five of them glanced up in time to see the ceiling open up like the aperture of a camera, revealing a long vertical tunnel open to the sky above. Tokoyami and Kuroiro fidgeted in the sunlight, but Uraraka gave a wide smile, taking a deep breath of the fresh, chilled air pouring into the chasm as they rose.

Izuku, staring up at the sun, could only think of one thing.

The bearer of a searing sky…

A minute later, the platform met the arena floor with a loud clunk and a second series of soft clicks as it latched in place, and the five of them each took their share of the provided equipment. Elsewhere, Izuku knew, the villain team would be doing the same, and he clenched his jaw, trying to calm the nerves threatening to send his limbs into shaking spasms. A tap on his shoulder drew his attention to Uraraka, who gave him a small, reassuring smile, and he returned it in kind, trying to ignore the flush creeping up his cheeks.

Then, from high above, echoing across every arena on the grounds of Yuuei, he heard Present Mic shout:

“Ready, listeners? Exam - start!!”